Sometimes, you have to exorcise ghosts from the past before you can move forward…

With the Tuathan Brotherhood taken care of, Ember and the Wild Hunt gear up for the coming darkness that threatens to plunge their lives into chaos. But first, they take on the ancient liche who stole Talia's powers. Lazarus is living near Winter Hall Magical Academy, located near Mt. Rainier. Over the centuries, he's grown so strong that it seems futile to take him on. But with Lazerous stalking the students, stealing not only their magical powers but their lives, the Wild Hunt can't allow him to roam free. Before they can confront him, Talia takes it on herself to reconnoiter the situation and ends up trapped in a maniacal web that could easily spell her death. Now, Ember and Herne must race against time before Lazerous finds her first.

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

“If you don’t get your asses in gear and take care of my pixie problem, I’m going to spread the word to all of my friends that you’re unreliable.”

Macy Barnhart shifted in her chair and crossed her right leg over her left. Her legs were long and smooth, unmarred by any visible scars or stray hair. Willowy and tall, she was wearing a chiffon dress whose layers seemed to shift with every move. Her hair was perfectly smooth, the long blond strands gathered back into a loose chignon held in place by a cloisonné butterfly barrette, and her makeup was flawless.

In other words, she looked like a walking, talking mannequin. But Macy Barnhart had the personality of a viper.

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I cleared my throat and glanced at Yutani. He was composed and congenial, but the light in his eyes told me he was suppressing his feelings. The IT specialist had little patience for whiners, and even less patience for members of the entitlement-set. And Macy Barnhart obviously felt she was entitled to star treatment. She was also Light Fae and had already tried to sideswipe me twice with poorly cloaked insults. I’d ignored them, but my temper was rapidly reaching overload, and I couldn’t play nice-nice for much longer.

“I’m sorry, Macy, but we have other clients ahead of you, and we’ll get to your pixies just as soon as we can,” I said, gritting my teeth. “If our timetable won’t work for you, then you’re welcome to find someone else. We’re the best there is, so we get a lot of clients.” I smiled through my urge to tell the bitch to get out and stay out.

She held my gaze for a moment. When I didn’t flinch, her eyes flickered to the side. Finally, her shoulders slumped. “I don’t have the time to find anyone else.”

Neither Yutani nor I said anything.

After an uncomfortable silence, she added, “Fine. Just get your asses over to my house as soon as you can.”

I leaned back in Herne’s chair, feeling a disconcerting satisfaction as I watched her ego deflate. Schadenfreude. “I think we’ll be able to make it out there tomorrow. Expect us around sometime between nine and noon.” The truth was, we could probably fit her pixie problem in today, but I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. “I think we have enough information.”

“Will I need to be home?” she asked, tapping her stiletto-clad foot on the floor.

I shrugged. “That depends. If we can’t find them, you’ll just have to pay a rescheduling fee. If you’re there, you can show us where they are.”

“Fine. Tomorrow, between nine and noon.” With that, Macy Barnhart was on her feet, and she flounced out of the office without another word, slamming the door behind her.

I glanced over at Yutani. “Man, she’s a bitch.”

“You got that one right.” He snorted. “I’m tempted to cancel and just let her fend for herself.”

“Well, we can’t. We promised, so we’ll be there. But I’m not looking forward to this job.”

“Me either,” he said. “I was amazed by how well you were able to keep your temper.”

Laughing, I shook my head. “I was one step away from losing it, dude. However, I’m going to ask Herne to cross her off the list of clients once we wrap up her pixie problem. I have no desire to ever work with her again.”

“Speaking of, when is he supposed to be back from the airport?” Yutani gathered up the papers and tapped the file folder on the desk to straighten it.

“Myrna was supposed to be in on a nine-thirty flight.” I glanced at the clock. It was eleven-fifteen. “Depending on how much luggage she brought and how bad traffic is, they should be back here any time.”

Yutani paused at the door, turning back to me. “You okay with her coming in?”

I considered the question. Was I okay with Herne’s ex-girlfriend, who was also the mother of his child, coming into town to visit? Considering she was a first-class bitch, the answer was a resounding No, and considering she was also a lousy mother, again—a no. But I didn’t want to sound jealous or petty, so I just shrugged.

“Eh, it’s no skin off my nose. After all, they have a kid together and even though Danielle looks full-grown, she’s not. There’s no way you can have a child with someone and not cross paths now and then.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Yutani said as we exited the room. “Or maybe, by not answering, you already did.” He ducked as I stuck my tongue out at him. “I’ll be in my office. Talia’s doing some research on Lazerous and I want to see what she’s found so far.”

I waved him off, then tossed the folder on Angel’s desk. “Here, file this under ‘B,’ for ‘Bitch.’ ”

She gave me a long look, half laughing, half serious. “You feeling okay?”

Pulling up a chair to the side of her U-shaped desk that faced the waiting room of the Wild Hunt Agency, I slumped down, leaning my head back.

“You could do me a favor and lose her file. Or accidentally delete her from the computer.” At another look from her, I rubbed my forehead. “Macy Barnhart is an asshole and a snob. She epitomizes everything about my heritage that I hate. I wish we could turn her down, but Herne asked me to smooth things over with her, so that’s what I did. At least, I did the best I could. Smoothing things over would require more ego massaging than I was willing to do.”

“Well, she couldn’t get out of here fast enough. I did manage to remind her that she had to pay the retainer before you and Yutani go out there tomorrow. She stopped long enough to hand me her credit card. I told her we didn’t accept checks, because I don’t trust her.”

When Angel didn’t trust someone, I knew enough to pay attention. “Did the charge go through?”

“Yeah, it did. Hopefully, she won’t dispute it. I could tell by the look on her face when she stormed out that she wasn’t happy.” Angel tossed her pen on the counter, leaning back in her chair. “Has Herne texted you yet?”

I shook my head, then remembered that I had turned off my notifications while I was in the meeting. I pulled out my phone, unmuted it, then checked my messages. Sure enough, he had sent me a text message about twelve minutes ago. I opened up the message and read it.

MYRNA AND I ARE ON THE WAY BACK. TRAFFIC IS PRETTY BAD, BUT I HOPE TO BE THERE IN HALF AN HOUR. GO AHEAD AND HAVE ANGEL ORDER LUNCH FOR EVERYBODY SO IT WILL BE THERE WHEN WE ARRIVE. TRUST ME, THIS ISN’T GOING TO BE ANY PICNIC.

Myrna was Herne’s ex-girlfriend, and the mother of his daughter. She was an Amazon, and she was a bitch on heels. The last time we had a run-in it hadn’t gone very well, and I didn’t expect any difference this time.

WE’LL SEE YOU WHEN YOU GET HERE, I texted back. Turning to Angel, I said, “Herne wants you to order lunch in now. They’re on the way. He doesn’t sound very happy.”

“That’s an understatement, isn’t it?” Angel pulled out the takeout menus and began to skim through them.

“You might say that.” I stood, moving the chair back to where it belonged. I glanced at the waiting room. “We don’t have any more appointments right now, do we?”

“Nope. Not unless somebody else calls today.”

“Good. This gives me a chance to catch up on my paperwork. Talia’s researching whatever she can find out about Lazerous. Yutani’s going to bone up on pixies, as well as help Talia. I’m not sure what Viktor is doing right now.”

Angel nodded, shuffling the papers on her desk. “What do you want for lunch?”

I thought for a moment, but couldn’t pinpoint anything in particular that I was craving. “Whatever you order is fine with me. But I’m sure it won’t be good enough for Myrna. Just make sure there’s plenty of it, and that it’s hearty. The guys don’t go for salads, and honestly, neither do I.”

I headed back to my office, hoping I’d have time to catch up on my paperwork before Herne and Myrna arrived. Although it was likely that Myrna wasn’t coming in with a case. At any rate, why she was here wasn’t any of my business, no matter how nosy I was.

Fingering the ring that Herne had given me—a promise ring formed out of his own antler tine—I realized that I really wasn’t worried about Myrna. Herne was devoted to me and he had made that clear. I just didn’t like her and didn’t want to have to interact with her. But I wasn’t worried about them getting back together.

For one thing, neither of them could agree on how to raise Danielle, their daughter. For another, whenever they talked on the phone it turned into an argument. I was grateful, mostly for Danielle’s sake, that she was close to full-grown. Another ten or twelve years and she’d be ready to take her place as an adult, at least as far as the Amazons were concerned. In actuality, she was older than I was.

As I sat down at my desk, I brought up the Krown-4 news site, and clicked on the livestream video feed.

The newscaster was sitting in front of a picture of a cemetery, signs of disturbed graves in the background.

“Authorities have no idea who is responsible for the desecration of the Wild Thyme cemetery. Anyone with any information is urged to contact the police as soon as possible. Four bodies are missing, the caskets splintered, and the police have no leads at this time.”

I set down my pen, staring at the screen. I pushed my laptop back and turned to my desktop computer, clicking over to another news site. There was the story again, with a little more detail.

On my second monitor—I had a two-monitor system now, like the rest of the office—I brought up Earth Maps, zeroing in on Seattle. I typed THE WILD THYME CEMETERY into the search engine, and waited.

When it brought up a map of the location, I saw that the cemetery rested on the outskirts of the Worchester district, the most haunted area of Seattle. The niggle of worry grew. After our meeting in Annwn with Cernunnos, Brighid, Morgana, and Lugh the Long Handed, anything concerning the dead or spirits or the undead made me nervous. I was about to call Yutani into my office when loud voices erupted from the waiting room. Even from my office, I could hear Herne and Myrna arguing.

“I still can’t believe that you’re letting her get away with this. I’m her mother, I should have some say in this matter.” Myrna’s voice echoed through the hallway. She wasn’t a shrill woman, but her voice rose a good octave when she was angry.

“And I’m her father. I don’t care whether or not this inconveniences you. Thantos is a sleazy, crappy excuse for a man. He’s a lecher and the thought of him coming on to my daughter makes me sick. You know full well that she’s not lying about it. I can’t believe you’re standing up for him! You call yourself an Amazon?”

“He did it one time, and I can’t see what all the uproar is about. He didn’t hurt her.”

“How the hell can you be so blasé about this? Maybe he didn’t hurt her physically, but he scared the hell out of her. You can let him back into your house after what he did to our daughter? I thought the Amazons frowned upon men like that? What did they have to say about you standing up for this creep?”

I decided somebody better get out there to diffuse the argument before it blew up into a full-fledged fistfight. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had that feeling, because Yutani, Talia, and Viktor were headed down the hallway as well. We all reached the main waiting room in a group, which felt rather awkward. There stood Myrna and Herne in front of Angel’s desk, embroiled in their shouting match. Angel was trying to look busy, doing her best to ignore the spectacle going on in front of her.

I stepped forward, hands on my hips. “Obviously, you two are having some sort of beef with each other. Maybe you should take it into Herne’s office instead of coming to blows out here in the waiting room. What if a client came in?” I glared at both of them.

Herne scowled, but gave me a nod. “Ember’s right. Save the fighting for later. This is my place of business and it’s no place to hash this out.”

“So the tralaeth is running the show now? Not surprising, since she has your penis wrapped around her little finger.” Myrna darted a sideways glance my way that—if it’d been an attack—would have left me flattened.

“Myrna!” Herne glowered at her, but I stepped in.

“Listen up. I work here, you don’t.” I turned to Myrna. “You can call me anything you want, but the fact remains this is a place of business.” I wanted to tell her I agreed with Herne, that she was an unfit mother, but that would only lead to an even bigger blowup.

“Fine, I’ll confine my comments to outside of your business establishment.” She turned back to Herne. “We’re not done with this yet, so don’t get it into your head that this argument’s over. I know you’re trying to subvert Danielle’s feelings toward me, so don’t pretend you aren’t. What time do you get off work? We’re going to finish this, one way or another.”

“All right, if you want to have it out, so be it. Meet me here tonight after six. Until then, I suggest you find yourself a hotel. I don’t want to ever see you darken the doors of this building again.” Herne looked like he’d swallowed a hornet’s nest.

Myrna let out a string of curse words that would make a sailor blush, then whirled on her stilettos and marched back to the elevator. Her face was bright red, and it occurred to me that if she wasn’t careful she might stroke out. Come to think of it, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

As the doors closed behind her, I turned back to Herne. He was standing there, arms crossed and feet braced firmly on the floor. The look on his face was somewhere between livid and apoplectic. I paused, not sure what to say. It would take him a while to calm down, and I knew better than to make a joke, even to break the tension.

“Ember, in my office, please.” He turned, striding toward his office.

I wasn’t sure whether he was also angry at me, but I was about to find out. I glanced back at Angel, who flashed me a sympathetic look.

“Let us know when lunch is here. If you hear loud voices, text me when it arrives rather than knock on the door.” And with that, I followed Herne into his office.

***

As I entered Herne’s office and shut the door behind me, he turned and let out an enormous sigh. “I loathe that woman. I swear, on my father’s throne, I hate her. She’s an abomination. I can’t seriously believe that she thinks she’s a good mother.”

The anger on his face was draining away, replaced by bewilderment and frustration. I moved toward him, unsure whether to offer him a hug. But he answered that himself, opening his arms to me, and I slid into his embrace. He squeezed me tight, holding me to him as he buried his nose in my hair. A moment later, he gently kissed me on the lips and stepped back, turning toward his desk to sit down. I pulled one of the wing chairs on the opposite side of the desk close, sliding into it and crossing my legs.

“So, tell me what’s going on.”

“Well, you knew I was picking her up, and that she flew into town because she wanted to talk to me about something.”

“Right, that much I knew. So what did she have to say?”

“She wants Danielle to come stay with her during summer break. Danielle refused, because Thantos is back living with Myrna. You remember that whole mess?”

I nodded. “Thantos made passes at Danielle, and Myrna refused to believe it.”

“Right. Well, Myrna insists that it only happened once, and that Danielle encouraged it. She’s blaming our daughter for this jackass who’s unable to keep his hands out of the kiddie aisle. He’ll never change. I told Danielle she could come here during the summer if she wants, or I’d pay for her to travel around Europe or wherever she wants to go. As long as she takes someone with her who’s a responsible adult.”

“And I take it Myrna isn’t too happy about this?”

“Myrna wants to parade Danielle around her friends and show her off. It’s a coup having a daughter who’s being trained by the Amazons. That’s the only reason Myrna even wants Danielle to go home.” Herne slammed his hand on the desk. “I have half a mind to drag her before the Triamvinate and gain full custody over Danielle. I could do it, you know.”

I wasn’t sure how much Herne wanted my advice or opinion on the subject. But I decided to give it to him anyway. “Honestly? I think you should. Thantos isn’t going to change and in fact, if he’s like most pedophiles, he’ll try to make Danielle out to be a liar if she complained. Those creeps are uncannily good at that, you know.”

Herne stared at me for a moment. “I’ll call my father and ask if he can set up a hearing before the Triamvinate. Whatever they decide will stand, and not even Myrna can appeal it.” He shook his head, a look of disgust on his face. “I hate men like Thantos. I’d like to break his nuts, and maybe someday I will. Thank you for backing me up.”

“Hey, Myrna reminds me way too much of a few people I’ve known in my life.”

“Okay, that’s settled, then. So tell me what happened with Macy this morning. Fill me in.”

I was about to give him the rundown when there was a tap on the door. I opened it, and there stood Angel, two bags of food in her hand from Fries With That, a new burger joint that had opened up in our neighborhood. They made excellent burgers, and the best fries I had ever tasted.

“Hey, Angel, thank you.” Herne waved her in. She placed the bags on his desk. “Don’t worry, the war is on hold for the moment. But if Myrna shows her face here, you let me know immediately.”

“Will do,” was all Angel said before she hurried back out to her desk again.

I shut the door behind her, then returned to the desk where I sat beside Herne, opening one of the bags. There were two cheeseburgers inside, a large order of fries, and a chocolate milkshake. As I tasted it, I realized it was actually mocha flavored. Angel knew me so very well. She’d better, given she was my best friend in the world.

“So, Macy McBraterson was here. Yutani and I agreed to go out and look at her place tomorrow—she’s got a pixie infestation. But Herne, after this, write her off the books. She’s one of the most obnoxious, snotty clients we’ve ever had. I wanted to wash the floor with her. It took everything I had to refrain from kicking her ass out the door.”

“Maybe we should introduce her to Myrna. Maybe they’ll fall in love and move away.” He laughed, then set his own lunch out on the desk. As we ate, I also told him about what I had seen on the news.

“Do you think the missing bodies have anything to do with Typhon?” I asked.

We were headed into a dark period. An ancient evil was waking up, the father of all dragons whose name was Typhon. There was no way that we—the Wild Hunt—could take him on, but we had been warned by the gods that the dead would be walking, and there would be a lot of collateral damage to deal with.

“I don’t know. The last timeline I heard placed him as almost awake. So this could have something to do with it, or maybe it’s just some grisly grave robber at work. I’ll look into it. While we’re on the subject, Morgana asked me to meet with Saílle and Névé. We need to tell them about Typhon. I set up an appointment for next month at Ginty’s. Right now, he’s on vacation for some sort of holiday.”

Just what I needed, an afternoon with the Fae Queens. But Herne was right, we had to warn them, because everybody would be affected by Typhon’s rising.

I bit my lip, then asked, “So, are we to tell the rest of the United Coalition about this?”

Herne lowered his gaze to his food. After a moment, he said, “No. Morgana and Cernunnos were implicit about that. If the Cryptozoid Alliance gets wind of this, there’s a chance Elatha will attempt to use it for his own gain. And the Shifter Association isn’t going to be of much help, at least not as we see things now. As for the Human League, this would just terrify them. But the Ante-Fae know, and if they know the Fae community will soon know. Someone’s going to let it slip. So if we can warn Saílle and Névé first, we’re ahead of the game.”

As we ate our lunch, I thought about the coming darkness. There wasn’t much we could do to prepare for it, except have all our ducks in a row and enlist everyone we possibly think of to help us. Meanwhile, it was business as usual, and if that involved chasing down pixies in a snot-nosed client’s yard, then that was what we’d do. Trying to shake away my gloomy thoughts, I bit into my cheeseburger, and turned the subject to brighter topics.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for The Eternal Return

Air: Moon Fever; Surfing on a Rocket
Airstream: Electra (Religion Cut)
Android Lust: Here and Now
Arcade Fire: Abraham’s Daughter
Brandon & Dereck Fiechter: Night Fairies; Troll Bridge; Will-O’-Wisps; Black Wolf’s Inn; Naiad River; Mushroom Woods
Chip Davis: Walking in Straw Grass; The Crow Knows; Harvest Dance
Colin Foulke: Emergence
Danny Cudd: Double D; Remind; Once Again (2011); Timelessly Free; To The Mirage
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns; Galloping Horse
DJ Shah: Mellomaniac
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Faun: Hymn to Pan; Punagra; Sieben
The Hang Drum Project: Shaken Oak; St. Chartier
Hang Massive: Omat Odat; Released Upon Inception; Thingless Things; Boat Ride; Transition to Dreams; End of Sky; Warmth of the Sun’s Rays; Luminous Emptiness
Hedningarna: Ukkonen; Gorrlaus
J Rokka: Marine Migration
Mannheim Steamroller: Chocolate Fudge; Saras Band; Mist; G Major Toccata; Crystal; Interlude 7; Dancing Flames; Embers; The First Door; The Second Door; The Third Door; The Sixth Door; The Sky; Midnight on a Full Moon; Lumen; Dancin’ in the Stars; Z-row Gravity
Many Rivers Ensemble: Blood Moon; Oasis; Upwelling; Emergence
Marconi Union: First Light; Alone Together; Flying (In Crimson Skies); Always Numb; Time Lapse; On Reflection; Broken Colours; We Travel; Weightless; Weightless, Pt 2; Weightless, Pt 3; Weightless, Pt 4; Weightless, Pt 5; Weightless, Pt 6
Mythos: Surrender; Andalucia; Icarus
Rue de Soleil: We Can Fly; Le Francaise; Wake Up Brother; Blues Du Soleil
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s in a Pool
Tingstand & Rumbel: Chaco
Tuatha Dea: Tuatha De Danaan
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow

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The Eternal Return