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Venice Preview

1

“That’s it, darlings, work your magic,” I encouraged, lounging back in my favorite chair, watching the show. “Oh, no, don’t worry. It’s not truly kissing if lips touch while pleasing me. There is no shame here, only fun. Yes, relax and enjoy it. Give in and try it together.” I ran my fingers through the hair of my entertainment for the evening, thoroughly enjoying it.

And then just as I was about to finish the first act of a very long-planned night, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach that a call was going to come in. I pushed it down deep and focused on my fun, knowing it was going to be the last of it for a while.

Sure enough, seconds after I was done, the phone rang.

“Sorry, darlings, I have to answer that,” I apologized and moved away from them.

“He’s fucking me first,” one of the twins hissed.

“No, me. He liked my part of the blow job better. I go first.”

“We were both giving him a blow job. How can you say he liked part of it better?” the first one snapped.

God, if only I could ever remember the names. Something rhyming. Tim and Jim? No, Sam and… Ham? No, that wasn’t it.

“This better be good. I have twins arguing which I get to bed first,” I growled into the phone as way of greeting. “Twins! Naked, hard, begging twins. Someone had better be bloody dying.”

“Pretty soon I’m sure,” the voice wheezed. “I took two hits. They dipped the bullets. I got them out and still I’m bleeding everywhere and it burns.”

Shit. “Can you get into water?” I asked even as I focused on the twins. I wiped their memories, so they couldn’t ever find their way back to my haven, having them think that instead of playing with me, they’d had a few drinks at a club, then I dressed them, and sent them to that club. Next I magically threw on some clothes and concentrated on the call as I stared at the massive map I kept on one of my walls.

“Venice has water everywhere,” he chuckled but then started coughing—probably spitting up blood.

“Venice. Good. Where? What are you?” Normally I wasn’t so forward on calls in case people were listening in, but if the bullets were truly dipped in foxglove or dead man’s bells, he could have only minutes left.

“Wolf,” he wheezed. “Off St. Mark’s Squ—” he cut out with a hiss.

That was enough for me. I grabbed my emergency bag—including wolfsbane injectors—and focused on appearing in Venice. The second I was there, I sent up a type of chi flare for the nearest wolf.

My head snapped east to where I found one—one who was fading fast. I appeared there and threw a protective bubble around us, feeling threatening presences close by who wanted this slight man. I knelt down next to him and opened my bag, seeing that maybe slight wasn’t the right word for him but he seemed so in his vulnerable state. He couldn’t have been more than five-eight and while he certainly wasn’t fat, he had some nice junk in his trunk.

Not that I would criticize something like that. Good for him. In a world where skin and bones was the new attractive, I was born of an age meat on the bones meant the person was more likely to live and healthy, not underfed and starving.

And I liked the longer red curls on him. Very striking.

All this raced through my mind as I hurried to do what was needed. Maybe it was silly, but focusing on the nonessential facts kept my heart rate slow and calm in a crisis while the back part of my brain that had seen this predicament snapped into action without the panic of knowing he was losing about a pint of blood a minute.

Hey, everyone had their process. This was mine. It worked for me. I didn’t get shaky hands or drop things, it was how I kept cool and stable.

Most said cold and uncaring, but they could shove it. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have come, the judgy bastards.

I uncapped the rather large needle, normally used for adrenaline shots—though there was some in the mixture to get the wolfsbane throughout the body faster—sent up a quick prayer to the gods that we would not lose one of our own tonight, and stabbed the young wolf in the heart, plunging down the depressor. His eyes snapped open and flashed the amber of his wolf as he gasped for air. He tried to swat me away, but he was too weak to do much more than get blood on my jacket.

“Well, that won’t come out,” I grumbled at him. “Even if I clean it up to the naked eye, you just stained it with your chi. I don’t like other people’s life forces on my things. Keep your blood to yourself, if you please.”

Needless to say, he paid me no mind, clawing at his chest as he went through a world of hurt. Wolfsbane wasn’t exactly pleasant for a werewolf. Was it cleansing? Oh yes, but so was salt. And where salt burns in wounds, thus wolfsbane to a werewolf because it would burn the poison out of him.

“You’re not dying,” I assured him when his eyes snapped to me, full of fear. “I know it feels it, but I’m saving you. The pain will pass, but you will live.” I moved my fingers to his bullet wounds so he could feel they were closed up already when I pressed there. “See? All healed. I’m burning out the poison and then you’ll be right as rain.”

“Run,” he wheezed. “Hunters.”

“Don’t worry your sweet head, darling. I have protection around us,” I chuckled. “I can feel them near.”

He nodded then took several gasps of air as the pain receded, his features smoothing out. “Festivaali. It’s here.”

I blinked at him a second and then realized what this little wolf might have stumbled upon. “The Festivaali? Are you saying it’s here this time in Venice? These aren’t normal hunters?”

“No, I found them on the deep web,” he mumbled, ready to pass out from all his body had been through. “I knew it was soon. They found me. Please, save the others.”

“Oh, darling, we will do more than that,” I assured him, but then realized he was out for the count. I actually smiled, happy for this phone call over my planned fun for the evening.

His news was that exciting.

I pulled out my phone and called my closest wolf acquaintance, Terrance, not caring for the time issues since he was in the States.

“What?” his deep voice growled on the other end.

“Hello, darling, sorry to wake you, but I’ve been called in by a little wolf who seems to have stumbled on this year’s Festivaali location before it happens. Want to do some hunter hunting in Venice? Could you tell me who’s in charge around here wolf-wise so I know where I’m taking this unconscious wolf while I make proper accommodations?”

There was a long pause while I heard some rustling where he was probably sitting up and then Terrance cleared his throat. “Could you repeat that?”

Yeah, I thought he might need to hear it again. In the hundreds of years the Festivaali had been going on, no one had ever learned the location beforehand. Basically every five years hunters from all around the world agreed to hunt together in one city in a festival of paranormal bloodshed. They’d stay and hunt until the town was purified and then go to ground to avoid retaliation.

In the olden days, it worked well because it took forever to get news to spread and things like civil liberties were a joke, so hundreds of hunters came into town, told the law they were hunting demons, and the idiots stood aside, letting them go door-to-door to search for them. They had the numbers and our people had just about nowhere to flee.

Nowadays, they had to be more careful. There were rumors that a magic was working with them, not truly considered paranormal in their eyes if working for the cause. Bollocks in my opinion, and a magic I’d want to get my hands on. The last Festivaali all the paranormals in Dubai simply dropped dead. It was as if a potion was slipped into the water or no one knows. Not much of a hunt and certainly not a sporting one, but reports came in that within days, all the paranormals in all of Dubai and the surrounding areas were dead without carnage.

That wasn’t happening in Venice. Not this time. Not when we got the drop on them. Fuck, if it was up to me, it was time to end the Festivaalis once and for all.

“The elders won’t want us to fight,” Terrance hedged after a moment. “They’ll want to get everyone out of Venice. You know the rules, Dorian.”

“Fuck the elders and their rules. You know I don’t listen to mine. If I did, I wouldn’t help the lot of you,” I snapped. “If we only get people out now, what happens in five years? Huh? What if they hit Denver then and wipe you all out while you sleep with whatever they’re doing?”

“I get your point, but you and I know they only hit Old World targets. They’ve never stepped foot on the Americas.”

“Your numbers keep growing and we both know they will. I’ve been hearing rumors for a while that hunters over there have wanted to start their own yearly festival, Terrance. This is more than about Venice.”

“You’re serious?” he whispered, and for the first time ever, he sounded afraid. I didn’t know Terrance could be afraid. I thought that chromosome skipped him.

“I am. I wouldn’t ever fib about hunters or the Festivaali. Look, the kid found something out. Let’s use that and send our own message for once! I’m not saying it should be a bloodbath and a spectacle. That does no one any good, but if they can make a city of paranormals disappear, we can certainly do the same for them. I can make a potion where hunter chi flares to anyone who drinks it and the hunters become the hunted.”

“Oh, that does sound like fun. Bring me there in half an hour. I’ll pack. I know the head wolf there too. I’ll call her and let her know you’re coming.”

“Her? Who knew Venice was so progressive,” I chuckled. I was all for equality but most wolves were not.

“Not really, Elvina simply can kick all their asses. Mine included. She’s old, she’s powerful, and she has a temper. Play nice, Dorian, because she does bite.”

“Will she want to hunt?”

He laughed so hard it was almost annoying over the phone. “Oh yeah. You play nice with her, and I promise you, she will be first on board with this plan. But remember, you aren’t like other magics, Dorian. You play both sides.”

I frowned at the phone when he hung up. I loathed when people put it like that. And they wondered why I refused to make friends. I never played anyone. I was neutral. There was a big goddamn difference. I detested the politics and siding with magics simply because they were magics. That was stupid. It was racist even. Why did that make me the asshole in everyone’s eyes? I offered my services across the board, no matter the race, or species, not hung up on party lines.

Everyone assumed it was because I was greedy. Bollocks. I had enough money for a million lifetimes. None of that mattered. If you gave your services for free, people treated you as if your time was worth nothing.

That didn’t mean I always demanded payment from those who couldn’t pay me or I wouldn’t be paid in other ways. I once had a nice elf reorganize my entire record, movie, and book collection because he couldn’t pay me for the tonics he needed to hide his appearance for the next few years. That was generous on my part because the ingredients were costly.

I grumbled some more and then glanced at the text that popped up from Terrance with the address for Elvina, stating he had warned her we were coming in hot. I picked up the still-passed-out man, dropped the bubble, and popped over to the address, literally about to walk into the Alpha Bitch’s den in the hopes she would be on our side.

Let the games begin, and may the gods for once let us all work together before the hunters start killing innocents who did nothing more than believe their leaders would protect them instead of bickering like children.