Eye of the Tempest
Page 27

 Nicole Peeler

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“I bet you’re pleased to see this,” said Sheila. I rocked back on my heels, unable to believe either her words or the spite with which she spoke them.
“What are you talking about?” I replied. “Why on earth would I…”
“You always hated us taking over the Black and White. You hated what we did to it. We know you told tourists at that bookstore not to stay with us.”
I did no such thing, I thought as I stood there, mouth gaping. Sheila used my shocked silence to wind up for one last swing.
“Well, now it’s in the ground, with your precious Jason.”
At those words, Blondie’s hand shot out and smacked Sheila across the face. Her head whipped around, the crack of Blondie’s hand on Sheila’s face like that of a firecracker.
Herbert Gray took a few discreet steps back, obviously unwilling to come to his wife’s aid. To be honest, upon thinking about it, I’d never actually seen him speak unless spoken to.
But Sheila still had her defenders. Iris had led Stuart away from his parents, undoubtedly using a sprinkling of succubus magics to lure him where she wanted. But he came charging back at the sight of his mother getting slapped, bellowing like a bull.
Caleb reached out a hoof and tripped Stu, who fell flat on his face, still hollering the whole way down.
“We don’t have time for this,” I snapped. “Thank you for sticking up for me,” I said to the fuming Original at my side. “I appreciate it. But right now we need to know what happened. So… undo all this and let’s start from the beginning.”
Even I was a little shocked at the authority in my voice, but everyone snapped to pretty quickly. Caleb hauled Stu up, Iris steered Mr. Gray toward us by the scruff of the neck, and Blondie reached forward to manhandle Mrs. Gray into cooperating.
Then I felt Blondie’s power wash over the humans. She whispered to them that we’d only just arrived, they wanted to cooperate with us, and that they really, really wanted to be nice to Jane.
I smiled at that last bit, as Blondie used another surge of power to keep the Grays’ in place. Then we rearranged ourselves together opposite them to appear as innocent as Girl Scouts selling delicious cookies door-to-door.
When Blondie drew back her magic, Mr. and Mrs. Gray were smiling, absurdly happy for two people whose house had been gobbled up by the earth. Only Stu looked like he wasn’t sold on Blondie’s glamouring. He’d always had an odd resistance to magic, which explained why my “be nice to Jane” that had worked great on Linda never quite stuck with Stu.
“Like we were just telling the nice men from the insurance company,” Mrs. Gray gushed, “we have no idea how this could have happened! Right, honey?” Mrs. Gray then turned to her husband, who looked almost as happy as she did that they weren’t sure how their house had disappeared.
“No, sweetheart! I have no idea how this could have happened! In fact, we were at dinner when it did!” Mr. Gray was equally excited. I could practically see the exclamation marks bubbling from his lips.
“Wait, wait, back up,” I said. “What nice men from the insurance agency?” While the supes I was with probably had never dealt with human insurance companies, I knew damned well there was no way any agency could get someone out to Rockabill that quickly.
“The nice men! Who came right away! They were fast!” Mrs. Gray was practically singing her responses at this point.
“What did they look like, these agents?” Caleb asked.
“They were so kind! And so professional! And so kind!” Mrs. Gray went ahead and sang.
“They were weird,” Stuart said, his never-pleasant voice gone particularly petulant. “Despite what my mom says, they weren’t professional. They were weird.”
I elbowed Blondie. I knew if I asked a question, Stu would react badly, glamour or no glamour.
“Um, weird how?” the Original asked, taking the hint.
“The one dude was huge, first of all. Like circus-freak huge. And the second guy was creepy. And they didn’t help us at all. They just talked to my parents for like four seconds and then jumped into the hole and came out again like fifteen minutes later. They were fucking weird.”
“Lang-uage!” Mrs. Gray sang. Stuart rolled his eyes.
“Whatever, mom. Seriously, they weren’t right.” Stuart stopped talking, and then eyed my friends for a second, blinking as if he couldn’t quite focus his vision. “Kinda like you guys…”
“All right then,” Caleb said, hastily. “You three should head into town. Check yourself into a hotel.” He paused when I gave him a Look, realizing the B & B was the hotel. “Um, check yourself into those cabins Mr. Allen owns. Make your calls from there. Call your insurance agents… I know they were just here, but you’ll want to call them again.”
I smiled at the satyr’s kind use of his magic. I would have let the Grays sit, thinking their insurance claims were being processed. But I was a bitch and Caleb was just the sort of goat-man you wanted to bring home to mama.
The Grays shuffled away, Stuart less pleased about leaving but not wanting to let his parents wander off alone. Once they were gone, we all turned to the ginormous hole through which the very roof of the Grays’ house still peeped. I knew what was coming next.
So much spelunking… so little time.
I dangled above Blondie while she made rude comments about my ass. Caleb and Iris were staying aboveground, well out of the way. If we tripped another Alfar booby trap, something that took us out like the other had Nell and Anyan, they were supposed to call Ryu.
So once again, I found myself descending into the earth, a position I wasn’t entirely comfortable with on a number of levels. Not least because of the one-woman peanut gallery below me.
“It’s like a gumdrop, but an ass,” the Original was saying. “I’ve always been more of a breast girl, but now I get it. You’re a woman and yet you offer all the comforts of a recliner.”
“Will you just help me down,” I chided, having had enough of Blondie’s flirtatious yammerings. I wasn’t sure if the Original was serious, but I did know most of the older supes were switch-hitters. Yet right now we needed to be applying our brains and our bodies to solving the mysteries cropping up around Rockabill, not seducing one another.
Not to mention, even my libido couldn’t rouse itself at the sight of my last real link to Jason, sunk into the earth.
“All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl, gumdrop ass and all,” Blondie muttered, helping me land beside her but insisting on pinching said ass at the same time. I meeped, pulling away.
“That hurt. And I’m not exactly in the mood for games,” I said, pointedly staring at where Jason’s former home leaned precariously next to us.
The sinkhole it had fallen into was enormous, big enough that there was room for Blondie and me to walk abreast of each other around the entire house. Meanwhile, the B & B looked almost entirely intact, even though it was leaning alarmingly. Part of me wanted to climb into that house and act like none of this had ever happened, starting with Jason’s death and moving onward.
But that’s not an option, I thought, straightening my shoulders and looking away from what had been one of my last surviving connections to Jason.
“Where should we start?” I asked. “What are we looking for?”
“Beats me. Let’s just hope that what we’re looking for isn’t in the house.”
“Or that it didn’t fall on top of it,” I added.
We both grimaced at each other, and then started walking around the perimeter of the sinkhole. We’d gone only a little way around the house before we came across a few tunnels in the wall.
“I don’t suppose you know if we should take one of these?” I asked, eyeing the three holes I could see from our current position next to the Grays’ now-sagging front porch.
“Hmmm,” she said. “This is gonna require some investigation,” and with that, she began to strip off her clothes. Her body was as lithe and muscular as I remembered, every inch covered with tattoos that ranged from the very primitive to more traditional tribal tats, from pirate tats to sailor tats, and finally a smattering of more refined, modern-looking tattoos. A crazy mixture of ink splashed along her skin almost as if her flesh embodied the history of the tattoo. It should have looked a mess, but somehow it didn’t.
And besides, I realized, she’s lived so long she probably does embody the history of the tattoo.
But the wink she gave me when she handed me her clothes was anything but antiquarian, and I felt my cheeks flush in response.
She reminds me of Ryu, my libido purred. Always ready for pleasure.
Pleasure we don’t have time for, my virtue chastised, trying to figure out where to stash the Original’s clothing. I finally laid the little bundle on the Grays’ front porch, hoping the house didn’t collapse on it. When I turned back to Blondie, she had her eyes shut as if she were concentrating.
“What we need is something with a keen sense of smell… but more than that… something that can sense—”