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“I think,” Viv said slowly, “that it’d be best if Thys and I stayed in one apartment, at least for tonight. For one thing, we know the connection is affected by distance, so staying close together while they’re still recovering is probably for the best.”
“And,” Dandelion said grimly, “if something comes for them again, you think you can help fight it off?”
They both looked at her with mild expectation. She blanched. “I mean, I don’t think… I doubt I’d be much good in a fight, but maybe whatever it is would be less likely to make a move while we’re together?”
“I think you’re right,” Thys said. They were pondering the facade of the building, their brow knit tight. Viv realized that sometime during their walk, Thys had wound their antennae around their head like a crown. “I don’t know if it was coming after me specifically, but the call seemed… seemed focused on me. Even if I saw it attacking someone else.”
“Right. Speaking of which…” Viv said, and then couldn’t quite bring herself to finish the sentence.
Dandelion seemed on the same page though, gnawing at his lower lip with a visible display of nerves. “You saw it attacking someone in the garbage room, which Vivian later said smelled awful.”
“I’m sure it’s not a corpse,” Viv began nervously. “A corpse wouldn’t start to smell so soon, right?”
“Oh, no, that’s not true at all,” Thys said. “It wouldn’t start to smell of decomposition right away, if that’s what you mean.”
Pulling a face, Dandelion nodded. “And even so, if certain types of magic were involved, it could start decomposing quite quickly. Anything that would cause the bacteria to act unnaturally fast would cause the smell of putrefaction to begin early. Necromantic magic can do that—so can anything that’s specifically designed not just to kill a person but to dispose of the body faster. And even if it were just a human’s normal decomposition rate, there’d be other smells. Human waste, for example, is pretty common. What did it smell like?”
“I don’t know,” Viv said. “I remember thinking at the time it smelled like rot. Kind of… vomitty also, and…”
“Yeah,” Dandelion said grimly. “Let’s make sure your rooms are both safe first of all. But after that, we should check it out to see if. Well. If there’s been a murder.”
“Uhhhghhh,” Viv said, lacking anything more coherent at that thought, but used her fob to let the other two in with her.
They headed for the elevator room. Thys hummed slightly as they entered it, looking relaxed even though they’d said they’d been attacked there. Reminded of that, Viv glanced down.
“The dead moths are gone,” she said.
The two fae looked as well. “Oh,” Thys said. “I don’t like that.”
No, they wouldn’t, would they? Those moths were part of Thys. “Maybe that’s why your energy was so janked? If you turned into a swarm and a bunch was killed.”
“Maybe,” Thys said. “It feels…. It feels as if they weren’t just killed.”
“What… what does that mean?” Viv asked.
Thysania shrugged. “Destroyed. Eaten?”
“There were bodies when I was here last.”
“My form was energy and flesh. Maybe all that’s left behind was the flesh.”
“That doesn’t explain where the bodies went,” Dandelion muttered. He jabbed the ‘up’ button on the elevator.
“Maybe the janitor mopped them up,” Viv said. “He was obviously doing some cleaning when I left.” A thought occurred to her, her hands abruptly going cold. “Wait… why was he cleaning so late in the evening?”
Dandelion said, “Are you new to a Valley, Vivian?”
She felt something inside her cringe at the disbelief in his voice, and flushed, looking down at the clean floor. “No. No, you’re right. He could be a vampire or some other night-dweller, right, of course. He looked human so I didn’t think about it…”
“Sorry,” Dandelion said. He put a hand to her elbow briefly and squeezed. “I didn’t mean to—look, I’m just on edge.”
“Aren’t we all,” Viv said, managing a weak smile. “It’s fine.”
“Elevator’s here,” Thys said, as if any of them would have missed the doors opening.
They headed up to the second floor. “Let’s check Thys’s room first,” Dandelion suggested. “Make sure there isn’t anything in there now.”
“Fair enough,” Viv said, though she longed to make sure nothing had happened to her cats. No reason to think anything had, though; she was just nervous for them.
Thysania unlocked the door into their apartment. It was a tidy place, with surreal art prints on the wall, an acoustic guitar in a stand next to an armchair, a sofa, a television. The kitchen was open-concept, attached to the living room, and Thysania appeared to have a collection of brightly colored mugs on display on the counter next to a kettle.
The apartment was laid out exactly the same as Viv’s new place, which meant the door to the left was to the bedroom, and the one across the hall was to the bathroom. She hung back by the door awkwardly as Dandelion and Thys prowled through Thys’s apartment, checking all the doors, the closets, the nooks and crannies.
“Seems safe,” Thysania said. “My wards haven’t been breached.”
“Honestly, if something could breach your wards uninvited, I’d be worried,” Dandelion muttered. He managed a smile at Viv. “Your turn.”
They headed next door, and Viv let them into her disaster of a place. After seeing Thysania’s tidy home, her own bare walls and stacks of boxes everywhere looked like a nightmare, but there was no helping it. That’s what moving was like.
Dandelion chuckled. “Sorry that this will probably interfere with you unpacking. Maybe we can help?”
“Oh god, maybe,” Viv said weakly as her three cats ran up. “Uh, this is Beano, and these are Pebbles and Notch. …I guess you already know Beano, Thys. Is this okay? I can keep him away from you…”
“I’m not afraid,” Thys said lightly, kneeling down and offering their hands to the cats, who didn’t seem to quite know what to make of the two powerful fae in their presence. All three hesitated, then bowed, stretching with their front legs stuck out in front, before rubbing against Thysania’s hands and Dandelion’s leather-clad legs. “Hello. Hello, friends. Thank you for not eating me.”
“I think you’d be harder to eat now,” Viv said.
“Depends on who is offering,” Thys said. Their expression was deadpan but, as Viv looked at them in surprise, they finger-gunned.
Dandelion laughed. He seemed relieved, his tension lightened, now that he’d confirmed Thys’s apartment was still safe. “Well, let’s explore your place too, Vivian. Make sure there are no murderers hiding in closets.”
“Uh, please!?” Viv squeaked. She picked up Pebbles in a hug; the other two had better chances of surviving a potential murderer, but Pebbles would walk up to Satan himself and beg for pettings and kisses.
Once more, Dandelion and Thys made a circuit of the apartment. “All safe,” Dandelion said. “I’d put up wards if I were you, though.”
“I can’t,” Viv said. “I mean, I’ll buy some when I learn more about the local witches.”
“I can do it,” Thys said. “If we want.”
“Or I can,” Dandelion countered. “If something’s looking for Thys, no reason expanding her signature, huh? I can hook you up with contacts in the Twilight Council if it gets serious, though, and we need to bring in the real heavy-hitting witches.”
Viv made a face and didn’t answer. Depending on what this thing turned out to be, that might be necessary—but she wasn’t sure she wanted to get involved with that strong a group, especially after she’d caused such drama in her own coven.
Dandelion waited for a response, then just kind of shrugged when he didn’t get one. “Are you both going to stay here tonight? I’m not sure there’s enough room.” He gestured at the stacks of boxes.
“Right, yes, I guess not,” Viv said. “I don’t really want to leave the cats alone, though.”
“Bring them to my place tonight,” Thys said. “When we’re ready. But are we ready yet? We aren’t, are we. There’s the garbage room still looming over us.”
Slowly, Viv put Pebbles back down. The young cat had fallen asleep in Viv’s arms, and complained about being woken up and having to use her legs. “Let me grab one of my pendants,” she said. “We can start at the top floor and look for anything that reads as a trap, or as a dangerous place, and work our way down.”
It was really just dowsing—holding a weighted pendant out, and telling it to swing one way for yes and another for no, and then asking a question for it to be able to answer. In this case, as they stood on the fourth floor, the highest area they could access without finding a way to the roof, she asked simply. “Is this place in more danger than others?”
They walked up and down the halls, headed down the stairs to the next floor, and repeated, all with the pendant just swinging no, no, no. When they reached the first floor, she walked through the parking lot, asking the same, and only got a circle, a yes, when they entered the elevator room.
“Not a surprise,” Dandelion said. “Since you were already attacked there, Thys.”
Thys was gazing at the pendant. “I suppose. I wonder if that means everywhere here is equally in danger?”
“Ugh,” Viv said. They continued down again, the pendant still swinging in circles as they took the elevator to the sub-basement. The storage units there also read yes, and Viv jumped as the automatic lights turned on as they approached, and off as they left.
Last but not least, the garbage room. She wished they could just avoid it, but there was no putting it off any longer.
Viv breathed deeply as they approached it, prepared to hold her breath if she had to—but while there was a lingering scent, the place was…
Well, it was cleared out.
It looked as if the bins had been emptied out entirely. The floor had been washed down—the wet puddle around the drains attested to that—and although flies still crawled here and there, especially around the compost, it looked much nicer.
It should be a relief, but all Viv could feel was disappointment. “Damn,” she said. “The janitor had said he was going to get this place cleaned up. I guess I didn’t expect it all to be cleared out so fast. There’s no way to tell what happened now…”
“There is,” Dandelion said, and nodded to Thys.
Thysania stood with their arms outstretched. Their cloak had spread out behind them in a way where it could no longer be denied that it was more winglike than cloth, and flies were crawling out of the dumpsters, out of the recycling bins, out of the compost, toward them.
It was a black, living swarm spreading out over their arms, and Viv shuddered at the thought of how that must feel.
“Yes,” Thys said abruptly. “Someone died here today.”
“So now what?” Viv asked. “Did they say who? Anything?”
“They don’t know that,” Thys said. “They’re just flies. All they know is the smell you described, and what it meant. It was a mortal who died, they know that too. Human, I think.” They lowered their arms and the flies all scattered, heading back to whatever feasts they could get out of the emptied bins.
Dandelion hissed out a breath. “So. Something killed someone here and then went after you. And you very nearly died too.”
“Oh,” Thysania said. “Yes, I suppose I did.”
“So now what?” Viv asked weakly. “Do we go to… what, the police?” In her experience, they’d never much cared what happened in the Valleys. “Supernatural organisations? We don’t have any proof, we don’t have any leads, but surely everyone would want to… not let this keep happening?”
“It’s a good question,” Dandelion said. “I wish I knew the answer. It might even just be best to go to bed; if whatever it is is using the light and dark to toy with people, the daylight hours may be better to act in.”
Thysania sighed. “I’m not a big day person,” they said. “But of course, I will do what’s necessary.”
“I also only woke up at 6,” Viv said. “I don’t know if I can sleep. I mean, yeah, obviously we’ll do what’s necessary, but what is that?”
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