I am on a major Changeling kick at the moment. What can I say. I will get back to Blood and Bone eventually.
â€œIt's downright creepy, if you ask me. Cavorting around with a bundle of twigs.â€ Hector pried at his teeth with a stony fingernail, coming away with a shred of parsley, and dismissively flicked it to the pavement, landing next to his boot.
â€œNo, Hector. Running into the Gargoyle late at night, that's creepy. Hearing your Keeper's voice on the other end of the phone, that's creepy.â€ Duke McCreedy grinned a feral grin, looking up and down the street from his position at the alley's end. The shadow patterns across his skin were not enough to hide him from sight, but he was feeling too jumpy to stay hidden. Anyway, what would mortals see? Three thugs in an alley, nothing that strange about it. They couldn't see Hector's rough and pebbled skin, or Achilles' sharpened teeth. They wouldn't see Duke's yellow eyes, only his leather jacket â€“ and that would be enough for them to stay away. â€œThat â€“ that's just plain sad.â€ He gestured vaguely towards the high school, and the young Draconic woman standing with her fetch, then turned away from the children streaming out to face his two companions and motley-mates. He ran a hand through his hair, smoothing it out to hang free around his shoulders, and grimaced. â€œAnd where the hell did you learn a word like 'cavorting', anyway? Not like I ever see you with a book.â€
â€œMaybe you don't look enough.â€ Hector grinned, and Duke chuckled and shook his head.
â€œI dunno, I think it's kinda sweet.â€ Achilles had a faraway look in his eye.
â€œSweet.â€ Duke's voice was extremely dubious.
â€œYah.â€ Achilles smiled, but his gaze sharpened suddenly as he picked up on the tone in Duke's voice. He flipped his knife end over end, catching it by the blade with his pale, knobby fingers. â€œWhat? I like kids.â€
Duke sighed, leaning back against the alley wall, bored of looking down the street. â€œLes, I have personally seen you rip out a man's liver and shove it down his throat.â€
â€œYah.â€ Achilles grinned a sharp-toothed grin. â€œKids love that.â€
Duke laughed. â€œYou are all kinds of screwed up, man.â€ He sighed, shaking his head. â€œHector, why don't you use that big, sneaky brain of yours and figure out why Tallow wants to see us.â€
â€œNo need, Mister McCreedy.â€ The voice came from behind them. Despite himself, Duke twitched, baring his claws and fangs as he turned. He felt his animal instincts rising, and forced them down ruthlessly. Beside him, Achilles slipped the knife away quickly, and Hector took an instinctive half-step away. â€œI can speak for myself.â€ Jack Tallow stepped from the shadows, his features taking on a predatory cast for a moment before settling back into a superficially pleasant but too-wide smile.
â€œJesus.â€ Duke muttered the epithet under his breath, then nodded with a fragment of respect. â€œWhat's this about, Jack? And why the hell are we meeting here?â€
â€œI thought I would kill two birds with one stone.â€ Jack shrugged easily, glancing around. â€œHector. Enjoying that monograph?â€ Hector shrugged uncomfortably, and Duke glanced back at him with a raised eyebrow before returning his attention to the Autumn King. â€œAnd I can't help but notice that your motley is short a member. Where is the lovely Miss Thane?â€
â€œEmma is busy.â€ Duke clipped the words. The truth was, Emma hated dealing with Jack, and had flatly refused to come.
â€œOf course she is.â€ Jack smiled another wide smile, and then shrugged again. â€œNo matter. I'm sure she's doing well also.â€
â€œWhat is going on?â€ Duke tried to keep his voice level.
Jack chuckled primly. â€œI'm just trying to understand my fellows. But if you want me to dispense with the pleasantries, very well.â€ His smile vanished, and he reached into his coat, producing a manilla folder. â€œThere was an attack against the Sun's Hold three days ago. Loyalists, servants of Tappan the Starbringer we believe.â€
â€œYeah?â€ Duke glanced over at Achilles, who shrugged. The ogre might be Summer, but he didn't much interact with the other members. Sighing internally, he returned his attention to Jack. â€œDidn't hear about it.â€
â€œWe're keeping it quiet for the moment.â€ Jack smiled another of his smiles, opening the folder and flipping through it. â€œThe interesting thing is, the loyalists had outfitted their people with modern body armour. Good quality. We got serial numbers off a corpse.â€ He handed a page to Duke, who took it, feeling an ice-cold shiver running down his spine.
Hector was quick on the update, and smart enough to keep quiet. Achilles was not. â€œHey, we sold...â€ He broke off abruptly, his skin turning even paler than usual. Duke shot him a look that could have stripped paint, and turned his attention back to Jack.
â€œSo someone bought armour.â€ Duke tried to shrug, crumpling the paper in his fist without looking at it and letting the paper fall to the ground. â€œMight have escaped your notice, Jackie-boy, but I'm a member of the Satrapy of Pearls. Pretty much everything I do is about buying and selling. I don't know where these things end up.â€
â€œOh, I am aware of your... activities. I think everyone in town is aware of the Royal Bastards.â€ Jack smiled again. â€œNothing against the Court's laws, I'm sure. But people talk. More dangerously, people whisper. Imagine what would happen if they thought you a privateer.â€
The alleyway fell silent. Duke took a deep breath. â€œAre you threatening me, your Majesty?â€
â€œNot at all.â€ Jack held out the folder, and his smile grew. â€œJust a friendly warning. It's up to you what to do with it.â€ After a long moment, Duke took the folder. â€œHave a lovely day, Mister McCreedy.â€
He turned, and strolled back the way he had come. As he turned the corner and mixed seemlessly into the crowds, Hector reached down and picked up the crumpled paper, smoothing it out and reading over it. His words echoed Duke's thoughts.
â€œWell, we're screwed.â€