Flight from mayhem, p.29
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.29

           Yasmine Galenorn

  As it leaned over me, Frank and one of the other werewolves attacked, diverting its attention away from me. I scrambled to my feet again and, as I looked around, I saw Bette and Gerta tied up against one wall. They were sitting on the ground, their hands and feet duct-taped together.

  I darted through the fighting, dropping to my knees as I unsheathed my dagger. I sawed at the duct tape, glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one was behind me. Within seconds, I had freed Bette. As she struggled to her feet, she grimaced and I realized she had been in that position for far too long. Melusine or not, muscles were muscles.

  “Give me your dagger, and I’ll cut Gerta loose. You go help them.” Bette held out her hand and I slapped the dagger into her palm.

  I jumped up and turned around, trying to figure out where I could do the most good. Chai was still fighting with his werespider, trying to dodge the razor-sharp tips of its legs as it stabbed at him. Alex was on the back of another one, trying to get hold of its throat. Frank and José were fighting the diatrofymata. Thomas was curled up on the floor, down for the count. And George was being backed into a corner by the other werespider. I raced across the cavern floor to help him.

  I didn’t have any weapons, but the werespider didn’t see me coming. As I approached the bloated abdomen, I let loose with a punch that could have broken through a wall. My hand met its exoskeleton, and the reverberation almost knocked me back. The damn thing was as hard as armor. But I had made enough of an impact that it left off attacking George and turned toward me.

  Oh, hell. Now what was I supposed to do? Bette had my dagger. I was strong, but somehow I didn’t think I could pull off a Samwise Gamgee move. This wasn’t a movie, and the werespider wasn’t Shelob. As it closed in, I did the only thing I could think of. I turned and ran like hell. It followed me, which was what I was hoping it would do, giving George enough time to get out a weapon.

  “This is the last time I go into battle with just a dagger,” I shouted to no one in particular.

  Suddenly, a white wolf leaped past me. Oh hell, Ralph. I didn’t want him getting in the way because this creature could take us both on and come out unharmed. But Ralph growled, loudly, and drew the attention of the werespider away from me. Frantic to prevent him from getting hurt, I looked around for anything that I could use as a weapon.

  Over in the corner, I spotted a broken stalactite lying on the floor. It must have been two feet long, and it looked wicked sharp at the tip. I dashed over and grabbed it up, hefting the weight in my hands. It was solid and heavy enough to have a good knockback potential.

  I whirled around just in time to see the werespider looming down on Ralph. He was backing away, whimpering in fear. I took aim, targeting in on the werespider’s chest, hoping that its heart was in approximately the same place as a human’s.

  With a deep breath, I hurled the stalactite, sending it spinning toward the monster. The werespider didn’t notice the approaching missile until too late. As the stalactite drove itself through its chest, it let out a tremendous roar, arms flailing as it reared back. As I watched, it lurched to one side, scrabbling to pull the stalactite out of its chest.

  Ralph took the opportunity to get away, running toward Bette.

  Another roar echoed against the cavern walls. Alex had managed to slit the throat of the werespider he was riding. It tried to claw at him, but it couldn’t reach behind its neck, and Alex stabbed the eyes in the back of its head as a dark viscous blood began to spurt out of its severed jugular.

  Chai was making headway with his opponent. He had managed to sever several of its legs and it was leaning precariously to the left. The djinn had several long deep scratches along his arms, and I realized the creature had managed to attack him, but if it had venom, Chai didn’t seem to be affected.

  Frank was embroiled in a wrestling match with the diatrofymata. The creature was holding him down, clawing for his eyes with its long, bony fingers. I was close enough to join in, and I wrapped one arm around the diatrofymata’s neck, yanking hard to pull it away. We went sprawling to the ground, and the creature grabbed hold of my ankle and bit down, its needle-sharp teeth digging into my boot. I kicked it with my other foot as Frank came in behind, brandishing a wicked-looking dagger. He stabbed at the diatrofymata’s back, and I heard the impact as metal screeched against bone.

  The werespider I had been fighting staggered, finally crashing to the floor. Alex’s werespider followed suit. Alex leaped to Frank’s side and neatly brought Juanita across the diatrofymata’s throat as he grabbed hold of its head and yanked backward. Frank placed his hands against Alex’s and, together, they ripped the head clean away. No blood flowed, but the body fell to the floor, arms flailing, and then was still. Another moment, and it melted into a sludgelike goo, soaking into the dirt of the cavern floor.

  Chai finished off his werespider and propped his scimitar against the floor, point first. He leaned on the pommel. “We better get out of here because where there’s one werespider, I assume there are more. And I don’t want to be here when they arrive.”

  Silently, glancing over the carnage, I crossed to Bette and Gerta to make certain they were okay. Frank and José carried Thomas out of the cave. We had managed to finish what we had set out to do, but I couldn’t help but wonder what else lurked inside these mountains.

  * * *

  Tonya was waiting for us. When she saw Bette, she broke into a wide smile. “I take it everything is all right?”

  “Thomas is severely injured, but I think he’ll live. We all took our lumps and bruises,” I said. “But the diatrofymata is dead, along with three werespiders. Later on, I want a look at your bestiary to see if it talks about what they are.” I motioned to Bette. “Are you sure you’re okay? You’re not hurt?”

  She shook her head. “Takes more than a few giant arachnids to harm me. Seriously, though, I have a feeling by morning I wouldn’t have had my eyes or my tongue.”

  Alex almost said something, then caught himself. “Well, luckily we won’t find out.” But he glanced at me, and I could see the wariness in his eyes. I gave him a silent nod, a promise that I would keep my mouth shut about what he had told us. But as I watched her, I realized my curiosity was eventually going to get the better of me. I would have to watch myself.

  As we approached the vehicles, Gerta remained silent and suspicious. It occurred to me that the real Gerta had never met us. We had been talking to the diatrofymata the entire time. I motioned to Alex and we stepped one side.

  “What should we do about Gerta? She doesn’t know any of us except Bette, and she only knows Bette from what little she saw her in the cavern. Should we ask her if she even wants to go with us?”

  Alex glanced at the Elder Fae. Hell, come to think of it, we really didn’t know if she even was Elder Fae. “You make a good point. The last thing I want is for her to feel like we’re kidnapping her, too.”

  He motioned for everybody to stop, then turned to Gerta. “You don’t know who we are, but we have an idea of who you are. The diatrofymata was imitating you. What do you want to do now that you’re free? Do you want to go with us? We’re headed back into the city—into Seattle. It would help if you could answer some questions for us, but we understand if you don’t want to. We have the general idea of what happened with you, Stone Weaver, and the diatrofymata.”

  She held his gaze for a moment, unsmiling. Then, in a voice that sounded like she was speaking through wind chimes, she said, “I don’t like cities. They unsettle me. I just want to return to my home.”

  “Where do you live?”

  “The realm of the Elder Fae. I know there’s a portal near here. I can find it on my own.” She paused, then asked, “Is it true that Stone Weaver is dead?” Her voice wavered ever so slightly, enough to tell me that the diatrofymata had it right. Gerta had truly loved the Elemental Fae. That was one thing the creature hadn’t lied about.

p; In a soft voice, Alex said, “Yes, it’s true. I’m sorry.”

  “Then I’ll go home. There’s nothing left here for me now.” And a stream of tears trickled down her face, falling to the ground in the shape of golden coins. She looked at them, then looked at us. “Consider them my ransom fee, paid in full.” And with that Gerta, the Golden Frog, turned and vanished into the forest without a sound. I wondered if we would ever see her again.

  * * *

  The return trip was silent. Thomas had been seriously injured, but he would survive, and he was in the back of Frank’s vehicle. Bette leaned against the left backseat door, her feet up and resting on Chai’s lap. Tonya was on Chai’s right, and Ralph rode home with us, in the back with all our supplies. Chai was rubbing Bette’s ankles, which still bore the marks of the duct tape that had bound her.

  “I suppose Chase will be happy to hear that the serial killer is dead. And trust me, that creature was the killer.” Bette sounded discouraged. “I suppose you’re wondering what happened?”

  “Well, yes. Ralph went to the boat to drop off something and found the mess there. But we know what happened.” I went on to explain what we had figured out about how the diatrofymata had created a persona to mingle with the others, and how it had imitated Gerta. “So it managed to pinpoint its marks well ahead of time. As Estelle, the creature was able to dig into the background of everybody there. It wouldn’t take much spying to find out that you work for a private investigator. And, as Gerta, it listened in to our plan to set you as bait.” That explanation was true, yet skirted anything that might expose what Alex had told us.

  “Damn thing thought of everything, didn’t it? I hope to hell they’re a rare breed because I don’t ever want to go up against another one. Anyway, I was getting ready to go down to the center when Estelle came knocking on my door. Of course I let her in because, hey—it was Estelle. Once she was inside the boat . . .” Bette’s voice drifted off. “You know, I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in the cave, strapped up tighter than a hog on butchering day. I don’t know what happened.”

  Something about her memory loss made me nervous, but I kept my mouth shut. It could be that the creature had knocked her out with some sedative, or cast a spell that it managed to get from somewhere. Whatever the case, we could figure it out later. At least Bette was safe, we had freed Gerta, and our serial killer was dead. And that was as much as we could ask for, when I really thought about it.


  On the way home, I put in a call to Chase to let him know we had caught the serial killer. I got hold of Yugi, and he promised to call Chase as soon as he was off the phone with me.

  “So is it what you thought it was? Chase told me it was some sort of doppelgänger.”

  “It was even stranger than that, but you don’t have to worry about it anymore. We took care of the situation.” I wasn’t sure exactly how far to go in terms of telling Yugi what had happened. I figured Alex would decide how much we should tell the cops. I was still finding my way around interacting with humans and human authorities, and I didn’t want to overstep my bounds. But I did have a question. “Do you know anything new about that baby’s skeleton?”

  Alex jerked his head, flashing me a puzzled look. But he kept his mouth shut and went back to focusing on the road.

  “Given the circumstances, we had one of our Otherworld specialists look into it. She determined that the baby was human, and yes, the bones are those of Mary’s missing son. Of course, we’ll run them through testing with the medical examiner, but I guarantee you the results will be the same. The child had a broken neck.” Yugi was silent for a moment, then let out a soft breath. “Mary will probably get blamed for the death, but somehow I don’t think she did it.”

  “She didn’t. Her husband did. Who will take possession of the body?”

  “Probably Mary’s relative—Elena. One way or another, the child will be properly buried.” He paused again, then asked, “That’s what you are wondering, isn’t it?”

  “You nailed it on the head.” As I punched the End Talk button, I wondered about Yugi and exactly who he was. I knew he was human, but he was a very special human.

  “The skeleton was Mary’s baby.” I let out a sigh and leaned back in my seat. “I want to cleanse that house. I want to put her to rest. I wonder, do you think she’s there, searching for her lost child?”

  “You might be right.” Tonya leaned forward, peeking between the seats. “Even though we know her husband drove her over the edge and that she killed her family, we also know that he’s the one that killed the boy. It could be that when she finds out that we know the truth, it might set her free.”

  I glanced at the dashboard clock. It was just past one A.M. “I know it’s been a long night already, but what do you think about telling her?” I suddenly had a strong need to clear that space as soon as possible. “I don’t know how to explain this, but I’m actually afraid of letting it go for another night.”

  “What do you think might happen?” Ralph asked.

  “I don’t know, but it feels like we stirred up things when we found the child’s body. I’m nervous.” And then a thought hit me, and my stomach curled in that way that told me I was right on key. “I know something—I know whatever that creature is we met in the house, and that’s still there, is her husband’s ghost. He’s still abusing her from the spirit world. He drove her into insanity and now he’s punishing her.”

  “You’re right. I know you’re right!” Tonya shifted in her seat. “I’ll go with you. I’ve got my tool bag with me. I didn’t want to leave it in the house in case—” She paused, glancing over at Alex. “I didn’t want to leave it there in case Glenda returned and took it in her head to destroy anything else.”

  Alex let out a low growl. “Rest assured, I’ll take care of the bitch.”

  That startled me. Alex seldom cursed in front of women.

  He flashed me another look. “By the way, are you going to tell me what you’re talking about? What skeleton did you find and where?”

  We filled in both Alex and Bette on what had happened early in the morning. “So much has gone on today that it’s hard to remember who knows what.”

  “As soon as we make sure that Thomas is all right, we’ll head over to your place. We might as well tie up as many loose ends as we can before the night’s over.” As Alex eased the car onto the freeway and we headed west toward Seattle, Tonya and Chai and I discussed how we were going to tackle Mary. And Ralph, he just stared out the window. I had the feeling he was thinking about his upcoming marriage.

  * * *

  We reached the FH-CSI shortly after Frank and his men arrived. The medics brought out a stretcher to carry Thomas inside. As we followed them in, Tonya craned her neck. I had only been here a few times, but I did my best to explain to her how the organization was set up, even though I didn’t know all that much about it. Yugi met us and led us back to the medic unit, where we sat in the waiting room, along with Frank and his men.

  “I want to thank you. You really helped us out tonight and we appreciate it.” Alex leaned over and held out his hand to the werewolf. I knew it was difficult for him; vampires and werewolves usually didn’t get along very well. Ralph and Alex were an exception. But Frank returned the smile and then accepted the proffered handshake.

  “My pleasure. It takes a united effort at times to overcome a common enemy. That creature wouldn’t have stopped with Fae. It would have gone on to wealthy Supes. But I am concerned about the werespiders. They aren’t unnatural. And your friend here, he said they were magical constructs. If that’s true, then who created them and why?”

  “That’s an extremely good question and not one I have any answers for at this point. But I suppose we should look into it. I’m concerned about what else might be lurking out there.” Alex usually didn’t make it his business to look into matters we weren’t hired to inves
tigate, but I could tell the werespiders had unsettled him in a way I had never before seen.

  “Why don’t you give me a call tomorrow night around nine P.M.? I’ll do a little digging and see what I can come up with. I know some friends of mine had a problem with hobo werespiders a couple years ago, and there were coyoteshifters involved. I don’t know much more than that, but the rumor mill gets around.” Frank rubbed his chin, then jumped up as one of the medics approached.

  The elf looked barely old enough to vote, let alone be a doctor, but I knew the Elfin race, and they usually were far older than most people thought. Most of them were ancient, although not as old as Dragonkin.

  “My name is Mallen. I’m the head medic here. We’ve done a cursory examination on your friend Thomas. I don’t think there’s any internal bleeding, but he suffered multiple broken bones. I know werewolves heal quickly so I wanted to talk to you about the best way to proceed. If you could follow me, you can give me information on his background.”

  Frank stood, but before he left he turned to Alex. “So I’ll talk to you tomorrow night? Nine P.M.?”

  Alex nodded. “I’ll expect your call. Go take care of your buddy. And wish him swift healing from us, if you will. Send the bill to Chase Johnson.”

  As Frank followed Mallen into a private office, Chai, Bette, Ralph, Alex, and I all stood. We made our good-byes to the remaining werewolves and headed out the door.

  “Can you drop me off at my boat? I’m tired and I want a shower. And from what it sounds like, I need to clean up my place and see what’s broken.” Bette let out a long sigh. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t go ghost hunting with you tonight.”

  “Do you want some company?” Alex lightly placed a hand on her elbow, looking worried.

  She bit her lip, glancing at me, and I realized she was worried what I might think.

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