Gods and Ends
Book 3 – Ordinary Magic
On one side of the room, lounging in a couple couches and chairs, were the vampires. Old Rossi, the prime of the vampire clan, looked dark and lean and uncharacteristically tight as a coil as he sat in a chair. Gone was the frilly apron and friendly smile.
Behind him stood Evan, who usually worked at the cat rescue shelter in town, but right now looked like the bodyguard he actually was. The light-haired twins Page and Senta who were part of the emergency response personnel, were crammed on the couch. Next to them were Keenan and Axel: the former part of the night-shift at the local lumber yard, the latter a mechanic who repaired cars and farm equipment and had the arms to prove it.
The couches and chairs opposite were covered in werewolves.
Small, deadly, the steely quiet Granny was the alpha of her pack. She sat in the middle of the couch, her saucer glasses adding weird light to her eyes. Behind her were either sons or nephews or cousins or nieces, about ten of them, all bulky, all silent, all a part of the family, the pack. Burly Rudy sat on one side of Granny and on her other, to my huge surprise, was Jame.
I quickly noted that Fawn, his cousin, sat next to him, her hand on the back of his neck in comfort as much as in protection. She was glaring daggers at the vampires.
Other than Myra, the only other person in the room was a god.
Thanatos, Death himself, was the only god who had come to this meeting, though I had no idea why he was interested in what was going on.
“Hello, everyone,” I said. “Thanks for coming.”
“Delaney,” Old Rossi greeted me, his voice low, even, and cool. No tea and friendship there. No New Age peace and love either. Just wariness, and deadly focus.
Granny Wolfe nodded but did not take her eyes off Rossi and his crew. Neither did any of the other Wolfes, who were all staring at the vamps like they were food that wouldn’t stop twitching.
“Rossi. Granny. Than. Good to see you all. This is neutral ground and there will be no blood shed here, no pain. We work together, we save Ben and kill Lavius. Understood?”
“Yes,” Rossi said.
“Delaney, you come sit down and we can see what we can see.” Granny pointed to her couch.
Myra stood across the room at parade rest. She gave me a look that probably mirrored my own. This tension between the two factions was going to catch fire. Sooner rather than later if we didn’t do something about it.
“Benoni is not dead,” Than said smoothly into the silence.
Crack, boom. Tension busted.
Jame’s swollen, red-rimmed eyes jerked to Death’s face.
“Benoni lives,” Than continued as if we were talking about upcoming movie times. “I would know if he did not. I believe you would too, Travail, is that not true?”
If Rossi was bothered by Death using his first name, he didn’t show it. If anything, some of the tightness around his eyes eased slightly, though his jaw still twitched as he ground his teeth together.
“I would know,” Rossi agreed softly.
“Yes, then. There is hope.” Than smiled, as if he had never had the chance to say that before and liked the sound of it. “Is there also tea?”
Jean moved over to the kitchen. “I’ll see what I can find. Anyone else want tea?”
Silence, then Ryder finished strolling into the room bringing that confidence and challenge that sat so well on him and did something to center the room, to ground the moment into the reality of people gathering together to find solutions.
“Coffee, if you have it,” he said.
“Me too.” I pulled a chair over so that I was settled between both factions, Than and Myra directly across the room from me. Once I sat, Myra did too.
“Do you know where Ben is?” I asked Than.
“No. He is between life and death, as all of his kind are. To sense his location I would have to either regain my power, or he would have to transition into a state I could perceive: death. He would have to die. I would feel him then, even without my power. The passing of vampires is a heated thing, and all too rare to be overlooked.”
“You said you could find Lavius through the bite that ties me to him, right?” I asked Rossi. “We find him, we find Ben.”
“It could be done,” Rossi said. “But using that tie comes at a cost.”
Of course it did. I resisted the urge to throw up my hands in frustration. Why couldn’t anything be easy and why didn’t anyone let me in on this stuff from the get-go?
“All right. Fine. What’s the cost? Let’s get paying.”
The front door opened and we all paused while Mason welcomed what sounded like a dozen kids and a half dozen adults. He started into the tour spiel and I pitched my voice a little lower so the tourists wouldn’t hear me.
“It’s blood, right? I have to give up some blood to track him?”
Rossi’s gaze was sharp and hungry. I raised one eyebrow, not falling for the deadly vampire routine. I’d hauled him in for indecent exposure for streaking down the beach and through the middle of town three times in the last couple years. I wasn’t afraid of him.
“More than blood, Delaney.”
I waited. We all waited.
Jame got tired of waiting first.
Jame growled, a low, painful sound that snagged and caught somewhere in his chest.
“What. Price.” His voice was gravel and sand, eyes glassy with fever, color too green and gray beneath the bruises. Sweat peppered his forehead and ran a thin line down his temples.
He looked like he’d been hit by a truck that had backed up, run him over again, and then pulled a trailer over his bones.
Fawn’s hand on his upper arm held him stiffly propped against the couch. Granny radiated strength and power and protection at his other side.
“It is nothing you can pay, Jame,” Rossi said with more kindness than I’d ever heard out of him.
“I’ll pay it,” I said. I was the one attached to the vampire, it only made sense I’d pay the price of being used as a human GPS unit.
“No,” Myra and Jean both said at the same time Ryder said, “Not happening.”
So, yeah, it was great to have a cheering squad, but I knew how this kind of paying-the-price stuff went down. I could deal with it. It was my place to deal with it.
“What price, if not blood, strigoi?” Granny’s voice didn’t carry kindness. Just flinty anger and more than a little hatred for Rossi’s kind in general and Rossi himself in particular.
Okay, that was not what I expected him to say.
“Dark magic is what he wants,” Rossi said. “It is what he has come to our land for, what he has killed for. To find him, we must give him what he will use to destroy Ben, this town, all of us. He will gut us on our own good intentions.”
“We have dark magic?” Ryder asked. “It’s a…thing? That we have here?”
Rossi’s gaze didn’t leave Jame’s. “Yes. I have it here.”
Jame’s shallow breaths turned into a panting, frantic whine. “Pay. Pay it. Pay it pay it pay it.”
It was heartbreaking.
Granny slipped her hand onto Jame’s. She turned his hand over and drew her fingers across his bare wrist. Then she pressed her palm against his, linking their fingers tight enough it looked like it hurt.
“Hush now,” she said so softly, so gently. “Hush. He is yours. He is always and only yours. We will find him. We will put him in your arms. You will feel his heart beat.”
Jame swallowed, a thick, hard motion. Then he dropped his gaze from Rossi and slumped, his eyes closed, his shoulders hunched. Whatever energy it had taken for him to demand, to beg, was gone now, leaving him exhausted.
I wanted to reach out and comfort him, wanted to wipe away the tears running down his face. Fawn shifted on the couch so that her arm was across his back, and pulled his face into the curve between her shoulder and face, hiding him with her body from all eyes in the room. She held him, whispering comforting things.
“You have the magic that monster demands and you haven’t given it to him?” Granny snarled. “You have refused? You have left one of mine to suffer?” Her words rumbled, the undertone a sound no little old lady should be capable of, a sub-audible growl that I felt in my spine, base of my skull, the shivers of fear.
“Peace,” Rossi said. “I have reason to keep the book hidden from him all these years. Surrendering it to him would sign our end. Not just one of yours. Not just one of mine. All of us.” Rossi’s hands clenched so tightly on the arms of the chair, trying to hold him to his seat, I heard wood creak.
“Give the book of dark magic to me.”
Her words were an order. A demand. A threat. Werewolves shifted, moving out from behind the couch, shoulders tipped, muscles bunched, ready. Ready to fight for their own, even if it meant killing people who had been, if not exactly friends, neighbors.
The vampires did not move at all. They went impossibly still, focused as arrows drawn home, taut and ready to fly.
In about half a second we were going to see the two biggest supernatural factions in our town broken and bleeding on the lighthouse floor. Ended not by the ancient enemy outside our border, but by the mistrust in each other.
Maybe that was why Than was here. There were about to be a lot of vampire deaths to not overlook.
“Who wants tea?” Jean stormed into the space between the vamps and weres with a tray of six steaming mugs in her hands, putting herself square in the middle of the battle zone.
Myra stood. I was half a second behind her. Ryder surged to his feet too, all of us clogging the space next to Jean, putting our mortal bodies in direct firing range of the other creatures.
No one spoke. There was only breathing, too loud, the rush of my heartbeat, also too loud, and the muted sound of feet walking up the metal spiral ladder to the lantern room.
There were civilians here. Innocents who had no part of the vampire werewolf war. People I was sworn to protect.
“Ease off,” I said to Rossi. I turned my gaze to each vamp. “We have humans out there, and I will not have this historical landmark go down in the record books for mass murder.”
Rossi twitched just one eyebrow as a fang slipped down to press into the soft mound of his lip. He otherwise didn’t move or look away from me. Didn’t challenge my authority.
It was an acknowledgment. Not a big one, but enough to let me know he didn’t want to fight the werewolves. Not over this.
Just enough to let me know he was furious that his old enemy, his one-time brother-at-arms had taken Ben, who Rossi thought of as a son. There was hunger in the killing gaze Rossi leveled at me. The hunger for revenge.