Two hours later, I paced between the two desks in my office, my nerves too jittery for me to form coherent thoughts. After Death’s unceremonious exit, I’d spent an hour lying on the floor in my darkened office performing a deep-breathing exercise Mom had taught me right after my first change. It didn’t give me complete control over my self, but it would keep me from ripping the head off the next person to look at me funny.
I needed to talk to Tommy about this new case, but my mind was a jumble of emotions. Worry tinged with panic nestled in my stomach, gnawing at my insides. I needed to call my Mom as well. A million questions ran through my mind, tumbling around and over each other.
Would my demon-half always be stronger than my human-half? Was my human lifespan shortened? Would I always feel like I was standing at the brink, ready to plunge over into the darkness? If I wasn’t careful, it’d be all too easy for me to become exactly what I’d fought against my whole life. I’d rather die than give in to the evil residing in the bowels of my soul.
And what was this debt Death seemed to think I owed?
I wasn’t sure anybody could answer my questions. Half-demons with one human parent were extremely rare; human women were incapable of carrying demonic spawn to term and, as far as I knew, Mom was the lone female demon to willingly get pregnant with a human male’s child in recent history. A Sidhe-demon couldn’t help either since elves, like demons, were pretty much immortal.
I stopped and rolled my neck to work out the kinks. Despite conscious effort on my part, the physical changes my body had undergone had not fully receded. I still risked a pierced tongue if I sneezed wrong, and my voice had not lost its growling intensity.
Massaging my hands over my face, my claws lightly traced the faint pattern of scales gradually fading back into my skin. At least I hadn’t changed color. Walking through the building looking like a lobster would have been embarrassing.
It was bad enough I looked exactly like I’d just had a run in with Death. The taste of copper from my cracked lips rolled over my tongue and my arms were caked with dried blood from my hands. I hadn’t taken the time to do more than clean the blood and ink from my hands with a damp paper towel and bandage the cut on my palm.
I tried doing research to settle my nerves. Four filing cabinets and three portable hard drives overflowed with information on every major power player in the area. And that was just my own collection of information. With an entire Agency’s worth of files, if it was even remotely public knowledge, I had access to it.
Now, I was looking for anything that might give me a clue as to who would want to steal the soul of a Catholic Priest. If anybody had a predilection toward messing with the Catholic Church, it should have been in my files. Should being the operative word. So far, nothing I had read gave me any insight into my newest case. Since the Fall of the Veil, with the Catholic Church’s increased membership and power-base, they had become even more sacrosanct, coming close to wielding the sort of power they had held during the Middle Ages. Few people were brainless enough to move against them. The Brothers of the Sword tended to make very public, very bloody examples of anybody who did.
My intercom buzzed and my boss’ voice rang through the office.
“Powers, get your ass in here!”
Making my way across the open common room, a few people gave me questioning looks, no doubt wondering who I had gotten into a fight with, but nobody said anything out loud. In this department, seeing Agents covered in blood and bruises was simply par for the course.
Tommy Knoxx’s door was open and I rapped on the frame before entering. He sat behind a behemoth of a desk, writing in a legal pad, one hand tangled in his mass of long brown hair. “Tommy, what’s up?” I felt the comforting presence of numerous protection wards close around me and soothe some of my disquiet. I shared the popular opinion that Tommy was using those wards to hide from something.
He didn’t look up until I closed the door and took a seat in one of the two armchairs across from his desk. His shaggy brows quirked up over large, moss-green eyes.
“What the hell happened to you?” His voice was low and smooth, without a trace of an accent. Tommy was a knocker, one of the Cornish Fey associated with mining.
Why he left his home in the mines of Cornwall to come to New England was a mystery. He was as secretive as they came and any attempt to pry into his past was met with stony silence. It was rumored he had gotten in some trouble with his clan and been kicked out of the mines, but nobody knew why and nobody was brave enough or stupid enough to ask.
“Never mind. I’m sure you’ll tell me if it’s important,” he went on without waiting for my answer. “What are you working on?”
“Uh…” I couldn’t come up with the words to describe my experience with Death.
“I just got an interesting phone call from the Catholic Archdiocese,” he cut me off, something Tommy very rarely did. Whatever he was about to tell me was important. “They want you to personally investigate the death of one of their priests. An otherwise perfectly healthy man dropped dead from unknown causes. They want to know if it was magical or not.”
The surprise and disbelief must have shown on my face, because he snorted.
“I’m suspicious about it as well. They know you’re a demon, or part demon at any rate, and they’ve never exactly been our biggest fans.” He shook his head. “But we can’t afford to disregard their request. We don’t need to stir up anymore conflict with them.”
Before the Fall, most Christian denominations taught that elves, faeries, trolls, and other fairy tale creatures were just that – fairy tales. When the Veil Fell and proved them wrong, it was a mighty blow. The Catholic Church weathered the storm better than any of them, mostly because it had always made allowances for the existence of demons and other “ungodly” beings.
It was now the single largest religious institution in the entire world. And it continued to preach that all sentient races other than man were agents of their fallen angel, Lucifer. It made dealing with them a tricky business. Especially when you really were a demon. Not that I was an agent of Lucifer, just a Vamyraset Agent, though some might not see much difference between the two.
“It’s not that I’m suspicious.” I furrowed my eyebrows, attempting to find the right words to explain the strange encounter I had just barely lived through. “I had an unusual experience this afternoon that ties in with this request.”
I proceeded to tell Tommy about my unexpected visitor. When I was done relating my tale, he bent his head over his steepled fingers. His expression was as befuddled as mine must have been.
“Do we even have jurisdiction over this case? There’s no evidence to suggest Fey involvement and I don’t want to step on the toes of the local police forces.” The Vamyraset only worked on cases that had Fey involvement of some type and the normal police forces absolutely hated for us to even look at their cases.
“The Vatican has already cleared it with local PD. They want you on the case for some reason. And apparently so does Death. Do you have any idea why Death came to you with this? Or what your debt is?”
“I’m as clueless as you are.” Frustration ate at my words, making them more snappish than I intended. “Why an Ancient would come to a lowly mortal like myself is beyond me. I don’t even know where to begin looking. Or how somebody could possibly hide a soul from Death. Or what I could have done to incur this debt, whatever it is.”
I looked to Tommy for the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. “Got any ideas?”
Tommy thought for a moment, his clasped hands hovering in front of his mouth.
“Why don’t you go talk to Liam McAllister? He’s always got interesting tidbits of information he’s usually willing to share.”
I snorted. “For a price, of course.”
I‘d never had any personal dealings with the infamous mage, but he was rumored to have leveled an entire city block one year because he didn’t like the pixy who was elected to the Council. The fact that there was no evidence to pin it to him and the Councilhall’s reluctance to prosecute, spoke volumes about both his abilities and his contacts.
“He’d know if there were any major power shifts happening in the area.” Tommy brushed a lock of hair back from his forehead. He sighed and I sensed a lecture coming. “Could you take some backup with you, please?”
I hated it when he said please. It made me feel like a bitch for saying no. Luka was my usual backup and after six years we worked seamlessly as a team. Anybody else would just get in my way, and I in theirs.
“Tommy, I’ll be fine. I promise. I’m just going to talk to him. I hardly think he’s going to do something drastic over a few questions.”
“All the same, watch yourself, Alex. He’s not known for his level-head or for playing fair and he’s got tricks up his sleeves we can only imagine. If he won’t give you the information peacefully, give me a call and we’ll work something out. Do not, under any circumstances, try to force him, especially not in his own home.”
He scribbled an address onto a scrap of paper and slid it across the desk to me before turning back to his notepad.
I looked at the address he had given me and grimaced – Skullhaven, my least favorite place to venture into.