There it was-waiting for us. Home, with smoke drifting from the chimney, and clear sparkling lights surrounding the porch. From the driveway, the three story Victorian shimmered like a beacon, both on the physical and on the astral. Flares of energy shot up like sun spots. I leaned back in the car, smiling. Our home, our haven against the demons.
A dragon built from snow guarded the lawn and driveway, rising stark and white out of the banks piled high around the yard. My herb garden hid under the creature, nestled under mulch until spring. Winter had claimed the land, full force, and we were getting hit hard. La Niña held sway and we were all her toys. At least it wasn't Loki this time. The Norse giant had brought the ice and snow with him a year back, until we'd dispatched his servant.
But as cold as it was, this was nothing compared to the Northlands, from where I'd just returned. There, in the high reaches, the winds had raged starkly through the winter woodland, shaking the timbers and sending avalanches down the mountainsides. There, life was harsh and often short, and fire a lifeline. As Smoky, Iris, Rozurial and I'd struggled through the woods, ranging higher and higher toward the lair of Howl, the Elemental Wolf Lord of the snow, more than once I'd thought we'd end up as popsicles, frozen to the rocks.
But the trip had been worth it. We'd helped Iris come to terms with her past and forge a future for herself. Now, she stood clear and free, able to marry the man she loved. But she'd been through hell, and now she, like I, faced a future that promised to swallow her up, to force her into a position she wasn't sure she was ready to shoulder.
As the car slowed to a stop and Delilah turned off the engine, the weariness of the past few months welled up in my throat and I blinked away tears. So much had happened, and yet, so much still lay before us. We were a week from midwinter, and I was facing initiation into Aeval's Court, where I would willingly hand myself over to the Dark Queen.
As I let out a long breath and climbed out of the Jeep, a crisp wind swept through the night and I pulled the elfin cloak tighter around me. I was wearing the cloak of the Black Beast beneath that, but even with both, they couldn't fend off the chill that had lodged itself in my bones and I wondered if I'd ever manage to get warm again.
"You okay?" Delilah wrapped her arm around my shoulders. She'd picked us up at Grandmother Coyote's portal and now all I wanted was a hot bath, a soft bed, and a lot of sleep.
As Smoky hopped out of her Jeep, then helped Iris to the ground, Roz slowly hoisted himself out the other side.
"You're a good sister," I said, leaning against her arm. "I'm just tired. The journey was harder than I thought it would be. And cold-so cold."
"How'd it go? Did Iris..."
I just shook my head. "It's her place to speak or not, as she will. She's with us, and Vikkommin is dead for good. She survived. But the Northlands are terrifying. I'd hate to be caught up there."
We headed toward the house just as Menolly came racing out, the beads in her braids clicking in the chill night. She was carrying my purse.
"Finally! I've been waiting at the door for you. I just got a call from Derrick. We've got problems. Turn right around and head for the cars. Sorry to do this to you, Camille, but you need to be there."
"What's going on?" My heart sank. I was tired. I didn't want to fight goblins or ghosts.
"Demon in the bar, demanding to talk to you. He's already mowed down an elf and Derrick's got him in a standoff. Iris, you, Roz, and Vanzir stay with Morio, and Maggie. Shade and Trillian are on their way out-there they are!"
Shade, Delilah's new love, and Trillian-my alpha husband-rushed out of the house and clambered down the steps. Shade was part dragon, part Stradolan-a shadow walker, and Trillian was Svartan-one of the dark and charming Fae. They both wore jeans and heavy jackets and Trillian was carrying a serrated edged sword he'd recently taken up training with.
"Demon? Asking for me? How delightful. Not." I didn't bother asking if they knew why he wanted me. I'd find out soon enough, and probably-knowing my luck-I'd find out the hard way.
Menolly whipped around, barking out orders. "Delilah-you and Shade take your jeep." She tossed me my purse and keys. "Camille, here you go. You drive Smoky and Trillian. I'll go in alone."
And once again, we moved to our respective cars, off and running. There was no more down time, anymore. Everything had taken on an immediacy. With that thought, I put the Lexus in gear and-as Smoky and Trillian jumped in-hit the gas and plowed out of the driveway.
We pulled into a parking place that miraculously opened up as we neared the Wayfarer Bar & Grill. With a quick nod to the parking goddess, I forced myself out of the driver's seat. In the midst of the holiday season, a space along Seattle's city streets was insanely hard to find. But I had luck with finding open spots, and embraced it. Hell, considering the rest of my track record when it came to serendipity, the smallest good fortune was cause for celebration.
As Trillian opened the door for me, I paused to give him a long kiss. "I missed you," I whispered. "I missed you a lot."
"Tonight, we'll see about wiping away those longings." He brushed my hair back from my face. "I never spend an hour without thinking about you."
Smoky grunted. "Come. We have a fight to take care of. I assure you, I took pains to make sure she didn't miss you or the fox too terribly."
He arched his eyebrows in a knowing way and two tendrils of his hair rose to wrap themselves around my shoulders.
I bit back a retort. My three husbands were constantly zinging each other, each one striving for the top place in my heart, but I knew that, beneath all the bluster and insults, they'd developed a healthy respect for one another. None of them would ever admit it, but I suspected they even liked each other-at least a little. On more than one occasion I'd caught Smoky and Trillian playing chess, or Morio helping Smoky carry in firewood without being asked.
The bar looked lively but I could hear the commotion from outside. We trailed behind Menolly, as she slammed her way into the bar. She owned the Wayfarer Bar & Grill, and it was a hangout for Supes from all backgrounds, as well as the first stop on the journey for a number of Otherworld visitors. And now, the Wayfarer also sported seven rooms, a makeshift bed and breakfast.
As we hit the polished wood floors, I skidded to a halt, catching my breath. The bar patrons were crowded against the back wall, huddled together, terrified. Some were trying to edge toward a side exit, but for the most part, they stuck together in a little clump, afraid to move.
At the front of the bar, a demon watched them, his head bobbing back and forth like a snake. There was no passing for any generic Supe with this creature. He looked like the full fledged demon of nightmares-with smoky skin, and coiled horns rising high over his head. His skin, leathery and taut, shimmered across muscle hard enough to beat a sledge hammer against. He towered seven feet high on cloven hooves, and his hands bore long, razor-sharp nails.
And he was standing over one very dead body.
Derrick, the werebadger bartender, had wedged himself between the patrons and the demon, a sawed off shotgun aimed at the creature, but the gun had a better chance of tickling the hellspawn than it did of hurting him.
Menolly let out a long sigh. "Yeah, that's one dead elf."
I nodded. "And one freaky-assed demon."
We were too late to help the elf, but with a little luck, we might be able to prevent wholesale carnage. We spread out, motioning for Derrick to move to one side. He waited for Menolly's okay, then nodded and stepped out of the way. As I turned toward the demon, I was clueless as to what we were dealing with-Vanzir could have told us, but it wasn't fully safe to have him and Smoky in the same room just yet. Smoky still didn't know what had happened between us, and I intended to keep it that way, at least until I could ensure he wouldn't go wholesale whoop ass on Vanzir.
Menolly snarled. "What the fuck are you doing in my bar? Get your ass back to the Sub-Realms, and tell Shadow Wing we said hello." She strode forward, but the demon raised his head and his gaze caught her full on. She let out a squeak and dropped to the floor.
I rushed over to help her, but before I could get there, she sat up and shook her head, looking stunned. "What the hell..."
Damn, this was not the time for Morio to be laid up. Our death magic was far more powerful than my moon magic. Or at least, it tended not to backfire so much. But he still had a long ways to go before he was healed up, and would be out of commission for quite some time. The hungry ghosts from our last skirmish had siphoned a dangerous amount of life-force off of him and left him bedridden for now.
"Stand your ground." The creature spoke. "I bring you a message from Trytian."
Trytian? Holy crap, this thing wasn't a demon-it was a daemon! No wonder we hadn't been able to tell what it was.
"What does he want?" I didn't trust Trytian. Not only was he a daemon, but he'd tried to blow us up when we were fighting the Bonecrusher. That didn't make for neighborly feelings, even if he was fighting against the same Demon Lord as we were.
"You are the one named Camille?"
"I speak with you. Alone."
Alone? No way in freaking hell was I cozying up with this creature alone.
"Um. Can I just say, no? Whatever you have to say, you can say it in front of the others." I backed up, motioning for Delilah to move. If he could knock a vampire off her feet with just a look, I didn't want to see what he could do with those claws and muscles against someone who was still alive.
"You wish me to speak freely in front of all of these patrons? You really want them to know about Shadow-"
"Stop!" I glanced back at Menolly. We couldn't let him talk about Shadow Wing. No one in the general public knew that Earth was on the verge of a demonic war. Yet. And we were inclined to keep it that way to stave off panic.
"You can't be serious. He's already killed one person." Menolly pointed toward the dead elf. We'd have hell explaining his death to Queen Asteria. She'd believe us, but she sure wouldn't be happy.
"I have to." I lowered my voice so nobody but the nearest Supes could hear me. "We can't have anything come out in public."
Smoky glowered. "Not my wife. Not alone with you. One other must join you and I claim the right."
The daemon looked at him and sniffed. "Dragon. Silver dragon-and a mix at that. The world is full of half-breeds tonight, it seems. Two halves of a dragon, a dragon-shadow mix. Three human and Fae girls. Interbreeding weakens the strains, you know. But you, dragon, you are a lord among your kind. I do not play toad to royalty. There are reasons you will not be present, my own skin being one of them." His voice was harsh, like the vocal cords had been burnt long ago, and he kept moving his head in a sinuous dance, as if he couldn't keep it still.
"Then my wife does not attend you."
"Actually, your wife will attend him." I glanced at Smoky. "I have to-we can't discuss these matters in public." Turning back to the daemon, I added, "We'll have our chat alone, but in a place of my choice."
It occurred to me that if we went to the safe room in the basement of the Wayfarer, the daemon wouldn't be able to A) teleport out with me, B) shoot magic at me, or C) bathe me in fire. He could still break me in half but if he'd wanted to do that, he already would have.
I pointed toward the floor. "Menolly, we need to use the room downstairs."
She frowned, then her eyes lit up. "Oh, that room. All right. Come, follow me. Don't hurt anybody and don't destroy anything, either of you. Daemon, I hold you on pain of death that you won't hurt my sister."
The daemon grunted, looking suspicious, but followed Menolly, shaking the floor with each meaty step. I swung in behind. Smoky, Trillian, and Shade followed, leaving Delilah and the staff to take care of the dead elf and the frightened patrons.
Downstairs, we came to the safe room. No magic could enter here, nor creature teleport in or out. All natural abilities were muted. If a nuclear blast hit this bar, the safe room would stand.
I gazed at the door, swallowing my fear. Being shut in a room with the daemon-alone-was a daunting thought. Not so much fun. Not so safe. But we didn't dare let him broadcast everything he knew.
None of the FBHs-the full blooded humans-knew that the demonic army led by Shadow Wing was trying to break through the portals to take over Earth and Otherworld. Only a handful of our friends knew we were on the trail of the spirit seals, the pieces of a broken artifact that, alone, could seal off the Subterranean Realms from the rest of the worlds. We had to gather as many of them as we could before Shadow Wing did. Not such good news to have flying around as common knowledge.
As it was, we were in for a lot of damage control just from the daemon's appearance in the bar.
I motioned for him to enter the room and, with a scowl, he ducked his head so that his horns cleared the archway. As I followed behind him, Menolly touched me on the arm.
"One peep and we're coming in. Don't get near him. He can't work his magic but he could tear you apart."
"I know. Believe me, I know." And, reluctantly, I shut the door and turned to face the demon, crossing my arms. The best defense was to show no fear. "Trytian has a message for me? Deliver it and then scram, hell spawn." I didn't bother asking for his name-chances were he wouldn't give it to me.
The daemon looked around. "A no-magic zone. Not stupid-not so stupid as some." A dark grimace crossed his face. "I would relish a fight with you, girl. And your friends. But this is not my battle to wage."
I decided to let that one pass. No need to press my luck. Letting out a long sigh, I asked, "What do you want? Why did you kill the elf upstairs?"
"He sought to interfere with me. He had to be eliminated." He said it nonchalantly. A given: Dare to interfere with the daemon? Poof-you die."Again, I ask: What do you want?"
"I bear a warning from Trytian."
Trytian was, like we were, attempting to stop the demon lord Shadow Wing, only he was going about it in a totally different manner. Unfortunately, since he was a daemon, he had no compunctions about killing us if we happened to get in the way. And he was rude. Very rude. This warning-whatever it was-meant that he either anticipating needing our help, or he had suddenly sprouted wings and become a cute little cherub. And I sincerely doubted the latter.
"Okay, I'm listening. What is so important that Trytian sent you over here to stir the pot? And why you-why not someone who can pass out on the streets?"
I leaned against the small bistro table that was pushed against one wall. The room had signs of occupation-Erin, the daughter Menolly had sired into the vampiric life, was staying down here during the day, sleeping in safety. The bed was piled high with comfy blankets, there were cards and books on the table, and an empty bottle that had held blood.
"I was the only one available to send at the moment. Here is Trytian's message." He handed me a letter. "You will understand why I did not want to be alone with your husband when you read it."
Oh hell. Something to do with Smoky.
Gingerly, I took the paper and opened it. The writing was tight, neat, and precisely printed in red ink-at least I hoped it was ink, considering the color. As I began to read, I started to sink toward the floor, but one grunt from the daemon and I straightened back up again. No dropping my guard, not with a big, bad daemon in the room. Trytian had no scruples, and I didn't expect his cohorts to have any, either.
I glanced up at the creature. "Wait here, please." Before he could say a word, I slipped out of the room and slammed the door, locking it behind me. He could hammer all he wanted on it, he was locked in there till we let him out.
"What's going on? Are you all right?" Smoky leaned over me, and I could tell he was looking for signs the daemon had laid hands on me.
"I'm fine...at least physically. He gave me a letter from Trytian. If it's true, then you and I are fucked. Just plain and simple."
"Read it." Shade was staring at me, concern creasing his face.
I cleared my throat and held up the paper."Rumors are running rife through the grapevine, but I assure you, this is no rumor. A white dragon was recently seen in the halls of the Demon Underground, hanging out with a snow monkey. He is not welcome there but no one dares tell a dragon to leave.
"Camille: scuttlebutt is that he'll be marching in your direction soon. He's made it known that you and your husband are on his shit list. And frankly, though you and I disagree on the method, all allies against Shadow Wing are valuable at this point, and I may need to call on your aid at some point. So be cautious and don't get yourself killed." ~~TrytianI let out a long breath. Hyto was in the area. Which meant death was sure to follow. And dying by dragon was so not my idea of fun. Smoky's face drained of what color it had and his eyes began to swirl. Very softly, very slowly, he spoke. "My father has just signed his death warrant."
"Crap." Menolly leaned against the wall. "He's here, in Seattle, hanging out with demons and daemons? Not the news we needed right now."I fingered the paper. "What's a snow monkey? Why would he have an ape with him?"
"Trytian's not talking about an animal," Shade said. "A snow monkey is slang for a powerful monk from one of the upper monasteries in the Northlands. Usually, snow monkeys are rogues-having been either kicked out of their order. They're most often mad as a hornet, and they don't give a damn about anybody but themselves. If one's taken up with your father, Smoky, then he's bound to have been offered a great reward. They're dangerous." He gave me a sad smile. "I'd start watching my back if I were you."
"Like we don't already." Sighing, I leaned against the wall, letting them talk around me.
Mad monks were bad enough, but it was the thought of Hyto being so close-the thought of him actually being in the city-that made me want to run home to Otherworld and hide. But I couldn't do that either, having been exiled from Y'Elestrial by my father.
Smoky's father hated me. He hated my breath, my life, my existence. He had nothing to lose, he'd been cast out of the Dragon Reaches, denied by his wife, disowned by his children. And he blamed it all on me.
My cell phone rang and, I flipped it open. Caller ID told me it was Chase Johnson. I punched "Talk" and answered.
"Camille-I was hoping you were back. We've got a problem and I need you down here. We've got a problem in Tanglewood Park, and I am pretty sure it's magical in nature. In fact, so magical that I almost pissed my pants when I saw it. I've got my guys blocking it off for now, but I'm scared to try anything before you come have a look-see."
"It? What are you talking about? A monster or something?"
"I don't think so. Honestly? I'll bet you my paycheck it's a portal of some sort."
My blood ran cold. Hyto was my big worry right now, but he wasn't standing here in front of me. If Chase was right and there was a portal opening up in Tanglewood Park, we could be in for big trouble of a different sort. Because the random portals that had started showing themselves around the city were rogue, and could lead anywhere.
"We'll get our asses over there right now. Meanwhile, don't let anybody touch it or go near it." As I shut my phone, it occurred to me that my life was quickly coming to resemble a rollercoaster, and right now, we felt at the peak, ready to take a long, dark ride down the tracks.