Read Dances With Demons - A Phoenix Chronicle Novella Online
Authors: Lori Handeland
Tags: #Novella, #New York Times Bestselling Author
Quinn coughed. A puff of smoke came out of his lips and drifted upward. That was probably going to happen for a while.
Megan slowly got to her feet. “What the hell are you?”
She looked furious, and he couldn’t blame her. This was quite a big secret to keep. He should have kept it. Would have if she hadn’t looked so afraid, and then...
She’d recognized him, and he hadn’t any other choice. He couldn’t keep lying to her. Not now that he’d touched her. It wasn’t right.
But then neither was he.
“Gargoyle,” he said.
“Gargoyles are made of stone,” she snapped, then glanced out the door. “Oh.”
He shrugged, realized he was naked, didn’t care. All he cared about was her.
“How could you come through the door?” she asked.
“It’s my door.”
“But the red paint protects against evil.”
“I’m not evil,” he said. At least not anymore.
“All right.” Her shoulders, which had been stiff and tense, relaxed. “I suppose that must be true since the dragon fire didn’t—” She stopped. “Why was there a dragon?”
,” he said.
“Is that what it is or who it is or why it is?”
is a fire-breathing serpent that’s been here since the beginning of time.” Quinn ran a hand over his face. His palm came away gray with ash. “St. Patrick tried to banish him after he’d expelled the serpents, but he died before he succeeded. St. Murrough gave it a go, but he was only able to confine the beast to
At her frown he continued, “A part of the River Foyle in Ulster. Northern Ireland.”
“Then what in hell was it doing here?”
“’Twas sent.” Now Quinn frowned. “Released. Murrough chained the thing beneath the water. It thrashed about so that the water there has strange tides and currents.”
“Not any more,” she muttered. “Won’t someone notice?”
“Notice?” he repeated.
“That the tides are no longer strange and the currents have gone back to normal.”
“As they haven’t been normal since around the fifth century, I doubt anyone knows what normal is.” He lifted a shoulder. “People see what they want, explain it as best they can. They certainly aren’t going to conclude that the dragon beneath the waves has died.”
“Good point. Why would someone release it?”
“A panther is the top of the food chain, love. To kill me, they’d need somethin’ special.”
“You’re not a panther. Not really.”
“When I’m a panther, I am a panther. Really.”
“A panther couldn’t burn and then rise from the ashes like a phoenix.” She scowled.
“I’m not a phoenix.”
“You aren’t going to deny that one sent you.”
He didn’t answer. He had no defense against the truth.
“Liz ordered you to watch over me even though I told her not to.”
“Liz Phoenix does what she likes, and listens to no one on this earth.”
Her scowl deepened. “She’s lost too many soldiers in her anti-doomsday army. She shouldn’t spare any to protect me.”
“She’d do anything for you.”
As would I.
“What was this?” she murmured.
“A battle. I won.”
“Won’t more Nephilim come?”
“No doubt. But it’ll take them a bit to find another dragon.” Or something worse. They needed to be gone from here before that happened.
“I meant...” She hesitated, chewing on her lip before lifting her gaze to his. “What was this?” She waved her hand between them.
He had to bite his tongue to keep from saying:
He’d only embarrass himself. She’d asked for two weeks, and he’d agreed. Just because he loved her, would always love her, didn’t mean she could ever love him. Even before he’d revealed himself to be inhuman, she’d murmured her true love’s name while still wrapped in Quinn’s arms.
He turned away before he said or did something even more foolish than what he’d already said and done.
“We agreed to enjoy each other while we were here,” he said.
“That was when I thought you were human.”
If he’d needed any more proof that she regretted what had occurred he would have had it. “There are times when I am.”
“I don’t think you’re ever truly human, Quinn.”
He was glad he still faced away so she could not see his pain. All he’d ever wanted was to be human, even before he’d met Megan Murphy.
“You should probably explain exactly
“I told you—”
“Gargoyle. But what does that mean?”
He took a breath, let it out, then began. “Long ago when the angels fell, those who’d rebelled were tossed into the pit. Some that hadn’t rebelled were still too corrupted by the earth to return to heaven.”
“They became fairies.”
“Aye. They had no idea how to survive. Suddenly human—”
“Fairies aren’t human.”
He faced her. “They are and then again not.”
“What isn’t?” Megan muttered. “Go on.”
“The fairies would not have survived without help. They got it from the beasts. As a reward for their aid to what had once been creatures of heaven, who might still be again, those animals were given the gifts of flight, of shape-shifting. They could sprout wings and turn to stone.”
“You can sprout wings?” He shook his head. “I guess no one can have everything.”
He didn’t want everything. Just one thing. Quinn shoved his wants from his head. The way Megan hovered near the door, as if she wanted to run from him made him ache. She would never want him again.
“Eventually the fairies could manage on their own,” he continued. “The powers that be,” he lifted his chin toward the ceiling, “tasked the gargoyles with protecting the weak and unwary innocents from demon attacks.”
“I’m neither weak nor unwary.”
“You are innocent.”
She snorted, then her gaze sharpened. “What did the powers that be offer in return?”
He looked away again. “Why would you think they offered anything but the joy of helping others?”
“Spill it, Quinn. You’ve gone this far.”
“Humanity,” he said, then met her gaze. “The more humans we save, the more human we become.”
“Why would you want to be human?”
He blinked. “Excuse me?”
“You can’t die.”
“I assure you I can. Why do you think Ben gave you that sickle?”
“To kill you?” Her voice was incredulous. “I thought he was your friend.”
“Ben Skrewd is no one’s friend. He’s a gremlin.”
Megan opened her mouth, closed it again. “A what?”
“Gremlin. He’s a cranky old fellow who can fix anything with a motor.”
“Sounds like a bad-tempered mechanic.”
“He is. Except he uses magic when things get very difficult.”
“Wait. I read about gremlins. They were invented between the World Wars to explain problems with the aircraft.”
“I assure you that gremlins have been around much longer than that. They just weren’t noticed as much until planes began to fall from the sky. And gremlins didn’t cause the problems, they tried to remedy them. I’m sure they were around the airplane motors more than usual. A creature such as Ben would be fascinated by an engine that could allow someone to fly without wings.”
“What did they work on before there were motors?” At his curious expression, she continued. “You said gremlins were around a long time. From what I know about your kind, you were here before there were engines.”
“Wheels needed to be fixed as well, love.”
She let out a short, sharp laugh and rubbed her eyes. “Is anyone just a person any more?”
“You are.” Which was why he longed to be. Foolish, really. She didn’t love him, couldn’t love him, wouldn’t love him. So why become human for her?
He had no idea, all he knew was that he craved humanity with the desperation he’d once craved blood.
“Why would Ben think you’d hurt me?” Megan’s gaze searched his and uncertainty flickered. He hated seeing it there but he couldn’t blame her.
“Liz would never allow me near you if there were any chance I might.”
Her uncertainty fled. “That’s true, but then why the sickle?”
“There was a time, long ago before I’d saved many when I did hurt people. I killed people. I can’t blame Ben for being uneasy. I’m the reason for all those red doors.”
.” She had to have known this, but she hadn’t yet said it out loud.
She nodded, considering. “You came here as a statue, in that box.”
“I must spend a few hours in every twenty-four as a panther—flesh and blood or stone—doesn’t matter. There was no way I was going to get a panther out of one country and into another, and I don’t have a passport, so...”
“You became the statue and sent yourself Federal Express.”
“Close enough. Once here, I...” he paused, not wanting to admit what returning to Ireland after so many years away had done. But this was a time for truth, so he told it. “The smell of the air, the feel of the place called to what I’d been. I shifted and the box...”
She made the motion that mimed explosion. “Boom.”
He shrugged. ’Twas as good an explanation as any.
“How did the Nephilim find us?”
“I’ve no idea.” Betrayal, most likely, but by whom, how? And if it had happened once, it could happen again. He had to make certain it didn’t.
“I’ve no idea about that either, though...” He paused and something in his face made hers pale.
“She spoke to me in my dream last night.”
“Dream walking?” He nodded and she cursed. “That means she’s hurt or nearly dead.” Her lip trembled. “By now she might be completely dead.”
“When the leader of the light dies, we know.”
“We just do. DKs and seers are secret.” Or at least they had been until recently. “Only the leader of the light knows all of their identities. If he or she dies before passing the knowledge on, we feel it, and we’re drawn to the new leader.”
Silence settled over them, but only for an instant before she blurted, “The children,” and swayed.
He stepped forward, hands out to help and she cringed. He dropped them to his sides.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just...”
“They’re safe. There are others like me watching over them.”
“Just like you?”
“Perhaps.” He had no idea who, or even what, had been sent.
“I have to get to them. Now.”
“There is no getting there now,
She cast him a sour glance, and he waited for her to ask the meaning of the word.
, he thought,
She looked away. “Says the man who can turn to stone and grow a tail.”
“I cannot fly,” he said, wishing, and not for the first time, that he could.
“Are there any dragons on the side of light?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Something, anything, that can fly us across the ocean?” He shook his head. “Teleport?” Quinn frowned, confused, and she made an annoyed sound. “Get us from here to there in a blink.”
“Not even the leader of the light can do that.”
She swayed again, and this time he knew better than to touch her. “If anything happens to them, Quinn, I’ll never forgive you.”
He didn’t think she was ever going to forgive him anyway.
* * *
I paced while Quinn used his cell phone. Odd that his worked, then again maybe not.
The man I’d slept with was a gargoyle.
I stifled the hysterical giggle.
was a sentence I’d never thought would run through my brain.
He’d saved my life; he’d no doubt do so again. However, if anything happened to my children I’d rather he not bother.
Quinn snapped the phone shut and turned to me. “They’re on their way.”
“I sent Ronan to—”
“Who the hell is Ronan?” I was shouting. I couldn’t help it.
“He’s a... well, he’s two things really. I don’t think there’s a word for him yet.”
“That’s just great.”
“Ye needn’t worry. Ronan is very trustworthy.”
I wasn’t going to touch that. My head was already pounding.
“Do you think I’d send anyone who was not?” he asked quietly.
He was right; I knew that. It was just... they were my babies. They always would be. The idea of them on a plane, flying across the ocean, alone, or even with Ronan, whatever he was—
“I want to go to them.”
“No,” Quinn said, and opened his phone again. I grabbed it and threw it across the room.
“How are you going to get them out of the country? Please tell me you aren’t turning them into stone and shipping them in a box.”
“We can’t turn humans into us.”
“You can just turn yourself into humans.”
“Only God can do that.”
“God will make you human,” I repeated. Another sentence I’d never thought to hear. “My in-laws would never allow anyone but me to take my children.”
“As far as your in-laws know, you did.”
I gaped. “What did you do?”
“You’ve seen me turn into a man when I was a panther. You think there aren’t beings that can turn into anything, or anyone, that they want? Why do you think I sent Ronan, besides his loyalty and huge muscles?”
“He’s a shifter?”
“Among other things.”
“And he turned into me?”
“Do you have a better idea?”
“Yeah, take me home.”
“I can protect you better here.”
“They already found us here.”
“Which means they’ll find us anywhere. There’s a traitor, a leak, something. I know this land; I have friends here.”
“You mean the villagers who are scared of you?” He lifted one shoulder. “You have an odd definition of friends.”
“We stay,” he said.
“Until Liz tells me it’s safe to go.”
“The kids are supposed to start school in less than two weeks.”
“Oh, well,” he said, and retrieved his phone.
“Oh, well?” I repeated. “You might not be aware that I just finished high school and became a mom and now I own a bar.”