Monsters – K. N. Banet

This is the spot?” Sorcha asked, disbelieving. “It’s a shack.” “From what Cassius and I could dig up, yeah,” I replied, frowning as Cassius parked the car. I was the first out, glaring at the house in the middle of the desert. Not waiting for them, I walked closer, pissed off at the ramshackle desert home. Months of research for this? This one fucking tiny house, and there’s no one fucking here. This guy is good at covering his tracks, that’s for sure. “Kaliya, wait!” Cassius called. I heard footsteps behind me, and I could feel Raphael’s body heat radiating next to me, warmer than the desert night and hard to miss. I stopped when he got close. “We should go in together, right?” the big man asked me softly. “You and Cassius did say this place could be a trap.” “Yeah…” I was too annoyed for my own good. So much work and this was the payout —just this. “Do you think we’re going to find someone inside?” Sorcha asked, stepping up on my other side with Cassius flanking her.

“No,” I snapped. “There’s no one here.” Since they had finally caught up, I started walking again, ready to run into another dead end. I was getting used to them, really. This was just another in a long string Cassius and I had hit, trying to dig up anything we could on the mysterious healer behind the prison outbreak. I reached the front door first, yanked it open, and was greeted by exactly what I thought I would find. “It’s abandoned,” I said softly, going through the door before my companions could stop me. I wasted no time doing a complete walkthrough of the small two-bedroom house without working electricity. Not a single switch worked, and it wasn’t because the lights were burned out. I tested the kitchen sink and only got a trickle of warm water.

While my friends watched me, I opened the fridge and hissed at the smell of rotten food. “He’s never lived here,” I said decidedly, closing the fridge again. “This was a fake address.” “This was the only address we could find,” Cassius reminded me softly, and I caught his disappointment. “Yeah, I know,” I snapped. “I fucking know, but he’s never been here. There’s no way. This has been abandoned for years, not six months.” I didn’t bother to keep talking about it or looking around. There was fucking nothing, not even the slightest trace anyone had seen this place in the last five years.

No tracks in the thick dust on the floor, nothing disturbed on the shelves, no power, no water, no cooling—nothing. Another dead end. As I stomped out of the house and headed out farther into the desert, a rattle started near me. I hissed at the snake and made a route around it, not wanting to disturb the natural wildlife. I wanted to see the terrain and get a feel for the area. I hoped there would be a second building on the property, but there was fucking nothing. Even in the dark desert night, I knew there was nothing else to find here. “Kaliya!” Raphael yelled from the dilapidated home. “We’ll head out when you’re ready.” I sighed, closing my eyes in frustration.

I promised him Cassius and I could solve this godsdamn problem. I thought we finally had a fucking break. The disappointment I had in what we found was becoming disappointment in myself. Knowing they would wait on me, I stayed where I was, looking over the harsh landscape. I always found the southern Arizona desert beautiful in its ruggedness. There was something raw about it. It was live or die, and everything was tough, down to even the smallest of creatures—survivors intelligent and hardy enough to find a way to live in this place, every one of them. I came here and found something of myself in the desert—a place for dangerous survivors that didn’t know how to die. Now it was becoming my curse. So much could hide in the wilderness, even if it was a desert, and somewhere, answers were waiting for me.

That made the little shack insulting. He knew we would find it. “Kaliya?” I startled as Cassius shadow-stepped into existence beside me. I took two steps away from him as he put his hands into his pockets and stared in the direction I’d been looking. “I thought you hated abusing that power,” I hissed, narrowing my eyes at him. “I didn’t want to deal with the rattlesnake back there,” he said as if it wasn’t that big of a deal, using a thumb to point over his shoulder. “You’ve been out here for fifteen minutes.” “Thinking. He knew we would find this. He knew I would figure it out pretty quickly that it’s a worthless address.

” “Let me guess. You think he’s playing games,” Cassius said, sighing heavily. “Of course, you do.” “I don’t think he’s playing games. I think he’s playing them with me,” I whispered, admitting that persistent thought. Saying it out loud made it seem more than a little paranoid. “Why?” “I don’t know,” I admitted truthfully. “But I don’t like this.” I pointed back at the house that sat alone in the desert. “I don’t like it at all, and if we don’t make ground on this soon, we’re both going to get called back to the Tribunal and told to drop it.

We can’t avoid our real jobs forever.” “Well, this is my real job,” Cassius reminded me. When I turned a glare on him, he raised his hands. “But I understand what you mean. They’ll ask me to work on a case that’s solvable. The Tribunal doesn’t like chasing ghosts.” “Where do we go from here?” I asked, crossing my arms. “We know he’s not a ghost.” “Honestly?” Cassius sighed. “I don’t know, Kaliya.

I really don’t. Everything we got from Eliphas and Tarak led to this address. They’re both dead, so it’s not like we can ask them for more. We only have what they left behind, and they were both intelligent men who knew they were walking a fine line and probably breaking the law. They purposefully didn’t look much deeper than they had to, so they could protect themselves.” An uncharacteristic groan came from him. “Other than that, all we have are Raphael’s memories, as sparse as they are.” I kicked a rock, looking back at the SUV. It was running, but the headlights weren’t on. Raphael and Sorcha were probably talking about the same thing.

“We should get going,” I finally said, sighing. I started walking but only made it two steps before my ex-lover and closest friend grabbed my arm. I turned, looking over his angular face and long, pointed ears. He let his glamor slip, something he didn’t do often, but it made him glow in the night. His eyes were an unearthly blue, and his normally plain red was more dark inky red. In the middle of the desert night, the glow of his figure made a statement that would have been foolish of me to ignore. It’s easy to forget he’s one of the most powerful fae around. His father was the first son of Oberon and Titania, and his mother was their eldest daughter. And he’s reminding me of it. “There’s something I need to say before we go back to them.

” “Out with it,” I said, knowing his ‘this is important, and you won’t like it’ voice. “Don’t let this become an obsession. If we can’t solve it, we can’t solve it. You do dangerous and stupid things when you get obsessed.” He was worried, his glowing blue eyes shadowed by the furrow of his brow. “I know this is disappointing, but promise me, Kaliya, you won’t let this send you off the deep end.” I smiled, letting my fangs drop, and showed them off, turning the smile into a dangerous threat. Something in me cracked and shifted, and my mood changed from thoughtfully angry to borderline manic. He was one of the most powerful fae in the world, but I was a naga, one of the divine snake children of Kadru and Kashyapa. The fact he thought he could tell me what to do was suddenly funny.

“Cassius, my friend, we’re well beyond that point. Raphael is my mate. He might not know it, but that doesn’t change anything. It was an obsession the moment I saw him. I don’t care how many dead ends I run into, I’m going to get him the answers and the justice he deserves.” I yanked my hand and walked away. “I took time off for this, and I’m not going to do anything until it’s over. They tried to kill me, Cassius. I can’t do anything until we’ve figured this out.” He shadow-stepped to the car, beating me there with his glamor back up by the time I got there, but something was brewing in his expression.

I got into the backseat and didn’t resist the urge to lean my head onto Raphael’s shoulder while Cassius got into the front seat. Sorcha hit the gas the moment her husband’s seatbelt was on, turning on the headlights at the same time. “So…Raphael and I know this wasn’t what you two wanted to find. What are we going to do now?” she asked with an almost childlike, innocent curiosity. “I need a couple of days to look over everything again,” Cassius said softly, looking down at his phone. I was behind Sorcha, so he was plain to see for me. “There must be something I missed.” “I’m sure there is, and I know you’ll find it,” Sorcha said, taking a hand off the wheel to hold her husband’s hand. I resisted the urge to gag as Cassius lifted and kissed the back of her hand. Not because they were gross, but because they were honestly too perfect.

“If you need any help, I can look over everything. There might be something I can take to an old contact or friend—” “Don’t all your old friends want you dead?” I asked, sitting up. “Yes, they do,” Cassius agreed. “And after February, I don’t really want to make any more enemies than we have. Besides, none of them had any connection to Mygi from what we know. It’s a gamble not worth taking.” “Well, it was just an idea.” Sorcha was a little put out. That sounded like a conversation she needed to have with her husband. After all the shit I got into over the years, the last thing I was going to do was risk his wife’s life.

There were some lines I couldn’t cross, and that was most certainly one of them. The temptation was there, though, very much there. “We could try my memories again,” Raphael offered, turning to me. “No,” I hissed softly. “Remember what Monica said? There’s the whole problem that it would likely leave you brain dead.” Raphael’s repressed memories were being blocked by both fae and witch magic, which meant both a fae and a witch needed to untangle the magical mess in his mind. The last thing I wanted was a vegetable as a lover. “Yes, I remember what Monica said,” he promised, shifting to put his arm over my shoulder. “Thanks for caring, but I was thinking we could try some exposure, maybe try to find things that might spark memories.” “Needle in a haystack,” Cassius muttered.

“Could waste a lot of time for very little reward.” “Yeah,” I agreed, sighing. “It’s something we can watch for, but it could take years going that route.” “So, we’re stumped again,” Sorcha said lightly. “I don’t know how you two deal with this feeling. You’ve been working for two months to find this place, and it’s…nothing. You’re handling this better than I am.” “It’s purposefully nothing. There’s a reason it’s nothing, which means there are other things to find,” I countered, but I knew something Sorcha didn’t—I wasn’t handling it well, but I couldn’t show them. “It’s frustrating but not the end of the world.

” I was still pissed but had more control now. “Cassius, it’s time to widen our search.” “Agreed, but how?” Cassius looked up from his phone, frowning. “Let me get back to you on that.” I was just as stumped as he was. Everything had led to this sad little house. “Do you think you could come back out here during the day and do another sweep? You’re a bit better at that sort of thing than I am.” “I can. It’ll be safer to turn it upside down when the sun is up.” Cassius yawned.

“Don’t want to risk traps.” “Exactly,” I said with a nod. We had only come out at night because we were worried there would be someone here. With that risk gone, there was no reason to risk anything else. Everyone settled in for the dark drive. When we pulled up in front of my renovated home on Eagle Eye Road, far outside the city, I didn’t say anything as I jumped out. Raphael followed me quietly as I went inside, letting Sorcha and Cassius know they could leave. “Kaliya?” Raphael said gently, following me into the back hallway toward our bedrooms. “I’m sorry about tonight.” “It’s…” I sighed, looking back at him.

“We’ll figure this out,” I promised, swallowing my anger, my frustration, and my need for the man standing there. “This is just a speed bump.” “Do you want me to stay in my room tonight? You seem like you’re in a mood,” he said, leaning on the wall by his door. “Yeah, I’d like the night alone. Thanks for offering,” I said, trying to smile, but it felt fake. I headed into my room, closing the door softly. Frustration ate at me as I stripped down and headed for a shower. Once the water was running, I picked up a shampoo bottle and screamed as I threw it across the bathroom. I continued to scream as I knocked everything off my counter, then slammed my hands on the counter and stared at the mirror. I was shaking as I stared at the wild face staring back at me.

My normally dark brown eyes were the vibrant red of my snake form, and my hair was a mess, falling over my face, giving the distinct look of insanity. “You can’t fuck this up,” I hissed at my reflection. “Do you understand? You have to solve this for him.” With that said, I got into the shower and tried to find some semblance of sanity. The water was cold but was a much-needed shock to my system. My hands shook as I washed my hair. Tonight’s failure infuriated me, and even though I could pretend to be rational for others, the internal struggle was much fucking worse. When I stepped out of the shower, I only felt marginally better. I cut the water off and walked into my bedroom, ignoring the destruction in my bathroom. When I laid my head down, I stared at the ceiling.

I need a new plan.

.

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