Authors: Susan Illene
By Susan Illene
Copyright © 2013 by Susan Illene
All right reserved.
This book, whole or in part, may not be copied, scanned, or reproduced by electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying or the implementation of any type of storage or retrieval system) without the express written permission of the author, except where permitted by law. Please do not participate or encourage the piracy of copyrighted materials. Purchase only authorized editions.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events portrayed within its pages are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not meant to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, undead, or mostly dead is purely coincidental.
To all the victims and their families of the May 2013 Oklahoma tornado outbreaks. You will be remembered.
Sometimes doing the right thing can have unintended consequences. It can turn your life upside down and alter it in ways you never imagined. For me, the decision to save a friend came at a cost I might never stop paying. I’d been hiding amongst humans for most of my life, but now the supernaturals had me in their clutches. Whether I could survive in their world remained to be seen.
I stiffened when my latest customer came through the door. She had long, orange-red hair pulled back in a braid and a pudgy nose that flared every time she breathed. Surprise reflected in her brown eyes when they met mine. I’d only worked here for a few months, but not all the supernaturals, or sups as I preferred to call them, in the area had seen me yet. Their reactions made me wonder if they pictured me as some kind of monster. I could say the same of them.
This woman was from a particularly nasty race that had my instincts screaming to run. Trolls were carnivores and not picky about their meat sources. My unusual abilities allowed me to recognize a sup’s race as well as pick up on their emotions. They were a sort of warning system that gave me the chance to see danger coming, but these days they did little good when I couldn’t get away from it. I didn’t sense anything hostile coming from the troll, but for all I knew she could kill me as easily as lick a lollipop.
Working in a shop that catered to supernatural needs didn’t make things any easier, but my funds were starting to run low and jobs weren’t easy to come by in this economy. Felisha, a fairy and sort-of friend, had offered the position after her business picked up. Many sups had returned to the area after we’d rid it of a vampire-witch hybrid with maniacal tendencies five months ago. I couldn’t throw a tombstone without hitting one these days, and that was saying something, considering I wasn’t stronger than any regular human.
I shifted my weight to the balls of my feet, wanting nothing more than to run. Troll or not, though, I couldn’t go. My former military training wouldn’t allow me to leave my post unattended—or herb shop in this case. I glanced below the counter in front of me. My fully-loaded gun rested safe and within easy reaching distance. One wrong move and I’d blow the troll’s head off. Felisha could yell at me later for the blood stains on the floor.
I pasted a smile on my face. “Can I help you?”
In a sort of waddle, she made her way toward me. Herbal fragrances permeated the room, but the troll over-powered them with a scent comparable to a sewer line. My fingers twitched. How offended would the customer get if I kept my nose plugged until she left? I’d probably end up in a roasting pit by nightfall if I tried it.
She stopped a couple of steps from the counter. I could barely see her head over the top. Her eyes shifted to the doorway leading to the back storage area before returning to me.
“Where’s the fairy?”
I braced my hands on the counter. “Gone until tomorrow.”
“Just as well,” she said. “I came to see you anyway.”
“Me?” Nothing good ever came from sups looking for me.
She nodded. “Ain’t none of us fans of you bein’ here, but it’s about time you proved your worth.”
I crossed my arms. “I got Nikolas back for you all didn’t I? That’s more than any of you managed to do for him.”
“Hmph, I ain’t sayin’ you didn’t never prove useful.” She paused to look around—probably to make sure the master vampire in question wasn’t going to pop out and punish her for harassing me. “But we don’t like you stickin’ around here.”
“Well that makes two of us.” I leaned forward. “If you got a problem with it, by all means, go talk to Nikolas because I’m all for leaving.”
Most of them didn’t know I’d tried to escape and failed. The vampire hadn’t dragged me back—he didn’t have the ability to find me that fast. One of his powerful friends, and my greatest nemesis, handled the job. Between the two of them I couldn’t get free of Fairbanks.
The troll’s face hardened. “Trouble is brewin’. Some think you caused it, but me—I’m hopin’ you’ll be the one to fix it.”
“What trouble?” I asked.
“Demons.” Her voice grew ominous. “They’re comin’ for us if someone don’t stop ‘em. That someone should be you.”
These people never gave up. She was the third person to come in talking about them in the last couple of days. It had to be another ridiculous attempt to force Nik to get rid of me. Only he and his inner circle wanted me here.
“There are no demons in Fairbanks,” I said. “What makes you think they’re coming?”
“I hear things,” she said in a low voice. “I got friends who tell me they’re close and it’s just a matter of time afore they make their way here.”
“Are you sure they said demons?” I asked. She might believe what she said, but that didn’t make it true. I’d never run into one in my life and I felt confident my senses would have picked them up if I had. So far, nothing out of the ordinary had come around Fairbanks. Well, nothing weirder than usual.
She huffed. “What are ya, deaf? I said demons and I meant it. Don’t be looking at me like I’m the crazy one.”
My lips thinned. I grabbed a container of non-iodized salt from the shelf behind me and set it on the counter in front of her. Felisha had told me what to do if more people came in asking about a supposed demon threat. “Here’s some salt. Put it across all the openings in your home. That will keep them out.”
“What if I leave me house? How am I supposed ta protect myself then?”
“If you follow some kind of religion, I’d suggest you do whatever it instructs. Demons hate dealing with anything based on a ‘higher power’ and tend to shy away from religious symbols if your belief is strong enough.” Another piece of advice from Felisha. I believed in God, but avoided organized religion. If a demon came around, I’d have to hope the higher power of my gun scared them off.
She frowned. “That’s it?”
“Yep.” I held out my hand. “That’ll be five dollars.” The salt would be cheaper if she went to a grocery store, but we’d had to rush the shipment and raise prices to cover it.
She scrunched up her nose and dug into her purse. I couldn’t see what was inside but she started pulling stuff out in what I assumed was a search for her wallet. First came a sealed Tupperware bowl she set on the counter. Worms moved around inside it. I didn’t want to know why she carried those around with her. A brush filled with her orangish hair came next. A carving knife—I took a step back for that one. Finally, more odds and ends she stacked up in front of me in one big heap. How much could that purse hold?
“Ah hah!” She smiled and pulled a coin purse from the depths of her bag.
Her gnarled hands snapped it open and took out a wad of bills—all of them wrinkled and stained with faint brown spots. She had enough to make me wonder what trolls did to get their money. Then again, maybe I didn’t want to know. One by one she began to count them out. I made a mental note to spray them with sanitizer after she left. Maybe use some gloves too.
More customers headed toward the shop at the same time as the troll pushed the money across the counter. I sensed the two pixies before I saw them through the front windows. The couple walked through the door and surveyed their surroundings. Thankfully the troll had finished putting all her stuff back into her purse, including the salt, before their gazes reached the counter. They weren’t much taller than my first customer, but they were much easier to look at. The man and woman had fair skin, light builds, and green hair. Like all pixies, they had a thing for bright colors.
A family of about twenty of them had moved to the Fairbanks area a few weeks ago. The town had never had any before. They reminded me of my former best friend, Lisette, who lived back in California. She wouldn’t speak to me anymore. I’d pissed her off when I had Nik compel her to leave Fairbanks after she’d refused to go on her own. It had been for her safety, but she didn’t see it that way. A lot of things had gone wrong in my life since coming to Alaska.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
They took a few small steps closer. I could tell they didn’t want to get near the stinky troll woman anymore than I did. At least, I thought that was the case until the female pixie met my eyes. Pure hate filled them. Great. They hadn’t even been here long and they were already full-fledged members of my anti-fan club.
“What do you know about the demon problem?” she asked.
I lifted my brows. “There is no demon problem. If any had come to Fairbanks, I would have sensed them.”
“They may not be here yet, but we know they’re close.” She braved another step forward. “We have children to worry about. If you’ve brought them here you can be sure you’ll be paying for it.”
“Who’s telling you this?” I asked. Was there some demon warning hotline I didn’t know about? Why did they think I had anything to do with it?
She sneered. “As if I’d tell you. You’d probably send the demons after them next.”
I made myself count to ten before replying. “I’ve never met a demon and even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to control it. Whatever you’re hearing, it’s not true.”
The pixie’s husband pointed a finger at me. “Everyone knows your kind once had the angels at your beck and call. Maybe you’re doing the same with demons now.”
I glanced at the clock. Emily would be getting out of school in ten minutes. She’d come straight to the shop afterward and I didn’t want her walking into the middle of this. They had no idea the fifteen-year-old girl was a sensor as well, but she might slip and say something in defense of me. If these sups found out, they wouldn’t care that she’d had her abilities for less than a year. They’d attack her too. Racist bastards.
Somehow, I had to channel my inner diplomacy and get these people out of here.
“Look, there are no demons here. If they do come to Fairbanks, though, I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. For now…” I grabbed another canister of salt and set it on the counter. “You can pour this in your doorways and window sills. It will keep them out of your homes.”
I went on to explain the religious angle. Thanks to Lisette, I knew most pixies were Catholic. They had loads of stuff they could use to help them combat demons.
“Why should we trust anything you have to say?” the man asked.
“Because,” I said. “This is my home and I have people I care about here too. I don’t want demons here anymore than you guys.”
The troll and the pixies stared me down. Great, they were starting to form a mob mentality. I put a placating hand up. “I’m serious. Use the salt and take my advice. If demons do show up in Fairbanks, I’ll do my best to help get rid of them.”