Autumn Whispers (Page 33)

“Yeah, I was saying something like that earlier but Delilah didn’t like the idea.” Camille let out a curt laugh. “Hey, this is the first time in a while that the three of us have been out bashing monsters on our own, without the guys along.” She grinned, shaking her hair back out of her face. “Kind of a chance for the three of us to reconnect.”

“The family that slays together, plays together? Bonding through bloodshed?” I had the worst desire to giggle, but stifled it as we headed off the road and into the woods, heading due east.

Two miles, Ivana had said. With our abilities to navigate through the forest, it wouldn’t take long. We could move faster than FBHs and we had a lot more endurance, and a better ability to navigate during the night.

The October night was chilly and I pulled my jacket tighter. For once, Camille had chosen an outfit that wouldn’t get caught in the bushes—she was wearing her cat suit, which looked better on her because of her exaggerated curves than it had on Emma Peel of The Avengers TV show. A low-slung silver belt held her dagger, and she had traded in her stilettos for a pair of stylish suede boots.

“You giving up on the spikes?” I asked with a laugh.

She snorted. “After our skirmish with the storm, and trying to get through the rubble, I’ve decided that going into a fight in heels isn’t the best idea. If I land in one by accident so be it, but deliberately heading out? I’ll figure out some sort of outfit that works for me and for battle.”

Grateful for the lack of rain, at least for the moment, I pushed through the bushes. Menolly stopped as we neared a clearing.

“Let me turn into a bat and fly up ahead. I want to check out the general vicinity. Just hide over there by that cedar until I get back.” She motioned to one of the ancient trees that towered up through the wooded area. Cedars were thick in this area, their scent cut through the air with a sharp tang in the rain-soaked forest, and they smelled clean and fresh.

“You’re just loving the fact that you’re able to transform into a bat so much easier now that Roman re-sired you. His blood certainly did a number on you.”

Neither Camille nor I added that we still weren’t sure about the vampire lord, and that we weren’t sure if we trusted him. But there was no going back, and he had helped us more than once, so we had agreed not to present our concerns to Menolly. We all had too much stress as it was.

She laughed at me. “Whatever, Kitten. I’m just glad I can do it right now, instead of flying like I’m drunk or trying to drive a stick for the first time.” She closed her eyes, and within seconds, a very tidy pretty bat hovered above us, then she silently glided off into the night.

Camille and I crouched beneath the cedar. It was cold, and we huddled together. The sounds of the forest echoed through the area, the dripping of rainwater off trees, the soft hooting of an owl somewhere near. Creatures lived in these woods, and not just the Fae. Snakes—though it was too cold for them at this time of year—frogs, coyotes, and sometimes a stray mountain lion or two. Squirrels and lizards and slugs and all of the critters that inhabited the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest.

Camille leaned toward me, kneeling on the ground. “You know, this is helping. I still can’t believe Father’s dead, but with his soul statue shattered, I don’t think we have any choice but to believe it. I know this sounds horrible, but better it be in pieces than re-formed like Menolly’s did when she became a vampire. Father couldn’t handle the transformation. He’d walk into the sun.” Her voice shook, but it could have been the cold causing it.

I nodded, balancing in a squatting position by bracing myself against the tree. “Yeah, I realize he couldn’t deal with it. We were always aware this could happen. We never knew if he’d come home from a mission, from a battle. We’ve been prepared for this since we were little girls. I guess that he went in duty would make him proud.”

Even as I said it, I knew it was the truth. We’d always worried when he was away with the Guard Des’Estar. There had always been the chance he wouldn’t come home, and so many times we waited on pins and needles for him to walk through that door and reassure us he was okay. The odds had finally caught up to him, and by default, to us.

“So, when are we going to contact Aunt Rythwar?”

She sucked in a slow breath. “I’ll do it tomorrow. Give her one more day. We can send word to Smoky or Trillian to contact her. I don’t think we should leave home right now. There’s too much going on. I don’t feel comfortable making a trip to Otherworld just to notify her, even though she is his sister.”

“Speaking of sisters, what did you think about our cousins? I liked Hester Lou, but I’m not sure what to think of Daniel.” Something scurried over my hand and I shook it off. Probably a spider of some sort, but we’d all learned not to react loudly when on a mission.

“He’s hiding something—that much I can tell you, but I don’t get any negative feelings about him. Just . . . he’s crafty.” There was a hint of a smile in Camille’s voice and I knew instantly that she’d taken a shine to him. “I’m intrigued and I want to know more.”

“I have a feeling we’re going to find out. Hester, especially, seemed to cotton up to the idea that we’re kin. I have to admit, it cushioned the blow about Father—just a little.” I honestly didn’t know if I was trying to make myself feel better, but just saying the words gave me false courage.

“We’re going to have to get used to this. We’ve lost friends. We’ve lost family. It’s part of life and as much as I hate to sound fatalistic, considering what the fuck we’re up against, we’re lucky we haven’t lost more people. We have our husbands and wives and fiancés, we have Iris and Hanna and Maggie. We’ve lucked out. So many things can go wrong so easily.” She rapped lightly on the tree. “Knock wood we continue in that luck.”

I was about to say something else when there was a blur in the air and then we saw Menolly, hovering above us. Another blur and she transformed back into herself. It was hard to believe she’d made so much progress; she’d been such a klutz when she tried to turn into a bat before Roman’s intervention.

“I think I know where they are. The nest of them is going to be tough and we have to avoid getting bitten. Delilah got lucky with her bite—it’s healing up, but there’s no telling if the next one won’t be worse.”

“Should we wait till morning and come back with the guys?” Camille asked.

Menolly shook her head. “They took out somebody tonight. I don’t know who but they’re eating the woman’s remains.” She grimaced. “We can’t chance letting them get another victim. Who knows how many people they’ve killed so far?”

Camille frowned. “I can’t use the horn again—not until it’s recharged under the new moon. I didn’t even bother bringing it. I could call down a storm and I have my Moon Mother magic.”

“What about a death magic spell? Do you have anything that might work on them, that you can cast without Morio around?” I wasn’t sure just how entwined they were on the energy, though I knew Camille had some power on her own in that sphere.

She snorted. “I could try but there are no guarantees.”

“There’s no guarantee with your Moon magic either. In fact, your fuck up ratio seems to be pretty strong with it.” I meant it playfully but it came out a sharp jab. With an exasperated sigh, I apologized. “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound like a bitch.”

“Don’t sweat it. You’re right. The question is, will death magic even work on them? They’re magical beings, children of the Elder Fae. Does that make them Elder Fae in their own right, or are they a hybrid?”

“Well, I can try to drain them of blood.” Menolly frowned. “But I can only attack one at a time. Luckily, their toxic venom won’t do much on me. Delilah, you have Lysanthra? Can she do anything?”

I had still only tapped the surface of my sentient dagger’s powers. We were in tune, and on occasion she surprised me with a new move, but it was haphazard at best.

“I don’t know. Fuck, why didn’t we plan this out better? I feel like we’re right back to playing the Three Stooges.”

“Maybe I can help.” The voice took us by surprise. We turned around and there stood Vanzir. He grinned. “Don’t even say a word, girls. Shade sent me. If he can’t protect the house, nobody can. So just keep your yaps shut about me being here and let’s get to work. I can attack them and they probably can’t do a whole lot to me, not with their actual venom. They can hurt me but, then again, I can hurt them.” Here, he laughed, and it took on an ominous tone.

Vanzir’s powers had shifted since he and Camille had their unwilling tryst and the Moon Mother had stripped them away. They had been returned to him changed, altered in ways that even he didn’t understand. It seemed like we were all going through our metamorphoses and none of us knew where the light at the end of the tunnel was.

“I brought someone else with me,” he added, looking at Camille. “You’re not going to be too thrilled but tough titty.”

She slowly stood. “Who?”

Out of the shadows, from behind Vanzir, stepped a pale-skinned, dark-haired man. He was handsome, but had an otherworldly look about him, angular and harsh and glittering.

Camille let out a groan. “You didn’t.”

The man snorted. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Lady Camille.”

And with that, Bran, the son of Raven Mother and the Black Unicorn, stepped fully into view.

Chapter 17

Menolly stepped between Camille and Bran. “Thank you for coming. We can use the help.”

I couldn’t help but think that when Menolly had to be the diplomatic one, something had gone to hell. But Bran and Camille had developed a hostile relationship, even though they’d been ordered to work together, and from what she’d said after her training sessions out at the Court of the Three Fae Queens, things weren’t getting any better. She couldn’t read Bran, couldn’t read how he felt about the fact that she’d killed his father—even though it was by divine design. And his mother, Raven Mother, had long been after Camille to come join her in the Otherworld Forests of Darkynwyrd.

Bran gave Menolly a short, studied glance, then turned back to Camille. “Aeval bids me to come help you until your men are back from Otherworld. She sent several of her guards to your house tonight and they are patrolling the boundaries. I will stay with you for a few days until you have things settled back to normal.”

“Like hell you will. I doubt you’d enjoy our hospitality.” Camille’s eyes narrowed and she let out a little growl.

“Oh, trust me, I shall. Aeval commands it. Do you wish me to return to Talamh Lonrach Oll and inform Aeval that you decided to defy her wishes?”

A threat was implicit in his voice and I wanted to slap him, but decided that wouldn’t be the best move. This was between Camille and Aeval, and chances were, the Fae Queen would win hands down. I knew it, Bran knew it, and by Camille’s smoldering look, she knew it too.

“Fine. Just don’t get in my way.” She glared at him, relenting. “You willing to kill the children of Elder Fae?”

His nostrils flared, but a thin, razor smile appeared on his lips. “I have no qualms about killing anything or anyone I need to. Why do you think Aeval is putting me in charge of her armies?” And with that, he pulled out an extremely sharp looking short sword. It flared with a pale, shimmering light. I realized it had been charmed in some manner.

Vanzir pulled out the magical stun gun we’d taken off a dead guard during a raid when the Koyanni had been kidnapping werewolves to make Wolf Briar. He’d developed a love for the weapon, and had found alternative ways of recharging it now that the Energy Exchange nightclub had vanished. Especially since Vanzir had been the one to implode it.

I readied Lysanthra and she sang in my hand, crooning to me in a voice only I could hear. Dumbfounded, I turned around and realized she was responding to the energy in Bran’s sword. He simply stared at me, with a sardonic smile on his face.

“You like that energy, do you?” I whispered to my long dagger.

So very much. Like recognizes like, you know. The voice was clear as a bell in my head.

“By chance, you wouldn’t have anything new to show me, would you?”

Perhaps not this night, but soon . . . you never know . . . And the whisper faded away as she glimmered lightly in the night air.

Menolly led the way since she had already scouted ahead. I swung in behind her, then Camille and Bran, and Vanzir at the back. I was spoiling for a fight, and I could tell Camille was too. She seemed pissed out of her mind but she moved silently alongside Bran.

We slid through the undergrowth, as stealthily as we could, and I kept my eye on Menolly’s back. She moved in silence, totally focused. After a few minutes, she held up her hand and I motioned behind me, coming to a halt. A brief pause, then she started again. Another moment and I found myself on the edge of a clearing.

The ground was plush with a layer of mulch, a combination of wet leaves and fir needles and detritus from the autumn foliage that the trees and shrubs had shed. The chill of the night filtered through and I could see my breath in front of me, as the clouds drifted across the moon, blotting out the light at one moment, then baring the silver crescent into the open.

Menolly softly moved to the left, staring out at the group of dreglins who were hunkered over the remains of a body, feasting. With iridescent skin that changed from blue to green and back to blue again, they were sleek and hairless, and totally naked—allowing us to see their sex. I thought they might have scales, but it could have just been a trick of the moonlight. Lean and taut, they were muscled but wiry, and they ate like ravenous animals. Ripping out chunks of the woman’s gut, they dangled the intestines above them, eating them like spaghetti, their faces smeared with blood and bile. It was worse than watching zombies—zombies were killing machines, they ran on autopilot. These creatures were cunning and crafty. Ivana was right, they were dangerous, and even from here I could feel how they delighted in destruction. Jenny Greenteeth had an appetite for flesh, and so did the Dark Dugald, and they’d passed it in spades to their children.