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"I can't believe you didn't tell me she called," Rosalyn Silver exploded from behind the wet bar in the hotel room she shared with Rhett Stevens. The room was brightly lit and decorated with muted greens and mauves. It was a typical hotel room, like so many Rhett had seen over the past few months. Always the same. Two beds. A dresser. Some crappy art fastened to the wall. And a mini-bar. Always, there was liquor. Rhett watched as Ros mixed herself a rum and Coke. It was late. Ros was still drinking. Ros was always drinking. "I heard Max say something about it, or I wouldn't have even known. I don't even understand why you let her contact you."
Rhett was sitting on the bed on the opposite side of the room, holding an empty glass. Should he get himself another drink? How long was this conversation going to last? "We wouldn't have a band if it wasn't for her."
"What do you mean? You and Max are the only original members."
"She wrote all the fucking songs." How many times did they have to go over this?
"And we're paying her for that, aren't we? What else does she want from us?"
Rhett stood up. Definitely another drink. "She's a friend. She—"
"She's your ex. She's not a friend. You're still in love with her aren't you?" Rosalyn came out from behind the wet bar, drink sloshing.
"Babe, the carpet—"
"Fuck the carpet. Answer my question."
"I love you, Ros. You know that. I love you." He walked past her to the wet bar.
"But do you still love her?"
"No. I do not." He dropped a few cubes of ice into his glass. "This is not a big deal."
"Then why didn't you tell me she called?"
"Because it wasn't a big deal."
"Really? I think you were trying to hide it from me."
Rhett poured whiskey over the ice. "Seeing how you're reacting, maybe I should have."
"But you did hide it."
"I didn't! For God's sake, it was a stupid phone call. She didn't make any sense, and if I didn't tell you anything, it was because there was nothing to tell."
Rhett took a long drink.
"Did you tell her about us?" Ros asked.
"What's that got to do with—"
"Did you? Because you said you would."
"It didn't come up."
"So you didn't tell her?"
Actually, I told her I wasn't having sex with you. I lied to her, Rhett thought. Ha. Like he'd say that out loud. "Listen, she's depressed. She might be going nuts. The last thing she needs is—"
"To think you're taken?" Ros finished her drink in one swallow.
"Maybe you should go easy on that," Rhett said.
"Oh. Now you're going to tell me I'm drinking too much."
Yeah. Because you are, darling. Rhett moved out from behind the wet bar. "Just ease up. You're angry, and—"
Rosalyn hurled the empty glass at Rhett. It narrowly missed his head and struck the wall, shattering on impact.
"What the hell are you doing?" growled Rhett, striding to Rosalyn. "That almost hit me." He grabbed her by the arms and squeezed.
"Let go of me. You're an ass and I—"
"Stop it," he said, squeezing harder.
Fear flashed in Rosalyn's eyes. He dropped her arms and stepped back. "I'm gonna take a walk," he said. He turned and walked out of the hotel room.
Once in the hall, he took a shuddering breath. She was afraid of him. Maybe she'd only been afraid for a half-second, but she was afraid of him. No woman had ever looked at him in fear. It made him feel sick. What was he becoming? Ros was so . . . Ros was losing it. Sometimes, he thought about talking to the guys about finding another singer. Sometimes, he thought about singing himself. He used to sing when they were Blades. He'd even sung when Iris first joined the band. They weren't doing her songs then, of course. He and the guys thought the songs sounded better in a female voice since they were written from a female perspective. That was why they'd hired Ros in the first place. (That, and the fact he was sleeping with her.) But sometimes Rhett thought they could change a couple gender pronouns and no one would know the goddamn difference. However, they were popular now. They had a hit on the Billboard charts. Who knew what would happen if the band dumped its hot chick lead singer?
Ros was hot. She was blindingly beautiful. Long red hair, enormous green eyes, an hourglass figure. And she had some lungs on her. Ros' voice was sometimes smoky, sometimes sweet, but always pure. She was a better singer than Iris.
Rhett started to walk. He wanted to get away from Ros. For a second, he considered going back in and apologizing. But he wasn't particularly sorry. He was angry. He was confused. Goddamn Iris. Before Iris, he'd never wanted any of this. Contracts, albums, fame . . . Rhett had started playing guitar to get invited to the good parties. End of story. But Iris . . . shit. It was all she ever talked about. Her drive had gotten Satin Blades where they were today. And she wasn't there.
Why didn't he tell Iris about Ros? He remembered denying it on the phone, without having been asked. She'd asked before. Lots of times. And he'd lied. It was just that when he talked to Iris, it still felt like she was his girl. When he heard her voice, he wanted her, and he couldn't help but want her to think he was . . . waiting for her?
He smirked, turning a corner in the hotel hallway. That was ridiculous. What was he waiting for? Sure, Iris, I'll still be here when you work through this whole eating corpses thing. She wasn't going to work through it. She wasn't going to be cured. Iris was permanently destroyed. She was gone. Why couldn't he let her go?
Could Ros tell? Was that why she seemed to be coming apart? Did she know that part of Rhett still held onto Iris? No. Ros didn't know that. She feared that, but she didn't know it. Ros was going nuts because of the road, and the fame, and the lifestyle. She wasn't made for this. She should be doing solos in church choir and raising babies. He knew she wanted to get pregnant. Well, she wanted to get married first, but she talked about babies a lot. Their career was just taking off. This wasn't the time for babies. Maybe after their next album . . . Assuming there was a next album. After all, who was going to write the songs? Not Ros. She couldn't even play guitar. He'd tried to write songs, but he couldn't. Iris used to say songs came to her while she slept. Lucky Iris.
He'd never aspired to this fame thing, but now that he had it, he wanted to keep it—to fight like mad to stop it from slipping through his grasp. If Ros didn't want it as much as he did . . .
He rounded another corner, and there were the members of Mischief. They were waiting for the elevator—talking in their leather and feather getups, and they didn't see him. Unsure of why he was doing it, he backed up and hid behind the corner. He could hear them talking to each other.
"He's hungry," the drummer, Luke, was saying.
"Good," said Snake, lead guitarist. "We want him hungry."
"I'm just afraid he's gonna chomp on the crew," said Luke.
Chomp on the crew?! Rhett thought.
"He won't," said Snake. "As long as Rizzo watches him."
Rizzo was the lead singer. "I'm watchin' him," Rizzo said. He had a British accent.
"Not now, you're not," said Snake.
"Well, I'm headed there, aren't I?" said Rizzo.
"If he eats," said Jimmy, the bassist, "he'll get stronger. We can't control him if he's much stronger."
"I don't know why you're all so worried," said Snake. "Everything's going to be fine. No one suspects a thing and every day brings us closer to the sacrifice."
"I'm only advising caution," said Jimmy.
Rhett heard the ding of the elevator arriving. He heard the door slide open.
"I don't think," Jimmy continued.
The closing of the elevator door cut him off. Rhett edged out from behind the corner. They were gone. He thought about Iris' phone call. Did Mischief seem normal? No, they sure as hell did not. Sacrifices? Guys who ate crew members? That wasn't normal. He took the next elevator to the lobby and found a pay phone. He couldn't call from his room or Ros would freak. His fingers remembered Iris' number before his mind did.
The phone began to ring in Iris' apartment. He waited for her to pick up. Fourteen rings later, she still hadn't. He hung up. That was odd. Iris wasn't home? Where was she? Iris was always home.
The next morning, after Iris had eaten, she and Billy met for coffee at The Bean, a coffee shop downtown. She planned to hold Billy to his promise. He would explain all about the daion queen. When she'd left his house that morning, it had been early. The hunger woke her around eight. Considering they'd been awake well into the morning hours, Billy didn't get up to see her off. She left him a note, asking him to call her when he woke up. Around 11, he did.
Now it was nearly noon. The Bean was fairly crowded, however. Groups of people gathered around the chrome tables on the street in front of the shop, and the line was five people deep at the counter. The maroon and mahogany interior seemed warm and welcoming to Iris. The Bean seemed safe. It seemed like a good place to spend some time in. Iris got in line. She was surprised to see that Billy was already there and had a table waiting for them. He waved at her. She waved back. Thankfully, the line moved quickly, and she got her drink and sat down within five minutes. Billy was wearing a black hat with a wide brim. His hair was pulled into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He still reeked of liquor, so he probably hadn't taken a shower yet. Sitting in front of him, remembering the previous night's activities, she suddenly felt awkward.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi," said Billy. "You look chipper."
She shrugged. "Drinking doesn't hit me the way it used to."
"Lucky you. I feel like shit warmed over."
"Did I mention the whole eating rotted flesh thing?"
Billy massaged his forehead. "I couldn't get a table in the smoking section," he said. "Sorry."
She leaned over the back of her chair, surveying the section across the room. "There's one," she said. "Let's move."
"You go first," he said. "I'll catch up."
Iris scampered across the room, setting her coffee down the empty table. "I claim this table for England," she grinned.
Billy, who was a few steps behind her, just looked at her. "You are chipper."
"I'll try to tone it down," said Iris. Come to think of it, she didn't know why she was in such a good mood. Sure, she'd gotten laid last night, but it hadn't been that great, and it wasn't leading anywhere.
They sat down and lit cigarettes. "Is this the part where we agree to be good friends?" Billy asked.
"I just want to know about the pixie stuff. After you tell me what I need to know, we don't have to ever see each other again."
"Hey," said Billy. "It was bad, but it wasn't that bad, was it?"
"No. I—Do you really want to talk about this?"
"It just kind of bugs me that you never want to see me again."
"I didn't say—"
"It was pretty heavily implied."
"Why? Do you want to see me again?"
Billy took a drink of coffee. "Well, yeah. I'm, you know, a fan."
Iris nodded. Why did his response disappoint her? "We'll keep in touch. But I'm going to be kind of busy saving the human race."
Billy snickered. "Oh God. Have you listened to anything I've said?"
"You said that we weren't powerful enough to stop Mischief. You were right. But that doesn't mean that someone else isn't. I can go to that person and get them to stop it."
"Like the pixie police?"
"No, I tried that. They didn't believe me."
"I hate to say, 'I told you so,' but, well . . ." He took a drag on his cigarette. "I thought you didn't believe me."
"I have reasonable doubt," said Iris. "The stakes are high, so I figure I should play it safe and take your word for it."
"I called Rhett. And he said that Mischief is a sober band. They don't party. And they don't have groupies or girlfriends. I thought that was weird."
"That makes sense. Daions can't get drunk. That's probably why you don't get hangovers."
"Does make sense. But some of this stuff doesn't. Why a band? Why a metal band?"
"To get a huge group together for a sacrifice."
"There are other types of music. More popular types."
"True. I guess that part of it is sort of my fault." Billy told her about his relationships with Jaq, and Kei's accompaniment with him to concerts as Snake. "I think she just liked the music."
"Why'd she want to be a guy?"
"So this is partly your fault?" Iris said, stubbing out her cigarette.
Billy raised his eyebrows.
"If you hadn't made Kei jealous, none of this would have happened. It's obvious that she transferred her anger towards you to all humans."
"That's not obvious. Besides, daions don't have emotions like that. They don't have desires."
"It's true. Any daion will tell you that."
"They might not think they have desires, but they obviously want to get rid of us."
"Not all of them."
"Fine. Kei has desires, then."
"Are you going anywhere with this besides trying to make me feel guilty?"
"Sorry," said Iris. She lit another cigarette. "So, about this daion queen."
"I don't know anything."
"Kei never talked about her. Daions don't worship her or pay tribute or anything. Wherever this queen is, she doesn't seem to have much influence."
That was puzzling and frustrating. "If Kei never talked about her, then how do you know about her?"
"Jaq said something about her once. She said something about making a pilgrimage to the court of the daion queen. Supposedly, you can gather a lot of power there."
So that was good. "Great. So where's the court?"
"I don't know."
Did Billy know anything? "But Jaq knows where it is."
Billy took a drink of his coffee. "Maybe."
"So where is Jaq?"
"I don't know."
He really didn't know anything. "You're obviously still in love with this woman, and you don't know where she is."
"What's with everything being obvious? What is wrong with you this morning? You're like attacking me."
What was wrong with her? She wanted Billy's help. She didn't want to antagonize him. Of course, he was just a fan.
Why had that comment upset her so much?
"I'm not still in love with her," said Billy.
Iris shrugged. "Okay." The important thing was to figure out where Jaq was. "Do you have any way of contacting her? Friends? Her parents?"
Damn it. She was so close. "She was accused of murder! She had a lawyer, right?"
"Yeah . . . Pierce, Pierce, and Gordon group, I think."
"That's a start."
"You're not getting it," said Billy. "Even if you were to somehow find the pixie queen, it wouldn't make any difference. She wouldn't believe you."
Iris flicked ash from her cigarette in frustration. "The pixie world thinks a pixie rock band is farfetched too?"
"No. The monster that Kei raised is kind of a daion myth. No one thinks he exists."
"Pixies have myths?"
"Are they handed down from generation to generation or something?" Pixies had myths? How weird was that?
"I don't know. Kei used to steal them and have me photocopy them."
"Steal them from where?"
"I don't know."
God! Billy was fucking clueless. Iris sighed. "So, if no one believes in this monster thing, how did Kei resurrect it or whatever?"
"She wasn't real forthcoming with the details to me. I think she used some ancient text to find where he was buried and invoked the inscription on his grave or something."
"The make-believe monster was buried?" This really wasn't making sense to Iris.
"You have to understand the myth. The way I understand it, Zain—that's this thing's name—came from the last bit of real magic. See, the daion mythology says the before the daions, the Ancients walked the earth. They were capable of real magic, and in those days, the daions were too."
"What does 'real magic' mean?"
"All the daions can do now is illusion. Perfect illusions for all the senses, but it's not . . . Like if a daion creates an illusory sword and stabs you with it, you'll feel as if you've been stabbed, and you'll see the blood. But it won't be real. Even if the illusion is too much for your mind, and you die, your body won't have any marks on it when the daion leaves. Real magic could actually physically alter reality. Do you understand?"
Iris nodded, taking a sip from her drink.
"So, anyway, the Ancients were on earth and there was real magic. But then the Ancients left, and the daions were left to fend for themselves. And when the Ancients left, real magic started to fade from the world. Nonmagical creatures started to hurt the daions. The myths say they were monstrous and huge with sharp teeth. Kei thought they might have been the dinosaurs. Anyway, the daions gathered up what real magic they had and created or called forth Zain—one or the other. Zain the Devourer. He destroyed their enemies and then retreated under the earth, the threat to the daions extinguished. But the myth goes that Zain can be called forth whenever the daions need him to destroy their enemies."
Iris took a moment to absorb. "So, if I march into the pixie queen's court, and tell her that someone's raised Zain the Devourer, it would be like going to the Queen of England and saying King Arthur has returned?"
Iris was quiet. Finally, she said softly, "What am I going to do then?"
Billy didn't answer.
"I don't want to die," said Iris. There was a long silence. "This might sound arrogant, but ever since I was very small, I've felt all the way down to my soul that I was . . . destined for greatness. I used to think that would happen when my band got signed, and I got to play music for the world. But that didn't work out so well. But maybe . . . maybe this is it. Saving the world is a big deal. Maybe that's my destiny. It's the thing I always felt I was supposed to do." She paused. Quietly: "I have to try."
"Okay," said Billy.
"Okay. I'll help you. We'll try. We'll do something."
Ed Buckingham watched as the blonde woman and her dark companion got up from their table and left the coffee shop. He got up from his table and went to the counter. The girl there had towering hair and tons of makeup that did little to cover her acne.
"Those two that just left," he said. "You see them in here much?"
"Why?" said the girl.
Buckingham flashed his badge. "Magic Management," he said. "I half-overheard their conversation. They were saying some funny things."
"Oh wow," said the girl, suddenly eager to help. "The guy I've never seen before, but the girl plays at like Martino's sometimes, or she used to, anyway. Her name's Ivy or something."
Buckingham noted a few things in his notepad. "Anything else? You ever see her do anything . . . strange?"
The girl shook her head. "Huh-uh."
"Thanks for your help," said Buckingham. He snapped his notebook closed.