Autumn Whispers (Page 18)

Menolly let out a little sound, and Camille grimaced. Vampires had incredible strength and the fact that she was holding on to Camille’s hand meant she was probably squeezing pretty damned hard.

Trying to figure out a way to make things better, to shed some sort of hope on the issue, I reached out and took her other hand. “Derrick and the others were down there early this morning. They care about the Wayfarer. They care about you. They were down there to salvage what they could from the rubble.”

Shade leaned forward. “And if you need money for rebuilding, well, I’m here.” He glanced at Smoky, who inclined his head. “And Smoky. We are dragons, we have great resources.”

Menolly’s lips were pressed together, and she blinked furiously, trying not to cry. After a moment, she let out a soft murmur, then asked, “Do you have a list of the dead?”

I shook my head. “Chase will bring one tonight—if he has it ready. Also, it will take some doing to figure out if any vampires died in the fire. I imagine you and Roman will have to wait until anybody who frequents the bar comes up missing. There wouldn’t be any remains left to tell, not with . . .”

“Not with vampires because fire burns to a crisp. You’re right, of course.” She looked at me, then over at Camille. “I don’t know quite what to say. I’m . . .”

I started to say, “Devastated?” but realized it would be the wrong thing. Instead, I just let her words hang in midair, and so did Camille.

After a moment, Menolly pushed back from the table. “You guys eat. I’m going to make sure I have everything for our trip.” Before we could say anything, she disappeared behind the bookshelf, back into her lair. I suspected she was crying, but when Menolly wanted sympathy, she’d ask for it. Right now, the best thing to do was let her be.

I bit into my chicken and was halfway through my meal when Menolly returned. Camille and I took the time to fill everybody in on our findings that day. “I don’t know who that guy at the Farantino Building is, but Camille got pictures.” I looked over at her. “Text them to Vanzir and he and Roz can take them down to Carter’s while we’re gone. He might be able to come up with a match.”

“Good idea.” She pulled out her phone and tapped it, and a moment later Vanzir’s phone sounded a chiming sound.

He held it up. “Got them. I’ll call Carter and see if he can meet us tonight. Meanwhile, how long are you guys going to be gone?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Hopefully we’ll be home before daylight, because if not, Menolly will have to stay there for the day.” I finished my food and pushed back my plate. “I guess . . . I’m ready.”

Camille stood up. “Me too.” The doorbell rang and she smiled. “And right on cue . . . Trillian, can you get that?”

As he moved to answer the door, Roz and Smoky began helping to clear the table. Roz pulled out Tupperware containers and began to put away the rest of the food, as Hanna rinsed off the dishes, getting them ready for the dishwasher.

“How’s Iris?” I asked her, moving to her side.

“Tired. Birthing twins isn’t easy work. But she’s happy. Her mother-in-law is doting over her and making it hard for anybody to visit. I think she feels like it’s a family matter.”

I frowned. “Iris is part of our family, so if it’s a family matter, we’re going to be involved. But she won’t put up with the hovering for long. Right now, she needs the help, though, so we’ll let her decide when she’s had enough.”

Roz turned around. “Bruce and his family better not decide to take her away from here, I tell you that much.” He went back to putting away the food.

Camille and I exchanged looks. We both knew—in fact everyone knew—that Roz had a crush on Iris, and he had for some time. He knew better than try to act on it, though. As an incubus, there was no way he could settle down with just one woman. In fact, when he’d been changed into his current form, it had broken up a very happy marriage. But his interest was apparent, and Iris knew too, and walked a careful line not to hurt his feelings.

Vanzir returned, Chase and Sharah behind him. She looked exhausted. Chase had a worried look lingering behind the smile. Nerves, no doubt. Tonight couldn’t be much fun for either of them.

“Are we ready?” Camille gathered up her velvet jacket and purse.

Trillian picked up a duffel bag, which he slung over his shoulder. Dressed in black jeans, an expensive gray polo shirt, and a long leather duster, he looked ready for clubbing rather than for where we were going.

Shade slid into his calf-length duster—brown leather—and plopped an Aussie bush hat on his head. I shrugged on my leather jacket, and grabbed my backpack.

“I guess we’re ready as we’ll ever be.” I glanced around, making certain we weren’t forgetting anything. We’d leave the laptop at home, but take our cell phones for when we returned and were ready to be picked up at the portal. We were heading to Elqaneve instead of Y’Elestrial, so the portal out at Grandmother Coyote’s land would take us directly to our destination.

“Who’s driving us out there?”

“I will.” Vanzir had managed to get his driver’s license but he wasn’t the best driver in the world, although he tried. We’d bought him a beat up old Chevy and he was content with the occasional jaunt into town. We knew he could travel through the astral on his own, so he didn’t usually resort to travel-by-auto.

He picked up his keys and those swirling eyes of his flashed. They were impossible to pin down, a color that there was no real name for, and his spiky hair was platinum blond, in a David Bowie-as-Jareth style. He was punk in a way that punk had never been and wore the grunge jeans and ripped shirts to match.

As a dream-chaser demon, Vanzir could have easily come by far more money and charmed his way into a lavish lifestyle by draining others and confiscating their money, but he had been enslaved by Karvanak, a Raˉksasa and demon general, as a sex slave. He’d switched sides when he met us, and although he was still a loose cannon, he had proven his loyalty even though he was no longer bound to us by an oath to the death.

We headed out to the driveway after Camille wrapped herself in between Smoky and Morio, turning from one to the other with long, lingering kisses. The sparks sizzled between them, and I could practically see the energy crackle in their touch.

As I glanced over at Shade, a warmth spread through my heart. I was finally beginning to understand the depth of connection that my sister had for her men, that Menolly had for Nerissa. I’d never really connected with anybody on that level before—not in a sexual, passionate manner, but now my feelings were waking up and I had begun to realize just how strong of a bond could form between two people. Or three . . . or four in the case of my sister. The feelings frightened me, to a degree, but I couldn’t deny them.

Vanzir drove us the five miles or so to the woods where Grandmother Coyote lived. A patch of woods on the outskirts of Belles-Faire had long stood empty, and gods knew who owned it, but no development had ever taken place, no buildings graced the site. The forest was thick here, cedar and fir, vine maple and fern and huckleberries. As we crossed the grassy strip that ran along the road to enter the woodland proper, spiders stretched their webs from branch to branch, the big fat striped argiopes that called this neck of the woods home.

Their webs shimmered in the blustery night, withstanding the gusts that whipped through the woodland. Camille led the way—she had been here too many times for comfort, visiting the Hag of Fate, and each time she’d come home more shaken than she wanted to let on.

Chase and Shade helped Sharah along, and we moved slowly, making sure she didn’t twist an ankle or fall. She was a trouper, never complaining, though I could tell it was hard going for her at this point in her pregnancy. I crossed my fingers she wouldn’t go into labor before we returned. Trillian and I took the back, keeping our eyes open for any possible threat.

We pushed through the wet bracken, the sound of leaves squishing under our feet along with the occasional crunch of a breaking twig. A few minutes later, the thick undergrowth gave way, opening into a small grove. Circular, cushioned with the moss that so often overtook grass, the lea was open to the sky and a deep sensation of magic pulsed through the air. Even I could feel it, and I wasn’t a witch.

A few barren oaks stood interspersed through the glade, and Camille headed toward one. She knew the way by heart now. We reentered the forest on the other side, and stopped at the base of a huge tree. A shimmering light around the trunk formed the outline of a door. Camille ignored it, but led us past, to the twin trees behind the giant cedar. There, between them, sparkled Grandmother Coyote’s portal. And waiting patiently beside it, stood the Hag of Fate herself.

“You know the way.” She hesitated as we approached her, then added, “Do your best to return safely. You are needed.” And with that cryptic note, she fell silent.

Camille dipped gracefully into a curtsey. Trillian bowed as we passed by her, and I raised my hand in greeting. Grandmother Coyote caught my gaze and I thought I saw something flicker in her eyes—a warning, or a caution, but she motioned us through to the portal.

The portal crackled and snapped, the energy running between the trees like miniature lightning bolts.

Camille turned back to smile at us. “Here we go again. Let’s do this.” And with that, she stepped into the nexus and vanished.

Chase looked back at me. “Would you go with Sharah? I know she says it’s safe but—”

“Chase, I’m right here. Don’t talk about me like I’m deaf.” She glared at him and he blushed, that scolded-puppy look on his face that I remembered all too well. After a minute, she laughed and shook her head. “Delilah, come on. Do as he asks, would you, so he doesn’t freak out.”

I stepped up, pushed Chase gently to the side with a snort, and took Sharah’s arm. We plunged through. Instantly, the crackle of energy surrounded us, ripping us to shreds as we went hurtling between the worlds. A moment later, dizzy and my ears ringing, I stumbled out of the portal, Sharah still holding my arm. She looked vaguely queasy.

“You all right?” I was worried it might have spurred on labor, but she sucked in a deep breath, then let it out slow.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Like I told you, going through portals won’t hurt you when you’re pregnant unless you’re sick or have some serious condition.”

Camille was standing there, her arms folded across her ample chest, tapping one fingernail against a stone wall near the portal. “What took you so long?” Just then, Trillian and Chase appeared, and right after them, Shade.

The portal, along with several others leading to other cities in Y’Elestrial, was located in a cave near the Barrow Mounds that guarded the outskirts of Elqaneve. Guards bordered the cave, keeping watch on who entered and exited the portals. They couldn’t prevent unsavory elements from traveling, but they could keep an eye on things if trouble appeared on their doorstep.

Trenyth was waiting for us. The advisor to Queen Asteria, the elf had been around almost as long as she had, and we all knew he was in love with her, but he would never admit it to himself, or to anyone else. Fiercely loyal, he would die for her, and it made me sad to think that he lived his life in a haze of unrequited love. But then again, perhaps she did love him. The elves were big on honor, as Sharah had said. Asteria probably couldn’t marry someone who wasn’t born to the throne—or at least born in the Court. I found myself musing that someday, when she was ready to step down, perhaps Trenyth could finally tell her how he felt. Maybe they had a future after all.

The Barrow Mounds had once been the home of an oracle. A seer, she walked in shadows, they said. Half elf, half Svartan, she was caught between worlds, both in lineage and in vision. But bandits had killed her during a raid. It was rumored that she had predicted her own demise. Now, her spirit haunted the mounds, and no grass grew over the dirt, nor plants of any kind. Stark, barren, the hill stood a solemn memorial to the unpredictable nature of life, and the oracle walked in the mists there, forever watching over her people.

Because of Sharah’s condition, Trenyth had a carriage waiting for us. We piled in, and I felt a weariness that crept through me every time we portal jumped. It might not be hard on the body, but it still took its toll.

Sharah was looking anxious. Chase wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a little squeeze. Camille and Trillian held hands, and I turned to Shade, who smiled and offered me his hand. I took it, leaning back in the carriage, staring at the open sky.

Here, it was autumn, like it was over Earthside. But it wasn’t raining . . . yet. The night was overcast and the scent of wood smoke filled the air. The noblas stedas—horses that were originally from Earthside but had been bred in a different direction once they were imported into Otherworld—clopped along, their hooves clogging a steady tattoo against the cobblestones.

We passed through the city square, where the vendors were closing down their stalls and trailing home for the night. Eye catchers lit the streets, glowing orbs of light that were formed from the very magic of the air itself. They existed everywhere in Otherworld, and we thought they might be related to the will-o’-the-wisps over Earthside. But unlike the volatile ES Fae, these orbs silently held vigil, appearing at dusk, summoned by witches and sorcerers, to light the way through the darkness.

We had been over Earthside long enough now that every time we returned home, it was like moving from one lifetime to another. Regardless of their common origin, the worlds had evolved vastly different paths since their genesis brought about by the Great Divide.