Traitor (Creepy Hollow, #3)Rachel Morgan
By Rachel Morgan
Copyright © 2012 Rachel Morgan
Cover Design by Rachel Morgan
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.
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Kindle ebook ISBN: 978-0-9870290-4-1
Smashwords ebook ISBN: 978-0-9870290-5-8
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Next Installment in the Series
About the Author
For Andrew and Ruth.
Best brother and sister ever.
An abandoned park with a broken swing and flickering streetlights doesn’t seem like the best location for a first date. Then again, I’ve never been on a date, so what would I know? The young couple I’ve been watching for the past five minutes picks their way through the overgrown grass. The boy stops, leans against a rusted pole, and reaches for the girl’s hand. She lets him pull her closer. He whispers something in her ear, and she laughs softly. Very sweet, except that something is about to attack them. Something big, according to the Seer who passed this assignment on to Tora.
Tomorrow is my first official day back at the Guild after being suspended for a week, but I convinced Tora to give me an assignment tonight. I’ve been desperate to get back into my normal routine, especially since Nate has been acting weird the past few days. It’s understandable, considering he only just found out he’s half-faerie. But still. I’d like something in my life to be normal again.
I scan the surrounding area. What fae creature will be stupid enough to try to attack these humans tonight? I imagine my bow and arrows, invisible but ready to appear the moment I call to them. My fingers twitch in anticipation.
Movement at the edge of the park catches my attention. A small, pale green head with pointed ears is visible just above the top of the grass. Large luminous eyes shine through the darkness. A pixie. Several pixies, in fact. They form a line that snakes through the grass toward the broken playground equipment.
This can’t be the threat the Seer was talking about. Pixies are annoying, but they’re not dangerous. And they’re far more interested in humans’ possessions than in humans themselves. But I allow my glittering bow and arrow to take shape beneath my fingers anyway. No harm in being cautious.
I watch the pixie heads bob up and down as they skip toward the slide. Reaching it, they climb over one another in their excitement to reach the top. With a delighted squeal, the first pixie launches itself down the slide on its stomach, expertly avoiding the hole halfway down. I can’t help smiling. Pixies aren’t that bad, I guess. They’re actually kind of cute when they’re not sticking their fingers into your ears at night or trying to steal your stuff.
The second pixie leaps off the top of the slide, pumping its little fists in the air as it whooshes toward the ground. It flies off the end of the slide, right into the clutches of a hideous goblin.
A goblin? My attention snaps back to the task at hand. This must be why I’m here. I raise my bow and arrow, pull back against the tension in the cord, and let go. The arrow zings across the park and lands in one of the goblin’s hairy arms. I let loose another, and another, each arrow appearing the moment the previous one is spent. The goblin slaps at the arrows, flinging the tiny pixie into a nearby bush in the process. The goblin lets out a grunt, then scans the park with his bulging orange eyes. He finds me—and launches himself in my direction.
Time to play.
As large as a grown man, the goblin’s size slows him down. I’ve easily jumped out of his way by the time he skids into the tree I was just standing beside. His head swivels, searching for me once more. He snaps his fingers and a rock appears in each hand. I send another arrow his way, but it bounces off the heavy belt around his waist. Long, pointed ears shudder as he hurls the rocks at me. I duck and miss the first one, but the second hits my thigh.
Flip, that hurt!
I find myself on the ground—a bad place to be when a great hairy monster is coming after you. Gritting my teeth against the pain, I roll onto my back and reach with my mind for a dagger. It appears in my hand a second later, and I fling it at the advancing goblin. The blade sinks into his chest, just above his heart.
He yanks the dagger free as I scramble to my feet. Ignoring the pain in my leg, knowing it won’t last long as my body begins to heal itself, I bend my knees and jump. I catch hold of a branch somewhere above me, just managing to pull my legs out of the way before the goblin can catch them. I stand up on the branch, grab another for support, and sweep my hand through the air. A pile of sand and pebbles rains down on the goblin, burying him in a mound of dirt. By the time he manages to poke his head out the top, I’ve got an arrow pointed at his forehead.
“You really going to kill me, little guardian girl?” he snarls. “I didn’t even so much as sniff in the humans’ direction.”
“Yeah, but you were about to make a meal of that pixie, and my job is to protect whoever needs protecting, be it human or fae.”
“So you kill me because I needed a snack?”
I sigh. “You know how this works, goblin. If you disappear, I won’t be able follow you. If you stick around to fight back, you have to accept the consequences.”
“Death,” he hisses.
“Well, yeah, if it comes to that.” Please don’t let it come to that. “Or I knock you out, tie you up, and take you to the Guild. Your choice.”
“Death sounds more fun,” he whispers.
Okay, he really is as stupid as he looks. “You sure? That option’s a lot messier for me.”
“Death for you, not me!” he cries as he explodes from the mound of dirt. His hairy hands wrap around the branch I’m balancing on, causing it to sag and creak beneath his weight. I somersault backward, my bow and arrow disappearing as I let go of them. I land on my feet, pain jolting through my injured thigh, just in time to see the goblin swinging toward me. His clawed feet strike me in the chest, knocking me flat on my back. I sit up, gasping for breath. He drops from the branch and runs at me.
Sword, sword, SWORD! It appears in my fist—and the goblin runs right into it. It pierces all the way through his flesh. He slumps down on top of me, pressing me to the ground again. The only thing between us is the hilt of the sword, which I try to keep from digging into my chest.
“You . . . kill us,” he wheezes, the stench of his breath making me feel ill. I try to push him off me. He struggles for a few moments, then becomes still. His eyes stare through me, unblinking.
He’s dead. There is a dead body on top of me.
I push with all my might, using a little magic to help me. He rolls onto the grass, coming to rest on his side because of the way the sword sticks out of his back. It still glitters faintly. It won’t disappear until someone removes it from his body. Then it will return, shiny and clean, to my invisible cache
I stand up, breathe deeply, and run a hand through my hair. I hate this part. The killing. Why couldn’t this damn goblin just disappear like most other fae do? Or at least have the decency to let me tie him up and haul him off to the Guild. Like that canttilee who tried to burn down the school classroom, or that shapeshifter guy with the orange hair and eyes.
I look across the park at the human couple. They’re still standing beside the broken swing, talking softly, oblivious to all that’s happened. They have no idea what I just went through to keep them safe.
I reach into my boot for my stylus, then pull my amber out of my pocket. I send magic to the tip of the stylus and write a message to Tora. Had to kill him. Send remover. Thanks. The words glow for several seconds before disappearing, leaving the rectangle of amber smooth and blank. I sit down, lean back against a tree, and wait. It isn’t my job to take care of dead bodies.
Tora’s reply comes a minute later. Sorry. Know you hate that. See you before training tomorrow for report back and counseling. Sent Thorton.
I tilt my head back and let out a groan. Counseling. That thing where I have to discuss my feelings about killing someone. Great. The list of things I’m not good at is pretty short, but discussing feelings is probably at the top. Fortunately, my kill count is low, so I haven’t had to do the counseling thing too often.
I’ve just stuffed my amber back into my pocket when the air nearby ripples and a doorway appears. Thorton, a tall faerie with purple and black hair very similar to my own, steps out. “Hey,” he says. “Tough evening?”
“I’ve had better.” I stand up and brush bits of leaves off the back of my pants. “Thanks for getting here so quickly.”
He nods. “So where’s this goblin?” I point behind him. He turns to look at the large, hairy body with the glittering sword protruding from its chest. “Okay. Well, I’ll take care of it from here.” He looks back at me. “You can go and, uh, clean up.”
I look down at myself. My black top is wet with goblin’s blood.
An hour later I step out of the air and onto Nate’s window seat. I went home, cleaned up, and thought about trying to sleep, but the dead goblin I kept seeing every time I closed my eyes put an end to that plan. A distraction is what I need.
The television is turned down low, and Nate is sitting on one of his couches. He has a notebook on his lap and a textbook open on the cushion beside him. He doesn’t seem to be looking at either, though. He’s staring straight ahead, but not really at the TV. More like through it. Almost like the way the goblin’s eyes stared through me after it took its last breath. A shiver raises the hairs on my arms.
I lift my hand and knock on the wooden frame of Nate’s window. He blinks and turns toward the sound. “Hey,” he says, a smile stretching almost to his eyes. “I thought you were busy tonight.”
I hesitate. When I left here yesterday we’d had a big argument about the eye-shaped tattoo that appeared on Nate’s lower back during his disappearance in the labyrinth. Apparently he isn’t interested in finding out how it got there, despite the fact that malicious magic could be involved. I wonder now if I should bring it up. Should I apologize for snapping at him? Ask if the tattoo is still there?
No. One fight is enough for tonight.
“All done,” I say, walking over to the couch. I sit down and tuck my legs beneath me. For a moment I consider telling Nate that I killed someone tonight, but I’d rather forget about it. “It was a goblin. I got rid of him.”
Nate smiles and puts an arm around my shoulder, drawing me closer. “Of course you did. Did you knock him out, like that troll in the labyrinth?”
“No, we don’t stun while fighting, remember? Takes too much time to draw all that power.”
“I’ve been thinking about that, actually,” says Nate, leaning forward to reach the TV remote. He clicks a button, and the low hum of voices turns to silence. “If you usually arrive before whatever creature is coming, then why don’t you use that time to gather enough power to stun the creature the moment it appears?”
“Because I might miss. Then I’ll have depleted a whole lot of my power and I’ll still have to fight the creature off.”
“You? Miss a target?” asks Nate, and for a moment the twinkle is back in his eyes. “Never.”
“It’s been known to happen,” I admit. “On the very rare occasion.” I push the notebook off his lap so I can snuggle closer to him without getting poked in the side.
Nate is silent for so long that I begin to feel awkward. Then he says, “You haven’t told your mentor what I am, have you? That I’m . . . a halfling.”
I slip my fingers between his and shake my head. “That would mean admitting that I lied to her and continued breaking Guild Law by seeing you. I mean, technically I wasn’t breaking the Law, but I didn’t know that at the time.” Nate says nothing. I draw back, searching his face, trying to figure out if he’s upset that I haven’t told anyone about him. “And aside from that,” I add, feeling the need to explain further, “it’s not really in your best interests for the Guild to know what you are. They’re wary of halflings, so they’d be monitoring you closely if they knew you’re one.”
Nate looks down at our intertwined hands. “Even though I have no magic?”
I nod. “Yup.” I wait for him to say something, but he continues staring at our hands. Well, this is fantastic. What happened to the carefree, talkative guy I met only a few weeks ago? Now I’m stuck being the one trying to keep the conversation rolling, which is probably number two on the list of things I’m not good at.
I grasp at the only other thing I can think of. “So . . . the tattoo of the eye—”
“Is still there,” Nate says, his tone indicating that the strange mark still isn’t up for discussion.
“Okay.” I remind myself that I don’t want another argument. “Then have you remembered anything from when you disappeared?”
He releases my hand and looks toward the window. “No, nothing.”
But there’s something strange about the way he says it. “Nate?” I reach out and turn his face toward me. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing,” he says quickly. “It’s just . . .” He traces a zigzag pattern up the laces of my boot. “I’ve been having nightmares. It’s stupid. Embarrassing. I can’t even really remember what happens in them. Just a lot of running, I think.”
“Well, you’re good at running.” I nod my head toward the running shoes by the door. Nate tries to smile at my pathetic attempt to introduce humor into the conversation. I know he’s faking it.
Ugh, I am so bad at this.
“Okay, look. I feel like I should apologize for agreeing to find your mother for you. I mean, I know you really wanted to, but I should have said no. Then we wouldn’t have had to go through that horrible labyrinth, you’d never have disappeared, the tattoo thing wouldn’t have happened, and there’d be none of this weirdness between—” I stop. Nate is shaking his head, his eyes wide. “What? Nate, what’s wrong?”
“You don’t need to say anything, Vi, you just—” He closes his eyes, sighs, and hangs his head. “You don’t need to be sorry,” he whispers.
“Hey, are you okay?” He seems strangely upset considering all I did was apologize.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He pulls me into a hug and kisses the top of my head. “Let’s just forget about everything that happened and move on, okay?”
“And Vi?” He pulls away so that he can look me in the eye. “You know I’d do anything for you, right?”
“Um, yeah.” I’m starting to get a little freaked out now.
“I mean, no matter what happens, you won’t forget that I lo—that I really care about you?”
Whoa, hang on. HANG ON. Did he almost just use the L-word? “Um—I—what do you mean ‘no matter what happens’?” I try to distract myself from the scary, half-spoken word that now hangs in the air betwee
n us. My heart pounds out a nervous rhythm. “What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know.” Nate pushes his hair off his forehead. “Like . . . what if my mother found a way out of that labyrinth and came after us?”
“She seemed pretty trapped to me.” And what does that have to do with you thinking you love me?
Nate wraps his arms around me once more. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“I’m always—” I stop, sensing something unexpected. A surge of power that isn’t my own. I tear free of Nate’s embrace and jump to my feet.
“Who’s there?” I demand, my head whipping around as I search the room. Nothing moves aside from the silent figures on the television screen. I stride over to the bathroom and push the door open. Nothing in there either.
“Did you hear something?” Nate asks.
“No, I felt something. A power of some kind.” I kneel down and look under the bed. It’s surprisingly clean, but there’s no one there.
Nate stands. “The house is protected, isn’t it? Didn’t Flint put spells around it?”
“Yes.” Slowly, I wander back to Nate’s side. “Maybe it’s . . .” I look down to where I know the eye tattoo is hidden beneath Nate’s T-shirt. Well, if that’s the source of the power, he certainly won’t want to know about it.
“Can you feel where it’s coming from?” asks Nate.
I shake my head. “It’s gone. It was suddenly there, and now . . . it’s not.”
“That’s weird.” He runs both hands through his hair, avoiding my gaze. Perhaps he knows what I’m thinking.
“Yeah.” I’m not sure what else to say. “Well, I should go. I’m really tired.” And if we get back on that couch he might start flinging the L-word around again, which, at this point, seems a whole lot scarier to me than a mysterious presence in Nate’s bedroom.