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Dealing with Sprites is like stapling raw eggs to a wall.
Slippery, nasty things that go bad when not cleaned up. And I don’t mean giving them a bath.
This one was picking his hairy nose.
As he stood by the big toe of the Statue of Liberty, the Sprite flicked a booger off his finger. Gross. The breeze carried the sickly-sweet odor of burnt sugar to me. All Sprites smell like burnt sugar. At least all the ones I’d ever met.
The Sprite wiped the back of his hand across his brown, mottled face, streaking bright paint over his lumpy cheek. His worn clothing was drenched in the same color and he slid a paintbrush into the bucket he carried.
In the moonlight, paint gleamed on the statue’s enormous toenails and I sighed.
Lovely. The Sprite had given Liberty a pedicure.
That reminded me that I needed to get together with the girls for a spa day.
Protuberant glassy blue eyes shifted in my direction but I was certain the Sprite couldn’t make me out in the darkness. Most Dark Elves—Drow—can easily blend with the shadows and night and it’s a talent I inherited despite my human half.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my human side. Sometimes it’s a disadvantage and sometimes it’s an advantage. Just depends on who I am at the time.
After sunrise, I’m a normal-looking human paranorm PI with a penchant for designer clothing.
As a PI I get tough and usually dangerous cases that involve strategizing, investigating, and using my paranorm powers. Sometimes I bring in other paranorms to help shut down evil, like Demons and sick scientists bent on paranorm genocide. Cases that most don’t even know exist—especially humans.
I have all of the typical human skills I bring to the job. But I’m also a trained fighter and I have powers—paranormal powers vital to defeat the kinds of enemies humans would never be able to deal with.
When the sun goes down I become Drow, my body changing, my skin and hair turning shades usually found only in the realm of the Dark Elves. My hair is cobalt blue and my skin like pale amethyst marble. I also have very small fangs that I’m not crazy about, and like all Elves, my ears become pointed. I’m fine with the pointed-ears thing.
By night I was a Night Tracker.
Trackers had the power and resources to do what humans could not. With our physical strength and powers, including magic, we could take down threats that no one else had a chance of doing. We were equivalent to a combination of covert ops in the human CIA and a military special forces like the Navy SEALS or the Rangers.
Tonight I’d just tracked down this booger-flicking mischievous, malevolent being.
When the Sprite looked away, I kept close to the instep of the statue and eased through the shadows while gripping one of my dragon-clawed daggers. The seventeen-inch-long, two-inch-wide Drow-made daggers had been designed just for me.
I gathered my elemental strength, my primary strength. The element I used most often was air, but there was plenty of water around if I needed it right now.
My leather fighting suit hugged my body as I moved. Most Trackers preferred leather because it was comfortable and helped protect against nasty scrapes. Black so we could blend in with the night.
I withdrew a step back into the darkness. I didn’t want to give the Sprite a chance to escape.
I glanced at the moon, then at the Statue of Liberty’s torch, and almost groaned out loud. How was that going to be explained? In the morning New York City’s residents and tourists would get their first view of the statue and see that the formerly oxidized copper-green torch was now pink.
The toenails would be easily taken care of … but the torch? Then I saw the Lady’s lips and her glossy new pink lipstick. Sheesh.
This mess was probably too big for the Paranorm Council to cover up. There was only so much Soothsayers could do even as talented as most of them were.
As I looked up into the near darkness, I made out three Sprites swinging from the torch and then up and over the railing.
Muffled cries echoed from the base of the flame where other Night Trackers waited. Ice and Angel were taking care of their prey, no doubt with perfect efficiency.
Ice could be a jerk, but after working with him on the Werewolf case I’d come to appreciate him, even if I could still do without his jerk side. We all could, as a matter of fact.
Angel was like an avenging angel. Truly an amazing Tracker.
At the same time I heard the sounds, my ugly target jerked his head up and dropped his paint can with a hard clunk. Neon paint splattered the side of the statue’s foot. The Sprite started to shimmer and fade, but I was already moving.
“No way,” I shouted as I used my air elemental magic to push me faster. I forward-flipped through the air and landed on the Sprite, slamming him face-first in a puddle of paint. “You are so not going anywhere,” I said as I drove him down.
He was completely solid again. My teeth clacked as my knees hit the brutal surface and I winced as I landed and straddled his back. If another being is touching them, Sprites can’t use glamours—become invisible—at all. Unfortunately, since he wasn’t in glamour, I could smell him. Ugh.
Sprites are some of the only beings who can use glamours to mask themselves and their strong smell from other paranorms. Most paranorms can see through glamours—with some exceptions, like Vampires. Vampires can’t see through paranorm glamours because they were born human.
Before his first scream could escape, I grabbed one of the Sprite’s tufts of matted blond hair, jerked his huge head up, and put my dagger at his neck. The blade bit into the paranorm’s throat and a trickle of blood rolled down the Drow-mined and -forged metal.
My cobalt blue hair fell over my shoulders as I leaned close to the Sprite. I felt the dangerous white flash in my sapphire eyes. As a Tracker I was all business.
“Cooperate or I’ll let you have a taste of Lightning, this pretty little dagger, later where the mess won’t foul this place more than you already have.” My voice was tight and low.
“Stupid purple bitch.” The Sprite laughed, the sound like a scratchy cough. “You and the other idiot Trackers know nothing. We will tell you nothing.”
Amethyst, came the instant but ridiculous thought.
Do not call me purple. Please. I’d hate to have to rough you up.
“I’m not worried.” I moved my blade away a flash before I pushed his face against the copper-covered iron beneath us. “We’ll encourage you plenty.”
“Bitch,” he shouted again before tacking on a few more foul words, these spoken in an ancient Fae language. Words that were really not nice. I brought his face down again.
The snap of his bulbous nose was loud to my pointed ears. Oops. I grimaced. Sometimes I forget my Drow strength can be a bit much.
Blood from his broken nose joined the neon pink paint coating his face. The Sprite howled a cry of pain. His words bubbled through blood as he spoke in a harsh breath. “There is nothing to tell you. We are just having fun, purple whore.”
“Go ahead.” I drew my 9mm Kahr and raised it. “Call me purple again.” The whore part I let pass.
He glared at me with one eye as he twisted his head just enough that I could see him. “Purple—”
Okay, that was enough. “Nighty night.” I swung my arm down and knocked him upside his temple with the handgun’s grip. He slumped without making another sound. “We’ll have our conversation later.” I tucked my new luxury compact Kahr PM9 away and patted the leather holster. “It’s nice to have more than one use for a weapon.”
I used the 9mm mostly during my day job as a paranorm PI, but in this case maybe I’d been a little overzealous. I tended to be a lot tougher and rougher as a Tracker. Being a law enforcer brought out the hard side of me.
From my weapons belt I snagged a pair of elemental-magically-treated handcuffs and jerked the Sprite’s arms so that I could cuff his wrists. He groaned a little but he didn’t wake up.
Once Sprites started ganging up and creating chaos in New York City, all Night Trackers began carrying extra cuffs. The cuffs were the only thing that could keep Sprites from using their glamour skills before the Paranormal Task Force—PTF—put them behind elemental-magically treated cells.
Trackers enforce paranorm laws, and there were currently twenty-two of us in New York City including rovers. Twenty-three counting my human partner, Olivia.
Normally my territory was the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Thanks to all the crazy things that had been going on with Sprites, some of us had been assigned to be on special teams and had to go where the trouble was. Unfortunately we hadn’t made it before the statue had gotten a makeover.
Pink lipstick and toenail polish. Crazy.
Lights winked and stared from the city’s skyline in a colorful sparkle that I enjoyed, partly because of the contrast from the world I grew up in. Near the Ellis Island Ferry, the PTF agents waited on shore. When we got the Sprites across the water, the PTF would haul the beings to the elemental-magic-treated cells in the Paranorm Center.
I sensed Joshua’s presence around a drape of the statue’s robe. He strode into sight, dragging an unconscious and cuffed Sprite by the scruff of his neck. With a disgusted look on his harsh features, the Shadow Shifter dropped the Sprite beside me and my prisoner.
As a Shadow Shifter, Joshua could become a shadow, virtually invisible when he drifted from one shadow to the next, whether on the ground or in and around buildings. When he was in his male form, he was so sexy, with a build and accent that any female couldn’t help appreciating.
Joshua glanced at the Sprite I was still straddling. The being’s face was covered in blood from his broken nose and scrapes. “Looks like you’ve had a bit of fun with that one.” Joshua’s Australian accent was thick as he spoke.
“A little more ‘fun’ than I’d intended.” I looked at the glittering Manhattan skyline again, picturing some of the Sprites’ latest “pranks.”
Joshua kicked the unconscious Sprite at his feet. The Shadow Shifter’s flail hung from his belt, the iron so black that I could barely make it out in the near darkness. I wondered if he’d used the spiked ball to handle his Sprite.
My senses told me that now one of my closest friends was near. In moments Nadia shoved a cuffed and gagged Sprite around the statue’s massive foot. The being cried out behind his gag as he fell next to the other Sprites and banged his head on the hard surface beneath our feet.
“Oh, shut up,” she said with obvious impatience. “Sprites are so aggravating. We’re low on gags after all of this.”
Joshua watched with amusement as Nadia made a point of ignoring him. She hated alpha males, especially those who made it clear they thought of her as a sex object. Joshua probably didn’t know how lucky he was that she hadn’t sung him to his death already.
“What in the name of the Underworld is going on, Nyx?” A gorgeous Siren from the Bermuda Triangle, Nadia shoved a thick length of her red hair over her shoulder. “Sprites never work in teams. They all have a mind of their own.”
“Almost as bad as they hate leadership and authority.” I pushed myself to my feet and stepped away from the Sprite I’d taken down. “But something’s behind all of this chaos.”
“No lie,” Joshua said.
I twisted my lips as I thought of yesterday’s events. “You have to admit that they were pretty creative at the mayor’s office.”
Joshua laughed, a deep, sexy laugh, while Nadia shook her head. If I wasn’t in love with Adam, Joshua was the kind of male a girl could have a crush on.
With a grin I pictured what had become a hothouse of flowers. “Every electronic device in the mayor’s office suddenly blossoming into bouquets the moment they were turned on—that was worth the price of admission.”
It was hard not to laugh as I thought about the Soothsayers having to freeze the scene so that the PTF could clean up the mess while Olivia, my partner, and I searched for clues.
Olivia worked with me during the day as a paranorm PI even though she was human. At night she was an honorary Tracker when we needed her. There wasn’t another soul on this earth Otherworld that I would rather have worked with.
Joshua smirked as I added, “The Paranorm Council had to pay to have their flunkies rush out and buy all new office equipment for the mayor and his staff.”
Nadia gave an exasperated huff. She was taking things a little more seriously than me. “How about the Museum of Natural History’s dinosaur skeletons suddenly becoming animated, tearing out the doors of the museum, and chasing down taxis.”
To be honest, that had been kind of amusing, too, although it had been a real pain to get under control. It had taken every Tracker we had and all of our individual magical abilities to take care of the dinosaur skeletons and get them back where they belonged. Not to mention six Soothsayers to freeze all of the norms—and erase their memories—so that the whole mess didn’t end up on the evening news.
“My favorite by far was the Empire State Building’s lobby entirely stuffed with hot dogs when the monument opened Wednesday morning.” I got a grin out of Nadia when I continued in a mock-serious voice, “At least they had the decency to get Nathan’s hot dogs. When Olivia and I got there we were pretty hungry. A couple of Nathan’s with the works hit the spot.”
Nadia shook her head. “This is all so absurd.”
Joshua folded his arms across his muscular chest and shook his head. “How can you work with a human for a partner?”
I ignored him. What did I care what any of the Trackers thought about Olivia? She was the most kickass human female I knew.
“Chaos.” Nadia put her hands on her hips. “The Sprites have caused nothing but chaos.”
I tilted my head and saw Liberty’s pink lips, then studied the illuminated neon pink torch.
“Yes.” I sobered. Lady Liberty was a symbol of freedom, including my own freedom from the Drow realm. “Now they’ve gone too far.”
I looked at Nadia. “What’s really frustrating is that we’re out chasing these guys while Vampire attacks are on the rise.”
She frowned. “Not by much, but enough to be concerned.”
Joshua nodded. “You’re right on that one.”
Vampires were far worse than Sprites. Even though they had been forced into passivity for over a century, since the Paranorm Rebellion, they always seem to have an undercurrent of evil to them. Sprites on the other hand thrive on creating mischief and chaos.
When Lulu, a Soothsayer, had the Statue of Liberty scene frozen, and the Paranorm Task Force had taken the Sprites to the detention center, Nadia and I started to head toward the Pit.
“How’s your Detective?” Nadia asked me with a grin.
I smiled in return, a feeling of happiness warming my body as I thought of Adam. “As sexy as ever,” I said, and Nadia laughed—probably at the goofy girlie look that was undoubtedly on my face.
“So what makes you so hot for this human, anyway?” Nadia asked.
I sighed, a happy sigh. “Adam is genuine, caring, and he understands me, accepts me.” I looked at Nadia. “He gets me.”
Nadia gave me a teasing look. “I’ll bet he ‘gets’ you.”
My cheeks felt pleasantly warm. “Well, he’s also sensitive, while at the same time a tough man. I love that combination.”
Something shadowy caught my eye near one of the darkened tourist charter boats and my smile faded. As soon as I saw it, the shadow disappeared.
I have fantastic night vision and the fact that I hadn’t been able to make out what the shadow was made me frown. It wasn’t a Shadow Shifter because it stood upright. Yet I sensed it had to have been some kind of being.
“Nadia.” I lowered my voice and my friend looked at me. “Let’s go that way.” I indicated the place where I’d seen the shadowy figure. “I don’t know what, but I saw something over there.”
She rested her hand on the hilt of one of her serpent swords. “Any idea?” she whispered as we slipped out of the lighted area and into the darkness.
“No.” I frowned again as we eased toward the location. “But I’ve sensed some kind of being nearby every time we’ve gathered up troublemaking Sprites.” We moved closer and I kept my voice so low that I couldn’t be heard by anyone but Nadia. “This is the first time I’ve actually seen something. I just don’t know what it is.”
I kept my own hand close to one of my daggers as we crept forward.
We reached the area where I’d seen the shadow. Like I had expected, nothing was there.
But the slightest hint of a familiar smell was. “Old dirt and musty leaves.” I straightened and searched the darkness with my gaze. “A Vampire, and recently.”
The fact I hadn’t been able to tell that from where I’d been standing set me on edge.
“No sign of blood, not even the scent of it,” Nadia said.
I ran my finger along my collar. “But why would a Vampire watch us round up Sprites?”
Nadia studied the area around us. “Probably in the neighborhood looking for a bite.”
“Yes. Maybe,” I said.
Something didn’t feel right. Didn’t feel right at all.
Copyright © 2010 by Cheyenne McCray