Unearthed - Chapter One
Ryker Scott, MacGregor and Santonelli’s newest associate, prowls past my cubicle wearing a tailored black suit that hugs his broad shoulders. I swear he’s not human. In the year he’s worked here, he’s represented a talk show host charged with having sex with multiple minors, a senator’s son accused of sexually assaulting a young boy, and a Wall Street executive snagged in a cocaine smuggling ring. All were acquitted under his watch, despite the odds and endless charges. His latest victory was mere days ago when his client, a Broadway star one blow shy of beating his wife to death, was found not guilty.
Ryker’s military haircut fits his serious persona. The guy doesn’t smile, ever. I suppose when you represent walking pieces of filth, it’s hard to pretend you’d skip through a field of daisies. I’d ask him how he sleeps at night, saving all those horrible people and releasing them back into society, but I don’t know him, and I don’t care to.
Ryker’s ice blue eyes dart in my direction when I glare. He knows I hate every inch of his hulking form. If I could flip him off, I would. Instead, I give him my back and return to my work, wishing he’d stay on his side of the office.
I sense him stalk around the corner to speak quietly to another paralegal. She’s likely falling all over herself to please him. He has that effect on the staff, unlike my boss, who everyone avoids like shingles.
Speaking of the most irate man to ever wear a suit, Marco slams down the receiver to the phone, his booming voice loud enough to rattle the glass of his fishbowl office. “Olivia! Where the hell are my notes?”
My fingers fly across my keyboard, finishing the deposition Marco needs before that vein on his forehead finally pops. “In your briefcase, along with copies of the court documents,” I reply.
My sensitive hearing picks up the click, click of the briefcase locks snapping open before the mad sound of rustling papers ensues. “I don’t have—”
“You have three pens and two highlighters in the small zippered compartment and a new legal pad in the side pocket,” I call out.
“Your cell phone is charging on the table behind you,” I remind him.
I hit print and swivel in my high back office chair, working quickly to stack the copies neatly into a folder. After taking one last sip of tea, I lift the folder and an extra-large cup of coffee and hurry into my boss’s office.
Marco welcomes me with a scowl, the motion joining his crazy caterpillar eyebrows. “You think you’re so smart, don’t you?” he asks.
“Yup. Happy Monday.” I place the deposition on his desk and hand him the cup of coffee the new administrative assistant dropped off. So far, Marco is the only attorney she hasn’t hit on.
“Drink up,” I tell him. “You’re due in court in an hour.” I play with the talisman around my neck, reassuring myself that Death can’t find me while I wear it.
I examine my boss and shake my head. Marco is roughly five feet, six inches tall, three hundred pounds and balding, and about as cuddly as a rabid raccoon living in a sewer. And here he sits, partner of the most prestigious law firm in the region and the best defense attorney in Jersey.
“What are you looking at?”
I motion to his face. “I told you to do something about your eyebrows.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my eyebrows.” He tries to smooth them, but the motion only ruffles them further.
“Marco, they look ready to sprout teeth and bite.” I push off the desk. “Let me trim them.”
Marco is one second away from releasing the brows like Zeus did the Kraken. “Do I strike you as someone who manscapes?”
“No. That’s part of the problem.” I sigh when the vein on his forehead pulsates. “You need to take pride in your appearance. If I didn’t have your suits and shirts dry-cleaned, you’d resemble a serial killer walking into court.”
My voice trails when I take in the creases lining his gray suit. It’s my turn to scowl. “Isn’t this the suit you wore Friday?” He doesn’t answer. “Marco!”
“You’re one to talk. Look at you. Your hair is one pot of gold shy of a leprechaun.”
I point a nasty finger at him. “Don’t make fun of the hair.”
As a pixie, I look human, the exception being my rainbow-colored locks. That’s right, blond hair intermixed with strands of pink, lavender, and blue. It’s not on purpose. My hair was this color from birth, long before we crossed over from the dying realm of Fae. Many PTA moms scolded my mother for “doing this” to me. Mama tried to change the color, so I’d blend in better among humans, but nothing worked. Hair dyes dried my hair and faded in mere hours, and organic products made my hair shimmer like fairy dust.
Between my hair and the Celtic cross tat on the base of my skull, everyone in school assumed I was Goth. Truthfully, I prefer pretty clothes and music I can dance to without risking an elbow to the face.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Marco snaps. “This suit cost two grand.”
“It might as well cost two dollars by the way you take care of yourself.”
I stomp in my pink kitten heels toward Marco’s closet and whip out a fresh suit, tie, and set of underclothes. After taking a good whiff, I also grab a stick of Right Guard. I set everything neatly in his private bathroom and poke my head out. “You still have time to shower before court. Do you want me to turn on the water—”
The scuff of expensive shoes along the marble tile floor alert me we’re no longer alone. Damn it. It’s Ryker. Doesn’t he have puppy kickers to defend?
Rock hard muscles bulge against his designer suit. When he’s not freeing predators back into society, he must spend his time in the gym.
Ryker squares his jaw hard enough to smooth the dimple on his chin. He’s not pleased to see me or the glare I peg him with. Still, he tilts his head in polite acknowledgment. “Olivia.”
I smooth the skirt of my long white sundress and walk toward Marco, ignoring Ryker. “Do you need anything else?”
Marco’s features soften as he addresses Ryker. “Sorry you had to wait, son. I was negotiating the Andrews case with opposing counsel when you first stopped in.”
That explains Marco’s prior screaming and swearing. Marco is the type who prefers coercion to tact, which makes his interactions with Ryker odd. Marco smiles at him, as in, genuinely smiles.
“Congratulations on the acquittal, boy,” Marco says to Ryker. “That was a hell of a job you did. Keep this up, and you’ll make junior partner within a year.”
“Thank you, sir. It was a challenging case, and I was grateful for the help.”
“You can have all the help you want, anytime you want it.” Marco’s smile fades. “Is something wrong? You seem upset.”
“I’m fine, sir,” the leech answers.
“You don’t seem fine. Would you like some coffee? Olivia would be happy to bring you a cup.”
“No, she wouldn’t,” I mutter, walking toward the door. “You have fifty minutes, Marco. Take a shower.”
I shut the door behind me, muffling their conversation. The glass offices may allow a full view in, but they’re soundproof, except to my sensitive ears. Marco and Ryker glance in my direction before resuming their conversation. I was rude in there, and I’m embarrassed about my behavior. There’s just something about Ryker that fires me up and puts me in a hideous mood…
I freeze when I glance toward Bill MacGregor’s office. Bill is the other partner and a Fae like me. Right now, he’s in serious trouble. The very slutty and very human admin is slinking closer to him. She leans over his desk, her tiny black skirt rising and exposing her butt cheeks.
Bill’s eyes widen, and he tries to scramble away. The admin doesn’t let him. She yanks him to her by his tie and stamps her lips to his.
Thunder booms, shaking the thirty-story building. Lightning blankets Bill’s office in a painful blare of white light. As the light fades, so does Bill’s glamour, revealing his true form.
Glistening mocha-colored skin envelops the boulder-sized muscles of the seven-foot-tall gargoyle. Dagger-length fangs, sleek and deadly, protrude from his terrifying maw as glider-sized wings expand, shadowing the terrified woman in darkness.
She screams, loudly, the thick glass mercifully silencing her terror. I leap from my chair when she face-plants on Bill’s mahogany desk and call to the administrative assistant in the cubicle beside mine. “Jane, clean up in aisle five.”
Jane and I are both Fae and the only staff with a front and center view of Bill’s office. We don’t get a lot of traffic on this side of the building. Everyone avoids Marco, and no one wants to risk accidentally killing Jane.
Humans only see Jane’s chosen glamor, that of a ninety-year-old woman with severe osteoporosis and one awkward step shy of a broken hip. For an eight-hundred-year-old druid priestess, Jane looks damn good. Unfortunately, she is ancient, and her hearing reflects it.
I round back when she doesn’t hear me and shake her shoulder. “Jane!”
She stops her two-finger typing and blinks her tiny black eyes at me, speaking in her two-pack-a-day smoker voice. “Whhhat?”
“Clean up in aisle five,” I repeat.
I bolt to Bill’s office, making quick work of drawing the privacy shades. Bill is freaking out. His mammoth wings snap irritably, and his clawed hands wave in distress. “Why dith thee havvvv to kitth meeth? Goth. Damnth ith!” he hisses through his fangs.
“Your glamour form is smoking hot,” I remind him.
He scowls, his forked tongue dangling from his mouth.
“Did you have to pick that glamour?” I ask. I motion to the picture of him standing with the governor. “You resemble a young Laurence Fishburne with a goatee.”
“I lithe Lawrenth Fishburth,” he replies.
I pat his arm. “Try to relax and call it back.”
I draw the last shade that blocks the view into his office and stick my head out the door to check on Jane. She’s resumed her two-finger typing. On a good day, Jane can type ten words a minute. This doesn’t appear to be a good day.
“Whhhat?” she croaks.
“You’re needed in Bill’s office!” I holler. “Bring the big guns—the big guns, Jane!”
The slutty admin slides off Bill’s desk and falls to the floor with a thump. She groans, her forehead crinkling.
“Sheeth wakingth,” Bill says, panicking.
There’s no way he can recall his glamour in this state. “Jane, haul ass, sister girl!”
Jane glances over her shoulder and adjusts the black veil on her head. With the speed of molasses, she reaches for the candy cane striped wand she keeps in her pencil holder and shuffles toward us. Her black dress, two sizes too big, drags behind her tiny form.
The wand looks ridiculous clutched in her spotted hand. It’s not just the red and white stripes, it’s the red plastic heart complete with ribbons decorating the tip. Still, I wouldn’t mess with Jane’s wand. Our last temp tried to take it as a joke. Following a severe case of genital herpes and a beard so thick she looked ready to swing an ax, she was never heard from again.
Jane reaches Bill’s office with all the grace and speed of a snail. Unlike Bill, Jane isn’t panicked. She merely passes her wand over the admin, chanting in ancient Irish.
I try to make out the spell through her deep mumbles. It rings similar to the one she used to try to restore my magic.
Unlike the Fae who occupy this world, I don’t possess magic. My power and wings were ripped from me when my family and I crossed dimensions and into Earth’s realm.
Although I was young, I remember the pain.
The last time Jane attempted to resurrect my magic, I cried with frustration. Jane wiped my tears, speaking slowly. “You have something, Livvie,” she insisted. She smiled softly and pointed at my heart with her long, crooked finger. “What you seek is in there.”
I want to believe her. My family comes from a powerful line of pixies. It’s devastating to not possess even a wisp of their strength. It’s not that I think I need magic to feel more Fae. I just want something—anything—to strike back at those who robbed me of my family. Until then, all I can do is hide beneath the veil and protection of my talisman, just like the rest of my kind.
Glitter sprinkles from Jane’s wand as she shakes it over the admin’s face, freezing her in place when she abruptly wakes and tries to scream.
I scoot around them and toward the large windows. “Please alter her memory, Jane, and kindly tell her to stop being such a skank— Oh, and if you could, help Bill recall his glamour. He’s having a tough time settling.”
My voice trails as I peer through the window. Across the Hudson River, dark clouds crawl along the New York skyline, expanding quickly and morphing day into night.
My blood chills to ice, threatening to snap my bones. Death has found us. It’s coming. It’s coming now. But why?
The growing cluster of ominous clouds inks the sky. Jane stops her chanting, training her beady eyes toward the ceiling when the lights flicker. “Livvie,” she warns.
My fingers find my Celtic sister knot—the talisman that hides me from Death. It’s still there. I look at Jane. Her talisman dangles from her neck. So then…
Bill whirls left and right, knocking books from the shelves and sending the paperwork on his desk flying with the bat of his powerful wings. He falls to his knees when something on the floor catches his eye, the tips of his wings leaving deeps scrapes along the walls. Like a frantic cat, he scratches at the floor, trying to retrieve his broken watch.
I dive for the watch, Bill’s talisman. The links snapped from his wrist when he resumed his true form, damaging the magical charge that gives the veiling spell its power.
In the distance, I hear them, the cavernous roars of the Cù-Sìth death hounds, the form of Death that devoured my family.
I drop the watch into his hand and cover it with my palm. It doesn’t work. With each crash of encroaching thunder, the growls intensify. The Cù-Sìth are hungry. They need a soul, and it’s Bill’s they hunt.
The fluorescent bulbs explode, encasing the room in darkness. “Livvie…” Jane’s throaty voice carries fear I’ve never seen in her. “Ma-gic”
My pixie eyes adjust to the darkness, only to widen when I realize what Jane is asking. She wants me to call my lost mojo. Is she crazy? Now? We’ve spent countless hours trying to summon it only to fail each time.
Lightning flashes against the windows, illuminating the room. “Hurry,” Jane urges.
The talisman can’t conceal Bill from Death. It knows he’s here. With sweat-soaked hands, I anchor the links around Bill’s giant fingers, searching deep within me and attempting what feels impossible.
I scrunch my face, concentrating cocooning us in my aura.
Emptiness is all that greets me. I hold my breath, focusing harder.
The emptiness grows more pronounced. I open my eyes. Bill shakes his head, his pointy ears drooping as he motions for me to leave.
Tears blur my vision. “No, Bill.” Magic or not, I won’t leave him alone to die.
Thunder rattles the building, and the chorus of howls reach a mind-numbing crescendo. My eyes scan the office for something I can use to connect the links. I find a discarded roll of tape on the floor and lead Bill to it, both of us crouching low when we reach it.
I snap the roll from the dispenser, careful not to lose the end. With more speed than grace, I wind the tape around the watch and secure it to Bill’s wrist.
I run out of tape just as the first Cù-Sìth arrives.
Tendrils of dark green smoke slink through the window and snake their way around the desk, widening and solidifying into a bear-sized hound with shaggy green fur and glowing red eyes. His long-braided tail snaps like a whip, cracking the tension-filled air while paws as big as my head scrape their long claws against the tile.
Jane doesn’t move. I don’t even think she breathes. I can’t stop trembling, pleading for the good in the world to banish the hound from my sight.
Like the time I was ten, my pleas go unanswered.
The hound shoves his box-shaped head between Bill and me, his nose twitching until he latches onto a scent.
A hungry growl vibrates through the hound’s immense chest. Slowly, he turns toward Bill, meeting him square in his eyes. Drool drips from his needle-length fangs, falling against Bill’s shoulder and sizzling like acid. He licks the air near Bill’s throat. My trembles turn into full out convulsions. He sniffs again. He’s almost on top of us.
The hound’s gaze cuts to me when a small cry breaks through my quivering lips. He pauses, drawing in a deep breath and trailing his scorching ember eyes down my body. I’m certain he can sense me, until he looks past me toward the metal door where claws scrape again, and again, and again. More death hounds have arrived.
The hound between us returns his attention to where Bill kneels, curling the lips of his long snout into a hideous snarl. He senses Bill’s soul and wants it for himself. He sniffs again. He knows Bill is here. Like the strike of a cobra, the hound snaps at the air, puncturing through Bill’s face.
The cords of Bill’s neck strain as he struggles to contain his moans. I’m certain Bill is done for. But the magic from his talisman holds strong, veiling Bill’s presence and masking the taste of his blood.
Dark blood dribbles from the hound’s fangs, staining his dark green fur. I cup my hand over my mouth as the hound withdraws and I see what remains of my friend’s face.
Mangled skin dangles in flaps against Bill’s neck. It’s all I can do to keep from screaming. Talismans muffle sounds, but they have their limits, and nothing on earth will be able to silence the horror shredding my insides if I let loose.
Bill’s heavy hand encases my small one. He’s trying to comfort me and encouraging me to be strong. But how can I be strong when Death has arrived to tear him apart?
I jump when roars bellow behind the door. The pack of Cù-Sìth lingering outside is growing more insistent.
I press my hand tighter against my mouth to stifle my sobs. It’s not right for Bill to die this way. He’s good and kind. It’s not his time.
Two more hounds materialize like smoke through the door jamb, silencing my cries. These are swathed in matted white fur. They stalk around the office, growling and frantic to eat. One of them knocks into the green one as if demanding food. The green one barrels her over, perceiving her actions as a challenge. They fight like hungry beasts over a piece of meat, clawing, biting, and snarling.
More hounds arrive. They prowl restlessly, sniffing for prey and ignoring the fight. The white hound never stood a chance against the green. He dominates her, driving her into the opposite wall of the large office.
In one fierce move, the green hound flips over the female. He pins her to the floor and digs his fangs into her belly, tearing it open like rotting flesh. Souls spill from her gut in waves of translucent images. I recognize the faint forms of dwarves and fairies, their agonized faces pleading with me to help them.
Tears spill down my face. I wish I could help. But like the rest of my kind, there’s nothing I can do except hide.
The dead try to flee, except the remaining Cù-Sìth are too fast. The pack sweeps through the door like a raging fog of white and green, mauling the already damaged souls.
Bill and I wrench our faces away, unable to stand the terror-filled cries and slurping noises of the feasting hounds.
I steal a glance as the last of the shrieks die out, hoping they’re done. The hounds remain, raking their claws and scavenging for more. The spirits all are gone… except for one little Fae.
A sprite hides trembling in the corner of Bill’s Juris Doctorate diploma. But just as I see her, so do the hounds.
The Alpha who bit Bill’s face spots her first. He lunges, trampling over the others who try to intercept him. The little sprite shoots through the window, screaming in pain and fear.
In streams of white and dark green smoke, the hounds give chase. I want to race after her and help. But I no longer have wings to fly nor magic to save her. My pathetic attempts to summon my power proved as much.
I sniff meekly. The little sprite needs someone stronger than me.
I weep in silence for the souls that will never find peace and curse all forms of Death for filling their bellies instead of carrying their charge to eternal rest.
Bill and I rise carefully when the roars of the Cù-Sìth grow too faint to hear. He keeps his hand over mine until my trembling subsides and my tears stop falling, speaking kind words while his body mends his ravaged face and Jane’s enchantments repair the damage to the office.
With Jane’s help, Bill recalls his glamour. The moment his resemblance of Laurence Fishburne returns, Jane goes to work on repairing his talisman as only an Ancient can.
It takes time and an endless well of power to recharge damaged magic. Time Jane wouldn’t have without the makeshift band the tape provided. Forged from rare copper, gold, and silver found only in Fae and triggered by rare gemstones and diamonds from Fae mountains, talismans are a wonder. They serve to hide us and open the portals between our homeland and earth. Yet to open the portal, you must remove your talisman and risk a direct call to Death.
My father took that risk, and it cost him his soul.
Jane nods to Bill and lifts her wand when she finishes. He walks naked to the opposite wall tugging on links to test her work. It’s only when her magic seems to hold that the tension surrounding him eases.
Bill punches a small indiscriminate button hidden in the dark mahogany paneling. Two sets of doors part, unveiling a hidden bar. He pours a large helping of Irish whiskey into a glass and downs it, and another. He then removes a pair of pants and a fresh shirt from his closet. As soon as he dresses, he pours another drink and offers it to me.
“No, thank you, Bill.”
“Cathasach,” Jane spits through her teeth.
Bill nods. “I know.”
My gaze dances between them. “What?”
“The green Cù-Sìth,” he says. “The Alpha.” Bill tips back the glass, this time only taking a small hesitant sip. His hand is quivering. I didn’t notice it before. I see it now despite the shots of courage he poured down his throat. “Cathasach is the father of all the death hounds and the first to taste Life. It was he who convinced the other forms of Death to feed on the souls of the living.” He knocks back the glass, draining it of its amber fluid.
“The Cù-Sìth originally carried the souls of mountain Fae into the Afterlife,” I say, my tears close to the surface. “They were peaceful. I don’t understand how they became what we saw.”
Bill’s eyebrows knit tight, his anger momentarily shoving aside his fear. “It doesn’t matter what they were, only what they are, creatures who lack souls of their own with no conscience or respect for the Fae they consume. Did you see their size? They’re enormous from the plethora of spirits trapped within them. There’s no rationale. No pity. No pardon. No loyalty. Like all forms of Death, they’re selfish and their appetites insatiable. Look at how easily they turned on their own.”
He pours a fresh shot and brings it to Jane. She takes a few gulps and resumes her wand waving over the admin. “Tell her she’s fired,” Bill says, his deep voice laced with resentment.
Jane nods and tosses the rest of the liquor down her throat. I retrieve her glass and return it to the bar. It seems wrong to end our conversation this way, without hope or gentle words to remind us we’re safe. But this sense of safety is a momentary luxury, nothing that’s guaranteed. Even with our talismans, Death is never far away.
I try to leave the office and this experience behind. Bill’s deep baritone halts my sluggish steps, keeping me in place. “Olivia, Cathasach knew you were here. The way he took you in, somehow he knew.”
My response is almost robotic. “We’ve met before. I just didn’t know his name.”
Jane stops chanting. Bill chokes on his next sip of whiskey. He rushes to me and grips my arms. “You met him before today?”
I nod, shaking from the force of his trembles. “Twice,” I admit.
The color drains from his face. “Listen to me, Olivia. Do not remove your talisman, ever,” he whispers tightly. “If you escape a hound more than once, you become more than prey, you become an obsession. He’ll want you and not stop until he finds you.”
This is the last thing I need to hear. I break free and run from the room. In my haste, I slam into Ryker.
I bounce off his broad torso and land hard on my ass. Shock parts my lips. Considering I’m the one sprawled on the marble tile, he seems plenty pissed.
Perspiration feathers his forehead and his chest rises and falls in furious bursts. He clenches his fists, his blue eyes searing as he looms over me.
By the way his imposing form takes me in, I should be terrified. Mostly, I’m baffled by his rage.
I try to stand, feeling vulnerable. Before I can make it to my feet, Ryker storms away.
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