by Teresa Cain

Part 13a



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I found myself led out of the shadows and into the alley where Morte had come all too close to meeting his maker at the hands of the phony masquerading as my father. I glanced upwards at the small unassuming door at the top of the iron stairs, then back at Jade, who was half in, half out of a black night shadow.

"What makes you think he's here?" she asked curiously, also staring up at the door.

"Because I know who it is, and I know where he roosts," I flatly replied. "Thanks, Jade."

She was quiet for a moment, staring at me with those green eyes filled with uncertainty. "Carlie - Roselyn, please be safe. I don't want to have to face Aerael after I helped you sneak past him if you were to get killed."

"My father could kill me," I said, laughing a little. "It's really hard to surpass your teacher. I never once beat him in all the time I sparred with him. But this impostor isn't my father, and he doesn't stand a snowman's chance in hell of beating me."

She stared at me a moment longer then broke into a wide, toothy grin. "Break a leg, kiddo. Bring me a souvenir."

"Ear okay?"

"I'm partial to tongues, actually. Maybe a finger or two if you have time."

"No problem. See ya later, Jade."

"Later, Roselyn."

She ducked back, the shadows closed over her, and I was alone.

I looked back up at the door and heaved a sigh, chewing nervously on my lower lip. Some of my bravado was leaving me, and I laid a hand on the handle of the sword at my side. He wasn't my father, but he was still a highly capable killer in his own right.

"But hey, so am I," I muttered to myself. "I've killed demons... of course, Dad was there to beat the hell out of them first, so maybe that doesn't count."

I slowly climbed the stairs, wondering just how I was going to pull this off. I knew he was in there, but so would be a whole roomful of people. The bad part was that this was a neutral place: killing in the pub could get you in a shitload of trouble. The supernatural world really had no collective court. Justice was the sword in your own hand, from what I could tell. It's why people like my father are highly prized, and why they are highly mourned when they go rogue.

But there were safe places, places where shedding blood was taboo.

And damn it all, this was one of them.

Look on the bright side, I thought to myself. Maybe he won't be in there. And where, replied a pessimistic little voice in the back of my head, have you ever seen him anywhere else?

Hey, maybe we'll get lucky and he'll be drunk!

Yeah, like your screwed up sense of honor would let you attack a drunk.

Yes, well - damn, I hate being my father's daughter sometimes.

I reached the top of the stairs and stopped. I was really starting to come back to myself now. I'd been riding the faery high for hours, but now I was feeling the inevitable "me-ness" starting to return.

Remember Renaeka? Remember your mother? Remember the coals on your back and the cuts and the slaps and the... touches?

All right, all right, I'm going. Don't be such a gothy little cheerleader.

I reached out to open the door and barely jumped back in time to avoid it flying open and the two tangled figures come barreling out. You couldn't kill in the pub, but bar fights were legendary. I stepped over the two trying their damnedest to maim each other and managed to stop them with just that action.

"Hot damn, babe!" one yelled, leering. "Wanna wrestle?"

"Go procreate in isolation, jackass," I snarled, then turned my attention on the tables inside. A barrage of whistles and catcalls sounded at my entrance, plus several invitations for the night. Jade was so dead when I got home.

I spotted one of the barmaids that I happened to know rather well: a pooka named Heather. Her animal form was rabbit, and even when she wore a bipedal form, she had huge, floppy bunny ears that hit her somewhere around the waist - the same length as her hair. They were also the same soft brown. There was also something rabbity about her nose. It twitched continually.

She was staring at me with wide, wary eyes, and it suddenly hit me that not one person in the room had any idea who I was though I'd been here enough to be a regular.

"Shifting," I muttered. "Instant makeover without the cost. Gotta love it."

I moved over to Heather, who started to get a little jumpy at my approach. Obviously, she was seeing something in me that I wasn't. I thought I looked sweet and harmless, like a little kid playing dress-up. She was staring at me as if I'd just walked in with the Wild Hunt at my heels.

"Heather, geez... get a grip. It's just me."

Her nose twitched a couple more times, and I realized she was smelling me. Her eyes got even wider. "Shit! Carlie? What the - what happened to you?"

"Let's just say I finally found myself. Hey, have you seen Owen tonight? Y'know, Morte's shifter buddy?"

She was still staring at me like I was one of Jade's monster comrades. "Uh, Owen? Y-yeah, he's in the, er, back."

"Oh man... with the satyr chick?"

She blinked, as if my words shocked her back from wherever her thoughts had been. "No. Didn't you hear? Thorn got her."

"No, I didn't hear. Nice mourning ritual he has."

"Tell me about it. Uh, you want a drink?"

I shook my head, then stepped close to her and whispered in one of her long ears. "You need to get everyone out of here. Quietly. Eli's here."

"Shit! Where?"

I winced as the panic sent her voice up several decibels and the entire pub stared at us curiously. Grabbing her wrist, I growled as low as I could, knowing there were a lot of ears in this room that would hear me anyway.

"Look, a lot of stuff has happened to me since I heard Eli was in town looking for me," I muttered near her ear. "A lot of it's been revelation. But the one big important thing that needs to be known is that Eli Thorn, demon hunter extraordinaire, has been dead for over five years now. This - thing calling itself Eli killed him and then took his identity, and I don't know why."

"But - wouldn't you have known that? You seem like the type that could spot something like that."

I dropped my head, smiling. "Not with the confusion spells that's been wrapped around me tighter than a hungry anaconda. Now get everyone out of here. I - I think Owen's in trouble, and I'm gonna go help him."

"Wow. And here I thought you didn't like him."

I shrugged. "He's a friend of Morte. Now hurry."

I stepped past her and headed for the rooms in the back. The pub doubled as an inn for wayward travelers, but sometimes they were used for when customers got a little raunchy and couldn't wait. Owen was famed for it. Hell, they practically reserved a room for him nightly.

The sounds of people leaving in chaotic panic echoed through the place, but I ignored it, trusting in Heather to get everyone out safely. I walked down the narrow hallway, every instinct I had screaming ambush. But nothing jumped out at me as I made my way to the end of the hall. There were no sounds coming from any of the rooms I passed, and the silence was unnerving.

So help me, if I lose my nerve now, I'm gonna hurt me.

Well, it wasn't completely silent. I could hear noises coming from the last room on the left. They sounded suspiciously like the noises I was making last night. Wonderful. Now I'd had to wonder if I could attack people screwing!

What the hell did you think they'd be doing when you started down this way? that traitorous little voice shrieked.

Oh, shut up!

I slowly slid the sword out of its sheath and held it ready at my side as I crept up to the last room. The door was cracked, and I managed to get a pretty good look at the fun inside the room - such as it was. Owen was easy to spot. He was the one sitting propped up against the headboard with an obvious female straddling his lap. She looked human and typical goth chick at that, with a shaggy mane of dyed black hair and skin the perfect shade of unhealthy sunless pale. She also looked a lot older than the typical ages Owen usually screwed. She wasn't all that pretty, either. She was definitely past that whole bloom of youth thing. Either I didn't know Owen well (which I didn't, come to think of it), or something more was going on.

My fingers flexed around the sword's handle as I noticed one very strange thing (and trust me, the distraction was welcome) that hit me strongly for the very first time. Owen had a hair color unusual even for a shifter. It was the darkest of green-blue, like the color of seawater deep beneath the surface. That had been the first thing I'd noticed when Morte had introduced us the first time. I'd half-wished I could have hair like that. It was the one and only thing I'd admired about him.

But deep down, I'd never been comfortable around him. For one thing, his smell bothered me. He wore this cologne that made me jumpy and nervous every time I caught a whiff. And he looked at me as if I wasn't wearing anything, but Morte said he looked at all females like that. So I'd felt very conceited when I thought that maybe, just maybe it meant a little more with me.

At least now I knew why he made me so edgy.

Owen's hair was the exact same color as the highlights that had danced in Eli's hair when the light hit it just right. The smell of that cologne had danced in my nostrils every time I'd been jerked far too close in one of his fits of anger. My hair would often stink of the stuff. And I knew that look that Owen would give me as the same look that would flare in Eli's eyes when -

Some things I have a hard enough time remembering. I won't share them. Draw your own conclusions; you'll probably be right.

Most of the conclusions that were coming to me came subconsciously, arriving out of nowhere and taken for the honest truth. The confusion spells kept me from consciously making any connections, but I was about to take care of that little problem right now.

I didn't think about my next action; instinct carried me. Before I was knew I'd done it, I'd leapt into the room and brought the Ice Blade around in one heavy, swinging arc that spun me halfway around with the follow through. I jerked back around to see the damage I'd done, and grinned ferociously as the now headless goth chick fell over slowly. Well, so much for my honor system. Owen had already scrambled away and disappeared, and instinct brought the sword in my hands up to catch the downswing of the Fire Blade.

We stared at each other across the space of a few inches. Then Owen's face broke into a wide, pleased smile.

"Gods above and below, that was the most beautiful sight I've seen in ages."

"Confusion spells," I snarled. "And that was the little bitch that wove them. So I guess it's really true what they say: kill the witch, kill the spell."

"Well, when a spell has deteriorated as much as the ones on you had, that works just fine." The smile narrowed down to a smirk. "I was hoping you'd shrug off the rest of it yourself."

Memories that had been viewed through a fog were now clear as day, and I saw the two halves of my life with perfect clarity for the first time in five years. It was very distracting.

"Now, let me see if I've got everything now," I said, still blocking the blow from above. Damn, my arms were already starting to hurt. "For some reason I still don't know, you came to my house, my father's house, and killed my mother and my father. Then you decided to play my father and torture me for the next five years, and you had this half-assed little witch put a major confusion spell plus a good gullibility spell on me so I wouldn't question anything that I was told and wouldn't be able to think about it either. Which is why I could never see the plot holes in my memory big enough to drive the freakin' space shuttle though. Now, what I can't understand is... why would you do this?"

His eyes rolled to the side in a show of melodrama as he considered my question. "Well, the answer to that is two-fold. Perhaps you'd like to join me in a drink while I explain?"

I knocked his sword aside and tried a low blow, which he easily blocked. We danced around the room for a few minutes, testing each other's talents, finding weaknesses and strengths. He was good, I'd give him that - but my father had been much better.

"Something just occurred to me," I yelled after we both jumped back a few feet.

He swung the sword to the side, raising a brow. "Which is?"

"All the kills you told me about, all that I've heard - you only attack creatures that a five-year-old could take out. The weak, the infirm, the young... hell, Renaeka had just gotten through shoving an egg out. How much skill did it take to off her? You suck at sword play, don't ya?"

His face went cold. "I'm doing well enough to hold you off, child."

"Aw, come on. I'm just warming up. It's been a few years for me." I brought the sword down in front of me in a showy sweep and grinned. "I nearly beat my father once. I can sure as hell beat you."

"But like you said, it's been a few years for you. I can just imagine how your training has eroded."

"Hey, it's like riding a bike," I muttered, looking for an opening. But he was right. The body remembered the moves, but the best I could do was surprise attacks and defense. Offense was out the question. Dammit! Up the creek, no paddle - hell, no freakin' canoe, for that matter. Now I wished I had Aerael at my back.

He was starting to move again, slowly circling towards me. I moved as well, keeping the distance between us as I tried to think of what to do next. The fact that he was still pantless was distracting.

"If you'd like to put some pants on, I'll be glad to wait," I said sweetly, trying hard not to stare.

"Now, now. If your memory is back as well as all that, then you know I could care less about being naked around you, Roselyn dear."

I shuddered. "You just had to bring that up."

"I remember it quite fondly, though you might not. You had the sweetest little body... though this, I feel, surpasses any you might wear. This is what I've been waiting for all these years. Do you have any idea what you are, Roselyn? Who you are?"

"Yeah. I'm Roselyn Thorn, daughter of Eli Thorn and the chick that's gonna kick your ass. That's all I care."

"Oh, you'll care when every fae you meet backs away in fear and awe. Would Morte have told you, I wonder, had he seen you like this? I'm sure he wouldn't have been able to hold it in, not news like this. Did you sneak off to this little rendezvous? I'm so flattered. A little alone time, just between us, for old times' sake. If I didn't know better, I'd think you missed me."

"Would you mind shutting up? It's very hard to fight and barf at the same time."

"You asked 'why,' I believe," he went on, ignoring me. He had lost all interest in the fight, it seemed. The Fire Blade was loose at his side, though his grip spoke volumes. It said it could easily tighten and swing at me if I gave any indication of attack. He wasn't offering me violence, though I had offered plenty. Great, just what I needed - another question.

"Yeah, I asked 'why'. Why the hell would you do something like that to me? If it was to get back at Dad, you would have left him alive to watch."

"Ruining Eli's good name was just part of it," he said with a grin, then muttered, "Pompous little prick. I've never been so ashamed of any of my children, I swear."


"Oh yes. Didn't I ever mention Eli was my son? No? My bad." He smiled far too sweetly for such a bastard and added, "You can call me Gramps, if you like."

"Oh... my."

"It all comes down to breeding, you see," he went on, waving a hand theatrically. "For centuries now I've tried to breed royal. I knew it was in my bloodline, of course. My mother was one. She was the most beautiful queen." He sighed, lost to recollection. I tensed, debating making a move, but his attention snapped back to me and I was pinned by his gaze. "Don't - move. I don't want to hurt you, Roselyn. You're too valuable a prize to be damaged."

"Funny. I have a back full of burn scars and several blade scars that tell me otherwise."

"Pain brings out the best in a shifter, be it emotional or physical. It was all for your own good!" he added brightly. "I've bred another royal as perfect as my mother before me, perhaps even more so. But all you would ever show was the sorry form of the plainest non-breeder. Pissed me off to no end, though a good stubborn streak is always appreciated - in the right moment, of course." His head cocked to one side as he regarded my puzzled look. "Or didn't you know that most female shifters are sterile?"

I shook my head. "Great. I'm a queen bee. Well, maybe an ant with this coloring. I still don't get it."

"He who control the queen has the greatest power," he answered simply, as if I'd just asked what two plus two equaled.

"I'm sorry, I'm still lost. Okay, you killed my mother. You killed my father. You tortured me emotionally and physically because somehow you found out that I was destined to be a queen and you wanted to bring it out. You killed my mother and my father because if I'd come into my 'queeniness' with them around, they'd be the ones who had the power of - what?"

"I told you. Only the queens can breed true. Otherwise shifters have to breed with other fae or humans, which leaves the offspring weaker than the royal-bred. For centuries shifters have been the weak bloods of half-pairings, ever since my mother's death. No queens have been born, and all other royal-breds have died or been killed. All that's left are these weak rejects. So, as the only remaining royal blood, it was up to me to try and breed another queen."

"Everyone needs a hobby?" I made it a question. But that's what it sounded like. Some bred dogs, some bred cats - he just happened to breed shifters. And in his eyes, I was a perfect 10 on the judges' scale. For all I knew my spots were just the right shape, my breasts just perfect, great narrow waist and hair the regulation color.

He ignored me again, lost again in his own little world. "I never thought my prize would come from that little disappointment Eli. He was the weakest of all my children, too much in love with mortals. Did he hunt for the thrill, as a true shifter should? No, he did it for the protection -protecting humans, protecting weaker fae."

"Look who's talking about weaker fae, baby killer!"

Still ignoring me, he glanced at the decapitated witch and sighed. "Shame about you killing her, though. Subduing you would have been so much easier. Still, it does your grandfather's heart proud, child. Such a ruthless, merciless blow. Hell, she never knew what hit her."


I don't know why or how, but it suddenly came to me in a rush just what he had in mind for me. He had bred his perfect shifter, a breeding queen. And this power hungry bastard wanted to father true bred shifters, which would be stronger than any sired on other fae or humans. Powerful children that he could control, that he could use for who knows what nefarious plan. For all I knew he had some mad scheme to rule the world.

My blood whispered that blood ties meant nothing to us, that incest was a human word, and that here was a fine sire to a future brood.

Frankly, I told my blood it could go fuck itself, and I launched myself blindly at the smirking shifter before me. I saw no openings, knew there was no way I could make a strike, and waited for the Fire Blade to easily block me, but instead I watched as his form doubled, maybe tripled in size quickly. A hand as long as my torso swept around in a back slap, lifting me off of my feet and throwing me out of the room and into the hallway wall outside.


I slid into an ungraceful heap on the floor, losing my grip on the Ice Blade as I fell and lay limply on the cool boards below me. My body was one great pain that took away my sight and breath, and I knew I couldn't get a grip on myself fast enough to protect myself when he came after me. I tried shifting into something bigger - something with claws and teeth - but nothing would cooperate. Sitting duck a la roast, that's what I was.

But still I tried to reach for my blade, even though I couldn't have done any more than grip the handle. My fingers just touched the leather wrapping when a slippered foot stomped on the blade, and a dark hand reached down and picked it up before me.

The wormy little bastard was going back to basics, it seem - torture the girl using her father's form. Hadn't we done that already? Been there, done that, t-shirt hanging in the back of the closet as a distant reminder. I rolled my eyes up to glare balefully at him, and then I caught the scent.

There was an undercurrent of winter that all dark fae had, but over that was the musk smell of fur. It was Morte's smell, a smell that had always been comforting for reasons I didn't know. I looked up at the somewhat Asian man standing over me, sword held with the confident grip of a lifetime's mastery, and a fearful scowl twisting his mouth as he glared at a suddenly wary Owen - or whatever the hell his name really was.

Yes, I knew that smell to be Morte, and I knew it was Morte standing protectively over me. But now I also remembered that smell from another time, and with a sudden leap of my heart I realized just who my protector really was.

I smiled up at him weakly, managing to get out two last words before the pain drew me into the dark embrace of unconsciousness.

"Hi, Daddy."


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