Autumn Whispers (Page 29)

Ivana did nothing without recompense. We just had to watch what we offered her, because if there’s one thing the Elder Fae could do, it was twist the meaning of words. Especially when there was a deal involved.

“Yes, we can. We’ll see you there in an hour.” Camille hung up. “I agreed we’d meet her in the park in an hour.”

I glanced outside as I tore off a piece of the cinnamon roll. It was so good, I thought I’d just have to buy a second for the road. “It’s pouring rain.”

“I’m not going to melt and neither are you. Now, let me call Carter and see if he’s going to be home.” She stabbed one of her sausage links and ate it down before she picked up her phone again. A few minutes later, we were set to meet with Carter at around 4:00 P.M.. We finished our meal and I ordered a second cinnamon roll to go, then we left a good-sized tip and headed out to the car.

“We still have half an hour before we need to meet Ivana. Can we stop by Jason’s and see if he’s done with my Jeep?” I was getting really tired of relying on others for my rides.

“Sure thing.” She scooted out of the parking spot and we were off.

Fifteen minutes later we pulled into the parking lot at Jason’s garage. We headed into the office and he was there, poring through some parts catalogue. Jason was a fine-looking man, dark and bald, his skin the color of coffee. He and Tim had been together for a number of years now, and he treated Tim’s little girl like his own. She was somewhere around six or seven now, and while Tim’s ex-wife still had issues with him, she never took it out on his relationship with his daughter. He got her every weekend, and did his best to be a good father.

Jason smiled when he saw us come in, waving. He’d finally come to accept Tim’s involvement in the Supe Community, and even accepted that Tim’s best friend was now a vampire. Erin Matthews—Menolly’s “daughter.” In fact, we’d met Tim through Erin, when she still owned the Scarlet Harlot and both he and Camille had shopped there.

“Hey girls, what’s shaking?” Jason turned around and grabbed a set of keys off the pegboard behind him, tossing them to me. “Don’t even ask. Your baby’s ready.”

I laughed. “You’re the best! What was wrong with her?”

“Do you really want to know, or do you just want the bill and the lifetime guarantee?” He snickered, pulling out his ledger.

I laughed. “Got me there. Okay, I trust you. How much do I owe you?” I pulled out my wallet and took out my credit card.

He grimaced. “It wasn’t cheap, girl. I had to order a lot of parts. Whatever the hell you did to it, I’d like to know. Or maybe not. Anyway, bill comes to nine-hundred fifty-eight dollars and thirty-nine cents. And that’s with your friends and family discount.”

I coughed, but handed over the credit card. Jason was a good guy, and he didn’t stiff anybody. Which is why he had repeat clientele, and a damned fine reputation. As he rung up the service, I turned to Camille.

“I’ll take my Jeep and follow you. I’ve missed her.”

“I had that mess on the side of it detailed, girl.” Jason gave me a smile. “You’ve had that bad cover-up job on there too long.”

I gaped at him. “But that had to cost . . .”

“Shut your mouth, sugar.” He winked. “I will not let one of my friends carry around the memory of a hate crime.”

Back in February, shortly before Iris’s wedding, my car had been the victim of a hate-filled graffiti artist who had tagged it with, “Go home, Faerie Sluts!” in red paint. I’d covered it up the best I could with spray paint but it never had looked right. Now, the door matched the rest of the paint job—a turquoise blue.

I hopped over the counter, surprising Jason, and gave him a quick hug. He froze at first, then hesitantly returned the embrace.

“Damn girl, you are strong. I can feel your muscles through that jacket.” He grinned at me then.

“You’re pretty fine, yourself. Those are some big guns you have there.” Jason was built like a body builder and I had no doubt his biceps were ooo-baby worthy. “You work out a lot?”

He nodded. “I do. In fact, I teach Thai boxing. You interested in learning?”

I cocked my head to the side. I’d always wanted to take up one of the Earthside martial arts classes. “How much time is required? If I’m out on a case, or have to be in Otherworld, am I going to get kicked out for not showing up? I don’t want to commit to something that I might have to flake out on.”

He pursed his lips, smiling. “We could schedule private lessons. Then we can reschedule as needed. When you have the time, it would be best to go for two classes a week, plus keeping up with your regular workouts.”

I slid my credit card back in the holder. “Sounds good. I’ll give you a call later tonight or tomorrow to talk some more. Thanks, Jason. Tim has himself a good man.”

“I know, love. I know.” And then he shooed us out. “I have work to do. And I know you do, too. Off with you now.”

As we left the shop, I glanced back. “I hope to hell he and Tim weather knowing us. I’d hate it if—”

“Don’t say a word. Don’t even think it. They will be all right because we need them to be okay. I can’t handle seeing another friend hurt. Not now. Especially not with Father missing.”

As I climbed in my Jeep and started her up, enjoying the purr of her motor, the rain turned to hail, the pea-sized ice balls bouncing off the hood and windshield, covering the pavement. I followed Camille out onto the road, the silver of the sky glimmered like light shifting onto layers of crinkled foil.

We headed to the park to meet Ivana, and all the way there, I couldn’t stop thinking about Father. Had he managed to get out? Was he searching for us? And if he had, surely he would have contacted us by now—or contacted Trenyth.

Was he trapped, unable to escape? Would he die, starving to death, while rescue workers frantically tried to dig out those who lived through the carnage? Or was he already dead and buried, at the bottom of a heap of rubble?

I tried to keep my focus on the road, to shove the thoughts out of my mind. Worrying wouldn’t speed up finding him. Worrying wouldn’t do anything but interfere with what we were supposed to be focusing on.

Our father was a guardsman most of his life. He had been fully prepared to give his life in the line of his work. When he’d become Ambassador, even for the short time it had lasted, he had been prepared to give his life in service to Queen Tanaquar. And now, as head of the OIA, Otherworld Division, there was the chance he’d be killed. He’d known the risks, and he’d taken them.

Just like we knew the risks when we joined up.

Just like we knew the risks when we chose to fight the war against Shadow Wing. We could have gone home to Otherworld. We could have let Smoky take us all away to the Dragon Reaches where we would be safe. But we were bound to our honor, to our duty. And we took our responsibilities seriously. No, we all knew how precarious life was, and we never took it for granted.

At the same time, we were ready to lay down our lives in this battle. All of us—my sisters, our lovers; even Iris and Hanna. We knew what we were facing, and we still pressed on. We’d lost friends along the way and every time it hurt like hell, but what else could we do?

And so, if Father was dead, we’d weep and we’d mourn, but we would accept it as part of who he was, and what he did, and what he stood for. And we would carry on, through the dark nights of war, as we walked through the fires the demons were pushing before them.

Chapter 15

Ivana Krask was waiting in the park. Camille and I darted through the rain to where she was sitting. The Maiden of Karask was dressed like a bag lady. Her face was a gnarled map, covered in burls and knobs. She had a pointed chin, reminding me of a bird, and her eyes were beady, sharp, and piercing. But we now knew just how illusionary her appearance was. Underneath that shabby persona was a brilliantly powerful Elder Fae who could shatter our hearing with her voice, who could rise up like a beautiful and terrible monster.

She stood, her polyester muumuu shifting under the too-large coat. Her silver hair was tucked under a scarf, which barely kept it under control. The staff in her hand made me nervous. That damned thing could suck up spirits right and left. Ivana collected them for her garden of evil ghosts, where she tortured them, feeding off their pain for magic.

Camille gave her a sharp curtsey and I bowed. Always paid to be polite when you were standing in front of someone who could make mincemeat out of you. A sharp wind blew by and Ivana laughed, raising her staff.

“A ghostie on the wind, come to me, my pretty. Come to the Maiden.” And with a zap, her staff lit up and we saw something wispy filter into it. A sharp wail sounded, though it was so high-pitched that any FBHs around wouldn’t hear it. They might feel a flash of fear, a sense that something wasn’t right, but they’d just shake their heads and move on.

We watched her smile, her razor-like teeth sparkling. She licked her lips and turned her beady stare to us. “Witch Girl and Pussy Cat. Too bad my Dead Girl is sleeping, for I would like to converse with her. I like dead things.”

“We seek a deal, if you would be willing to listen.” Camille knew the pattern better than I did so I kept my mouth shut. It was dangerous to dabble with the Elder Fae unless you knew what the fuck you were doing, and I was the first to admit that I was clueless about effective bargaining.

Ivana sat down on the wet bench, motioning for us to join her. Great, time to get our butts soaked. But we did as she asked. Again: you don’t quibble with those who can make you look like a dust mote.

“What say you, Witch Girl? What do you want from the Maiden of Karask? And what will you bargain with? Bright flesh would guarantee you a deal, you know.” Her crafty smile reminded me of a crocodile.

“We are not going to give you bright meat. No bright flesh!” Camille stared at her sternly. Ivana was always trying to get us to bargain with babies. The fact that she meant it, and that she actually ate them with relish made us even more leery, but the Elder Fae lived so far outside our realm that there was no way to get through to them how bad of an idea this was. We just refused every time she hinted around.

“Then state your deal and I will see if it tickles my tooth.” Ivana glanced past her, coyly looking at me. “Standing back, are you, Pussy Cat? Afraid of the Maiden, perhaps?”

Involuntarily, I scooted over on the bench, moving away. I didn’t have any desire to be the focal point of this conversation. I decided my best course of action was to remain silent.

She sniggered and turned back to Camille. “State your deal, Witch Girl.”

Camille cleared her throat. “Prime beef flesh, for information that will benefit us. I will tell you what I want to know. If you have the answer, payment will be ten pounds of tender steak.”

Ivana sighed, frowning. “You drive a hard bargain. No bright flesh, today. If you were to throw in a chicken and some tasty fishes, we could strike a bargain. If I have the information and choose to share it.” She leaned back, seemingly unaware of the puddles of water that raced down the bench.

“Very well. Ten pounds of beef flesh, a chicken, and a salmon. We want to know how to kill dreglins. What makes them vulnerable? And do you know where any might be hiding around here?”

Ivana cocked her head, a smile playing over those thin lips, which made her seem even more nerve-racking. “So, old Jenny’s offspring have made the leap? They are here, are they? Jenny and I, we are not such good friends. We fought, long ago, over the same man. I finally decided he was not sweet enough for so much blood to flow and let her have him. She feasted well that day. But, she also made an enemy, and we have never been on terms.”

Camille held out her hand. “Seal the deal?”

Ivana accepted, shaking with a dark twinkle in her eye. “Witch Girl, you have too little fear. Or too much need. But yes, we seal the bargain. I will tell you what I will, and then you bring me the meat.”

“How do we kill them?” Camille wiped a strand of her hair out of her face, where the rain had plastered it to her cheek.

I pulled out my notebook to take notes. Granted, the pages were getting wet, I was soaked through, and the whole day was a soggy mess, but I wanted to be sure we remembered everything.

“Dreglins . . . they are tough little bitches. They have a nasty bite to them, too.” She paused, then looked at my arm. “Perchance the Puss has found that out?”

Couldn’t pull much over on Ivana, that was for certain. I held up my hand. She’d outed me, so no use in lying to her. “Yeah, one bit the hell out of my hand. Hurt like of a son of a bitch, too.”

Ivana nodded, touching her nose. “Dreglins, they are dangerous and not very intelligent. The bloodline . . . they inherited the hunger, but not the smarts. And Jenny, she just keeps popping out the litters. I surmised it would only be a while before some of the kits found their way over to this side of the world. Their venom comes from their father.”

“So they hunger for blood and flesh, and they don’t reason well. What else should we know about them?” A fat drop of rain landed on my nose, slowly trickling down to the pad of paper.

“They are quick, and can hide. You could not see them because they are like chameleons—they can shift color when they are in the forest. In fact, my dearies, you might think of them as the komodo dragons of the Fae world.” Ivana grinned. “They have the venom to go with it. So yes, they are fast, easy to conceal, venomous, and deadly. The best way to catch them is to lay a trap and then have at them with your blades and magic. They cannot resist quick and easy meat—on the hoof, though. They don’t scavenge, not often. So you find a good plump wench and put her out in their territory, and they will sniff her out.”