Courting Darkness (Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon #10) - Page 28

“I can’t believe I’ve never done this before! This is fun! I’m surprised you aren’t scared, though,” Delilah said. “I know you’re afraid of heights.”

I grinned, even though she couldn’t see my face. “I’m not afraid of much when I’m on Smoky’s back.”

Trillian let out a hrmph, but then I felt his arm snake around my waist and he kissed me on the shoulder. Whispering in my ear, he said, “We were so afraid we’d lost you forever, my love. All three of us—we couldn’t bear the thought. Without you . . . Fox-Boy, Dragon-Dude, and I . . . we are less than we should be. Than we have to be when you’re around.” Tears sprang to my eyes and I ducked my head. What Hyto had done to me had scarred me forever, and yet—and yet—I knew that scar tissue could be stronger than the original flesh. I just had to learn how to use what had happened to empower me, rather than to tear me down.

“I love you—all of you. I love that you are all willing to be part of my life. I love that you work together to make our lives happier. And I love . . . that you all want to be with me. I’m going to need your help to overcome this, but I refuse to let Hyto win. I refuse to let his abuse of me rule my life. I refuse to let him ruin our lives.”

Trillian pressed his lips against the back of my neck, gently, without insistence, just a gentle reminder that he had my back, and I began to cry, softly, grateful that I was back among those who loved me. Even though we had a fight ahead of us—for Hyto would not let it rest, and neither could we—for now, we were as we should be.

“We don’t blame Vanzir anymore.... After you vanished, he came back and read us the riot act. Made us realize that we were blaming the two of you for what couldn’t be helped. He chanced the lizard killing him to defend your honor. He’s not part of our triad, but . . .”

I shook my head. “What happened, happened. It was nothing like what Hyto did to me. Vanzir . . . is not one of my heart-mates. I have no desire to take him for a partner, although now I understand him a lot better than I did, and I no longer distrust him. But I don’t blame him. All I want is to let it go and know that you guys aren’t going to break his neck.”

Trillian let out a long breath. “As you wish, my love.”

Smoky must have caught our conversation because he did a sudden spiral in the air, coiling up and then down in a playful twist. I laughed, holding tight to him, as Trillian held on to my waist, and Delilah to Trillian.

And then, a straight shot on toward the energy that was building as we grew near it. The mist raced past, occasional thin strips of it rising to our level, and below the ground was covered with the rolling fog as far as we could see. Most of the astral plane was covered in boiling mists—it was simply part of the makeup of the realm. There were other planes of existence, most bound together by the Ionyc Seas, but for the most part, I tried to stay off them. The etheric realm was less physical than the astral, and others—still even less so.

We flew straight as the dragon flies, as the saying goes, for what seemed like an hour, though in reality time didn’t exist over here. But for humans—for any mortals, however long lived—there would always be an internal sense of translation to a time-based system.

After a while I tugged on Smoky’s hair. We headed down toward the ground, spiraling in for a landing. As he gently settled, I slid off, bracing my foot on his wing to help me descend. Trillian and Delilah joined me. As I looked around to gauge my bearings, I felt a distinct leap in the source of the energy signature we were following.

“This way,” I said, motioning for them to follow me. Heading toward what would be the east, if we were back in our realm, I set off, letting the energy guide me. As we made our way through a large field of what reminded me of ferns and overgrown rhododendrons, we came to a central pond. The water wasn’t real water, of course, but it glistened and rippled, and as I leaned forward, I realized it was alive. It rose and I jumped back with a start.

As it stood there, transforming in shape to vaguely mimic a bipedal form, I felt a sparkle of magic from it and, with a hesitant hand, reached out my index finger. A thin tendril spread out from the mitten-shaped hand, and it quietly touched my finger.

A rush of energy flooded me, like a waterfall of sparkling droplets. I had a flash of rainbows and prisms, of shattering glass and gleaming spires, and then a gentle wash of peace followed.

Gently, I disengaged and watched as the creature once again took its original form, melting back into its watery self.

“How beautiful,” I whispered. “Pure joy, transcendent peace.” And then I realized that my heart’s aching had lessened. I closed my eyes and the intense feeling of being violated had faded—just a little but enough for me to function easier. “It may not be the bluebird of happiness, but this creature . . . offers a rare gift.”

“What is it?” Delilah asked, staring at the glistening pool.

“A water Chirp. I’ve heard tales of them, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one.” Silently wishing it well, I skirted the pond and we headed toward the other side of the field.

We had barely reached another thick stand of astral ferns when a rustle on the other side stopped us. Out of the bushes stepped Chase—a look of relief spreading across his face.

“Thank God it’s you guys! I felt your energy, Camille. I felt you aiming straight for me.” He looked half-crazed, but then being stuck alone on the astral for several days would be enough to drive any FBH nuts. Especially one in the middle of a major life transformation.

Delilah rushed forward, giving him a long hug. He pressed his eyes closed as she squeezed him tight, then stepped back. “Camille—are you okay? I thought . . . we talked, I was sure of it, and you were not in good shape . . .”

I nodded, stepping forward. “We did, but I escaped. We have to get you home, though. Off the astral. It’s not good to stay here in body when you are still alive. At least not for as long as you’ve been out here. Come.”

Turning to Smoky, I said, “How are we going to do this? You can only take three at a time. And we need to return to the mushroom ring first. If we jump off the astral here, there’s a good chance we’ll end up in the Northlands, and trust me, I’m not ready to go back.”

“Then we fly back and I return you two by two into the . . . well . . . wherever that realm is. But we’ll have to be cautious—the house was swarming with spiders and beetles and we don’t know what they’re doing now. They may be waiting for us.” He frowned. “I almost would rather jump back into the Northlands.”

I knew he wanted to hunt down Hyto, but I put a soft hand on his arm. “We can’t take him on without all of us there.”

Smoky pursed his lips, but just nodded his acquiescence. “Come then, let’s return and see what mayhem the others have been up to at my barrow.”

He shifted into dragon form and—with Chase in our midst—we climbed back aboard, straddling that great white neck, and set a course for our starting point. Once there, Smoky resumed his human form so he could transport us off of the astral realm. First, he took Chase and Delilah over, leaving Trillian to protect me. Then he hurried back for us.

Once we were all near the spider Fae’s house, I glanced at where we’d left her body. Whatever remnants had been left were gone. No sign of her. And the swirling of the house had resumed.

“I don’t like the looks of that—could she have survived?”

Delilah frowned, shaking her head slowly. “Dealing with the Elder Fae is tricky. There’s a lot we don’t know about them. Let’s just get out of here while we can. I have no desire to hike on down to see if she’s still alive. Or if something else has taken up residence.”

We set off, hoofing it back through the mushroom ring. On the shore, we avoided the spot of quicksand. Out on the peat bogs, I could see the distant form of Yannie Fin Diver. He stared at us but made no move to come closer, and I had a vindictive sense of delight as I flipped him off. Tough shit if it made him mad. I was with my dragon and I’d reached my limit of taking crap from jerks, pervs, and freakazoids.

We came through the ravine back into the main glen. Still no sign of Tra or Herne, but I sent out a brief hello to both of them, wishing them well. Tra wasn’t on my favorites list, but hell, he was the son of a god. That alone was a good reason to be a strange duck. And Herne . . . he was just incredibly powerful. He’d stopped his kid from picking on us, so much the better.

As we headed toward the portal, Chase looking infinitely relieved, I whispered the words Aeval had taught me and the aperture opened. Through the vortex we went . . . back home. Back to Earthside. Back to figure out what the fuck to do about Hyto.

The minute we came through the portal, Yugi was there, waiting. I blinked, surprised to see him, but he tipped his hat and, shivering, said, “Sharah called. She wanted me to come out here and wait for you, to give you your cell phones and a message.”

“What now?” I felt the color drain from my face. If she had a message that couldn’t wait, what the hell had happened now?

The police officer, Chase’s second-in-command, clasped Chase’s hand and pulled him in for a pat on the back. “I wasn’t sure we’d see you again. Good to have you back.” As if he realized he’d just hugged his superior officer, Yugi held up his arms in a no-harm, no-foul gesture, blushing, and fumbled to salute.

Chase let out a short bark of laughter. “Don’t sweat it, Yugi. I’m glad my men miss me when I’m gone. Better than you guys talking about me behind my back.” He rubbed his hand across his eyes. A glimmer of sparkles filled the dark brown irises, and he crossed to me, lifting my chin up, his face solemn. “Camille, bless you for coming to rescue me. I was so worried that when I finally did get out—if I did, you’d be . . .” Here he paused, as if the words had gone cold on his tongue.

“Dead?” I whispered back. “I thought I would be.”

“Life’s taken some interesting turns, hasn’t it?” He cleared his throat and then, aware everybody was looking at us, backed away.

I turned to Yugi. “What’s Sharah’s message?”

“Everybody’s moved over to the barrow except for Menolly. She’ll go at sunset, of course. But there’s someone at the house waiting to talk to you. You need to stop there before going back to Smoky’s barrow.” He turned to Chase. “And Sharah said that if they found you . . . please call her the minute you get the chance.” He handed the detective a cell phone.

I accepted mine, flipping it open. A call to the house got hold of Iris. “What are you doing there? Is anybody with you? I know you want to wait until Menolly wakes up, but—”

“Sharah’s out at the barrow with Morio. I’m in Menolly’s lair. No worries that way—I’m safe enough. But up top, there’s somebody waiting to talk to you. He tried to swear me to secrecy, but Camille, you are my family. He . . . well . . . I don’t know if he is or isn’t.”

“Who is it?” I was beginning to hate waiting games and secrets, wanting all the information up top, front and center.

“Your father. Sephreh ob Tanu. He’s sitting up in the parlor, waiting for you right now, and I have no clue what he wants, before you ask. He just showed up today and demanded to see you. I told him to go out to the barrow and wait but he refuses.” Iris tsked a couple of times and then snorted. “He’s a stubborn man. You two are so much alike.”

“Alike, my ass. He disowned me. I have nothing to say to him.” But then I stopped. What could he want? Had he finally seen his way past Tanaquar’s grasping need for control? Or was it something more mundane? “Fine, I’ll stop there on the way home. But I’m not holding hope. And don’t you dare fix him any tea—not until I know what he wants.”

As I flipped my phone shut, I looked up at Delilah. “Father is at the house. He wants to talk to me.” At the sudden look of joy in her eyes, I held up my hand. “I don’t trust this conciliatory gesture. And maybe he just came to deliver the rest of my stuff. Who knows what he wants? I’m not getting my hopes up because the last thing I need is another fucking jerk dragging me through the mud. Emotionally or physically.”

She nodded, wisely biting her tongue, and we piled back into the cars, heading for our home. As the streets sped by, Hyto’s collar chaffed against my neck. I had the feeling he could sense me—wherever he was—and he was just biding his time until he was ready to come destroy my world.

Chapter 18

The house came into view and my heart thudded like a locomotive picking up steam. My father had disowned me around the equinox. He’d cut off ties with me. My sisters had quit the OIA—the Otherworld Intelligence Agency—in protest of my being fired.

As I got out of the car, one look down toward the trail leading to Birchwater Pond told me that Smoky had, indeed, been more than a little upset. Near the mouth of the path, trees had been uprooted and tossed around like a dog might toss a branch. Scorch marks blackened the ground. I swallowed hard, trying to not remember when I’d realized it was Hyto and not Smoky waiting for me.

Smoky stood at my shoulder and gently put his arm around me, glancing into the sky. “Come, let us go in. And whatever you want, just tell us and we’ll make it happen, my love.”

I nodded, slowly, following them up the stairs to the porch. As we entered the house, Trillian and Delilah immediately spread out, searching for any unwanted guests. Iris peeked in from the kitchen and motioned toward the living room. I blew her a kiss, touched by the tears in her eyes when she saw me standing there.

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