Tangled Web (Venin Assassin Book 2), p.3Gena D. Lutz
As we hurtled toward the back of the building where the more ominous rides were situated, I was assaulted by the strong scent of saffron, as well as the sullen howl of the hounds fading behind me.
Immediately we turned left, then right, almost running into a fence.
The aroma of saffron intensified as I came to a jolting stop. The smell was a clear indicator that we were near a fairy or one of their pathways.
He let go of my hand and pointed at the gate. “We’re almost there.”
I nodded, bent my knees, and jumped. As I landed, rocks recoiled and dirt was obliterated to a puff of dust around my ankles. I frowned at the intensity of my landing—I’d never landed that hard before. I looked behind me and noticed how tall the fence was—I’d never jumped that high before either.
The troll appeared out of nothing next to me. His brow shot up. “Nice jump.”
I felt color creep up my neck to my cheeks. Why the hell was I embarrassed?
Red smoke seeped from a wide fissure in a mountain up ahead. It crawled across the grass and rocks, wrapping around our feet. White sparks of magic popped and fizzed from the opening there.
“It’s a pathway,” I said, my eyes wide with both fear and wonder. I’d never seen one up close before.
“And you’ll likely never see one again,” he muttered.
Old magic always left me in awe, the smell, the look, especially the taste of it coating my tongue. A cool breeze roused my hair and cooled my face. This felt like coming home.
The troll strode to the edge of the mountain and waved at me to follow.
Without hesitation, I did.
There was no darkness, not even a hint of shadow, only light as we entered the pathway and moved through the fringe. I squinted to try and see past the brightness, and as soon as I caught sight of the opening on the other end, I bounced out of it, landing lightly on my feet in Fairyland.
The troll came barreling through the portal a split second later.
My breathing heavy with excitement, I looked around at my first eyeful of Fairy. The sun was just rising here in this land of magic, the golden and amber hues painting the horizon yellow and orange-pink. The ground was covered by a lush green blanket of grass. Wisteria vines overtook most of the trees, each one overflowing with lavender blooms. The air smelled of sweet things: saffron, flowers, and an enticing blend of confectionery treats.
“Are you okay?” the troll asked, looking at me awkwardly.
Actually, I was more than okay. I was at peace for the first time in years. This enchanted realm felt like home. The magic in the air embraced me; I could feel the very earth beneath my feet reaching out, calling to me ever so gently.
My breathing eased along with the beats of my heart, and I smiled. “This place is magnificent.”
“Cassis!” a woman’s crystalline voice called out.
I jerked around to see a tall woman with fawn-colored skin jogging toward us. She wore a white flowing dress with a train that billowed a few feet behind her. Her light blue eyes were focused solely on me, her sharp features a canvas of welcome and cheer.
“It’s the Oracle,” the troll announced.
I shaded my eyes and watched her draw closer. “I know who she is.”
The Oracle’s smile faltered as she stopped in front of me, her gaze traveling up and down my body.
And for some reason, I felt fear. Not the run for my life kind, but the kind that derived from a place deep within me that knew when the shit was about to hit the fan.
I stood motionless.
Sunlight spilled over the woman’s tense features as she looked me over carefully.
“What happened to you, child?”
I gave her an uneasy look. “I don’t understand the question.”
She looked into my eyes, her own shifting as though she were reading a page from a book. “It can’t be.”
My mind began to race with questions; however, my mouth knew better than to ask a single one. Something was terribly wrong. And as each second passed, the situation only intensified.
Moving around my body, the Oracle ran a finger over my shoulder, across both blades, until she’d traced an icy path along the entire width of my back. My teeth clenched, and my body itched to move, still, I let her touch me. I barely flinched when she began to sniff behind my ear, even though I didn’t like her being that close to my neck. I almost jumped when her tongue flicked out to taste my skin. Instead, I stared at a tree across the meadow, letting my eyes focus on the thick, braided vines that wrapped around its trunk.
She grabbed my arm and swung me around to face her. “How could you insult your bloodline by becoming their queen?”
Now I knew what was going on. She’d figured out the hellhounds had bonded themselves to me. I just couldn’t figure out why it offended her.
There was a long roaring moment of quiet while I worked up the nerve to answer.
“I had no choice.”
“You should thank your guardian leprechaun that I can’t kill you.”
A dose of reality claimed me, and I trembled. I swallowed the protests that rose to my throat with each condemning look she threw at me. I had to get out of here.
The Oracle paced in front of me with her delicate features lined in thought.
“Did you accept the Fang and Claw’s bond?”
That was the second time I’d been asked that. And the answer was still no.
Her brows rose. “Then there’s still hope.”
One disadvantage of being a rebellious woman: I never know when to keep my mouth shut. So in lieu of that, I asked, “Is someone going to tell me what the hell is going on here?”
The Oracle went still. A greenish-blue light beamed from her eyes. “The dark seeks your light. Your destiny has been irrevocably altered. One half of your inherent magic has been taken. The other still belongs to Fairy.”
Her words were automatic, no feeling resonating within them. Then, just as fast as the light had come, it abated, and the Oracle blinked several times as though she were trying to refocus her vision, and I watched as color bled back into her cheeks.
“That is how you were still able to cross the fringe,” the Oracle whispered as though all of that was news to her, too.
“I’m still lost here,” I said.
She placed her hand over my heart with her fingers splayed. “You are both black widow and hellhound now, dear child, and there is not a thing I can do to change that.” A warm glow of light seeped from her fingers and spread across my chest. “I can, however, make your transition as painless as possible. But know there will still be some discomfort.”
The troll took a few quick steps back, moving himself pretty far away from us.
That in itself was unnerving…
With her free hand, the oracle touched my cheek and gazed deep into my eyes. “I will force your first shift. Any future ones will come with more ease.”
My body tensed for a moment, then I found myself screaming bloody murder.
Hot tears pricked at my eyes. Pain drove me to my knees. What the fuck was happening to me?
I reached out to the Oracle, who, in turn, stepped away from me, her head shaking as she said, “Give in to it, dear. Don’t fight.”
Bile caught in my throat, and time seemed to stretch endlessly as agony rippled through every inch of my body. I fell forward on all fours, my bones trembled, popped, cracked. Fur, the color of cherry-midnight rolled across my flesh, and my fingers stretched impossibly wide, bent, fractured, the tips splitting open as sharp, long claws sprouted forth. Heat exploded across my face. I tried to stand, but my legs, feeling foreign to me, wobbled, and my arms wouldn’t cooperate. I threw my head back to cry out, but instead, a deep growl, low and rumbly, charged out of my burning throat. Shrouds of glittery mist above me parted. I found myself floating upward, hovering within it. I could clearly see what I’d become below, still, an ether
“She is magnificent,” the troll’s awestruck voice sounded.
The Oracle nodded. “It’s as if she were born to be a hellhound. Too bad it ruins things.”
“What things?” he asked.
I barely heard the last part of their conversation. The Oracle said, “You’ve heard the rumor about the Unseelie queen—how she’s put a bounty on Queen Titania and a curse on Oberon?”
He made a guffaw sound. “I heard only that it is a rumor, nothing more.”
Instantly, my thoughts slipped under the enchantment of Fairyland—the air and majestic scenery made me long to bask in the warm sunrays painting the red and golden leaves on the bushes richer amber. I yearned to frolic in the meadow and forage through the thick brambles. My ears, which were now longer and situated on a different part of my head, sprang up. My massive and muscled form rolled upward until I was standing solid on all four legs. I watched on helplessly from above as a magical essence singed in red the shape of an hourglass at the base of neck.
As an ethereal form, I slid back down into my new form.
I stretched, my body shook, my claws dug into the earth, and as clots of dirt fell apart around my flexing knuckles, all I could think about was how incredible it all was. That was until the throbbing of the Oracle’s voice coated the inside of my head with an irresistible urge to listen to what she had to say.
“It is not a tale, Geoff, it’s all true. Mab is offering the fealty of her highest ranking noble to whoever murders the un-killable-queen.”
“Queen Mab has offered up Morgan?”
“That she has.”
Geoff chuckled. “If only for one night, I could be a fly in their bedroom.”
“I heard Morgan has disappeared, too. So that bedroom is empty.”
“Ha… Mab’s chamber is never empty.”
My eyes narrowed in on the both of them as they continued to converse. My brows pulled together. The troll seemed smaller than before, as well did the Oracle. I took a step forward, my paw landing with a thud right next to the troll’s booted foot, and surprisingly, it also spanned at least three feet of earth. My god, my foot was huge! I shook my very heavy head, not something a woman ever wanted to hear about herself—let me tell ya.
In an instant, Geoff leapt backward, executing the perfect backflip; he landed softly on a tree branch above us. His eyes, focused on me, went red from lid to lid.
My lip curled up revealing thick fangs, thunder rolled in my chest, savage instincts made me want to give chase, but a more arachnid-base instinct allowed me to think in a calmer manner, and I stayed put.
Power trickled up my back. What’s going on now?
The Oracle spoke. “You can come down, Geoff, she’s shifting back.”
My bones twanged sharply, and as I thought about how much I wanted to regain my human form, the pain lessened, and I was once again standing on my own two legs. With a flaring breath caught in my lungs, I looked down at myself and saw that, unfortunately for me, I was buck ass naked, my clothes in tatters around my feet, my weapons strewn across the meadow.
Geoff jumped out of the tree and onto the ground. “For a second there, I thought you were going to make me your first meal.”
My face contorted and stomach recoiled at the thought of chomping on his bones and sinewy bits.
“I assure you, troll, I have no taste for flesh, Fae or otherwise.”
The Oracle twirled her hand in the air. Tiny dots of light sparkled around it as sheer cloth materialized out of thin air.
“Here,” she held out the green dress she’d just made for me, “this should fit you.”
I reached for it, and as my fingers clasped the material, I noticed for the first time how they trembled, and how my eyesight was unfocused, my bones as limp as wet noodles. I blinked, wet my dry lips, and managed to mutter a weak, “Thank you.”
“Give yourself a moment to acclimate, child. You will feel some discomfort as you heal.”
I nodded and yanked the dress over my head. It billowed down the length of my body, and with a tender hand, I smoothed the soft and supple material over the front of my thighs. Reaching up, I pulled my chaotic mane free from the dress, and a cool breeze kissed the back of my neck. My lids sunk. The pain was all but gone. Relief threatened to unhinge my knees, still, I found myself quizzical as I dropped the long red locks down my back.
“Why has this happened to me?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
“As I said before, you are a black widow and hound, the very first of your kind.”
The newly minted mark at the back of my neck throbbed at that. I reached back and traced the raised lines of the marking. “I don’t want this.”
I knew this entire situation was my fault. I knew it, and it broke my heart. Jake was gone, the freedom I’d worked so hard to obtain… gone. Even my own identity was shattered into a million pieces. It wasn’t fair, but somehow, it was. I had killed the Night Queen. This was the mystical penalty for that.
There was a long pause, and the Oracle continued. “I need your help, Cassis.”
“I heard you talking about the Seelie and Unseelie queens. How does their feud have anything to do with me?”
Silence stretched once more.
“You’re probably not going to like what I have to say,” the Oracle said.
I folded my arms. “I’m fairly sure I won’t. But go on.”
Finding himself nothing more than an eavesdropper, Geoff began to forage the ground for my weapons.
“You are the only one who can stop Titania’s assassination.”
I snickered. “That sounds all together unlikely.”
She shrugged. “Nevertheless, it’s the truth. You are the queen killer.”
My laughter cut off, my hands jumped into the air with frustration. “Killing one queen doesn’t make me the all-powerful Oz, dammit!”
She inhaled deeply. “It does when only a black widow can kill a queen of Fairy.”
My eyes narrowed. “So, you knew I was a black widow the night we met? You wanted me to visit you for the sole purpose of turning me into a killer.” That wasn’t a question, it was a damn fact.
She nodded. “Imagine my surprise that after bringing forth your mark, I brought forth a beast as well.” Her expression turned quizzical. “A small setback, that… but not a game changer.”
My chin tipped up. “None of this makes any damn sense.”
The Oracle took two steps, stopping inches away. The air tightened, and I knew what she had to say next was going to rock the foundation of my very existence forever.
“It would if I told you the truth, which is you have always carried royal blood, child. Enough of it even to mark you as the heir to either throne.”
I felt the blood drain from my face, my eyes unblinking. “N-no… that can’t be true.”
“I assure you it is.”
“But… M-my father was human.”
The Oracle shook her head. “Your father is the son of the first black widow. Not a drop of your blood is human.”
I gasped. “Bullshit.”
I’d always assumed that the mother I’d never met was where I’d inherited my venin blood.
I heard metal clank to the ground. I followed the sound and saw Geoff standing ramrod straight several feet away, my dagger and gun scattered by his boots. He looked petrified. Our eyes met, and he fell to one knee.
“Forgive any offense I may have put upon you, princess.” His voice, bowed head, and posture were of the utmost reverence.
“Why is he doing that?” I asked the Oracle.
“Once you meet your grandmother, you’ll know.”
I looked down at Geoff. “Get up. If I don’t even accept my supposed linage, then you should have nothing to worry about.”
Not really in the mood to continue this conversation any further, and feeling a little info-dump-drunk, I smil
“We need to finish our talk. You made a deal to visit me here if I helped you find Finley. And if I’m not mistaken, I led you right to her.”
The Oracle seemed really offended. I didn’t give a damn.
I walked over to the troll and grabbed up my weapons. He was standing at attention, like one of the Queen of England’s guards. I shook my head and started across the meadow heading in the direction of the pathway.
“You’re right, Oracle. A visit was promised and a visit was what you got out of me,” I said, stopping just outside of the portal to take a final glance around. “Nice place you got here. Too bad I won’t be returning.”
A huge grin spread across her softly-featured face. “Not even to visit your father?”
I blinked in shock.
Well, crap, I hadn’t expected that.
Keeping my cool, even though my insides were twisting in a million tiny knots, I lifted my brow in challenge and stepped half of my body inside of the fringe. The Oracle paid close attention as I said, “My father is dead.” Then I disappeared.
I drew in a deep breath and pushed through the red fog. This time it was much easier to move within the fringe. I tried to keep thoughts of my father at bay. If he were really alive, I had no doubt that I would soon hear from the Oracle about it. It was her only bargaining chip in the game she was playing with me. And if he wasn’t alive, meaning she was lying through her goddamn teeth about everything, it was a balm to my heart to know that I’d already mourned his loss years ago.
I paused in surprise as I exited the fringe into the earthly realm.
Edge leaned against the side of the mountain, moonlight streaming across his downturned face, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, and a thumb stuffed in the pocket of his jeans. When he saw me, his grim features brightened. “It’s about time.”
Tangled Web (Venin Assassin Book 2) by Gena D. Lutz / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes