Changeling (Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon #2)

3,588
05.03.2019

"I'll do that," Chase said, taking the plates from Camille and beginning to set the table.

"Thanks," she said. "You know, you're all right sometimes."

"I'll take that as a compliment. Go sit down and talk to your sister for a while." He grinned at her, but with very little of the continuous leer he used to shoot her way.

Camille settled into a chair and motioned for me to join her. "Menolly left us a note before she went to bed," she said, holding up a paper. "She did a little sleuthing of her own, and I'm happy to report that both the Wayfarer and the Indigo Crescent are paid for in full. We don't have to worry about mortgages. We just pay property taxes and go along like we have been. And they're in our name since we're ostensibly the owners, so there shouldn't be a problem. With a little luck, the OIA—whatever there is left of it—will forget about us."

"Finally, some good news," I said, accepting a plate of hotcakes, eggs, and bacon from Chase. "Where's Trillian?" Neither of Camille's lovers was anywhere to be seen.

"He took off for OW early this morning. Tanaquar is running him ragged, and he wanted to let Father know what our plans are. And Morio went into town. He said he had something he wanted to check up on." She handed Maggie a squeak toy, and she happily started hitting it against the high chair, making a racket.

Iris finished up at the stove and joined us at the table. "I think it's time we started her on solid food in addition to her cream mixture," she said, attacking her plate. For such a little person, Iris could pack it away, but that seemed true with most of the Fae. We all ate like pigs in comparison to most humans. "I suggest a few ounces of ground meat, once a day to start. After a month, we'll move her to twice-a-day feedings."

"Sounds good. What kind of meat do gargoyles eat?" Camille asked.

"What kind do you have?" Iris grinned. "I almost forgot," she said, sliding off her stool and crossing to the bookshelf that hid the entrance to Menolly's lair. "Wait till you see what Menolly had me get last time I was in OW. Apparently she did some research and found out this was the best book on the subject." She held up a slim volume bound in leather. "The Care and Feeding of Woodland Gargoyles. Isn't that just perfect?"

"How do we know Maggie's a woodland gargoyle and not from some other land?" I asked. "Technically speaking, she's a Sub Realms 'goyle if you go by where she was born."

Iris shook her head and flipped through the book. "According to this book, only woodland gargoyles have calico coloring. It's a self-defense strategy to remain unseen in the woods."

Chase cleared his throat. "Like camouflage?"

"Right," she said. "Anyway, the more common black or gray varieties come from the mountains, and the brownish red backs come from the desert. Of course, they can interbreed, but the children tend to follow the mother's coloring. So our little Maggie's ancestors lived in the woods."

"Does the book give us an expected timeline for how she should be developing?" I smiled gently. It had taken Menolly to think of hunting down a book on gargoyle care, which told me a lot about how closely she'd bonded with Maggie.

Iris flipped through. "Well, she's not walking yet, but that doesn't necessarily mean much. This baby stage can last up to five Earthside years before she takes a few steps. Of course, we don't know how old she is. She hasn't said anything yet except for her moophs, but again, that all depends on how old she was when you brought her home, and how much she was breast-fed."

Gargoyles' breast milk was very close in makeup to the cream, sage, sugar, and cinnamon mixture we gave her, which is why the formula was recommended for orphaned 'goyles.

"I guess we're just going to have to wait and see." I turned to Chase. "Why don't you tell them about our plan for the Earthside OIA?"

Chase grunted and laid out the plan we'd come up with, while I set about making a list of things to do. For one thing, I needed to touch base with Zach and find out what he'd learned about Tyler and—hopefully—the second spirit seal.

I glanced over at Chase. "You said we need another computer expert for our OIA work, right?"

He nodded. "And you mentioned you have somebody in mind? I think it should be someone who's human, or at least an Earthside Supe."

"Actually, I do know someone," I said. I grinned at Camille. "What do you think about bringing Cleo on board? I know he could use a few extra bucks, and we can afford to pay him a little bit, at least. Or we could give him a free pass at the Wayfarer for drinks and food."

Camille laughed, her voice rich and full. "Oh, that's good.. I think Cleo would be an excellent choice. After all, he is taking computer classes to get his degree, and he does love excitement."

"Who's Cleo?" Chase asked.

"Cleo Blanco… well, technically his name is Tim Winthrop—he goes by both. Cleo's his stage name. He's a female impersonator by night, serious computer student by day. He's engaged to our mechanic, Jason Binds."

"Is he trustworthy?" Chase fished another piece of bacon off the plate and finished his hotcakes.

"I think so," Camille said.

"Of course he is," Iris broke in. "I've had several long talks with him at the store. He's a good man, and he's a good father to his little girl. I even met his ex-wife once. I think you were out shopping or something," she said to Camille. "He brought her in and introduced her. She's a lovely woman, but it was easy to see the lack of chemistry there. They were polite, though, and I could tell they genuinely cared about each other. I think I saw a diamond on her ring finger, so she's either engaged or married again."

I gave Iris an admiring look. "Good observations, Iris." I made a note to talk to him.

"Sounds good to me," Chase said. "I guess I'd better go home and get ready for work so I can get this charade into gear. Since all of our OIA medics are elves, we won't have any problems on that front." He pushed himself away from the table and pulled me into his arms. "Be careful, honey. I don't want you getting hurt."

I gazed into his eyes. He really did care, that much was obvious. Maybe I'd been underestimating him. I leaned forward, lingering on his lips for a moment before brushing the hair out of his eyes. "Only if you promise to watch your back, too."

He laughed and planted a wet kiss on my nose. "Call me later, babe, and let me know what's going down. I'll start researching the Snoqualmie area and see if I can find Goldenrod Road."

As he shut the door behind him, I told Camille and Iris about my dream. "I'm not sure what's going on," I said. "I know I was out on the astral, but I also know that I wasn't in my normal Were-form. But we have a lead on the Hunters Moon Clan, and I'm betting before the day is out, Chase will have located the road we're looking for."

Camille began clearing the table. "You know, Chase has turned out to be more help than I ever imagined he would be."

A knock on the door interrupted her. I went to answer it, while she and Iris continued to clean up after breakfast. As I opened the door, a blast of the icy winter air hit me full on. The world had turned white overnight.

Zach stood there with snowflakes in his hair. His breath was coming in white puffs, and he looked frantic as he shivered in his jacket, his hands thrust in his pockets against the cold. "Thank God you're home," he said as I hustled him inside. "I was hoping I wouldn't have to go all the way into town to find you." His clothes were grungy, and he looked like he'd been up all night.

"What's happened?" I led him into the kitchen, where Iris took one look at him and began making a pot of tea.

"We've got a situation out at the compound." He dropped into a chair and propped his elbows on the table, clearly exhausted. "We need your help. The Council elders sent me to beg you to intervene. They'll pay anything they can for your aid."

"What's going on?" Both Camille and I took our seats. Whatever it was sounded big and bad, and my hackles were starting to rise. "Start at the beginning."

"I put in a phone call to the clan Tyler claims to be from. According to them, Tyler died four months ago." Zach leaned forward, his eyes bloodshot. "His body was stolen shortly before the burial ceremony, and they never found it. It's true that he'd been planning on coming to join our clan, and it's true that they'd provided him with references, but they never bothered to look for the papers when he died."

"And nobody ever called you to let you know he was dead?" Maybe the OIA was bureaucratic, but right now I could see the positive side to red tape.

"We didn't know that he was coming in the first place. Usually, a reference letter is good enough to admit a person to the clan. We're rather informal about that. So when Tyler showed up with papers, we assumed that everything was in order. We didn't bother to call them to check, since he already had his references in hand."

"Doesn't that leave room for imposters?" Camille asked, shaking her head. "Why didn't you guys think of the possibility of fraud before now?"

"Apparently it's never been a problem. Until now." Zach frowned. "I think our admittance policy's going to change."

"Holy crap," Iris said. "Does this mean Tyler's a zombie?"

"Walk-in. It's got to be," I countered. "But Kyoka didn't just bump his soul aside, he killed Tyler for his body. Did they say how he died?"

"No autopsy—Weres don't approve of autopsies. It's against our religious beliefs. I guess he'd been sick with bronchitis, and when they found him dead, they assumed he'd stopped breathing in his sleep."

"Ten to one, Kyoka forcibly drove his soul out," I said. "I'll bet you anything he cast Tyler's essence into oblivion, leaving his body an empty shell. The heart would stop beating, but the body would look like he'd just gone to sleep. With Tyler sick, and the Weres' reluctant to autopsy, it must have been the perfect setup."

"Actually," Camille interjected, "Tyler could technically be considered a zombie, but with Kyoka's soul inside the body, Menolly wouldn't be able to pin him as one of the undead."

"Undead don't have souls?" Zach asked.

"Some do," I said. "Vampires, for example. When destroyed, they're free to move on like most of the dead. Zombies don't, though, or ghouls. They're not transformed so much as used as puppets. Tyler's soul went to join his ancestors. He's no longer connected to his body.

"That makes sense," I said, darting a look at Zachary, who was squirming in his seat. "Zach, don't tell me that Tyler knows you're onto him?"

He hung his head. "Yeah. He walked in on me when I was on the phone and darted out before I could stop him. By the time I finished my conversation, Tyler had disappeared. I couldn't find him anywhere, so I called an emergency meeting of the Council, but Venus didn't show up. When we went to look for him, his house had been trashed. There'd been a godawful struggle. We searched the compound and grounds all night but haven't been able to find any sign of either Venus or Tyler."

"Great Mother, you think they have Venus the Moon Child?" This was just getting worse and worse.

He nodded. "There was no sign of a body, and Tyler knows just how powerful Venus is."

"And if anybody in your tribe knows about the spirit seals, it would be Venus," I said, shivering as a goose walked over my grave.

The Hunters Moon Clan and the demons would do everything they could to make him talk. The spiderlings were bad enough on their own, but when aligned with Shadow Wing's minions, the variety and methods of torture available to them were mind-boggling. Unless we could rescue him—and rescue him soon—Venus was a goner, in a very painful way.

"Yeah, I thought of that." Zach leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath as Iris brought him a cup of tea. "Thanks, Iris," he said. "I told the Council everything—not about Shadow Wing trying to take over the Earth, but everything I could to make them believe me that the Hunters Moon Clan is in league with the Demonkin. They said to come to you."

"What's the Puma Pride doing now?"

"The elders are evacuating all the women and children. And we've petitioned the Olympic Wolf Pack for help. They're sending over twenty young pack members tomorrow to help us patrol the borders of our compound." Zach's shoulders sagged. "We don't know what else to do. The Council will be forever in your debt if you can help us out."

We'd need Menolly. And Chase. And everybody we could think of. It was one thing to go up against Bad Ass Luke alone, but with an entire nest of werespiders in addition to Kyoka and the demons, we wouldn't stand a chance without more help.

Camille must have been thinking the same thing, because she said, "Who can we call in? There's Morio. Damn it, I wish Trillian was here—he's good in a fight. Smoky, of course. Anybody else you can think of?"

"Don't forget Chase," I said. "Do you think Grandmother Coyote would help us?"

She shook her head. "I doubt it. She tends to stay out of things unless it suits her fancy. I'm sure she knows what's going on. Maybe Menolly will know somebody from the Wayfarer we can trust."

Zachary cleared his throat. "I can pledge the help of one of our best pride members. She's our most fearless guard." His left eye twitched. "Her name's Rhoda."