He was born without a soul … called into being with only one purpose: to bring death to women who are caught in his seductive snare. Will Kat, Tevis and their allies stop him? Or will Kat become another of his growing tally of victims?
If Halloween is your favorite holiday, then this book is for you. Deathtalker is the fourth book in P.L. Blair’s “Portals” series about Kat Morales, a detective with the Corpus Christie police force, and Tevis McLeod, her elven partner. Together they chase down criminals who have traveled to our world through magical portals between our earth and a parallel world where magic and mythical creatures live.
In this book, Kat and Tevis are on the trail of an evil serial killer who targets women. He makes them fall in love with him, then absorbs their life force as he watches them kill themselves in front of him.
Maeve’s shop reeked of herbs. The acrid tang of wolf’s-bane Tevis recognized, and asiphidia, as well as the cloying sweetness of Valkyr’s lek and the musky odor of Goblinwort and a dozen other substances from the Realms of Magic, substances that had no counterparts in the Humans’ world. A bluish-green haze filled the Banshee’s shop like morning fog, and in the open space between the door and the counter, Maeve crouched alongside another female. Whether the other was Human or something else, Tevis could not tell, both females being only barely visible through the haze that originated in the dense, foul-smelling smoke billowing from the brazier that burned between them.
“Shut the door, darlin’.” Maeve spoke to Tevis’ Human partner, Kathryn, who had trailed him into the shop. “We can’t have the Essence escapin’. We need every dram o’ Power we can summon.”
“Speaking of summons,” Tevis reminded the Banshee as Kathryn obeyed her request to close the door, “you sent for us.”
“Indeed we did, darlin’.” Maeve pushed to her feet. The mist had dissipated somewhat, revealing both females more clearly. The Banshee stood a good six feet tall, her body lean and lightly muscled beneath the black tank top and skirt that seemed to be her favored apparel, red hair framing a face dominated by green eyes – a stunningly beautiful creature if one could ignore the blue-tinged corpse-pallor of her skin. The other female came to her feet a little more slowly. She stood only an inch or so shorter than Maeve – both of them taller than Tevis’ own five feet, eight inches – hair a darker blond than Tevis’ own, rounded ears – yet despite that, and her height, she could have been mistaken for a female of his own race. An Aalfar. The new female wore a tunic, long-sleeved and high-necked, breeches the same tan as the tunic and equally travel-stained. The garb of the Otherside, so she had either recently arrived on this side of the Portals, or she had no intentions of remaining here in the Humans’ world. Perhaps both. Unlike Maeve, who wore no shoes, the newcomer wore boots, also of a style customary to the Otherside. She also wore a sword, the scabbard belted at her waist, and she bore it with an ease that suggested a comfortable familiarity with the weapon.
You are of the race the Humans call Elves. The stranger’s voice rang like crystal chimes in the Aalfar’s head.
Slowly, warily, he nodded, aware that she scrutinized him as carefully as he had studied her. Like Maeve, he had adapted to this world, allowing his hair to be cut shorter than he had worn it on the Otherside – or in the elder days of this world of Humans – dressing in the slacks and shirts that Human men wore on this side of the Portals.
“I am Metisea.” She spoke aloud this time.
A chill snatched at the hairs on the back of Tevis’ neck. “I have … heard your name,” he admitted, also slowly. Kathryn had stepped up beside him. She said nothing, did nothing but stand at his side, but her very presence gave assurance of her support. Tevis did not offer his or his partner’s name. He would not volunteer anything about them or their work as detectives on Corpus Christi’s police force. He felt certain that Maeve would not have given that vital information to anyone either, not without his or Kathryn’s permission.
And he would not willingly place any such information, certainly not the risk of revealing a truename, in this female’s hands.
Metisea’s lips curled in a smile that did not touch her eyes. They appeared gray in the shop’s artificial lights, but Tevis could almost see other colors lurking behind them, shades of blue and green, perhaps violet. “I am sure you have heard of me.” Her voice held a faint tone of humor. “A daughter of Hecate …” She pressed a hand to her chest and tipped her head in a subtle bow. “Yet,” she straightened, letting the hand fall to her side, “I am not like my mother. I am a Guardian.”
“I have heard of those, too.” The information did not reassure him. Guardians cared not for good or evil but for Law; a person who defied an evil law in order to do good received no more mercy at their hands than a tyrant who subjugated and slaughtered on a whim.
“But I have not come to this world in … what you would call an official capacity.” Metisea’s lips curled up at one corner, a slightly sardonic flicker of a smile. “I hunt for reasons that are … personal.”
“Yet what you hunt is powerful if the herbs you burn here,” Tevis darted a glance at the brazier, “are intended as warding. Who is it that you seek? What is it?”
“I do not know. And,” the Guardian lifted one shoulder and let it fall in a shrug, “it may yet be that no crime was committed, no law broken, which is why I sought no official sanction for my actions. But my sister is dead, and though to all appearances, that death was by her own hands, I do not believe it.”
“Your sister,” Tevis echoed.
That drew a thin smile. “Not a sister in blood, but a Guardian like myself, and therefore my sister, no matter what her blood. She was in truth an Aalfar, like yourself.”
Tevis felt a prickle of nerves between his shoulders. “Her name?” He could not … quite … keep his voice steady.
“Siubhan.” A pause, while Metisea studied the Aalfar’s face. He knew what she saw; he made no attempt to hide his reaction, the sudden, intense emptiness that opened in the pit of his stomach. “Did you know her?”
“Yes.” He managed to not flinch under her gaze. “Not … well.” But he had met Siubhan, and even if he had not, death among a people who did not know death except by unnatural causes – injury or violence – could never be taken lightly. He made himself meet the gray eyes of the daughter of Hecate. “The Siubhan that I knew would never have taken her own life.”
“Nor would the sister I thought I knew,” she answered with a slight nod of response. “After I found … her, I found a trail. I have followed it here.”
“What kind of trail?” Tevis asked.
Metisea favored him with a genuine smile. “If you can explain to me the Gift that enables an Aalfar to See how death came to a day-old corpse, I will be able to explain to you how a Guardian can follow a trail that none other can see.”
Now Tevis smiled. In spite of his misgivings, he could grow to like this female.
Though he would never allow himself to trust her.
“We’re not burnin’ herbs for wardin’,” Maeve spoke into the brief silence between Metisea and the Aalfar. “They’re for revealin’.”
“More than that.” Tevis shifted his gaze to the Banshee, herself a daughter of The Morrigan, whom the folk of ancient Eire had worshiped and feared as a goddess – and a harbinger – of death. “You burn wolf’s-bane. And I detect the faint odor of Dragonwort and …” he arched an eyebrow, “Woden’s root. You attempt more than a revealing, Maeve. Woden’s root is intended for Summoning.”
She shrugged. “We thought … perhaps … if Siubhan had been killed by somethin’ – some one – we could bring it here an’ deal with it.” Her brogue grew thicker with the increase of her discomfort under Tevis’ gaze.
“But you couldn’t summon it.” Kathryn made the words into a statement.
Tevis glanced at his partner and felt himself smile. Slender, two inches shorter than himself, dark-eyed and auburn-haired, Kathryn Morales possessed a talent for grasping the heart of a matter. “You sent for us,” she included Tevis with a slight glance in his direction, “after your attempts at summoning … something … failed.” She shrugged.
“A blind Summoning.” Tevis shook his head. “Does it occur to either of you,” sweeping Maeve and the Guardian with a deliberately expressionless gaze, “how fortunate you may be that your Summoning failed? Do you have any idea what kind of creature you might have called up?”
“We were goin’ to look at it first, darlin’,” Maeve protested. “We wouldn’t have called it up until – and unless – we knew it was somethin’ the two of us could handle.”
“I have dealt with all manner of creatures.” Metisea drew herself straighter, the little bit of extra height allowing her to glower down at the Aalfar. “If you knew anything of how a Guardian is trained, of the decades she must spend studying everything from the multitude of names of the various lifeforms that inhabit both the Human world and our own, to the spells necessary to control them, to their eating and sleeping and mating habits, of the various methods she must learn to capture and control a prisoner, of the thousands of ways she must learn to defend herself …”
“Forgive me, Metisea.” Tevis raised a hand to stop the rush of words. “I meant no offense.” He bowed slightly. Then straightened and again met her flint-hard gaze. “But if your suspicions are correct, you hunt a creature that has already killed a Guardian whose training surely must have matched your own.”
The blond-haired daughter of Hecate opened her mouth, hesitated, closed it.
“You might not have had a choice,” Tevis dared to continue in her silence. “The very act of revelation might have provided all the Summons that your … quarry required.”
Metisea stared at him, eyes suddenly narrowed. “You know what we seek.”
“No.” He willed himself to not shy from that gaze hard as onyx and as darkly unfathomable. “There are too many possibilities. What I know is how Magic can be wielded to foil pursuit or to turn back upon a pursuer.” It was knowledge the Guardian should have possessed as well, knowledge she undoubtedly did possess, but she had allowed her eagerness to find Suibhan’s killer to cloud her judgment.
Tevis would not speak those words aloud.
It would be unwise to remind a Guardian that she had committed so serious, and so basic, an error in judgment.
And all of this hung on what still remained only an assumption: that Siubhan had not killed herself. Tevis drew a breath, slowly released it. A hint of icy blue glittered behind the gray of Metisea’s eyes. “How,” he asked, “did Siubhan appear to have taken her life?”
“Poison. I found her – She was late for morning muster.” The Guardian shuddered at the memory. “She was never late for anything, not even …” She shook her head, the movement quick, jerky, a spasm. “I went in search of her. She lay still in bed in her room – asleep, I thought when I first saw her, though that in itself seemed strange. Then I saw the cup on the floor just beneath her outstretched hand – as though she had dropped it. Some liquid remained in the cup. It smelled of grenthok.”
“A kind of root used in seasoning,” Tevis explained for Kathryn’s benefit. She had not spoken, but he could sense her curiosity. “Something like cinnamon.”
“Cinnamon isn’t a poison,” she said.
“Nor is grenthok in small quantity.” He kept his gaze on Metisea while he spoke. “The merest pinch, no more than that, is used by some to flavor foods. Its use imparts a bittersweet tingle to the pallet. But its use is reserved to only the most experienced of cooks, because too little of the seasoning imparts no effect at all, while the tiniest dram of excess can be fatal to the one who swallows it. Could her death have been accidental?”
“I thought of that. But no.” She frowned. “She would not even eat food prepared with grenthok as an acceptable ingredient. She took no risks of any kind.” She sighed. “Perhaps she did take her life. The sister I knew for so many years would not have, but she …” Again the gray eyes met the Aalfar’s blue, and he saw anguish. “She had changed.”
“She went away – a leave asked for and granted. Even Guardians must have some time away from their duties. Siubhan was to have been gone a twelveday, but more than a month passed before she returned. It was a breach that would have warranted punishment, certainly a dressing-down, possibly even a dismissal, but not even the Captain of our Guard had the heart to punish Siubhan when he saw her condition.”
“Her condition,” Tevis echoed.
“A sorrow possessed her. She seemed – aged. Not in body, of course, but in spirit. She was Aalfar, she could never be old. But she spoke once – to me – of feeling the weight of all the years she had walked upon the worlds.”
Tevis suppressed the shudder that wanted to chase down his spine. He knew. All too well. He had not forgotten his own experience not quite a month ago, when he and Kathryn and the others of the team led by the Wizard Arvandus had slashed their way through the jungles of the Coatlans, when the dark Magic of that place had laid such a weight on his own shoulders …
He consciously thrust the memory away, though even now it required an effort to do so. Even now the memory held enough power to cause him pain.
“Tevis?” Kathryn touched his arm.
He managed a smile to reassure her. “I am all right.”
“But you understand.” He heard the awareness in Metisea’s voice. “You have experienced this.” And when he slowly lowered his head in a nod, “Could that … drive an Aalfar to take her own life?”
He did not look at her – nor at Maeve or Kathryn. He stared through the last fading traces of mist from the still-smoking brazier, toward the green curtains behind the counter in Maeve’s shop. The green reminded him of a jungle …
He forced that thought away. “It is … possible.” He drew a deep breath, slowly released it. “What happened to her while she was away on leave? Did she ever speak of it?”
“Never.” Metisea shook her head. “Not even to me. I think it must have been something terrible.”
Tevis had begun to think so too. Images flickered through his mind, the Suibhan he had once known, long ago as Humans counted the years, though no more than a blink of the eye of time to an Aalfar. Siubhan laughing, dancing in the springfests. He conjured an image of the last time he had seen her, an adult, though one only newly emerged from girlhood, Tevis himself scarcely more than a child and not daring to worship her except from afar. Her folk did not dwell in the Silverdales, among Tevis’ family, but among the Aalfar of Vili’s stock in the Frostrealms farther north, so the two peoples came together only during the great festivals, no more than once every twenty years or so, and he did not always see her even then. For a brief time, he had fantasized about being her lover, but Siubhan attracted lovers the way flowers attracted bees, and long before Tevis had come of an age when he might have worked up the nerve to join the other males circling around her, he had apprenticed himself to the Wizard Bargilus and met Coira …
“But there’s something else.” Kathryn’s voice broke through his memories, snapped him back into the present, to the four of them in Maeve’s shop in early evening of a September day. Tevis’ partner stared at Metisea. “You said you found a trail.”
That got a nod from the Guardian. “More than that … I believe it’s the trail of the creature that came back with her.”