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Authors: Melanie Jackson

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Traveler

BOOK: Traveler
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Traveler
Melanie Jackson

LOVE SPELL   
   NEW YORK CITY

A GREATER MAGIC

“Don’t,” she whispered, trying halfheartedly to push him away. It was hard because desire was making her weak. Zayn had tried using his spells on her and it had not worked. They had both thought her immune to magical forms of ritual, sensual persuasion. Obviously that wasn’t true.

Or maybe Jack wasn’t using a regular spell. Maybe it was something that came from his being a death fey. That thought truly terrified her.

“I’m not a whore. Take your hands off me!” she gasped.

“Take my hands away? But why? Do you know what women say to my kind when we lay them beneath us?” he asked, his voice a soft stroke of her ear as he pulled her lower body tight against his. Heat flared where they touched and his magic washed over her, rolling up her legs and then finding its way inside.

She gripped his wrists, lean but impossibly strong, and tried to pull them away.

“They say: ‘Eat my heart. Drink my soul. Love me to death.’ Isn’t that what you have come to say to me? ‘Eat me. Drink me. Love me, Jack’?”

For Brian—Every time I pause at a new boundary, he smiles and says, “Push it.”

Chapter One

Io knew something had gone horribly wrong when Xanthe called her into the inner sanctum at seven o’clock at night on the second day of her vacation.

“Io, H.U.G. took you in when no one else would have you,” the woman said without preamble, looking down at her. “Now you have a chance to thank Humans Under Ground for its generosity and do the world an immeasurable service at the same time. Please sit down.”

Io took a seat across from her and fixed her odd blue eyes on Xanthe, her H.U.G. mentor. Those eyes were all blue; the pupils of a dark ripe blueberry, the irises an azure that nearly glowed until the whites were also bathed in slight blue luminescence. Only those descended of certain lines of Welsh siren feys had all-blue eyes. An ancestress, not so many generations back, had been a pureblood of the Gwragedd Annwn. Outside of H.U.G., Io either
wore full cosmetic contacts or wrap-around sunglasses to hide this sign of her obvious mixed heritage. It was the only physical characteristic that gave her away as being part fey.

“What do you want me to do?” she asked, expression and voice carefully blank in the face of Xanthe’s sudden formality.

“I know that your training is incomplete, but we are sending you into old Motor City on a mission.”

Io couldn’t control her first blink of surprise.

“Motor City? Goblin Town?”

Xanthe nodded.

“We have reason to believe that the goblins are finally going after the magical generator. Obviously, we want to get the gem first.”

“But—”

“I know! We are opposed to the use of magical tools of any kind.” Xanthe smiled tightly. “But while we don’t like them, we don’t dismiss them as unimportant or impotent. If Motor City’s police are too weak to keep order right now, then it behooves us to see that the generator is kept safe until they can again manage it.”

“The police can’t stop the goblins?”

“They are making an effort,” Xanthe admitted. “They’ve sent in Jack Frost.” Her voice was respectful as she said the name, but not happy.

She didn’t need to say anything else. Free agent Jack Frost, born Jonathan Frost, had earned his name and reputation a decade ago when an artistic
goblin named Jeerith had taken him prisoner and decided to do some flesh trapunto on him as a warm-up to the real torture of candle-wicking through the torso. Jeerith had gotten the cotton wicking jammed under the skin of Jack’s chest and managed to stitch in the first of the runes that made up his name before he got careless: he’d leaned in a little too close and Jack had taken Jeerith’s nose off with his teeth. Jack had then somehow managed to get free of the welded shackles that bound him to an iron chair, and killed the needle-wielding lutin by breaking his fat neck. Rumor in Goblin Town had it that Jack was descended of the Ankou death fey, but no one in H.U.G. seemed to know for certain if this was true or just more sensationalism. Xanthe, who might know the facts, had always been very tight-lipped about it.

Whatever the truth, it was decided then and there among the flesh-eating criminal elements of Motor City that you didn’t really want Jack Frost nipping at your nose, or anything else. Everyone walked very lightly when around the mysterious Mister Frost.

He’d been banned from Goblin Town since, but Io doubted that would stop Frost from finding his way inside the city if he wanted to be there.

“But surely if Jack—”

Io’s boss interrupted again.

“He’s only one man, and he is going up against some big money and power. It isn’t commonly known among the masses, but many of America’s
tycoons of industry have been replaced by modified lutins. As you have learned in your work, the process of controlling the independent blinking of goblin eyes has improved greatly in the last few years. Scent gland extraction is no longer a problem now that the perfume industry has devoted so much time and money to the cause, and almost any of a goblin’s possible extra limbs can now be safely removed.”

“Businessmen? Like
The Donald?
” Io asked after a moment. She fought the urge to rub her head, which was beginning to ache. She was an air element, and being underground always bothered her.

“Yes, we believe so. Other possibles are Jobs, Gates, Forbes, and Perrot. The goblins are branching out into other areas as well—sports, the arts, even religion. Who knows if they have infiltrated the FBI and CIA? If they haven’t already, it’s only a matter of time.”

Sports were an obvious choice for infiltrations, because goblins had a bad habit of touching themselves in public, and in athletics such behavior was accepted. Likewise, being sneaky and spying on people was second nature. But religion? There hadn’t been a goblin in power in the Church since the Bishop Mauger excommunicated William the Conqueror. And the arts? That was a place where beauty was highly prized. No goblin was very attractive.

Of course there were always exceptions outside
of movies and television where appearance didn’t matter. Io thought about likely targets.

“Not Garrison Keillor?” she asked, appalled.

“No, but he’s an obvious choice. And we fear they may have gotten Stephen King at the time of the accident. They’ve managed all this without having any special magical help—imagine what will happen to the human world if they get hold of true magical power and manage to tune the thing into Horroban’s warped frequency.”

Io shuddered. “The situation certainly sounds grim,” she said. “Can’t we do anything to alert people?”

“It is grim, and we need to see that human interests are protected. But you know how we are regarded: H.U.G. is a laughingstock—the lunatic fringe of conspiracy theorists.” Xanthe’s voice rose as she added sarcastically, “After all, who could be afraid of goblins? They’re refugees. They aren’t even citizens. They aren’t allowed to vote; they’ve been moved into their goblin ghettos—really upscale refugee camps—and most people are convinced that they’re happy to be there, a huddled mass that isn’t yearning to breathe free because it mostly lives underground.”

Xanthe paused and Io nodded in reluctant agreement. What the woman said was true. Humankind knew that goblins existed, but assumed that, since the U.S. had been generous enough to offer them shelter when they were exiled from Europe, they
were and would remain grateful to and not plotting against those people who had offered them a temporary home.

Xanthe went on, “If we thought this would all stop at the borders of Motor City we wouldn’t worry—but you and I both know that those boundaries won’t hold Horroban forever. We have to find out who and where he is!”

This was the standard H.U.G. party line, but also fact. The unseen goblin warlord Horroban was ambitious, and Io knew firsthand about how greedy the monsters could be. Goblin greed and addiction had killed her mother.

“So you are sending me in to find the generator—the jewel?” she asked, seeking clarification.

“You and Zayn are to find Horroban. You are our only two operatives who can pass inside Motor City and not be overwhelmed by the magic. But don’t worry, we aren’t sending you in without some assistance.” Xanthe pushed a button on her desk and a moment later her door opened to let in a small, wispy man carrying a glass dish. Io noticed his small lapel pin, which proclaimed him a priest. “This is Father Ferris. He has been working on a new toy down in the labs.”

H.U.G. didn’t believe in using magic in its war on goblins, but the group had embraced science and, to an extent, religion.

“This is a small sample of our new lab-grown flesh. We are going to give you a few ‘birthmarks’—a heart, a
star, and a crescent moon. These beauty marks all have tiny transmitters embedded in them. With these robotic ticks we can track you anywhere in the city.” Xanthe looked up and added casually, “And should you find yourself in a situation where it would be advantageous, you may choose to share this flesh with some appropriate goblins. The tick will embed itself in their stomach wall and survive for forty-eight hours—if the target doesn’t eat another goblin.” She added matter-of-factly, “The ticks get confused when they have a choice of flesh and sometimes will pick the wrong host.”

“Oh?” Io tried to sound more interested than appalled. This was beyond anything she’d heard a H.U.G. operative had ever been asked to do.

“There is also a pocketknife with two blades—one of silver and one of cold iron,” Ferris explained. “If you don’t cut too deeply you can remove the faux flesh without hurting yourself. The blood is minimal—each flesh attachment has just one small vein to keep it from withering.”

He didn’t add that most feys healed quickly and she should too.

“We’ve tested the flesh and it passes. No taste difference at all,” Ferris assured her.

Io managed not to let her disgust show. Nor did she ask who had done the taste test.

“Of course the transmitter would not survive grinding by their giant teeth, but most goblins tend to gulp things whole, so we believe there is a good
chance of this ploy working. You’ll be given a hand-tracker so that you can follow anyone you ‘tick.’ ”

Io nodded.

“We’ll give you a special nose breather that fits inside the nostrils. It will filter out goblin musk, and also any chemicals in the air. There is talk that some of the Motor City nightclubs are putting hallucinogenic drugs in the ventilation systems.”

“That’s illegal!” Io exclaimed without thinking, then berated herself for sounding naive. She added hastily, “Is it some sort of LSD?”

“Nothing so mundane, I’m sure. But we don’t really know
what
they are doing in these clubs. Maybe testing a date rape drug to find the right strength for use on humans.”

Io was horrified. “But to what end? Most goblins don’t like humans.”

Ferris and Xanthe looked at each other and shrugged. They didn’t know and didn’t want to—understanding your enemy wasn’t necessary if all you wanted to do was to kill them.

“We don’t know,” Xanthe repeated. “Nobody has died, or even got very sick, so we haven’t been able to use our hospital personnel to retrieve blood samples.”

“And the police?” Io asked without much hope.

“Nothing’s been officially reported that’s illegal enough to interest the police, and even those cops not on the goblin payroll aren’t listening to our warnings about Horroban. The mayor has plugged their
ears,” Ferris answered. “Anyhow, it will be to your advantage to have a clear head when everyone else is incapacitated.”

“Is that all?” Io asked, when Ferris fell silent. “I have some ticks and a breather?”

“No, of course that isn’t all. There is also the fact that everyone entering Motor City is gifted with one magic talent. It’s random and nearly always something silly and harmless so the tourists won’t hurt themselves, but with your blood and background, it is possible that you and Zayn can parlay this gift into something more powerful.”

Io nodded again, but she was growing warier by the minute. She would not be encouraged to use her latent magic in anything less than a crisis situation. Wasn’t H.U.G. against magic?

“What else?”

Xanthe cleared her throat. “It would be ideal if you could form an alliance with Jack Frost—or at least an understanding,” she added hastily. “He has been known—on occasion—to keep company with women of a certain physical type.”

“Dark hair and glowing eyes?” Io suggested, trying not to feel used.

Xanthe hesitated.

“Yes.” Ferris’s answer was blunt. “Exactly. The rumor is that he likes those of the Gwragedd Annwn. He hasn’t found a mate yet and will likely be very interested—if he’s a death fey.”

This
explained why the arrogant and capable
Zayn wasn’t going in alone. Zayn was a loner when he worked. Women were almost never sent into Motor City with him except as bait. Io’s true role was potential lunch for Jack Frost, a distraction that would leave Zayn free to maneuver. After all, H.U.G. likely wanted the city jewel in their hands, not left with the people who had hired Jack Frost.

“You should begin by visiting The Madhouse. SEXXX is performing there tomorrow night and it is believed that the lead singer, Hille Bingels, answers directly to Horroban. Wear something leather—you want to make friends with the locals.”

Io nodded. “All right.”

“There is one last thing,” Xanthe added, glancing once at Ferris. “Our chemists have been looking at Neveling Lutin’s new perfume, L’air de Lutin. There is nothing wrong with the samples we’ve examined, if you discount the fact that they are made from goblin musk—”

“Hunc vulgus Gobelinum appelat,”
Ferris muttered.

Io blinked at the Latin and translated in her head. Lutin
was a common goblin name.
She supposed it was rather unsubtle of the goblins to name the scent by its main ingredient, even in French. Some Americans were bound to remember that
lutin
was the French word for goblin. But then it had been bold of the goblin perfumer Neveling to adopt the last name Lutin and pass himself off as a human being.
It had to be at Horroban’s orders—he controlled everything in Goblin Town.

“Precisely, and it was very bold of them to call it so,” Xanthe agreed hastily, which stopped Ferris from starting in a lecture. “But the base looks like the perfect carrier for some sort of biological agent. Our chemists tell me that all anyone would need to do is add a little something—perhaps powerful pheromones, perhaps something even more disturbing—before it was distributed, and give the vat a stir. Neveling’s company plans on launching their campaign with a free mass mailing of the stuff. The launch date is two weeks from today. Some of the H.U.G. higher-ups are concerned.”

“You want me to discover what the goblins are doing with this perfume, too? But how? Should I follow Neveling Lutin?” Io asked. She was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the size of her first real assignment.

“Tracking the perfumer isn’t your main task. We already have people on the inside doing that. The boffins are probably overreacting anyway. Keeping the jewel from Horroban is the most important thing, and that is where I want you to concentrate. It shouldn’t be difficult. Zayn can handle it,” Xanthe assured her. “We are just being thorough in letting you know that these two events are likely not unconnected.”

BOOK: Traveler
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