Authors: Tracey Martin
Tags: #goblins, #fairy tale, #shifters, #gryphons, #magical creatures
Devon tapped his fingers around his glass. “It could change the entire power balance between us and the Gryphons. It takes away our only real threat to them.”
“Please.” I crossed my arms, letting my feet fall to the floor with a thud. “All it would do is put you on equal footing with them.”
“But there’s a lot more of them, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“There’s a lot more humans,” I countered. “Not a lot of them with Gryphon talents.”
“But they have the magi working with them.”
The only race that preds hated more than other pred races were the magi. The bird shifters possessed just as much magic as preds, but they allied themselves with the Gryphons.
Lucen cleared his throat. “Speaking of Gryphons, since Jess has gone back to working with them—”
“You what?” Devon shook his head at me. “After what you said they did to you?”
I glared at Lucen. Dezzi hadn’t taken it well the first time I went to consult for the Gryphons. At least in the end, it had worked out in her favor, so she’d forgiven me. “It’s not permanent. I’m only doing it to help a friend. One case, then I’m done.”
“Would they have you for longer?” Dezzi watched me, her near-empty wineglass at her lips.
I frowned, confused by the question. “I’m sure Director Lee would love it. Why?”
“I like this. I think it is a good thing for you to work for them.”
Lucen gaped at her along with me. “How is this good?”
“As I understand it, the only ones who know what Jessica truly is are us, Gunthra, and some within the Gryphons who will not want her secret made public. Correct?”
I wet my lips. “Yes.”
“Then it should be obvious. Jessica is one of us, though the Gryphons want her to be one of them. This council will benefit greatly from having an insider among them.”
Devon raised his eyebrows at me, and Lucen scratched his scruffy chin. Much as he didn’t want me to work for the Gryphons, Dezzi had gotten his attention.
She’d gotten mine too, but I wasn’t contemplating the idea like they were. “No. Look, I appreciate what you’ve done for me in the past, but any debt I owe you, I consider paid by foiling Lucrezia’s schemes.”
Dezzi said nothing and reached for a pistachio.
It was Devon who broke the uncomfortable silence. “Jess, I know you used to have this strange notion about supporting the Gryphons, but after what they did? You’re not human. You don’t have to be Team Human by default anymore.”
“I’m Team Me. And me is not a team player.”
“So why are you siding with the Gryphons?”
I started to bang my head against the table, then thought better of it. “I’m not. I’m furious at the Gryphons for what they did, but I’m not a part of your domus, and I’m not going to be anyone’s spy.”
“Actually,” Dezzi said, and that one word made my blood cold.
I cut her off before she could finish, glaring at Lucen. “You said no oaths.”
“Jess.” His voice was annoyingly condescending, but his expression was confused. His blue-green eyes left my face for Dezzi’s.
I sighed. “Yes?”
Dezzi pursed her lips in response to my tone. “I cannot force you to join my domus, nor would I. We live like we do for our own protection, which you do not need because you pass as human.”
This time. You don’t need our protection right now because the Gryphons aren’t hunting you right now.
Dezzi didn’t say it, but the reminder was evident in her inflection.
I forced myself not to twitch.
Dezzi spun one of the silver bracelets around her wrist. “It is tradition that if a member of the domus uncovers betrayal or a similar crime by a member of the Dom’s council, then that person is rewarded for their intelligence and loyalty by being offered the newly emptied seat on the council. As I did not believe you were one of us, I’d been considering who should fill the opening left by Lucrezia’s departure. But things have changed, as my number one so astutely pointed out earlier.” She cast a sarcastic smile his way, which Devon returned.
I watched their exchange, mind reeling as I processed what she was implying. “Wait, you’re offering me a seat on your council?” I had to say it aloud to grasp it. It was insane.
It was also, admittedly, kind of brilliant. Dezzi wasn’t forcing me to join her domus or be her spy. She was offering me a place of honor within it, and in such a way that the other satyrs would have to respect me. In one gesture, she told me I’d earned her confidence. In one gesture, she dangled out power. Protection. Belonging—something I hadn’t had since the Gryphons had dumped me from their Academy.
And if I took it, how could I not spy on the Gryphons for her? If I took it, I’d have chosen a side. The Gryphons had used me, then cast me out. Once again, Dezzi was willing to take in the satyr who’d been tossed aside. She was the benevolent queen, and this was why people like Devon and Lucen were devoted to her.
I had to admit, the offer was tempting. That willingness to trust me and treat me with respect was very different from the welcome I’d gotten from the Gryphons. Director Lee had called me stupid and reckless before blackmailing me into being a consultant.
But more than that, it was the idea of finally belonging somewhere that called to me. I’d been an outsider for so long, prey among the preds and a freak among the humans.
Dezzi took my hand, but I barely registered the lust that should have stirred from touching her. “You are one of us, though a unique one for sure. You have proven yourself extremely capable. You have won the trust and affection of someone I hold in high regard. And you live among us. By tradition, I have no qualms offering you a seat if you will have it.”
With Dezzi touching my left hand, and Lucen my right, I felt pulled in two directions, although they were undoubtedly pulling me the same way. Yet when I looked up from the table, it was Devon, sitting across from me, who I saw. Devon with the horns in his black hair where I had none, and Devon whose magic affected me still, reminding me that I wasn’t as free of pred influence as I liked to pretend.
And that was really the crux of it. Deep down, I still wasn’t one of them. Council seat or not, I would be different. Dezzi’s satyrs could feed off my emotions, and I identified as human, much to Lucen’s dismay.
Swallowing, I withdrew my hands from both Dezzi and Lucen. I would have to choose my words carefully. “I’m flattered by the offer, but I’m not ready to commit to anything.”
“Think on it,” Dezzi said. “The offer stands for the time being.”
Dezzi left soon after, but Devon lingered, to my dismay. He hung out at the bar with Lucen, and together they planned my future on the council.
“Standard council initiation for a nonstandard satyr?” Devon asked. He pushed a stray curl out of his eyes, which were focused on me and filled with mischief.
I was hoping to ignore him and have a word with Lucen before I left, but that was looking less and less likely. The two of them had been doing their best to goad me since the meeting broke up, ignoring the fact that I was in no mood for joking. Something they should have been well aware of.
Lucen leaned against the bar, scratching the scruff on his chin. “You mean the one where…?”
“That was it.”
They both stared expectantly at me.
I gritted my teeth and checked my email. I was not going to ask whatever they wanted me to ask.
Go away, Devon. You make me nervous.
“That’s always good fun, although it’s also been a long time since we had a proper orgy around here.”
“Save that for the after-party, perhaps.” Devon pointed at him. “I’m not hosting it at Purgatory. Too much cleanup.”
“Fine. Forget it. I get the feeling Jess would never admit to liking it anyway.”
Paulius, one of The Lair’s usual bartenders, furrowed his brow in my direction and took my empty glass. “What are they going on about?”
“Nothing. They’re being dorks and trying to get a rise out of me. That’s all.”
“Actually, I think you’ve got the rising thing reversed,” Devon said. “But initiation should clear that up if Lucen hasn’t managed it yet.”
Lucen punched him in the arm. God, it was like I was surrounded by teenage boys.
Paulius grinned. “So what’s initiation?”
“I was waiting for someone to ask.” Devon sighed heavily. “We expect new members to make a vow with each existing member.”
“In front of the whole council,” Lucen added.
“In the position of the existing member’s choice.”
“And a good time will be had by all.”
I tucked my phone away, very conscious of how close they stood. I could close my eyes, spin around until dizzy and still sense the precise location of both Lucen and Devon thanks to the pull of their magic. My skin itched with it, longing for two pairs of hands to descend and quench the irritation. Lucen’s hands slipping between my thighs… Devon’s tongue burrowing in my mouth…
Damn it, my clothes were getting uncomfortable. Anyway, what the hell was wrong with me? I could barely control myself around Lucen. The two of them together might rip me in half, and I didn’t even like Devon.
a traitorous voice in my head whispered.
You think he’s funny and attractive.
But I don’t trust him.
Why not? When has he ever done anything to deserve that? Is it because he’s a satyr? Newsflash, little siren: so are you.
Go piss on a salamander,
I told the voice. I hated internal arguments, and they were a hundred times worse when the subject of said arguments was gazing at me like he could read my thoughts as well as my emotions. My life had been so much simpler when I’d shunned relationships altogether.
I mimicked Devon’s impish expression. “You’re both so full of shit that it stinks in here.”
Laughing, Paulius got back to work. It was time I did the same since I was obviously not going to get that private, serious conversation with Lucen accomplished.
“Jess, are you leaving?” He slid a beer down the bar to Devon.
I stuck my hands on my hips. “Yes, unless either of you can tell me what goblin addicted Eric Marshall.”
“Isn’t he that writer guy?” Devon asked. “Highly controversial thrillers, right? I didn’t know he’s an addict.”
“Was. Not anymore. I take it that means you’re not useful.”
“I’m very useful when it’s important, as you should know. And that reminds me, I’m still waiting on my thank-you present for saving your life last week.”
“Sorry, I’m too busy saving someone else’s life
week. I have work to do. For the Gryphons.”
Lucen had grabbed my hand and was kissing it when I said that. He smacked the back of my fingers before releasing me.
“That there is your problem,” Devon said as I walked away. “You could be so much more fun if you ditched the beasts.”
“No one who knows me thinks I’m fun.”
“But we can fix that,” Devon called after me.
I left, exasperated. Hands in my pockets, I stomped the whole way back to my apartment, unsure why I was annoyed. Was it because of how Dezzi had sprung her offer on me, or because I didn’t like that it tempted me?
Lucen and Devon had been taken by surprise too, but if they had any misgivings about Dezzi’s decision, they kept quiet in front of me. Good little satyr boys. Loyal and trusting of their Dom, at least in public.
Truthfully though, I doubted Lucen had concerns. He was probably thrilled by the idea, which made being annoyed about not talking to him all the dumber. What was there to discuss? He’d want me to go for it. Was I hoping he’d talk me into it?
I didn’t think so. I just wanted someone to talk to about the meeting, and Lucen was my only option. Steph didn’t know enough, and like Lucen, I knew what her opinion would be. As for Devon, he didn’t count. The only times we managed to have serious conversations were when he was threatening me to get my nose out of satyr business. Sometimes I wondered if he was capable of being serious at all where I was concerned.
“Oh, lookie here. It’s my favorite satyr’s girlie.”
I paused with my hand on my building door and swallowed. The fury I liked to call Mace-head because of the way he wore his spiky hair—and because I didn’t know his real name—was leaving the magic shop on my right.
All I knew about him was that he’d hung around with the fury who’d tried to frame me for Victor Aubrey’s murders, and a week or two ago he’d inexplicably chased off a couple of his brethren who’d been out for revenge. Then he’d told me the fury Dom had plans for me.
My blood turned cold. Funny how I’d forgotten about that until this moment.
Bells on the shop door jingled as it closed behind Mace-head. He tucked a package under his arm so he could pull out a cigarette. “Not just strolling about anymore, are you? Moved in?”
“I do hope that’s not a problem.” My tone was icy, but really—I did hope that the furies wouldn’t consider it a problem. Because, shit, they hadn’t bothered me in a while, which was very much a good thing.
Mace-head flicked his elaborate lighter and blew a puff of smoke into the air. “Nope, no problem. Just saying hi. Being neighborly.”
Yeah, I bet. “Hi. All right then. See you later.” Probably sooner than I’d like.
Mace-head grinned. “As you say. Take care, girlie. Take very good care.”
I opened my mouth then shut it. Just like with Lucen and Devon’s joking at The Lair, some questions were best left unasked, though in this case for a very different reason.
I hurried into the building, and by the time I turned around, he was across the street.
Weird. I’d swear he was doing all this to freak me out, but I doubted I’d be so lucky. Especially thanks to Gunthra’s interest in the furies, I had a bad feeling about Mace-head’s interest in me.
My phone buzzed as I climbed the steps, and I checked the text, pushing thoughts of Mace-head from my mind.
Talk about this tomorrow for real?
Lucen had written.
I’m taking you to dinner. Be ready at eight.
Ah, yes. The date I’d demanded. He got his meeting. I got my normality.
Somewhat appeased, I armed myself with a mug of tea, my laptop and the thumb drive, and spread out on futon. Time to get to work. I’d feel a lot better when I was out of Gunthra’s debt.
Whether it was purposeful to spite me, or whether Tom was just hopelessly disorganized, I couldn’t say, but the information on the drive was chaotic. Since my thoughts were already scattered thanks to Dezzi throwing me for a loop with her offer, sorting through the confusion was almost too much. But I had to try. If Gunthra wanted this information enough to call in her debt for it, she must have a good reason.
Tom hadn’t skimped on what he’d given me, but much of what was here was information that I already knew. One month ago, violent psychopath and part-pred like me, Victor Aubrey, had gotten lucky and discovered we shared the same unusual misery-sucking ability. He’d gotten my name and contacted me, trying to get me to join in his fun. No doubt, at some point he’d hoped to entice to me to go along with his disgusting game of rape-torture-murder while feeding on his victims’ suffering.
I’d declined. Victor hadn’t taken it well and had framed me for a few murders. Or so the story went in the press, and with Victor dead—murdered in his high-security prison—no one was contradicting that tale.
The truth was more complicated. Victor was a rage addict, although I had no idea whether that was by choice or because no one had clued him in to the fact he could reverse the pred-addict bond and drive his fury master out of his head. I suspected it was both, and Victor had enjoyed being an addict.
But whichever, by all the Gryphons could determine, he’d been working with his fury master to choose which women to kill and had mutilated their bodies per the fury’s instructions. Specifically, his victims were vanity addicts, which would enrage the sylphs. Victor had also removed their hearts after they died, throwing suspicion on the magi, who—unbeknownst to most people—enjoyed human hearts as a forbidden delicacy.
It was a situation certain to spark tensions among the preds, as well as between the preds and the magi. By framing me, Victor and his master had only fanned the flames since I was on good terms with Lucen. That had turned some of the sylphs’ anger directly on the satyrs.
With regards to this information, Tom’s files contained little I hadn’t already learned with a couple exceptions, mainly how the Gryphons had tackled the investigation before focusing their energy on me. Apparently, at one point, they had covered the local magi black market in human hearts. Lovely. I hadn’t even known such a thing existed.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t see anything there to interest Gunthra. The details of what happened were boring.
The why of it all was another story. Gunthra had indicated that she believed the furies used Victor to try to start a pred war, and the facts of the case bore that out. Why else had Victor’s master been intent on getting the various pred races at each other’s throats? But I’d forgotten about the way Victor had fingered the magi too. If this had been about a war, it hadn’t only involved the preds.
Swallowing the dregs of my tea, I read on.
Victor had been killed in prison at the behest of the furies, although the Gryphons couldn’t prove it, and no one seemed to have tried too hard. Victor’s fury master had disappeared after Victor was arrested. I hadn’t known his name, so I couldn’t have identified him, and the furies’ Dom had played dumb. But all signs pointed to that fury’s demise.
Tom hadn’t done much to follow up there. Most of his attention to the case had gone into me. Hardly surprising since uncovering information about my gift was a large part of why he’d been sent to Boston.
Tom had wanted to know if my selection as Victor’s patsy had been more deliberate than first suspected. Alas, he left more questions behind than he did answers. Who concocted this scheme—was it an order from the fury Dom, or had Victor’s master been acting alone? Had the furies known about Victor’s pred-like abilities? Had they told Victor to involve me? What, if anything, did they know about what Victor and I truly were?
I read through file after file, stared at magical scans of my blood, Victor’s blood, and the many victims’ blood. None of it came close to answering the question that Gunthra had raised. Why? Whatever Gunthra was hoping to find, it was unlikely to be here. Tom, and the other Gryphons who’d worked on the case, had thought the furies were behaving oddly, but neither the main investigation nor Tom’s follow-up investigation focused on that. The Gryphons had wanted to catch a killer. Tom had wanted to catch me.
In the end, I was left with the same possibilities that Lucen and I had once discussed. Furies instilled rage in people, but confusion and fear were the emotions they thrived on. The furies—or a lone fury—could have been hoping for nothing more than to gorge on those feelings by causing a magical shitstorm, or they could have been trying to raise the sort of power they liked most for some other nefarious purpose. Who knew?
Not the Gryphons, and if Gunthra could make anything out of this mess, then more power to her, I supposed. Satisfied there was nothing in here that I needed to “accidentally” delete before turning the information over, I shut my laptop.
Thinking it was time to relax with a good book and a light dinner, I dumped the dregs of my tea in the kitchen sink. But it wasn’t Eric’s novel that caught my eye when I returned to the bedroom. It was Tom’s book.
I frowned at it. I didn’t want to read. Didn’t want to talk to Tom and hear his crazy excuses for what the Brotherhood did. Yet for some reason I grabbed the book anyway.
“Fine. You’re going to make me hear you out? I’m going to read your shit so I know exactly how to call you on it when I do.”
And now I was talking to myself. Peachy.
Book in hand, I got a yogurt from the fridge then opened it to the first bookmark. As I didn’t own a table, I leaned against the counter as I ate.
What I’d thought might be a journal turned out to be more like someone’s notebook. Each bookmark—there were three of them—had been left on a page describing a vision some magi had had. After spending a couple minutes completely confused, I wised up at last and realized I needed to read more than just the bookmarked page to understand what was going on.
The three visions Tom had pointed me to appeared to be of the same event, but the visions themselves were different. Each had been experienced by a different magi in a different time and location. Whoever had written this journal back in 1911—I’d found a handwritten date on the back of the front cover—had discovered similarities between the visions and made notes describing the way they were linked together.