"Block him at the pass!" I dodged out of the way, trying not to dive face first into the dirt, but I didn't see the stray tennis ball some dog had dropped under the bridge, and did a banana-peel flop onto my butt. I rolled to the side, hard, as the damned troll charged past. Or rather, troll spirit.
"I swear, the next blowhard who tries to tell me that spirits can't be corporeal is going to get my fist in their face." I groaned, rolling to a sitting position. Damn it. I had torn my skirt on a shard of glass. Well, better my skirt than my leg. At least I hadn't broken my ankle. I had long ago given up fighting in stilettos, but tonight we hadn't planned on a showdown and we were all dressed to the nines for dinner, and my heels were four inch spiky sandals.
Delilah raced by, pausing to hold out her hand. I grabbed it and she hauled me up. As soon as she pulled me onto my feet, she was off again, trying to catch up to the lumbering ghost. Menolly was already up ahead, dangling off the troll's back like some demented monkey, only cuter. I swallowed my pride, made sure nothing was broken, and hauled ass in their direction. Thanks to regular workouts, I was faster than I used to be, but I still lagged behind. Delilah was a natural-born athlete. So was Menolly, plus she was a vampire. Me? Not so much either one.
"He's not slowing down and I can't break his neck because he's not alive!" Menolly's voice echoed from up ahead. As I watched, the troll spirit veered directly for a massive cedar.
"Watch out for-" I stopped, wincing as the spirit skidded to a stop. In a whiplash effect, Menolly went flying over his head. She landed a good three yards ahead of him, sliding along the asphalt, cursing like a sailor. The troll turned right onto a side street and bounded away, leaving us all in the dust.
"Well, that had to hurt." Delilah shaded her eyes, watching the troll vanish.
I caught up to her and we jogged over to Menolly's side. Menolly picked herself up off the road and dusted her hands on her jeans. We had lost the troll's trail. Oh, we could go racing after him and probably pick him up again, but seeing that he was the spirit of a troll and not the actual creature, chances were we'd be off on a wild goose chase.
"What the hell was that?" Menolly stretched her arms over her head, then shook her shoulders out. Her eyes were glowing crimson in the pale light of dusk, a sure sign her hunting instincts had been out to play. "That wasn't like any troll I've ever dealt with before."
"That's because it was a ghost, although not your typical run-of-the-mill spook. Somehow, the spirit managed to become corporeal." I winced. The spill I'd taken was catching up to me and I was pretty sure I had bruised my tailbone. "What I want to know is where did it come from?"
We walked back beneath the overpass to stare at the Freemont Troll. A Seattle landmark, the troll was a massive sculpture that had been designed and created by a team of artists who called themselves the Jersey Devils. Formed from rebar, wire, and concrete, it was big enough to hold an actual Volkswagen Beetle in its hand. But behemoth or not, the troll was a just a sculpture. Or so we had thought. Nothing more than a neighborhood icon.
I would have been happy to remain blissfully ignorant, except Chase had called us while we were out to dinner. Someone had reported that the Freemont Troll had come to life and was rampaging around under the bridge. Once we got there, of course, we found the sculpture right where it had always been. However, there was a troll roaming around, only it was a confused, angry spirit.
"What do you suppose happened?" Menolly glared at the sculpture as we passed it. "Who on earth thought putting a troll under an overpass was a good thing?"
"They made this before the Supes came out of the closet." But I was right behind her in giving it a nervous glance as we passed it. Actually, the Freemont Troll was rather fun. Fans dressed him up for the holidays, and he was as much a part of the Seattle landscape as was the Space Needle. No, the troll we had faced had only hidden inside the sculpture until something set him off.
"We already knew that spirits can sometimes take on corporeal form. Something spooked this one and he's not happy. Which means our troll friend-the spirit, not the sculpture-is dangerous to anybody he happens to meet."
"I know what did it." Menolly dashed up the slope beside the troll to stand on top of his head. "Come up here."
The last thing I wanted to do was climb up a dirt embankment in a fancy dress and corset, but I pulled off my shoes and Delilah and I scrambled up the easy rise. When we were on top of the troll, we were standing right beneath the overpass.
There we found an altar, of sorts. A makeshift 'talking board' sat between two candles in Mason jars. The candles were still flickering. A quartz crystal rested to the left and a tipped over bottle of wine to the right. The board was a rough rectangle of plywood, with the alphabet painted across it, and the words, "yes" and "no" at the top corners. A upside-down paper cup rested on the board atop a thin piece of transparent acrylic, just the right size to cover one letter at a time.
"Fuck me now." I stared at the setup. "Somebody figured out there was a spirit hiding itself in the troll and decided to commune with it. Bingo, open door policy. Idiots didn't realize that boards like this are actually portals."
"Either that, or they were just drunk off their asses and screwing around." Delilah rubbed her temples. "When will kids learn?"
"Why do you think this was a group of kids? I've met plenty of adults who don't have the sense they were born with." I toed the board. Sure enough, a sizzle sparked against my big toe. "Well, whoever they were, they opened the door, but I doubt they're capable of locking the troll back in the bottle, so to speak. Which means we have to figure out what to do with it. We can't just force it to go back inside the sculpture. That's no life for any spirit."
"I feel guilty for suggesting it, but we could call Ivana." Menolly glanced at me. Ivana Krask, or the Maiden of Karask, was one of the Elder Fae. She loved ghosts. She loved ghosts all too much. She trapped the nasty ones in her ghoulish little 'garden of ghosts' where she fed off their energy and tormented them. But she was good at rounding up spirits, that was for sure. She'd probably salivate over the chance to nab a troll's spirit.
I stared at my sister. "While the idea of handing over this creature to her is tempting, the fact is that we don't know whether it's evil or not. And I honestly can't face myself in the mirror if we end up giving her a ghost who's just confused and unhappy."
"I thought you might say that." Menolly shrugged. "I'm out of suggestions for now. We don't know where the thing went. We don't know what to do about it if we do find it again. What do you suggest?"
"Let's head back to the car." Delilah glanced up at the sky. "We can hunt it that way. We'd better find it, though. Tomorrow night's the full moon and I won't be of any use then. I can already feel the pull in my blood." Full moons were always out when it came to any sort of plans for Delilah unless they included gallivanting around in my catnip garden, or chasing moths through the yard. They were out for me, too.
"Right. And I'll be off on the Hunt with the Moon Mother." I was swept away during the Full Moon, too, only I went racing through the skies instead of the back yard.
"So, what do we do? We can't even figure out how to contain it, let alone send it off to the happy troll gardens or whatever their afterlife is. All we've accomplished so far is a broken butt and torn skirt for you, and skid marks tearing up my leather jacket." Menolly shrugged. "Maybe we should do a little research? We may actually save time that way. We're near the station. They have computers. Chase will let us use one."
I hooked my arm through Delilah's. "She's right. We aren't going to manage anything until we figure out what we're fighting and how to combat it. Let's head over to the FH-CSI."
Delilah shrugged. "Whatever you think is right. I just hope that thing doesn't hurt anybody while we're surfing the net. Come on, let's go." She held up her keys as we approached her Jeep and unlocked the doors. Without another word, we piled in the car and were off to the station.
* * *
The FH-CSI was the acronym for the Faerie-Human Crime Scene Investigation unit. Over the years, it had grown from a specialty operation to a powerful city organization. Chase Johnson, the detective in charge of it, was a friend of ours. He and Delilah had been an item for awhile but the gulf between them was too great. Now, he was paired up with the Elfin Queen and while they got along great, once again, circumstance had intervened.
Sharah had returned to Otherworld to take up her duty when Elqaneve and the Elfin lands had been pulverized during war. The old queen was killed, making Sharah-a niece and the only one close to the throne who was still alive-the heir. She had returned home to take the crown, leaving Chase and their daughter, Astrid, over here Earthside. It wasn't ideal, but neither Chase nor Sharah had a choice. Her duty to the throne came first for Sharah, and duty to his daughter and his own post came first for Chase.
Located in the Belles-Faire district of Seattle, the FH-CSI was on Thatcher Avenue. It was a large building with one floor above ground which housed the police unit and healing facilities for the Supe community. At least three stories below ground included an arsenal, a jail, a laboratory, morgue and archives, and there was a rumored fourth level, though Chase would never confirm or deny it.
The parking lot was empty, though in thirty-six hours it would be full. A few of the jail cells were actually used as kennels during the full moon, for when some of the werewolves went careening around the city. The animal shelters sub-contracted members of the FH-CSI to round up the bigger predator types and cart them down to the holding cells until morning. Once they reverted back to their human forms, they paid a nominal fee and were set free. That way, nobody got hurt and in the morning, their families would come get them, crowding the parking lot.
As we approached the building, the sound of traffic blurred in the distance. The sky was clear and the weather, balmy. June in Seattle didn't exactly fit most people's definition of warm, but the rain was holding off and it was sixty degrees at ten-thirty. Shirt-sleeve weather to locals.
I glanced at the stars. Most of them were drowned out by the light pollution, but here and there, a bright star flickered. The sky was so different from what it had been home in Otherworld. Here, the city lights blotted out all but the brightest stars. But there was an energy over Earthside that OW didn't have. And I had gotten used to that energy. I was actually grateful that I was here to stay.
I pushed through the doors. The police station was to the left, and the medic unit was straight ahead. As we entered the police station, the bustle of activity hit us like a wave.
Yugi, Chase's second in command and a Swedish empath, was racing around with a clipboard in his hand. At least three officers that we could see were checking their weapons. I jumped back as Marquette-an elf who had joined the force a couple years back-hurried by. The look on her face was dour. Brooks, a full blooded human, followed her, looking just as grim. Behind him was Fry, another FBH. She was carrying one hell of a big shotgun.
Chase was standing at the door of his office. When he saw us, he brushed his hair back from his face and motioned us in. "Thank gods you're here. You lost the troll, didn't you?"
At six-one, Chase was Delilah's height. With dark wavy hair and olive skin, he looked Mediterranean. We had all thought Chase was human until a few months back when we discovered he actually had an ancestor from Otherworld in his lineage, giving him a touch of elfin blood. He was wearing a designer suit-Calvin Klein-and right now he looked like he was about to pop a blood vessel in his forehead.
"That's why we're here. The Freemont Troll is right where it was. What we're chasing is the corporeal spirit of a troll who was resting quietly inside the sculpture till some lamebrain decided to use a talking board. At least, that's the way we think it went down." I glanced over at his desk. His landline was ringing off the hook, three of the four lines flashing. "Your phone-"
"Never mind my phone. We have a major problem. Whatever that thing is, it's headed toward the Golden Gardens Park, where there happens to be a major event going on."
Delilah paled. "What event?"
"The midnight wedding of some big shot lawyer's kid. There are two hundred people milling around the park, half of whom are scheduled to eat a midnight supper there after the wedding. I'm sending officers over now but we have to do something before the bride and groom end up taking their vows over a mass grave." Chase was stumbling over his words. He usually wasn't this frantic, even during emergencies.
"Slow down. We'll head out there. We just wanted to do a little research on this spirit. We aren't sure how to stop it." I frowned. "What else is wrong, Chase? It's not like you to be so panicked over a routine monster fight."
His shoulders slumping, he dropped into the chair behind his desk. "What's wrong is this: Do you know the name Brandon Rigal?"
Delilah let out a loud cough. "Yeah, he's that big mucky-muck lawyer who defends the members of the Freedom's Angels and the Guardian Watchdogs when they get busted."
The Freedom's Angels and the Guardian Watchdogs were two incredibly nasty hate-groups out to oust the Supe Community from Seattle. They had spread to other cities as well. At first the Angels were talk-only, but once the Guardian Watchdogs got involved, and with the Brotherhood of the Earth-Born backing them, now they all violent. It wasn't a far step from shouting vile slogans to acting on the rhetoric.
"The wedding just happens to be that of Rigal's daughter. If the troll disrupts his little princess's precious nuptials, Rigal will do everything he can to rile up the Freedom's Angels and the Guardian Watchdogs. Not only that, he'll drag the FH-CSI through the mud."
Crap. That put a whole new spin on the night. We had to stop that troll spirit before he laid waste to the nuptials.
"Delilah, look up the troll on the computers. Menolly and I will head out...oh damn it, we can't. We only brought your Jeep." We had been on the hunt for fish and chips, not a fight. I turned to Chase. "Can Menolly and I ride with your people?"
Chase nodded. "Hurry, though. They're ready to head out. Delilah-you can use the computer in Yugi's office. He'll help you with anything you need." As we headed out the door, he called after us, "I don't care how you do it. Just get that troll or we'll all pay the price."
* * *
Marquette and Brooks were partners and they had already left, so Menolly and I crammed ourselves into the backseat of Fry's patrol car. Fry was lean and tall, and as tough as they came. When she barked, the others jumped. A regular Rottweiler, Chase had said.
She glanced in the back seat as we buckled ourselves in. "Don't touch the guns and don't spill anything on the seat. Especially blood."
I glanced at Menolly, repressing a laugh. "We aren't in the habit of grabbing guns, and I guarantee you, Menolly won't be using me as a juice box."
"Fine. Hold on. I'm cranking on the siren." And with that, the siren let out a loud alarm and we lurched out of the parking lot, gaining speed as the drivers ahead of us gave way.
Menolly stared out into the night. "You realize that by the end of this month, we won't be doing this anymore. Not like this, anyway."
My mood plunged to gloom within seconds. "I know. I don't want to think about it."
"You'd better start thinking about it, because Litha's coming up in a couple weeks and then..." She didn't finish. She didn't have to.
I didn't answer. There was nothing to say. Within two weeks, I'd be moving myself and my husbands out to Talamh Lonrach Oll, where I would take the crown as the Queen of Dusk and Twilight over the sovereign Fae nation.
* * *
My name is Camille Sepharial D'Artigo and together with my sisters, Menolly and Delilah, I came over from Otherworld a few years back. Our mother, Maria D'Artigo, was human, and our father, Sephreh ob Tanu, full blooded Fae. They met and fell in love when he was on assignment over Earthside. He swept her off to Otherworld and they had us. Shortly after Menolly was born, Mother died from a fall off of a horse. Our father never quite recovered from her death, and we lost him a few months back.
I'm the oldest, and I'm a Moon witch and High Priestess. And in two weeks, I'll take the throne as the Queen of Dusk and Twilight. I stand between worlds-between Otherworld and Earthside. Between light and dark. I'm married to three gorgeous men: Smoky-a dragon shifter, Morio-a youkai kitsune, and Trillian, a Svartan-one of the dark and charming Fae. They get along, mostly, and they are the loves of my lives.
Delilah, the second-born, is a two-faced werecat, able to shift into both a long-haired golden tabby, and a black panther. She's a Death Maiden, serving the Autumn Lord, and she's engaged to Shade, a half shadow dragon and half-Stradolan. Someday, she's destined to bear the child of the Autumn Lord with Shade acting as his proxy. Being the mother of an Elemental Lord-or Lady-seems a daunting prospect, but she's down with it. Delilah's very maternal.
And then there's Menolly. Menolly started out as a jian-tu. She could climb walls, ropes, trees with abandon. She could make it across cavern roofs, until the day she fell off into a nest of vampires. Dredge, one of the most dangerous vamps in history caught her and the result wasn't pretty. He tortured her and then, at the last, when she could hold out no longer, he forcibly turned her and sent her home to destroy her family. I managed to lure her into our safe room and lock her in. A year of rehabilitation taught her to control her impulses, but she continually battles her inner predator. Menolly's married to a gorgeous werepuma named Nerissa, and to Roman, prince of the Vampire Nation. They make an odd little trio, but somehow, it works.
The three of us are as different as light and dark. I have hair the color of raven wings, and violet eyes that flash silver when I work my magic. At five-seven, I have big boobs and ample hips and a narrow waist, and while I work out now so I can keep up in a fight, I'm a gurly girl and I'll always be. Delilah's six-one, athletic and lean, with short blond hair in a Euro-cut, and about the only time we can force her into a dress is during special occasions. And Menolly is petite, barely five-one. Her hair is the color of burnished copper hair and hangs to her lower back in long thin braids, dappled with beads.
Our mixed blood causes havoc. Our powers fritz out at the most inconvenient times. That wasn't exactly a big selling point to our bosses at the OIA-the Otherworld Intelligence Agency, and although we worked our asses off, we were never exemplary employees. Between our lapses, and my run-in with a supervisor who got pissed when I wouldn't blow him, we were shipped over Earthside on what was ostensibly a sabbatical. Things went downhill fast.
We arrived Earthside thinking our stay would be all fun and games. A real chance to explore our mother's home world. We ended up at the frontlines of a demonic war and trust me, saving two worlds, one monster at a time, isn't easy. We've been to hell and back in this war, and until we find the last spirit seal and forever bind all nine away from Shadow Wing-the leader of the Sub-Realms-there will always be the chance that he'll take control of the portals, force them open, and raze both Earthside and Otherworld. We're battle weary and we've lost too many friends to this war. We just want to finish it and be done, because trust me, war wounds run deep, and we're all scarred with injuries that are mostly unseen, but always present.
* * *
We were almost to the Golden Gardens Park when Fry suddenly veered off the road, onto the shoulder. She leaned across the passenger seat, squinting out the window. To the right was a swath of grass, and a large wall leading up to a street that ran parallel with ours. The wall was covered with ivy.
"I thought I saw something big and fast out there," she said. "Is this creature invisible?"
I glanced at Menolly. "I don't know if it can fully turn invisible, but I'd say it could camouflage itself against a background of greenery.
"Come on. Let's go take a look. Hand me the shotgun, please." She held out her hand.
I stared at the gun, not wanting to touch it. There was enough iron in that gun to burn my hands if I accidentally touched any part that wasn't wood.
"Just do it-oh." She stopped, looking at my face. "You're half-Fae. Iron thing right?"
Menolly grabbed the gun, letting out a faint curse as her finger grazed the barrel. She carefully lifted it over the seat. Her fingers were blistered when Fry took the gun from her, but they began to heal up quickly. Vampires healed faster than most people realized, which meant she could touch iron and-while it still hurt-it wouldn't incapacitate her.
I frowned. "That gun won't do a thing against this creature. We're fighting a spirit. Even if you have silver bullets, it's not going to make a difference."
"Then what do you suggest I use?" Fry really didn't sound happy. She gazed down at the gun, then back at the window. "He's out there-see?"
I plastered my face against the window. Sure enough, I could see his faint form against the wall, blending into the ivy. "Come on, Menolly. We'll go on foot from here. Fry, why don't you drive ahead and try to keep people from scattering. If we can keep him from making it to the park, then maybe we can pull this off without the wedding guests ever knowing what's going on. Tell them...oh, tell them you're chasing a couple burglary subjects or something that won't cause a panic."
With that, Menolly and I hopped out of the car. Fry hesitated a moment, then she put the gun down and took off toward the park which was about a quarter mile down the road.
Menolly and I headed for the stone wall covered in ivy. I had left my shoes in the car, for easier running, and as we passed over a gravel spit, my toes grumbled. Of course, I had to find the sharpest pieces of gravel available. I hopped across to the grass and wiped off the pebbles that were stuck to the bottoms of my feet.
"What do we do when we get there?" Menolly asked.
I kept my eye on the hulking spirit. Turns out troll spirits were as big as their bodies, which was huge. The smallest troll I had ever seen was ten feet tall, and that was a youngster. Troll parents didn't let their young go wandering until they were large enough to look out for themselves. But trolls weren't just tall. They were bulky and muscled and scary as hell.
"At least we aren't facing a dubba-troll. Two heads are definitely not better than one." I paused, trying to keep track of where the troll spirit had gone to. Then I saw him, up ahead, still on his way to the park. "There he is. Why he's determined to go to the park, I don't know."
"Neither do I but let's get a move on. I'm going to ahead. You come as fast as you can." Menolly sped up. She could move in a blur, like most vampires, and before long she was keeping pace with the troll. The next moment, she was in front of him and ready to try to dropkick him backward. As her foot hit his stomach, it went right through him and she landed in a heap on the grass. The troll didn't even look back.
"What the hell? Now he's not corporeal?"
My phone rang as I jogged over to where Menolly had fallen. She was up and chasing him again. I stopped, leaning over to breathe, and glanced at the Caller ID. Delilah. I punched the TALK button and tried to keep from panting into the phone.
"Yeah? Talk fast."
Delilah snorted. "With as many workouts as your husbands give you, I'm surprised you aren't a champion sprinter. Anyway, I found reference on the GoGargoyle search engine to a particular spirit that seems to be endemic to Earthside. Apparently, some trolls and ogres who stayed behind near the Snohomish area began to fade over the years and they've wandered around the Seattle area over the years. They aren't true spirits, but faded shells of the creatures they once were. They've become a form of wight, though they aren't necessarily evil by nature anymore. Some dimwit dubbed them 'vrolls'-vapor and troll mixed-and it stuck. So we're facing a vroll. Apparently, they've lost their sense to hunt, and they're more like a wild animal who doesn't understand what's happened. Poor things are just afraid, from what the reports say."
"What's he looking for? How can we stop them?"
"Vrolls are looking for one thing: shelter and a place to hide, where they eventually will fade away into nothing. But when they're riled or forcibly shoved out of their hiding spots, they turn violent. Then the only thing you can do is either find a new place for the creature to slumber, or put it out of its misery. There's no reasoning with them. What's left is pure instinct and drive for self-preservation." She paused, then added. "It's really kind of sad, isn't it?"
I bit my lip. Sad was the word, all right. But even though the vroll was a sorry creature, we couldn't let it attack a wedding. Especially a wedding being thrown by one of Seattle's most vocal hate-mongers.
"How do we destroy it?"
Delilah let out an sigh. "You have to drain it of life-force. Menolly can't. There's no blood there to drain. But magick will work. We need Vanzir."
Vanzir could drain energy. The demon had, at one time, been forcibly bound to us, but he proved his mettle and now was a good friend, as well as an ally. He was a dream-chaser demon and he had the ability to feed off both the dreams and life-force of others.
"Can you call him? We're at the park and I'm trying to catch up to Menolly and the vroll."
"I already did. He's on the way. Smoky's bringing him through the Ionyc Sea. He's stopping here to pick me up first. We'll be there within a couple of minutes. Oh, by the way, apparently vrolls are attracted to sparkly things." She hung up.
I shoved my phone in my pocket-thank gods for skirts with pockets. Smoky-my dragon shifter husband-could travel through the currents of energy that separated the Ionyc Lands and kept them from colliding. The non-corporeal dimensions-the etheric, astral, and spirit realms all formed the Ionyc Lands, and to get to them, one had to either have the ability to shift over, or to travel through the great sea of energy.
The dusk was fading. We had only a few moments before it was full on night, and it would be harder than ever to see our goal. I shaded my eyes with my hands, trying to scan ahead to see where Menolly and the vroll were. The moon was rising, though nowhere near its zenith, but its light was enough to show me the silhouettes ahead. The park was only a few hundred yards beyond. Even from here, I could hear people shouting and laughing.
Fuck. We had to keep the creature out of their path until Vanzir got here. I sent a piercing whistle through the air. Menolly would recognize it. Sure enough, a few seconds and she appeared in a blur.
I held up my phone. "Delilah called. Vanzir is on the way. He's the one who can stop the vroll-it's not really a spirit, but a faded troll. The only way to stop it is to drain its life-force. The creature's running scared and there's no way to reason with it. He's looking for a new place to hide, but if he can't find it, in his panic he'll just cause mayhem and havoc all over the place. We have to keep his attention until Vanzir and Smoky get here."
"He didn't blink an eye when I tried to smack him one. I went through him like water through a funnel. Something appears to be drawing him to the crowd. He can't eat them, can he?" Menolly glanced around, then waved to our right. "If he's looking for a place to hide, maybe the tunnel?"
I glanced over. There was a rounded archway in the wall that supported the street above, leading through to another wooded area. "Good thinking. We need to draw his attention over there somehow. If we can get him behind the wall, then maybe he'll feel safer and calm down." Then, I had an idea. "Get him to look over toward me." I took off for the wall.
Menolly nodded, veering off, shouting at the vroll. I raced over to the tunnel, which was pedestrian only, cursing as the gravel bit into my feet. But I ignored the pricks and jabs of the stones, instead focusing on the area in the center of the tunnel. I could create a bright sparkly ball of energy there, hopefully long enough for the vroll to notice it and come running.
Shouts and screams echoed behind me, and I whirled around, skidding to a stop beside the tunnel opening. Oh gods, the vroll had found the wedding, and with it, the silver balloons that were attached to every chair at the event. He was headed right toward the throng of invitees, just as the bride was walking down the aisle.