Behind Conan Doyle's brownstone home there lay a small garden courtyard hemmed in on three sides by the house. The brick rear wall of the structure behind the Louisburg Square house made up the fourth side of the courtyard, but it was well hidden in the wild tangle of the garden. Some of the trees were thick and long-limbed, others tall but slender as saplings, exotic things that would have been unfamiliar to local botanists. Indeed, some would have been unfamiliar to human botanists, and the flowers were rarer still, and more varied. The garden thrived with color. Scents of vanilla and orange and lilac hung in the air, mixing with a hundred others.
For this was Ceridwen's garden.
Once the Fey sorceress had decided to remain in the human world, to remain with Arthur, he had insisted she take the suite of rooms on the first floor, at the rear of the house. There were half a dozen tall windows and elegant French doors, all of which looked out into the courtyard. It had been a meager garden, then, but Ceridwen had made it come alive with color and scent.
In the center of the garden she had built a fountain. The stones had been drawn up through the ground and put into place with her elemental magic, and then she had summoned water from deep in the earth. When Ceridwen was not in residence, the fountain was a mere trickle, only enough to give the birds and squirrels and chipmunks something to drink, for this was their paradise as well as hers. Paradise in the midst of urban filth. Yet when Ceridwen entered the garden, the fountain would leap and spray, casting a sheen of moisture across the air and making a million tiny rainbows.
Though the other residents of the house visited from time to time, for the most part the garden afforded her utter privacy. Arthur was her only frequent visitor, and he enjoyed the tranquility it provided as much as Ceridwen. With so much uncertainty in their lives, so much dread as they sensed the darkness encroaching on all sides, this place was the perfect sanctuary. A haven.
Ceridwen sat on the edge of the fountain, water spraying her back, causing her turquoise gown to cling to her skin. She hung her head back and let the spray play across her face. It soothed her, and she let out a long breath.
A pair of sparrows began to sing to one another in the rowan tree that grew beside the fountain. She laughed softly and stood up, swaying with the music of the birdsong. Ceridwen twirled around several times and then paused by a wild lilac bush that had grown taller and thicker than any in this world. Lilacs were out of season, but in her garden such trifles never mattered. Of all of the flowers that grew in the human world, lilacs were her favorite. The scent intoxicated her.
She held a branch and inhaled the aroma of the blossoms. A pleasant feeling passed through her, a contentment difficult to achieve of late. Much as she loved Arthur and enjoyed sharing this with him, there were times when solitude was her only salve.
Her mouth craved something sweet. She ran her tongue out over her lips and glanced about for a bare patch of soil. On the far side of the fountain she saw a perfect spot and she strode to it, letting her fingers touch branches and leaves and flowers in greeting as she passed.
Ceridwen dropped to her knees and plunged her fingers into the soil, the rough earth giving way to her, thirsting for contact. The years had tainted the soil of this world with chemicals, yet she had found that even in the most poisonous of places in the realm of mankind, the soil remembered a purer time, when the connections between it and Faerie were many and strong.
The ground trembled a bit, and then a sprig of wood burst from the soil. Ceridwen shuddered with pleasure as the sprig grew to a sapling and then to a tree, bursting with blossoms. The blossoms darkened and grew heavy, and a cascade of seconds passed before they had become fat, ripe cherries.
She rose and plucked a bunch of cherries from a branch, then popped one into her mouth. With her tongue and teeth she stripped its sweet meat from around the pit, and then she swallowed even that hard seed. Like water and fire, earth and air, the garden was a part of her.
"It's beautiful," a voice came from behind her.
She knew at once it did not belong to anyone human. The tranquility of her garden had been shattered by the arrival of an intruder, and the dread that had infected all of the realms in every dimension shuddered through her once more.
"What is your name?" she asked without turning.
"I did not think beauty was possible in the Blight," the voice replied.
Ceridwen ate another cherry, but its sweetness was lost on her. She dropped the rest and spun on one heel, standing in the shadow of the cherry tree. The sorceress raised her chin and glared imperiously at the intruder.
"I am a princess of Faerie, gnat. You'd do well to take care how you address me."
The emissary from her uncle's court was clad in the colors of stream and leaf, but over those clothes he wore a cloak of purest black that was like a velvet slash across the beauty of the garden. At his side hung a silver sword, its scabbard gleaming against the cloak. His thin features were the same pale hue as her own, tinted with a hint of blue.
Her words caused him to flinch.
His bright green eyes widened and then he lowered his gaze. The emissary drew back his hood to reveal rich brown hair.
"In harsh times, we are wont to become harsh ourselves," the emissary said. "Forgive me, majesty. It is unlike me to be so brusque and unseemly for a messenger from your uncle's court."
"I asked your name," she said curtly.
The emissary raised his eyes. "I am called Abhean."
Ceridwen narrowed her eyes. "I have heard the name. You are the Harper?"
Abhean nodded. "In happier times, that's true. When times grow dark, there's little call for my music."
"I'd think more call than ever." "I am master of the harp, but also of the sword, and one can serve the king better than the other."
Ceridwen strode toward him. "You may rise, Harper, and tell me your purpose here. The Fey so rarely enter the Blight."
Abhean stood and rested his hand on the pommel of his sword, slightly at attention, a formal air about him. "I beg your forgiveness, Princess Ceridwen, for my rudeness upon my arrival. Entering the Blight has me on edge, and I have behaved inexcusably."
"The humans live in this world, the Blight as our people call it, every day, and only some of them behave inexcusably. Nevertheless, you are excused, but only if you will arrive at the purpose of your intrusion immediately."
The Harper executed a small bow. "Of course, Princess -"
"Merely Ceridwen, please."
"If you wish."
"So I do."
"Ceridwen, then. Your uncle, King Finvarra, has sent me to ask you to return immediately to his court. He bade me tell you that he fears for your safety because of the way the Blight trembles. The seers spy a shadow that covers all of the worlds. All of the signs indicate that something terrible has awoken and threatens this world."
Ceridwen nodded. "Yes. I know well the peril the human world faces. Yet it is that very danger that forces me to stay. The terror that the seers have predicted threatens all realms, not only this one. But here is where it will come first and where we have the best chance of stopping it."
Abhean arched an eyebrow and took a deep breath. He let it out slowly and shifted awkwardly on his feet.
"You have something else to say, Harper?" "I'm sorry, Ceridwen, but I am ill prepared for your refusal. The king gave me only a message to deliver. I had not imagined you would deny him."
"Yet I must."
The handsome Fey warrior regarded her with those eyes, so bright green they were mesmerizing. "If I may be so bold -"
"I doubt that I could prevent it."
" - there is trouble at home as well. Trouble of a different sort. The ill feeling that the seers have perceived has unsettled all of Faerie. Those who supported Morrigan or who refuse to believe the extent of her surrender to darkness resent the king. There is a great deal of political turmoil. I fear the outcome, Ceridwen. I fear we may see a return to the Twilight Wars."
Horrorstruck, she stared at him. Images of shadow spreading across the land, of all of Faerie torn by civil war, of blood and savagery and monsters ravaging the land, played across her mind. Her mother's screams echoed inside her skull.
"Surely it cannot have grown that dire so quickly."
Abhean lowered his gaze. "I fear it will come to that before long."
For long moments, Ceridwen stared at him. She glanced around the garden and back at the house, the French doors that led into her bedroom standing open and inviting. She thought about Arthur, and the love that had reignited. More than anything, however, she thought of the Demogorgon, the unimaginable evil that even now made its way across the universe toward this world.
The humans could not stand alone.
She would not let Arthur face the Demogorgon without her at his side. Ceridwen felt sure he would die, and if so, she had to perish at his side. In her heart, she knew this. Fate weighed heavily upon her.
"You know how to find me, should the worst come to pass. Should the trouble here be averted, I will come to my uncle's side immediately. Carry that message to him, with my love."
"As you wish," Abhean replied.
The Harper reached within his cloak and removed his harp. He plucked at its strings and bade her farewell even as he began to fade away, as though he had never been there at all. Warrior and poet, he had ever been a great ally to Finvarra, for with his harp he was a Walker Between Worlds.
With him gone and some of the lightness returned to the garden, Ceridwen went to the fountain. Droplets of water fell around her and upon her, fresh and cool upon her skin.
She reached into the water, and the fountain ceased, leaving only a rippling pool.
Ceridwen brushed her hand across the surface of the water once, twice, a third time. "Kate," she whispered. "Moya. Emmy. Kiera."
Faces appeared on the water, images that wavered with the brush of her hand on the scrying pool. With a touch, she turned the scrying pool to ice as clear as a mirror, and the images settled. Each of the women glanced up, one by one, as she called their names. They would not be able to see her, but they would hear her voice, these lovers of the natural world who had made offerings to her, who had been her eyes in the human world during the years when she refused to return here.
One by one, they answered her, softly, reverently.
"There is trouble in Faerie, my friends," she told them, and immediately sensed their anxiety, their fear. "No, no. I am in no danger at the moment. It is the realm I fear for, not my own safety. You must spread the word to all of those who believe, who would serve me. If there is any sign of further discord in Faerie, if any of you sense anything, or if any of the sprites and such with whom you communicate bring unwelcome news, you must inform me immediately."
"Yes, Mistress," they replied, one by one, these faithful few who had given themselves, heart and soul, to the ideals that Ceridwen believed in, to nature and the elements.
"Blessings upon you," Ceridwen said, for it was what they wished to hear.
She slid her hand over the ice, and their faces disappeared. The scrying pool was empty for a moment, and then she whispered ancient words and ran her hands over it again, attempting to use it as a window to see into Faerie.
She scried nothing but darkness.
There would be no seeing through to other worlds now. The magic that held the worlds together was trembling. The Demogorgon was coming. Ceridwen knew she ought to warn Arthur immediately, tell him of the conversation with the Harper and all that had transpired. But of course he was well aware of the Demogorgon's approach.
Arthur believed it was still very far away. Perhaps years. They would prepare for its arrival as best they could. Meanwhile, they had to combat the horrors that arose in this world.
Yet if the realms were so unstable now, with the Demogorgon still far off, how much worse would it get before the most ancient of evils arrived?
The question alone made her tremble.
Shuck lifted his muscular, black leg, and let loose a stream of steaming urine that scoured the brick wall and stank of vomit.
"Jesus," Eve said. "I'm not even breathing, and I can smell it."
"Yeah, their piss is pretty potent," Squire said, holding on to the beast's chain and waiting for it to finish. He gave the chain a sharp tug. "C'mon pal, we ain't got all night."
Eve scanned the city streets; her acute senses extended outward. "Let him sniff," she said with annoyance. "It's not like we've got anything to follow."
People coming down the street gave them a wide berth as they saw the large animal, one guy muttering beneath his breath that he didn't know it was legal to keep circus animals as pets.
"Now I'm just getting annoyed," Eve announced as they continued down Washington Street, Shuck's face practically pressed to the ground as it attempted to find a demonic trail.
"More so than usual?" Squire asked. "Dare I ask?"
"It's Conan Doyle," she said, glancing in the window of a store at a display of winter jackets and boots. When she found herself in a mood like this, she had the compulsion to buy. "I can't believe he's known who Danny's real father was all along."
Shuck stopped at a wrought iron trash receptacle, its sensitive nose taking in the various aromas that were left there, probably since the barrel had been installed. The way it planted its large paws, it was clearly not going anywhere until it was finished.
"Look, Evie . . ."
She quickly shot him the look.
"Eve," the hobgoblin corrected. "How long have you known Mr. Doyle? Probably longer than I have, and I know that the guy has his own way of dealing with things. Does he often withhold pertinent information? Fuck, yes, but as my good friend Billy S, used to say, Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.'"
"You didn't know freakin' Shakespeare," she scoffed.
"Who said anything about Shakespeare? I was quoting Billy Scuzzarella. Ran a gelato stand in Brooklyn. Fuckin' awesome gelato. But what I'm trying to say is that Doyle's got his own way of doing things, and he doesn't really give two shits about whether we like it or not."
A gaggle of teenage street kids, their clothes at least three sizes too big, started across the street toward them.
"Hey, what kind of dog is that?" one of them asked. "Is dat a Pit? Big motherfuckin' Pit if it is," he finished, his posse cracking up.
"We should probably get out here," Eve said. "We're starting to attract attention."
Squire gave the chain a tug, and the shuck growled menacingly. "You're the one that wanted to let him sniff," he said. "C'mon boy, let's get going, there'll be plenty of other things that stink."
The kid's friends stayed back, standing in the middle of the street, but it didn't stop the leader from heading over. "Hey, you hear me aks a question?" he asked, toothpick moving around from one side of his mouth to the other. "I aksed you about your dog."
Eve stood between the kid and the still sniffing beast.
"No, it's not a Pit. Satisfied?"
He gave her what he probably believed was his charming smile, trying to look past her at the animal. "It a mix?" he asked. "Looks like he's part bear or somethin'." He turned around to see if his friends had heard his latest gem.
"Yeah, he's a mixed breed, who doesn't like strangers," Eve explained. She was getting cranky.
The kid smiled again, and she wanted to tear the smirk right off his face.
"Is it only the dog that don't like strangers?" he asked. "Cause if it ain't, my name is Tyrell, and we ain't strangers anymore." He held out his hand for her to shake, and that was pretty much the straw that broke the camel's back.
Eve shook her head with disgust, stepping out of the way to allow the kid access to Shuck.
"Be my guest, Tyrell," she said.
The kid moved closer to the black-skinned beast, his friends egging him on.
"This is a bad idea, kid," Squire said, having given up trying to move Shuck along.
"Don't worry, Squire," Eve told him. "Tyrell just want to make friends, isn't that right, Tyrell?"
The kid smiled again, squatting down to Shuck's level and extending his hand for it to smell. "Yo, big dog," he made a strange sound with his mouth trying to get Shuck's attention. "I'm talkin' to you."
Shuck was a blur. He knocked Tyrell down and sprang onto the punk's chest, nearly pulling Squire off his feet. The shuck had the kid's arm buried in its mouth up to his elbow, and the kid was screaming.
"Ah, shit!" Squire said, pulling back on the leash, trying to get the animal off of the kid. Shuck wouldn't budge, his growl sounding like the engine of a heavy piece of machinery.
Eve stifled a laugh as she watched Tyrell's terrified friends take off down the street, leaving their buddy to his fate. He was crying now, his eyes squeezed shut, refusing to look at the nightmarish visage that was perched over him, with his arm buried in its mouth.
She could just imagine how nasty that must have felt.
Eve approached the beast, bending over to whisper in its black velvet ear. "Let go."
Shuck growled louder, looking at her from the corner of its eye.
Tyrell was shrieking now, thrashing beneath the beast's weight, but getting absolutely nowhere.
"Maybe if we smash him over the head with something really heavy he'll only take the arm," Squire suggested.
Eve ignored the hobgoblin, reaching out to take Shuck's ear in her hand and twisting it. "Did you hear me?" she scolded. "Let go!"
Its growl intensified, but still she held on to the ear, bringing her own face closer to its own. "Let. Go."
Shuck pulled back its head, dropping Tyrell's arm from its mouth. From what she could see, the arm was still intact, although the jacket was a lost cause.
"Good boy," she said happily, letting go of its ear. "Now, let's get out of here."
They left the kid moaning in the street.
"So what now?" Squire asked, tugging on the leash to make the beast keep pace with them. "We're getting absolutely nowhere with this. Who knows if he's still even in the area."
"No, they're around here somewhere," Eve said, hands shoved into the pockets of her coat as they walked toward the Common. "Our demon daddy seems to have a thing for Bean Town, enough to have left two of his kids behind. Nope, I think he's still here somewhere, and I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that Danny's with him."
"Dollars to doughnuts?" Squire asked. "How old are you?"
She gave him a glance from the corner of her eye.
"Never mind," he said. "Where are we going anyway? We've pretty much handled Tremont Street and -"
"Boylston," she said.
Squire stopped, tugging back on Shuck's leash to make him stop as well. Eve continued on through the Common on her way toward the Public Garden.
"Why are we going to Boylston?" the goblin asked. "And it better not be for the reason I think it is."
Eve turned around, walking backward as she spoke. "It's the only place I can think of to pick up a trail."
"No, Eve," Squire said, shaking his large head. "We can't go there - it's forbidden. Mr. Doyle had to call in a lot of favors to fix stuff the last time you paid them a visit. We have a truce now. We stay out of Peking Tommy's, and they don't organize a hunting party to take you out."
"I needed information that I knew they had," she said, smiling as she remembered her last visit to the Chinese restaurant that was kind of a neutral zone to the various supernatural beings that called the city of Boston their home.
Most of them didn't care for Conan Doyle and his Menagerie. They didn't think the mage had a right to interfere with the various breeds of monsters and magical creatures that had filtered in from other dimensions over the ages and made their lives in the midst of human cities, with people none the wiser. They were all for letting the current dominant species tumble to the back of the line to make way for another - preferably one of their own.
"I admit things got a little out of hand," Eve said. "But I got what I went in for."
"You trashed the place - never mind the netherfolk you fucked up in the process."
"They shouldn't have lied to me."
"We can't go there, Eve," Squire said. "It could make a bad situation a hell of a lot worse."
She walked over to him, feeling her ire on the rise. "Look," she said, staring him down. Even Shuck backed up with a frightened whine. "I'm getting tired of the bullshit. This is the second night we've been out here with nothing to show for it. This demon's clever, I'll give him that, but he needs to be found. So does Danny. And your fucking bloodhound here isn't doing shit."
Shuck tilted his head to one side and whined.
"I just don't think it's a good idea, Eve," Squire said.
"We told Julia we'd find Danny and bring him home," she said. "Do you want to listen to her sob when we come home empty-handed?"
Squire said nothing.
"Come on," she said, putting on her nicest smile. "I promise to be good."
Since Danny Ferrick had come to live in his home, Conan Doyle had done his best to treat the boy with respect. The most vital element of this had been to provide the boy with a sense of privacy. Danny already believed - and rightly so - that the primary reason he'd been invited to reside here was so that Conan Doyle and the others could keep watch over him. Yes, it was true he would be more comfortable around individuals who would not be troubled by his nature and that he would not suffer the slings and arrows of those who would be cruel to him - or be terrified of him - because of his appearance.
But the young man had been afraid of his demonic nature. Conan Doyle knew that for all of his bluster, Danny wanted to become a part of the Menagerie and help to combat the forces of darkness because he wished to combat that darkness in himself.
And Conan Doyle had all but convinced himself that the boy was succeeding. The arrival of the young man's demon-father had complicated matters, but it had been easy for Conan Doyle to ascribe Danny's behavior to the shadowy influence of his sire.
Now he felt like a fool.
He felt sure there was more at work here than the return of Danny's demon-father. Thus, any privacy he had afforded the boy in his home must now be sacrificed for his well-being. A demon was at large - perhaps two - and they had to be stopped, no matter what it cost in blood or broken trust.
The door was locked. Conan Doyle shook his head. To think that any room in his own house could be locked against him. He waved a hand, and a tiny, nearly invisible spark of magic jumped from his index finger and touched the knob. The lock clicked, and the door swung open several inches.
Gently, he pushed it farther, opening it wide, and he stood on the threshold surveying the room, trying to see what Danny would see when he entered his own room. The last time Conan Doyle had stood here, all he had been able to see was the mess. It was difficult to see such squalor in his own home and not attend to it, but he had not wanted to coddle or interfere with the boy.
Now, he had to see past that mess, for surely Danny would not notice it. Several things stood out to him immediately. Without asking, the boy had nailed a hat rack up on the wall. Half a dozen different hats hung there, from a Boston Red Sox cap to an old-fashioned Stetson.
Anything to cover the horns that had humiliated him so much.
The hat rack was the only spot of neatness in the entire room. Danny favored hooded sweatshirts to cover his small prongs, but the hats appeared almost to be waiting, held in abeyance, for a time when a sweatshirt hood would not be sufficient to hide the horns.
Danny knew they were growing. Of course he did. And he knew they would continue to grow.
There were books and old compact discs strewn around the room among the filthy clothes. But the books were buried, while most of the CDs were on top, and some were spread upon the bed. His MP3 player and the small computer his mother had bought him sat on the desk against the far wall. CDs had been stacked all around, music he had borrowed from Squire and Eve.
The music he had continued to pursue, but he had not read anything in quite some time, this young man who had once loved to read sports biographies and mystery novels.
Conan Doyle also noticed a conspicuous absence in the room. Once, Danny had kept a great many photographs of his mother and of himself as a child, some featuring friends he surely no longer had. There were no more photographs in the room.
Something caught his eye, and he turned to peer through the open bathroom door to see that shards of mirror glass littered the floor and the sink. Conan Doyle stepped into the bathroom and turned on the light. The switch felt rough, and he glanced at it to see that a dark streak of blood had dried there.
He frowned and went to look at the mirror. Shattered, presumably by Danny's fist.
On the rim of the sink there were more streaks of blood and a print that clearly showed one of the demon-boy's fingers. In his mind, Conan Doyle could almost picture the boy examining his growing horns in the mirror and cutting his fingers on the razor sharpness of their points.
The mirror allowed him no denials. Daniel Ferrick could wish all he wanted and hide from the rest of the world. But he could not hide from the mirror, or from himself.
Conan Doyle nodded and stepped back from the sink. He turned and went back out into Danny's bedroom. Now he began a more methodical search, pacing the room, studying the debris of a teenager's life.
At the foot of the bed a black smear marred the floor. Conan Doyle knelt and touched a finger to it and found the stuff hard and tacky. He sniffed it, and frowned deeply. He glanced up at the windows and went over to them. On one windowsill he found the same substance.
He opened the window and thrust his head out, looking left and right. Some of the stones were scored and chipped, and in the grooves between them were gouges that might have been left by a mountain climber's pitons. Or a demon's claws.
Conan Doyle craned his neck to look up toward the roof. Then he withdrew, slid the window closed, and left the boy's room. He took the back stairs up to the door carved with wards and banes and opened it, stepping out onto the roof.
He stood a moment and pondered what Danny had been doing up here. Had he simply sat and looked at the stars at night?
No. He had wandered. The boy was long past simple rumination, Conan Doyle felt certain.
He went to the edge of the roof above Danny's window, then followed the short wall that bordered the roof along its perimeter until he came to a spot where the stone had been partially worn away. Scuffs and claw marks showed that Danny had spent a great deal of time in this one spot. He might have traveled over rooftops, gone anywhere in the city, but much of the time he'd spent out the window had been spent right here.
Now all Conan Doyle had to determine was why.
He glanced up. Immediately across from his vantage point and one story down was a window. Through it, he could see a girl in a black bra and underwear brushing her long hair in front of a mirror. Her mouth moved, no doubt singing along to music Conan Doyle could not hear through the closed window and from this distance.
How much time, he wondered, had Danny Ferrick spent crouched here, watching this girl? Had it been only natural curiosity, human voyeurism, or had darker thoughts taken root in the young man's mind?
No, not young man, Conan Doyle reminded himself. Young demon.
Without anyone realizing it, it appeared that Danny had become far more deeply troubled than any of them had realized. He cursed himself for not being more attentive. Yet he also knew it was too late for recriminations. What he required now was a solution.
No matter what it cost in blood and broken trust.
Squire didn't like it, he didn't like it one little fucking fragment.
Eve approached the tiny, red painted restaurant with the burned out neon dragon above the door as if she owned the place. Peking Tommy's was practically invisible to the Joes moving along busy Boylston Street. The magical wards and sigils scrawled in the doorframe and around the windows acted as a deterrent to the normal folk, preventing them from having any interest whatsoever in going inside. Peking Tommy's appeared to humanity to be nothing more than a bad case of food poisoning waiting to happen, and that was exactly how the owner, Tommy Chow, wanted it.
Now if those wards had been designed to keep out the mother of all vampires and her really shitty attitude, everything would have been peachy. But no such luck.
An old-fashioned bell over the door tinkled merrily as Eve swept into the foyer. It wasn't bad enough that they were entering a forbidden zone, but they were going in with a shuck in tow.
What part of this plan did I think would work? Squire pondered.
Oh yeah, none of it.
The old woman at the reception stand looked up from where she had been snoozing, her small, almond-colored eyes immediately registering and recognizing just who had walked through the door. She barked something in the ancient Hakka dialect, and the foyer went strangely dark, as if the light had been suddenly sucked from the room.
Here we go.
There was a flurry of movement, and where the old woman had been standing there now stood a nine-foot-tall crow with fiery eyes. Shuck began to tug on his leash, eager to play with the giant bird, but Squire held him back. This was Eve's game. She said she could handle it, and Squire was more than happy to oblige.
There were mints on a nearby table, and Squire helped himself to a handful, popping a few into the curious Shuck's mouth as well.
The crow's voice boomed, a powerful wind whipping up as it slowly began to flap its huge wings.
"English," Eve yelled over the pounding wind, her hand covering her eyes from the dust and dirt that was being tossed around. "I'm a little rusty on my ancient Chinese dialects."
A handsome guy dressed in a black T-shirt and chinos appeared out of the darkness beside the giant bird.
"How about this, then," he said with no trace of an accent. "Get the hell out."
"Is that any way to talk to a lady, Tommy?" Eve asked.
The green, gold, and red dragon tattoo that ran along the right side of Tommy Chow's face seemed to writhe upon his flesh as if agitated - like it wanted to leap from its perch and devour the woman who had aggravated it so.
"There is a truce, Eve," he said, restraining his obvious anger. "You know better than this - as do you, hobgoblin." Tommy peered around Eve to look directly at Squire.
"I told her this was a bad idea," Squire explained, reaching for another handful of mints. "But when has she ever listened to me?"
The giant crow spread its wings, liquid fire dripping menacingly from its eyes, as it shared a quick exchange with Tommy. Squire's Hakka was rusty, but he thought that the two were probably discussing the quickest way of dispatching them. Then again, for all he knew it could have been about an overflowing urinal in the head.
"I didn't come here for trouble, Tommy," Eve said with a gentle shake of her head.
"But you are well aware of the turmoil your presence here will cause."
She nodded. "Yep, and I came anyway."
The dragon tattoo on the proprietor's face was definitely moving, the dragon having shifted its gaze to glare at Eve with hungry eyes.
"Leave now, and I'll forget this ever happened," he said. "The truce will remain intact."
"Sorry, Tommy," she said apologetically. "But I can't do that. I need to go inside - to talk to some folks."
The crow spread its wings, supernatural energies leaking from the tips of its feathers. Tommy held up his hand, stopping it from doing whatever it was it was about to do.
"You realize I would be within my rights to destroy you now."
"Yes," Eve agreed. "You would be within your rights to try."
The two glowered at each other. Shuck began to whine, and Squire knew exactly how the beast was feeling. The tension was so thick in the foyer that a piece of it could have been cut from the air and used like a club to beat the living crap out of something.
Somewhere within the restaurant a glass shattered, breaking the unbearable tension just a tad.
"I'm willing to give you something," Eve said to Tommy. "An object of great value to show how serious I am about keeping my word."
Tommy folded his arms across his chest, tilting his head curiously to one side. "What will you offer me?"
She'd hooked him for sure. Tommy Chow was a purveyor of ancient and bizarre antiquities, from this world, and the worlds beyond. Conan Doyle had had some problems with the man and his questionable methods for obtaining these items, but they'd worked out their differences when Tommy had acquired a certain object of power that Conan Doyle had been jonesing for.
From her pocket Eve produced a short, silver dagger. Tommy tensed, obviously wondering if he was going to have to defend himself. But instead of using the blade on him, she used her free hand to tug on a lock of her hair, and then passed the dagger's edge across it. When she'd returned the blade to its place inside her jacket, she held out her hand, offering Tommy the lock of her hair.
"For you," she said.
Tommy's eyes widened in surprise and appreciation. The value of this gift on the black market, or merely for his personal collection, was extraordinary. But if he was going to accept he had to act quickly, for once it left Eve's body, the lock of her hair would decay rapidly. If he was to accept her deal, he would have to find a way to preserve it at once.
"And what will I be allowing you to do if I accept?" Tommy asked, his eyes glued to the small piece of raven black hair resting in the palm of Eve's hand.
"I just want to talk," she explained. "There's a demon in town, crossed over from one hell or another. We've got three corpses already, and a friend of ours is in trouble. Conan Doyle's asked me and my ugly little friend to send our wayward traveler back to the Inferno."
Tommy narrowed his eyes. "A lot of strange things happening lately. Signs and portents. Broken rules. I'm not sure how much difference one demon's going to make."
Eve held the lock of hair in her open palm. She stared at him. "Don't fuck around, Tommy. You like the world the way it is. Me, Conan Doyle, and the rest of us, we're doing you a favor every time we stop this world from crumbling into the abyss."
Bored with the whole thing, Shuck plopped down onto the lobby floor and began to eagerly lick at his crotch. Squire considered doing the same.
Tommy stared at Eve a moment longer and then said something in Hakka to the giant crow. The bird gradually returned to the shape of the old Chinese woman. She darted toward Eve, reaching out with a liver spotted hand to take the proffered prize, but Eve closed her fingers over the precious piece of herself.
"Do we have a deal, Tommy?" she asked. "Old sins forgiven?"
Squire admired the fact that Eve could add that kind of irony to conversation without sounding bitter.
The old woman looked to the man as well, waiting for his reply.
Slowly Tommy nodded. "Yes, but I must accompany you inside."
"Sounds fine," Eve said, opening her hand again.
The old woman carefully took the lock of hair from Eve's open palm and scurried off in search of some way to preserve it. Squire was certain that Tommy had something that could do the trick in one of his back rooms. You could find Hitler's toilet paper back there, and probably Robert Johnson's guitar and Daniel Webster's mummified testicles as well.
There was awkward silence in the foyer until Eve spoke again. "Now I wouldn't expect that hair to wind up in the possession of somebody who would wish me harm."
Tommy smiled, the tail of the dragon tattoo tickling the right hand corner of his mouth. "Of course not, although I could think of at least fifty individuals who would pay me a king's ransom for a piece of you. It would be very profitable for a poor businessman like myself."
"Poor? If you say so. But you're not a fool," Eve replied.
"Exactly," he answered with a slight nod. "The repercussions of said business transaction would be most unpleasant." Tommy turned, walking toward a pair of closed wooden doors adorned with the silhouettes of two roaring dragons.
"Not to be rude," he said, hand upon the wooden door handle. "But you're bad for business, and if you could make this quick it would be greatly appreciated."
"We'll see what we can do."
Squire tugged upon Shuck's chain, and the great, black beast grunted as it climbed to its feet.
"Does that . . . thing have to go in as well?" Tommy asked, peering around Eve.
Shuck growled menacingly.
"He's part of the package," Eve said. "Might be instrumental in us finding the right person to talk to."
Tommy made a face to show that he was displeased, but would have tolerated just about any indignity to get his hands on that lock of hair.
"Just talk," he said, turning to Eve as he pulled open one of the heavy wooden double doors.
"Just talk," she reassured.
The smells of all kinds of Chinese food, including some dishes that had not been prepared properly elsewhere in centuries, wafted over to greet them. Squire's belly immediately began to grumble.
The dining room was about half full, not bad for a weeknight, and all of the patrons looked up from their meals to stare at the newcomers.
"Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen," Tommy said, looking around the restaurant.
Eating utensils clattered against plates, and the drone of hushed whispers began to grow in the air. As far as Squire was concerned, there wasn't a lady or gentlemen in the bunch.
"A matter of grave importance has caused me to allow this interruption," he explained. "A terrible threat has come to the city, one that concerns us all." His eyes hit upon every table, every customer. "I am certain that we all wish to cooperate as best we can with efforts to rid our city of such a threat, just as I am certain you will all recognize our visitors. I have allowed them the opportunity to speak briefly with any of you that may have pertinent information you might wish to share."
Tommy paused. No one looked happy, but Squire was relieved when none of them immediately tried to tear out Eve's throat.
"I thank you for your understanding in this matter. An appetizer of your choice will be provided free of charge for any inconvenience this might have caused." With a slight bow, he presented Eve to the crowd.
If looks could kill, Eve would be nothing more than a quivering puddle, Squire observed. A waiter passed by, and he reached out, grabbing hold of the tall guy's arm. The man looked down at him with disdain, but he didn't give a rat's ass.
"Get me an order of dumplings to go," he told the man, keeping an eye on the crowd. "Get 'em to me before the place goes shithouse, and there'll be a little something extra in it for ya."
Eve walked farther into the dining room, Tommy Chow watching her every move. She was eyeing the tables, every goblin, troll, street fairy, lycanthrope, and two-bit sorcerer getting a moment of her undivided attention. Squire could tell that she wanted them to know that she was well aware of who was present.
For future reference.
"You know who I am, and who I represent," she said, reaching down to one of the tables nearby and helping herself to a glass of water. She took a sip.
Squire chuckled; the bitch certainly knows how to work a room.
Smacking her lips, she continued. "A demon has crossed over and is somewhere in the vicinity." She pointed to herself and then to Squire and Shuck. "We need to find it."
The black beast's head was sniffing the air, the aroma of various spicy dishes arousing its senses. Shuck tried to pull him toward one of the tables, but Squire planted his feet, continuing to listen Eve.
"Normally there'd be no problems with tracking something like this," she said, looking around the room again. "But I'm sure you're all aware that things have been a little different lately."
The myriad creatures at the tables around the room seemed to respond to her observation, looking down at their plates, or at their companions, many with knowing smiles.
"So I was hoping for some volunteers," Eve continued. "Any hints of the whereabouts of this thing would be greatly appreciated, and remembered in the future."
Some of the creatures hung their heads, not making eye contact, while others glared at her defiantly, as if wishing to start something.
The restaurant remained quiet, nobody giving up a thing.
"So, it's either you guys don't know anything," she said, finishing her water, and setting the glass down on the corner of a table. "Or you just don't want to share - which would really hurt my feelings."
Squire watched, certain that she was filing their faces away in some little dark corner of her mind.
"All right, then," she said. "Thank you all for your time. I'm sure I'll see you all again soon. One by one. Somewhere dark."
As Eve went back toward the foyer, she smiled at Tommy. "Sorry for the trouble."
Squire gave Shuck's chain a snap, and the two of them followed Eve through the door. The waiter was in the lobby with his dumplings, and he pulled his wallet from his back pocket to pay.
"No charge," said a voice, and Squire looked up to see Tommy standing behind him. The owner said something to the waiter in Hakka, and the man handed Squire his takeout. The smell wafting from the bag was absolutely delicious, and Squire couldn't wait to dig in.
"Much obliged," Squire said, Shuck tugging him toward the door. Eve had already gone outside.
Tommy bowed. "Give your master my regards," he said. "It has been some time since we last conversed."
"I'll tell him you were askin' for him," Squire said, as the anxious Shuck pulled him out the door.
He found Eve in front of the building leaning against a busted parking meter. "Well that was a waste of fucking time," she growled.
"Not completely. We got dumplings," Squire said, tearing open the bag and reaching into the container to sample one of the Chinese delicacies.
Squire turned in the direction of the sound, dumpling midway to his lips. "What now?" he asked, popping the doughy, meat and vegetable treat into his mouth.
A small, pale hand waved them over from around the next corner.
Eve shot Squire a cautionary glance and headed toward the whisperer. Reluctantly, Squire followed at her heels, Shuck trotting happily along beside him, glancing back and forth between Eve and the bag of dumplings.
She rounded the corner, stopping at the mouth of the garbage-strewn alley that ran behind Peking Tommy's. Squire would have thought some of the rubbish would have made it into one of the two dumpsters back there, but apparently that was wishful thinking.
Something fluttered up from a patch of darkness in front of them. Eve stumbled back, stepping on Squire's foot with the pointed heel of her boot, causing the goblin to yelp in pain. He reached down to his injured foot, accidentally letting go of Shuck's chain. The creature reacted instinctively, going after the potential threat that hovered in the air before them.
An ear-piercing scream filled the night as the Shuck leaped at the fluttering object. He snatched it out of the air in his jaws and brought it down to the alley floor.
"Help!" a tiny, panicked voice cried. "Don't let the black devil eat me!" The bloodcurdling screams continued.
"What've you got, Shuck?" Squire asked, limping toward the beast.
The thin, almost emaciated figure had pale skin, tinted blue and marbled with darker veins.
The hobgoblin glanced at Eve. "Street fairy."
"They're busy, lately. Sticking their noses in," she replied, staring at the creature.
Squire reached down to grab Shuck's chain. "Let go, boy," he commanded, but the beast wasn't listening.
"Help me! Help me, please!" the filthy little winged creature shrieked, doing its best to fend of the snarling shuck. It wasn't the same breed as Ceridwen and Tess, the street fairy they'd run into the other night in the theater district. This little fellow stood perhaps eighteen inches high. Small, but not so small that it might be confused for a sprite.
"Shuck!" Squire snapped, tugging on the leash.
Eve stepped in and kicked him, her booted foot connecting with the animal's side. "Leave him alone," she said with a snarl.
Shuck dropped its prey, spinning around to face Eve, preparing to attack her.
"Come on," she said slowly, lowering to a crouch even as she spoke the challenge. Her fangs had elongated and her fingers lengthened into eight-inch talons like curved blades. "Attack me, and it'll probably be the last thing you ever do."
Squire hoped she didn't hurt the mutt, but he wasn't getting between them. While the two faced off, he went to the fairy, helping the creature to stand.
"It bent one of my wings," the street fairy complained, fluttering the moth-like appendages.
Definitely not a sprite, Squire thought. They were beautiful, their wings like a butterfly's or a dragonfly's.
"You're lucky he didn't eat you," he said, pulling the fairy over to the alley wall.
Eve and Shuck glared at each other, a low rumbling growl filling the night, and Squire really wasn't sure which one was responsible. Then, when things looked as though they were about to break, Shuck suddenly dropped onto its back, exposing its belly in a sign of submission.
"All right, then," Eve said, bending down to rub the animal's solid black flesh. "Next time I tell you to do something, you do it."
The animal whined, as if agreeing with her.
"Now," she said, turning her attention to the filthy little creature next to Squire. "What do you want?"
The tiny fairy sneered at them, gingerly touching his wings to see if they were badly damaged.
"My people . . . we've heard about this demon. We've already tried to help you -"
Squire studied him closely. "You're talking about Tess. The fairy chick we met the other night?"
The little winged creature rolled his eyes and sighed. "You're quick on the uptake, handsome. Yes, Tess. And a bunch of others as well. Things have been getting ugly back home, or so we've heard. Word comes now and then, though we're outcasts. None of the Fey back home would even acknowledge us if we tried to return to Faerie. Still, we have family there. It's ugly. We tell ourselves it doesn't matter. This is our home now. But all of a sudden, things are getting pretty ugly here, too."
Squire snorted. "All of a sudden?"
The fairy sniffed arrogantly. "You know what I mean."
Eve crouched down, trying to get as close to his level as possible. "We do, yes. And we appreciate your help. Yours, and Tess's, and all of the street fairies. It's nice to know we're not the only ones who want to keep the darkness at bay."
Squire almost called her on what she'd said. Eve had no real interest in keeping the darkness at bay. She loved the dark. But for once he decided not to bust her chops. He knew very well that there was darkness, and then there was darkness.
The fairy looked up at her, a smile on his homely face. The stink of alcohol came off his tiny form in waves. "I was in the bar having myself a little refreshment," he told her. "I heard some things that might help you."
"Why didn't you tell me inside?" she asked.
The fairy shook his head. "Fraternizing with the enemy is frowned upon," he said, looking around conspiratorially. "But what they don't know, won't hurt them - or get me and mine hurt."
"What do you have?" she asked.
"You're looking for the demons," the fairy said. His voice had dropped to a tiny whisper. "I know where they went."
"Demons?" Eve questioned. "More than one?"
The fairy nodded. "At first there was only one, but now there are two." He held up two fingers for them to see.
Squire looked at Eve, not liking the direction this was taking.
"Danny," she said, and all he could do was nod.
Her assumption had been right. The boy was with his father.