Dark Arts and a Daiquiri (Page 10)

“No, let’s just wait—”

I yanked the short door open. “Oy, twig-face! Get out here!”

Icy wind blasted out of the threshold. I hopped aside as Kaveri’s circle blew apart.

A low wail filled the room, then the faery dragged itself out of the crawlspace. This time its cinematic inspiration was clearly from The Exorcist. The diseased woman, stringy hair draped across her pale eyes, crawled into the room amidst a pool of inky shadows. Aaron and Ezra snapped to attention, regarding the specter warily.

“Diiiiie, humans,” it moaned.

I toed the crawlspace door closed so it couldn’t dive back in. “Nice try, greenie.”

The ghoulish woman shot me a filthy look. “Diiiie …”

I glanced at Kaveri. Her warm brown skin had gone surprisingly pale. “See what I meant?”

“Uh.” She cleared her throat and reached into her duffel bag. “Noble fae, may I offer you—”

“DIIEEEE!!” the faery shrieked. “Leave this place or forfeit your LIIIIIIIVES!”

Aaron pushed away from the wall. “Are you sure that’s a fae?”

“It’s a fae,” Kaveri confirmed. She pulled three leaves from a pouch and fanned them out. “Fae, we have come in search of a peaceful accord. As a gesture of goodwill, I hereby gift you with—”

The ghoul swung its arm and a gust of icy wind blasted the leaves out of Kaveri’s grasp.

Her eyes blazed. Grabbing her bag, she whipped out another cloth pouch, yanked it open, and flung a handful of brown powder at the ghoul. It shrieked and doubled over into a coughing fit. Its hellish disguise melted away, and the short, green tree sprite took form, its huge eyes scrunched shut as it hacked.

“I came here peacefully!” Kaveri barked. “Please be civil. I won’t ask again.”

The faery squinched its eyes open, tears streaming down its cheeks as it gasped. “Filthy bald monkey wench—”

“Hey!” Aaron cut in. “Don’t talk to her like that!”

It turned glaring crystalline eyes on him. “The orange roach should mind its own business!”

“What?” he snarled. Fire sparked over his fingers and he stepped threateningly toward the faery. “You little—”

Ezra grabbed his arm, pulling him back. “Let Kaveri handle it, Aaron.”

The faery’s attention shifted to the aeromage. Gasping, it leaped backward and ducked behind my legs, putting me between it and Ezra. Brow furrowing, I peered over my shoulder at the creature. It squinted at Ezra like it was afraid to move but didn’t want to admit it.

“Uh.” I looked from Ezra’s confused expression back to the fae. “What?”

Aaron snickered. “Hey, Ezra, maybe you should tell it to leave.”

“Leave?” the faery yelped. It grabbed the backs of my legs, its pokey fingers digging in. “No! This is my house!”

Its voice cracked with fear on the last word, its huge eyes fixed on Ezra like he might attack at any moment. Aaron nudged him with an elbow, but Ezra shook his head. Even that small movement caused the faery to flinch.

I considered my options. Whatever it was about Ezra that frightened the faery, getting him to scare the creature out of the house seemed like the easiest option. But Ezra clearly didn’t want to do that. I could probably stand to take a few compassion lessons from him.

“Ezra,” I murmured, “would you mind, uh, stepping outside for a few minutes so we can talk to the fae?”

Aaron made a disappointed sound but Ezra nodded. When he shifted backward, the faery ducked fearfully, its twiggy head scratching my legs. Ezra strode up the stairs, his footsteps almost inaudible. A moment later, the door opened and closed with a clack.

The faery peeked out from behind me. “You made it leave?”

“He’s a he, not an it.”

Hopping away, the faery stared up at me like it was no longer sure what I was. Taking advantage of its decreased aggression, I crouched so we were at eye level.

“Look,” I said. “I want to rent this apartment. Can you go somewhere else?”

“This house is mine.” Instead of a possessive declaration, it muttered the words with a note of dejection.

“Why is it yours? Don’t faeries like you live in … uh … forests?”

“I did, but …” It grimaced. “I was banished.”

“Oh. That sucks.”

Kaveri crouched beside me and smiled gently at the faery. “Would you consider sharing this house with a human?”

“Sharing?” it asked suspiciously.

“Sharing?” I repeated incredulously.

“That doesn’t sound like a good idea, Kaveri,” Aaron said, hovering behind us. “Tori doesn’t need a faery for a roommate.”

The diminutive creature perked up, an eager light flashing in its eyes. “Roommate?”

I winced. We already knew the faery was a horror buff, but what if it liked sitcoms too? Hell no. I was not doing a real-life “unlikely roommates” sitcom with a faery.

Except while I internally freaked out at the thought, Kaveri plowed on. “In that case, I have a proposal. Though this is a human residence, I propose you and this human, Tori Dawson, share the house as roommates.”

“Hold on—” I began sharply.

“What about … that one?” The faery’s shrill voice cut through mine as it pointed at the stairs where Ezra had disappeared, unease tugging at its expressive features.

“Tori will protect you,” Kaveri promised. “In exchange, you will swear to cause her no harm and no mischief.”

At the word “protect,” the faery’s whole face lit up. “Agreed!”

“Wait—” I broke off as the faery bounced excitedly, then faded away—vanishing from sight. “Where’d it go?”

“Most fae are semi-corporeal,” Kaveri explained, serene as could be as she pulled her duffel bag closer. “They can hide from human senses.”

Rising, I folded my arms and glowered down at her. “Why did you sign me up to share my apartment with a faery?”

“It was here first, Tori,” she said matter-of-factly, zipping her bag closed. “And you heard it. It was banished and has nowhere else to go.”

Aaron gave her an exasperated scowl. “I’m sure it could have found somewhere else to live.”

“It’ll be fine.” Kaveri swung her bag over her shoulder. “The faery might be an inconvenience now and then, but that’s a small price to pay. You’re getting this place for cheap, aren’t you? It all works out.”

With a knowing smile, she headed for the stairs. Brimming with annoyance, I watched her leave. I’d been so misled about how cool witches were. Kaveri better not get a bounty for that half-assed attempt at evicting a faery.

“Well,” Aaron said, “you can always boot the little prick out later, but you should hurry up and sign the lease before someone rents this place out from under you.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, delight overcoming my irritation. With that last wrinkle smoothed out, I could rent this place. My own place! And all for the small price—hopefully small price—of an annoying horror-buff faery for a roommate.

Chapter Six

Today was the day. No, not moving day. I wish. If it had been moving day, I would’ve been cheerfully excited, not vibrating with apprehension and wondering if my cramping stomach would eject my dinner.

Tomorrow was moving day. My brand-new lease was signed, the apartment keys were in my purse, and my meager belongings were packed. Yesterday, I’d gone mattress shopping and emptied my bank account to buy a new bed that would be delivered next week. If we didn’t capture the Ghost and collect his bounty, I’d be eating nothing but free guild food for the month.

Today—or, to be more specific, tonight—was the night I met with the Ghost.

Earlier, I’d eaten dinner at the guild and met our team: Zora, a badass sorceress with a penchant for massive weapons; Andrew, a mid-fifties defensive combat sorcerer who was always on everyone’s team because he was so dependable; and a pair of sorcerers I didn’t know, Zhi and Ming. The brother-sister team had requested to join the Ghost’s capture—some bad history there, apparently. According to Aaron, Zhi was the Crow and Hammer’s youngest full-fledged sorcerer at twenty-seven, and twenty-five-year-old Ming was almost finished her apprenticeship.

Completing our team were two psychics. Taye had the gift of telethesia, which allowed him to track people supernaturally; once he caught the Ghost’s trail, the slippery worm wouldn’t be able to escape. And lastly, Bryce, a telepath. Yes, the mind-reading type, and I wasn’t sure how excited I was to work with him.

Ten people, including me. It was a big team for a single target, but Kai—our team leader—wasn’t taking any chances. We didn’t know what the Ghost could do, so we were preparing for anything.

My stomach performed another uncomfortable flip and I pressed a hand to my middle.

“Doing okay, Tori?”

I gave Aaron a wan smile. “Yeah. Totally fine.”

He grinned. “That’s the spirit. We’ll get that b*****d.”

And we would bring Nadine home. She was what mattered. She’d already been in the Ghost’s clutches for two months, and I didn’t want her to be his prisoner for a day longer than necessary.