Sneak Peek- Shifting Problems, Book 1, Bloodline Awakened Supernatural Thriller Series-December 5 Release Date

Shifting Problems

Bloodline Awakened Supernatural Thriller Series, Book 1

By Jason Paul Rice

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Jason Paul Rice

All rights reserved.  Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction.  All names are made up and used fictionally.  Any resemblance to real people is completely coincidental.   Any resemblance to real events is only part of the author’s imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

I walked into the meeting room and guilt attacked me as I said hello to the other members.  I had sworn an oath in front of the Celtic Gods to protect Pittsburgh from dark forces.  In exchange for my oath, the Druidic physicians and healing witches had cured my lung cancer.  The Gods had also promised to turn me into a powerful wizard, but I was only twenty-three, beginning a lifelong journey of magic.

As I sat down, my guilty feelings increased, knowing I had an underworld advantage in my battle, while the rest of the group was at the mercy of their insurance providers to stay alive.  I was a proud regular at the Cancer Support Group on Locust Street in Oakland.

We sat on folding chairs set up in a horseshoe configuration.  The early morning sun crept through a set of cracked blinds, casting long shadows across the burgundy carpeting.  A small table in the corner had a pot of coffee and pumpkin-spiced rice crispy treats on it.  The heat kicked on, creating a competing aromatic swirl of java, perfume and cologne.

A woman with a gaunt face and red handkerchief covering her bald head stood up.  “I’m Stacy and I’m a cancer fighter.”

We all rang out, “Hi, Stacy.”

Stacy scratched one of the moles on her pale cheek with a trembling thumb and sniffled through her flared nostrils.  “I’m doing better, but not out of the woods yet.  I’ve been given a forty-percent chance at survival.”  Tears formed in her reddened eyes and she produced a used tissue from her pocket.  She blew her nose and everyone waited patiently.  Her soft voice cracked as she continued, “I know that’s not the greatest odds, but I’m going to beat it.”  She barely got the last few words out.

The rest of the support group started clapping and I jumped up from my chair.  I took four steps forward and wrapped my arms around Stacy.  Her forehead hit my clavicle and her tears meshed into the fabric of my hoodie with the cursive writing, Merlino Detective Service, across the chest.

I hadn’t known her before she had walked through that entrance door about an hour ago, but when you’re fighting cancer, we all fight under the same flag.

I felt the warmth of her body, but it wasn’t complete warmth, almost an artificial heat.  The outer shell of her body carried the heat and hid the icy glacier just beneath the surface.  Fighting cancer could do that to a person.  You could lie to everyone else about it, but deep down, you could never fool yourself.

It didn’t take a wizard to sense her pain.  The group leader, Sharon, cleared her throat for several seconds.  The stubborn phlegm didn’t want to come up.  It was like years and years of collected cobwebs that she wildly swatted away with a broom, only to create a tangled mess on the bristles and tire herself out in the process.

She finally wrestled the obstruction loose, chewed it up, took a swig of her Diet Dr. Pepper, and swallowed it.  I wanted to gag.  Sharon said, “Thank you for sharing, Stacy.  I know it’s difficult right now, but you have this group behind you.  If you ever need anything, we have a master list of everyone’s phone numbers that you can take with you.”

It’s hard to explain what it had been like to hear the diagnosis, once the words finally seeped through the thick layers of shock and denial.  Everything had changed.  I’d heard almost all those words during the diagnosis a million times before, but not in that particular order.  And not that one particular word.  Cancer.

I remembered what it was like at first.  Everything faded, became dull, vapid, pallid.  Like there was nothing there.  Everything was stupid.  Everything sucked.  I was simply waiting to die.  A skeleton of bones waiting for the flesh to waste away.

It was important to have people invest emotionally in you when your head was in that state.  For me, it was Alayna, the wingless faerie, my savior, and my mentor.  I loved her more than my limited vocabulary could properly express.  She had taken me to the Druidic underworld known as the Deep Burrow and introduced me to the Celtic Gods.

Some of these survivors didn’t have anyone to turn to, nobody to give a shit about them.  You needed somebody, and I wanted to be that somebody that everyone could lean on.

I had an amazing advantage fighting my cancer, and even then it was a great struggle.  I wanted to be there for the fighters who didn’t have a strong support system.  I let go of Stacy, looked encouragingly into her crying green eyes, and we both returned to our seats.

My phone buzzed in my pocket and I slid it out just enough to see who it was.  Lieutenant Gretchen Meyer of the newly formed Pittsburgh Police Department of the Occult.  I checked the message and it said she needed to talk to me.  Strange.  She never wanted to talk to me unless she desperately needed help.

I had been providing detective work, even though I didn’t fully understand the craft, for the past year to pay rent and bills.  Alayna hadn’t told me the whole truth when she had promised that I wouldn’t have to worry about money.  I thought I would get a rich benefactor to put me up in a mansion and give me a new car every week.  Wrong.  Wrong to the tenth.

I texted Lieutenant Meyer back and let her know that I was in a meeting.  My phone immediately buzzed again with one word in all caps.  URGENT.  Gretchen, who hated it when I called her by her first name, was never one for one-word messages so I had a good idea something big might have happened.  Finally.

I had taken on several cases over the last year, only to have them turn out to be paranormal hoaxes and the alien attack had turned out to be nothing more than a rabid barn owl, so I hoped I would finally have the chance to take on a real case.

I texted her back to pick me up at the meeting.  I had left a few meetings before they ended, but I always felt terrible about it.  These survivors were now my battle brothers and sisters and I wanted to be there for them, as they had for me, for the entire meetings.  Unfortunately, the meetings weren’t going to ward off my mentor/angry landlord, Alayna.

Ten minutes later, another text came through.  Gretchen was waiting outside, so I apologized and slipped out the gray door with a square slab of glass at about head level for most people.  I stepped out into the chilly autumn day and secured the middle button on my leather jacket.

I opened the passenger door of the ’98 Jeep Cherokee.  Gretchen had never picked me up in a squad car.  I hopped in and was met by a stiff face and pursed lips.  G.M., another nickname I had given her that she hated, scratched her firm chin.  I assumed she was in her mid-forties, short and stout, filling out the black police uniform.  Her German roots had given her amber eyes, short, sandy-blond hair, bronze skin and a tough-as-nails attitude.

She barked, “You’re not carrying anything wet this time, are you?”

I turned away from her and looked at the sky.  A cerulean setting streaked with ivory clouds.  No gray ones to be found.  “What are you talking about?”

She spoke in a German accent and a deep voice for a woman, “Look, it only takes one time.  I don’t know what to expect out of you.”

One time.  One time, I had been experimenting with potions and the process went a little haywire.  The tiny vial exploded in her car, soaking most of her vehicle and me.  In my defense, I did pay for her to have the entire SUV professionally shampooed.  I had hoped she would turn down the offer from a broke young man struggling to make his way.  I overestimated her.  She had told me I needed to learn responsibility someway.

“We’re all good this time.  What is so important?”

She pulled out onto the main road and jammed down the gas pedal.  “What do you know about animal shifting?”

Okay, this party just got kicked into overdrive.  “What is your real question, G.M.?”

She turned and stared at me as she flew down 5th Avenue.  “What did I tell you about that?  We’re not in some fraternity together, dude, so show me respect and call me Lieutenant.”

I don’t think I have ever called her by her proper title.

She continued, “Who in this city is capable of shifting into a demon-like creature?”

Now we were getting somewhere.  Paranormal activity had been on the rise in Pittsburgh for the past decade, hence the new department that had been set up about a year ago.  “Off the top of my head, that’s a little difficult to say.  I’d first probably say it could be the McNights.”

“They are a huge family.  I assume the McNights from the goth bowling alley?”

“Those are the ones.  I’ve received confirmation that they are connected to demons from the Red Cavern.  Not sure if I believe it and I can’t get close to them because I don’t have any proof other than hearsay.”

Gretchen turned to me again and let the car veer toward oncoming traffic.  The blaring car horn alerted me to grab the wheel with some of my mental magic and jerk it back into our lane.

She peeked over a few times, trying to keep her attention on the road.  “Are you sure?  Any corroboration you could provide?”

She knew that the underworld of demons named the Red Cavern was real, but she didn’t want to believe it.  Nobody did.  Not even me.  For heading a specialized department dealing with the occult, G.M. hadn’t the slightest interest in the paranormal and taken the job for the pay raise only.  She remained focused on making enough money to start her own detective agency.  She hadn’t confessed the details to me, but I knew she hated working for someone else and really hated taking any advice from someone half her age.

I couldn’t argue with her on either measure, especially the latter.  I wouldn’t want to take advice from a ten-year-old in the same way that she wouldn’t want to take advice from a twenty-three-year-old know-it-all.  What could I say, I had a lot of knowledge in my head and was proud to share it.  I just needed to work on my delivery and sarcasm so I didn’t come across as such an asshole.

I knew it was a deficiency, but I was working on it.  Most of my time during my cancer recovery was spent with Mabon, the youthful God.  It had done wonders for learning new information, but little for my development as a mature adult.

“Corroboration?” I mocked in a funny tone, like the bad guy from the Dick Tracy cartoons.  I used to watch them with my Mom.  “You know how I work.  Have any of my uncorroborated stories turned out to be false?  Give me the whole picture, G.M., not just little hints.”

“It’s Lieutenant Meyer, you dolt.  All right, tough guy, you ready?  We received a report about a board meeting in the PNC Building downtown.”

“Sounds pretty exciting.”  I jabbed at her.

She huffed and cutoff another car to get into the right lane.  “If you’ll allow me to finish.  One surviving eye-witness said that Darren Danbergh suddenly changed into a dark, reptilian figure and used its massive claws and teeth to rip into, and devour everyone in the meeting, except for one traumatized eye-witness.  One of my colleagues said it was the most gruesome crime scene she has ever seen.  And she’s seen them all.”

“Okay, if that’s true, we seem to be driving away from the city.”

“Ahh, very good Einstein.”

“I’m smarter than you.”  Damn my childish nature.

“Not sure if you want to be bragging about that.”

“I’m smarter than you.”  I don’t know how the second one slipped out of my mouth again.  I needed to work on that.

“Focus.  We are going to the house of the shifter.  Scrounged up some quick information that he had a live-in girlfriend.  Thirty-two year old Ruth Westerhouse.  Quite a last name there.”

“Is she from, ‘The Westerhouses?’”

“The one and only.  Although it sounds like she was ousted from the good graces of the family.”

The Westerhouses basically ran the city of Pittsburgh.  You couldn’t walk more than two blocks without seeing a sign for one of their numerous businesses.

“The shifter.  What’s the file on him?”

“Darren Danbergh.  Up and coming Vice President at PNC.  Co-workers say he kept to himself.  Not much more information as of yet.”

“I can already tell you’ve visited the crime scene.  Where is this house?”

“Fox Chapel.  Should be there in about five minutes.”  She speeded up.

I wondered if G.M. knew that Fox Chapel was becoming a hotbed of paranormal activity.  I had several side jobs, separate from Gretchen’s work, which proved that a lot of rich people were suddenly dabbling in the dark art of magic.  Dark magic almost always carried a tragic cost.  Or so I had heard.

Being a novice in the game of magic was frustrating.  The one thing I had learned was that I hadn’t learned very much.  I had absorbed about two drops out of the ocean of magic.  I had the ability to harness more magic than almost anyone in the world.  The end-game potential was scary.  I had learned about the different nuances of magic, the threat of the Red Cavern, and how to use magic in the city with thousands of innocent people running around, but I still yearned for more.  We arrived at the house.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

I got out of the car.  Nice house.  Not Westerhouse nice, but I would have loved to call it home.  A two-story house, the bottom level made of brick that receded into the second floor covered with dirty white aluminum siding in desperate need of a power wash.

Two Doric columns held a rectangular roof over the entrance to the house and a walkway snaked around the yard, ending near the mailbox.  A Lincoln Navigator sat in the driveway.  The vehicle had the two driver’s side wheels in the driveway but the other two were in the grass.

Gretchen parked in front of the house and we made the awkward walk to the doorway.  I didn’t know what to say.  Oh, hey, sorry to bother you, but do you have a minute to talk about how your boyfriend turned out to be a grisly murderer?  Or, maybe you’d like to discuss how you were booted from the richest family in Pittsburgh?  Neither sounded like a good opening line.

I had experience in consoling people, but in those situations, I wasn’t trying to garner information.  Totally different ballgame when you were trying to pry information out of a traumatized witness.

We got out of the car and walked up the walkway.  We were about ten feet from the entrance, when the glass screen door opened toward us.  Gretchen dug into her pocket to grab her badge as a woman came outside and held her hand up in a fist.

Disheveled, strung-out and tired were the first words to pop into my head.  The short woman with dyed bright red hair and black roots had freckles under her heavy sheen of makeup.  Her dainty nose and the complete package made me envision that Little Orphan Annie had grown up to be a stripper.

She screamed, “I told you we would have the stuff ready, when it’s ready.”  She stopped when Gretchen held up her badge.

“Ma’am, I am Lieutenant Gretchen Meyer of the Pittsburgh Police Occult Unit.  This is detective Merlino.”

I nodded my head, tightlipped.  “Ma’am.”

“What do you want with me?”  Her face went pale, and I realized she didn’t know.

What the hell, G.M.?  Being the first to talk to a witness is great, but I didn’t know we were rolling up Grim Reaper style.  I took a deep breath and hoped Gretchen would take the lead.  She didn’t.

“Ma’am.  I’m afraid we have some bad news for you.  Your boyfriend is suspected of some really heinous criminal behavior.”  I danced around the exact truth.  I didn’t know how to say it.  “Multiple murders.”  I can’t believe those were the comforting words I settled on.

Her crying eyes rolled back in her head and she looked like she might pass out.

Smooth, real smooth.

I reached out, hooked underneath her sweaty armpits and held her up.  It wasn’t dead weight.  I helped straighten her out and rubbed my ridiculous mustache.  Not because I wanted to play with the ratty stash, I needed a quick sniff.

Body odor, yes, but body odor was drowned out by deodorant.  Not a clue, but this was a sign.  My suspicion had been raised.  I leaned in and hugged the woman.  I pulled her close and the shorter woman lay her head on my chest.

I silently sniffed fresh layers of makeup and stale whiskey.  I wiggled my nostril hairs.  Jameson Irish Whiskey.  Good taste.  Back to the makeup.  Although it had been smeared across most of her face, it had been applied within the last few hours.  I looked at the sun.  It couldn’t be past 8:30 a.m.

It didn’t add up.  Why would this woman put makeup on this morning unless she was expecting company?  Was she wearing an evening gown underneath the full-length red cotton bathrobe?  When I put more thought into it, her melodramatic performance seemed rather fishy too.  Her legs had given out, but not completely.  I didn’t know what was going on, but it didn’t seem right.

She added to the collage of tears on my hoodie as I rubbed her back.  I needed to know more.  “Would you mind answering a few questions, ma’am?”

She kicked her bawling up a notch, sending off more bells and whistles.

She looked up at me, lips quaking, and said, “I don’t think now is a good time.  This is all too much right now.”

I broke the embrace and took a step back.  Too much?  I hadn’t even told her about how her boyfriend ripped human beings to shreds—not to mention, he probably was a cannibal.  I remembered when my father had gone to jail and I had wanted to know every single detail.

Gretchen finally found her tongue and joined the conversation.  “Are you sure?  When would be a good time to come back?”

Ruth sniffled and wiped away some tears.  “Maybe tomorrow?”  She shrugged.  “I can’t really say after a tragedy like this.  We really loved each other, you know.  How do you put a time on something like this?”

Gretchen responded, “We understand.  I’ll leave you my card if you want to talk sooner.  If not, I’ll be contacting you tomorrow.”

Ruth grabbed the card, but it fluttered between her fingers and fell in the mulch next to her sidewalk.  I reached down to pick it up.

I snatched the card off the cobbled walkway and stood up.  I held it out and made sure Ruth had a tight grip on it before I let it go and started to walk back to the car.

Acting quickly on my instincts, I turned around, “Ma’am, would you mind coming down to the car and getting my card too?  I live closer.”  That was stupid.  Not sure why I had said that.

The woman reluctantly followed us down the walkway, tightening the tie on her robe.  I needed to play this perfectly.  We got to the car and I opened the door, trying to angle it perfectly.  I ran my fingers over the mirror, closed my eyes, and said, “Videte omnia specula.  Videte omnia specula.”

I reached inside the vehicle, grabbed my imaginary card and peeked back at Ruth.

Damnit.

I opened the door more, but I still don’t think I hit my target.

“I really don’t have time to be waiting out here.  Just wait till the neighbors find out about this.”

Seemed like a strange worry at a time like this.  I jammed the door open more, bending it outward.  The door creaked and I held my hand in front of the side view mirror.  “Here it is.”  I announced with my hand in front of the mirror.

She turned around, rubbing her eyes with one hand and holding out the other.

Damnit.

I said, “After all, it looks like I can’t find it.”

“Wasting my time,” the annoyed woman announced and turned to go back inside.

She took five steps and I screamed out, “Stop.”

The woman turned back toward me and I knew it was my last chance.  I waved my left hand like a crazy man in front of the door.  She squinted her eyes and focused on my hand.  I slid my hand to the left and had what I needed.  “I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss.”

She forced a smile, nodded, and turned to go back inside her house.  I jumped into the Jeep and Gretchen started busting my stones about bending her door too far open.  Then she started blathering on about how some people can get fragmentary PTSD and just hearing about gruesome details can warp their minds.  I agreed.  Only problem with her argument was that we had never revealed any gory details.

I wanted to yell at her about making me the bearer of bad news, but I stared silently into the side view mirror.

Nothing.

Not even my own reflection.  I was using it as a window, which was why I had needed Ruth to look into it, and in a flash, the magic kicked in.

The interior of a nice house appeared in the side view mirror.  A flash ran across the mirror.  Another flash of red fabric zipped by.  The mirrors inside the house acted like motion detectors to provide images.  Finally, Ruth stopped in front of one of the mirrors.  She stared into the mirror and I noticed a dresser with a hairdryer and makeup in the background.

Her image became distorted and she disappeared.  I realized she had opened a door with a mirror on it.  I waited, impatiently.

Nothing.

I knew it was a long shot, but worth a try.  I was about to divert my attention back to Gretchen when the distorted image returned and captured my attention.  The door closed and Ruth knelt over a two-piece wooden box the size of a small suitcase.

She disappeared for a few moments and returned with duct tape.  She began to seal up the opening around the box.  She put multiple layers of duct tape over the case and stared at the wooden object.  She tried to lift the heavy box by a leather handle, and struggled.  She propped it up on its side and I nearly suffered a heart attack.

The symbol.  If only it didn’t have that symbol, my heart might stop rattling against my ribcage.

Ruth Westerhouse dragged the brown wooden box embossed with the black symbol of the Dank Artistry out of sight.  She reappeared in the side view mirror, dragging the case through—her kitchen I presumed.  I noticed a refrigerator behind her.  How handy, a mirror magnet.  How vain were these people?

She opened the door, which led outside.  I had what I needed and started listening to Gretchen, who had been yammering on.  “Are you even listening to me?”

Damnit.  Busted.  “Of course.”

She barked at me, “Then what did I just say?”

“You were saying some stuff, you know, about the PTSD and such.”

Gretchen stopped at a red light.  “You weren’t even listening to a word I said.  You wonder why you’re the last investigator to get called all the time.”

I didn’t wonder.  I knew all the officers thought I was a prick.  “Detective,” I shot back in a venomous tone.

“What?” she asked with a sour look on her face, the tight skin on her cheeks wrinkling.

“I’m a detective.  We solve cases.  We don’t just investigate them.”  I don’t know why it made a difference to me.  It just did.  I desperately needed to ditch my pomposity for sagacity.  Alayna called me the idiot savant wizard.

“Is that so?” she asked.  I didn’t see it, but I knew she rolled her eyes.

“That’s how it is, I’m afraid.  New sheriff in town.  I’m kind of like a Psychic Detective.”  I grabbed the oh-shit bar when Gretchen gunned it to run a yellow light.  I’d like to see her out on the autobahn.

“More like a psycho detective.”  She chuckled.  I didn’t.  She continued, “Moving on.  Once they finish sweeping the crime scene, I’ll email you with the findings and pictures.  Don’t open them around kids, please.”

“Don’t worry.”  I wondered if Gretchen had kids.  She had never talked about her personal life except for her own aspirations a time or two.  She liked her private life to remain that way and I didn’t pry.

Gretchen dropped me off at my humble abode.

 

 

Chapter 3

Alayna sat on the porch swing, rocking back and forth.  I lived in a block of row houses that had been financially backed by the Deep Burrow.  All except for one.  The house next to mine was inhabited by Normals.

The rest of the duplexes were filled with gifted young people like me.  Ones that had shown an affinity toward magic in one way or another.  It was nice being around like-minded individuals.  We weren’t very high on the social ladder in Pittsburgh, but we had all taken an oath to protect the city, and needed to spend our time acquiring more magical skills.

I hopped out of the car, and as I crossed the street, Gretchen yelled, “Don’t forget to check your inbox for that stuff.”

I nodded, waved, and turned my attention to Alayna.  I made sure nobody from the neighborhood was around. “My lady.”  I bowed slightly.  She wore her signature glimmering purple dress that hugged her thick body and swept the ground when she walked.  I stood about 6’3, and although I’d never measured her or asked about an exact height, I’d estimate she was about three feet shorter than me.

There were only a few of us in the duplexes that could see the wingless faerie and I had suffered a few embarrassing moments talking to Alayna around Normals.

She smiled but the crow’s feet and narrow eyes made it seem unnatural and forced.  “Good sir, how goes the day so far?”

I titled my neck to the side and shifted to my serious face.  “Have you heard about the shifter murders yet?”

She spoke with an English accent, “Not yet.”

I loved when I got a scoop before her.  Even though Alayna had somehow arranged for me to be a consultant for the Pittsburgh Police, she didn’t find out information before they did.  Alayna had rescued me a few years ago when I was in a major downward spiral and wanted to die.  She had informed me that I shared a blood line with the Mighty Merlin, which meant I had a special capacity for magic.  The family had used the last name Merlinus, until they moved from Wales to Italy and changed it to Merlino.  Then the family moved to the United States and settled in the northeast.

I checked the sidewalk again and turned back to Alayna.  “Boardroom meeting at PNC Bank, so pretty highbrow stuff.  Boyfriend of Ruth Westerhouse.  So we go to her house and I got her to look into a mirror so I could track her a little bit.  Turns out, she drags a wooden case marked with the symbol of the Dark Artistry out her back door.”

“Hmm.”  She played with her hair and constantly emitted an aura of enchantment.  Alayna had long, thick braids that alternated from platinum blond to obsidian black and hung to her midsection.

I pushed my lips together and nodded.  “That’s what I said.  Now it could be any hooligan trying to stir up some dark powers or it could be a powerful demon.  Either way, something crazy is going on in Pittsburgh.  Not to worry my lady, I will take care of the problem.”

She frowned.  “And we were doing so well for so long.  I knew it wouldn’t last.  Therefore, I needed you to learn quickly.  What do you plan to do?”

I realized I only had one lead.  “We didn’t get to question Ruth Westerhouse, so I’d like to do that.  Later tonight, I’m going to go by her house and pick up that box she dragged out back if it’s still there.  I’m not going to let the garbage men beat me to it, that’s for sure.”  Maybe I had two leads.

“Be careful.  You never know how much dark energy could be inside that thing.  Be very careful when opening it.  If you are going to open it, that is.”

I hadn’t thought about that.  I was just going to rip it open like a wrapped present.  Maybe that’s why Ruth Westerhouse had been duct taping it shut?  “It’s not even close to a full moon.  Who can shift without full lunar power?”

She pondered the question for a moment.  “Only higher-up demons from the Red Cavern.  You know, the demi-devils or an extremely powerful Chieftains.  Let’s see.  Spring-Heeled Jack, the Jersey Devil, Vlad Dracul of Wallachia, the Six Bend Serpent, Sabretooth Gilda and Hot Iron Indigo.  That’s just a few off the top of my head that specialize in shifting.  At least, to the best of our knowledge.”

It was much too early to peg one of the Chieftains of the Order of the Red Cavern as a prime suspect, but way too early to rule them out.  I wanted some action in Pittsburgh, but if it were one of the big dogs of dark magic, I would be rendered useless.

I had defeated the two-hundred-year-old warlock named George by pure luck, recklessly using magic.  I had learned over the past two years that I couldn’t do that again.  I had to play by the rules now.  And the book of rules on magic was almost as long as the compendium on magic itself.  One thing I had learned, wizards had to read.  A lot.

I waited impatiently for the email from Gretchen and for a chance to investigate the dark box at Ruth Westerhouse’s place as my mind churned with fractions of puzzle pieces, not even the entire pieces.  Sometimes, a wizard has to construct the pieces before he or she can assemble the puzzle.

Sounds daunting, but on the flip side, if one created the best pieces, manipulating them to his or her advantage, building the puzzle became simple.

We went inside my hole of an apartment, a huge upgrade from the hole back in Prince’s Mountain, but not exactly a castle either.  It was a two-bedroom apartment, both on the second floor with a bathroom and a small attic.  We walked into the modest living room, couch against one wall, loveseat against another.  The rest of the room consisted of a rectangular coffee table, bookshelves and books.  Some were in piles on the hardwood floor, but I had a system, don’t you worry.

Alayna held her nose, although the smell wasn’t that bad.  Okay, it wasn’t that great either, but I hadn’t figured out what was causing that odor from the basement.  Because of the harsh stench, I used the stone basement as a short-term storage facility.  Mostly for books.  I had a lot of books.

Alayna brushed off the couch and sat down, her purple dress sparkling in the strained sunlight begging for permission to pass through my black shades.  I obliged it and opened the blinds a bit.

She suddenly had a worried expression on her face.  Alayna never worried.  I asked, “Is everything all right or is this just the Lancelot thing again where you stare at me and make me nervous?  By the way, I saw a movie a week ago and he had black hair and brown eyes.”

Alayna had told me that she had met Lancelot from King Arthur’s court during her travels.  “I’m sorry that you look like him, but you do.  Most books and movies have gotten it totally wrong.  It’s not just the blond hair and blue eyes, but the strong chin and tight jawline.  And then you throw in the broad shoulders and it’s a perfect match.  However, that wasn’t what I was doing.  We have a problem.”

I was late on rent again.  She had every right to tear into me.  I tried for a preemptive strike for some sympathy.  “Like you and me?  I’ll get the money from this work in less than a week.  I’ll be able to pay you easier if they would just give me more jobs.”  I didn’t think she would ever follow through on the threats.  Sure, I was late before.  Okay, I was late most of the time, but I always paid.  Always.

“It’s not that.”  She shook her head and closed her eyes.

I exhaled audibly, relieved.

She took a deep breath and continued.  “We have a problem in the Deep Burrow.  Or more specifically, Clara Spiritus.  Mabon has disappeared.”

“What?  How?” I asked in shock.

“Obviously nobody knows.  One report.”  A look of great disgust came over her face and she buried her forehead in her palm.  “One report—saw him entering the Red Cavern.”

I defended my friend.  “No.  He wouldn’t do that.  By himself or was he being dragged in there?  Why would he do that?”

She threw her hands up dramatically.  “The only reasoning the Gods have come up with is that he was offered more power in the Red Cavern.”

That didn’t make sense.  “How can he get more power?  He’s already a God.”

“A God among many, and he possibly views himself at the bottom of that totem.  There are only thirteen devils that we know of.  The only line of thinking I can even begin to understand is that he saw more power in being a devil.  I really don’t know.  It’s all too confusing right now.”

I’d never seen Alayna like this.  The one-thousand-one-year-old woman, who would smack me for not saying she was nine-hundred-ninety-nine, (It was like how most women turned thirty about fifteen times.)  She had always been in complete control, especially when I was frazzled.

She hid it well, but she was clearly distraught.  Her ivory skin had red splotches rising to the surface in random areas and her glistening red eyes looked up at me.

I moved closer and hugged her.  More tears went into the collection on the front of my hoodie.  The news had rocked me, too.  Mabon had accepted me more than anyone else in Clara Spiritus, the home of the Celtic Gods.  That’s not to say I wasn’t accepted by the rest of the Gods, but the Young Son had gone out of his way to be nice and joke around with me.  I didn’t like where this train was headed.

Mabon had a thorough and advanced knowledge of shifting.  He could easily do it without a full moon.  I started to get a rotten twisting pain in my belly telling me that this was a powerful demon or rogue god, or a rogue god turned devil.  Even worse.

“I got the rest of the stuff you asked for to complete the potion for invisibility,” I hinted.

“You want to make the magic mist today?”

“We don’t have to, but it might take your mind off the other problems right now.”

“I suppose it shall, but I can’t guarantee any success from the state I am in right now.  If you want to heat up the cauldron, I need to grab a few things from the kitchen and I’ll meet you up there.”

 

This book will be released December 5th, 2017.