Nicole pulled her car up to the motel late.
Someone named Marcie had been seen buying a bunch of bandages, and after what Cowell did to the Witch, they could only assume it was for her. One of her brother’s ‘special ladies’ had spotted the girl at a drug store, and she had driven over to get a proper description. Her brothers friend was the clerk, so she had provided her with a copy of the receipt as well. For all the good it did them.
They now knew one of them liked sour candy, as she spent twelve-bucks, of the eighty-five dollar total on it.
Unless Matt had another trick up his sleeve, they were out of options until the Witch showed her face. With the four bodies they had on their hands already, they could only assume it was going to continue. The Rose Path had to do something, it’s not like the people of Stumptown could call the cops. Police were for human crimes, and when your complaint is ‘my neighbor is a monster that’s eating people’ it’s a bit outside their experience.
Matt liked to set up their meetings at motels. In case his brother attacked, he assured the group; but the fact that they usually spent the rest of the evening in the room, alone, exposed his ulterior motives. The overnight bag she started bringing exposed hers, so she left it in the car.
The text said room 242, so she just parked in the back. It would have been fairly easy to find them, only open door, music on, but the strong smell of pot, and Matt’s excited bragging hit her as soon as she was out of the car.
“-BOOM!” he imitated an explosion.
Nicole sighed, as she started up the stairs. At least they were at the back of the lot.
Cowell sat outside the door, avoiding the worst of the ‘meeting’, or waiting for her, she could not tell. The dragon wanted to be involved. Matt did not know the story, but he had still refused his help. Nicole had convinced him. She had seen the dragons strength, and skill first hand. They needed the extra muscle, and a medic never hurt.
Still she refused any contact but the necessary, and she added a few more tools to her arsenal. Nicole was ready to take the hardline, if it was needed.
“Nice, can we talk?” Waiting for her.
“Looking to bury the hatchet?” She waited a second before adding, “Again.”
The dragon’s skin was spelled, his body connected through a strange piece of magic so far beyond her it was ridiculous. Nicole did not understand how the color thing worked with it, but when his skin turned a pure white shade, she took it as a sign she had struck a nerve.
“Not like that!” The dragon took a few steps back. “I meant about this stupid plan Matt’s got stuck in his half-smoked brain.”
“He’s not that bad,” Nicole said. “What plan?”
“He didn’t tell you? About the ‘heist’?” Cowell actually made air quotes, as he spoke.
“‘Heist’?” she asked before she could stop herself.
“Half the crew plays a role, and you’re just now finding out?”
The leprechaun wasn’t ready to admit that, so she went into room without another word. Chio was sitting on the TV, a plastic cup of beer in her cat’s paw hands. Hailey was sitting on the bed, looking unusually pleased with herself. Her presence in the mildly smoky room was a surprise. Carl, and Tannen, the two shape-changers they had recently recruited were playing cards with a few Odds that had joined a few days before them. Matt had clearly been pacing as he told whatever tale he was telling, a habit of his. Typically meeting of the Rose Path.
“Nice to see you,” he said, pressing a beer into her hand. Matt must have been really happy, to be using that line. “And I’ve got something I think you’ll find nice to see.”
Nicole hadn’t noticed the sheet on the bed, on top of it, or the three large bulges under it. Somehow she knew what they were though, even before he pulled the sheet back. Books, or tomes, really. Separate just gibberish, but when read in unison by one person, they acted as a conduit, imbuing the reader with all the powers contained in the pages.
The beer bottle tipped back onto her foot, as it fell, soaking her shoe.
Only one person in living memory had read the books, a mage at the time, a mere untrained beginner. Chark, Matt’s half brother. Barely able to fly, he had become a powerhouse strong enough to take the entire region in days. The books were his, and he had kept them in his stronghold in Lake Oswego on display. A challenge, people said.
“What did you do?” Nicole’s head spun, the red, green, and blue of the books leather covers almost blending together. Her mouth was dry, and she regretted the spilled beer.
“I made a move. We stand a chance now.”
“A move? A fucking move? Matt you’re starting a war!”
“It’s not ‘starting’ at this point. I’m ensuring victory.” The confusion in his eyes was the only thing keeping her from backhanding him into the wall.
“Victory for what? For the Path? He ignores us!”
“For now. For today we can help out a few people, but imagine how it’s going to be in five years? What happens when he decides we’re a threat again?”
“So you decided to make the distinction clear? Matt in five years we might stand a chance, and-.” Nicole stopped herself, looking around the room. Everyone was silent, Hailey walked over to Chio, patting the orange cat on the head. “You’re going to read them aren’t you?”
“No! God no, you see how he is? No we’re splitting them up. This is to keep him busy.”
Matt smiled, and dropping a packet of pink dust onto the bed.
“Goddamn, Matt, you said no more after Caline, and I-.”
“No, not that, it’s pixie dust. Pink pixie, like Sorcha uses.” Sorcha was the leader of the Grasslands territory that stretched from Stockton to Santa Fe.
“And when Sorcha doesn’t have the books?”
“Sorcha, has agreed to simply refuse Chark’s envoys. He’ll get frustrated, throw a few troops at her, she’ll take her time responding,” Matt said smiling. “In exchange, we put someone Sorcha isn’t afraid-.”
“Shut up,” Nicole said. “No, we’re not doing this.”
“We’ve done it,” Cowell said, as he stepping in the room. “I doubt Hailey can put the books back.”
“I can’t,” the plant fairy shook her head. “Chark thinks I’m gone as it is.”
“Gone?” Nicole suspected anyway, but she wanted to hear it. Part of her had been waiting for the news for a long time. Since the plant fairy first joined his ranks, actually. Nicole had seen the scars on the few playthings that escaped him.
“He put poppy seeds in my dinner tonight. We played with them, but this was a lot, and he didn’t ask,” she said. “He was trying to end it. I have no doubt my little house is burning, or full of herbicide right now.” The fairy lived in a little hut near the edge of Chark’s property. “Or he had worse planned.”
“I left the dust in her house. She left a bit around the books safe too,” Matt said. “He’ll think it was a double cross….. Or is this triple?” He glanced around for help. “Anyone?”
“I think it’s quadruple,” Chio said. Hailey was petting the little cat creatures head now.
“No it’s triple,” Cowell said. “Chark is trying to kill her, she’s stealing from Chark, and we’re in collusion with her, so that makes us one team-.”
“‘Collusion’? Can’t we just say ‘Cahoots’?” Matt asked.
“That’s two teams,” Tanner said, slow accent rolling out. He was from Montana, but had migrated here after a few ‘misunderstandins’ with the local vampire crew, and he spoke like his boots should still have cow-shit on them.
“We’re one, Chark is one, and Sorcha is one,” Cowell said quickly.
“Sorcha isn’t double crossing anyone though,” Matt said. “Well us, I’m sure, down the line, but I really think we’re cool for now.”
“She’s double crossing Chark though,” Cowell said. “She’s in collusion with us, but a large enough threat, and force to be her own entity.”
“But they’re enemies,” Hailey said.
“Even enemies have an accord,” Chio added. “This is going beyond what they’ve been. We’re starting a war.”
“It’s so cute when you talk like that,” Matt told her. “But yeah, I think Popsicle’s right, it’s a triple. Chi-beans too, we’re adding Sorcha to our war. Might be a quad if Lewis goes all ‘Starscream’, and double crosses Chark. That’d be cool…” He trailed off, looking at Nicole.
The leprechaun’s fists were clenching, and unclenching, all on their own. Matt’s soft, tanned throat gave a long gulp.
“Maybe we should cut the bit guys,” he said. “Business for the night?”
“Out.” Nicole looked at the rest of the Path. “The less you guys know about where they are, the better. Chark tortures for fun, let’s not fuck around here.”
“We’re in this-.” Tanner started, but Cowell cut him off, all smooth politician in place of his normal dead tone.
“We’re all in this together, but only certain people will know where the books are, for security. Matt will hide two, and Chio will take the other. We all trust them right? So Matt can’t read them, but we know he’ll hide them well right guys?”
One by one they assented, leaving just Cowell, Matt, Chio, and Nicole in the room. Cowell waited by the door, shaking hands as people left.
“Real plan?” Nicole asked, after a few minutes.
“One for each of us,” Matt said. He picked up the red book. “Cowell will take an emergency trip, and hide his. We’re taking a lovers weekend, before we hear the tragic news about Hailey. I’m going to Otherworld, at one point. You hide yours, and pick me up on the way back.”
“Where’s Hailey going?”
“I’m taking care of it,” Cowell said. “He hears even a hint of a green fairy in Stumptown, and he will find her.”
“What are we doing?” Nicole asked.
“She can’t spill what isn’t there, honey,” Matt said. “It’s for the best. Imagine what he’ll do to her.”
“I’ve done it,” Cowell said. “When I shook their hands. They never saw Hailey, or the books.” He strode to the door, opening it for the plant fairy. Her eyes were confused, darting around, as she walked into the room. “There’s new clothes under the sink. Take those off, and shower. Then put the new ones on.” Cowell put his hand on her shoulder, and Nicole felt a slight shudder of magic.
“We can’t do this,” Nicole said backing into the wall.
“Honey,” Matt said, putting his hand on her shoulder.
His mind was warm, and excited. A golden bee, bouncing around her spirit.
‘Honey, I can fix it for you.’ His voice in her head. ‘Not all of it, just this part. Edit the sad parts.’
‘No, we just…’
‘We can’t help what’s happened. Either she forgets, or gets dead, cupcake. She doesn’t want to leave us either, but she made her choice, siding with him. This is a kindness.’
‘If this is us kind…’
‘We’re the good guys, honey. Trust me.” The last two words were outloud. Cowell looked over, apparently unaware they had been connected.
“I draw the line,” she whispered to Matt. “You cross it again, you go behind my back, and I don’t care how I feel about you. I’ll gut you, babe. I really will.”
Matt looked at her for a long second, before sending into her mind. ‘Sorry, this got out of hand.’
“Then let’s fix it.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again, but even mustering up a denial was too good for him right now.
“Did you want to say goodbye?” Cowell asked.
“No,” Nicole said, slowly shaking her head. “Just get her out of her, and for god’s sake don’t… Just put her someplace nice. Please?”
“It’s fine,” Cowell said. “I’ll be a gentleman, and we’ll be gone in a moment.”
“I’m going home actually, don’t worry about it.”
“We’ve got to take care of our books,” Matt said, as she grabbing her hand.
“I’ll pick you up at dawn,” she said. “Just need to pack, and get some rest. Want to come home with me tonight Chio?”
The Aidanain looked between her, and Matt.
“Go on Chio,” he said, after a moment. “Hang out with Chelle, and Greg a few days?”
“‘Kay,” the creature said, walking over. “Bye, Naughtwood.”
“Bye, Chi-beans,” he said, then turned his ocean eyes to Nicole. “Goodnight, my luck.”
“Don’t call me that right now,” Nicole said, as she closed the door behind them.
Getting a bit closer. What did you think? Has the Path crossed the line?