Kate Ristau is an author and folklorist. She writes young adult and middle grade fiction, along with grammar primers that won’t make you cringe. In her ideal world, magic and myth combine to create memorable stories with unforgettable characters. Until she finds that world, she’ll live in Portland, Oregon with her husband, her son, and her dog. If you can’t find her there, you can find her at kateristau.com.
- I am a terrible artist. If you ask me to draw a taco, it will look like a fish.
- I am a trained barista…which is good, because I drink about three cups of coffee every day.
- I have a dog named Winslow. He’s loud, but has soft fur.
- I love the Mountain Goats (the band) and the mountain goats at the Oregon Zoo.
- I studied folklore in Ireland.
- I usually put on headphones while I’m writing…so people don’t bother me.
- I write in coffee shops. Because there’s coffee there.
- I did AmeriCorps right after college. It changed my outlook on life.
- I love scones. Especially plain ones.
- I wish I had more books and more time.
Áine lives in the light, but she is haunted by darkness, and when her fey powers blaze out of control, she escapes into the Shadowlands. But she cannot outrun her past. Fire fey and a rising darkness threaten the light, burning a path across the veil. Her fiery dreams come to life, and with the help of Hennessy, an uninhibited Irish girl, Áine dives into the flames to discover who she truly is. Her mother burned to keep her secret safe, and now Áine wields the deadly Eta. She must learn to fight in the shadows — or die in the flames. This is not a fairy tale.
Áine’s foot crossed the threshold and darkness consumed her. She put her hands out, afraid she’d fall face-first into the void. But the shadows tricked her, and she stumbled onto solid ground.
She laughed and pushed herself back up, wiping the dust off her cloak. Her voice echoed in the dark, spitting her laugh back at her, and then disappeared into the eerie silence.
She straightened up and stood there a moment, squinting hard into the blackened tunnel, but nothing stared back at her. In fact, it just seemed darker than before. She took a deep breath to clear her head.
It didn’t work. Everything became even more jumbled. Confused. Why was she here in the first place? And why was it so dark? The Crossing. She was crossing into the Shadowlands. Was she already through? She couldn’t tell. It felt like the ground was shifting even though she was standing still. She reached forward, searching for something to hold onto.
Her hand grazed the inside of the tree, the rough bark catching underneath her fingernails. A splinter of pain shot through her hand and she pulled her finger back and sucked on it.
Of course, with everything she had been through, everything it took to get here, she would hurt herself on a stupid tree. If Ciaran saw this, he’d never let her live it down. Baby, he would call her. Thumbsucker. She’d never hear the end of it.
Even now, she couldn’t get him out of her head.
“Come back soon,” he had said. “Don’t make me wait too long.”
“I will.” Áine smiled.
“You’ll make me wait?”
“No, I’ll be back soon.”
“Good.” He pulled her face up to meet his own. “Safe travels.”
“I’ll see you in the Fairerlands.”
So much between them remained unsaid, and so much more had already been whispered. She didn’t know what came next.
The darkness closed in and her smile faded. Maybe he wouldn’t be making fun of her right there—in the middle of the Crossing. Even smiling felt wrong in the emptiness. It was the type of place where even Ciaran would swallow his jokes.
Áine took another step, hoping it would get easier, hoping her eyes would adjust, but the darkness grew deeper, and her chest started to tighten. She rubbed her hand along her ribs and tried to take a deeper breath, but the air was heavy and sharp. It scraped at her lungs, sending shivers up and down her arms. She shuddered and jerked her legs forward. She had to keep moving.
She took another step, then gasped as her stomach twisted and cramped. She staggered forward, reaching her hands out toward the wall, and collapsed against it, falling to her knees and shaking violently as waves of pain crashed through her.
It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. She should have already made it through. The wards… They were strengthening. Refusing to let her cross. Not letting her go. She’d be trapped between worlds forever.
She flexed her fingers, trying to hold onto the heat, trying to hold onto anything. But the cold flashed through her, slicing away at her arms. Her hands seized and stopped, frozen in front of her face. She couldn’t move.
Her breath stuck in her throat. She couldn’t breathe.
This was it then. The last of it. She wasn’t going to make it. Her eyes burned—she just wanted air. She searched wildly for something—anything—to help her. Some way to change what was happening. To stop it. Something that could—Oberon, she had no idea what she needed.
Just when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore, that she would die unless she took another breath, she realized she was blinking. Just a twitch. She focused on her fluttering eyelashes and nearly screamed when warm air slipped back into her lungs.
Air. Her mind spun around the word as she breathed in and out, pushing the air into her lungs over and over again.
She fell to her knees, her face in the dirt. Finally, she could move. She could breathe. She sighed with pleasure as she felt the warm air course through her, then laughed into the dirt underneath her lips. Finger-sucking didn’t matter anymore. She was on her hands and knees like a dog, panting and lapping in each breath like it was fresh churned butter. Áine already knew what her nickname would be. Cú-Sídhe—the ultimate insult, that shaggy fairy mutt who was not even terrifying anymore. He just smelled like old fish.
Áine held onto the wall and dragged herself up to her feet. She could do better than that. She would do better.
She saw a sudden flicker of light ahead and her breath quickened. She staggered toward it. The glimmer became a twinkle, then brightened to a glow, and then it formed a dazzling outline against the darkness.
The end of the Crossing. The Threshold. She was almost there. Just a few more steps.
By the time she reached the end of the tunnel, she could have danced into the night. Twirled into another world. All that stopped her was a thin sparkling sheath that clung to the end of the tunnel.
The final test.
Áine raised her hand toward that dying light and with one swift stroke, she broke the barrier between the worlds. As she crossed into the Shadowlands, the wind whipped against her face. It smelled like rosemary, like salt, like freedom.
She caught her breath and held it, afraid to let the moment end. She had wanted this for so long. She’d dreamed of making the Crossing. It was like coming home.
The other Barrows children had always made fun of her, told her to go back to the Shadowlands. Said she was different. And she was. She was tall. So tall. Aunt Eri called her “big boned.” The nymphs called her fat.
She looked more like a Shadow than any of them. And they knew it. With her long auburn hair and big bones. Aunt Eri had shushed them. Told Áine not to listen to them—that she belonged right where she was. The Aetherlands were her home.
But then the dreams began. It was like the Eta were casting her out, rejecting her. The darkness started to gather around her, creating shadows in the Aetherlands—where they had never seen any before. And to make it worse, the Eta didn’t come when she called, or they flocked to her when she didn’t, and the day Ratrael burned—
She forced the image out of her head. Not now. Not him. “This moment is mine.”
The wind blew her hair into her face, and she pushed it back, staring out into the darkness and the wide path cutting through the forest. But as she trained her eyes on the path, her stomach seized. Before she could stop herself, she screamed in terror.
A giant red beast barreled toward her. Its red skin shined with silver stripes, fire burned in its eyes, and its roar filled the forest. Áine ducked down quickly, praying it hadn’t seen her. But she had already caught the Guardian’s attention, and it barreled toward her.
The beast was flying down the road, its legs spinning in circles, its arms held tight to its sides. Áine pulled her heavysack over her shoulder, nearly collapsing from the weight of it. Counterbalancing, she staggered toward the tree line, running as fast as she could. When she reached the tallest tree, she dove behind it, then screamed in defiance as she wrenched herself back up.
She locked eyes with the Guardian and lifted her head high. The beast held her stare, rushing toward her. She could feel every single beat of her heart as she raised her fists to meet it.
It was almost upon her, ready to leap across the ditch, when it suddenly veered off course and flew past her down the road, abandoning her to the forest with one final roar. She saw one word–TOYOTA–before it hurtled out of sight.
Áine covered her ears, crouching behind the tree until she was sure the Guardian was gone. She took a deep breath, felt the air slip in and out, then rose to her feet. She had to keep moving. Her eyes searched across the ditch where she saw the side of a massive cottage, just beyond the path, with lights flickering in the windows.
She dug her feet into the ground, gathered her strength, and then burst through the undergrowth. She tore through the tree line and dashed toward the back door of the building. A light suddenly flashed in front of her, and before she could stop herself, she crashed into a short girl holding the flame. They fell to the ground, and Áine wrestled the fire out of her hands, afraid they were both going to get burned. She rolled off the girl, then grabbed the edge of her cloak and beat down the flames.
“You idiot!” the girl yelled. “What are you doing to my phone?”
The girl reached over and tapped the blazing light, mumbling anxiously, and the color of the fire shifted under her fingers.
Aunt Eri had warned Áine about this strange magic. Eri said that the Shadows had harnessed the power of the sun. No one really knew for sure, as few fey had made the Crossing since then. But now Áine saw this girl—her own age—holding cold fire in her hands, and her heart raced, afraid of what other magic the girl might know, and of what she could do.
“What’s wrong with you, freak show?” the girl asked. “Why are you attacking my phone?”
Áine could barely understand what the girl was saying. Her accent was thick and blended, mixed with phrases Áine had never heard before.
“Hello?” she shouted, waving her hands in front of Áine’s face. “Earth to weird girl. Seriously, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” Áine said. “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to attack your…phone. I have never seen—”
“You’ve never seen a phone before? Oh my God, where are you even from? Mars or something? Seriously, you run out of the woods like David Beckham and clobber me and then you’re all like you’ve never even seen a phone before?”
When the girl stopped for a breath, Áine said, “I didn’t mean I’ve never seen one before. I just meant I have never seen one like that before—”
“An iPhone? God, you must be from Mars. Or maybe Cork or something.” The girl suddenly lightened up and smiled. “My name’s Hennessy, by the way. Yes, like the cognac; my da thought it was sooo funny. What’s your name?”
“On-ya. Good. That’s so much better than Tonya. How awful would it be to be stuck with that name? I like Hennessy myself, and Áine’s good too.” Hennessy smiled, grabbed a tie out of her back pocket, and pulled her jet-black hair back into a ponytail. She wore a tight, short black shirt that said “The Eolian” on it. She wasn’t wearing a cloak, and she wore strange pantaloons with lots of pockets. “Where the hell is Tom?” she said. “He was supposed to meet me here after my shift. I’ve already been outside for like twenty minutes. He probably forgot. He always does this. You going in?”
“Yes, inside, dimwit. Into the pub. You don’t have to. You can stay out here with me. If you want to. I’m kind of starting to like you. Can’t imagine why. Maybe it’s the cloak. So vintage. But the scarf—or whatever that is—has got to go. You’re cute, though. Quiet, but nice. Except for when you tackled me.” She laughed hard, and Áine couldn’t help but smile. The girl’s energy rubbed off on her.
After a moment, Hennessy quieted down and stared into the blazing light of her phone again. Áine glanced back toward the edge of the forest, looking for any sign of the Guardian. The forest was dark and quiet.
“Do you know how to get to the ferry?” Áine asked.
“Those are the most words you’ve ever said to me.” Hennessy laughed and put her phone in her pocket. “And talk about random. You mean the Aran Islands?”
“I’m going to Inis Thiar.”
“You mean Inisheer. It’s one of the Aran Islands. Only old people call it Inis Thiar. And you’re not old. The ferry’s over in Rossaveel by my house.” She pulled out her phone again, tapped it, then suddenly shoved it back in her pocket. “Screw Tom. I can take you there if you want. It’s only about ten minutes away, but it would take you a couple of hours to walk it. I’ll give you a ride.”
Áine remembered what Ciaran had said: Shadows can’t be trusted. They’re liars. Thieves. Murderers. She shook her head no.
“Oh, shut up. It’s not that big of a deal. And Tom’s pissing me off. Come on. I don’t wanna go back in there, and I really don’t want him to think I’ve got nothing better to do than sit around the pub and wait on him all night.”
Áine heard a tree branch snap, and her head whipped back toward the forest. Branches rustled, and she caught the gleam of an eye. Two eyes. Had Ciaran followed her? She told him not to—wait—four eyes. Six. No—eight.
“What is that?” Áine whispered.
“Nothing. I really have to go. Thank you for the help.”
“What? You’re leaving now? Like, right now?”
A loud crash sounded through the forest, and then a scream, like the very trees were being torn apart. A crow burst out of the darkness, and then another. Áine had only ever seen crows in her schoolbooks, with their long black feathers and sharp pointed beaks, but she knew what they were. Traitors. Come back from the Hetherlands.
“We need to go!” Áine yelled as she grabbed Hennessy’s hand and pulled her toward the side of the building. “Now!”
“What’s going on?” Hennessy asked as she stumbled after Áine. “What’s with those birds?”
Áine turned back and saw a dark swarm crashing through the forest. The light from the tavern gleamed on their sleek feathers; they barreled toward her with unnatural speed. Áine yanked on Hennessy, trying to get her to run faster. “Come on! We have to get out of here!”
Áine’s words jolted Hennessy back to life, and she let go of Áine’s hand and broke into a full sprint. “Come on—I’ll take you!” Hennessy yelled over her shoulder.
The crow’s wings beat against her back as she ran after Hennessy. It clawed at her sleeve, tearing her shirt, and a wave of pain rolled through her as she whacked it into a tree. She glanced down at her arm and her stomach churned. The crow had scratched its way down her arm in a fury of pain and red.
Red. Blood. Everywhere.
Her foot stuck something hard. She stumbled, but caught herself before she hit the ground. Blood. Blood. Dripping down her fingers. She shook her head and jumped back to her feet, running toward the front of the tavern, trying to not even think about—
She ground to a halt, her breath catching in her throat.
“Why are you stopping?” Hennessy grabbed Áine’s arm and pulled her toward a bright white beast. Its eyes flashed red, and then it cheeped loudly.
Áine recoiled, but Hennessy wasn’t afraid: she shoved Áine toward the beast and yelled, “Get in the car!”
“No!” Áine yelled. She turned to run from the beast just as several crows swooped down, ripping at Hennessy’s hair with their long black claws. Áine swung her heavysack at the incoming birds, knocking several to the ground. Hennessy flailed wildly at the crows, pushing them out of the way as she ran around the beast. She jerked on the beast’s arm and, without stopping, she jumped inside it.
“Stop!” Áine screamed. “Let her go!” She pounded on the beast with her fists, but it was hard as iron, and she left smears of blood with every punch. The beast roared in response, but that didn’t stop her. She had to get Hennessy back. She slammed her body into the beast and a beam of light suddenly lit up the night. Áine turned to see a man, dressed in a long black cloak with a hood, standing by the tavern door. The ground turned to ash around his feet and smoke poured from his fingertips. She could almost taste his repulsive sulfur smell. His piercing red eyes glowed from beneath the shadow of his hood and the moment she caught sight of them, she was transfixed.
Fire. Flames. His pale white hands wrapping around her throat, his long nails scraping away at her skin—
She tore her eyes away from him, and her mind cleared.
Then his voice blasted into her ears, “You have broken the law of the Crossing. You are not supposed to be here.”
Áine recoiled from his icy stare and covered her ears, trying to stop the pain, and was knocked off balance as Hennessy somehow pushed open the flesh of the beast.
“Sorry—it sticks sometimes. Get in.”
The man reached inside his cloak and, without another thought, Áine took a deep breath and dove into the beast. Hennessy reached over and pulled the beast’s arm, sealing its flesh. The pain in Áine’s ears immediately ceased. The beast roared beneath Áine’s feet and suddenly lurched backward. Heart pounding, Áine clutched her legs and tried to catch her breath.
Through the beast’s clear skin, she could see the man running toward them. He held his hand above his head, and it pulsed with a deep blue flame.
“He’s coming!” Áine yelled.
The beast squealed and suddenly swerved, and Áine watched as a ball of fire blasted by them. With a squeal, the beast jerked out of the way and crashed through a bush, and then they were on the road, light beaming before them, flying through the dark night.
Looking behind her, Áine saw the man standing near a huge silver beast, the crows swirling around him. A dark smile clouded his face as he raised a hand in farewell.