"And I… don't have anything of the sort except my reflexes. And, thanks to being a vampire, my hearing and undead-detector." Menolly gave her a toothy grin. "It's the truth; don't be shy about it. You're right. I tend to forget that cats can pick up on things we can't. In fact, I'd be surprised if Kitten here didn't have some other tricks up her sleeve that we haven't seen yet."
She flashed me a knowing look, and I glanced away. She'd hit the nail on the head, but I wasn't ready to talk about it yet. I was only now discovering the faint whisper of new abilities, too new for even me to understand. They'd shown up after I slept with Chase and fought the demons.
"So what is it you think we should do?" Camille asked softly. She leaned over the back of the sofa, placing her milk-white hands on my shoulders. I could feel the surge of the Moon Mother working within her. We were all changing, I thought. Changing and evolving. Camille's power was different. Not much, but enough so that I noticed.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "We should travel to the Northlands to visit the Autumn Lord. He rules over everything that creeps in the autumn, including spiders. If anybody knows anything about the Hunters Moon Clan, he would. Siobhan told me that rumor has it an evil shaman created the clan a thousand years back. If that's true, then they've had a thousand years to nest and grow strong. What I want to know is, why haven't they attacked before now? What's kept them in check? If they're behind these attacks, what set them off? Could it have anything to do with Shadow Wing?"
As my words spilled into the room, Iris entered, carrying a tea tray with a floral pot on it that was steaming, and three cups. She also had added a goblet of blood for Menolly, and a plate of cookies.
She carefully slid the tray onto the coffee table and then, hands on her hips, stared up at me. "Are you daft? You think you can just waltz into the realm of the Autumn Lord and say, 'Hey, dude, tell me about the spider nests…'?"
The word dude sounded so out of place coming from Iris that we all cracked up laughing. She arched her eyebrows and, with a haughty look, said, "Be good, or I'll scatter pixie dust in your beds and you'll be itching for weeks."
"Yes ma'am," Menolly said, a flicker of a smile on her face. Iris was one person to whom she never talked back, yelled at, or was short with. Camille and I suspected that Iris and Maggie gave Menolly more stability than she'd had since her initial transformation. She relied on the innocence of the baby gargoyle and the domesticity of the house sprite to remind her of what her life had been like.
I accepted a cup of tea and sniffed the steam rising off the surface. It smelled like honeycomb and orange blossoms. "Mmm, Richya blossom tea?"
Iris nodded. "I made a quick trip back to Otherworld last week to pick up a few things. I knew you girls like Richya blossom tea, so stocked up while I was there." Our unspoken question hung thick in the air, and Iris sighed and sat down with her own cup and saucer. "I didn't go to Y'Elestrial, girls, so I can't tell you what's happening there. But your father is right; war has surely broken out by now. The signs were everywhere."
All talk of the Autumn Lord was shoved to the side for a moment as thoughts of home filled our hearts.
"Where did you go?" Camille asked, her face a mask of longing.
"I went to Aladril, the City of Seers. They remain neutral in the fight between Tanaquar and Lethesanar. They refuse to take sides, and they've enough magic to frighten off anybody even thinking of trying to force their hand." Iris blinked and sipped her tea.
Aladril was magnificent, a city of spires and minarets that rose halfway to heaven. Sculpted from gleaming marble, no one knew how long the city had existed, only that it had come through the mists into Otherworld shortly after the Great Divide, intact and already ancient. It was a magical city, and while visitors were welcome, the majority of business went on behind closed doors. Whether the seers in question were human or Fae, no one knew. They certainly looked human, but the fact was they were far too long-lived to be human, and they kept to themselves except for the vendors and the guards of the city.
We settled in with our tea, and Menolly with her goblet of blood.
"Back to the matter at hand. So, you think we should go to the Northlands," Menolly said, raising her glass in a toast.
"It's a difficult journey. How would we get there? The portals won't take us. At least, I don't think they will."
Iris shook her head. "You girls are messing with powers that you're better off leaving alone. The Autumn Lord is an Elemental Lord. His kind are dangerous at best. Robyn, Prince of Oaks, has led both Fae and human alike to believe that all of the Elemental folk are kindly toward flesh-and-blood beings, but it's simply not true." A whimpering from the kitchen stopped her. Iris stood and set down her cup of tea. "Maggie's awake. I'll go fetch her."
As she left the room, Camille took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I think I know how we can get to his realm, but we're going to owe, and owe big, if I'm right."
"How?" I said, leaning back and curling my legs beneath me. Between the warmth radiating off the flames from the fireplace and the tea, I was starting to drift. Almost time for a nap.
Camille cleared her throat. "Smoky could probably take us on his back."
That stopped traffic. Menolly sputtered as I shot up in my chair.
"Holy crap, Camille," I said. "You do realize that he could ask anything from us for that kind of a favor? Smoky might be honorable—as honorable as dragons can be—but he loves to play games. He won't miss out on the chance to keep score on this one."
Camille shrugged. "If we need to talk to the Autumn Lord, then Smoky's our best bet to get there. He lived up in the Northlands years ago, he told me. Maybe he can fly between the worlds to reach there."
I knew she was right. Menolly must have, too, because she drained her glass and set it back on the tray. "How about a compromise? We'll have a look at Zachary's land and get a feel for what's going on, and then we make a decision. If there's any sign this Hunters Moon Clan had a hand in the murders, then we ask Smoky for a ride." As an afterthought, she added, "Grandmother Coyote wouldn't be able to help us, would she? She's a safer bet."
"Safer my ass. Remember the price I had to pay for the information on Shadow Wing?" Camille said. "But I think Delilah's right. The Elementals may be more apt to get involved with world affairs than the Hags of Fate."
I mulled over Menolly's proposal. "Okay, we'll do it your way. I guess we don't want to run off half-cocked until we actually know what we're dealing with. I just… it's just this feeling." And when I searched the corners of my thoughts, there it was: the sense that the Hunters Moon Clan was involved. The moment Siobhan had mentioned them, it was as if an alarm went off in my head, screaming, "Beware, Beware!"
"If that's all, I'm for bed," Camille said, glancing at the clock as she pushed herself to her feet.
"No Trillian? No Morio?" Menolly said, grinning.
"Not tonight. Trillian's back in OW, remember? And Morio… I opted out for the night." Camille gave her a hug, then reached for me. I held her tight and rubbed her back. "I'm too tired to think, let alone spread my legs," she added.
"I'm going to nap for a couple of hours," I said. "I'll be down in a bit," I told Menolly, who reached for her jacket. "Are you headed for the Wayfarer?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm on shift tonight. I'm leaving early, though, to catch a bite of supper before I get there."
Trying not to cringe, I shot her a wink. "Don't drink too much," I said. "And call if there's any problem. We'll have our cells with us."
As Menolly vanished out the door and we heard her Jag pull out of the driveway, Camille yawned.
Iris returned from the kitchen with a full and happy Maggie. "I took her outside, so she's done her business for the night. Are you girls turning in already? I thought we might have a game of Trivia Mania: Fae Facts." She shifted Maggie, who moophed at us twice, to one hip and held up a box.
It hadn't taken long after we came out of the Otherworld closet for consumerism to catch up, and now there was a host of games, outfits, action figures, and other merchandising capitalizing on our appearance. The Trivia Mania people actually took the time to talk to us in order to get their facts right. As a result, several of the more prominent Fae who'd settled Earthside and were rapidly becoming well-known figures in the community had given the game their seal of approval.
Camille gave me a look that said we were in for a late night and started clearing off the coffee table. Maggie took turns sitting on our laps. Her soft fur felt good against my hand as I stroked her head, scratching her between the ears, and her cinnamon-scented breath helped ease some of the tension out of my body. Even though I was tired, it was nice to take my mind off of murdered werepumas and the Hunters Moon Clan for a while.
The next night, everyone was fairly quiet on the drive out to the Puma Pride enclave. The day had been long, Camille hadn't heard back from Trillian yet, and we were all worried about Father and Aunt Rythwar. Menolly had learned nothing at the Wayfarer on her shift last night about the Hunters Moon Clan, Geph von Spynne, or Zachary Lyonnesse. And none of us were any closer to finding references to the Jansshi demons or how to kill them.
Chase had been short with me on the phone when I called him after lunch. He was working on a case that threatened to blow wide open. An OW dwarf had been murdered down near the Seattle docks. Chase confided in me that he was worried the Guardian Watchdogs had finally crossed the line from rhetoric into action. If so, the shit was about to hit the fan.
The Fae wouldn't stand by if they thought some self-righteous, paranoid bigots had gunned down one of their own. Chase didn't have much time to find the murderer and bring him to justice. And the OIA hadn't put in so much as a peep on the subject. My gut told me that we were on our own over here, Earthside.
Civil war in Otherworld, demons marching from the Sub Realms, and Earth hanging smack in the middle. What a delightful year it had turned out to be.
Camille drove, while Morio sat beside her. He was looking good. I liked Morio, though I didn't find him attractive in a sexual way. But today his shoulder-length long hair was sleeked back in a smooth ponytail, and his goatee and pencil moustache were neatly trimmed. He looked sleek but not effeminate.
"Everybody ready for this?" Camille asked.
"Yeah," I said, shifting in my seat. I'd worn a pair of leggings under a tunic that reached my upper thighs. A pair of soft leather boots laced up to my knees. Like the skirt and tunic Camille was wearing, my clothes were woven from spider-silk and would keep me warm and yet leave me free to glide through the undergrowth without a problem.
When we reached the junction leading to Elkins Road, Camille turned left. It was five thirty and already dark. The sun was setting around four thirty nowadays, well on its way toward the longest night of the year. Menolly relished winter, with its dark nights that seemed to stretch on forever, giving her extra time in which to walk the world.
As I used a pocket-sized flashlight to read the map that Zachary had given me, I glanced out the window. The moon had yet to rise, but I could still feel her there. Camille and I were bound to the pull of her tides, and I found myself dallying, wondering what the nights of the full moon must be like at the Puma Pride compound with everyone shifting. A sudden longing to be with others who understood what it was like to be twice-natured hit me, and Zachary's face appeared unbidden in my thoughts.
I let out a long sigh and stared ahead, suddenly feeling isolated. Attempting to return my focus to the map, I looked up to find Morio staring over his shoulder at me, a knowing look on his face. He, too, was a shapeshifter, though not a Were. But while he could understand on some levels, he wasn't at the mercy of the Moon and her monthly demands.
"There's the turnoff," Camille said, interrupting my thoughts. To the left side of the road twin posts buttressed a gate between them, and standing beside both posts were hefty men carrying shotguns. We pulled to a stop by the gate, and I jumped out of the backseat and approached the nearest.
"I'm Delilah D'Artigo, and these are my sisters. Zachary's expecting us," I said, wary of the arsenal they carried. The men didn't look friendly, and they were dressed in camouflage, which made me even more nervous. I'd brought my knife, but I didn't think it would do much good, especially against two burly bullet-wielding musclemen. Nope, especially when both of them were Supes.
They looked me over, then peered in the car. "Who's that?" the taller one sporting a buzz cut asked.
"Our friend, Morio. He's an Earthside Supe," I said. I thought they were going to pat me down, and I would have put up an unholy fuss if they did, but the man just grunted, then nodded me back into the car.
"Go through the gate and keep driving straight until you see the big house on the hill. Park in the driveway and knock on the front door. Don't go anywhere else without permission, you hear me? That goes for all of you," he added.
I blinked. Not so friendly, are we? I thought. Of course, they'd just had several murders in their Pride. It only made sense to be cautious.
"Got it," I said.
Camille gave them a slow smile, Menolly stared out the window, and Morio just kept his mouth shut. He wasn't much of a talker except when it came to Camille.
The guards stood back and let us through. Camille eased the car onto the dirt road, and we headed for the heart of the Rainier Puma Pride. My pulse raced when I thought about seeing Zachary again. I tried to visualize Chase's face to keep me grounded but couldn't ignore the feeling that Zach and I'd met for some reason. Some nexus point in fate had drawn the werepuma to me.