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Making deals with demons was inherently dangerous, Viv reminded herself. Despite their reputation, they weren’t all ‘evil’, no more than any other type of monster was evil. But, if the fae as a society were known for making tricky deals and catching humans in their webs of rules to get slaves or pets or toys or whatever… demons were far, far worse. Easy to make a deal you didn’t realize you were making that made you belong to a demon, or to get totally destroyed by one. And demons fed off humans, as many monsters did, but off not just their flesh—off their feelings, their energy, their soul.
The Otherworld was a huge place, and even if, as a witch, Viv was technically able to go there and survive fairly well, there were places humans just didn’t go unless they were forced to, and the hellish sub-reality that the demons came from was one of those.
On the other hand, demons and witches went together like peanut butter and jelly—
“Ma’am? Can I get you something?”
“Peanut butter and jelly,” she said aloud.
“Like, the sandwich?” the demonic barista looked back over his shoulder at the board. “Yeah, sure, I can do that. And to drink?”
“Just. A pumpkin spice latte please,” Viv said, her face red.
“Can do. Head to the end of the counter, I’ll drop them off there.”
She paid and went, Thys trailing after her.
Demons and witches went together like peanut butter and jelly. Because demons were so good at offering boons and gifts and powers in exchange for whatever they wanted from a human, plenty of witches made ongoing deals with them to help increase their power, or learn things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to learn. Even Reese had a demonic familiar—
She reminded herself to not think about Reese.
“What is it?” Thys asked after a long moment, tilting their head.
“Oh, just.” She nodded vaguely toward Matthias, whose back was turned. “You know.”
“Ah. You are attracted?” Thys abruptly stood straighter, pulling themself up and seeming slightly alarmed.
Weird. “I mean. He’s an incubus, I’m not not attracted, just…” She sighed. “Like I said, I’m weak. I don’t see a demon from a normal perspective, I guess. Just a witch one. Don’t worry, though, I won’t get distracted from your situation. No point complicating things further.”
Thys looked back and forth between Viv and Matthias a few times before just humming softly in some sort of mild acknowledgement.
“Here you go! A PSL for the lady and a syrupy coffee for your Grace,” Matthias said, coming to the end of the counter with their drinks and putting them down. “I’ll get your sandwich ready, shall I?”
“Thanks,” Viv said. She drew a deep breath and forced away her shameful, power-hungry thoughts. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure, fire away,” Matthias said. He tapped his name tag and grinned with a wink. “I’m working, so don’t worry that you’ll get yourself tangled up in a deal. Kearney would fire me if I did that on the job!”
She hadn’t asked, but she assumed that he got that question a lot from people who were worried about even ordering when he was working. She nodded a bit awkwardly. “Nothing like that, I promise! Uh, a friend of ours got attacked recently, and we’re trying to figure out if we can figure out who did it. That friend didn’t see their attacker, you know?”
Thys was looking at her with raised brows, as if they were on the verge of butting in to point out that they were the one who got attacked and leading the conversation themselves. But, perhaps understanding that there should be some caution in revealing the details, they just looked away after a moment, unfurling a long, proboscis-like tongue and inserting it into the drink hole of the cup lid.
Matthias seemed to have difficulty tearing his eyes away from that, but he managed, smiling again at Viv and nodding. “Okay? And you’re wondering if I heard anything? I mean, vampires hunt around here a lot, and we’ve got a pretty high fae presence and some of those can be pretty violent. So I might need more details.”
“Sure, yeah, if you’ve heard anything, or if you do hear anything, we’d super appreciate it,” Viv said. “Or, like, if it turns out this is someone who it would… it would benefit the community to stop, do you know anyone who might want to help out? Out of the goodness of their hearts.”
“Ooh, I get you,” Matthias said. He sliced the sandwich. “What are the specifics?”
“Let me think,” Viv said. Too much obscuring of information would make it harder for them to track this attacker down. But, on the other hand, being too open might alert their attacker to the fact they were actively exploring getting a posse together to attack them. “The friend is kind of reclusive but is powerful among their own kind, I think?”
“For sure,” Thys said, tongue still in the cup but only mildly garbled.
“And it has something to do with power outages. Not leyline surges but something else. I don’t know what this attacker can do exactly, but whatever they’re doing seems to have something to do with putting power through the lights to lure in victims, and causing power outages and… yeah, that’s about all I know. And energy draining from the people they attack,” she added.
A moment later, she remembered that energy draining was an incubus’s specialty, and his rueful smile seemed to attest to that. The perp wasn’t Matthias, that was obvious—she was pretty sure that getting energy drained from a sex demon would be a bit more memorable than the confusing and violent attack Thys had described—but it still might be kind of rude. “Sorry, I—”
“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. You’re just describing what happened,” he said lightly. “Let me think. I haven’t heard anyone else talk about that, or anyone say they were attacked in that way. So whatever it is, it hasn’t been hunting in this area for long or… well, had many survivors.”
“It could be either,” Thys said. “Our… friend? Almost didn’t survive. The attack was in darkness, too, so they didn’t see much.”
“Still, if one person got away, I’d expect more would too, and there at least be rumors.” He pushed the plate over to Viv, who took it, and then drummed shiny black talons on the counter as he thought. “So not hearing rumors is itself probably significant. But the only thing I can think of that even slightly relates is the lanternfish.”
Viv frowned. “The lanternfish?” Something about that word was vaguely familiar.
“Yeah. Lithway is doing a play about a monster that lures its prey in with a light and then devours them and grows stronger. It’s a pretty cool play,” Matthias added, “but I mean, I don’t see how that could be related, it would be a pretty stupid monster that saw Lithway put on a play and decided to copycat it.”
“I don’t really know much about Lithway except that they’re a celebrity,” Viv said. “Could they be doing it?”
“Lithway? I doubt it,” Matthias said with a laugh. “That one’s a philanthropist. A big fan of helping the less fortunate and making themself look even cooler doing so. And it would be even stupider to put on their own play if they were going to go around hunting people with light and shadow, wouldn’t it?”
“I guess so,” Viv said ruefully. “And people who might help?”
“You can get all sorts of help around here,” Matthias said. “Rarely for free, though. Lots of people would be interested in removing a new hunter who would upset the balance, either for the good of the community or for their own good. Any lycanthrope pack leader, or either of the vampire princes, or anyone you’d consider a local power. Since you’re a witch, you might want to bring the Twilight Council in; those old farts can move pretty slowly if it has to get put to a vote, but if it’s something urgent, they can sometimes put standard business aside for the sake of getting things done.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Viv said, thinking of how frustrating inter-coven politics could be back home.
Matthias nodded. “Yeah, you get me. Other than that, you could pull the fae in, since their Grace there knows whoever this is? Though that has its own complications, I’m sure.”
“I could command a number of people, if I went back through the gate,” Thys answered, pulling their tongue back out of the cup. Their tone was serious. “I am perhaps not the strongest in my own right, but I had a significant number of followers. But I was not interested in living that lifestyle. So I am here now.”
Viv glanced at Thys askance, surprised at this revelation. But no point in continuing that train of thought in front of Matthias. “So basically, pick a group, make sure they aren’t fighting with anyone else we’re involved with or going to be too slow, and offer them something in exchange?”
“Pretty much. I’d go to the top of whatever organization you try to get at your back; ultimately, anyone who’s part of a group will be answering to their leaders anyway.” Matthias considered. “There are solitary folks who might help out, depending on what you offer or what sorts they are in general. Hell, I’d be willing, if I got something out of it. Anyone who gets attacked in this neighbourhood could be feeding me just as well, you know? And I let my dinners go home in the morning.”
“For sure,” Viv said, blushing. “Thanks, Matthias. You’ve been a great help.”
“Aw, shucks, ma’am.” He put a hand over his heart. “Just doin’ my civic duty. Enjoy your drinks!”
Viv and Thys withdrew to a table far enough away that they could talk without anyone else overhearing them. Thys sat, looked down at their cup, and held it out. “Can I have a sip of your PSL? I have not had one before. You can try mine.”
“Sure, let’s trade.” Viv slid hers over, took Thys’s, and sipped. A horrible melange of thirty or more syrup flavors blended in her mouth and somehow, as she managed to swallow it, turned out almost interesting in the aftertaste. Perhaps it was in self-defense. She put the drink down. “So. I have some thoughts.”
“Okay,” Thys said. They stuck their tongue into the PSL and brightened. “Oh. It’s good. A very simple flavor, but nice.”
Viv grinned helplessly for a moment. “Yeah. I mean, I think so. Anyway, so. We’ve established that you’re the only one affected by the light, and that the power outages started when you were booked at the Good Neighbours.”
“Yes,” Thys said. They frowned down at Viv’s drink, brow furrowing. “You don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
“I don’t know if it is. Matthias mentioning this lanternfish thing makes it extra confusing, like, I don’t know if that is related or not, but it sounds similar,” Viv said. “Anyway, those two things makes me think that you’re being specifically targeted.”
“I feel that as well,” Thys said. “But what I don’t understand is why someone else was attacked. They didn’t go after me until I walked in on that.”
“I don’t know,” Viv admitted. “Maybe they were trying to work up to you, or maybe… ugh. Maybe they’re literally wearing that person’s corpse.”
“We didn’t find a corpse! And the divination said that the human face was a mask. I’d have thought that was a metaphor—that we can hide or lie to trick others, because we control what our face presents? But it might be literal.”
Thys nodded, then shook their head. Then sort of nodded again while shrugging. “I agree with the possibility, but then, why would the garbage smell? Why would the whole garbage room need to be cleaned out? I assume there was a corpse and they disposed of it.”
“Shit. Good point.” Viv rubbed her face, then sighed and offered Thys their drink back. Thys traded back, expression serious. “So we still need more information. More allies. More whatever. Our next planned step was to go to the skate park to see if we can find Yasmin, but I’m not sure if that’s still the best option…”
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