And I kept walking anyway.
I brushed at my clothing -- human-made and hardly appropriate for where we were heading. I supposed, under the circumstances, I would be forgiven.
I also came with an unusual array of guests, some of whom might look more like guards. Well, all of them looked that way, in fact. Even King Pixie could be dangerous in the right, or wrong, situation. He flew ahead of me for a little while and kept looking back as though he expected me to turn aside.
Oh yes, he knew where we were going.
The Queen's castle came into view at the top of the next hill, the turrets flying her bright silver pennant. The building had never sat so close to the human lands before. I had not even brought us through a portal that should have been close, and that meant only one thing. The Queen wanted us in her presence, so she moved -- castle and all -- to where we could reach her quickly. She didn't have time for us to wander around the Faelands and probably getting into more trouble.
I could sense trouble in the air, a literal feel of magic darting everywhere in a frantic race of powers. Someone was making a move here, and from the energy pouring out of the castle, I thought the Queen was not happy at all.
"That is the castle of the Queen of the Fae," Lycan finally said.
"It shouldn't be here," he added and gave me another quick glance.
"No, it should not," I agreed and didn't slow. "Something is going on -- but then we expected it, didn't we? This is why we headed here, and honestly, I would rather she came to us than we went looking for her."
"You intended to go to the Queen of the Fae from the start?" Sylph asked with a tilt of her head.
"No," I said, and she nodded, having figured that out already. "But she's here, and that means something."
"Dire," King Pixie added and came to land on my shoulder. "It means something dire, Fae. She should not be here, castle, court, and all, so near to the human realm. She cannot mean to take it all across, can she?"
"I wouldn't think so," I replied and tried hard not to shiver. We were starting down the hillside, moving slowly over the uneven ground. Then a path appeared and led straight to the great castle gatehouse. "But the Queen clearly wants to see us as soon as possible. I wish we had something helpful to tell her."
We reached the gate quickly, all of us nearly breathless, except for King Pixie, who just held on. I thought he might be cursing, though he kept his words very quiet.
The guards at the castle only waved open the great portcullis and sent us hurrying through the narrow passage beyond. Lady Snow was in her human form again, but even so, we made an interesting group and drew attention the moment we came back into the light.
The Queen's Own army had camped within the walls.
Many of them were injured.
That sight slowed me and sent a chill I'd been trying to avoid until now. These people had not only seen battle, but it had been severe enough that they came away without enough magic left to heal those who had taken wounds. Lycan and Sylph both made sounds of worry, and King Pixie moved from my shoulder to my pocket again.
People moved out of our way and made an easy path to the castle itself. That by itself sent a chill through me since I had never been anyone of such importance before. My lack of status was why I could be so easily shuffled off into the human world.
Things had changed, and I'd had no hint of it until I followed those pixies down into the subway. I'd been intrigued then, but now I was working far past worried and on to panicked. Not the least of my worries was that someone -- someone important -- might expect me to have answers.
Lycan had picked up that panicked heartbeat the way predators did, and I saw the way his eyes started to get a narrow focus. All of the weak and injured did not help keep him calm. Since he came with me, it was my responsibility --
I took a quick breath, forced calm through my body, and looked into his narrow-eyed stare. The corners of his fangs were starting to show.
"I didn't expect to come back to this," I said as we paused at the bottom of the stairs. I was not going to take Lycan inside the castle in this state, but I didn't dare leave him behind, either. The only hope I had was to make certain Lycan understood that my worry was my own. "I don't like that I have no answers at all at a time when we need them."
"It may be that we will find some of the answers here," Sylph said and came up on the other side of Lycan. "Be calm, companion. This is not a place to fight, not with our allies already in such condition."
"Yes," Lycan said, though the word still sounded too much like a growl. "The trouble is not here, but I think it might not be too far away."
Not what I wanted to hear. I started up the steps, the others falling in behind me. I hope they kept Lady Snow in order. She seemed more likely to be a problem than Lycan, and he was trouble enough.
At the top of the stairs stood four of the Queen's guards, weapons in hand. I stood straighter, prepared to argue -- though not fight -- my way through.
They opened the door without comment and even bowed their heads as we went inside.
Yes, this was getting really scary...