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Succubus Blues CHAPTER 16

“Georgina?”

“I’m still here.”

“Pretty fucked up, huh? I guess this kills your angel theory.”

“I’m not so sure.”

My initial feeling of dismay was being replaced by a new idea, one that had been percolating in the back of my mind ever since I read the biblical passage at Terry and Andrea’s.I wondered now… wondered exactly what we were dealing with, if it was an angel after all.The words in Genesis came back to me: There were giants in the earth in those days… the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown…

“What’s Jerome saying about all of this?”

“Nothing.

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What’d you expect?”

“Everyone else is okay, though?”

“Fine, last I knew. What are you going to do? Nothing stupid, I hope.”

“I have to go check on something.”

“Georgina…” Hugh warned.

“Yeah?”

“Be careful. Jerome’s in a terrible mood over all of this.”

I laughed harshly. “I can imagine.”

An awkward silence hung on the line.

“What else aren’t you telling me?”

He hesitated a moment longer. “This… this is a surprise to you, right? This Lucinda thing?”

“Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be?”

Another pause. “It’s just… well, you’ve got to admit it’s kind of weird, first Duane…”

“Hugh!”

“And then, I mean, when no one could contact you…”

“I told you, my cell phone broke. You can’t be serious about this.”

“No, no. It’s just… I don’t know. I’ll talk to you later.”

I disconnected.

Lucinda dead? Lucinda, with her plaid skirt and bob? It was impossible. I felt terrible; I’d just seen her the other day. Sure, I’d called her a sanctimonious bitch, but I hadn’t wanted this. Any more than I’d wanted Duane dead.

Yet, the connections Hugh had drawn were weird, weirder than I liked to admit. I’d argued with both Duane and Lucinda, and they’d died shortly thereafter. But Hugh… how did he fit in? Some friend. From what I heard, he received a great deal of amusement telling anyone that would listen about your little whip and wings getup. I remembered Luanda’s jibe. I had indeed had a small flare-up with the imp just before his attack. A small flare-up and a small attack, considering he had lived.

I shivered, unsure as to what this meant. Doug walked in.

“You get everything straightened out?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” We stood there uncomfortably for a moment until I finally unlocked the floodgates of my guilt. “Doug, I-“

“Forget it, Kincaid. It’s nothing.”

“What I said, I shouldn’t have. I was – “

“Wasted. Trashed. Flat on your ass drunk. It happens.”

“Still, I had no right. You were trying to be nice, and I turned complete psycho bitch on you.”

“You weren’t that psycho.”

“But definitely a bitch?”

“Well…” He hid a smile, not meeting my eyes.

“I’m sorry, Doug. I’m really sorry.”

“Quit it. I can’t take much more of this sentimentality.”

I leaned over and squeezed his arm, resting my head slightly on his shoulder. “You’re a good guy, Doug. A really good guy. And a good friend. And I’m sorry… sorry for a lot of things that have – or haven’t – happened between us.”

“Hey, forget about it. It’s nothing between friends, Kin- caid.” A pregnant pause hung between us; he was still clearly uncomfortable with this exchange. “Did… did everything turn out all right? I lost track of you after the show. That outfit you have on doesn’t reassure me any.”

“You’ll never believe whose shirt this is,” I teased, subsequently telling him the whole tale of getting sick with Seth and the follow-up birthday party.

Doug was pushing hysterics by the time I finished, albeit in a relieved sort of way. “Mortensen’s a good guy,” he finally said, still laughing.

“He says the same thing about you.”

Doug grinned. “You know he’s – oh, man. I forgot, what with all those phone calls.” Turning to the desk, he sifted through papers and books, finally producing a small white envelope. “You got a note. Paige said she found it last night. I hope it’s good news.”

“Yeah, me too.”

But I had my doubts when I saw it. I took it gingerly, like something that might burn me. The paper and calligraphy were identical to the last one’s. Opening up the envelope, I read:

So you’re interested in fallen angels, are you? Well, there’ll be a hands-on demonstration tonight. It should prove more informative than your current endeavors and won’t require you screwing your boss in order to get help with extrapolation – not that watching you make a whore of yourself didn’t have its moments.

I looked up, meeting Doug’s curious eyes. “No worries,” I told him lightly, folding the note up and placing it in my purse. “This is old news.”

Hugh’s report implied Lucinda had been killed last night, and this note had been slipped to me beforehand, according to Doug. The warning had gone unheeded. This person apparently didn’t have a good grasp of my schedule, or they hadn’t wanted me to actually act beforehand. It was more like a scare tactic.

Whatever their point in giving me a heads-up on Lucinda, it was nothing compared to the other reference in the note. The thought that someone had watched me have sex with Warren made my skin crawl.

“Where are you off to now?” Doug asked.

“Believe it or not, I need to find a book.”

“You’re in the right place.”

We went back out to the information desk, where Tammi stood. It pleased me to see Doug training her in this post; we’d need people available for all jobs when the holidays came.

“Practice time,” I told her. “Tell me where we keep this book.”

I gave her the name, and she looked it up in the computer, frowning at the results. “We don’t. We can order it for you.”

I scowled, suddenly understanding why people seemed so pissed off when I told them that. “Great,” I muttered. “Where am I going to get it tonight?” Erik probably stocked it, but he’d be closed by now.

“I hate to recommend this,” joked Doug, “but a library might have it.”

“Maybe…” I eyed a clock, unsure how late the local branches stayed open.

“Um, Georgina?” began Tammi carefully. “I know a place that has it. And that’s still open.”

I turned to her in surprise. “Really? Where – no. No. Not there.”

“I’m sorry.” Her blue eyes pleaded with me to forgive her for such tidings. “But there were three copies in stock the last time I was there. They couldn’t have sold out.”

I groaned, rubbing my temples. “I can’t go in there. Doug, you want to run an errand for me?”

“I’ve got to close,” he admonished. “What place are you avoiding?”

” Krystal Starz, home of ‘freaky witch woman.’ “

“You couldn’t pay me to go there.”

“You could pay me,” noted Tammi, “but I’m closing too. If it makes it any easier, she’s not there all the time.”

“Yeah,” added Doug helpfully. “No manager is always on-duty. She must have other staff to cover her.”

“Unless they’re short-staffed,” I muttered. The irony.

I left the store and got into my car for the journey to Krystal Starz. As I drove, I reflected on the two pieces of information I’d gleaned today.

First, the nephilim reference. The King James translation had mentioned angelic offspring, even mentioned them as being abnormal, but I had never considered the possibilities half-angel children might present. The annotation in Terry and Andrea’s translation had elaborated only slightly more on such creatures, but it had been enough to spring a lock in my head. Who better, I thought, to take on both angels and demons than some sort of bastard demigod?

Of course, the whole discovery of the nephilim had come about as a spin-off to the verse Erik had given me about fallen angels. I could be running away with a blind lead here when really the culprit was just a regular immortal, albeit an unstable one, slaying members of both sides. After all, I still hadn’t ruled Carter out of the realm of suspects, nor had I figured out why said killer would finish the job with Duane and Lucinda but let Hugh live.

My other piece of data today, the new note, offered little I hadn’t already known. I’d simply found it too late for it to be of preemptive use. And if some voyeur was following me around, there was nothing I could do about that either.

Yet, it led to the obvious question: Why was this person following me around? Evidence suggested I was the only one receiving such attention, the only one receiving notes. And again, there was the niggling truth: Everyone I’d fought with had later become a victim…

When I had almost reached Krystal Starz, I pulled off onto a deserted street. Unbeknownst to Tammi and Doug, I already had a simple solution for facing Helena. Stripping out of the dress and Seth’s shirt, lest they be consumed, I shape-shifted, taking on the guise of a tall, willowy Thai woman in a linen dress. I sometimes used this body to hunt in.

The New Age bookstore was quiet when I entered, with only a couple of browsing customers. I saw the same boyish acolyte from before manning the register, and blessing upon blessing, I couldn’t see Helena anywhere. Even disguised, I still had no desire to run into that nutcase.

Smiling at the young man behind the counter, I approached and asked where I could find the book. Grinning back like an idiot – this was a very attractive form, after all – he led me to a certain section in their cryptic cataloging system, immediately finding the book. As Tammi had said, the store stocked three copies.

We returned to the register to cash out, and I sighed in relief, thinking I was going to make it out of here unscathed. No such luck. The back door leading to the conference room opened, and Helena glided out as though conjured, clad in a flowing fuchsia gown, laden with her usual ten pounds of necklaces. Damn it. It was like the woman really did have a sixth sense or something.

“Things are well, Roger?” she asked the clerk, using her raspy show voice.

“Yes, yes.” He bobbed his head eagerly, apparently thrilled that she’d call him by first name.

Turning to me, she gave me one of her diva smiles. “Hello, my dear. How are you this evening?”

Remembering that this persona had no grudge with her, I forced a smile and answered politely, “Good, thank you.”

“I imagine so,” she told me gravely as I handed cash to the boy, “because I sense excellent things about your aura.”

I widened my eyes in what I hoped was a laywoman’s awe. “Really?”

She nodded, pleased at an appreciative audience. “Very bright. Very strong. Lots of color. You have good things in store for you.” This message was a far cry from the one she’d given me at Emerald City, I thought. Seeing my book, she eyed me sharply, probably because it was dense and filled with research, as opposed to most of the fluff she sold. “I’m surprised. I would have expected you to be reading up on how to focus your gifts more. Maximize your full potential. I have several titles I can recommend if you’re interested.”

Didn’t this woman ever stop with the sales pitching? “Oh, I’d love to,” I oozed back, “but I only brought enough cash for this.” I gestured to the bag now in hand.

“I understand,” she told me gravely. “Let me show you anyway. So you’ll know what to come back for next time.”

Torn, I contemplated which would cause me the most discomfort: going along with her or starting a feud in yet another body. Noticing a clock, I saw that the store closed in fifteen minutes. She couldn’t waste that much of my time.

“Okay. I’d love to.”

Beaming, Helena led me across the store, another victim in her thrall. As promised, we looked at books on utilizing the strongest parts of the aura, a few books on crystal channeling, and even one on how visualization could help bring about the things we most wanted. This last one was so painful, I wanted to beat myself in the head with it to end my suffering.

“Don’t underestimate the power of visualization,” she whispered. “You can control your own destiny, set your own paths, rules, and stakes. I can sense great potential in you, but following these principles can help you unlock more – all the things you’d want for a happy and fulfilling life. Career, home, husband, children.”

An image of Seth’s niece curled in my lap suddenly came unbidden to me, and I hastily turned away from Helena. Succubi bore no children. No such future waited for me, book or no.

“I need to go. Thanks for your help.”

“Of course,” she responded demurely, handing me a list she’d conveniently written the titles – and prices – upon. “And let me give you some brochures for our upcoming programs and events.”

It didn’t end. She finally released me once I was sufficiently laden with paper, all of which I dumped into the trash bin in the parking lot. Lord, I hated that woman. I supposed Helena the schmoozing con artist was better than Helena the raving lunatic who had been at Emerald City, but really, it was a tough call. At least I’d obtained the book, which was all that mattered.

I pulled off at one of my favorite Chinese places on the way home, back in my normal shape. Carrying Harrington’s book in, I ate General Tso’s chicken while reading the entry on nephilim :

Nephilim are first referenced in Genesis 6:4, where they are sometimes referred to as “giants ” or “fallen ones.” Regardless of the word’s translation, the nephilim’s origin is clear from this passage: they are the semi-divine offspring of angels and human women. Genesis 6:4 refers to them as “mighty” and “men of renown.” The rest of the Bible makes little reference to the nephilim’s angelic siring, but encounters with giants and men of “great stature” are frequently recorded in other books, such as Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. Some have speculated that the “great wickedness” prompting the flood in Genesis 6 was actually a result of the nephilim’s corrupting influence on mankind. Further apocryphal readings, such as 1 Enoch, elaborate on the plight of the fallen angels and their families, describing how the corrupted angels taught “charms and enchantments” to their wives while their offspring ran wild throughout the earth, slaughtering and causing strife among humans. The nephilim, gifted with great abilities much like those of the ancient Greek heroes, were nonetheless cursed by God and neglected by their parents, consigned to wander the earth all their days without peace until eventually destroyed for the sake of mankind.

I looked up, feeling breathless. I had never heard of anything like this. I had been right in telling Erik practitioners were the worst to ask about their own histories; surely this was something someone should have told me about before. Angelic offspring. Were nephilim real? Were they still around? Or was I really just chasing a dead end here, following a distracting lead when I should have restricted my search to immortals of my caliber or above, like Carter? After all, these nephilim were half-human; they couldn’t be all that powerful.

After paying the bill, I walked out to my car, opening my fortune cookie as I went. It was empty. Charming. A light rain misted around me, and fatigue crept in around my edges, not surprising considering the last twenty-four hours.

I couldn’t find a parking spot when I arrived in Queen Anne, which indicated some sort of sporting event or show going on nearby. Grumbling, I parked seven blocks away from home, vowing to never again lease an apartment that only had street spots. The wind Seth and I had felt earlier was fading, normal since Seattle was not a wind-prone city. The rain picked up in intensity, however, further darkening my mood.

I was halfway home when I heard footsteps behind me. Pausing, I turned to look back but saw nothing save slick pavement, blearily reflecting streetlights. No one was there. I turned back around, starting to pick up my pace until I did a mental head slap and simply turned invisible. Jerome was right; I did think like a human too much.

Still, I didn’t like the street I’d chosen back; it was too deserted. I needed to cut over and walk the rest of the distance on Queen Anne Avenue itself.

I had just turned the corner when something impacted me hard on my back, knocking me forward six feet, startling me so much that I shifted back to visible.

I tried to turn around, flailing at my attacker, but another blow hit me in the head hard, knocking me to my knees. The sense I had was of being struck by something hand and arm shaped, but it packed a punch, more like a baseball bat. Again, my attacker hit me, this time across one of my shoulder blades, and I cried out, hoping someone would hear me. Another strike swiped the side of my head, the force pushing me over onto my back. I squinted up, trying to catch sight of who was doing this, but all I could dimly discern was a dark, amorphous shape, bearing down on me fast and hard as another blow made contact with my jaw. I could not get up from that onslaught, could not fight against the pain descending on me harder and thicker than the rain around me.

Suddenly, brilliant light filled my vision – light so brilliant it hurt. I was not alone in my assessment. My attacker recoiled, letting me go, and I heard a strange high-pitched scream emitted above me. Attracted by some irresistible lure, I looked toward the light. A white-hot pain seared my brain as I did, my eyes taking in the figure moving toward us: beautiful and terrible, all colors and none, white light and darkness, winged and armed with a sword, features shifting and indiscernible. The next scream I heard was my own, the agony and ecstasy of what I had seen scorching my senses, even though I could no longer see it. My vision had gone white-whiter-whitest until all was black, and I could see nothing at all.

Then, silence fell.

I sat there sobbing, hurting physically and spiritually. Footsteps came, and I felt someone kneel beside me. Somehow, despite my blindness, I knew it was not my attacker. That person had long since fled.

“Georgina?” a familiar voice asked me.

“Carter,” I gasped out, throwing my arms around him.

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