by Teresa Cain
"Man, poor Carlie," Owen grumbled, handing his glass to the satyr waitress on his lap. "Same again, darlin'. Scoot."
She giggled and trotted back to the bar, moving her hips for maximum effect. Owen watched her wiggle with an appreciative look, then let out a loud "Hey!" as Morte reached across the small table and hit the back of his head.
"Will you pay attention, you horny bastard?" he growled, sinking back into his chair and glaring at the cowboy wannabe shifter. "How sincere do you think you sound saying 'Poor Carlie' then hitting on the barmaid?"
"Yeah, like she's really a maid. Anyway, when Eli Thorn is involved, 'poor Carlie' is just a statement of fact. Who the hell needs sincerity? She sure it's him?"
"If anyone knows his MO, it's gonna be his daughter. How much you wanna bet he used to take her on his hunts?" Morte sighed and sank back, looking into his mug of ale. Well, it had started out a good week anyway. Carlie had finally managed to hold an animal form for longer than five seconds, plus he'd gotten to dangle his next door neighbor by an ankle from his balcony after the bastard had verbally abused his six-year-old daughter within Morte's earshot. Now a demon hunter known the world over was in his neck of the woods, and not only was he hunting a friend, but was taking out others while he was on the prowl.
He'd meant to come by the pub, known all over New York as a place where the outré could come and just be themselves, to give a warning to its patrons and get them to spread the word that Eli Thorn was in town. Instead, he'd seen another friend and decided to calm his nerves with a mug or two of ale. He was on his fifth and his nerves were still frazzled.
He drained the mug and raised his finger for another, wondering what his chances were of hunting Thorn down first and ending his threat. Crueler fae than he had tried and failed. Actually, when it came right down to it, Morte wasn't much good for torturing anything other than human. That biker bit earlier had been a good shift, but it went against his normal personality. When he took a human form, he looked... foppish. Wasn't that the word Carlie had used? Slender, almost effeminate, with long golden curls and long lashes the envy of every female that saw him.and a mouth that always looked painted. Carlie was right - he did look foppish. Unfortunately, it was the only other form besides his faery shape that felt normal and would hold for any great length of time.
But all shifters did that... the males, anyway. The females actually tended to be on the plain side. At the most they were cute, like Carlie. But males were annoyingly pretty. Still, being fae, that wasn't all that big a deal. Most male faeries were pretty rather than handsome. It made living among mortals a bitch, though.
The barmaid came back with two more mugs of ale and resumed her seat on Owen's lap, burying her face in the cowboy's wild white mane. He gave her furry butt a pinch, making her squeal prettily, then turned his attention back to a quickly sickening Morte. "Hey, have you been training that kid in anything other than honing her shifting abilities?"
"Owen, so help me, if that means what I think it - "
"Nah nah, nothin' dirty. Besides, she's livin' with an incubus. Like she's gonna need any outside trainin' in that." He waggled his eyebrows conspiratorially. "I meant fightin' stuff. You think she has any clue how to take care of herself if she was to get cornered and her shiftin' couldn't help?"
"Oh that. No, haven't had any time. I've just focused on strengthening her shifting muscle."
"Well, you might consider it. Of course, I've seen you fight," Owen added with a smirk. "You'd probably wanna suggest another teacher."
"Shut up, Owen." Morte looked into his new mug, considered it, then put it aside. "Look, I'm going to head home and make a few more calls. Other people need to know that psycho is around."
He tossed a few bills on the table, nodded to Owen and the cooing satyr barmaid, and walked out with his hands shoved deep in his jeans' pockets.
The pub sat over a dusty old occult bookstore, with an alley entrance at the top of an old iron staircase. Even during the day the alley tended to be dark, but the pub's patrons actually preferred this. It was convenient.
Morte was so deep in thought as he slowly descended that he didn't notice the shadow waiting below. He paused at the foot of the stairs and stared into the light of the street lamp on the sidewalk, wondering if perhaps Owen hadn't had a point about teaching Carlie something other than shifting. Too late for that now, of course. His only hope for her now was that Eli had trained her a bit before her fae nature had revealed itself. But would it be enough to actually give her an advantage?
He heard the "snick" of a blade just in time to duck its passage as it sliced the air where his neck had been moments before. Snarling, he whirled around and jumped back, the tip of the katana slicing through his shirt on its downswing. By the time the sword made another pass at him, Morte had put his foot into the sword wielder's stomach, jumped onto the side of the side of the building across from the pub and was quickly making a vertical run for its roof. Damn good thing most fae could ignore the law of gravity, he thought frantically, else he would have been seriously screwed.
He stopped abruptly a few feet from the roof and crouched there on the side of the wall, his chest heaving with panting breaths. He meant to search the alley below for his attacker, but to his surprise he found the sword-swinger only a few feet away, kneeling on one knee as he grinned up at Morte. That damn sword was being held out to his side at arm length, and the other was propped on his upraised knee, chin resting on his fist.
"I was guessing you were Eli Thorn, but this little trick is making me rethink my theory," Morte growled out, tensing. One move, just one tiny move, and he would shift into something with claws.and teeth.and possibly razor sharp quills.
The man only grinned widely and reversed his blade so that it rested on his shoulder. "I'd stick with your first theory."
Shit... this was Eli Thorn? Carlie had never described him, and no one else who'd met him had walked away alive, but Morte had always pictured a burly, psychotic, Amish-looking man. It was the name. He hadn't expected a dark-skinned, slender man with raven black hair hanging in a tight braid high on the back of his head and exotic black, tilted eyes. He really hadn't expected the black vest and pants with a vaguely harem-ish look about them... or the black slippers on his feet. Of course, the real kicker was this guy only looked at the most thirty, which meant he should have fathered Carlie at what, twelve?
If he'd been her real father, that is.
"You're Eli Thorn," Morte stated with adamant disbelief. "Right. Look, buddy, nice sword, but I've got this real problem with the idea that a demon hunter could be sitting on the side of a wall like you're doing. It just goes against everything I've ever believed about demon hunters."
"I'm looking for my daughter," Eli said, ignoring him completely as he rose gracefully to his feet. "And I'm told you know her quite well. Perhaps you would be so kind as to give me an address?"
"Now, now, no need for that kind of language," said the demon hunter with a maniac grin as he gave his sword an impressive twirl. "I just want to invite her out for a bit of lunch, shoot the shit and such. We never really had all that great of a father/daughter relationship, but I really believe that it's never too late to try. But she just goes running off to parts unknown, you know, leaving me worried and heartbroken and searching absolutely everywhere for her. Finally, I just asked myself, 'Eli,' I call myself that, you know, 'Eli, where do you think a young teenage runaway would go to? Why, New York of course! And while you're there, you can see the sights, take in a show or two, slaughter a few inhuman monstrosities, grab your daughter, and go home. Won't that be nice?' So! If you can just point me in the direction of my sweet Roselyn, I'll just-be-on-my-way."
Morte just stared at him and felt himself slip into his shifter form in his nervousness. He watched as Eli's eyes widened in shock at the sight of him, which surprised him, too. Come on, the guy must have known that he wasn't human. What kind of demon hunter would let the fact that his prey was sitting on the side of a wall escape him? Of course, what kind of demon hunter could sit on the wall as well? He had a charmed sword... maybe the shoes were charmed as well?
"You'll have to kill me," Morte snarled finally. "I'm not giving you Carlie."
"Oh hell, is she still calling herself that damn stupid name? I swear, you try beating a nasty habit out of a kid, and it just makes them all the more determined to do it. Children are so contrary, have you noticed that?"
Morte stared at him, silent and still, then suddenly launched himself into the air. Eli moved, sword flashing, but in the end all he caught was a slash down the side of the shifter's calf as he changed into a winged gargoyle and fled into the dark night sky, soon lost to sight.
Eli slowly walked up the wall and onto the roof, his eyes searching a black, cloudy night for any sign of the shifter. But the lack of moon or stars coupled with the lights of New York only served to blind him. He sheathed the sword and folded his arms across his chest, eyes still looking upwards and his mouth turned down into a petulant pout.
"Well... shit," he muttered sulkily.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Bargains ©2000-2001 by Teresa Cain
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