“How was your day?”
Gia looked up from her laptop, startled to see that it was after six and Austin was home from work already. She had been so engrossed in the first draft of cover art for her new client she hadn’t noticed the time pass. Perched on a high stool at the breakfast bar, she blinked at her roommate for a moment before she pushed a wayward strand of dark brown hair from her eyes and smiled.
“It was productive,” she answered, saving her work and closing down the laptop.
“So productive you lost track of time?” Austin tossed his keys onto the small table beside the door and hung his jacket up on the coat hook. “How did the meeting go with the new client?”
Gia hurried around the breakfast bar to check on the casserole she’d put in the oven earlier to slow cook. She sighed with relief when she saw it hadn’t burnt to a crisp. They’d fallen into the habit of having dinner together quite early on in their co-habitation. Tonight was her turn to cook, an activity she detested vigorously. One pot wonders were her speciality so she’d thrown a stew together and set it to cook slowly.
Putting on oven gloves, she took the casserole out of the oven as Austin pulled out a bottle of white wine from the refrigerator and poured two glasses. “It went really well. Heather told me a bit about her world and so many ideas just popped into my head. I threw a couple of them her way and she loved them. She’s given me the contract for her first book and we’re going to take it from there but I think we’re going to work well together.” As she plated up dinner, her roommate set two places at the breakfast bar.
“That’s great. I had faith in you.”
Gia gave him another smile, placing the plates on the breakfast bar. Austin was such a comforting presence in her life. His faith in her always left her feeling she could take on the world. His personality truly did fit in with her own and she was grateful for his friendship. “How was your day?”
“We had a lucky escape today. One of the designers built an error into their transformer design but thankfully Candi was on the ball as usual and questioned it before it was assembled,” Austin grinned, before chewing on a mouthful of stew, humming in appreciation. “Good stew.”
It always fascinated Gia to hear about Austin’s work. She had no idea what went into building electronic transformers but she knew it was a highly technical field and very male dominated. Austin’s gayness and his friend Candi being a woman, sometimes rubbed their co-workers the wrong way, especially as they were so much better at the job than their peers were.
“I take it that went down well with some of the boys?”
Her roommate laughed, taking a sip of wine. “You got it. You know I really shouldn’t be surprised at the prejudice still around but some days it still gets to me.” There was more than a hint of bitterness in his tone as he frowned and played with some beef on his plate.
“For every idiot there are five amazing people out there,” she answered, giving him a warm smile. “Just be you and don’t worry about them. They’re not worth getting upset over.”
His expression cleared in an instant and he shot her a smile that could only be termed as radiant. “And that is why I am so glad you’re my roommate, Georgia Hanley.” He tucked into his dinner, a comfortable silence filling the room.
“So, plans for this evening?” Austin held his hand out for her plate as he slipped off the stool and headed around the breakfast bar to begin washing up. Gia had cooked so he was on clean up duty.
“I have some research to do. I meant to get around to it this afternoon but got caught up on the new project.”
The open-ended word phrased as a question made her smile and for a moment she was tempted to tell him everything. Perhaps Kurt was right and it was time to let Austin more fully into her life. He had a good heart and always went out of his way to make her feel good about herself. She was aware he had to have a thousand unasked questions but he never pushed too hard, always backing off if it became clear he was invading her space too much.
Watching him wash up, she came to a decision and settled back at the breakfast bar with her laptop open. “I’m trying to find out something about my past, something about my parents. The dream I had this morning…I’ve been having it my entire life. It’s always the same, it never wavers. It’s the most frightening thing ever, Austin, and today I started wondering if it is, in fact, a dream or whether it could be a repressed memory.”
Her roommate wiped his hands on a towel and then hopped up beside her, his expression concerned. “Your screaming scared the living daylights out of me, Gia. You sounded so terrified I didn’t know whether to wake you or leave you alone. What makes you think the dream is a real memory?”
“It’s too real,” she whispered staring vacantly at the laptop monitor. “I can smell everything. I can feel the heat of the fires and hear the piercing screams of everyone burning. I’m rooted to the spot in sheer terror; unable to look away, unable to run until one of the shadows turns towards me and I know if I don’t move immediately I will be burning up with everyone else. I always wake at that point, as he turns to run his eyes over the trees…”
“Do you know where you are? You mention trees. Do you have any inkling of what state you may be in?”
Gia turned to look at him, taking a deep breath to calm her heart, which was beginning to race just talking about the nightmare. Austin’s expression was sympathetic and there appeared to be genuine interest in his eyes. “I think I’m in Africa. The people in the dream…they’re black and dressed in multi-coloured kaftans. They have bones in their ears and noses. We’re surrounded by what appears to be some kind of rainforest. I think we’re in the heart of this huge jungle, in a tribal village.”
“That is really detailed,” Austin mused, his brow furrowing slightly as he thought. “You mention shadows and then you said ‘he’. Can you see the other people there, the ones that appear to be responsible for what happened?”
Gia shook her head. “They are always shadows despite the flames lighting up the night sky. It feels as if they don’t belong, that they’re wrong in some way. I can’t explain how it feels exactly because I don’t have the right words. I just know they shouldn’t be there and that they’re the reason everything is burning.”
Leaning forward, he took her hands much in the same way Kurt had earlier in the day. He gave them a reassuring squeeze. “Try to remember, Gia. It’s not night anymore and you’re not alone. I’m here with you. I’ll keep you safe. Every little detail you can remember could help you with your research later. If it helps, close your eyes and hold on tightly to my hands.”
She was afraid to remember more but just talking to Austin had already helped her with some details. For the first time she could put into words how the people were dressed, what they had looked like in more detail. Perhaps she could remember more if she kept digging. Closing her eyes, she tried to think of the dream, of the shadows…
“First there was one shadow, so black it was invisible to the naked eye,” she whispered. “The shadow brought the fire!” A half sob escaped her and she felt a thumb stroking against her hand. It was enough to calm her a little and she tried to remember more. “They’re dying, Austin. They’re all dying. The fire is everywhere and they can’t outrun it. More shadows are there now. The fire is beginning to die down a bit but it’s too late because everyone is burning. I’m hiding in the trees, too afraid to run. The shadow is turning…it’s turning towards me…he’s going to see me any moment and then I will burn.”
“Run, Georgia! Run now!”
“There’s a voice is my head. It says my name…it tells me to run. It keeps telling me and then I’m running through the trees…running as fast as I can. The voice keeps telling me to run and I keep running. I can’t stop! I can’t stop!...”
“Gia! Gia, it’s okay, sweets, you’re here with me. You’re not running anymore. You don’t have to run.”
Panting hard, she opened her eyes to find Austin holding her tightly, stroking a soothing hand down her back. She was crying, sobbing into the crook of his neck, her body trembling from the overwhelming emotions assaulting her. “I remembered more,” she whispered, hiccupping from her sobs. “I remembered, Austin, I remembered! It wasn’t a dream. It was never a dream. I was there. I know I was.”
“Gabe, here’s the location for the meeting with the Fae. It’s in an hour and I’ve been assured that you’ll be meeting with someone high up in their hierarchy. Try to make sure the Advocate doesn’t harm whoever it is. I’ve had to call in all my favours and it would most likely start a war.” Asher’s telepathic link disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. It was obvious that the other male didn’t want his presence to become too involved in whatever Serenity was up to.
Gabe felt envious. It had been a trying day as it was, curbing the woman’s child-like curiosity, and preventing her from decreeing punishments for whatever misdemeanour she perceived happening around them. It was clear to him that it would be a disaster waiting to happen if she accompanied him to the Fae meeting.
“Serenity, I think it would be best if I met with the Fae on my own.”
Dark eyes turned to pierce him, suspicion glaring from their depths. “Unacceptable.”
Strangling down a sigh at her resolute tone, Gabe ran a hand through his hair and tried again. “The whole point of you being here is to ensure humans don’t find out about us. So far today, you’ve tried to use your powers eight times in full view of everyone. Thankfully, you’ve listened to me and curbed your enthusiasm but the Fae are… well they’re just downright exasperating to deal with. I don’t think you’ll be able to contain yourself around them just yet, not until you’ve had more experience being down here. It really would be best if I went to the meeting alone.”
She appeared to consider his words, her suspicious expression finally melting away as she slowly nodded. His logic was flawless. The transgressions she’d witnessed as they walked around the city had inflamed her rather volatile emotions. She wasn’t used to dealing with emotions but it appeared being on the mortal plain meant she took on various characteristics of the general populace. She could always take Gabe’s memories of the meeting after the fact anyway.
“Very well. I will retire to your room at the club. Return there immediately when you have the human’s location.”
Gabe’s let out the breath he was holding as she turned and walked into a darkened alley to the left. As soon as she was out of view, he felt a shiver run down his spine and knew she had transported herself away from the area. He was surprised she’d agreed so readily. He’d been expecting much more of a fight.
Still, Gabe wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. He followed Serenity’s steps, concealing himself in the shadows of the alleyway. With Asher’s location firmly in mind, he blinked out of existence, travelling instantly to the meeting spot.
He was an hour early but the second he materialised behind the secluded gardener’s shed that serviced the public park, he knew the Fae were already there. He could sense Other beings without having to see them and the number of Fae in the area was like a huge red arrow pointing in their direction.
Asher was right. Whoever had been sent to meet with him was very high up in the Fae hierarchy. Only someone of great importance commanded an escort level of this magnitude. “If they kill me, I’m haunting your ass Asher,” Gabe muttered under his breath, stepping from behind his concealed spot and pushing through the trees out into the park.
The incubus’s alert gaze took in his surroundings in an instant. To his right was a child’s playground, a young boy of about six years playing on a swing. On the child’s left were two individuals, one male, one female, possibly the boy’s parents. A male and female jogger were circumventing the playground, running closely together, apparently in conversation with no real effort being applied to their jogging. A female of regal bearing was sitting on a lone park bench giving all the appearance of reading the book in her hands but Gabe wasn’t fooled for an instant. She would have to be the slowest reader in all of creation, as she never once turned a page as he watched.
The entire scene looked like any normal park scene one would expect to find but Gabe’s senses told him within the span of a heartbeat that not one human graced the park. Every single person he could see was Other, and knowing the Fae, there were sufficient spells in place to ensure that no one would interrupt the impending meeting.
He was early and apparently so were the Fae. Gabe didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing for him. He was under no illusions that he could take down six Fae by himself, even if one of them was a child. He did wonder for a moment why they had brought one of their young and then fixated on the reading woman. They were all clearly confident that no harm would befall the child and that meant all the adults present would be highly skilled as assassins.
Walking casually, he tried to appear as unthreatening as possible as he made his way over to the park bench and sat down. “You’re early.”
The pixie faced blonde rested her book closed between them and tucked her hair behind her ears, highlighting the gracefully peaked upper lobes that screamed out her origin. That she didn’t strive to hide her ears confirmed Gabe’s assessment that this region of the park was bespelled.
“As are you, Incubus,” she replied coolly, her voice a soft, melodic sound on the air. Clear grey eyes turned to him and he thought he saw a hint of amusement deep within. “How is Asher these days? We don’t see him nearly as much as we once did. How is the scar on his ribs?”
It was surprising that she knew so much about Asher, but then, Gabe had never asked his friend how well he was acquainted with the Fae. They all liked to keep their own secrets about what happened on their missions. Clearly his leader had come in contact with the Fae on more than one occasion and that was why he’d been able to set up the meeting.
“I’ll let him know you were asking after him…” Gabe left a pause for her name and smiled when she spoke.
“Yes, do tell Asher that Selene sends her best regards, however I am certain you are not here to share pleasantries, Gabriel. We cannot shield the park for too long without some notice being taken so I suggest we get to the reason this meeting was called?”
Gabe laughed, genuine amusement filling him. “We both know you could shield this area for a good few hours without anyone becoming suspicious, after all…you are an hour early. But you’re right, I have things I need to get back to so let’s get this meeting over and done with.”
Even though he was talking with Selene, he was aware of all that was going on around him. The joggers had altered course and were on their way over to the bench. The child and his parents were also walking across the grass, all converging on the incubus and the seated Fae.
“I need to know what the Fae were doing in Africa twenty years ago when we had to deal with an issue over there.” Gabe kept his eyes on Selene but was aware of the others and what his options were should he need to make a swift exit.
“It is not in my power to answer that question,” she replied, her expression neutral as she blinked at him.
Gabe felt frustration stirring, and fought to contain it. The Fae were infamous for dragging things out. Getting irritated with them only served to amuse them and make them even more close-mouthed. Swallowing down a deep sigh, he worked on keeping his expression as neutral as hers. “Asher informed me I would be meeting with one of high importance who would be able to answer my question.”
Selene smiled, the tilting of her lips transforming her already pretty features into something quite breath taking. “Oh you most certainly are, Gabriel. None comes any higher within my people.”
Her cryptic words only served to irritate him further and he mentally counted to ten. “Then why can you not answer my question?” He kept his tone calm and patient, feeling pleased that his irritation wasn’t evident in his words.
“Because you asked the wrong person,” the little boy answered from his right, and Gabe’s eyes swung around to the others.
“Can you juggle?” the child asked before he could answer, his big blue eyes looking hopeful. “Juggling is so much fun but for some reason the Fae can’t master the technique. We can do it with our minds but not with our hands. Can Demons juggle?”
For a moment Gabe could only blink stupidly at the boy completely flummoxed by his request. He’d never tried to juggle, he’d never seen the need to before now. Perhaps if he did this for the boy it would endear him to the Fae. He stared into deep blue eyes, wide with innocence in a beatific face framed with a cap of blonde curls. The little boy was as breath taking as Selene, all the surrounding Fae were.
“Eleos, perhaps we should concentrate on the reason for the meeting?” The child’s mother phrased it as a question rather than a statement and that rang false with the Incubus.
Gabe looked around all of them, trying to work out what was wrong with the situation. The joggers flanked the bench on either side, effectively hemming him in beside Selene. The father had walked around to the back, and the mother remained facing him with the child. He was completely surrounded by the Fae, who all appeared to be watching the little boy with intent expressions.
“Hugs,” Eleos smiled, raising his arms out to the Incubus.
What the fuck was he supposed to do now? If he attempted to pick up the child there was a good chance the Fae would see that as some kind of threat and if he didn’t…would that be viewed as an insult? It was so hard to tell with the skittish race. They found insult in the stupidest of things.
“Hugs,” the little boy said again and a soft breath of air escaped the woman at his side.
“You had best do so,” she whispered loudly so all could hear. “He makes quite a noise if he doesn’t get his own way.”
“Do not,” Eleos announced, sticking his tongue out at her before turning back to Gabe, his arms still raised.
Swallowing the incubus reached out for the child and picked him up. Gabe had no idea what he was doing. He had managed to avoid children of all races for the majority of his life. He couldn’t even remember what it was like to be a child himself it had been so long ago. It was an awkward hand that gently patted the little boy’s back as he leaned into the side of his neck for a cuddle.
“I like Africa,” Eleos laughed, his childish giggle making his entire body shake and causing Gabe to stiffen at the announcement. The child settled himself into the demon’s lap, making himself comfortable. “I had fun playing with Georgia until the mad demon came. Then it wasn’t fun anymore.”
A slow realisation was beginning to sweep over Gabe, his body stiffening further.
“Why did you let Ryazan hurt everyone? I was not happy by that turn of events, not happy at all. I wanted to kill you all but Selene wouldn’t let me.” Eleos pouted and shot an irritated glance at the woman in question.
“Now you know we don’t clean up other races problems,” Selene answered with another small sigh. “It was almost time to leave Africa anyway, so it made sense to move on so you could experience other cultures.” Although her tone was matter-of-fact there was something just beneath the surface that Gabe couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“I wanted to play more with Georgia.” This time there was a hint of malice in the little boy’s voice, slotting more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle into Gabe’s understanding.
The other Fae were watching every step the child made. They were all strategically placed around the boy and himself as if waiting for one wrong move on his part. The only one actually talking about what happened in Africa was Eleos.
“You rule the Fae,” he choked out, trepidation filling him as he looked down at the child on his lap.
“Am supposed to…when they let me.” Eleos glared at the surrounding Fae, who met his gaze with neutral expressions.
Gabe’s blood ran cold at his words. The King of the Fae was sitting on his knee, the most powerful of all the Fae, and he wasn’t happy about what had happened in Africa. Worse still, he was a child by their standards, more volatile and unpredictable than any of his race. For a moment, the demon actually wished he’d brought Serenity with him because he wasn’t all that sure that he was going to get out of this one alive.
Big blue eyes turned to him and instead of the innocence he had witnessed earlier, they were cold and hard, malevolence swimming within their depths. “Why did your kind hurt Georgia’s family?”
How did he answer that? He had no idea who the hell Georgia was or what importance she had to the Fae. “Ryazan lost his reason,” he answered slowly, swallowing down the fear that was threatening to rise up and consume him. He had never seen so much power in one so young. “We did our best to contain him but we were too late to save the village. If you were there you would have seen that.”
“Of course he wasn’t there,” Selene commented, her tone full of censure. “What kind of Guardians would we be if we allowed our Heart to be in such danger?”
Gabe looked at her and then turned back to Eleos. “We did the best we could. We contained Ryazan. But that isn’t even the issue anymore. Have you heard of the Advocates?”
At the mere mention of the name, the Fae reacted. Eleos was plucked from his lap by the woman Gabe had mistakenly thought of as his mother and they all began moving away.
Selene rounded on him, ice in her gaze. “You bring the Demi-Gods upon us? You endanger our Heart? I gave sworn oath to Asher that you would not be harmed but this…this…I should kill you where you stand Incubus!”
“I didn’t bring Serenity. She came to us, Selene. She came to clean up the mess that was left behind in Africa. She wants the human child that witnessed the destruction.” Gabe followed after them as they kept walking. “She won’t settle for anything less and she’s more powerful than any of you can imagine. There is nowhere the Fae can run to. You can’t escape her. Just give me the girl and you will be left in peace.”
“NO!” Eleos screamed, fighting against his Guardian who reluctantly allowed him down as he turned to face the demon. Fury suffused the boy, sparks of lightening emitting from his fingertips starting small fires wherever his hands waved. “She can’t have Georgia! She is ours! The Fae will wage a war like none you have ever seen if you try to take her. You tell that to the Advocate. You tell that to this Serenity. If she harms one hair on Georgia’s head the Fae will rise up and the whole world will know about the Others.”
Gabe was stunned by the boy’s reaction, confusion rippling through him. Why the hell would the Fae want to protect a human girl so badly they would be willing to go to open war? They were hard to understand at the best of times but even they did their part at concealing the Otherworld. The only time they reacted this volatile was when…
His stunned surprised ratcheted up another notch as he stared at the Fae King. It couldn’t be…they hadn’t scented anything in Africa! However, it was the only explanation for this reaction. “Georgia is Fae.”
There was a long silence and then the charged atmosphere lessened a little, the lightening sparks dying down. The sole male of the group was walking the perimeter, putting out the small fires the King had started in his fury.
The child appeared to still be furious but he nodded to Selene who took a few steps forward to stand in front of the demon. “Our last King mated with a human woman. He fell in love with her and brought her into our world. Her fragile mind could not cope with being separated forever from her own people so he used his magic to remove her memories and returned her to her world. We did not know she was with child.”
The news rocked Gabe, and his mouth dropped open in shock. He could only stare mutely at Selene, his thoughts chaotic.
“That child was the grandmother of Georgia,” she continued. “The girl’s magic was diluted because of her birth parents and she lived her life as a seer, being able to tell the future but not knowing why she had this gift. Her daughter had it to a lesser extent and Georgia even less. Essentially Georgia believes she is human but she isn’t. She is Fae and of the royal line.”
“That’s why you were in Africa in such numbers. You were protecting her,” Gabe breathed, still in a state of shock.
“We always protect our own Incubus,” Selene answered, her tone cold. “Especially our royal house.”
“But you said yourself she believes she is human and has no real magic.”
“She is of my line!” Eleos yelled, the air charging with electricity again. “She is my great niece in every way that is Fae or human! It matters not if she cannot use magic. She is of royal Fae blood and anyone…anyone who tries to harm her will be subject to Fae retribution. Tell that to your Advocate! We will war with the Demi-Gods to protect what is ours!”
Gabe was struggling to understand. “But if that’s the case why didn’t you go to war when her parents were killed in Africa? Her mother was of Fae blood.”
“Her mother passed away of a human ailment two years before Georgia was taken to the African continent,” Selene answered. “No royal blood was spilled that day. We ensured the girl was protected and we sent a Guardian to watch over her. Like her grandmother, she saw things that day her human mind couldn’t accept. We took those memories from her and placed her back within her human people, where she belonged. Do not think that we left her alone though, demon. There is always one of the Fae close to her at all times.”
Though what he was learning was staggering and more knowledge than any demon had come to know of the Fae and their hierarchy, it did give Gabe a modicum of hope. Once Serenity learned that the girl was of Fae origin, it would mean they wouldn’t need to hunt her down to neutralise any threat. The Advocate could return to wherever she was meant to be and life could return to normal.
“This information makes a huge difference,” he solemnly told the Fae King. “Serenity believes the girl is human and this is why she is seeking her out. Once I explain her heritage there will be no need for any action to be taken.”
“I hope you are right, demon,” the child-King answered, chips of ice swimming in his eyes. “Take my words back to your Advocate and be sure she understands them fully. Georgia is to be left alone or chaos will reign down on the mortal plain and the world will swim in blood. So speaks the Fae King.”
Gabe didn’t try to halt them as they turned to leave this time. Eleos’ last words filled him with dread. The Fae would war and the world would swim in blood if that were to happen. It was up to him to convince Serenity that Georgia posed no threat. He would have to use all his powers of persuasion to do that.
Heading back into the trees, the sound of children’s laughter had his head turning. The Fae were gone and whatever spells they’d placed were gone too. The area they had been in was suddenly full of human children playing in the park, parents dotted around talking to one another, picnic hampers spread out over blankets with families gathered around them.
Gabe blanched, his blood running cold as he surveyed the scene. The Fae had performed magic, of that he wasn’t surprised. What did stun him was the level of magic they had employed. They hadn’t just shielded the area for their meeting, they’d gone a step further. They had taken the entire area out of time, shifting perception possibly a second or may two from the norm!
The level of power required to do that was unprecedented. He had to convince Serenity of Georgia’s heritage otherwise what would come from the Fae could literally tear the world as they knew it apart! With a deep sense of foreboding, Gabe blinked out of existence, returning to where the Advocate awaited him.
To be continued…