I led Vincent to the blissfully Grandma-free living room, guzzling Fir’s coffee as fast as the heat let me. It was an excuse not to start talking. Unfortunately it was a small coffee, so my excuse ran out before I sat down.
I frowned into my empty cup. Stupid tiny drink. “So. Me and Arabus. How come you never thought to tell me there was a dragon under the bar?”
Vincent sighed. “How did you find out about him?”
I debated what to tell him. Arabus had warned me to keep quiet about being the one making supernatural phone calls last night, but he hadn’t said anything about keeping mum on the part that led up to it. And Scott already knew. He might’ve told Vincent. “Damian.”
“Of course.” He rubbed his face, squishing wrinkles into his normally-smooth forehead. “I’m betting you two made a stop in the wine cellar on the way down. And I’d be mad at both of you, but for once his tendency toward trouble worked out. There’s nowhere safer you could have been than with Arabus.”
“Did I need to be safe last night?”
He took another sip of his coffee, wincing at either the heat or the sweet. “Something happened last night, yes.”
I settled in my mom’s favorite chair, pulling my legs up underneath me. “What?”
“A new supernatural showed up and lit up the town like Christmas lights. No one knows what it was and we can’t find any trace of it. It’s a bad situation.”
“No one called it a bad situation when I showed up. Why is it bad that this thing did?” I picked at the rim of my empty cup, trying not to think about the fact that I was talking about myself in both scenarios.
“Because you’re not a threat to anyone. Whatever showed up last night could be. We’re talking some serious power—maybe almost on the level of the fairies.”
I forced my eyes down to my lap, wanting to laugh so much it cramped my stomach. Me. As powerful as a fairy. As if.
“It’s dangerous enough that the fairies are here. They’re treating it as an act of aggression in their territory. Whatever it is doesn’t stand a chance.”
The urge to tell him it had been me, drunk, and not something to be freaked out about was almost painful. If the fairies were that mad, then I wanted them to go away. And if I fessed up, maybe they would. But Arabus had told me to keep quiet, and he probably knew the fairies better than a girl who’d never met one.
I blew out a breath. I had to play dumb. I could do that. I hoped. “So the fairies are in town, and there’s some powerful thing walking around somewhere. Is that why you’re making a home visit?”
He nodded. “Your lessons will have to wait, and I wanted to tell you before you showed up at the Dragon and bumped into the fairy contingent. They’re using it as their base of operations. I’m sorry, but this is what I do—I track down the creatures the fairies want tracked, and met out the punishment they choose. That comes before teaching you about supernaturals.”
“All of my time is going to be taken up on the search. It could take me a day or a month to find this thing.”
I set my cup down on the side table. Very carefully. “Out of curiosity, what would happen if they saw me at the bar?”
“Well, first off, they’d know you were immune to their magic since the bar is protected from humans. And knowing them as well as I do? I’d say that’d get you taken to their world to be studied like an animal. They’d test and torture until you didn’t know your name. In the end, if they didn’t like what they found they’d eliminate you.”
“Eliminate, as in make me dead?”
“If you were lucky, yes. With the fairies there are a lot worse things than dead.”
My coffee rose back up in my throat. I really didn’t want to know what was worse than dead. “How can you work for them if they’re that bad?”
“I don’t work for them because I want to. I’m paying them back, remember? Fairies are as bad as vampires. They don’t prey on humans for blood, but there are other things you can take from a person, things we need more than blood. Fairies are very, very good at knowing what those things are.”
“And you’re good at taking those things?”
“When I have to be, yes.” He dug in his coat pocket, every one of the years he’d worked for them bowing his shoulders with their weight. Or maybe it was the weight of guilt. For being a fairy-freakin-hit man. “I have something for you. It’s for emergencies only. A last desperate measure if your life is in danger. Do you understand?” He brought out a small bundle wrapped in a white cloth and handed it to me. “I’m only giving it to you because I won’t be around to watch over you. Scott may not be either. When the fairies are on a hunt, you help if they ask.”
“And they might ask him, too?” At his nod, I sighed and unwrapped the bundle. “What is it?”
“An iron marker.”
I studied the marker, a flat oval piece of metal. There was nothing etched into it, nothing to hint that it was anything more than a hunk of rock. I turned it over in case I had missed something. It looked exactly the same on the other side—a smooth gray lump. “Am I supposed to throw it or something?”
Vincent placed it in his left hand and it started to glow a faint blue. Just like his tattoos. “This will call a fairy, and they’ll be honor-bound to help you. Unfortunately it will also annoy them since they hate helping humans. They won’t be able to do anything to you then, but they won’t forget. Thus why it’s only for desperate situations. If you use it, all your hiding will be wasted and they’ll start asking questions about who and what you are.”
Not to mention how I got a magic fairy stone, or whatever it was. I took the marker from him, almost dropping it as my fingers started to burn. The thing was hot.
He rubbed his face again, not noticing my fumble. “Stay out of sight. Don’t go to the Dragon, and don’t hang out with Scott or Damian or anyone else in the community. And if you see a fairy, do not react. A human wouldn’t be able to see them, and if you slip up and react, they’ll notice.”
“What if I don’t know they’re a fairy? I’ve never seen one before, and half of the things that hang out at the Dragon look human. At least at first.”
“You’ll know. Trust me.” He stood up, tugging his jacket closed. “I’ll let you know when I find the creature. Don’t try to get hold of me until then.”
I wrapped the marker back in its cloth and then followed him to the front door. My fingers still stung from the heat, their pads red. Hopefully my cheeks weren’t as red. He was talking about finding me. “Vincent? What will you do when you find it? I mean, what if it’s a creature you know? A harmless one that was just goofing around or something?”
The bleak look in his eyes made my heart speed up more than any of his words had. “I’ll do whatever the fairies tell me to.”
“Including kill it?”
“Yes. Under the terms of my contract with them, I won’t have a choice.”