Flight from mayhem, p.26
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.26

           Yasmine Galenorn

  “No. And now that I think about it, that’s really strange, isn’t it?” Ralph looked perturbed at this point. “In fact, now that I’ve actually said something, I can’t believe I never mentioned this before.”

  A funny feeling tickled the back of my brain. “I think something prevented you from talking about the matter. Or, someone.”

  Tonya nodded. “I think Shimmer’s right. Whatever it was that had its hands on Bette’s shoulders, it didn’t want you to tell anybody. In fact, my spidey-sense is tingling. I know I’m right about this.”

  “Then why can I talk about it now? What’s so different?”

  I knew the answer to that. “The difference is, Bette’s life is in danger. So what could the creature be that had its hands on her shoulders? You said it was brilliantly lit—was it ambient lighting, or was the light coming from the figure itself?”

  Ralph twisted his lips as he thought. After a moment, he said, “The light was coming from the figure. It emanated out from . . . Wait, I remember more. While I couldn’t tell whether it was a man or a woman, the figure was wearing something like a Greek dress or toga. It was draped and white, very Grecian. And the figure had . . . I want to say it had wings of some sort. They may have been vestigial, because they were extremely small, but I remember them now.”

  This was just getting more and more confusing. But then a thought crossed my mind.

  “Melusines are Greek, aren’t they? I seem to remember Bette saying that she was originally from Athens or Cyprus or someplace like that. And if she is Greek, and you saw someone wearing something like that toga, it seems to me that would be a connection?” I frowned, trying to piece together several thoughts that were tapping at the edge of my brain. Puzzles weren’t my strong point, but I was trying to learn because in the PI business, being able to piece together disparate facts often led to a solution.

  Ralph nodded. “Yes, she is originally from Greece. I think she once mentioned that she was born near Parnassus, a sacred mountain near the Castalian Spring.”

  Tonya perked up. “I know something about that area, considering that I worship Hecate. That’s near where the Oracle of Delphi was located. Apollo took over the shrine from a dragon named Python. It was the guardian of the Oracle until he supposedly killed it.”

  I felt like I was on the verge of making some sort of connection. “Bette is a Melusine, and she can turn into a water moccasin. That’s a snake. Could there be some sort of connection here?”

  “I’m not sure,” said Ralph. “But I’ve got a funny feeling in my stomach that we are standing on the edge of a very big secret about our friend. And I have no clue whether Alex knows anything about this. But could this creature, whatever it is, have recognized something about Bette?”

  At that moment Chai appeared, the bestiary in hand. He passed the book to Tonya, then turned to me. “I took a moment to make sure that all the fish we had managed to save were in enough water. Coolray is bopping around just fine. I’m afraid that you’re going to lose some of your possessions—there’s going to be quite a bit of water damage.”

  I shrugged. “Things are things, I can always buy new toys. I’m just sorry to have lost some of my fish. And that aquarium is not going to be cheap to replace. But right now, I’m just worried about Bette.”

  Tonya was flipping through the pages, with Ralph looking over her shoulder. “So we’re looking for something like a doppelgänger, which might have more capabilities than just changing shape?”

  “Right. The fact that it was able to mimic shedding golden tears . . . Or was it mimicking? I suppose the question is, was there ever really a Gerta, the Golden Frog, to begin with? And if not, how on earth did it come up with something so specific?” I glanced over at Ralph. “If so, do you think it killed Gerta, too?”

  He went back to pacing. I was beginning to recognize that this was a common habit of his, when he was thinking. It probably had to do with his werewolf side. “Honestly? I think there is a Gerta, and given the creature’s greed, I would think she’s still alive, hidden somewhere to be its own private bank. But to be able to subdue one of the Elder Fae? That denotes a creature of some strength and power. We’re dealing with a creature that is not only cunning but strong.”

  “I think Gerta’s young, though, given the way the creature portrayed her. Although that could have been an act, as well. That might have made it easier to subdue her. Do you still have any of the golden coins that fell from her eyes?” I wanted to examine them. Were they truly gold?

  Frowning, Ralph held up one finger. “Let me go check. I think a few rolled on the floor when she was crying in the conference room.”

  As he left the room, Tonya kept flipping through the pages. Suddenly, she stopped. “What do you think about this? The diatrofymata?” She scooted to one side so I could see the picture of the creature.

  The creature seemed rather amorphous, although bipedal, and had teeth that looked like tiny needles. It made me shudder. It looked worse than the land wight we had fought up in Port Townsend.

  “The diatrofymata is a shapeshifting creature that can mimic not only its victims but others it comes in contact with,” Tonya read aloud. “In fact, it resembles the doppelgänger. However, unlike typical doppelgängers, this creature feeds on eyes and tongues when it makes a kill. This feeding is believed to be part of a magical ritual that strengthens the diatrofymata. Greedy in nature, it will hoard gold and jewels and other expensive goods. It establishes its hoard in an isolated area. With brilliant intelligence, this is a highly dangerous and skilled hunter. Like some amphibians, this creature can change sex depending on what form it takes. In its natural state, it is genderless, and develops sexual organs only when it comes together with another of its kind to reproduce. A scuffle for dominance will ensue, and the victor will assume the female genitalia and bear the offspring.”

  “That sounds terrifying. But it sounds like what we’re up against, given that the eyes and tongues of victims have been missing. Does it say where it’s likely to keep its hoard? That might help us to find it.” I had no desire to find out, to be honest, but we had to know everything we could.

  “Let me read further.” She scanned down the page. “Okay, the diatrofymata is very rare. It usually creates a home base in the area of its kills. You know—” She looked up from the book. “It occurs to me that if it does have a lair of some sorts nearby, that’s where it might be keeping its victims till it kills them. And maybe that’s where Bette and Gerta are. Since it can take the shape of those it comes in contact with as well as just its victims, I would agree that it’s probably keeping Gerta alive in order to force her tears.” Tonya skimmed the rest of the page.

  At that point, Ralph returned. He tossed the coins on the counter. “They aren’t gold. I’m not sure what they are; they remind me of amber resin.” He was right—they still had the basic shape of the coins, but they had altered in looks.

  “Then while the creature was able to mimic Gerta, it couldn’t fully reproduce her abilities. Tonya,” I said, heading toward Alex’s office, “why don’t you fill Ralph in on what you found out? I’m going to see if there’s anything in Alex’s files about Bette. He’ll probably be pissed that I’ve rifled through his papers, but given the circumstances, I’m going to chance it.”

  As I entered Alex’s office, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. But anything I could find that would tell us why the diatrofymata had captured Bette instead of harming her would be of help. I glanced at the clock. Three thirty. Still far too long until Alex was able to wake.

  I sat down at his desk, feeling awkward, and began opening the drawers. There were five, and the bottom right appeared to be locked. In the center drawer, I found basic supplies and what looked to be a spare set of keys. The top left drawer contained paper and notebooks. The top right drawer had various bric-a-brac, a few small figurines, a wire mesh tray that held a deck of playing cards
, some dice, a few coins, and other assorted trinkets. The bottom left drawer opened with ease and I found several bottles of blood in it, a big box of tissue, and some travel brochures that looked fairly old.

  But the bottom right drawer was locked. I jiggled it, and then remembered the keys. Hunting through them till I found one that looked about the right size, I tried it in the lock. A perfect fit. I was feeling more and more like a burglar—or worse yet, a voyeur—but I turned the key and the drawer silently slid open.

  Feeling vaguely guilty, I rifled through. There were several file folders and I recognized them as dossiers on Ralph, Bette, and me. There was another file folder there—unlabeled. Hesitating, my fingers hovered over the file as I debated on whether to look in it. After all I was looking for information on Bette, no one else. And it felt extremely disloyal to even think about peeking inside the file folder. But then, before I could second-guess myself, I pulled out all of the files and opened the unlabeled one.

  “Oh hell.” I immediately wished I’d kept my nose out of it. I found myself staring at several pictures of Glenda, stark naked and spread out on the bed. She was obviously comfortable with herself being photographed, I gave her that much. I glanced at the date on the back of the prints. They had been taken a year ago. Well, at least they weren’t new. But the fact that Alex had kept them made me uncomfortable. My cheeks flaming, I flipped the folder shut and put the file back in place.

  “Moving on,” I whispered to myself. “Let’s see what he has to say about Bette.” I opened the file folder. Inside were printouts with her address on it, and a list of all the men she had been involved with for the past five years. Next to each name was a checkmark. As I flipped through the rest of the file, I realized he had done a credit check and a background check on every man she had been with. Or at least, I thought, every man he knew she had been with. On several of the background checks, incidents where they had been incarcerated for assault or other potentially dangerous activities were highlighted.

  He has to be making sure that she’s okay, I thought. Alex loved Bette like a sister. No, that wasn’t exactly true. Their friendship ran deeper than that. I flipped through the rest of the papers and realized that whatever I was looking for, Alex didn’t have it in his desk.

  I hesitated over my file and then decided that I didn’t really want to see what was in there. Quietly, I replaced everything as it had been and locked the drawer. I put the keys back in the center drawer, hoping that nothing looked out of place. As I rose and headed toward the door, I couldn’t decide whether to tell Alex what I had done. I had a lot of thinking to do before he woke up, and I just hoped I could come to the right decision.


  Chai glanced at me and I swear he could read my mind. But he said nothing, simply nodded me over to where Ralph and Tonya were staring at the Mapsi program on the web. I noticed that they were searching the area around Stone Weaver’s house.

  “What are you looking for?”

  “It occurred to us that the land surrounding his house would be the perfect hiding place for the diatrofymata’s lair. It’s private, set out a ways, and it’s not public land someone can just stumble over. Stone Weaver owns a lot of acreage out there. The creature could have decided to hole up on the land long before it made him its victim. After all, if it has been trolling the Fae at the community center, then it probably knew all of its victims long before it decided to kill them.” Ralph looked up at me, waiting for my reaction.

  “That makes a lot of sense. And since people come and go from those groups, newcomers wouldn’t be unexpected or out of place. I wonder . . .” A thought struck me. “Do you think it might have set up a persona down there other than as bait? I mean, nobody ever mentioned the boyfriends or girlfriends of the victims showing up at the meetings. Even Bette, when she met Marlene’s boyfriend, she met him away from the community center. Maybe, just maybe, this creature has a separate persona who attends meetings, gets to know the people there, and then chooses the best pick. That way it could come and go without being a suspect.” I knew I was on to something.

  Tonya seemed to think so, too. “That makes perfect sense. You don’t shit where you drink. It would only make sense for it to keep a cover there that was separate from those it used to lure in its victims. Chances are, once it picked a victim, it met them off site—to avoid suspicion. And since, as you say, all the murders have happened in the past few weeks, it would make sense that whoever the creature is masquerading as probably showed up shortly before then. I have a feeling the diatrofymata doesn’t hang around long before it strikes. It has to get in and get out.”

  “Yes, except this time it found a gold mine. You find this many rich Fae together, it’s a temptation to something like the diatrofymata. I did a little extra searching while you were in Alex’s office, Shimmer. Even though this is an extremely rare critter, rumor has it that it’s getting braver and creeping into cities more. There is a clan of demon hunters near here. The Hunters Glen clan, and they come from the Old Country. They tend to hunt down things like this. I want to get in touch with them. They might have some information on this.”

  “Do you have a contact name?”

  He nodded. “Tanne Baum appears to be the front man. I have his number and I’ll give him a call directly. Regardless if he can help us on this case, I think they might be good contacts for the future.” He paused and glanced up at me from where he was sitting. “Did you find anything in Alex’s office?”

  Even though he didn’t say anything else, I detected a tone of disapproval in his question.

  “No, nothing relevant. And yes, I will tell Alex that I looked through his desk.” Until that moment, I hadn’t made up my mind what I was going to do, but I realized I had to. And I’d tell him I saw Glenda’s pictures. Getting it out in the open seemed the best idea. Meanwhile . . . I pointed to the screen. “So do you have any idea of where the diatrofymata might be hiding?”

  Ralph zoomed in on an area near a hill. “They tend to prefer underground lairs. I’m thinking it may have found a cave in the side of the hill. For all the contacts Stone Weaver had with the Elementals, considering he was an Elemental Fae, I don’t think the earth energy around there would necessarily suspect the creature was out of its element. Anyway, since the diatrofymata are also aligned with earth energy, because of their connection to metals and gems, nothing would seem amiss to set off the wards. Or at least that’s the way I’m reading it.”

  “Should we head out?” I glanced up at the clock. It still seemed far too long until Alex woke up. “Every minute that it has Bette in its grasp is another minute she’s in danger.”

  Chai cleared his throat. “Why don’t I go? I can take a look around. I promise I won’t do anything without checking in.”

  I realized I had to make an executive decision. Chai was my friend, and although I valued his offer, I wasn’t sure if he could hold to his promise. And if he went in after this creature, there was no telling whether it would kill Bette if it saw him coming. Plus, there was another reason to hold back.

  “I think you better wait. You’re from the realm of Fire. Going into earth Elemental territory means your presence will be noticed. And you were with us the other night, so if the creature sees you, it’s going to know we’re on to it and it might kill Bette.” I almost added if she’s still alive but then stopped. We had to hold out hope, because hope was all we had at this point.

  “Unfortunately, she’s right.” Ralph printed off the maps and sent the coordinates to his phone. “From what I can tell, these creatures are so connected to the earth, they’re bound to notice energies from other planes coming in.”

  “It kind of reminds me of dwarves,” I said. “Dwarves are often mistaken for being part of the Fae, but they aren’t. They’re actually Elemental earth spirits. Not many humans realize that. They lump all the creatures of legend and lore together under one or two labels.”
r />   I had met several dwarves in my life. Once in a while a few hardy souls—rather, a few foolhardy souls—trekked into the Dragon Reaches, hunting treasure. Most of them never made it home if they actually managed to find a dreyerie filled with treasure. The majority of dragons were wealthy, but white dragons were the ones who truly hoarded gold and gems. And white dragons would think no more of crisping up a dwarf or human who came to pilfer their stash than they would a cow when they were hungry. Attempt to part a white dragon from his treasure and you were writing your own death warrant. And I knew that from experience. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how stupid I had been. And the more grateful I was to the Wing-Liege for saving my ass.

  Chai patted my shoulder. “Thinking of old times?”

  I rolled my eyes at him. “I wish I weren’t. Greanfyr will be hunting me for years. What I took didn’t amount to a backpack full of coins, a silver chalice, and a platinum belt. But in his eyes, I raided his vault and stole every penny from him. The chamber was filled with coins and treasures and goods. I didn’t really want his stuff, you know. I just wanted some sort of revenge.”

  “And that was the only way you could think of getting it.” It wasn’t a question. Chai knew my situation inside out.

  “Pretty much. Anyway, I think it’s best we wait for Alex to wake up, so we can go out there as a team.”

  “What should we do until then?” Ralph asked.

  “You contact Tanne Baum. I’m going to call the director of the Supe Community Center and ask for a list of any new members in the past two months. Maybe we can figure out the name of the cover persona the diatrofymata has been using.”

  Ralph put in a call to the Hunter’s Glen clan, but all he got was an answering machine. He left his number and a brief message, then hung up.

  At that moment, Chase Johnson arrived. “I’m sorry it took me so long. We’ve had several pressing matters that I had to attend to. Emergencies.” He didn’t elaborate and we didn’t ask. I knew there were things about his job that he couldn’t tell us. I did ask if they had any new information, but he shook his head. “I wish I did, but I’m sorry. No.”

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