Eye of the Tempest
Page 10

 Nicole Peeler

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Stu continued to look around, obviously confused over what he was doing with “my” crew. Finally, he gathered himself and put his best asshole forward.
“Nice mange, True. Can’t afford a haircut?” he said and sneered, before strutting off.
Anyan’s human throat emitted a decidedly doggie growl, and I laid a hand on his knee. I appreciated his irritation at Stuart, but I was used to the idea that Stuart was, indeed, a fundamentally irritating person. What I was not used to was Stuart stumbling about like a zombie while making vague, apocalyptic threats.
“Bigger fish,” I mumbled at the barghest, as I turned to the others. We all huddled up around the bar to confab.
“What the hell was that?” I asked, watching as Amy whispered something to Tracy and Grizzie. The look of concern that had lit up their faces when Stuart shambled over was replaced by a placid smile, and then they got up and moved to a table in the Sty’s restaurant half. I hated seeing them glamoured and sent away like children, but for their own safety (and sanity) they shouldn’t be party to our conversation.
Amy’s thin mouth bent into a frown. “We don’t know,” she replied. “But it’s been happening all over Rockabill.”
“Since when?”
“It started about a week after you and Anyan were attacked.”
I gave her my own frown. “Do you think the two are connected?”
“In a way,” said Anyan. “We’re thinking the attack was a first attempt at gaining access to the territory. Kill me, and kidnap you to use as leverage.”
“But why? Gain access to what? I mean, the Sty has great burgers, but I don’t think it’s enough to hire professional hit men.” Then I thought of something else. “And what does Blondie have to do with all of this?”
“Blondie?” Iris asked, confused.
Anyan chuckled. “It’s what Jane called”—and here Anyan made that completely unpronounceable series of noises again—“when we didn’t know who she was.”
Iris grinned. “I like ‘Blondie’ better. Her real name hurts my jaw.”
Amy nodded. “Hell, yeah. Blondie it is. Cuz that bitch can party!”
I looked at Amy, confused, till I figured it out. “Do you mean the Blondie?” I breathed.
Amy nodded. “We rocked the seventies,” was all she said, leaving me awestruck.
But Amy’s former lifestyle wasn’t the issue. Our Blondie, however, was.
“So what the hell was she doing here anyway? Why was she following us? And where is she now?” I probably sounded ungrateful toward someone who had apparently saved my life numerous times, but I didn’t care. If someone shows up in my hometown, and then everyone appears to go a little bananas, that person was gonna be suspect in my mind.
All eyes turned toward Anyan.
“She’s out gathering information. She was here the whole time you were in danger—she’s the only one who could pump enough power into you to keep you going when you were bleeding out, magically.”
“And I’m grateful. But that still doesn’t clarify what she was doing here.”
Anyan gestured to our seats, and all of the supes in attendance moved our bar stools so that we could sit and see one another. Nell levitated herself to sit on the actual bar while Trill wiggled into the space between our circle of knees. This was going to take a while, as Anyan cleared his throat like he had to give a speech.
“A lot has been revealed while you were sleeping. It’s all been going on for a while, but what we discovered about Jarl’s operation here in our Territory brought things to a head. Basically, the schism we’ve seen here, between those who strive for purity and those who either ignore or encourage interaction with humans, is happening all over the world. Territories are either picking sides or splitting asunder from civil war. It’s chaos, but with a focus. War is coming,” Anyan intoned.
Despite the fact that they had to know all of this already, everyone still looked almost as shocked as I did. Shocked and scared. I might have been hearing about this war for the first time, but prior knowledge obviously didn’t make it sit any better with my friends. After all, it was one thing to know there was an evil renegade such as Jarl in a position of power, and another thing entirely to know that “renegade” was anything but and was, instead, part of a power structure that could bring real war to our lives. Meanwhile, everyone was looking equally worried, not least because although my supernatural friends had undoubtedly been in their shares of fights and disputes, Anyan and Caleb were the only real warriors in the Sty that night.
“But what does this war have to do with Rockabill?” I asked, and then thought of a horrible answer to my own question. “It’s not going to be fought here, is it?”
Anyan shook his head no.
“The war definitely won’t be here. To be honest, I don’t know where it will be this time. It can’t be the sort of war we’ve fought before. We have too much to lose, in terms of human discovery of our kind.” Anyan’s brow creased in thought. “It’ll be a new kind of war—a modern war. But it will be just as bloody and just as violent.”
Way to sugarcoat it, I thought, taking a glum sip of my drink.
“So if the war isn’t going to be here,” I said, after I’d swallowed, “why is all this stuff happening here?”
“Something’s hidden in Rockabill,” Nell said. “Something powerful. Something that the other side wants.”
“What do you mean by ‘something’ and by ‘wants’?” I asked.
“We don’t know exact details yet,” Anya told me. “That’s why Blondie’s gone. Once you were stabilized, she went back out to try to find more information.”
“So what do you know?”
Anyan looked around at the other supes as if he were embarrassed.
“Well, Jane,” Iris said, “to be honest, we’re mostly going on conjecture. And by conjecture, I mean a nursery rhyme. An Alfar nursery rhyme.”
“A nursery rhyme,” I said, unimpressed.
Iris nodded and started in on what was obviously the little ditty in question:
“Four locks for power,
Four locks for force.
Four locks for the old one,
Whose time has run its course.”
As she spoke, my eyebrows rose steadily to meet my hairline. She registered my nonimpressed expression as she continued:
“Four locks to bring them all
And in the darkness bind them.”
My eyes widened and I nearly fell off my barstool until Anyan barked “Iris!” I’d been had.
The succubus giggled, looking so like her old self I nearly did a happy dance, but then she forced a look of contrition on her face.
“Sorry. Here’s the real ending:
Unlock the crystals,
Unlock the land,
Unlock the water,
And with it take a stand.”
I frowned. “That’s it? From that you got Rockabill?”
Anyan shook his head. “No, Jane. There’s more to it than that. People have been looking for the source of this legend for centuries… It’s like our Holy Grail, or Fountain of Youth.”
“Our Lost City of Gold,” Caleb rumbled, helpfully, in case my brain had fallen out while I had slept, and I could no longer understand analogies unless they were given in threes.
“But how did you land on Rockabill?” I asked.
“It makes sense that Rockabill has something,” Anyan replied. “After all, why do you think this place has always drawn so many of our kind? And didn’t you ever wonder why Nell is so powerful? Gnomes are strong, but Nell is ridiculously so.”
The others thought about that, as Sarah Nahual nodded.
“Both Marcus and I became stronger when we moved here. Not a huge amount, but enough that we both noticed. We thought it was our partnership.”
“And why did you move here?” Anyan asked. “Why did any of you move here?”
Iris frowned. “I dunno. I was passing through, and I felt I had to stay in the area. I just liked it here. I couldn’t stay in Rockabill itself, as there weren’t enough people to feed off… but I wanted to be close, for some reason.”
Both Sarah and Marcus nodded, as if Iris had summarized how they felt. Minus the people to feed off, obviously.
“Yeah, it’s like I felt at home here. Even though it’s nothing like where I grew up,” Amy replied. “I only came out here to pick up some killer weed a friend had told me about, and I just knew I had to stay.”
As my friends talked, I started to get what they were saying.
“I was born here, because my mother showed up. But why Rockabill?” That question had always bothered me, ever since I’d been told my mother’s true identity. Now it was starting to make sense. “I mean, if she just wanted a… a mate, there are definitely better places to go. My dad was one of like five fertile men in all of Rockabill at the time. Everyone else was too old, too young, or too… problematic to have children by. So why not go to a place with more chances to find a baby daddy? Yet she came here.”