“She volunteered at a shelter I crashed at when I was seventeen. By then I was pretty messed up,” he said vaguely. “But Zen recognized that I was fae and helped me. Got me cleaned up. Gave me a job and a place to live. Without her, I doubt I’d still be alive.”
We were all silent as we listened to his story. On some level I could relate to not being accepted by your family because of something you couldn’t control. But even though Lavinia was about as nurturing as a viper, at least I’d never had to live on the streets. I’d liked Brooks before, but now I respected him, too.
“Wow,” Giguhl said, dispelling the solemn cloud that hung over our group. “You’re just like Pretty Woman. ”
Brooks nodded solemnly. “Except I’m still waiting for my Richard Gere.”
Giguhl sighed. “Aren’t we all?” He looked around at each of us with a can-I-get-an-amen look.
I shot a frown at the demon. “Anyway, Brooks, I’m glad everything worked out.”
Adam nodded. “Ditto.”
“Thanks, guys. Now, what took you so long to get back? You left the club hours ago.”
Giguhl turned to look at us with his arms crossed. “Yeah! What gives?”
“We went to get Sabina blood and ran into an old friend.” He folded back the flap of his duster, revealing the unconscious owl.
Giguhl cringed with his claws up defensively. “What the hell?”
Brooks scooted back behind the demon. “Is it dead?”
“Just unconscious,” I explained. “How long can he stay like that, Adam?”
The mage frowned. “Not much longer. We probably need to rig up some sort of cage for him while we sleep.”
“Excuse me,” Giguhl interjected. “What the hell does kidnapping Stryx accomplish?”
Adam sighed and rose, leaving the owl in the seat. “I’ll go see if Zen has anything we can use while you explain it to him, Sabina.”
My lips pressed together as I glared at the mage. Just before he closed the door, I caught a ghost of a smile on his lips. Ass.
“Wait. Before you tell us, can you please cover that thing?” Giguhl said. “It’s creepy as shit.”
For some reason when Adam zapped the owl, its eyes stayed open. Despite Stryx being unconscious, the surface of the blood-red pupils shifted and spun like a mesmerizer. Something told me if I stared into them too long I’d end up hypnotized— or worse. I shuddered and tossed a blanket over the bird.
Ten minutes later, Giguhl and Brooks had the full story and were sitting as far away from the unconscious owl as possible.
Adam returned then, carrying a birdcage. Actually, the ornate design and massive size made it into more of a bird mansion. Zen followed him through the door. I stifled my grimace at her arrival. She might have rubbed me the wrong way when we met, but she was nice enough to put us up for free and all.
“Where’d you find that?” I asked.
Adam nodded toward the voodoo priestess, who made a beeline for the blanket-covered lump. “She had it in her shop.”
Zen rushed over and removed the blanket. “Holy Loa, that’s a big owl.”
“Cover it back up,” Giguhl said, covering his eyes lest he accidentally look into the psychedelic orbs. Zen frowned at the demon but did as he asked. I had to admit I found the demon’s aversion odd, too. After all, it wasn’t like Giguhl hadn’t been around Stryx before. Plus, as the reigning Demon Fight Club champion of New York City’s Black Light District, Giguhl wasn’t exactly a wimp. But even I had to admit those freaky eyes and the owl’s preternatural stillness were pretty freaking ominous.
“Thank goodness I had a cage large enough,” Zen said.
I ignored her and spoke to Adam. “Sure, it’s big enough. But will it hold him?”
Adam tapped the edge. “It’s just bronze, but I can ward it so he can’t get out and kill us in our sleep.”
“Oh, that’s comforting.”
The mage shot me an evil grin that did little to ease my concerns. “Nah, it’ll be fine for now. We can figure out something more permanent in the morning.”
“I know you aren’t leaving that demon bird out here with me,” Giguhl said, rubbing his arms.
I rolled my eyes. “Quit being such a baby.”
The petite faery patted the menacing seven-foot-tall demon’s arm. “Don’t worry, big guy. We won’t let the owl hurt you.”
Giguhl sent me a look that clearly said At least someone cares. To Zen he said, “You got any of them voodoo bags or whatever to protect me from him?”
Zen smiled. “A gris gris bag? Sure, if that’ll make you feel better. Come on.” She took the Mischief demon by the arm and led him out, presumably to go to her workshop. As he passed, Giguhl flicked his forked tongue out at me.
As annoyed as I was by Giguhl’s easy transfer of affections to Zen, I appreciated them getting him out of there so I could concentrate. Brooks, however, stayed behind. He watched the bird with fascination.
“Is he really a demon?”
I shook my head. “Not technically. He’s a spy for this secret sect of dark races called the Caste of Nod. He also feasts on the blood of the dead.”
Brooks’s eyes widened. “I think I’ll go check on Zen and Gigi.”
I paused. “Gigi?”
Brooks blushed. “It’s a nickname I came up with for Giguhl. He said he doesn’t mind it.”
“Hmm.” I squinted my eyes at him. Considering Giguhl had rejected my own pet names for him, his easy acceptance of such a ridiculous nickname from Brooks gave me pause. “Whatever.”
With the fae finally gone, I turned to Adam. “You want me to hold the cage while you stick it in?”
“Or since I’m already holding the cage, you can do the honors.”
I sighed and stomped over to the owl. Keeping him wrapped in the blanket— because touching his feathers creeped me out a bit more than I wanted to admit after the ribbing I’d given Giguhl— I gingerly lifted the owl. Getting him inside the cage was a little trickier, but after some maneuvering I finally dumped him inside. After locking the little door tight, I dropped the tainted cover like a hot match and rubbed my hands on my jeans.
“Should we wake him up to make sure it holds?” My tone clearly indicated I thought that was a really freakin’ bad idea.
Adam nodded and carried the cage into the kitchen and placed it in the center of the table. “You might want to stand back.”