Jane wakes, weeks later, to discover that she's not the only thing that's been stirring. Something underneath Rockabill is coming to life: something ancient, something powerful, and something that just might destroy the world.
Jane and her friends must act, striking out on a quest that only Jane can finish. For whatever lurks beneath the Old Sow must be stopped...and Jane's just the halfling for the job.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Eye of the Tempest
By Peeler, Nicole
OrbitCopyright © 2011 Peeler, Nicole
All right reserved.
I awoke slowly, languorously, my still-mostly-sleeping brain registering surprise when my nose smooshed into soft leather rather than sheets. For a second I nearly panicked, before I realized I was nestled into a hugely over-stuffed cushion that was part of a leather sofa. The sofa and the shabby, homemade afghan in which I was cocooned smelled deliciously of lemon polish, cardamom, and just a hint of something more masculine. I knew, then, where I was. Not least because I was soon brushing a few stray dark dog hairs off my face as I rolled over and stretched.
And where is the man himself? I wondered, sitting up to peer around Anyan’s dawn-infused living room.
It was only last night that we’d rolled into town from the Alfar Compound. For almost the past month, Anyan and I had been on a desperate hunt to find my mother’s killers and shut down their pseudo-laboratories of torture, culminating in our finally outing Jarl as the menace he truly was. As tended to happen when I visited the Alfar Compound, a huge melee ensued, and the Alfar king, Orin, had been murdered by none other than his loving wife, Morrigan. Turns out the queen had been tupping her husband’s second and brother, the even nastier than previously assumed Jarl.
During the chaos of the fight, Jarl and Morrigan escaped. So not only were the bad guys on the lam, but the Territory had been left leaderless until Anyan suggested they make like humans and vote on a new leader. Next thing I knew, my former lover, Ryu, and his favorite nemesis, Nyx, found themselves tied as interim leaders of their Territory.
Much to my delight, I also discovered that Anyan did not want to stay in the Compound. Instead, he wanted to return to Rockabill. With me.
Where I thought we would make sweaty monkey lovin’, I groused, sighing as I stretched out legs tight from the previous night’s ride back to Eastport on Anyan’s motorcycle.
Instead, all my fantasies of playing “hide the Milk-Bone” had been scuppered when, on the way home, we’d run into Blondie. The tattooed enigma had been shadowing me, saving my life quite a few times over the course of our recent shenanigans. We didn’t know who she was, or what she wanted, but last night she’d let us know she was an Original: powerful, ancient, and supposedly a myth.
“And a total cock-blocker,” I grumbled to myself as I stood, slowly and stiffly, before shuffling off to dig my toiletries bag out of my duffel.
I’d been looking forward to having Anyan alone, finally, and I’d nearly done a backflip when he suggested I spend the night at his place. His excuse was that it made sense for me to wait for the morning, as I had all of Rockabill’s supernatural community—plus Grizzie and Tracy—bunking down in my house for safety after Iris had been kidnapped. I knew, however, it was really because he wanted some patented Jane True sexorcizing. But then Blondie showed up, all nekkid and pierced and tattooed and totally foxy. After which, the conversation between Dog-Boy and me went (roughly) as follows:
DB:“OMG! Whatever could that woman want?” JANE:“I don’t care! Let’s go to your place! NOW.” DB:“No! I must be valorous and protect those under my care by investigating!” JANE:“Um, why don’t you be valorous and protect those under your care AFTER we mambo horizontally. Then vertically. Then maybe to the Northwest.” DB:“I’m sorry, what?” JANE:“Nothing.”
So Anyan had tossed me through his front door with our luggage, telling me to “make myself at home.” I’d flipped off the shutting door, reminding it loudly that I had been planning to make myself at home on his face. At which point the door was thrown open again, and Anyan had demanded, “What?”
To which I’d replied, “Nothing.”
So not only had we not had sex, but I’d also spent the night on the sofa, as I didn’t feel comfortable invading Anyan’s man space without express permission. Not to mention, my hormones probably would have forced me to do terrible things to myself in his bed, as he owned the raunchiest, Anyan-wrought, supernatural-Sutra headboard ever.
Still grumbling, I shambled over to Anyan’s downstairs bathroom to go potty and clean myself up a little. Staring into my own eyes in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, I reminded myself that, while it sucked I had yet to molest the barghest, at least I was alive. There’d been more than a few times during the past weeks when my survival was anything but guaranteed. Not to mention, quite a few people—supernatural, human, and halfling—had died before we’d stopped Jarl and his crazy experiments.
Including my mother, I thought, my heart falling as I remembered what I had to do today. My dad needed to know that the woman he still loved and still waited for, after all these years, was never going to come home. She’d been murdered by Jarl, her body one of the first to be discovered in an abandoned laboratory.
You didn’t die for nothing, Mom, I thought, outmaneuvering the tears in my eyes by washing my face rather roughly. My mother’s death had helped kick off the investigation that led to stopping Jarl. It wasn’t much consolation, but it was something.
It’d be even better if Jarl were dead, I thought grimly, as I dried my face and hands. But at least he was on the run, his operations and people disbanded. For now.
Visibly shaking myself out of my depressing reverie, I tried to figure out what to do right then. Anyan must still have been out chasing Originals, and it was barely six o’clock in the morning. I could go home, although no one will be awake. Or I could go for a swim… Then I froze, a feeling of elation sweeping up from the soles of my feet as I put two and two together.
I’m in Anyan’s cabin.
Anyan isn’t here.
And Anyan did say to make myself at home, I thought, audibly purring. I’d been so curious about Anyan’s life for so long now, and now I had his cabin all to myself…
Which means there is nothing standing between me and his kitchen.
Like a flash I was out of the bathroom, all traces of sadness eradicated by my excitement. I peered around one last time to make sure I was alone, and then I darted toward what I knew was waiting for me. Every time I’d been here, it had taken pretty much every ounce of self-control I had not to go and hump the stove dominating Anyan’s kitchen. I don’t normally hump kitchen appliances, but this was no ordinary mod-con. It was something sublime. Something that transcended beauty, form, and function and could make an angel weep.
It was a Wolf Challenger Restaurant Range. And I loved it.
I skidded to a stop before my destiny, blinking as the ever-awakening sun gleamed off its brightly polished surfaces. Gliding a hand over its hard, proud, stainless-steel frame, I caressed its burners, prying one up just to see how unabashedly it opened itself to me. I thought of all the pots I could get on it, and how each one would simmer. Simmer just for me.
I dropped to my knees, pulling open the oven door. I could practically crawl inside. I wouldn’t, because I’d (almost) seen firsthand what ovens can do to a body—albeit a goblin body—but I could if I wanted to. And if I can get in here, I thought as I peered inside greedily, just think what else will fit…
“Jane?” asked a voice. It was curiously nonchalant, considering I was half in, half out of an open oven door. But it still scared me enough that I started, whapping the top of my skull for my trouble.
Anyan sighed as he dropped down to haul me out of the Wolf’s gaping maw. The barghest had a tendency to treat me like a sack of flour, and today was no exception. Without batting an eyelash, he lifted me up and set me on the counter, in order to look at the top of my head.
I was watching the little birdies fly in front of my eyes, so it took me a second to re-combobulate myself. In the meantime, he ran his fingers over my scalp, prodding until I winced, and then I felt a pulse of healing warmth filtering through my body.
“If we lived in a Road Runner cartoon,” his rough voice grumbled, “I would come home one day to find your teeny-tiny arms and legs sprouting from underneath a gigantic Acme anvil.”
I gave him the stink eye.
“You are a disaster,” Anyan clarified, in case I didn’t catch his drift. “And are you all right?” he amended, treating my head to one last gentle prod, followed by another rush of healing magics.
Anyan’s gray eyes sought mine but I ignored him, instead giving him a good once-over. Now that I could finally enjoy being around the barghest without all the stress of the investigation—not to mention the stress of not knowing whether or not he had any feelings for me—I felt like I hadn’t actually seen Anyan in ages. Starting at the top, I noticed that he clearly needed a haircut. His thick curls were extra poufy, sticking out in barghestian afro-puffs shot through with grass and twigs from last night’s Blondie hunt. Then my eyes raked downward, over his long nose and almost too wide mouth, loving the perfectly sensual imperfection of his features. His nose twitched at me, as if in response to my gaze, and I felt my own lips twitch in response. Traveling farther down, over clothes rumpled from undoubtedly being left to lie under a shrubbery somewhere while he ran about in dog form, I noticed he had a hole in his jeans, which rode low and sweet on his hips.
There’s bones under that there denim, my libido reminded me, unhelpfully. Bones for nibblin’…
I told the libido to hush even as I felt my mouth water.
“Did you find Blondie?” I asked, as much to distract myself as to make conversation.
“Nope,” he grunted. “Chased her to the edge of Nell’s Territory, but then all scent of her faded, including magical. She must have holed up somewhere I couldn’t get to. Underground, or in the water.”
“Do you think she can do thaaaaaaa—” I tried to ask, before my whole body turned to goop as Anyan’s fingers started running through my long black hair. It was ridiculously erotic, until I winced as his fingers found a knot.
“Did you pack a brush?” the barghest chided.
“Did you raid a dog food convention to acquire your wardrobe?” I countered, jerking my hair out from underneath his hands in punishment.
After all, I thought with irritation, I’m supposed to have sexy, postcoital bed head. Not “I slept on your couch” head.
His hands stilled in my hair as he looked down at his chest. His now filthy T-shirt sported an advert for Eukanuba. I’d already seen shirts for Alpo, Iams, and Purina, among many others.
“Okay, I admit, the joke got out of hand. But I’m not going to go out and buy myself a whole new wardrobe. These shirts are perfectly serviceable.”
I rolled my eyes. “Serviceable? Anyan, I get it that you’re utilitarian. If we were in the old country you’d write odes to factories. You’d sing the praises of the communal farm while you gnawed on a perfectly ‘serviceable’ radish. But this is the new millennium. In America. Buy a button-up.”
The very tip of his crooked nose twitched, something that would never cease to amuse me. The hand on one knee shifted to pinch my outer-thigh fat, something that I found significantly less endearing.
“Jane, I’m a barghest, not a Stalinist. And what do you mean by ‘the old country’? I was born in this Territory, as you well know. And you should talk about writing odes to factories. You were practically committing sex acts on my range.”
I cast a long, lascivious gaze at the Wolf. Gods, it was gorgeous. I had to come clean.
“I can’t help it, Anyan. I’ve never felt this way about a machine. It’s just so big…” My voice trailed off as my hot eyes roved up from its sturdily planted legs to the boldly flaring expanse of its saucy extractor fan.
“Jane, you are starting to creep me out. Someone who pees on the local fauna in order to mark his Territory. That says something.”
I eyed the Wolf, suddenly inspired.
“And no,” he added hastily. “If you pee on it you do not get to take it home.”
I pushed my bottom lip out in a pout, feeling a thrill up my spine when I noticed Anyan stare like he wanted to bite. His hands, resting right above my knees, squeezed lightly and I was happily visualizing pulling him in tight to make that bite a reality when he spoke.
“Speaking of home, do you still want to tell your father today?”
And just like that, the libido crawled back into its hole. I’d asked Anyan if he’d be with me when I told my dad about my mother’s death, mostly for support but also because the barghest—even with sticks in his hair, like he had now—oozed authority. I was going to have to tell my father a combination of truths about my mom, Mari’s, death and careful omission, and I figured Anyan’s presence would make the idea that I had outside sources more credible.
But mostly you just want him there, reminded the part of my brain that always insisted on being brutally honest. I frowned, quashing the thought, unwilling to examine my emotions regarding the barghest too closely.
“Yes,” I replied, finally, my chin dropping to my chest. “I need to get it over with.”
Anyan’s big hand found its way under the heavy wing of my long, black hair, stroking gently at my nape. It felt as comforting as apple pie, and I marveled at how easily he touched me now. My own hands itched to reciprocate, but I still had to get used to the idea that touches were okay. Anyan had been a fantasy for so long; it was going to take me some time to adjust to the reality.
“Come on, then. Let’s clean up. You use my bathroom. I’ve a shower out in my workshop I can use.”
I raised my black eyes to meet Anyan’s iron-gray gaze, letting all my anxiety shine through. The hand on my nape squeezed, gently, in response.
“It’s going to be okay, Jane. We’ll find a way to tell your father so he understands. You’re doing the right thing. He can’t live in ignorance and false hope for the rest of his life.”
I nodded, finally. Anyan stepped back so that I could hop down off the counter, and then we went our separate ways to clean up. I’d already used his upstairs bathroom once, so I knew where everything was located. The only thing that took a while was finding something clean(ish) in my duffel, but soon enough I came downstairs to find Anyan all spiffy, sitting on his sofa and waiting for me.
We walked outside to his motorcycle. I slung my arms through my duffel bag’s straps, wearing it like a backpack, and then plunked the helmet Anyan held out to me on my head. I fiddled with the straps, watching as Anyan started to set his own helmet down over his still-wet hair.
I was just imagining the helmet head with which he was going to wind up when he suddenly lowered his arms, breathing deeply and looking around with confusion written across his expression.
“Why do I smell strange humans?” he asked, a split second before we were attacked.
If whoever attacked us had given Anyan even a millisecond of warning, things would have turned out differently. Anyan’s a warrior with battle-honed reflexes and a healthy dose of paranoia.
But there was no warning. One moment we were standing beside his motorcycle on his gravel driveway, and the next Anyan smelled humans. Then he was down, taken out by what sounded and looked, from the state he was in, like dozens of high-impact bullets.
Meanwhile, I was no longer the little rabbit heart that I’d been just months ago. So although I was too late to stop the bullets, as soon as Anyan hit the ground, I had full magical shields up and ready to protect both of us… from the supernatural attack that never came.
For instead of supes, I watched as half a dozen humans in very fancy SWAT gear emerged from the forests surrounding Anyan’s house. I’d raised mage balls immediately, but I didn’t let fire. Not least because I knew what the red laser beams trailing over both my own body and Anyan’s meant. Plus, I knew damned well they could use those massive guns—while I sensed not a single iota of magic, the way they melted out of that thick green foliage was almost preternatural. These were professionals, even if they weren’t magical, and they’d drop me with a bullet before I could take out more than one or two of them. So I let my mage ball fall to the ground and fizzle out, my mind racing for a way to incapacitate all of them without getting myself or Anyan killed in the process.
“Target is down,” I heard one of the men speak into his helmet’s microphone. “Secondary target is secure.”
I doubted even a full minute had passed.
The secondary target stood mute, my mind racing to figure out a way to save our skins. Meanwhile Anyan lay bleeding to death on his driveway.
Powerful supes, like the barghest, are tough to kill. They’re hard to get a bead on in the first place, and they can also heal themselves as they take on damage. The only way to kill someone as strong as Anyan would be to ensure his heart or brain had stopped in that first attack, or to knock him unconscious when he was full of holes, so that he bled to death. My friend Daoud was nearly exsanguinated the time we were tracking the crazy halfling Conleth, and I never wanted to see that happen again. Especially to Anyan.
“I repeat, primary target is down,” the man said again as one of his cohorts strode over to where Anyan lay. The crunch of gravel under his boots seemed abnormally loud in the eerily quiet morning. I half-expected the barghest to spring up and attack, revealing that it had all been a clever ruse.
But Anyan’s body stayed where it was, red blood seeping under gray stone.
Meanwhile, there was only one thing I could think to do. I knew it was a risk, and I’d been told not to do it once before. But I could feel, in my gut, it was my only real option.
The man who had been speaking had a “listening” face, after which he nodded and said, “Yes, sir.” Then he looked at the man standing next to Anyan and said, “Confirm the kill.”
The man raised his rifle to his chest, sighting down on where the barghest lay, undefended. He was aiming his massive rifle at Anyan’s head. Taking a deep breath, but otherwise giving no outward indication, I sprang my trap.
Luckily for me, no one thinks I’m anything special. I’m a halfling, and everyone assumes—quite incorrectly, as with most racist stereotypes—that halflings are exactly what the name implies: half as good, half as strong, and half as necessary.
So while at least two of the men had their laser sites trained on me, they hadn’t incapacitated me in any way. I was but a small woman, and only a little chit of a halfling.
Praise be to the god who invented underestimation, I thought, as I began to gather my power to me.
Running on adrenaline and instinct, I fell almost instantaneously into the cocoon of magic I’d felt the other time Anyan had been hurt in front of me. It had been only weeks before, in Pittsburgh, that Phaedra had nixed Anyan’s ambush by hurling him into a wall. He’d landed in a sickening heap, causing me to go all primeval and reach with my power. The only thing that had stopped me was Blondie’s intervention and her warning that I should never, ever heed that siren’s song to pull.
What I saw in my magical trance back then was just like what I saw now. Water, water everywhere, and all of it full of power. Water connected everything: hydrogen and oxygen atoms, tiny strings of pearls hung like billions of bead curtains across my vision. It was like being in the Matrix’s computer code, only instead of numbers there was water. And if you switched your perspective, it became obvious that just as the water droplets went up and down, they also went horizontally.
Connecting each and everyone of us, I thought, as I went down deeper into my power, until I was my power…
And then I searched out the strings of beads connecting me to my attackers. Finding them, I reached, again…
And then, seeing no other alternative, I did exactly what I’d been told not to do. I pulled.
Focused on the man who was going to shoot out Anyan’s brains, I only saw what I did to him. Despite the circumstances, and never regretting my actions, what I saw—what I did—still haunts me.
Apparently, people remember their first kill.
He was just setting his eye to his site when he jerked hard. Thankfully, he didn’t have his finger on the trigger at that moment, or he may well have shot Anyan. Instead, his arm holding his assault rifle dropped uselessly to his side as he spasmed. I saw, in my peripheral vision, similar movements from his fellow attackers.
My assault lasted only seconds, but it felt like hours.
I called to the water in all the men’s bodies, and it responded to me with the alacrity of a squadron of eager retrievers. I watched, cold, as the man upon whom my eyes were pinned began to shrivel, but I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop when he fell to his knees, and I didn’t stop when he fell to the ground.
I didn’t stop even when I saw that the fingers protruding from his leather half-gloves were desiccated like those of a long-dead mummy.
True guilt about my actions would never set in—I knew what I did was right. Those men made their choice when they took money to murder strangers, and—somewhere between the Alfar Compound and the Healer’s mansion—I’d become hard enough by what I’d seen of evil to understand that fact. But visions of the bodies would still appear to me in random nightmares. At that moment, however, all I felt was power… The men’s lives came to me through their body’s water, and I tasted what it was to take another person’s life by stealing, quite literally, their essence….
The water in me answered the water in them, and I felt my magic’s channels open wide, inviting, receiving, until I was as full as I’ve ever been of elemental force.
Still, I couldn’t stop.
Full to bursting with magic, I kept soaking up more. It was like I’d opened up some internal pair of floodgates. I’d never felt so full, so strong… until it began to burn. Pain suddenly seared through my system hotter than a thousand suns.
Screaming, I fell to my own knees as the power stretched me to my limits. Just when I thought I’d pass out from the pain, the tide of my power turned. Just as all that elemental force had rushed into my open channels, it now all rushed out. I felt myself emptying, and suddenly I knew that what I’d hoped would save Anyan’s life would probably end my own.
On the night I’d found my love Jason’s body in the Old Sow, I was totally untrained and ignorant of my true magical inheritance. So I’d unwittingly used my magic—all of my magic—to pull him from the giant whirlpool off the coast of Rockabill. I’d almost died that night, so I knew that draining a supe of all of his magic killed him as effectively as draining him entirely of blood.
“Anyan,” I whispered, reaching out my hand toward the barghest. I was prostrate on my stomach, the gravel digging into my belly. Feeling my heart flutter, I figured I was done for. Everything seemed a bit hazy, however, and I now reckon that the only reason I wasn’t panicked was that my brain wasn’t entirely cognizant of what was happening. Instead I was quite calm; I just wanted to know Anyan was alive before I went.
Which is why I was so very, very pissed when someone had the audacity to roll me over like I was a side of beef. To be fair, Blondie looked almost as miffed as me when she finally settled me on my back.
“I told you not to go there, babydoll,” she mumbled, as her tattooed hands stroked down my face.
I wanted to protest, to tell her to see to Anyan before attending to me. But unconsciousness swamped me in darkness, and then I felt nothing.
The planet was dead all around. Nothing grew, nothing lived—except me, my siblings, and, somewhere out in the darkness, our cousins. I huddled with my brothers and sisters against the Earth, cradled by Water. So young, we were afraid to venture out of the sanctuary created by our parents. We were small, then. Unaware of our power and innocent in our play.
[Everything is so young, I marveled, remembering for just a moment that I was Jane True and that these images (memories?) couldn’t be my own. But that moment faded, along with my humanity.]
Soon, however, we stretched our limbs and discovered they were long and strong. We flexed our power, realizing our potential. But born of Water and Earth—born of love—my siblings and I used that knowledge only for play—play that one day took us outside the safety of our nest. Unharmed, we looked at one another and felt joy.
[I thought I had two eyes, murmured she who had been Jane.]
Ever more confident, we strayed further afield, boiling the seas with the energy of our games. Our bodies grew along with our curiosity and soon we were almost too large to return to our sanctuary. To sleep, we had to press together in a tangle of limbs [Too many limbs, I thought, even if I wasn’t sure who I was anymore]. And yet there was such comfort in those touches, knowing my siblings were always there, that I would never be alone.
Until the day our cousin, Fire’s offspring, decided that he would like to play.
Born of ambition and rage, Fire’s children were not curious or playful or kind. But they were strong. And the one that came to us that day was the oldest, the most powerful, of Fire’s dangerous brood. At first it joined us in our games, and no one noticed when something changed. Until my sister’s limbs [So many limbs] were floating past me, unattached, and the ocean ran red with blood.
I survived only because of my parents’ intervention. Seizing upon Fire’s child, they pulled him apart until even Fire itself couldn’t rekindle him.
Returning to my cold nest, I huddled in the darkness, alone.
There was a war, then, between my parents and Fire. Air, as usual, remained neutral and I stayed hidden, at my parents’ behest. The planet was nearly riven in two before Air interceded. A truce was made, in which Fire agreed that he would make no more children as powerful as the one who had killed my siblings. But he forced my parents to agree to the same.
Which meant I would be alone, forever.
That said, my parents, Air, and Fire could still create offspring, and they did. Creatures of less magnitude than my generation, but still powerful. Often too powerful. I watched as scenarios similar to the slaughter of my own family happened time and time again, until only the most wicked, the most powerful, or the most intelligent survived.
Time passed like water rushing over a fall, and eventually I noticed my parents were weary. Air had long since laid itself down to rest, tired of life and loss. Soon Fire joined Air, its passion turned cold and pointless. My parents held out longer, their love sustaining them. Yet, eventually, even they took to sleep.
I grieved the loss of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, but I marveled at the glory of the world they had created. Their bodies merged to form a planet very different from the one I had known, and their power combined generated something so beautiful I wept to see: life.
The planet now teemed with life, life that I witnessed evolve from mere sparks to plants to animals and, finally, to humans. I saw the gleam of intelligence in their eyes, and I watched them love, live, and lose, and I felt my own loneliness driven home to me. [So lonely… so lonely.]
Soon enough, there was no place for me. Humans had spread across the globe, driving me from Territory to Territory. My size and power disrupted the planet, creating chaos.
Tsunami, I was called. Earthquake. Volcano. Charybdis. Chaos. Kali. Ragnarok. Apocalypse.
[Never meant to hurt. Just so alone…]
Wherever I went, Earth was shattered, or tidal waves rose from the depths. The Air grew furious and even Fire raged. As a creature of that first, misbegotten generation, I had become something too powerful.
I did not belong anywhere, anymore.
And so I, too, laid myself down to rest. To sleep. And as oblivion drifted over me, I set my protections…
Only to wake, gasping. A hand, holding mine, clutched my fingers tightly and I [Jane True! I remembered] turned to see the elated face of my father staring at me through eyes red with sleep deprivation. Tears streamed down his face and into his beard as he watched me as if afraid I’d disappear.
“Jane?” he asked, as I wondered when the hell he’d had time to grow a beard.
I tried to speak, but my voice wouldn’t work. Instead, much to my consternation, I made a noise that sounded a bit like the braying of a donkey.
“Has our patient finally decided to join the land of the living?” came a cool voice from somewhere far below, just loud enough to hear. My father responded with an inarticulate shout of happiness. Nonplussed, my brain and my vision both a bit muzzy, I eventually managed to raise my head on a neck loose as a noodle. I looked around, blinking dazedly at a room lit only by the glow of a full moon shining through a skylight. Eventually, after my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I realized that I was in Anyan’s loft bedroom, and in Anyan’s bed.
How does my dad know Anyan? I thought. Followed quickly by, Oh dear gods, Anyan, as I suddenly recalled my very last memory.
But before I could say anything, I nearly fainted as an unglamoured goblin walked up the stairs to Anyan’s loft, setting a green-scaled, black-clawed hand on my father’s shoulder, his yolk-yellow eyes peering at me with an admittedly eggy combination of happiness and relief.
I wasn’t surprised by the goblin—after all, they’re the healers of the supernatural world. What I was surprised by was the fact that instead of freaking out as the nearly seven-foot-tall unglamoured goblin stood behind him, my dad merely squeezed my hand again as he reached up his other hand to clutch, in a clear gesture of gratitude, at the goblin’s wickedly clawed mitt resting on his shoulder.
“She’s awake. She’s finally awake,” my dad sobbed, as I let my alarmingly heavy head flop back onto my pillow. I also got a glimpse of Anyan’s naughty headboard and winced that my dad had seen it.
It’s like the Wizard of Oz, only in reverse, I thought. Dorothy’s woken up to find that everything has gotten even weirder. Replete with dirty headboards.
The goblin and my father beamed at me, and I wondered where to start.
I think I missed quite a bit while I was out.
My father held the water to my lips while I drank, cradling my head in his hands. The goblin had given me a quick physical, removed all my various tubes—which I was more than surprised to see—and then left to grant us some privacy. I definitely needed his scaly-green presence here (and my father’s acceptance of his presence) explained, but I had more pressing matters to which to attend. As soon as I could speak, I asked the question I’d been dreading.
“Anyan?” I queried, my voice beseeching.
“He’s fine,” my dad responded, smiling soothingly. “He’s been here as much as he could, but he’s also been busy with… other things.”
Unbelievable relief spread through me, even as my forehead rumpled, knowing that “other things” could not be good. But before I could ask, my dad shook his head.
“Don’t worry yourself, Jane. Not yet at least. You’re awake. That’s all that matters. I was so scared…”
At that admonition, my father’s voice broke. So I nearly broke at the expression on his face, still so handsome, if a tad sad and careworn after all these years.
“Daddy,” I breathed. “I’m so sorry…”
At that, he laughed, if hoarsely. “Honey, please don’t apologize. I can hardly blame you for being attacked.”
“Attacked…” I frowned. I was still under the influence of the dreams, and it seemed like everything else was very far away. Especially what had happened in Anyan’s driveway.
I killed a man. I remembered, but without emotion. Then I also remembered that was inaccurate.
I’d killed quite a few men.
And yet I couldn’t muster any guilt about that fact. All I could think of was Anyan lying there, bleeding, and, weirdly enough, about the “doctors” Jarl had employed to staff his torture clinics.
Like the men who attacked us in the glade, those men were “just doing a job,” too.
They’d chosen to do evil for a paycheck, or because they enjoyed it, or both.
Comeuppance is a bitch.
“What happened?” I asked.
My father frowned. “No one is sure. All we know is that you were attacked. And you saved yourself and you saved Anyan.”
I couldn’t help but feel a prickle of pride at those words. Yes, I wished I’d never had to do what I did. But when the time was right, I’d womanned up and saved myself and Anyan.
“Your friend with the tattoos”—and here my dad made a series of bizarre sounds that I chalked up as my brain having a bit of a postcoma lapse—“was able to bring Anyan right back with her healing skills. But you were another matter.”
Blondie’s still here? I wondered. Do I have some questions for her. Like what the hell she was doing following us in the first place. And, speaking of questions, my dad just said “healing skills.”
“Um, Dad?” I asked. “How much do you know?”
His smile was small, but firm. “I now know that your mother was a selkie. That she was magic. And I know that you’re as much her daughter as mine. That you’ve got powers, too.”
I blinked back tears at the resolve in his voice. The resolve and the forgiveness.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you, Dad. About Mom. About me.”
“Pshaw,” he replied, shaking his head. “I always knew how very special your mother was, and how very special you are. You have both been my greatest gifts. Now I just have more accurate words to describe why you’re so special.”
And with those words the tears wouldn’t be stopped, and he sat patiently while I cried.
“Still, I should have told you…” I said, as soon as the worst of my weeping had ceased.
“Yes, you should have. But I should also have asked. I knew about your mother’s swimming, and about yours. I knew there was always something… different about both of you. But I couldn’t begin to fathom… I’ve never been superstitious, or religious, so I had no idea what the answer could have been. I think I was frightened,” he finally admitted.
“Frightened?” I asked, my voice small.
“Frightened that what made you different was what made your mother leave. And that if I asked too much, or called attention to too much, you would leave, too.”
I rubbed my hand over my eyes, wiping away my tears. The thing was, my dad was actually right. My mom had left because she was different, and she would have taken me if she’d had the chance. I think she must have loved him, and me, in her own way. But her way of loving hadn’t been the human way. And now she was dead.
“Dad, I have to tell you about Mom—”
“Shh, honey. I know everything.”
“You know? That she’s—”
“That she’s gone. Yes.”
I blinked at him. I couldn’t believe we were even having this conversation, and part of me wished that I’d been the one to tell my dad about my supernatural life. But I wasn’t sorry I’d missed out on telling him about my mother. I was still dealing with my own feelings, and was in no position to help him understand what had happened.
“Oh, Daddy, I’m so sorry…” I managed to choke out, eventually.
“Shh, baby girl,” he said, gathering me up in his arms for a fierce hug before he positioned me so he could look into my eyes as he talked.
“I had a lot of time to think about everything while you were out. And I’m okay. Your mother left us a lifetime ago, and I should have let her go a long time back. Almost losing you helped me see that. I loved her, and she gave me you. But you’re what’s important, and my being there for you.”
“You always were, Dad,” I said, hating the guilt I saw in his eyes.
“No, I wasn’t. We should have left Rockabill after Jason died. You deserved a fresh start. And I didn’t give that to you.”
I shook my head. “I wouldn’t forget Jason and what happened just because we moved. And everything worked out for the best—”
“You sorted yourself out, yes,” he interrupted. “But at what price? I let you suffer because I wanted to be here if Mari came home. But she didn’t, and now we know she won’t…”
With that, my father’s face fell and his eyes glazed with tears. He was putting a brave face on things, but he wasn’t going to forget my mother, or deal with her loss, overnight. So I leaned forward in his hug in order to tuck my head under his chin, and I let my own tears join his.
We cried then, together, for my mom, for our family, for each other and our loss. As painful as it was to know she was gone, at that moment of sharing with my father, it felt like some very small part of my grief eased. Not all of it, but even that little bit felt like a lot.
I hoped he felt the same.
“How long have I been out?” I asked when we’d stopped snuffling. It had obviously been long enough for my dad to get over the shock of the supernatural world, have someone tell him about my mom’s death, and grow a beard.
A week? Maybe two?
“A month,” he replied, to my horror.
“Good lord,” I whispered. “A month?” No wonder my limbs felt all tingly and weird still. Feeling was coming back, but slowly.
“Yep. And we thought we were going to lose you quite a few times. Your power kept draining. Dr. Sam says that if”—and here my dad again made that same series of bizarre sounds he’d made earlier.
“Gesundheit,” I interrupted.
My dad laughed. “No, that’s your friend’s name. With the tattoos.”
I blinked at him, and then it hit me. “You mean Blondie? With the Mohawk?”
“Yes, that’s not a sneeze. It’s her name.”
“Hmmm,” I said, trying to figure out what he’d said and how he’d said it. “I think I’ll stick with Blondie.”
Especially since, although everyone keeps telling me she’s my friend, I have yet to determine her status for myself.
For, while I’d once told the barghest I got a good vibe from the Original, that was before she showed up right before we were attacked in Anyan’s driveway. Yeah, she’d saved me, but was it all just a clever trick to gain our trust?
Chuckling again, my dad shook his head ruefully. “I had some time to practice while you were sleeping. Anyway, yeah, if she hadn’t been here, you would be dead. It was her power that kept you going.”
“Hmm,” I said, wondering what the Original’s motives were in keeping me alive. Not to mention, when had everyone become such chums? Last thing I’d known, Blondie was a stranger. And that’s what she was to me, until I could talk to her myself.
In other words, Blondie and I needed to have a little chat.
“And Dr. Sam is the…” My voice trailed off, still not able to say the word in front of my dad.
“The goblin?” he asked, his grin infectious. “Yep. A friend of Anyan’s. Both of them have been wonderful.” My dad started to make that funny combination of sounds, and then he stopped himself. “Er, Blondie did most of the healing, but you needed to be kept fed and everything. Dr. Sam also did things to keep your muscles from atrophying. You’ll still be a little weak for a few days, but he said that if you woke up and had a swim, you’d be almost as good as new.”
My dad said “if you woke up” so casually that my heart broke. After everything he’d been through, he must have really thought I might die. He didn’t deserve to worry like that; he didn’t deserve that fear and pain.
I nearly started crying again, but he stopped me with what he said next.
“He healed me, Jane.”
“What?” I asked, confused. When had he gotten hurt?
If those motherfuckers hurt my dad…
“My heart. It’s as good as new. Like I was never sick a day in my life.”
My breath caught in my throat. My dad’s condition had been a part of our lives for so long that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have him heart-whole and healthy.
“Really? Really healed?”
“Completely. And Anyan went with me to my doctor, so that he could… What do you call it? Glamour?”
“So he could glamour everyone, and he found someone to change everything in the system. Even followed me around so that all of Rockabill knows me as ‘Calvin True, that guy who has always been healthy.’ ”
“Oh, Dad. That’s marvelous…”
“It’s been strange,” he interrupted, as if he didn’t really want to discuss the issue. “Such a blessing at such a terrible time.”
I nodded, knowing he would need a while to think through what had happened over the past month. I was, after all, something of an expert on getting over pretty big shocks to the system.
Before we could talk more about how he felt about his sudden return to health, the door to my room burst open as a girl with pearl-gray skin and hair the color and texture of seaweed entered.
“Jane!” Trill shouted, her voice as dark and eerie as an oil slick. But the smile that took up her strange, flat-featured face was so joyful that she was beautiful.
And just as instantaneously she was crowding past my father to wrap her arms around me—arms that smelled of brine. My sea, I thought, desire swamping over me as irresistibly as thirst or hunger.
“Don’t smother her, kelpie,” came a gentle, grandmotherly voice from the other side of Anyan’s massive bed. When I managed to extricate myself from Trill’s grasp, I moved to greet the little woman I knew was waiting.
Nell Gnome’s enormous gray bun floated above the mattress, the rest of her plump, two-foot-tall little form revealing itself as I leaned over to the other side of the bed. When our eyes met, she smiled at me, illuminating her fairy godmother features. Features that all but disappeared in a thousand kindly crinkles.
“We thought we’d lost you, little halfling,” she said, as she levitated herself onto the bed to give me her own hug.
“I’m apparently not all that easy to kill,” I said to her, laughing as she patted me on the cheek as if to convince herself I was really there.
“No. You Trues are made of tough stuff. Calvin,” she said, nodding cordially toward my father.
“Nurse Ratched,” he intoned drily, twitching an eyebrow at me that caused me to blush. I’d left my father in Nell’s care a few times, under a glamour that convinced him she was a nurse, rather than a gnome. A nurse I’d named Ratched, in a moment of pure insanity.
I made an I’m sorry face at him before turning to Nell.
“Okay. I need to know what happened.” Then I made a face as my bladder suddenly made itself known.
“Gottapeegottapeegottapee!” I chanted, moving over to the edge of the bed. Trill helped me stand on shaky legs, and then she practically carried me to Anyan’s bathroom. Once she’d propped me up on the toilet, I shooed her away, but when I was finished, I only just managed to haul myself up by using the sink as leverage.
Staring at myself in the mirror as I washed my hands, I was greeted with quite a shock. My hair, first of all, was insane. For some reason it had grown exponentially, hanging down to my hips in undulating black waves.
Undulating is polite for greasy, I thought, making a face at my grubby self.
The hair was going to need to be cut stat, not least because my bangs were halfway down my face. And I was very thin, far thinner than I’d ever been in my life. The sweatpants and T-shirt I was dressed in draped off my frame like I was some jankie old hanger. As someone who enjoyed being curvy, I didn’t like what I saw. Plus, I figured I lived enough of a knock-around life that I needed some padding.
I pulled down the sweatpants a little bit to poke at one of my hip bones in disbelief, unsure if I’d ever even known I had hip bones till that moment. Raising up my T-shirt, I realized I also had ribs! Sticking out from my middle!
Running my hands down my sides under the shirt, I decided I was not a fan of ribs on girls. At least, not on this girl.
When I returned to the bedroom, someone had rustled me up chips and a sandwich, which waited for me on a really cute breakfast tray table. Anyan must be a fan of breakfast in bed, I thought, an idea that pleased me on about four hundred levels.
Pausing before getting back into bed, I eyed the tray.
“Are you sure I can eat this?” I asked. I felt hungry, and my tummy was rumbling like an irate bear cub, but if I’d been asleep for a month…
“Doc Sam says you’re good to go. If you feel like eating, you probably can. Just try to take it slow.”
I got back into bed and Trill laid the tray on my lap before sitting down next to it facing me. Nell echoed her position, her little legs kicking in the air. My father and Dr. Sam must have gone downstairs, as I heard them talking about what I’d need, care-wise, in the coming weeks.
But what I need right now is this sandwich, I thought, as I proceeded to shove it into my face as if emulating a foie gras goose. So much for taking it slow.
At some point during tearing apart my meal like a rabid wolf, I’d mumbled at Nell that I still wanted catching up. The gnome had backed away a step—probably nervous I’d finish my sandwich and then start in on her—before filling me in.
“You were attacked by humans—mercenaries. They were very, very professional and very, very expensive. And whoever hired them was smart. I would have detected anything magical coming into my Territory, unless they were ridiculously strong, like your friend the Original, or one of the handful of factions with powerful camouflaging powers, like the nagas.”
I was too busy shoving food into my face to remind Nell that Blondie was no friend of mine. Not yet, at least.
“And there aren’t many nagas left,” Trill said, with a nasty little grin.
“As I was saying,” Nell said, clearly admonishing her seaweedy friend. “Whoever hired the humans was smart. Even if a race can camouflage, the second they use magic I’d know it. And it’s hard for powerful beings not to use magic, especially in an attack. We can do it for a short time, like I know you did when Anyan took you on that raid, but that was only no-magic for about ten minutes. Most supes accidentally break and do a little magic after a little while, and from what we were able to determine, those soldiers were kicking around Rockabill for at least a full day to enact that ambush. Not to mention, if you have strong magical offensive skills, why on earth would you practice such extensive, physical offensive skills?”
“And to surprise someone like Anyan with any type of offense, you have to be really good,” Trill added, as her black-nailed fingers crept across my lap toward the potato chips on my plate. She got a quick slap on the hand for her pains as I finished the last of my sandwich.
I’ve got ribs to cover, I thought, unrepentant of my greed.
“ ’Kay, but what about nagas and camouflaging?” I asked, before starting in on my chips. If I were honest, I was already pretty full. But that had never stopped me before.
“Nagas and at least two other factions have abilities to camouflage their powers. They have to be very strong for it to be really effective, and they use up most of their power maintaining their camouflage. But it makes them effective spies, if they’re successful.”
“How do you think Jimmu got into Nell’s Territory?” Trill asked me, in a duh voice, as she eyed my ever-disappearing pile of Ruffles.
In return, I gave the kelpie my own patented fuck-off face. “I was too stuck on the whole man-who-turns-into-a-snake-and-wants-to-kill-me thing to wonder much about the how-he-got-into-the-gnome’s-Territory thing.” To conclude, I shoved about five chips into my mouth and then licked my fingers at her in revenge.
“So whoever hired the humans,” Nell said in a loud voice, obviously wanting our attention back on her, “was smart, well connected, and wealthy. We do not use human servants. Ever.”
Just like you don’t use human science, I thought sarcastically, remembering what everyone kept saying about Conleth and, later, Jarl’s laboratories. And speaking of my favorite evil Alfar…
“Jarl?” I mumbled through my very full mouth, spitting out crumbs.
Nell shook her little head. “How? His assets were frozen when he killed Orin. And yes, I’m sure he had money squirreled away,” she said in response to the face I pulled. “And Jarl certainly had the contacts. But how could he have organized the attack?”
I frowned as I swallowed.
“Maybe he had it planned from a while ago?”
“How? You hadn’t been in Rockabill for weeks. That team, according to what Anyan’s been able to find out, entered the area the day you left the Compound, and they were hired just before that. In other words, before Jarl needed to kill you, and shortly before he began fleeing for his life.”
“He could have set it up beforehand and then just made a single phone call,” I grumbled, completely convinced that Jarl was responsible for everything nasty, up to and including the flu, pigeons, and the relative inaccessibility of the G-spot.
“He could have,” Nell intoned gently. “And I’m not saying he wouldn’t have, or that he’s not somehow involved. But what we’re thinking is that this goes even deeper than Jarl.”
My eyes widened, my chips forgotten despite my sudden influx of ribs.
“This isn’t the only Territory, Jane. There are Territories all over the world, all of which are experiencing the same population crises we are, and most of which have the same tensions betweens halflings and purebloods. Some are more forward thinking than our Territory, but there are a lot that are even less so.”
“So you think what?”
“Jarl can’t be alone in this. Someone had to have informed about your leaving—someone who was there to watch you in the first place, since I know Anyan snuck you two out of that Compound. Which is worrying enough, but we also have to stop thinking just in terms of Jarl. Morrigan’s obviously been involved up to her eyeballs this whole time.”
“And she was the queen,” I said with a groan, beginning to realize what Nell had already figured out.
“Yep. With lots of contact with other monarchs in other Territories.”
Even Trill looked glum at that thought.
“Good lord. Do you think this is an international conspiracy?” I asked.
“Who knows? But I wouldn’t rule it out,” Nell said, her normally relaxed features serious.
“Well, fuckerdoodles to that,” I said, my mind, at that moment, only capable of nibbling at the very edges of such a huge idea.
Trill giggled. “Yes, fuckerdoodles to that. No more grim talk. Yay for Jane being awake! We need to celebrate! And I bet I know what you need.”
I looked at the kelpie, my eyes huge with longing.
“A swim,” Trill finished just as I’d hoped she would, causing Nell to nod sharply.
“It’s still early in the evening, so a swim it is,” said the gnome. “And since you’re still shaky on your feet…”
And with that Nell grabbed my hand, along with Trill’s. I felt my world spin as Nell used her borrowed Old Magic to apparate us both.
I would have protested the lack of warning, but all complaints dried up as I found myself right where I wanted to be:
Plopped, naked as a jaybird, directly into my ocean.
Excerpted from Eye of the Tempest by Peeler, Nicole Copyright © 2011 by Peeler, Nicole. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.