Authors: Morgan Blayde
Tags: #Dark Fantasy, #Horror, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction
I stretched my empty hand out over the table and used a thought to activate a portal spell from my treasure vault. The vault provided the magic from energies stored there so I paid no price in pain for the transfer, though the pain of shelling out this much cash was horrific indeed.
Under my hand, a black silk pouch appeared, dropping to the table with a loud
The seer looked at the pouch, totaling up the contents without opening the bag. She smiled hugely.
“Don’t think that’s all for you,” I said.
Her smile dimmed. “I see you know the value of what you have.”
I opened the bag and let a couple dime-sized coins spill out. One came out tails, imprinted with a middle-finger salute. Another was heads, stamped with an image of my face. I brushed the two coins toward her.
She gathered them up and stared into my eyes. “Exactly how can I help you?”
“The sushi chef and mermaid will
never agree on the nature of evil,
but the customer is always right.”
I met the gaze of the fey seer and smiled. “Have you ever seen the movie
Nettle lifted an eyebrow. I took that as a no. I explained: “In the movie, ghost hunters used a high-tech box to trap ghosts. I need a fey equivalent.”
“You have a plague of spirits.”
It was a statement, not a question, but I answered. “Yes.”
“I’ll rent you my granddaughter,” the seer said.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Thorn is good with barrier magic and she can talk to ghosts even when they’ve not materialized.” She jostled the two coins in her palm so they clinked. “This is a finder’s fee. I’ll need two more for Thorn.”
I plucked two more coins of fey gold from my pouch and sprinkled them on the table.
The seer raised her voice. “Thorn! Come here, child.”
Behind us, the purple curtains parted. A girl with blond, wavy blades of hair entered the alcove. She rounded the chair Malevolence occupied and went to her grandmother. The fey looked like a pre-adolescent child, but fey years and human years aren’t the same. She seemed ten years old but could have been a couple hundred. Yawning, she covered her mouth with a hand. Her eyes looked squinty. “Hi, Grams. You called?”
“Look sharp, girl. I’m renting you to this, uh, gentleman.”
Thorn looked at me. Then Malevolence. The stare on Malevolence lasted much longer. Thorn’s eyes widened with wonder as she pointed at my companion. “Trollop! Trollop!”
Grams frowned. “Don’t be rude, child.”
“Trollop is my band,” Malevolence explained.
Apparently the seer isn’t all-knowing.
Thorn turned her excited face to her grandmother. “She’s my favorite. She’s just … awesome!”
Malevolence grinned warmly. “Always glad to meet a fan.”
Thorn turned back toward Malevolence. “I have all your CDs. You have to sign them for me.”
“Sure. Welcome to the team,” Malevolence said.
“Team?” Thorn’s gaze returned to me. I was thankful; I hate being left out.
She said, “Who are you again?”
“The Red Moon Demon, but you can call me Lord and Master.”
“Demon.” The child went pale as chalk, only a slight change in her usual coloring. Her naturally pink lips formed a ring. Her eyes—deep crystal pools of Tiffany blue—went even wider. A tremble of fear shivered her hands until she clasped them together.
“I can tell you’ve heard of me. It’s alright,” I told her, “I don’t bite—much.”
Malevolence slammed an elbow into my ribs. “Stop it. You’re scaring her.”
“That just means she has common sense,” I said.
Nettle pried loose one of her granddaughter’s hands and patted it. “That’s just what some fools call him. He’s not really a demon.”
No, I’m something worse
I stared at the hot-looking grandmother, getting her attention. “We’re staying at the nearby haunted mansion where Deedee is. You know her, right?”
She nodded. “She is one of us.”
“She was attacked by a baby nagi ghost. It borrowed her magic to turn her into a nagi host. I think it would be best for you to fetch her back here and provide medical treatment.”
“I’ll see to it,” the seer said. “Thorn, get that bag I had you pack earlier. You are going with these two.”
“Will it really be fine?” Thorn asked.
Her grandmother stared off into the distance, the veil of time parting for her. She nodded. “Fine for you. Others will face their darkest hour.” For some reason, she looked at me when she said that.
Thorn circled the table. Malevolence got up. So did I. Nettle looked at me. “Mr. Deathwalker?”
“Thorn is under the protection of your clan, correct?”
“You want an oath?” I asked.
“As clan leader, give me your word she will be treated with respect and courtesy, and that she will be safe from harm.”
“I can promise protection, not safety. I have limits. I don’t yet control the universe.”
My inner dragon surfaced from the back shadows of my mind, his eyes like golden stars. His voice echoed inside me.
Not for free.
I smiled at Nettle. “And courtesy costs extra since it doesn’t come naturally to me.”
She laughed, a descending trill of notes. “Bottles of fey wine are in the basket under your chair. Take them and go.”
“Hmmm. You know exactly what I want.”
a seer.” She waved me off. “I’m also tired.”
The three of us left the building and strolled across town. Thorn glided along easily, showing familiarity with the area. My dragon-enhanced vision cut through the darkness. Malevolence stayed close to me, her hand gripping the back of my coat. Apparently, I was her service animal. We soon reached the Mustang. It was steel. Lower level fey are weak against iron. Their magic can sometimes be disrupted by the proximity of this metal.
I asked, “Thorn, is this a problem for you?”
She wore a hooded cloak, something a mounted rider would have worn in bygone centuries. Her upper face lay in shadow. Her full pink lips stretched into a smile as she pulled black-web gloves from a pocket. The palms were leather as well as the wrist straps. Her right wrist shimmered with a silver bracelet chain holding various charms. I didn’t have to use my
tattoo to know the charms were spells, making her heavily armed.
She said, “As long as I’m not in direct contact with steel for too long, I should be fine.” Her hands came close together. The fingers of her left hand rubbed a silver charm: a tiny box tied with ribbons. In response, a shimmer of viridian green swept around her and then was gone—the activation of a barrier spell. Thorn’s magic smelled like evergreen branches and violet petals.
“Whoa! That’s cool,” Malevolence said. “My nose is dancing.”
“In the car, girls. We have ghost bustin’ to do.” I unlocked the vehicle with my remote and slid behind the wheel. The girls came around to the other side. Malevolence opened the door and got in back. She told Thorn, “Take shotgun.”
“Thanks.” She got in next to me, pulled in her cloak’s bottom edge, and used the leather palm of her glove to close the door without touching the metal directly.
I didn’t ask her to buckle up, only handing her the basket with the fey wine inside. “Here, hold this for me.”
We went tearing down the road, looking for a place where we could turn around and head back to the haunted school. Eventually, we got there. I pulled up behind Shiva’s monster truck. We got out and I locked up. Moving past the massive truck, Thorn kept a wary eye on it as if she expected the monster to come at her in a frothy killing rage. Fortunately, we made it alive to the main entrance.
Inside, Thorn’s gloved hand trailed across a wall. “I feel rage and despair.”
“What kid doesn’t?” Malevolence said. “You should hear about some of the so-called uncles and steps-fathers I’ve put up with over the years. Oh, the angst!”
“No, the building…” Thorn closed her eyes a moment, cocking her head to listen with greater intensity. “I hear it screaming. I feel its pain, its sorrow, the emptiness of a failed dream.” Her eyes brimmed with tears. She shook them away, drawing her hand back to her heart, holding it there as a fist.
Malevolence hugged the younger-looking girl. I found it mildly humorous; human comfort expended on a fey child who was probably decades older with the dark wisdom of a very devious race. Mal was begging to be taken advantage of.
Basket of wine in hand, I turned off toward the wing where Lillian stayed. Enough time had passed for the spirit lights to have shaken off the baby-snake ghost, and for Rooster and Lillian to have cozied up, which would draw the lights back into the open.
“Malevolence, go to the cafeteria and make sure everyone stays there no matter what they hear. You’ve my permission to use your hammer as needed. Thorn, stay close to me.”
A piercing scream sounded, one of rage more than fear or pain. Galvanized, I leaped into motion, moving with speed and power supplied by my inner dragon. The walls of the hallway blurred around me as I moved through areas of light from wall mounts Christy had installed so the cameras could pick up extra detail. Thorn fell behind, but I could hear her running steps. She’d catch up soon.
I slid to a stop outside of Lillian’s room, nearly crashing into Holy, who’d emerged from the office where Deedee was recovering. I assumed Shiva was staying to guard the fey.
Hand on the doorknob, Holy wanted to burst into Lillian’s room.
“No,” I said. “Wait.” I set the basket of wine down, freeing up my hands before going in.
“For what?” In her excitement, Holy leaked voltage, her skin conducting stray little jags of blue-white electrical fire.
“For me.” Catching up, Thorn huffed for breath.
“Who are you?” Holy asked.
“Introductions later,” I said. “We go in now.”
Holy went in. I followed, Thorn close behind.
Brought out by the three-tier chandelier, the three drywalls of painted garish pink were as eye-searing as always. Naked, Rooster lay on the bed, his back propped up against the tufted headboard. He smoked a cigarette, blowing blue-gray smoke rings, ignoring the chaos in the middle of the room where Lillian swung a mean broom. The ghostly, spiky blob that was Baby-Snake swirled around her, zipped over to the vanity’s oval mirror, rebounded, and wobbled toward the armoire.
“Enough is enough!” Lillian screamed, chasing after the ghost. “You are dead, you hear me? Go into the freakin’ light already!”
It made no sense for the nagi ghost to be here with the other spirits. They had been the lure, but not now. Something had changed.
What’s the nagi after?
The ghost stopped by the open door of the armoire as if peering in.
The bristles of the broom swept through its immaterial form, doing no damage. “Get out of there!” Lillian demanded.
My gaze hit the necklaces hanging on the armoire door. They rippled, swinging up under ghostly influence. One of the strands separated from the rest. It was the Native American looking necklace with bear teeth on it.
No, not bear teeth; snake teeth—fangs! That’s it.
I snapped an orders. “Holy, get that necklace. Thorn, barrier that ghost now!” I crossed the room in a burst of speed. The broom fell and lay forsaken as I dragged Lillian to the edge of the bed.
“Where’d you get that fanged necklace,” I asked.
Her gaze skittered away from mine. “Indian trading post in Phoenix a few years back.”
I could taste the lie on the air.
I glanced at the armoire. The ghostly blob of yellow-green light was still there, haloed by the neon green glow of Thorn’s barrier. Her magic held it in place while Holy pulled the necklaces off the inside of the armoire door, dropping all but the one with the snake fangs.
I took a guess. “The teeth are from an adult naga; the baby’s daddy, right? You found it among the bodies and took it, stealing from the dead.”
“I wouldn’t say stealing, exactly,” Lillian said. “I just gave it a much needed home.”
“I’m losing it!” Thorn called out. “The ghost is going immaterial.”
Rooster was off the bed, pulling up his jeans, his shirt draped over a shoulder. “My work here is done. I’ll leave the rest to you guys.” He slipped into loafers and strolled toward the door. “No need to see me out, Lil.”
Lillian ignored him—and me. We were suddenly beset by the return of the spirit lights. Rust, cyan, amber, and purple, they swirled around us, then lunged over to Thorn, taking more time with her, perhaps tasting her fey energy.
She touched the box shaped charm on her bracelet. A new shimmer of verdant green caught three of the lights. The amber one escaped the magical net, streaking to the necklace in Holy’s hand. The spirit snagged the necklace and ripped it free, carrying the trophy to the door which Rooster opened for his own use.
The amber light vanished into the hall. Holy tried to stop it, tossing a ball of lightning. Rooster stepped into the way. Knocked off his feet, he was blasted into the hallway, leaving his loafers behind.
I growled beneath my breath
. Fuck! That went well.
“C’mon,” I yelled. “We need that necklace.” I wasn’t sure why, but I had the feeling that it was a key piece to solving the puzzle and resolving this mess. With dragon speed, I zipped across the room and went out. I leapt over Rooster’s prone, twitching body, smelling the stench of burnt flesh.