To Kill a God by C.S. Wilde
The stenchof stale beer and sweat invaded Mera’s nostrils as she strode toward the bar. Her sharp sense of smell could be a gift or a curse. In moments like this, it was definitely a curse.
A hockey match played on the screen behind the counter—the Downtown Warlocks versus the Growling Pack. A handful of people sat at round wooden tables scattered throughout the place, cheering for their team and drinking, but Mera wasn’t there for them. She’d come for the man sitting at the bar, who hunched over his shoulders.
The wooden floor creaked as she approached. When she sat on the red, padded stool next to him, the seat’s ripped leather grazed her jeans, scratching her thighs.
“You chose a nice little place to wallow,” she offered.
The man took a long gulp of his drink, but didn’t acknowledge her presence.
With a sigh, she ordered a beer. The bartender—a tall, furry creature that resembled an overgrown ferret—promptly delivered it with a sharp-teethed grin, the kind that was meant to be friendly but instead looked frightening. He had to be a Puka, though Mera wasn’t a specialist when it came to the different types of faeries.
In any case, seeing a fae native working in Clifftown brought a giddy, warm joy to her core. More and more, the people of Tagrad ventured outside their comfort zone, building the dream of a united country.
The nation, and Hollowcliff, still had a long way to go, a fact that became clear when Mera realized all tables in the establishment kept a healthy distance from the man hunched at the bar, but that might not be related to prejudice at all. Maybe it was just survival instinct. Maybe a bit of both.
“My money is on the Downtown Warlocks,” she said before taking a long gulp of her beer.
The man chuckled, his sandy-blond hair curtaining his eyes. He focused on the glass of whiskey he was holding, then drained it in one go. “I don’t need a babysitter, Mer.”
“I wouldn’t be here if that was true.”
He gave her a weary chuckle. “Checkmate.”
“Emma is worried about you. She told me you haven’t been feeding.”
It was obvious, really. Julian’s skin stuck to his bones, and the deep circles under his eyes had a dark purple hue. Thin, blue veins had begun spreading under his pale skin, and ruby-red streaks took over his hazel irises.
“I have been feeding!” He slammed his glass on the counter. “I ate a portion of fries ten minutes ago.”
“They don’t nurture you anymore, and you’re well aware of that.” As if to prove her point, his stomach grumbled, and Mera’s eyebrow rose. “They’ll go straight through your system. You should stay close to a bathroom, Jules. I’m not kidding.”
“I know,” he scoffed. “Am I pathetic for actually wanting to go to the bathroom? For needing a little normalcy?”
Eyeing the amber liquid in her glass, she shook her head slowly. “Not at all.”
It was her fault. If she had protected Julian, if she’d done her job as his partner, he wouldn’t be in that situation.
“Look, I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through, but if Emma hadn’t turned you into a vamp, you would have died.”
“She should have let me. I prefer death over turning into a fucking bloodsucker.”
“You shouldn’t call yourself that.”
“It’s what I am.” Julian turned to her with an exasperated look. “I literally have to suck blood to live!”
Her chest tightened with the disgust tainting his voice. “I know, but there’s an entire borough of you. You’re not alone.” She took a sip of her beer. “Also, there are tons of support groups out there. Surely they can help you adapt, but first, you have to accept who you are now.”
His gaze bored into hers for an uncomfortable moment; a moment in which Mera wondered if he’d caught her in her hypocrisy.
“Accept who you are…”
Big talk for a siren pretending to be human.
“I’m in control.” With a wave of his fingers, he motioned for the bartender, who promptly approached and refilled his drink.
She stared pointedly at his willowy hand. “You’re dangerously close to bloodlust, Jules. If you lose control, I’ll be forced to stop you. Please don’t make me do that.”
He chewed the inside of his cheek, as if he were weighing his options. “Would you stop me if you had to? Would you put a silver bullet in my forehead?”
“Never. Which means you would either kill or hurt me in the process, and probably everyone else in this pub. Would you prefer that?”
His eyes wandered around the space, a certain pain in his gaze. Turning around, he took one long gulp of his whiskey, then hissed through his teeth. “Guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”
“Nope.” She laid her hand on his shoulder. “The new captain said your post will be waiting for you when you’re ready to get back in the force. You can do this, Jules. I know you can.”
“I’ll try, but I can’t make any promises.” A heavy breath left his lips, even if he couldn’t breathe anymore. Force of habit, she supposed. “It won’t be the same without Ruth, though.”
Shoving the memory of her mom somewhere deep inside, Mera took another gulp of her beer. After clearing her throat, she nodded to the screen. “Let’s finish the game, and then I’ll drop you at Emma’s. How about that?”
With a small smile, Julian nodded.
They watched the game for maybe fifteen minutes, until the bell above the door jingled, and a man clad in a black suit walked into the pub. The floor creaked as he hurried toward them.
The tall and bulky man, a government agent most likely, wore sunglasses even though it was nighttime. Mera caught a whiff of wet dog hair as he approached.
Julian’s lips curled to show pointy fangs, and the red in his eyes intensified. “Friend of yours, Mer?”
Her brow furrowed. “I have no idea.”
“Detective Maurea,” the man greeted. “I’ll take Mr. Smith to Emma Morrigan’s address. Councilor Adams has requested an immediate audience with you.”
Julian gawked at Mera. “Are you kidding me? Councilor Adams, as in Peter Adams? The representative of the human borough in the Tagradian Council? That Councilor Adams?”
“Since when do you have friends in skyscraper-high places?”
She studied her own feet, her voice nothing but a whisper. “He was a friend of Ruth’s.”
“Ah.” A veil of sadness fell upon his face. “I see.”
Mera took one last gulp of her beer and got to her feet, dreading what was to come. There could only be one reason why the councilor wanted to see her so urgently.
* * *
To callthe councilor’s office “huge” was an understatement. The place had long walls, a floor built entirely of pearly marble, and a high ceiling that made the space seem way too vast. Walking in there always felt like entering an unending, well illuminated cave.
Mera’s boots thumped against the floor as she strode to the dark, mahogany desk at the end. The office’s entire left wall was made of anti-reflection glass, which displayed a stunning view of night-time Clifftown.
Councilor Adams watched her approach through kind, hazel eyes filled with worry. As always, he wore a pleated suit. He’d trimmed his blond-going-white hair and beard after the last time she’d seen him—at Ruth’s funeral.
The councilor had been in and out of Mera’s life, a presence that, in hindsight, had always been there, even if barely seen or noticed.
He used to visit when she was younger, but when she graduated from the police academy, his visits became scarcer. She never took it to heart, since he’d been elected councilor for the human borough that same year. Also, Mera had Ruth, and her mom was enough. She always had been.
Settling on the leather chair that faced his desk, she glanced at him. He watched her sit, his hands steepling on his chin.
“Have you and Detective Dhay lost your minds?” he asked in a placid tone that was anything but.
“Councilor, I can assure you—”
“You want to go to the Isles of Fog, yes?”
“The natives from the isles haven’t been introduced to the modern world, nor do they want to. Also, they happen to be savages.” He leaned back on his chair, his manner poised and controlled. “The isles don’t have a protection zone, but you’re well aware of that. Any siren could waltz in, and rip you and Detective Dhay apart just like they did Ru—” His voice cracked and he went quiet.
After a moment, he let out a weary sigh. “Anyone from the mainland is forbidden to set foot in there. Period. Not to mention the costs, of course. A nightbringer would have to deviate considerably from its route to get there.”
“I understand, but I have to go to the isles. Contacting Atlantea is the only way to find a lead on Azinor.”
Despite Bast’s protests, she’d told the councilor about the prick. After all, how could Tagrad defend itself from an enemy they didn’t know? She omitted most parts, of course, especially the fact that the self-named “Poseidon” was her biological father.
Councilor Adams raised one bushy, nearly white eyebrow. “He’s Atlantea’s problem, not ours. Especially now that he seems to have given up on bringing chaos to land.”
“Their problem will become ours. You can bet on that.”
Azinor might target Atlantea since his attempt to destroy Tagrad had failed, but eventually, his focus would return to land. Psychos like him didn’t give up easily, which was why she needed to get to the isles. Once there, she could waterbreak to Atlantea… but the councilor didn’t need to know that.
The prospect of seeing Professor Currenter, Uncle Barrimond, and Belinda again brought fear and joy to her heart, but her feelings didn’t matter. Mera had to warn them about Azinor. If they hated her for leaving after she’d killed the queen, then so be it.
Councilor Adams’ fingers rhythmically tapped the mahogany surface, close to the form she’d submitted a week ago.
Bureaucracy be damned.
All Mera needed was his approval on that form, but it didn’t seem like she would get it.
“So, you want to go to the isles to contact Atlantea,” he stated pointedly. “You want to warn them about Poseidon. Maybe even work together with them to stop him.”
“That would be a nice plus. Two birds with one stone, as people say.”
“I see. And why do you think they won’t use the macabre against you on sight?”
“Because you’re one of them…”
A loud gasp escaped Mera, and the floor seemed to crumble under her feet. “Of course not! I’m human.”
“I was hoping you’d tell me sooner. I wanted the initiative to come from you, but I suppose Ruth taught you a little too well about self-preservation.”
“You’ve lost your mind, Councilor.” She gave out a nervous sneer. “Wanting to communicate with a siren doesn’t make me one of them.”
His hands patted the air as if trying to appease her. “Settle down, Detective. I’ve always known.” Carefully regarding her, he scratched his beard. “Ruth told me when she adopted you. Why do you think I visited you so often when you were young?”
Surprise colored her expression, and she blinked, thinking about it for a moment. “You were assessing whether or not I was a threat.”
“And you weren’t… you aren’t. Ruth raised you right. You care about others and you give everything for this nation. She wasn’t your biological mother, but you are just like her, in every way that matters.” His eyes glistened with tears.
A rush of emotions swam through Mera, threatening to engulf her, but she swallowed them back. “T-thank you. That means a lot to me, sir.”
“She was so very proud of you. You even set Detective Dhay straight.” With a shake of his head, the counselor chuckled to himself. “A remarkable feat, considering his nightblood.”
A bitter taste laced her tongue. Bast’s merits were his own, but she wasn’t about to argue about it now.
“So, you know. About me, Queen Wavestorm… You know about all of it?”
“Yes. I know your biological mother was raised from the dead by Poseidon and that she killed Ruth.” A certain fury swirled behind his otherwise calm stare. “I’m glad you killed that monster a second time. I owe you a debt for avenging our Ruthie.”
Now more than ever, Mera was certain that the councilor and her mom had shared something in the past, though she couldn’t guess what kind of relationship they must have had.
“If you’ve always known, why am I still alive?”
“Ruth and I went through a lot together, more than you’ll ever know. She trusted me, and I promised her that I would keep you safe should anything happen to her. You were the most important thing in her life.”
If Mera was precious to Ruth, and Ruth was precious to Adams, it meant Mera was precious to him too. That was good, in a way, because he wouldn’t kill her on the spot tonight for being a siren, but bad because there was no way in hell he would let her risk her life to catch Azinor.
Engines revolved in her mind as she tried to think of a way out of that mess. A way for him to grab one of the two stamps on his desk and punch “APPROVED” on that damned form.
“Peter,” she started, “my mom made me one of Hollowcliff’s finest, even though keeping me alive broke the law. There was one rule Ruth always put above the city, and the country’s needs—protect the innocent, no matter the cost.” Her gaze shifted to the Clifftown nightscape beyond the glassed walls. “I promised myself I would honor her legacy, and that means I have to get to the isles. Atlanteans are innocent, and they might need our help. What if joining forces with them is the answer to keep Tagrad safe?”
“Atlanteans and Tagradians working together?” He laughed. “I could never pass a motion like that in the council, no matter how hard I tried.” His gaze narrowed at her. “How are you certain your people haven’t joined Poseidon?”
“Last time I saw him, he seemed to despise my uncle.”
“Seemed? Not good enough.” He leaned forward, interlacing his fingers on the wooden surface. “How do you intend on stopping him? According to your report, killing Poseidon isn’t an option.”
“I’ll figure out a way. Look, I’m asking you to trust me. Besides, you said you owed me for killing Ariella Wavestorm, so… ”
This was it. Her last shot.
The councilor was considering it, she could see it in his eyes. He considered it for maybe two seconds, then shook his head.
“Your plan is reckless at best, and terribly conceived at worst. Your vow to protect the innocent goes against my vow to keep you safe. I am in your debt, Mera, but I can’t break my promise to Ruth.”
Her lips pressed into a thin line. “This was a giant waste of time, wasn’t it?”
“Not at all. We had a nice chat.” He gave her a mocking grin. “I was hoping you’d give up eventually, but you certainly inherited your mom’s stubbornness.”
The councilor grabbed a stamp from his desk and slammed it against her form. Mera didn’t need to read the big red letters to know what they meant.