"Magregor, if you think you're going to toss your cookies all over my clean counter, think again. Get to the bathroom now, or I'm going to kick your butt into the middle of the street and teach you the meaning of roadkill."
I wiped my hands on one of the crisp white rags that we used to clean the counters of the Wayfarer and carefully draped it over the railing behind the bar while keeping a close eye on the goblin. I didn't like goblins.
Not only were they conniving little sneaks, but they posed a potential threat for my sisters and me. The goblin bands were in league with our bitch-queen back in Otherworld who had effectively exiled us by means of a death threat. Until the civil war was over and she was vanquished we either had to stay Earthside, or head for cities other than Y'Elestrial if we decided to go home to OW. One loose tongue-and goblins were squealers-and Queen Lethesanar might find out where we were.
The elves had helped us rig the portal leading from the basement of the Wayfarer so it pointed into the shadowed forests of Darkynwyrd, but that only eliminated the immediate threat of the Queen's guards coming through. Now we had to cope with all sorts of skulking creatures wandering through. But we didn't dare close the portal permanently. We needed quick access to Otherworld.
I wouldn't have minded the occasional goon poking his head through my doorway, but the elfin guards watching on the other side were lazy. This week alone I'd been in four fistfights with miscreant Fae, taken out three kobolds, put the kibosh on a touchy-feely gnome, and barely corralled a butt-ugly baby troll who'd somehow managed to sneak through.
"Try an' make me leave, dolly...I'll show you jus' what women are good for." The goblin thrust his pelvis toward me with a lewd grin and grabbed his crotch. He was plastered all right. He had to be sloshed, or he would have slunk out of there, shaking in his boots. By the look on his face, I figured that I had about five minutes before his supper paid him a return visit.
"No, let me show you what women are good for," I said softly as I leapt over the bar. His eyes went wide as I landed silently beside him. I could smell his pulse, and the beat of his heart echoed in the back of my mind. Even though you couldn't pay me to touch goblin blood unless I was starving, my fangs extended and I gave him a slow smile.
"Holy shit." He tried to scramble away but only succeeded in wedging himself between his stool and the next one. I yanked him up by the scruff of his collar and strode over to the stairs leading into the basement, dragging him behind me. He struggled, but there was no way he could squirm out of my grasp.
"Chrysandra, keep watch on the bar for a minute."
"Sure thing, boss." Chrysandra was my best waitress. She'd been a bouncer over at Jonny Dingo's for awhile, but got tired of being harassed by sleaze-balls for minimum wage. I paid her more, and my patrons knew better than to harass the help. Or at least most of them did, I thought, looking down at the goblin as I hauled him toward the basement and tossed him over my shoulder in order to carry him down the steps. The goblin squealed, kicking the hell out of my stomach.
"Can it, dork. You can ram your size-4's into my midsection from now until doomsday without making a dent," I said, then hissed at him.
He blanched. "Oh, shit."
"Yeah, that about sums it up," I said. Being a vampire had its perks.
As I entered the basement, Tavah looked up from her post near the portal, which shimmered like a nebula between two large standing stones. She glanced at the goblin, then at me. "I didn't think he was supposed to be here..." She let her words drift off as I tossed Mr. Unlucky on the floor.
"No way can we allow him to go back through the portal. I suggest you take an early lunch," I said.
Tavah blinked, then broke into a toothy grin. She wasn't as picky about her meals as I was. "Thanks boss," she said as I turned to go back upstairs.
The goblin let out a startled cry behind me, cut off in mid-shriek. I stopped for the briefest of moments. The basement was silent except for the faint sound of Tavah, lapping gently. I quietly shut the door and returned to the bar. There was no sense in taking a chance the goblin might run back to Otherworld, or Y'Elestrial, and spread tales. Neither the queen nor the tattered remnants of the OIA knew we were still here. And we wanted to keep it that way.
The Wayfarer was rocking. When I'd first been assigned to work the bar, I resigned myself to serving a bunch of drunken sots and sad-assed streetwalkers. But to my relief and surprise, most of the Fae who came to the Wayfarer drank enough to have fun, but not enough to cause problems.
The full-blooded humans who came in were pretty good sorts, too. They spent good money to fritter away the evening in the presence of various Fae and Earthside Supes. All except for the Faerie Maids, that is, and they only irritated me because they were cheap. Cheap as in, buy one drink and nurse it half the night while taking up valuable booth space. They were there for one reason and one reason only: to be taken advantage of by some pussy-hungry denizen of Otherworld.
To be honest, I felt more pity for them than irritation. It wasn't their fault they were vulnerable to Sidhe pheromones. And if anybody should have exercised restraint, it was my father's people. We all knew what could happen when sex worked its way into the mix, but a number of humans didn't understand. Over the months, however, I'd learned to keep my mouth shut. On the rare occasions when I tried to dissuade a love-struck Faerie Maid from her quest, I'd been met by disbelief. A few times, by outright anger.
With the goblin taken care of, I returned to the counter just in time to see Camille and Trillian wander through the door. My oldest sister, Camille was gorgeous, with long raven hair and violet eyes. She was curvy and buxom, and dressed ala designer BDSM, decked out in a leather bustier and flowing chiffon skirt. Trillian looked like an escapee from the Matrix with his black suede duster, black jeans, and black turtleneck. A Svartan-one of the darker-natured cousins to the elves-his clothing and skin blended together in one long jet silhouette while his silver hair hung free to his waist. Wavy and coiling, it had taken on a life of its own, that hair. As a couple, they sure turned heads.
I waited until they chose a booth and then wiped my hands on the bar rag and tossed it to Chrysandra. "I'm taking a break," I said, heading over to join them, carrying a goblet of Blossom Wine for Camille and a Scotch on the rocks for Trillian. I could do without the Svartan, but I needed to talk to Camille. She glanced up as I slid in beside her and gave her a quick squeeze.
Trillian flashed me a brief smile. As usual, I ignored him. "What did you find out?" I asked her.
She leaned back, shaking her head. "They've disappeared. Trillian looked all over but couldn't find any sign of either Father or Aunt Rythwar. There houses were deserted, everything gone."
"Shit." I stared at my nails. They were perfect, and they always would be. "Anybody have any idea where they went?"
Trillian spoke up then. "No. I checked with all my usual sources without any luck. Then, I managed to scare up a few who weren't happy to see me-they owe me big and were hoping to stay hidden a little big longer. But nobody seems to have any idea where your father and aunt went."
"You don't think that Lethesanar found them and killed them, do you?" Camille asked.
I grimaced. "Ugh, that's not the question I really want to hear." But even as I said it, I knew she was right to ask.
"No. Their soul statues are still intact. I checked your family's ancestral shrine. For another, you know that she wouldn't be able to resist parading them around the court and we'd hear about it for sure. Lethesanar loves to flaunt her victories over her enemies. She'd schedule public executions with full fanfare. No, I think your father and aunt just found a damned good place to hide and are waiting it out."
Trillian leaned back, draping his arm around Camille in an easy way. Someday, I'd have to come to terms with the fact that they were back together and likely to stay that way. I might not be happy about it, but there wasn't much I could do. And he was helping us, I had to give him that much credit.
I thought about this for a moment, then decided to ask another question I really didn't want to ask. "What about our other problem?"
"No word yet," Trillian said.
Camille let out a long sigh, the violet of her irises flecked with silver. She'd been running magic and running it heavy. "Queen Asteria's guards can't pick up any sign of Wisteria, and the Elwing Blood Clan seems to have disappeared from the radar. They aren't anywhere near their usual haunts, and nobody's heard anything about what's going on. But they're up to no good. We can guess that much." Wisteria, a floraed gone bad, had teamed up with a Degath Squad of demons - Hell Scouts - to kill us. She'd gotten a little surprise when we'd deposited her in the Elfin Queen's dungeons. Unfortunately, she'd escaped. Rumor had it, she was now teamed up with somebody I really didn't want to remember.
"I know what the Elwing Clan is capable of." I closed my eyes for a moment, pushing away the memories that haunted me if I let myself dwell on them for more than a moment. At least during the night, when I was awake, I could shake them off. "So," I said, meeting her eyes. "What do we do next?"
Camille shrugged. "I don't know what we can do. I suppose, we watch the portal, watch the news, and hope to hell the elves finally get some luck scouting for them."
"Asteria told us to visit Aladril, the city of seers and look for a man named Jareth." I wanted to do something. Sitting around, waiting for something to happen, made me fidgety. The best defense is a good offense, was my motto. Surprise the opposition before they have a chance to surprise you and you didn't have to worry about getting stabbed in the back. Or staked in the heart.
"I know, but what do we say to him? How can we expect him to give us answers when we don't even know what questions to ask." Camille tapped her foot on the floor. I could feel the vibration of her leg.
"I don't know," I said after a long moment. "But we'd better think of something soon. With a clan of rogue vampires on her side, Wisteria could do a lot of damage if she makes it back Earthside."
"You really think they'll listen to her and not just drain her?" Camille frowned, tracing a spiral with her finger in the condensation that dripped to the table from her glass of wine.
"Maybe. At least long enough to get here. Psychos tend to stick together, and the Elwing Blood Clan is run by Dredge, the biggest psycho of them all. Aren't we the lucky ones?" I glanced over to the bar where a sudden rush of customers appeared. "We're headed into a rush here so I'd better get back to work. I'll meet you at home. Just be careful. Something's going on-I can feel it."
Camille lifted her face, letting the overhead light bathe her in a golden glow. "You're right, I can smell it on the wind. We're in for a bad jolt. I just don't know what it is." She motioned to Trillian. "Come on. Delilah and Iris are probably waiting dinner."
As they bustled out of the booth and headed toward the door, Trillian lingered behind. "Eyes open," he said. "The Elwing clan will take to Wisteria like a duck to water. Keep a tight watch on who comes through the portal."
I nodded as he turned to go. I might not like him, but he had a good head on his shoulders. I turned back to the bar and surveyed the room as the crowd thickened. Within five minutes, the joint was packed. Over the past month or so, the Earthside Supes had discovered the Wayfarer and were making their way out of the closet in droves.
In addition to several run-of-the-mill Fae from Otherworld, I spotted two lycanthropes whispering in a corner booth, a gorgeous werepuma woman who was reading a copy of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, a half-dozen house sprites engaged in some sort of drinking game, and a couple of FBH neo-pagans who were taking divination lessons from one of the Elfin seers who'd taken up residence Earthside. There were also four Faerie Maids, all looking for a good, hard fuck. They'd been here two hours and had bought two rounds of drinks.
I was headed over to shake them down when the front door burst open and Chase Johnson strode through, a nasty ketchup stain covering the front of his shirt. About to make a snarky remark, I stopped cold when my nose picked up the fact that it wasn't ketchup after all. Chase was covered with blood. Swept under a sudden wave of dizziness, I forced myself to close my eyes and count to ten.
One...two...don't even think of attacking. Three...four... remember that I ate before I came to work. Five...six...Chase is Delilah's boyfriend, hurt him and you piss her off. Seven...eight...push the temptation to the side. Chase is a nice guy, don't even go there. Nine...the blood isn't coming from Chase, it's merely on his suit. Ten...take a deep breath even though I don't need to breathe, let it out slowly, loudly, send the tension and thirst with it to be cleansed and negated.
As the last of the air left my body, I opened my eyes. Each time, it got a little easier. Each time, I felt a little more control returning to my life. During my hunts, if I wasn't out scouting for pervs but instead had to drink from someone who was just an innocent bystander, I made use of the technique. It kept me from doing permanent damage, although I'd given up re-training my psyche to view the process as nutrition rather than pleasure. It always felt good, and it always would.
"Chase, what's going on? Are you hurt?"
His eyes widened as he met my gaze, but then he shook his head and nodded toward the door. "Across the street, at the theatre. We got a report about some sort of fight going on. By the time we got there we found four dead. Two men, two women."
"What went down?" Whatever it was must have been bad. Chase knew better than to come around my bar all bloodied up. With Earthside Supes and denizens of Faerie hanging out here, it was an unwritten rule: if you were sporting a nasty laceration or a woman in the middle of a heavy menstrual flow, stay away from the Wayfarer. Blood scent risked setting somebody off because blood was an aphrodisiac to a number of Supes.
Yeah, something had happened to make Chase break with convention.
"Vampires," he said. "The victims were drained of blood but no obvious cuts or wounds. Sharah examined their necks and sure enough-twin punctures on every one of them. They were up in the balcony, near the back, where nobody else was sitting. So nobody saw what happened."
Vampires? Of course there were vamps in Seattle, but ones who would resort to attacking humans in a theatre? That didn't track right. The V.A. had been working hard to combat feeding on the innocent.
I shook my head. "Did you catch them?"
Chase frowned. "We couldn't find any sign of them. We thought you might be able to help. The wounds are fresh, the vamps are probably close by. If anybody can find them, you can."
I groaned. "You want me to play Buffy? Give me one good reason why I should go staking my own kind?"
Chase gave a rough laugh. "Because you're part of the OIA. Because you're on the right side. Because you know what they did was wrong. Hell, you can dress up in drag and call yourself Angel, for all I care. Just help us."
Great, just great. This was the price I paid for being nice to my sister's boyfriend. But as he stared at me, pleading for my help, how could I say no? I untied my apron and tossed it on the counter.
"Chrysandra, I'll be back in awhile. Watch the bar for me." I hurried to follow Chase out the door, into the dark January night.
My name is Menolly D'Artigo and I used to be an acrobat. In other words, I was damned good at getting into places and spying on people. Or rather, most of the time I was damned good. I happen to be half-human on my mother's side, half-Fae on my father's. The genetic mix leads to trouble, and whatever powers a half-Fae, half-human child is born with tend to get swallowed up in a mix of uncertainty. My sisters-Camille, a witch, and Delilah, a werecat-learned that lesson only too well.
During a routine spying mission, thanks to faulty wiring and a random roll of the dice, I slipped up. It was the last mistake I ever made. The Elwing Blood Clan took me down, and they play to win. The torture seemed to last for an eternity, and now-so will I. After Dredge killed me, he raised me into the world of the undead, turned me into a vamp just like him. But I refused to let the bastard win. Nobody ever gets the last word with me, especially a sadist like Dredge.
My sisters and I work for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency, which went bust a couple months ago. Civil war broke out back in Y'Elestrial, our home city-state in Otherworld. Queen Lethesanar recalled all operatives and filtered them into the military. We opted to stay Earthside, especially since she'd stamped a death threat on our heads at home.
Now, we're in a race against time against a powerful demon lord named Shadow Wing. He's big and he's bad, and he's currently ruling over the Subterranean Realms. Together with his hordes of Demonkin, Shadow Wing intends to raze both Earth and Otherworld to the ground. We do have a few allies back home in Otherworld. The Elfin Queen, Asteria, is giving us all the help she can, but it isn't much. Together, my sisters and our ragtag group of friends are the only ones standing in Shadow Wing's way. And that's a scary proposition, at best.
The Delmonico Cinema Complex is the oldest theatre in the Belles-Faire District of town, where the Wayfarer is located. Still outfitted with the original décor complete with squeaky chairs and a balcony right out of the fifties where lovers used to grope and fondle their way to celluloid ecstasy, the Delmonico had seen better days. But it still held nostalgic charm for the Seattle suburb, and hearkened back to a time of ushers who actually did their jobs and real butter on popcorn and monster movies on Saturday afternoons.
The theatre was empty. The moviegoers hadn't even been aware of what happened. I doubted there had been many patrons to begin with. There wasn't much call during the week for late shows unless it was a cult classic, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Plan 9 From Outer Space. A young woman, the ticket-taker by the looks of her uniform, and two food-stand attendants were sitting on a bench waiting for Chase's team to give them the go-ahead to leave.
"They don't know why we're here, so don't say a word in front of them," Chase said to me in low tones. "Depending on what happens, we'll tell them that a fight broke out and somebody ended up with a nasty broken nose."
He led the way up the threadbare carpet-covered stairs and I followed. Luckily, I had enough to control to keep my instincts reined in. I shook the smell of fresh blood out of my thoughts and focused on what he was saying.
"We received an anonymous tip about an hour ago. The call came directly to me, so somebody knew this was a case for the FH-CSI," he said.
The Faerie-Human Crime Scene Investigations unit was Chase's baby. He'd created it when he was first accepted into service by the Otherworld Intelligence Agency, Earthside Division, and it became the standard for all nationwide divisions that followed in its wake. The team responded to all law enforcement matters dealing with the Fae or Earthside Supes.
"Direct to your office, you mean? Your number isn't public, is it?" For some reason, the situation seemed odd to me.
Chase shook his head. "No, but it wouldn't be hard to trace if somebody really wanted to know. Thing is, caller ID was blocked and whoever was on the line sounded pretty damned sure that the FH-CSI was necessary. But when we got here it took a little while to ascertain that the victims had been attacked by vampires. A cursory glance wouldn't have shown anything out of the ordinary. If you can call any murder ordinary. So whoever called me had to know they were killed by somebody other than a FBH."
It was odd to hear the term FBH come from Chase's lips, especially since he was one, but it made sense. The acronym was easier than constantly saying "full-blooded human, Earthside born," which is what it really meant.
"Were the bodies moved? Could someone have checked to see if they were alive and in doing so, noticed the punctures?" I stared at the victims. The OIA medical team was still looking them over. Well, they'd been an official OIA medical team until a few months ago-now the Otherworld Intelligence Agency was our baby and we were calling the shots.
"Nope. Don't think so. Sharah said that while there's a lot of blood, the patterns indicate they're right where they were when they died."
"Speaking of blood," I said slowly, gazing at the four bodies that, until earlier this evening, had been alive and-probably-happy people. I was no angel, that was for certain, but I chose my victims from the lowest of the low, which kept me in the clear as far as my own conscience was concerned.
"Yes?" Chase tapped me on the shoulder. He looked a little worried. "Menolly, are you okay?"
"Yeah," I said, shaking off my thoughts. "I'm fine. I was just going to say that there's something else odd about this massacre. There shouldn't be this much blood. There shouldn't be much blood at all unless we're dealing with one incredibly sloppy vamp, and even the grimiest bloodsuckers I know are usually fairly neat and tidy. That's why vamp attacks have generally gone unnoticed over the years. Unless..."
A thought ran through my head but I didn't want to entertain it. There had been a lot of blood when I was turned, and I had the scars to prove it.
"Unless what?" Chase sounded impatient and I didn't blame him. He still had to think of something to tell their next-of-kin. We weren't passing on information about the demons, nor were we in the habit of telling people that their loved ones had been killed by vampires and Earthside Supes. There were enough locos in the world who would gladly go hunting anybody or anything who even remotely resembled a Supe if they got word that one of us had been responsible for somebody's death.
"Unless they either wanted to hurt these people, or leave a calling card. Are there any scars? Any signs of torture..." As I glanced up, Chase returned my look and I tore my gaze away when I saw the pity in his eyes. I quickly turned and strode over to the bodies, searching their expressions for some sign of pain, of anger.
Sharah was finishing up her notes. She and her assistant, an elf who barely looked old enough to shave, were getting ready to bag the bodies and take them back to the morgue for closer examination. Sharah's gaze flickered up to catch mine, and she softly nodded.
"I don't know yet," Chase said. "There doesn't appear to be extensive damage but we'll know more when we autopsy them."
I examined their faces, but couldn't tell whether they'd been in pain or not. Mainly, they looked surprised, as if they'd been simultaneously attacked. One last surprise for the night. For life.
With a sigh, I stepped out of the way and let the medics get on with their work. Over the past few months, I'd worked closely with Wade Stevens, the brains behind Vampires Anonymous, and we'd managed to enlist promises from at least fifteen vamps who lived in the city to avoid taking blood from the innocent. Or, at least, they took an oath to avoid killing anybody during the process, or leaving them damaged.
We'd developed quite a following, and were contemplating our next goal which would be to take control of vampire activity in Seattle and run it like an underground police force. Those who didn't cooperate would be asked to leave or face being staked. Essentially, we were aiming to become the Mafia of the undead set. We hoped to inspire other groups in other cities, until vampires could walk among the living without fear of being skewered.
"Wade needs to know about this," I said. "I'll contact him and we'll see if we can find out anything on our end."
Chase nodded. "I appreciate it, Menolly. I really don't know how to go after vampires, except with a butt-load of garlic and a wooden stake. You said crosses don't work..."
"No, they don't. Neither do pentacles, ankhs, or any other religious symbol. All claptrap contrived to give hope to the country dwellers who lived in fear of vampire activity. Of course, sunlight's a sure cure. Fire's pretty freaky, too, but not nearly so dangerous. There are a few spells to ward off vampires. Camille knows a couple, but no way in hell will I let her practice on me, so only the gods know if she can work them right."
He snorted. "It's a crapshoot every time she gets it into her head to cast a spell."
I couldn't help but grin along with him. "Not necessarily. She's getting better at offensive magic, though her defensive and household magical skills leave a lot to be desired. Don't write her off, Chase. She can do a lot of damage if she wants."
Chase relaxed, then, and gave me a full blown smile. "Yeah, I know. And so can Delilah. And I already know what you could do to me. But I trust you girls. All of you," he added.
Recognizing the significance of what he said, I accepted the compliment graciously. A month or so ago Chase still jumped whenever I entered the room, and I used his fear to play him to the hilt. We still weren't fond of each other. Much. But I'd developed a sense of respect for the tall, handsome detective who had wooed Delilah's heart. She may not know it, and I was pretty sure Chase was blind as a bat, but the two of them were falling in love. I wasn't about to be the one to tell them. They'd figure it out soon enough on their own.
I silently made my way to the steps leading down to the main entrance of the Delmonico. "I'll get back to you when I've talked to Wade. Meanwhile, I suggest you think up a good excuse for why these four died. We can't possibly let out the truth. Too much chance for mayhem. Call me when you know more."
"Right," he said, sighing and turning back to the crime scene. "As if we don't already have enough to deal with."
Silently agreeing, I left the theatre and returned to my bar. The night was a frozen wonderland, but all I could smell was blood.