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Lamia - Chapter 59

Published at 8th of September 2023 07:59:09 AM


Chapter 59

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“Where is it?” Garrett paced around the room in agitation. “I told it to come directly back here and report.”

“It's not coming back,” Dextra said, and waved a hand across the mirror she'd been gazing into for the last few minutes. She wished Garrett would stop that pacing; she felt edgy enough herself.

“What? What do you mean, it's not coming back? There's no way any witch is going to be able to kill that, or send it away, or make a bargain with it! It was the most powerful creature I could find to summon and have any chance at all of controlling, and I laid everything I've ever heard of on it to keep anyone else from claiming control! And it's sure as hell not friendly enough to negotiate with! Just being able to summon and bind that thing should put me in the history books!”

He hadn’t done it alone, but since he’d designed and led the whole project, Dextra ignored that.

“I've been telling you all along that the Terevan boy has a protector. Somehow, it has been avoiding every attempt to identify it. If you'll recall, I thought it might be either one of the liminals that are invisible to scrying, like kitsune, or alternatively that it is rarely or never in his presence outside the house. Either one would explain why I've picked up only indistinct traces around the outside of the house shields. There are a variety of liminals of various sorts in his area, a fairly high concentration for a city of that size, and I've been unable to connect those traces to any of them.” Not for lack of trying; the failure had been nagging at her, leading her to waste a ridiculous amount of time on a vain search.

“So you've told us before,” Cordell said impatiently. “You've found something?”

“It's standing in the store with him right now. I still can't get specifics, it's about human-sized and human-shaped, but it... it's like it has shadows wrapped around it, too densely for me to see it. It's standing in a little patch of midnight in the middle of clear daylight. But whatever it is, it has the most overwhelmingly powerful, confident aura I've ever touched. Considerably more so than the viper that was supposed to end this whole mess. Of which, incidentally, there is no sign. Whatever it is, and I have no idea, the Terevans left him an extremely capable protector. One quite able to kill anything we send after him.”

“We need to think of a different approach, then,” Cordell mused. “All the wrangling over this child is tearing the Fellowship apart. Official party line is, of course, that he isn't worth any more than petty harassment attempts, and they're running out of those. On the other hand, even some of the sheep can see the difference between declaring someone independent who is doing quiet and harmless magic, and declaring someone independent who could put us all at risk one way or another.”

He was exaggerating. It did seem like everyone, absolutely everyone, knew about the Terevan child, from the oldest who remembered Ruth and Cecilia and Seth most clearly, to the young still being taught basic lessons. Many of them, in Dextra’s experience, didn’t really care whether Christian joined or not, and some of those were becoming impatient with the insistence that he was a threat and must be reined in. Dissatisfaction was rising to a disturbing level, and it was questionable how much longer the current Council would be the Council. Cordell's seat was as imperilled as the rest.

More alarmingly, a few of the young witches were watching Christian Terevan defy the Fellowship openly and get away with it without consequences, and distinctly rebellious stirrings could be heard. Some of their elders wanted the whole issue dealt with simply to put a stop to that before it had time to flourish.

“If we know he has a strong protector, maybe we can change our tactics enough that we'll succeed,” Cordell finished.

“We've tried different approaches already,” Albert pointed out. “Sending a goblin after his friend, and Garrett's viper, sure, but Hayley's try was new, and he managed to stay out of Christmas traffic for three weeks of you bending probabilities. The shield-borer was only supposed to make a path in for a proper spy, but it vanished without a trace, just like the rest. How in hell is he surviving all this?”

“Luck,” Cordell said, with a mirthless smile. “Someone or something is bending the probabilities back. We need time to think and plan very carefully before we make another attempt. If he thinks he's won and is safe, so much the better, we can catch him by surprise.”

“For the record, I'm not sure any attack is going to be able to get by that guardian of his,” Dextra said. “I don’t mean just liminals. I’m not very confident about attacks of other sorts getting through.” It was going to keep her up at night, she knew it—the thought of that aura like an ocean of darkness, with the same elemental strength. What kind of creature had an aura like that?

“We'll come up with something. I will not spend the rest of my life constantly wondering what that child is up to and whether we'll all be murdered in our beds by some bloodthirsty liminal predator. Everything has a weakness. Will you see what else you can find out? There's no one better than you.” He gave her his disarming smile, but failed to impress Dextra. His eyes were still hard. “I will not be beaten by this child.”

* * *

“I need you to do something for me.”

I don't think I want to know, when she says it in a tone like that... Eric spun his computer chair around so he could face the lamia. She stayed in the doorway, leaning against it, arms crossed; something in that cold expression, or maybe in the barely-leashed tension just under the casual pose, made Eric's heart start thumping.

She left no pause to give him any chance to respond. “I need the address of Garrett Pascalle, I need you to not ask me any questions about it, and I need you to completely forget that I ever asked.”

It didn't take a genius to realize that he was currently holding the life of this Garrett Pascalle guy in his hands, and that if he gave it back to Alexandra, it would probably count as conspiracy to murder.

But... there were Pascalles in the Fellowship. And she rarely killed humans, and for her to target this one in particular, she must have a reason. What was debatable was whether it were a reason any human would comprehend, but it would be a valid reason.

Ultimately, what it came down to was whether he trusted her.

Never looking away from icy golden eyes, he nodded, slowly. “It'll take me a few minutes.”

She echoed the nod, once, curtly, and strode over to sit on the edge of the bed. “I can wait.”

Which puts her directly behind me while I'm doing this... er, no.

“Um, could you maybe wait somewhere else? Having you sitting there is going to be... distracting.” Intimidating. Terrifying.

No reaction for a heartbeat, then she got up and walked out. “I'll be in my room.”

Eric watched her go, and took a deep breath to try to make his hands stop trembling. “I'm out of my fucking mind,” he muttered to himself.

A short time later, holding a print-out of the most probable address along with a map of the surroundings, he nerved himself and headed for Alexandra's room.

She was sitting still, on the edge of her own bed, but she looked like Sid poised to pounce on a toy that had said unkind things about his mother: in motion already, it just hadn't been unleashed yet.

“I found a dozen variations on the name,” he reported. “But I did some cross-checking against a couple of Fellowship Pascalles I know the names of. There's a pile of them living in Ottawa, and one of them owns an apartment building that has a Garrett Pascalle as one of the tenants. I can't be totally certain it's the one you want, but it's probably a good bet.” He offered the print-out, and got lost in the fire-and-ice in her eyes again, felt heartbeat and breathing both accelerate.

Not me, she won't hurt me, she only kills to survive.

Or to protect Chris.

She accepted it. “You haven't seen me all afternoon, I never came home.”

“Okay.”

“You... it might not hurt to have a hunch that Chris needs you. He's had a very hard day. He needs not to be alone.” She hesitated, and golden eyes dropped. “I didn't want to leave him,” she said, her voice low and strained. “Take care of him for me?”

Fast as revelation, Eric saw the flip side of this whole concept of trust: she'd trusted him enough to ask him for what she needed, trusted him with Christian's well-being while she had to be away.

“I'll leave right now, and I won't let him out of my sight until you're home. Do you have enough cash on you?”

She looked up again, and nodded. “I'm a lot more concerned about getting past the Ottawa lamias without being noticed. I'm pretty sure I can, I did a lot of wandering before I moved in here, and I survived it. I should be back before breakfast. Just don't tell Chris.”

“Got it.” He retreated out of her room, and returned to his own long enough to get ready to go back out. He didn't see her again before he left for the store.

* * *

Garrett climbed the stairs to his fourth-floor apartment wearily. Dextra and Cordell could analyze things to the point of nausea, it seemed sometimes. Throw in Albert's questions of doubtful relevancy and ravings about the rule of law and how absolutely vital it was to remain hidden from mundanes, and these meetings could take forever. But at least they'd resolved a few issues regarding recent Council edicts, and decided what to do, if anything, about each. It had been hard to care about any of it, after the greatest and most risky summoning of his life had proven to be a complete waste of time.

He unlocked the door, switched on the hall light, and bolted the door securely behind him.

Boots off and placed neatly on newspaper to dry, jacket off and hung in the closet, and he paused in the kitchen to make himself a drink before continuing on into the living room.

He flipped the light switch, and stared at the woman who had made herself comfortable at one end of the couch, feet in spiky-heeled, thigh-high boots drawn up beside her casually. The rest of her was in a matching latex corset and very short skirt and long gloves with no fingers, baring glossy black nails. She smiled, and licked black-tinted lips. “Garrett Pascalle?”

“How did you get in here?”

She gestured lazily to the patio doors onto the balcony. “I let myself in. I've gone to quite a lot of effort to come here to see you.”

“Um... you have?” Visions of that curvy body, less the latex, flitted across his mind; he shoved them away, but they came back.

“Yes. You are the Garrett Pascalle who summons and controls liminals, aren't you?”

He found himself flattered that she knew anything at all about him. Anything, to keep her attention a little longer, and maybe convince her he was worth her time! “Yes, that's me. I'm very good at it,” he added, in a rush. “I created a couple of the protections the Fellowship now uses as standard.”

“Then you're the one I was looking for.” She beckoned him closer, and he came, eagerly, joined her on the couch when she uncoiled and patted the place beside her, set his drink on the coffee table and promptly forgot it. He thought his heart might stop, in sheer desire and pleasure, as she leaned close to whisper in his ear. “I'm here to kill you.”

Yes, anything you... what?

“Kill...?” It came out barely audible, all he could manage, unable to look away from her or quite catch his breath.

She sat back, and nodded calmly. “You tried to kill my witch. Think of it as extremely prompt karma.”

Her... oh gods, oh gods, she's the protector Dextra couldn't quite see...

She smiled again, and wings made all of shadows unfurled, spreading in graceful dark curves. “I promise you, I'm going to be the last thing you see. But it could take a very long time.” She held up a hand, showing her nails. “These are extremely sharp and nearly unbreakable. I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do to you with them, and how long I can keep you alive to watch.” The calm, conversational tone never varied, but the hunger for her was... well, it was still there, but terror was building rapidly, twining around it until he wasn't sure any more which was which. She shifted position, and shoved him down on his back with a hand in the centre of his chest. “Have you ever heard of a lamia? Men have told legends about us for thousands of years under countless names. Humans like to think you're at the top of the food chain, you try to make yourselves believe it, but deep down inside, you know the truth. I’m the hunter in the night, the one who can wring a man dry of everything inside, the one who can make a man give his life to me gladly in return for just a little more, the one who can rip a man apart in seconds if he doesn't give me what I want. I can manipulate a man's hormones and reactions, and make him long for me more than anything in the world, or make him fear me so completely that his own body rebels, or both at once.”

It was definitely getting hard to breathe, hard to think, the whole world was those golden eyes that never wavered from his, eyes he couldn't seem to look away from no matter how desperately he wanted to... or did he? She didn't want him to look away, she wanted him to pay attention to what she was saying, and he was, with every cell in his being... He'd never known it was possible to experience fear so intense, so absolute, that it ceased to have meaning; no doubts remained that he was as good as dead, or that he had no control at all over the manner of it. He was hers, to play with as she wished. His heart was hammering so rapidly it hurt; he was only in his forties, and healthy, surely he couldn't have a heart attack.

“Do you know what I want, Garrett Pascalle?” she murmured. “I want you to die.”

How did she do that? he thought dazedly, as the pain in his chest climbed sharply to a whole new realm. Couldn't breathe, there just wasn't enough air, the world was going black with starbursts...

Far, far away, he heard her say, “If it weren't for the need to keep the local lamias from knowing I'm here, I promise you, you wouldn't have had such a clean death. Be grateful.”

He was. For as long as he was.

* * *

Eric wasn't all that surprised when Mark joined him and Christian for breakfast.

“'Morning,” Christian greeted him. “Good hunt last night?”

Mark nodded, with no particular expression, and headed for the fridge to get the juice. “Sorry I had to leave you.”

“It's okay, Eric wandered in half an hour later, and I was so busy I didn't have time to be jumpy. I'm used to you getting all worked up and needing a way to get it out, remember? And even if you didn’t get hurt bad, it did hurt you. Thanks. It would've killed me without you.”

The neutrality softened into an affectionate smile. “I'd do a lot worse to protect you than just fighting something that died that fast.”

Yeah, I bet you would, Eric thought. Starting with not telling him it was deliberately summoned and set on him, and going from there.

Not that I'm in any position to argue...

“So, how much French toast am I making, anyway?” Eric asked lightly. As far as anyone knew except him and Mark, nothing out of the ordinary had happened last night, so it was just as well to at least try to act accordingly. Maybe given some time, he could even stop thinking about it.





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