Alright, guys, this is embarrassingly rough, but it's well past time I posted something from the new book for y'all to peruse. You're seeing me without what passes for my makeup on. Ah, well, hope it's enjoyable anyway.
Also: This is how Gray Fox ended when I wrote it in October, this is how this book started when I wrote it in February. It's got nothing to do with the Boston Marathon Bombing. Sorry if it creeps anybody out.
Broken glass sparkled like ten thousand diamonds, flashing red and blue as more police cars pulled up the church drive and parked beside the damage. There now were more emergency vehicles in the parking lot than Casey Winter had seen in her entire life. It was almost like magic. Explosions, danger, violence…yes. It was definitely like magic. Dazed, she stared at a red splattering that, for once, wasn’t hers. The color was drawn into black by the lighting. It must be close to ten p.m. now. Maybe even midnight. More red congealed over to the left. That was where Pastor Rick had been before the ambulances had taken him away. Shrapnel to the lower leg.
They were lucky nobody had died.
The exploded trash can lay like some freshly unearthed skeleton. A dinosaur. A dragon bone. Pieces of it covered the ground, and more pieces of it were in the walls. One of them had almost pierced the indoor mural like a spear. The church’s tall front windows had been shattered. Lights played over the settees and in-house bookstore. Several of Pastor Rick’s tapes were still on fire.
It’s because of me. They blew up my church all because of me.
A paramedic tried to turn her head. A spot on her scalp itched. Probably a cut, judging by the red dribbled over her blouse. Part of her wanted to laugh. Raziel had only just gotten the bloodstains out from the last disaster, and here was a fresh set. The paramedic made a disapproving sound and gave her a gauze patch to hold. They were helping the wrong person, Casey thought. She’d caused this. The church windows were the wound, gaping and broken and strewn across the pavement.
That’s not true. Someone else chose to do this, not you. Rational internal dialogue. Who listened to that anymore?
They still aimed at me. If I’d been elsewhere—If I’d never come here at all--
Someone was speaking to her, voice muffled by the tinnitus echoing through her head like a bell. She turned her head further away from the paramedic.
“Are you alright?” Raziel mouthed.
She nodded, her lips quirking. For the first time since she’d met the Elestrin lady, Raziel was wearing glamour. Raziel was faerie, an Elestrin member of the Great Hunt marooned on Earth due to her own negligence. Her natural coloring was gray. Gray skin, gray hair and eyes the color of a hurricane on a tear. But there were police and paramedics everywhere. Casey figured the FBI would show up within the hour; bombings always got their attention. And so the Gray Fox herself finally appeared human. Her chosen disguise was Indian, tall, statuesque and still recognizably herself. Detective Baker had arrived with the rest of CCPD, looking about as tired as Casey felt, and he’d recognized her right away.
The name on Raziel’s driver’s license was “Rachel Hunt”. She’d been asked to show it four times in as many minutes. Baker was on the other side of the parking lot.
She hadn’t changed her eye color, though, and her lips a tight line outlined in bronze lip-gloss. Her brow had one crease between the eyes, like a chip in a statue of marble. If the concern had been more dramatic Casey would have known it was an act for the paramedics, but her expression was almost masklike. The glamour was the act. That little chip was real.
“Graphile?” Casey mouthed.
The frown returned. Raziel shrugged. Either she wasn’t sure, or she didn’t want that name dropped in front of sixty different kinds of cop.
Graphile was a power-made Wizard. His own power destroyed by his own misdeeds, according to Raziel, he’d been trying to awaken magic in Corpus Christi. Casey, Raziel and an elf named Marco Creed had just stopped him. Nobody had told Casey exactly what the freed magic would do, but the idea had shaken both of Casey’s Faerie acquaintances. Marco had a kind of dog-eared safety to him; his worry could be dismissed as concern for humans. Anything that scared Raziel, however, had to be filed under “Very Bad” and cross-referenced with “Run Away”.
But Graphile had sworn he wouldn’t do anything else in Raziel’s territory. Would he hold to his promise? Or would he risk destroying what little power he had left through oath breaking?
Casey wasn’t sure. Graphile and her ex-husband Jack had apparently clashed when the Wizard was still Atlanta’s problem. Yes, he and Raziel had once been “together”, but it was awfully convenient that the former Mrs. Reverend Winter was living down here too. Not that there wasn’t a lot of bad blood between Casey and Jack. She figured he’d throw a party when he knew she was gone. Graphile just hadn’t gotten that “enemy of my enemy is my friend” memo.
Had he set up the bomb as a parting gift? A shot at Raziel and Jack, two birds with one boom?
A police officer asked Raziel for her ID. I need to get away from these people, Casey thought, looking at the police. And then something squirmed in her hand, a softness that should be comforting and wasn’t. She swallowed. And then I need to get away from Raziel.
“Where’s Lisa?” Barbara Hanson’s strangled whisper floated past ambulance doors. Casey slipped away from Raziel, cupping that tiny piece of warm life against her breastbone. A paramedic helped her into the ambulance. Counters and drawers were stark, white and utilitarian; the gurney looked like some quasi-skeletal cyborg holding its patient hostage. Barbara Hanson’s burnished bronze skin looked green, and her eyelids fluttered. “Lisa?” She asked again.
“She’s here,” Casey said, though she didn’t loosen her grip on the tiny animal. She glanced back once; Raziel’s view was blocked by the ambulance doors. That was good. She couldn’t feel confident about Raziel’s reaction when she saw Barb’s pet.
After all, the warrior woman had been looking for this thing for six months.
Barb’s comfort was, for the moment, more important than Raziel’s politics. Casey lowered her hands to Barbara’s chest and opened them.
A tiny pink nose and whiskers appeared. They sniffed around cautiously, and then a tiny brown and white sugar glider sped for the curve of Barbara’s neck. Brown and white, black at the corner of gleaming eyes, and of course, heart meltingly cute, nothing could be more harmless—or, technically, illegal, given Nueces County’s exotic pet ban. A little color returned to Barbara’s face. She tilted her chin down and closed her eyes.
“Her heart’s not doing any better. Sorry, ma’am. We can’t take the animal to the hospital.” A paramedic carefully scooped the creature up and gave it to Casey. “She needs to go right away.”
“Lisa” stiffened. Casey swallowed. The “sugar glider” was Faerie, alright. Faerie and dangerous. She was one of Corpus Christi’s two phookas, and she’d been missing since before Casey had been let in on this whole “Faeries in Exile” thing. Her real name was Prix. She could probably have eaten Casey, and Barb, and most of the police officers trying to keep the crime scene in some pretense of order.
And she had apparently been living as the cute little critter in Barbara Hanson’s purse.
She didn’t have to reveal herself, Casey thought. Put herself at risk for the rest of us. She could have just let the bomb explode.
Prix had put herself between Casey, Barbara, Rick, and the bomb. Her protections weren’t perfect. Shrapnel had gotten to Pastor Rick. Barbara had a heart condition Casey hadn’t known about, and the blast had aggravated it. But they were alive, all of them, because Prix had decided their lives were more valuable than her secrecy.
Barb grabbed Casey’s wrist and held on tight. “Take care of her.” She hissed, before the paramedic quickly eased Casey out the door.
“I’ll try!” she shouted. The doors closed. The engine revved for speed.
Does she know? Casey thought, as the ambulance pulled away. Does she even know that “Lisa” is a sentient creature?
The only other Phooka she’d met was Ero, Marco Creed’s employee. He spent half his time as Anderson-Creed’s guard dog, and the other half disguised as a child. Somehow he had talked two humans into acting as his legal guardians. Before she met him, Casey thought it was a kind-hearted, warm union between parents in need of a kid and a lost soul in need of a haven. Having met Ero, she was amazed that anyone was willing to house the little psychopath.
Prix stirred in Casey’s hands. The small, dark eyes glittered with intelligence and a twitchy kind of fear.
Prix had been missing for six months, Marco had told her. She’d gone missing because she didn’t have the magical power to pose as a human, and Nueces County’s exotic animal ban made it impossible for her to pretend to be a tiger. And so she’d posed as Lisa, a harmless sugar glider that was still illegal as hell…and so was still special.
And so obviously, heartbreakingly loved.
Raziel had blackmailed Casey into finding Prix. If Casey didn’t agree, the Elestrin leader would tell the McHally family that Casey had killed their daughter. Lyrene McHally had been trying to murder both Casey and Marco at the time, but that wouldn’t matter. Casey was mortal, Lyrene had been a Merrow, and her family wanted blood for blood.
Security lay in the palms of her hands. Raziel was right outside the ambulance. All Casey had to do was hand her over.
Prix would be killed. At minimum, she wouldn’t be allowed back into Barb Hanson’s handbag.
“Shouldn’t you be going to the hospital too?” Raziel asked, dryly.
I must look like shit, Casey thought. Well, in the last thirty-six hours or so she’d been attacked by a Boggart, exposed to dark magic, stabbed by a Faerie wizard, haunted by a homicidal fox, nearly electrocuted and blown up by a bomb. She’d earned the right to look a little frumpy.
“I told them no,” Casey said. She’d had enough of hospitals for one lifetime.
Prix whimpered again.
“Goddamn Graphile.” Raziel said. There was a pause, and then she said, “And damn Prix too.”
“What?” This shocked Casey out of her reverie.
“Puck.” Raziel sighed. “The prototype for Puck was a Phooka. Robin Goodfellow. Powerful, scary. Benevolent in theory but in practice…” she shivered, though her expression didn’t change by one hair. “Graphile allied himself with a Phooka. One of my own. Ero is accounted for and loyal. So that leaves…” Raziel trailed off.
Prix. The tiny warm thing curled in her hair had gone very still. “That’s why you let me off finding her.”
“If her power has increased enough to be attractive to a wizard, she’s too dangerous for you to handle. And I do owe you.” A soft, simple smile touched Raziel’s features. “I would not have my savior forced to die in a task I knew she could not accomplish.”
Casey ignored the compliment. “But how do you know it’s Prix?” Casey asked. “How do you know it’s not Ero?”
“He has been out of town since Sunday morning, visiting with his ‘parents’. I had just called them when I saw the explosion, you see. They said he has been visiting with their families and that all has been well.”
The Boggart is probably giving him indigestion, Casey thought.
“You will go home when the police are done questioning you,” Raziel said, softly. “You will not participate in this any more than you have to. This is no longer your business.”
“Friday night you didn’t care whether or not I lived or died.” Casey said tightly.
“Friday night you had not proven yourself to me. Last night, you did. A good warrior. A brave fighter.” For a moment Raziel’s words filled Casey with a kind of sick pride. Then the gray lady added, “And a fair target. Graphile will go through anything to harm you. This is not something I will put up with.”
“And my being home is safer than my being involved,” Casey said, sarcastically.
“No one has attacked you there that you have not brought in yourself. It’s possible no one knows where you live. Marco will ward it. Leslie Fielding and Abbey McShay will be there in the morning, and Doug Greene will follow as soon as he is released from Christus Spohn. I want all my humans in one place where I can make sure they are safe.”
“Or where we can all be shot at once.” Casey said.
“This is not up for discussion. Leslie will be there in the morning. If I cannot insist you go to the hospital, I can insist you stay out of Exiles business.”
Tiny claws tightened on Casey’s neck when she would have spoken out. Just give her Prix. Just give it to her and this is over, and you can tell Barb…
Yes. Tell the woman who had pulled her out of soul-killing depression that she’d gotten her pet killed. And that was the bigger problem. She could not see Barbara Hanson shielding a Phooka like Ero from danger. She’d been keeping Prix in her handbag, for God’s sake.
But Prix is a Phooka. Cute as she looks, that’s no guarantee that she’s not eating people anyway.
So we’ll compromise. God, I wish I wasn’t so tired.
The problem with knowing what the right move is, is living with yourself after you make it. Casey reached up, curled a hand around the tiny, warm body, and said “Barbara Hanson has a pet. A very illegal pet that she’s had for six months. You cannot kill her while Barb is in the hospital. Okay?”
“I don’t see why—”
She opened her hands, and Raziel sucked in a short, quick breath..