Authors: Gayla Drummond
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Mystery, #werewolves, #urban fantasy, #Shifters, #Vampires, #Magic, #Paranormal, #psychic
"Right. I started seeing him five days ago. He walked straight out of the tigers' Solstice bonfire and has been hanging around since. Only he talks to me. Ginger never did, not while I was awake."
The two men traded a look before Derrick spoke. "Escalation."
"The first illusion didn't speak. The second does, which is an escalation."
"Oh. Yeah." Duh. It was a logical observation. "But what are they? I thought maybe I was having delusions because of guilt, but I don't feel a damn bit guilty over Merriven."
Derrick chuckled. "No reason for you to. These illusions are obviously meant to affect you negatively, which means someone wishes to harm you. Who would gain from doing so?"
Good question. The only answer I could come up with was, "Maybe a vampire?"
"I don't know of any able to create illusions another can see without there being blood exchanged." Derrick shook his head, his brow furrowing.
"Elves are masters of illusion," his son remarked, as the dining room door opened. Servants entered, and speedily emptied the trays they carried. We waited until they left before picking up the conversation again.
Derrick had a bowl of pale, pink broth. It smelled like chicken and copper. I chose not to comment on it. "The only elf I know I've pissed off is the prince. I don't think I've done it enough to make him decide to drive me bonkers."
"The gods often drove people mad with illusions." Derrick dipped a spoon into his bowl. I picked up my fork and tried a bite of the linguini on my plate. It was delicious.
"I kind of met someone that happened to. A psychic."
I huffed. "How do you find this stuff out?"
Derrick smiled. "The Unseelie's reappearance was a rather big event. I'd heard of her, and knew the Unseelie had captured her. Bits of gossip have been floating about, Miss Cordi."
My head bowed. "So you know what happened."
"That you saved Queen Maeve's life? Yes."
My next bite tasted like ashes. "Rhaetha was a psychic. Like me. But she was victimized by Morpheus and Maeve, and I killed her."
"True, but I assure you, it's better for the world that Rhaetha is dead. She would've laid waste with her every step, and killed everyone who crossed her path."
He was probably right, but that didn't make me feel any better about it. "I guess."
"You ended centuries upon centuries of misery for her," Derrick quietly said.
By frying her with electrokinesis. Cooking her from the inside out. I shuddered and put my fork down, my appetite gone. "Can we go back to my immediate problem, please?"
"Certainly. Elves, gods, and there's always the possibility someone has cursed you."
"The only curser I know who had a problem with me is dead." Dalsarin had turned me into a dog, which had been pretty interesting and was the reason I could now talk to dogs.
Stone swallowed his last bit of linguini. "Crossed any witches lately?"
"Nope." The only witches I knew were friends. "Who else can do curses?"
"Anyone with magical ability and no issues hurting others."
I scowled at my plate. "I'm pretty sure I haven't pissed off anyone but vampires and Thorandryll."
"You killed Apep's Avatar, and were involved in bringing about the death of Morpheus." Derrick focused on his broth when I transferred my scowl from my plate to him.
"Thanks for reminding me." Crap, it certainly appeared a god was the logical choice. I sighed. "How do I find out which one is behind it?"
"Ask. Perhaps Cernunnos or the other god who took part in ending Morpheus knows."
"I'm really beginning to feel like people know more about my life than I do." My complaint earned quick grins from both of them. "It's not funny."
"Of course not," Derrick agreed before putting his spoon aside and lifting a snowy, linen napkin to dab his lips. "But it is something you'll grow accustomed to."
"People being nosy? I doubt it." Being a private investigator, I was supposed to be the nosy one.
"You're a person of interest to many, even beyond Santo Trueno. It's been quite some time since a psychic with many abilities has walked among us. You're dangerous now, even as young and relatively inexperienced as you are. They'll watch and listen as you grow into your full potential." Derrick's expression was solemn.
A chill chased the length of my spine. "What if some of them don't like what they hear or see?"
"You don't need us to tell you," Stone said. "You already know the answer."
Yeah, I did. Either someone would try to kill me, or I'd end up in the Unseelie dungeon, under lock and key. I felt my bottom lip quiver and forced it to stop by pressing my lips together. "Being a psychic really sucks ground glass sometimes."
"Colorful sentiment." Derrick smiled, a sympathetic glint crossing his face. "My advice is to continue what you're doing, and make this city fully yours."
I started, my eyes widening. "I'm not..."
"But you are. You've allied yourself with a powerful coven. You are in the employ of a powerful and highly respected lord. My people are in your debt, and you are a queen of the city’s tiger clan." He rested his elbows on the arms of his chair, clasping his hands together across his stomach. "Through your clan, you are also allied with the Pride. The Lord of the Hunt has an interest in you, as well as that other god. The Unseelie owe you twice over, for helping to free them and for saving their Queen, and you have friends among the Seelie."
I tried to protest again. "I didn't mean to do any of that stuff."
The vampire laughed. "No, and that makes it all the more frightening. You didn't plan any of it. You simply try to help people, and these are the results. You're a wild card, unpredictable in the extreme."
Maybe I needed to rethink my decision to keep my job. Early retirement certainly looked super-attractive about then. If it weren't for the fact I had a pack to feed and a thirty-year mortgage hanging over my head, I could retire and move to some quiet, little corner of the country after bleaching my hair and having a bit of plastic surgery. I'd need to change my name too. "Why me?"
Stone snorted while taking a drink, and choked. Tea splattered down his chin and dotted his dark blue shirt. He caught his breath, laughed, and cleared his throat. "You're just lucky that way."
My glare earned another deep laugh from him. "Doesn't feel like luck. More like I have the Doom of Damocles hanging over me."
"Rest assured that I will inform you, should I learn of any viable threats," Derrick said. "And I swear upon my blood that I will stand with you against them."
I blinked and felt odd for a few seconds, surprised. Sure, we were definitely on friendly terms now, but promising to fight on my behalf, like some knight of old? "Wouldn't that make you a target?"
"Then don't say that."
"It's already said."
"Look, I apparently have a pissed-off god on my butt. I don't want anyone dying because of me." Unless they deserved it, I silently amended. Once, I would've thought he did just because he was a vampire, but not anymore. Strange as it was to think, Derrick and Stone were good people.
Derrick inclined his head. "Your concern for my well-being is a welcome change, and I thank you for it, but I've made my choice."
Freakin' stubborn vampire. I glanced across the table at Stone, hoping he'd say something. He did, but not what I silently urged him to. "My master speaks for me as well."
Damn it. I'd only come here for information, and had face-planted into a pair of declared allies. Hadn't Patrick, Nick's aggravating older brother, said something about Fate? Yeah, he'd called her an old hag. I agreed with his assessment and wondered if there were anything I could say to change their minds. Nothing popped up so I gave in to the inevitable. “Thank you.”
"If it helps, we both have several centuries of survival practice." Derrick grinned.
I had to grin back. "Yes, that does help."
needed time to digest things, so decided to walk to my favored exit from the Barrows before teleporting home. My path led me past the late Lady Esme's estate.
The gates were opened, and it didn't look as though anyone had moved in. I stopped and checked the top of the walls on either side, wondering why. Gargoyles perched along them at irregular intervals. Maybe it was theirs now? Focusing on the one at the left of the gate, I said, "Hello."
Gray stone turned to red scales, and the gargoyle tilted its parrot-beaked snout down to look at me. I hadn't actually expected a response. "Hi. I'm..."
"Lady Discordia Jones," the gargoyle rasped. "We know you."
"Oh, cool. I was just," I stopped, because it probably had seen me walk up. "Just wondering how Tase is."
Parrot Beak stared at me. I heard the weird grinding in my head, which seemed to be the sign of telepathic communication among gargoyles. "Step inside."
"Okay." I took a few steps forward, and halted, checking over my shoulder. "Is this..."
Something landed on my head, whipping the back of my hair into a frenzied cloud. A small, feline head slid into view from above. My eyes crossed when I tried to focus upward. "Hi, Tase."
The tiny gargoyle's tail kept wagging, and he patted the bridge of my nose with his miniature hand. "I knew you'd come back to see me."
My eyes felt strained, but I smiled, wondering when he'd become so talkative. I'd been lucky to get two words, via telepathy at that, from him the first time we met. "You're too cute to forget." I lifted my hand. "Would it be okay if you sat here instead of on my head?"
His response was a leap and turn. Tase sat up, his tail winding over the edge of my hand to anchor himself. I melted when he smiled at me, baring his itty bitty fangs and wrinkling his short snout. Baby gargoyles were precious. Or at least Tase was. "What have you been up to?"
He straightened to his full height, which was roughly six inches. "I am learning to read."
"Wow. That's awesome." I wondered why a gargoyle would need that skill, but didn't ask because he was smiling again.
Tase stretched out his puny wings. "And I am learning how to use my magic. Mama says it's time for that."
"You're a busy boy." Movement on the right caught my attention. Merriven wiggled his fingers in greeting. Tase turned his head and froze. A second later, his terrified squeal rang in my ears as the baby gargoyle lunged from my hand to bury himself in my hair.
"Oh, crap," I muttered as every gargoyle in sight suddenly became animated, and back-pedaled when a large, dark figure landed with a thump in front of me. "I didn't hurt him."
Petra, Tase's mother, hissed while settling back on her haunches. The other gargoyles returned to stone. Realizing my hands were raised in a "Stop" gesture, I lowered them. "Sorry."
Then the little gargoyle's reaction hit me like a sledgehammer. Tase had seen Merriven. A sideways flick of my eyes confirmed the vampire, or rather, illusion of him, was still present. "Wait a minute. Can you see him?"
Petra turned her head to follow my forefinger as I stabbed it in Merriven's direction. "I see nothing."
Damn it, I'd hoped she could, that it was some gargoyle super-vision or something. Tase shivered, slipping from my hair to my shoulder. I felt him push his head forward while sliding his tail around the back of my neck. "It's him, Mama. The one who killed our lady and her family."
Verbal confirmation the little guy could see Merriven wasn't necessary by that point. I felt awful he was scared, but slightly relieved, too. "I'm sorry. I had no idea this would happen."
Petra growled, still inspecting the spot Merriven stood. "You see that foul creature?"
"Unfortunately, yes." I held absolutely still when she swung her head my way. Warm breath, redolent of cinnamon, gusted over my face before Petra drew in a deep breath.
"You've been hexed."
Hexed, the same thing as cursed—or I thought they meant the same thing. "Looks that way."
"Come." She turned while rising to all fours, and I ducked to avoid the lash of her spade-tipped tail. Petra prowled away, her massive, lion's mane-embellished head lowered. Tase tucked his head against my ear to say, "Mama can fix it. I haven't learned how to yet."
"Really?" Without waiting for his answer, I hurried after her.
"Yes. Mama knows so much. I'll never learn it all."
I reached up to gently pat the side of his small body. "I bet you will. Little ones learn things faster than big people do."
"Yep. My mom says babies and little kids are like sponges. They soak up everything."
"What's a sponge?" Tase wanted to know.
"Tell you what, the next time I have to come down here, I'll bring one," I promised. "So you can see how they work for yourself."
Petra led us around the dark pile of rocks passing for a vampire mansion, and to a smaller pile that formed a cave. "Wait here."
"Yes, ma'am." She disappeared into the opening, while I sat down on a convenient rock. Tase's breath, also fragrant with cinnamon, tickled my earlobe as he sniffed. "What are you doing?"
"Trying to smell the hex."