Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire



“It’s a kelpie’s nature to consume,” said Gristle. “I’ve never tasted human flesh.”

“Climb the stairs, then,” said Regan, who was too weary to keep a secret she had never asked for and didn’t believe in. “You might find something you’ll like.”

Gristle gave her a thoughtful look before he turned and walked away, the sound of his hoofbeats resonating off the stairwell walls. They were uneven, hampered by the shallowness of the steps, but they still echoed steadily. Regan let out an exhausted sigh and turned back to the Queen’s servants.

“Where’s the exit?” she asked.

The minotaur pointed. “Why do you speak to the kelpie?” he asked.

“Because I’m polite enough to listen,” said Regan. Then she nodded. “Thank you,” she said politely, and walked in the direction he had indicated, and once again, she did not look back.





EPILOGUE



THROUGH A DOOR TO DAMNATION


REGAN HAD BEEN IN the Hooflands long enough, racing in and out of the cottage she shared with her family, that she had lost much of her caution around doors. Perhaps that explains why she didn’t see the words scratched into the frame above the door that would lead her out of the castle, back to the fields beyond. “Be Sure,” the door entreated. And in that moment, Regan wasn’t.

She opened the door. She stepped through.

Her hand was still on the edge of the door when the smell of exhaust hit her like a memory from a past she had almost forgotten, stinging her nose and wrenching a cough from her throat before she could stop it. The shock was enough that she lost her grip on the doorframe and fell forward, landing on her knees in the soft mud beside the creek. She heard a slam behind her, the sound of a door closing, as loud as a church bell, as final as an executioner’s axe, but she didn’t look back. She pressed her hands into the mud, leaning forward until her hair fell to cover her eyes, and sobbed, the great, braying sobs of a child who had been betrayed. She could feel the pollution of her home world working its way back into her lungs, where it had always belonged; she could taste the transition on her lips.

She was back. Not home; this wasn’t home anymore, and hadn’t been for a very long time. But back, like a rock kicked up by a centaur’s hooves, left to tumble where it would.

Regan sobbed until she had no tears left in her. Then she rose, wiping mud on her tunic, and took stock of what she had. She had her bow; she had the bag on her back, with its traveling rations and precious survival supplies; she had her legs, which had carried her so far, and would gladly carry her farther if that was what she demanded of them.

The path running along the creek hadn’t changed. It was still overgrown with brush and briar, still shadowed by looming trees. Regan began to walk. It was surprisingly easy once she got started. She wiped tears and snot from her face as she squished mud between her toes and followed the long arc of the path, until finally, she saw the familiar shape of a human house through the trees.

It would have been natural for her to break into a run at the promise of seeing her parents, who she had never stopped loving, even if she had stopped wanting to go back to them. But she knew that once she stepped inside, everything would change, and she wouldn’t have the power to change it back. So she walked slowly across the field to the back porch. An unfamiliar car was parked in the driveway. A very familiar black-and-white cat was curled, sleeping, on the porch swing.

Regan reached for the doorknob, after first looking closely at every inch of the door itself. There was nothing written there. The knob turned easily in her hand.

She opened the door.

She stepped inside.





ALSO BY SEANAN MCGUIRE

Middlegame

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

Sparrow Hill Road

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown

Deadlands: Boneyard

THE WAYWARD CHILDREN SERIES

Every Heart a Doorway

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Beneath the Sugar Sky

In an Absent Dream

Come Tumbling Down

THE OCTOBER DAYE SERIES

Rosemary and Rue

A Local Habitation

An Artificial Night

Late Eclipses

One Salt Sea

Ashes of Honor

Chimes at Midnight

The Winter Long

A Red-Rose Chain

Once Broken Faith

The Brightest Fell

Night and Silence

The Unkindest Tide

A Killing Frost

THE INCRYPTID SERIES