"You really mean it, don't you?" He stared at the bed, a furrowed line of concentration creasing his brow. "Do you think we can pull it off?"
"If we can't, then Earth is doomed," I said glumly. "Otherworld, too. The demons will find a way in, and there won't be anything left."
Chase let out a long sigh. "I think you're crazy, for what it's worth. But if it works… maybe we can pull together a ragtag team. We could base everything out of Seattle and hire our own operatives from the Supe and human community."
"The problem would be how to pay them. We'd have to keep Devins in the dark about the fact that they aren't being sent from OW. And we have to redirect the Wayfarer portal to point away from Y'Elestrial, which might arouse suspicions unless we rig it so it seems to be broken." I sighed. "The logistics are huge, but I don't see any other choice."
"Maybe we can find volunteers," Chase said. "People we can tell the truth to, who would be willing to put in time in order to stop Shadow Wing's attempts. We could use a few medical personnel, especially those who know about Fae body chemistry. And we need somebody really good with computers, because we're going to have to be on top of everybody's whereabouts."
I grinned. Computer programmer, huh? "I might be able to take care of that. I know just the person."
"Let's sleep on it." Chase snuggled under the covers and reached for me. I rolled against him and smiled. He had an erection that wouldn't stop giving. "How about another round of grab and tickle?"
Snickering, I reached down and clasped hold of him. "I'll take care of the grab, you just be sure to take care of tickling me in all the right ways," I whispered.
I wasn't disappointed.
The raucous call of birds quieted down as I stalked my way through the jungle. Rain splashed out of the skies, leaving diamond droplets on the arboreal canopy that wove together a latticework of vegetation covering the path and everything below.
Dusk had fallen, and soon my enemy would be out to hunt. I paused to listen at every scuttle, every sound of some creature moving through the foliage. The ground was pungent as I silently traced my route, the sour tang of decaying leaves mingling with that of mold that spread like fragile veins through the soil and toadstools popping out of the moss.
My footsteps were silent as I navigated by scent. I could smell my enemies close by, though I couldn't remember exactly who they were or why I was following them. But it was my task to hunt them down, to destroy and purge, to cleanse and send them to the waiting arms of my master.
The plants swayed as I brushed against them, alive in their own right. I could almost hear them whispering in some arcane language used only by the nature devas. But their souls were dark, and I did not stop to listen or intrude. Unlike the trees of the northern forests and the wildflowers of the meadows, the flytraps and corpse flowers would eat you alive if you stopped in their shelter.
And there it was—the turnoff leading to their lair. I veered to the right, pushing my way through the undergrowth, which opened into a shimmering field of light. As I passed through the brilliant barrier, the jungle disappeared behind me, and I found myself standing near a crystalline waterfall that cascaded over the face of a rock wall. The trees here were cedar and fir and maple.
The falls were roaring to the river below, a white sheet of water that glistened like ice, and the rocky shores on either side of the ravine were covered with a light dusting of snow. I paused, wondering where to go from here. As I sniffed the air, my lungs reverberated with the chill, and then I caught it, faint, on the wind. The scent of my prey, leading beyond the falls onto a paved road that wound through the woods.
I took off, looking this way and that, but there was no one in sight. As I loped along, I began to notice side roads leading into the forest. The snow was cold against my feet, and I shivered as each paw hit the asphalt.
After roaming for what seemed like hours, the smells grew so strong I could taste them. I opened my mouth, letting the breeze kiss my tongue with the flavor of blood, metallic and sweet. Fresh blood. They'd made a kill recently.
I turned onto one of the side roads, but something stopped me. I glanced up at a metal signpost, above which the image of a golden staff appeared.
The urge to hurry was stronger now, and I raced on, following the twists and turns of the road as it wound through firs heavy with snow.
A fork in the road beckoned, and I veered onto it. The path rose steadily, one side flanked by a dirt slope, the other by a ravine. I peered over the side. Below, a stream tumbled along, white-water caps raging at such a clip that they reminded me of spring thaws along the Tygerian River when the ice sheets in the mountains would melt and flood the bottomlands below.
Brambles covered the sides of the ravine, which were sharp and steep. With leaves stripped bare for the winter, their thorns stood out against the snow, promising a quick and painful landing for anyone so unfortunate as to trip and fall. My nose twitched, and I turned my attention back to the road and the scent I was following.
As I trotted along, the snowstorm tapered off, and the clouds parted, letting the moon shine through. A voice, unbidden and unfamiliar, whispered, "Our people used to live in these lands. We were the people of the moon."
Startled, I looked around and saw a shimmering figure. He was not tall, but he was muscular and fit and wore his hair in two long black braids that fell to his waist. He was dressed in a robe of some sort, and I recognized him as Native American. He was also a spirit.
"Good friend, where are you going?" he asked me.
I could not speak—not in words—but I formed a mental impression of the scent and the urge to hunt and thrust them at him. He seemed to understand, because he nodded and pointed to my left, to a cleft in the hillside.
"You'll find them in there, but you can't go alone, not like this. These abominations are defiling our land, so we welcome your help, but you must come back when you're in body. Do you understand, girl? You can't possibly face them like this."
He looked worried, and I thought about it for a moment. I must be on the astral, roaming far from my body. I seldom journeyed out—that was more for the likes of Camille than for me—but for some reason I'd been brought here, and I needed to see whatever there was to see. I decided to continue.
Sending him a thank-you, to which he nodded, I hurried toward the cleft. It was tall enough for a man and wide enough for three to walk abreast. I hesitated for moment. The scent of blood was strong here, and my instincts said, "Follow it, follow it!"
The opening appeared to lead into a cave.
I paused, trying to gauge how safe I was. Then slowly I padded forward, keeping every sense open and aware. As I approached the opening, a hundred eyes, red and gleaming, stared at me from the trees on either side. I paused, one paw still in the air. Something was coming out of the cave.
A man appeared. He looked human, and yet deep in my bones, I knew this was no ordinary man. He was tall and gangly, with gleaming eyes, and when he moved, he scuttled forward. As he said something in a blur of clicks and whistles, his voice stirred an alarm within me that said, Evil. This man is evil.
The red eyes gazing forth from the trees began to edge forward, twinkling like fireflies. Grateful I was in the astral realm, I shifted back a step, but as I did, the man looked in my direction. With a slow smile, he moved toward me.
Oh shit! He could see me! What the fuck was I going to do now?
"We have a visitor," he said, and this time his voice rang too loud.
Damn it, he wasn't fully in the physical realm; he was partially in the astral! I backed up again, wondering if I could take him, but right then I saw the first of what seemed like a hundred long, spindly legs emerge from the forest, and I knew that, whatever they were, they were on the astral plane, too. The spirit guide had warned me, and I hadn't understood.
"Why don't we have ourselves a feast, boys?" the man said, and there was sudden movement as at least a dozen shadowy shapes emerged from between the firs. Their bodies the shape of bloated brown spiders, their torsos were those of men—thin and sickly looking. Their jointed legs crooked ominously as they started forward.
I let out a roar and turned, racing back the way I'd come. Ahead, I saw the spirit guide, and he motioned for me to hurry past, then set a blinding light free to blaze behind me. I raced down the road as fast as my four legs could carry me. The shouts behind me told me the spiders weren't enjoying the light show, but I didn't stop to look back. I ran until I reached the sign with the golden rod hovering above it. Panting, I skidded to a halt and looked behind me.
Nothing. Yet. But my intuition told me that I didn't have a lot of time left until the creatures hunted me down. As I hurried back toward the waterfall, the ground below me quaked, and the sky became jet black.
"Delilah! Delilah! Wake up, babe. Delilah?"
Chase's voice cut through me fog holding my thoughts hostage, and I struggled to open my eyes. As I blinked, I saw him hovering over me, the light on behind him. I struggled with the blankets, and he helped me, holding my back as I scrambled to sit up.
"Are you okay? That must have been one hell of a nightmare." He reached across me to the nightstand for the bottle of water I always kept there. "Here, drink."
I gulped the cool liquid, my throat dry and parched. After a moment, my heart stopped racing, and I shook my head. The events of the dream were fuzzy but still there.
"Great Mother Bast, that was bad." I wiped my mouth and scrunched back against the headboard. Bringing my legs up, I wrapped my arms around them and rested my chin on the top of my knees.
"What was it about, or do you mind if I ask?" Chase pulled the covers up so we wouldn't freeze—by now the temperature in the room was hovering around ten degrees above icicle time—and he put his arm around my shoulders, gently rubbing my back.
"I think I know where to look for the Hunters Moon Clan," I said, trying to make sense of the dream. In it, I'd been a black panther, not a tabby. Wish fulfillment, no doubt, but I knew everything else in it had been accurate. "There should be a road near the waterfall. You said Snoqualmie Falls, right?"
"Okay, we need to look for a road back in the woods near there, and it will lead to a turnoff called Goldenrod Road… or Drive… or Avenue. There's a cave against one of the foothills, and that's where the Hunters Moon Clan makes their nest. And Chase, that man you showed us a mug shot of? Geph…"
"Geph von Spynne, the dude Zachary got into it with?" He yawned, then grabbed his pocket-sized notebook and jotted down a few notes.
"That's the one," I said. "He's in charge. Or at least, he's involved, and trust me, he's dangerous."
"And when you factor in Kyoka and the other two members of the Degath Squad…"
"We have a very lethal combination." I slid out from under the covers and grabbed the corn chips sitting on my dresser. Normally, I'd go watch Jerry Springer when I woke up in the middle of the night, but my dream was so vivid and the danger so real that I couldn't think about anything except those red eyes that had been staring at me out of the forest. And the spirit guide. Who was he? And why had he helped me?
With more questions than I had answers for, I padded over to the window seat. Chase joined me, and I gave him a gentle peck on the cheek, then he went back to bed and turned off the light while I curled up to watch the snow fall softly to blanket the ground with its white shroud of winter.
When I woke up, the world looked a whole lot bigger. I blinked, trying to make sense of things, then realized I was curled up on my pillow next to Chase, who was staring at me with a soft smile. He reached out to gently scratch me behind the ears and then stroke my back. It felt so good I didn't want him to quit and head-butted his hand for another ear rub, then lightly padded down to the foot of the bed and jumped off. Once on the floor, I closed my eyes and willed myself to transform, which went a whole lot smoother than it did when it happened involuntarily.
As I came back to myself, clad in my PJs and feeling decidedly tousled, I looked up at him from where I was kneeling on the floor. Chase started to laugh.
"I think I've almost gotten used to that," he said, climbing out of bed and stretching. "After the first few times, it doesn't seem so strange."
I grinned as I pushed myself to my feet and stretched, yawning. "Good, because it's probably not going to change." About fifty percent of the time when I spent the night with Chase, I woke up in cat form, curled on the pillow next to him. He usually gave me a good rubdown before I shifted back, and I think that my inner cat was so tickled by the attention that she decided to take advantage of him as much as possible.
"What are you doing today?" he asked. "I've decided to go with your idea and see if I can cover up what's going on with the OIA. We need all the time and info we can get, and without the department backing me up, we'd have to kiss a lot of that good-bye."
"Good," I said, glancing at him. Chase kept in shape, that was for sure. His stomach was taut, a six-pack to make any man envious, and the sight of him naked sent my mind reeling in other directions. I looked at the clock. Six a.m. Still early. "Listen," I said, slowly unbuttoning my pajama top. "Why don't we start the day with a workout?" As I slid out of my PJs, Chase's gaze flickered to mine, and there was no more we needed to say.
Iris had breakfast ready by the time we showered, dressed, and headed downstairs. Camille was helping her, and Maggie was sitting in her custom-made high chair, slurping at the bowl of cream, sugar, cinnamon, and sage.