Changeling (Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon #2)

3,239
05.03.2019

She frowned, looking at the spy. "All right. Delilah, write down everything he says." Following Trillian, she headed out of the kitchen.

Smoky slowly reached for the gag. As he lowered it, he said, "Any suspect move would be very bad for you right now. Do you understand?"

Horace nodded. "Yeah, I understand. Just don't turn me over to that creep from Hell," he said. "I'd rather be your boy toy any day. I know what they can do, and I don't want any part of their games."

Curious. What had happened to make him so afraid of Svartans? He was an Earthside Supe. It should be a long shot that he even knew about them.

"Your name is Horace von Spynne?" Smoky motioned to me, and I picked up a steno pad and pen.

"Yeah, yeah it is." He spat out the words.

Chase leaned back, arms crossed, as he eyed the spiderling closely. "Are you related to Geph von Spynne?"

Horace nodded. "He's my cousin."

I stepped up. "Were you here at our house before, with Kyoka?"

By the gasp he let out, it was apparent he wasn't expecting that question. "How do you know about him?"

"That's not your concern," I said, leaning down to stare him in the face. "We know a lot of things. We know all about Kyoka, and we know about the demons who are helping the Hunters Moon Clan. You realize you're pawns in Shadow Wing's game to take over this world? And that he won't leave you alive, no matter what he's promised?"

Horace blinked. "The Jansshi demon promised. And Kyoka won't let us down."

"He's already let you down," Smoky said. "He sent you on a suicide mission. You really think he doesn't know we're onto him? He's out for himself now, and the Hunters Moon Clan is just a tool to get what he wants."

I began to understand Smoky's strategy. Make Horace think Kyoka had sold out to the demons, and he might tell us everything we wanted to know.

"He's right," I said. "Kyoka knows that we're after him, and yet he sent you into danger, without a hope or prayer of surviving. What did he promise you in return for completing this mission? Money? Long life? Power?"

When Horace flinched, I knew I had hit a sore spot. "What happened? Were you in line for leadership of the clan before he returned? Did Kyoka yank away that dream?" When he didn't answer, I motioned to Smoky. "Might as well call in the Svartan and let him take our friend here away. Horace, I hope you're ready to face your worst nightmare—"

"No! I'll tell you," he shouted as Smoky headed for the door. "I'll tell you everything. I know what Svartans can do. Lianel is bad enough. Don't sic another one on me."

Lianel? Who the hell was Lianel? "All right, but you'd better spill everything you know, and you'd better do it quick." I forced as much menace into my words as possible, and Horace let out a shudder.

"What do you want to know?" he whispered.

"Why don't you start from the beginning?" I picked up my pen, and he opened his mouth.

Ten minutes later, he'd emptied his conscience. Horace was sweating buckets by the time he was done. He should be. If we didn't kill him, Kyoka surely would. I told Smoky and Chase that I'd be back and went into the living room where Trillian and Camille were talking to Zach.

"Trillian, we got some news out of the spy that you might want to take back home as soon as possible. There's a renegade Svartan who's helping Shadow Wing. He may be connected to the war, though I'm not sure. His name is Lianel—"

"Lianel?" Trillian jumped up, interrupting me. "Did you say Lianel?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I did," I said, hopping out of the way as he barreled forward. "Why? Who is he?"

"He's wanted for murder and rape back in Svartalfheim. He kidnapped one of the King's nieces, raped her, and then slowly cut her to bits, one piece at a time. She was still alive during his… surgery. He killed her bodyguards, too. The girl was… young," he said, looking vaguely ill. "Very young. Lianel worships Jakaris."

That was enough to make me squirm. The Svartan god of vice and cruelty—we were keeping delightful company, it seemed. "Well, he's running with Kyoka and the Jansshi demon. That's why we've had such trouble getting a bead on things this time. The Degath Squad only has one actual demon in it."

"Lianel's worse than a demon. He knows more ways to torture a man than ought to exist." Trillian dropped into one of the chairs, shaking his head.

"What else did Horace say?" Camille asked.

"He confirmed the location of the nest and gave us an approximation of how many werespiders we can expect to be fighting. And he also verified the fact that they have Venus the Moon Child trapped out there. So when we go in, we'll have to be careful, or they'll use him as leverage. If he's still alive."

Camille glanced up at the clock. "Menolly's due to wake any minute. Get everyone out of the kitchen, would you?"

As I herded everyone back into the living room, including Smoky, who had replaced Horace's gag and stuck him back in the closet, Ronyl chose that moment to appear. He was covered with snow but looked proud of himself.

"Spider wards are set up. You should have been out there to see the mass exodus from around your house. I'm not sure how many were actually hobo spiders, but there were several hundred of the creatures in all. Those should hold for a few months. I suggest investing in a fly swatter." He glanced at Trenyth. "All right, we should be getting back."

Trenyth nodded. "Yes, I know enough to tell the Queen what's happening. And I'll contact you through the Whispering Mirror tomorrow to find out how your raid goes."

"You have a lot of faith in us," I said.

He grinned. "That I do. But then again, look at what you've accomplished so far. Have faith in yourself, or you'll handicap your battle."

As he and Ronyl headed out into the growing dusk, I found myself wishing that they'd volunteer to stay and help us fight. But they had a war of their own to cope with. I was shutting the door behind them when Menolly appeared, blinking furiously. Iris and Maggie were right behind her.

"Who have you got locked up in the closet?" she asked. "I can smell his fear a mile away, and it's making me ravenous."

Uh-oh. She needed to feed, that much was obvious, and we had a ready-made TV dinner in the kitchen closet.

"Sit down," Camille said. "We have a lot to go over and not much time."

While Menolly floated up to the top of the Yule tree—she seemed to have taken a shine to hovering by the glittering ornaments—we filled her in on what had gone down, punctuated by her bursts of "I wish I'd been awake!" and "Really, we can use the Whispering Mirror to call the elves now?"

After we finished, she said, "So what do we do with him?"

"I suggest you have yourself a good meal," Trillian said as casually as if he might be suggesting she make herself a roast beef sandwich. I cringed, but Camille nodded.

"That's the best way. We can't trust him. If we lock him up somewhere, chances are he's going to get out and do us damage. He'd sell us out to the highest bidder if he had the chance. We learned that lesson with Wisteria."

They were right, and I knew it, though I still grappled with my conscience. But images of the victims his people had already claimed flashed through my thoughts, and I knew we couldn't afford to let compassion rule in this case. The Hunters Moon Clan wouldn't make that mistake, and they were out for blood.

After a moment, I raised my head. "Menolly, do you need help?"

She shook her head. "No," she said, giving me a look that was almost sorrowful. But a flicker in her eye told me that all of her regret was aimed at me, not for von Spynne. "We're soldiers, Kitten," she said softly. "Just like Father… and sometimes we have to do things we don't want to."

As she headed into the kitchen, I shook it off and turned to Zach. "How long will it take Rhonda to get here?" I said.

"Not long. She should be here soon," he said. "You'll like her, I think."

I wasn't so sure about that. There was the brief sound of a scuffle from the kitchen, and I decided now would be a good time to change. "Time to get dressed for the trip. Camille, you should, too. We're going out into the freezing night. We need to be warm and to blend in. Come on."

She followed me up the stairs. As we reached her floor, she turned. "I know how much this takes out of you," she said. "It wears on me, too."

I swallowed the lump rising in my throat. "I just hate that we're mixed up in all this killing. I hate that we can't go home because the same damned thing is happening there, only the stakes aren't quite so high. I hate that our father and aunt are in danger."

"Speaking of family, Trillian told me that the Jakaris priests reported that Shamas—"

"Right, he's dead," I said flatly.

She shook her head. "No! That's what I wanted to tell you. The monks were about to stop his heart when he—and I have no idea how he did this—but he managed to take control of their spell. He used it to… well… to vanish. They don't know if he's alive or dead, and nobody can figure out where he went."

"Holy crap." I stared at her. That was the first good news we'd had in ages. "You don't think he… uh… imploded, do you?" The thought made me queasy, but it was a possibility. Yanking the threads of somebody else's magic away and warping it to work for yourself was risky, at the very best. Then again, he hadn't had much to lose.

Camille grimaced. "That is a distinct possibility. The gods know it would probably happen to me, but to Shamas? He had a lot of power, though I don't recall what specific gifts he inherited from Aunt Olanda and Uncle Tryys. Whatever his powers are, they must be doozies, because he used them to get away. Lethesanar was furious when she found out. Trillian said that his informant told him the scene in the throne room was hideous. The Queen flew into such a rage that three servants and the messenger were dead by the time she was done. She ripped out their hearts."

"Oh, Great Mother." Lethesanar had it in her. We all did—our father's race was not a docile one. But the thought still turned my stomach. "I imagine that's the last time anybody ever volunteers to take bad news to her."

"Yeah, isn't that the truth?" Camille shrugged. "Here's hoping Tanaquar can vanquish her. Let's get moving. I'll dress and meet you downstairs. As soon as Zach's friend gets here, we'll head out. We have to end this. Tonight."

I nodded, taking the stairs two at a time up to my suite. Camille was right. It was time to put a stop to the Hunters Moon Clan. We might not be able to thwart Shadow Wing by taking out this latest Degath Squad, but if we could get to the spirit seal before they did, we'd be another one up on the demon lord. And that would truly be reason to rejoice.

I slipped on a pair of tights, then a pair of jeans. Under a hunter-green turtleneck, I was wearing a cotton camisole. Layering was good; it wouldn't impede movement as much as a thick parka, and yet it would keep me warm.

I dug around in my closet until I found a black suede jacket that was warmer than my unlined leather one. Along with gloves, a black bandanna over my head to keep my ears warm, and a pair of light hiking boots, I figured I could withstand the weather and still make it through the bush. I studiously kept my mind off of Rhonda while dressing. Some thoughts were unnecessary torture.

Camille shocked the hell out of me. Rather than her usual long skirt, she'd opted for a pair of winter leggings and a heavy cowl-neck tunic over the top. The tunic clung to her thighs, molding to every curve. She was wearing a pair of lace-up ankle boots and leather gloves, and she slipped her short spider-silk cape over the top. Even geared up for the outdoors, she still looked like an ad out of Vogue, albeit much more curvy than the typical model.

"I've never seen you dressed so .. .functionally before," I said, grinning at her. "It's a change."

"I'm not thrilled with it, but hey, we're facing spiders, and they bite. I don't want to tempt them by leaving too much skin exposed," she said, rolling her eyes. "Let's get this show on the road."

When we entered the living room, Rhonda was there. I stopped dead in my tracks. She was a bombshell. Gorgeous, regal, and dominant. Shorter than me, she was athletic and sleek. Her mane of golden hair had been braided into a long French braid, and her outfit was perfectly pulled together, but her build screamed that she was far more than just a ski bunny. She'd be one tough cookie in a fight; that much was obvious. But it was more than her exterior that floored me. It was the way she held herself—as if she were queen of the pride. And maybe she was.

She held out her hand, and I reluctantly shook it. Her grip was firm and warm. Involuntarily, I drew closer, wanting to be part of her circle. But one step too far, and I felt the dividing line—a reserve not born of snobbery but of the inborn sense that she stood a few rungs farther up on the social ladder than I did and that she always would.

I pulled back, and we locked gazes.

"We're so glad you're here," Camille said, stepping in front of me and extending her hand. She paid no attention to Rhonda's glamour, and the werepuma seemed disarmed for the moment.

"Yes," Menolly said, joining us. "Thank you for coming. We can use the help." She, too, ignored Rhonda's demeanor and abruptly, after a quick shake, turned her back on her and went into the kitchen.