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Aberrant: Children of Heaven - Chapter One: Out of Water [Mature]


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Jasmine gazed out the window at the island below. It was awash in light, the commercial glare strong enough to spot from several thousand feet above. It was a far cry from the dark ocean water she'd been staring at for the forty-five minutes, or the brief glimpses of French countryside from the beginning of the flight. It didn't take long to cross fly across Europe, not like the trips she used to take from New Orleans to Los Angeles or Miami or New York with her father. Those had taken hours. It had been her mother's idea for her father to take her on his trips for the Church, convinced that her wildness was merely wanderlust, and that the exploration of other cities and people would satiate it. It hadn't worked. No matter where they went, she was expected to act the same, this pretty young daughter of the Cardinal of the South-Central United States. She was expected to act kind, and gentle, and pious. Jasmine didn't have a problem with kind, or even sometimes gentle. But there were times when her temper flared, when angry words fell from her lips as easily as Moses had parted the Red Sea, or when she believed a firm word was so much more appropriate than a gentle touch.

"Firm words don't belong on women's lips, daughter. You must tame them, so they won't be soured for your husband."

She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the approaching island below. Her sheltered mind recoiled slightly as she considered what waited for her there. Ibiza was the party island of the Soulless, a debauched den of sin and wickedness, awash in a sea of sinners clad in too-tight designer jeans and loose morals. At least, according to the Church. And who else was there to ask?

She'd tried some of the other Human cities first.. things had been no different in Hamburg or Amsterdam, and in Paris someone had actually recognized her. That was when she had gotten desperate. It was harder than she thought it would be to travel without a male escort, but she'd be damned if she was going to cut off her hair and don the shapeless wardrobe necessary to hide as a nun. She thought Paris would be better, it was whispered there was an underground resistance of a sort there, but she hadn't had much luck locating it. The small group she did fall in with wasn't much comfort - a handful of drifters, social outcasts who'd committed atrocities harsh enough to get them expelled from the Church, but not severe enough for ex-communication. Maybe she hadn't been there long enough to earn their trust, or maybe it was because she hadn't been willing to divulge her crimes. But after she'd been spotted, one of them had offered Ibiza as a suggestion.

"There's more'n Nephilim there, I've heard, though maybe you can pass as one of them wearin' their glamours an' it might go better for ya'. I heard they got places there where they do unpleasant things with the Humans they get ahold of. There'll be more English speakers there too, an' maybe you can pick some pockets or somethin' if you can't make it as one of them, till you figure out somethin' better. Probably easier marks there, with 'em all doped up and such, you know?"

So she'd taken a gamble with most of the rest of the money she'd acquired and found a plane that made discreet flights to the Nephilim party hub. She was terrified of an island of the Soulless - she'd never even met one before, and like all Humans, she'd been raised on horror stories of the other two races. But an island of soulless debuachers scared her less than the idea of being discovered by the territorial Therianthropes in their lands, or - worse than anything - being dragged back to her father by her own people and thrown back into one of the monasteries.

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She glanced at her watch and sighed slightly. Thirty-three hours since she'd last slept, since that horrifying moment of recognition in Paris and the flight that had ensued. She'd advised the cab driver at the airport to take her "downtown"... he'd given her a funny look at the lack of specifics, but he'd obliged, and she got out where he pulled over. She didn't have the slightest clue where she was going, but downtowns were always a good place to get lost, weren't they? This one certainly seemed that way - no one had glanced twice at her once she'd stripped down to a simple white tank top and slipped into a store to purchase a short black miniskirt, inexpensive high heels, and some cheap jewelry with the last of her money. The excessively modest layers that had helped her blend in with the conservative Human population while in Paris had stood out like a sore thumb here, and even though Jasmine felt practically naked, she was relieved to not have suspicious eyes following her everywhere. Of course, the outfit drew another sort of attention, but it was still modest compared to some of the other women walking the downtown strip, so she did her best to keep moving, and avoid the occasional low whistle.

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Of course, now she had another conundrum. She leaned wearily against the wall, and looked up at the large building across the street. It was loud and garish, like everything in this area - lit up with excessive neon, with laughter and music and the ringing sounds of gambling machines that Jasmine had never heard before, but had become familiar with in her first hour of landing in Ibiza. It was, technically, a hotel.. even though she found it hard to believe anyone did any sleeping there, considering all the noise. The rooms, she supposed, were located on the higher levels of the building. It even looked like one of the less expensive ones, compared to some of the others she had passed on her way here.

She saw more of what ahe assumed were glamoured Nephilim going in and out of the building too, though she wasn't sure why. Maybe they were trying to draw more of the Human and Therianthrope visitors for some reason, or maybe these were Nephilim that wanted to hide, even from their own people. Or maybe it was the human spot, who knew? It didn't seem like there should be so many Humans in one place on Ibiza. But she hadn't had much luck pickpocketing, and she was too nervous to try too much tonight, considering how exhausted she was. She needed to sleep soooo badly. Maybe, if she tried her hand at some of the gambling machines, she could win enough money to pay for a hotel room for a couple nights, until she got her bearings and figured out where to go or what to do from here.

She sighed, and squared her shoulders, trying to drum up her courage. Then she crossed the street and entered the casino.

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The smell of blood was sharp in the air, both warning and siren song to Devon. The burly man crouched close to the deck, unwilling to risk his balance on the heaving ferry and the slick deck. The four people surrounding him were a little more stable; they weren’t in the center of the pool of blood leaking from the first three people to attack him.

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His claws scraped on the wooden deck as he turned carefully, trying to get discern which of them would come for him next. Would it be the camelithrope with the sexy eyes who’d been flirting since they left Palma de Mallorca? Or would it be the bonded pair of canisthropes, already uneasily with the situation? Or would the wily vulpethrope attempt it?

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There was no one else around; everyone had vacated when the first canisthrope had jumped him, and now most of the other passengers were crowded onto the second deck, watching. The other Therians were silent spectators, judging each and every fighter on the merit they were showing in combat. The Humans were awed and stared with big eyes; it wasn’t every day that they got to see a fight between the shape-shifting people. It was the Nephilim who were being rowdy, calling out bets to each other and egging on the side they’d put money on. Devon shut them out, focusing on the moment of battle.

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It was the camelithrope who moved, when he had his back to her, of course. Devon heard her move, her boots thumping against the deck. A second after her, the pale-skinned vulpethrope jerked into motion, trying to take advantage of her attack. Devon jumped one of the canisthropes, the woman. She was smaller than her mate and he hoped she’d be weaker. He wasn’t so sure about that when he slammed into her; it was like hitting a wall. She went down as the three behind him attempted to react to him. Her claws scored his back, but Devon gave her a taste of his claws and slammed his forehead into her face. Their blood joined what was already on the deck. The werejackal slumped, stunned and Devon used his momentum to roll to his feet. The young woman clenched in his arms was flung away from Devon—over the side of the boat and into the ocean.

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The other canisthrope shouted something as he dashed to the side. The other two didn’t bother to call after him as he dove over the railing after his mate. Devon faced them and straightened, standing to his full six-plus feet. They were hesitating, rethinking; it was clear in their stances. “Didja really think six on one was enough for me?” he snarled, flexing his shoulders despite the pain that caused. “I mean… come on.”

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Fatima—if that was her name—relaxed suddenly, shrugging. “It was worth a shot,” the werecamel told him, her brown eyes bewitching even when he knew she was a bitch. “Taking you out now would probably be easier than later.”

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“You never had a chance,” he snorted at her, crossing his arms.

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“You could have been lying, or having a bad day.” Fatima smirked, even as she and the werefennel began to back away from him. “A girl has to take her shots when she sees them.”

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Devon just shook his head and watched until he was sure they were away. His back was killing him, but he ignored it as he went back to the rail and peered behind them. He thought he could see two dark heads bobbing in the blue water. He hadn’t wanted to kill the werejackals, so that was a relief. And they were close to Ibiza; the two would probably be all right.

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And if they weren’t, then they shouldn’t mess with the Black Wolf of Cape Town, Devon reminded himself as he turned toward Ibiza. His lip curled with distaste as he absently pulled his blood-soaked clothing away from his skin. Ibiza was a hive of scum and villainy. He’d have to be careful. Devon couldn’t fail in his task. It was too important.

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The problem was he had no idea how to proceed once he landed.

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Inside the casino was a riot of color and noise: bells and whistles from a hundred different kinds of gambling machines mingled with raucous laughter from patrons lining card tables and dice games. The overhead lights were dim, spotlights on the tables and the slots merrily spewing out color and brightness along with their tinny music. People were everywhere. Humans (or at least Human-looking people) were scattered in with therianthropes and nephilim. Jasmyne had never seen a live therianthrope before, at least not outside of news footage of the border skirmishes in Central America or along the eastern Mediterranean. They were just as animalistic as her tutors had warned her they would be, but as intimidating as the beast-kin were it was the un-glamoured Soulless that had her skirting along the walls of the room. A therianthrope might rip out your heart or tear off your head, but the Soulless, well, there's only one thing a creature without a soul could want, right?

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And even worse, they were beautiful. In all shades of skin and eye, the bastard children of the Second Woman and the Host had inhumanly flawless skin, bright, almost glowing eyes, and moved with an utterly unholy grace. She pressed harder against the wall as she realized that several of them actually were glowing – usually the ones surrounded by other nephilim like miniature courts scattered around the casino floor. She’d heard stories, every Human child had, but to see them in person was just as terrifying as the beast-kin.

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“First timer, huh?” The voice was clear and light, laughter skirting the edges of the words and tinged with rolling sounds of the Spanish dialect. Jasmyne nearly jumped out of her skin and the olive-skinned woman that had sidled up next to her let out a chuckle. “Careful, kridanaka. Jump like that again and you’ll set off the therians and the nephilim. They both just love new meat to play with.”

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Jasmyne swallowed hard and nodded. So much for passing – she glanced over at the shining nephilim and decided it was probably a good thing she hadn’t tried. The woman pulled her by the wrist, tugging her away from the wall and towards the small café-like area next to the cards tables. “C’mon, I’ll buy you a drink, yes? A favor for the newcomer. You would like that?”

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Jasmyne stumbled after her, “I, uh, um, ye-“

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“Cessily,” suddenly there was a man standing between them, prying Cessily’s grip from Jasmyne’s wrist. He was barely taller than her and a good couple of inches shorter than Cessily and dressed in black silk and leather, decorative silver studs on his clothes twinkling in the strobing lights of the room, his black hair spiked up. As outlandish as his clothes were to Jasmine, though, it was his pearlescent skin and impossibly blue eyes that had her staring dumbly at him. He clicked his tongue at her previous rescuer, “This is just beneath you, Cessily.”

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Cessily huffed. “Perhaps it’s beneath you, Puck, but I don’t have every Family on Ibiza fawning over me, if you hadn’t noticed. I’m beneath them.” The last was hissed with deep-running venom. She glanced at Jasmine, then back at Puck, her demeanor shifting lightening-fast again. “I suppose I could let her go,” she trailed her hand down Puck’s shirt, deftly popping the top button of his shirt open and tapping a finger at the hallow of his neck, “for other entertainments for the night.”

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He caught her hand and pushed her away with enough force that she stumbled back away from them. “I’m not for sale, Cessily, and this Human isn’t yours. You never got her a drink and she didn’t agree.”

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“She agreed!” Cessily hissed again, her Human glamour slipping off her like a second skin; brown eyes became deep chocolate with golden flecks, her hair and skin shimmering but not quite glowing.

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A circle of people had formed around them, watching with amused curiosity and cutting off any chance of escape for Jasmine. A therianthrope with bristly hair and slit-pupil eyes gave her a predatory grin and nodded, calling out over the din of the casino, “I heard the Human. She was going with Cessily. I say it was fairly done. The human didn’t protest to being called her toy, either.”

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The crowd murmured at this and Puck frowned at her. “She’s obviously new to Ibiza. She doesn’t know the rules, Ndale.”

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The Therian shrugged, “It is your people that say ignorance is no excuse. She should have learned before she came here.”

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“She didn’t finish accepting,” he declared, his jaw setting in annoyance.

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“Only because you interrupted,” Cessily huffed.

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Puck pulled himself up, shedding some of his own glamour. Light pushed out from his skin, washing over Jasmyne and Cessily to lap at the edges of the crowd. She could feel his presence now, a tingling sensation that ran over her skin and down her spine. Fear and desire intertwined inside of her and she found herself struggling not to reach out to touch him or to kneel in awe. “You contest my claim, then, Cessily born of Cora Tarell and Rannik of the Adder Clan?”

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Cessily’s head whipped back as if the blue-eyed nephilim had physically slapped her. She slowly lowered herself to one knee and bowed her head. “No, my lord, I do not contest your claim.” Jasmine could hear her gritting her teeth through the oddly formal words, “Please forgive my mistake in looking upon that which is yours.”

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“Get up, Cessily,” Puck snapped, his glow and that terrible presence slowly pulling back inward; Jasmine let out the breath she’d been holding in relief. Good God, is this what all of Ibiza is going to be like? Maybe I should have gone to Madrid instead. At least I understand my own people.

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Ndale grinned wider and actually stepped towards Puck, holding out his arms and declaring, “We are all witness. This human now belongs to Puck of no claimed Family, the first of his Household.” He bowed mockingly to Jasmine, “Welcome to Ibiza, little praisya. You are now the Sumaya of the House of Puck. You should celebrate your good fortune.” His eyes flicked up to Puck, “That is, if your new master will allow.”

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Jasmyne’s brow furrowed and she opened her mouth to snap back that she did not have a master, but Puck grabbed her arm. “Just be quiet,” he whispered sharply, “or he’ll make it so I have to kill you. He’s a carrion eater.” He cleared his throat and said loudly enough to carry to the larger crowd that had gathered during the impromptu spat, “She is my Sumaya, thus I declare her parijana. Speak to her as you would to myself, Ndale, or I will take offense.”

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Ndale’s shoulders twitched, his stiff hair quivering in irritation as he straightened up stiffly. “Of course, Puck. It is good to see you taking up some responsibility. I will be sure the other Families know that you have begun your Household.” He smiled unpleasantly at the black-clad Nephilim, “No doubt they will be quite pleased. Their daughters, especially. I will direct them to your Sumaya.”

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He clasped a hand over his heart and gave a shallow bow, then turned and pushed his way through the whispering crowd. Jasmyne could see many of the Nephilim already making their way towards her….whatever he was supposed to be to her now. He pulled her towards the front doors, his grip like iron around her arm. “Come on,” he growled, “let’s get out of here before they start bidding on me or ripping off my clothes. I like this shirt.”

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She followed mutely, but she followed, and didn't argue. Perhaps a single Nephilim seemed less frightening than the advancing mob, or the mercurial Cessily. Either way, Puck wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. It wasn't until he'd dragged the girl out of the building and rounded a couple corners that he finally stopped, and turned back to get a good look at the human who had caused him so much trouble.

She stopped when he did, and her breath was coming in sharp little gasps, as if she were about to hyperventilate. He could see confusion and fear written plain across her face, but she met his gaze, unlike most of the other human females he'd encountered. The new ones always seemed meek and submissive - it was one of the reasons they were such a highly prized commodity in the sex trafficking world. A Therianthrope was good for a fight, when you wanted someone to break. Human women seemed to come almost.. pre-broken.

In fact, she even looked a little pissed off, now that he really studied her. There was fight in her eyes, and while she wasn't running yet, she looked willing to bolt at a moment's notice. It was intriguing, really.

"W-Who are you? What on earth just - what WAS all that? Did that woman just try to claim me? What is going on here?!"

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He fished out a silver-chased cigarette case and pulled out a black, minty-smelling stick and stuck it between his lips. His lighter was the same design as the case, obviously a matched set, and lit on the first flick of the wheel, the flame dancing on the tip of the cigarette until a red bud of burning tobacco lit the end. He took a long drag and leaned back on the wall, kicking one leg up on the stone and trying not to think about what the next week was going to be like. Maybe it was time to leave Ibiza....but Jeran was still alive on Honolulu, which meant that was out, and he was pretty sure Tanzania was still being watched, which meant....some nameless island somewhere in the Pacific? Wonderful, because they always had such the nightlife.

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He flicked ash off the end of his menthol and eyed the Human girl up and down again. "Lemme guess, you just got off a plane?" At her hesitant nod he sighed. "Didn't want to be a nun? Kill a man? Like other girls too much? God, please tell me you're not pregnant."

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The spark flared into full flame, her glare a match for any enraged Therian. "I am not-"

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He cut her off, "Good, because I know nothing about raising kids and I'd like to keep that way for at least a little while longer. As for claiming you, yes, that's exactly what Cessily was doing. It's about all the little viper is capable and you'd've been dead and eaten by morning if Ndale had had his way. And he usually does with Cessily." He took another drag on the cigarette and tried to calm his temper. No use in yelling at the Human - that she didn't know the rules had been the entire point. "First rule with the nephilim, not that it matters as much for you now anyways, but everything has a price. Unless you're specifically told that someone is doing something dana, that exact word, dana, then there is a cost. If it hasn't been negotiated first, it's held as rna....uh, something like 'debt' in your language, only much more important. If the rna is considered high enough or the person low enough, the Nephilim can claim the rnin, the debtor, as praisya. Slave. That's what Cessily was trying to do. You're an unknown human on Ibiza wearing cheap clothes and looking like a spooked rabbit. No one in that casino would have bothered to contest her if she claimed you for the price of a watered down beer."

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He held out the case to her, offering her one of the menthols, "I'm Puck, by the way, and as far as any Nephilim or anyone in our lands are concerned, you're my servant now. If anyone messes with you they're calling me out and if you screw up, I'm the one that looks bad. So please, by the Nameless One, be a fast learner."

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She watched him hesitantly, and her eyes flickered to the cigarette case.

"Is that tobacco? Or.. something else?"

She had heard about the Nephilim penchant for indulging in drugs. Clergy working towards a higher position were always on the pulpit, preaching about the evils of narcotics, and promising (were they to receive the support of their congregation, and thus the promotion within the Church that they were working for) that he would do whatever was in his power to stop the influx of black market drugs from the Nephilim.

"What a quick girl.. you caught me."

She pulled back slightly, and his lips twitched in amusement.

"It has mint, too. Don't humans have menthol cigarettes?"

"I don't know. Only men are supposed to smoke, and my-- I didn't know anyone. Who smoked, I mean. Is it dana?"

"What?"

"The cigarette.. is it dana? You said I should ask."

His eyes narrowed in pleasure, and his lips curved in a true smile. When he spoke, his voice was a purr of pleasure.

"Clever girl. Dana... on me. This time."

She reached out then and took the cigarette. Why she was willing to take his word that it was only tobacco, she wasn't entirely sure. Maybe he was just sneakier than the other one. But after the last hour, she was willing to take that much of a risk. She had heard that cigarettes were supposed to 'take the edge off', and that sounded pretty appealing at the moment. She lifted it to her lips, the way she had seen him do, but before she could light it herself, he reached over and flicked the elegant lighter to life. She studied it for a moment, then tilted forward slightly, and inhaled. It was, of course, followed by a brief coughing fit, which was kind of adorable. But she gamely ignored his amused expression and tried again, and this time managed to actually inhale some of the cigarette smoke without choking on it.

"Thanks. I mean, for the cigarette, but.. especially for that.. back there."

She bit her lip slightly, then looked up at him, suddenly uncertain and afraid again, even though she still met his gaze.

"Why, though? Why would you do that? Claim me? What do you want from me? And what is parijana?"

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"Parijana," he said the word slowly, sighing at all the things he'd need to explain to her now, and damn fast, "means servant, effectively. It's not a perfect translation, but that's a whole 'nother conversation and servant is close enough." He took a long drag on his menthol and squinted up at the sky as if counting the early morning stars. "As for what I want from you...that's a great deal more complicated. When I pulled Cessily off you? Mostly I just didn't want to see a nice," his eyes slid over her as he quickly chose another word, "...person fed to Ndale for lunch. Beyond being rude to a newcomer to Ibiza and bad for tourism, it's just gauche."

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He contemplated the stub of the cigarette before crushing it on the thick heel of his shoe and placing it in the second compartment of the cigarette case to throw away later. Not only were nephilim turning out to be a lot more complicated than 'soulless monsters', they also seemed to like their city streets kept clean. He pushed off from the building and ran a hand through his hair, thinking. "Now, though," he sighed again and she felt like there were words, words her parents wouldn't have approved of, hiding in his sighs, "now, you've got a job and I've got a headache. Do you know anything about the nephilim?"

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She crossed her arms, smiled wryly at him, and began to tick off her childhood lessons. "The nephilim are soulless monsters that lust after the pure souls of Humans. They kidnap unruly children and unmarried women that walk the streets without escort. They trick you with narcotics, alcohol, licentious literature, and obscene images. They-"

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He held up his hands and laughed. "Okay, well, that last one is kinda true. Orgies, too, but you'll have to work your way up to those parties."

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She glanced at the menthol she was holding and flushed, then stammered out, "W-what's an orgy?"

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"Sex," he said bluntly, his eyes closing briefly as he realized just how 'just off the plane' she really was, "with lots of people, all together. They're fun." She turned a rosy shade of sienna and Puck finally let out a soft curse. "Okay, let's dial back to the basics, Cinnamon. What's your story? Why are you on Ibiza? You certainly don't belong here."

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She was quiet for a long moment, taking a drag off the cigarette as an excuse to stall her answer. Her body language was easy enough to read, she obviously didn't want to talk about it, and Puck wondered whether she'd try to lie to him or not. Surprisingly, she didn't.. but she was obviously giving him the edited version of events.

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"I got sent to a monastery for my sins."

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"What were your sins?"

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"My sins are my business."

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"You gonna repeat them?"

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"Over my dead body."

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"Fair enough. So what's so bad about a monastery, anyway?"

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She paused, her gaze drifting off for a moment, and he saw her shiver slightly. It was the warm season on Ibiza, and he knew the shiver didn't have anything to do with the temperature.

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"They're.. bad places. It's where you're sent if you need to disappear. It's where you're sent when you've committed a grave sin that isn't actually a crime. They're for.. reformation. For the damaged or ill of spirit. They drug you there, and brainwash you, until you're nothing but a shell of yourself. When I first got there, some of the women cried, and you could feel their agony. But most of them could barely speak. Very few women come back from monasteries.. they're feared above all else. I've heard men are sent there as well, but I'm not really certain what for. They're separate, of course. But when the women do come back, they're.. broken. Wrong. At best, barely functional yet pious enough to help care for orphaned children or families with too many children. They do menial tasks for their families. They're rarely seen, hidden in their relative's homes like a dirty secret. Never spoken of, never shown kindness to. And that's just if you make it out in the first place."

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"So you ran away. That doesn't explain how you wound up here."

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"I went to other cities first. I.. found help. They tried to place me somewhere, but I didn't fit in well. I never have, and it's worse now. I.. I won't change. I can't play the part of a nun, I can't be meek and pious. They tried to place me somewhere else, but.. that didn't work out either. I'm being searched for, and I.. I'm afraid they'll find me if I stay in human cities, even if I leave Europe. Someone else suggested Ibiza.. so here I am."

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The other therians avoided him as he stomped down the ramp to the dock. They weren’t afraid of him; he wasn’t looking for a fight. It was the stink of drying blood crusting his clothing; even Devon didn’t like the way he smelled right now. The humans and nephilm were avoiding him because he clearly in a sour mood and they’d just seen him trounce a group of therians trying to kill him. Devon shook his head; seven no-names taking on the Black Wolf. It was almost disgusting. It was definitely dumb.

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They had ensured that he’d need a room before anything else. The need for delay in his primary mission pissed off Devon worse than the assumption that the knot of them had been stronger than him. Fortunately, arrangements had been made for this.

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“Holy Mother, you look like you paddled over in an abattoir.” Minne hopped over the hotel’s counter when Devon stepped in the door, her expression concerned. “I thought you were taking the ferry.”

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“I did.” Devon’s disgust was clear as he dropped his bag on the floor. “A group of knotheads thought to advance their chances at being First by taking me out now.”

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Minne rolled her eyes. “Your uncle’s still hale and healthy. He’ll be alive for a long time to come. Winning a duel with you wouldn’t increase their fame.”

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“But it would get their name out there.” Devin shrugged, ignoring the spasm of pain that passed through his still-healing muscles. “Enough of that. I’d love to get to my room.”

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The lycanthrope grinned at him. “Not so fast, Devon.” She scooped up his bag, her long brown hair swinging as she secured the strap on her shoulder. “I’ve been in this pit for two years; I want all the gossip from home. How’s my brother?”

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“Geert is good. He’s happy with his choice of mate,” Devon told her as she walked him to the stairs. As he related the gossip to his cousin, he was grateful that her family had set up this hotel on Ibiza. It was a haven of therian culture in the Soulless party-capital.

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But as much as he enjoyed seeing Minne again, he was happy to bid her goodbye at the door to his suite. In the privacy of his own room, he stripped off his bloody, torn clothing and examined his back in the mirror. Pale pink lines were all that were left of the clawing he’d gotten from the werejackal, and the bite on his calf from one of the down assailants was scabbed over. By tomorrow, all signs of the fight would be gone and forgotten.

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He ran a bath for himself, sinking gratefully into the hot tub once it was full. Smirking a little, he turned on the jets, sighing at the extra bit of pampering. You could get this kind of indulgence in Cape Town, but he’d flown to Algiers and then took the ship the rest of the way. It had been a damned long trip. In theory, it had allowed him to bypass the busy airport and keep a low profile on his entrance. In fact, he was pretty sure that the fight and walking off the ferry soaked in blood had just destroyed that profile. If someone was trying to scent-track him, it’d been disgustingly easy to follow the smell of war and blood to the hotel.

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A tap at the door pulled him from his thoughts. He sniffed sharply, smelling another therian, a bovidthrope of some type. He’d long ago learned that prey animals were not helpless, so he didn’t assume that this herbivore was prey. She didn’t smell hostile either, and Devon could smell food. “Come in,” he called through the open door of the bathroom.

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The girl who entered bore a tray of food, but Devon studied her first. She had the brown skin of northern Africa; the therians had been here since being pushed out of Greece by humans during the Grecian Golden Age. They’d bred with the dark-skinned natives, producing a warm cinnamon tone that Devon rather liked on women. She had an adorable heart-shaped face and large brown eyes—like Fatima, but Devon assumed that his aunt Liesbeth, the current owner of the hotel, wouldn’t hire someone who would try to kill him. “Hello,” he said, smiling and sitting up a little.

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Her gaze flicked over him as she smiled in return. “Good afternoon. Minne asked me to bring you a tray.”

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“How kind of her. Would you bring it here?” Devon replied, watching the sway in her walk when she complied.

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“I don’t think you’re hungry.” Her statement held a good bit of amusement as she set the tray on the toilet. Her eyes flicked to the tub and Devon followed her gaze; the head of his cock was poking above the frothing water, testament to his interest in her.

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“Not as hungry as I am horny,” he agreed, trying to judge if she was interested. Even as he tried to determine that, she reached for the hem of her shirt and drew it over her head. The black skirt, bra and underwear followed as she neatly folded them and put them on the back of the toilet. Her skin was perfect and her figure a lovely pear shape with the firm toning normal to therian woman. He started to get up, but she stopped him.

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“Minne said you must eat first.” She lifted the lid off the tray, revealing a cooked fish, beans and rice. The girl picked up the fork and ferried some fish to his lips.

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He took it, realizing that he was hungry, too. As she prepared the next bite, he asked, “What’s your name?”

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“Nabila. You are Devon Carson, the nephew of the First, but more importantly, kin to my employer.” Nabila smiled as she fed him and said, “That means you are to be treated as if you were my employer.”

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“Do you do this for Liesbeth’s mate?” Devon asked, rather bemused and vaguely alarmed at the thought. If it were true, Liesbeth would kill him.

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“No, of course not.” Nabila made a face that suggested he knew better. “Bartel would not have me. But his son, Maas? That is different.”

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“Good to know you only chase after unmated wolves.” Devon accepted yet another bite, swallowed and added, “And good for me that I’m unmated.”

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“Good for me, too.” Nabila giggled cutely, hiding her teeth behind her hand.

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She reached for another piece of fish but Devon grabbed her wrist and rolled to his feet. “Enough. You’ve filled my stomach. My turn to fill you.” She stared to speak, no doubt to say something witty but he kissed her, cutting off her words. Her skin felt as good as it looked, and she seemed to like the feel of him, as well; her fingers played over his wet skin without hesitation.

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Devon stepped out of the tub without breaking the kiss, then picked her up. Her legs wrapped around his waist and her slit pressed hot and wet against his cock. With a whine, he lifted her by her ass and speared his member into her body, drawing a cry from her. Breathless from the kiss, she murmured, “You wolves, so impatient.”

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“No one’s complained yet.” Devon slid her up and down his cock, rocking her head back and leaving his knees unsteady. He marched over to the bed and eased her onto it, turning the movement into another thrust.

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“It was an… oh, Mother… an observation,” she whispered before he reclaimed her mouth. Their tongues tangled together as he shifted his hips and changed his thrusts slightly. Nabila moaned against his mouth and grabbed his ass, silently asking him to go faster. Devon complied as he shifted his attention to her pert nipples, sucking with his lips and flicking them with his tongue.

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Her moans rose in volume and her nails dug into his ass; Devon accepted the mild pain as proof he was doing his part. Easing his body upright, he continued to use his hips to rock his cock in and out of her body. From his angle he could see each penetration; he could watch her lips stretch to accommodate his breadth with each push. Her clit peeked out between the slick, swollen edges of her sex and he reached down and rubbed his thumb over the pink bud. Nabila all-but screamed her pleasure and Devon grinned with pride as he traced small circles on her clit. It only took a few more rapid, sure thrusts to bring her to climax, shuddering and grabbing at the sheets while shouting wordlessly.

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When she calmed down, relaxed and hazy from the rush of ecstasy, he had slowed his thrusts to longer savor the sweet sensation of fucking her. “Are you not done?” she asked, her expression surprised. “Most men come when I do.”

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“I’ll only come when I’ve had my fill of you,” Devon told her as he leaned in and kissed her, “and I am nowhere near done with you yet.” He lifted his head enough to assure her, “We’ve got a while longer, so let me know if you’re done.”

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“No, I’m curious if what they say about you is true.” Nabila grinned. “It seems true.”

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Devon chuckled, the sound a low, sexy rumble. “The stories of my sexual prowess are not overrated. Lemme show you.” The look of delight on her face made him laugh. He kissed her again and began a calculated, delightful ravishment of the happy therian.

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The nephilim was quiet and still long enough that Jasmyne started to fidget from nervousness. Finally his shoulders began to shake, then he burst out laughing and draped an arm around her. "God must have a huge fucking sense of humor. There's no monasteries on Ibiza, Cinnamon, and now, if anyone tries to take you, I get to beat them to a bloody pulp and let you decide if I cut their heart out and give it to you as a gift." He grinned at her ashen face and squeezed her shoulders, "That's the old laws. Mostly now we just beat them up and steal their money. Ah, for the good old days."

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He glanced up again, then started off down the street, arm still around and pulling her along. "I'm half serious on that. According to the nephilim, you're mine now and it's my responsibility to keep you safe. So, no running off if you get spooked. Come to me first, because I really don't want to go traipsing all over the planet looking for you.That and I don't really have the money for it. Ah, here we are."

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He stopped her in front of a large, gated mansion. Jasmyne blinked and look up at him, "You have a mansion, but you can't afford a plane ticket?"

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That crooked grin came out again, charming and wickedly inviting. "Oh, this place isn't mine. Mine is much bigger, but...well, my family and I aren't talking. Haven't been for...years." His voice had slipped from palyful to melancholy; he shivered, then shook himself, and then that grin was back again. "Anyways, I've got the pool house in the back." He punched in a sequence on the number pad of the security lock and the large wrought-iron gates swung soundlessly open for them. He led her around back of the mansion and down a pebbled path to a small house - true to its name there was even a large pool and hot tub combination only a few yards from the front door.

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He swung open the door and motioned her into the large living room. "The girls broke the locks on all the doors in the first few days," he stated conversationally as he showed her around, "so don't even bother asking to get them fixed. You don't really have anything to steal, and everyone will know by morning that you're mine, so they won't try to kill you as some competing distraction. Bathroom is on the left, between the two bedrooms. I've got the far one and you can take the near one. The kitchen is through there and if you want any particular groceries, Geran comes by in the morning and will get anything you write up on the board on the fridge. Any laundry in the hamper in the bathroom will also get taken for cleaning. Are those your only clothes?"

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"Huh-what?" She asked, a little dizzy from the whirlwind tour. "Wait, someone broke all the locks?"

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He nodded, "Isabel, Meredith, and Janessa, the three daughters of Selene and Trevor Quinn. The Quinns own this mansion and fair amount of downtown Ibiza."

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"Why would they break the locks? I mean, if you're their guest...?" Is that some sort of Nephilim thing?

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"Well, off and on over the years they've try to seduce me. When I declined, they thought I was just being coy. When I locked the doors, Isabel got annoyed, Meredith got offended and didn't talk to me for...oh, a decade or so, and Janessa decided that the locks were just one more challenge. I stop asking to have them replaced after the sixth set. It just seemed wasteful." He paced around her, looking her up and down. "You're what, a size four?"

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"What? Oh - clothes. Yeah.. that's about--how did you--oh, never mind."

Her cheeks flushed at that devious grin, and she turned around again, inspecting the house. She had felt an immense sense of relief when he mentioned the other bedroom, it had been almost palpable. She still didn't understand what she was supposed to be to him exactly, and needed him to explain it, but she was exceedingly thankful he wasn't expecting her to share his bedroom. She knew that he had claimed her somehow, and she knew she should be railing against that idea viciously. But she was too tired to rail at anything, and he had saved her life, so she owed him something there anyway. And it wasn't like she had any better options.. at least not any obvious ones. She sank down into a chair, her fingertips running over the soft fabric of the throw pillows.

"How long since you've had anything to eat, Cinnamon? Since you got to the island? You want some water or something?"

Puck stepped into the small, open-concept kitchen area as he spoke. He pulled out a glass, and pressed it against the ice machine built into the fridge. The clink of ice was followed by the flow of filtered water, and then he stepped back out into the living room.

"Maybe I can rummage up something for you to eat, and then--"

He stopped, and an amused smile flickered across his lips. The human girl - she hadn't even given him her name yet, he realized - was curled up in a large, overstuffed chair, fast asleep. Her uncomfortable looking shoes had slipped off her feet, and he could see the painful red spots on the backs of her ankles and near her toes where the obviously new shoes had rubbed at her skin and started to form blisters. She must have been walking in them for several hours after having acquired them. And now that they were in the indoor light, he could see a soft darkness under her eyes that indicated severe exhaustion.

But she didn't snore... he'd always heard that humans snored.

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He set the glass of water aside and made his way into the spare bedroom, pulling down the douvet and sheets, then went back to the living room and gently picked her up. She was light, lighter than a human her height should be, with dark circles under her eyes and stress lines creasing along her forehead and at the corners of her eyes. He was pretty sure only old humans were supposed to have those, not young, naive girls that got him into more trouble in one night than he'd managed to in all the years since he'd escaped. And he'd been trying. After tucking her in, he went to his own room, pulled closed the heavy curtains that kept in the light when he slept, and dropped down on the bed without bothering to pull off his own shoes or clothes.

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___________________________________________

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Jasmine woke to the feeling of bone-deep warmth and the scent of honeysuckle. She was laying on a plush bed, as nice as the one she grew up on and better than she'd had since the nightmare had begun. Memories of the night before washed over her and she sat up, blinking in the early afternoon sunlight streaming in through the gauzy curtains over the large picture window left of her bed. Her eyes caught on the armoire across from her bed; a dress, breezy spring green cotton cinched with a fashionable belt, was hanging on the slightly open door. She sat up and stretched in the bed, muscles that had been cramped for months finally soothed by a restful nights sleep. The armoire, once inspected, also held new underwear, bras, and several weeks worth of new tops, slacks, skirts, dresses and a dizzying array of accessories. Opening the bottom two drawers revealed shoes to match any outfit she might make out of the rest of the clothing. It was a small fortune housed in warm wood panels of the armoire.

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She scooped up the dress, unwilling to soil nice clothes with night sweat, and stepped out into the main area, looking for her impromptu host. Coffee was warming in the kitchen; fruit was laid out on the kitchen counter, cut, arranged, and chilled on platter with ice underneath, but Puck was nowhere to be found. She poked around for a moment, then decided she could think better after she was clean and dressed in something much less slutty than what she'd fallen asleep in. The bathroom was as sumptuous as the rest of the pool house, marble flooring flowing up from the floor to form a large inset oversized bathtub with whirlpool jets. Steam filled the room within seconds of turning the hot water on, and the array of body scrubs, oils, and hair products let her pamper herself for almost an hour before toweling off and pulling on the clean clothes.

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The three cornerstones of therian well-being were food, fighting and fucking. Having had all three in the last three hours, Devon was in high spirits when he left the hotel on his mission. He’d bathed again after Nabila had been satisfied that his renown was not exaggerated and was dressed in pants, a suit jacket and a white button-up shirt. His feet were covered by loafers and he’d forgone a tie; he was aiming for casual tonight.

It was still afternoon when he started toward Ibiza’s main drag and Devon slipped on some shades against the sun’s glare. He’d find what he was looking for amongst the casinos, bars and nightclubs of the party town. Those places were the focus of the illicit deals done in the town. As he left the edges of town where the unofficial “therian quarter” was located, he saw more humans and nephilim. They were staunchly ignored, the latter out of self-preservation and the former out of disdain. Most of them ignored him, too; he was another therian looking to party.

The long walk gave him time to think and ponder where to start. Uncle Michael had been a bit unsure where exactly to go; the therians had never attempted to use nephilim aid to extend their reach into human territories. The therians were content with the lands they had and didn’t feel the need to steal it from the humans. The need for this kind of help was new to his people, at least as a whole. He had no doubt that individual therians barter with humans through nephilim brokers all the time. No one Devon knew had those contacts however.

By the time he reached the drag, the restaurants were serving the very first of the dinner crowd. Devon bought a kebob of lamb from a street vendor; the fish had been great but he needed red meat to feel like he’d eaten anything of substance. The city was coming alive around him, walking up from the daytime calm to embrace the coming night. Devon, sensitive to his environment as all therians were, could feel the rising energy. The stone of the old buildings practically resonated with that growing power. The smell of the sea competed with the food and scent of bodies all around. Music from street performers was setting up a audio war for the night, with the true casualty being the casual passerby. His lamb was sweetly marinated and he bought a tart citrus drink of some kind to counter it. Oddly, Devon found himself liking Ibiza, something he hadn’t planned on feeling.

He was still tearing chunks off his food when he spotted a familiar face. His gray eyes narrowed as he took a closer look, his hackles rising. When he was sure he was identifying the man correctly, Devon walked toward him.

Ndale was at a cafe table, smoking and chatting with a group of nephilim. The last time Devon had seen the hyaenithrope, the man had been tossed naked onto a boat leaving Alexandra. Therians entered exile with nothing, not even the clothing on their backs.

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Devon finished his meat and approached the table, coming up behind Ndale. The three nephilim at the table glanced up and cued Ndale to his approach before Devon got there, but not before he caught that they were laughing about how they screwed someone over pretty well last night. Something about some obscure nephilim law about hospitality. Devon didn’t care to know the whole of it; he knew all he needed to know about the nephilim. “A nephilim may be telling you the truth, but he’s never telling you the whole truth.” And the most important: “A nephilim gives nothing away for free, not even friendly words.”

“Ndale, you look much better fed than last time I saw you.” Devon smirked down at the seated therian. “Good to know the nephilim will take pity on someone as vile as you.”

Ndale surged to his feet, though that still left him shorter than the werewolf. “It isn’t pity. I’m useful to them.”

“Because Father forbid you be useful to your people.” Devon shoved his shades up on the top of his head so he could glare mockingly at the smaller therian.

“I would be of use, were they not so narrow-min-”

Devon cut his words short by grabbing Ndale’s shirt and pulling him nose to nose. This close, Devon could smell the stink of wrongness about him. “Cannibals are the lowest of the low,” he hissed. “You kill and eat your own kind. Only those without souls would associate with you.” Ndale grabbed him back, but before they could start a fight, they were interrupted.

“Come, come.” The female nephilim at the table rose, smiling too brightly at the animalistic men about to fight. “There’s no need for that. Sit with us, have a drink with us.”

“No.” Devon shoved the hyaenithrope away from him. “I have business that has nothing to do with you and those that would associate with cannibals.”

“I could make it worth your time,” the woman wheedled as she leaned forward, letting her shirt fall open. Devon ignored her display of flesh; so many thought that the therians were slaves to their urges.

“No, and I’ve said it twice. Go for three and I’m writing it on your forehead in your blood.” Devon bared his teeth at her, a gesture that translated across species lines with satisfactory ease.

The woman peered at him thoughtfully a moment before asking, “What business?”

“Cissily-” Ndale’s growl cut off when she waved him to silence; Devon’s eyes narrowed at the proof of the hold she had over him. He hated Ndale deeply, but he wouldn’t allow any therian to be beholden to a Soulless against his will.

“None of yours.” Devon’s teeth were still showing as he glanced at the angry were. “I just wanted to say ‘hi’.” With a smirk designed to annoy Ndale--it always worked on his older brothers--Devon turned and sauntered away, turning his mind to business, not the pleasure of beating Ndale into bloody chunks he was so fond of eating.

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She savored that hour, too. She hung the dress up on the back of the door first, and then set about filling the bathtub with hot water and bubble bath. She hadn't had a proper bath in so long, and her mother had never let her daughters use expensive products like these. They were intended for wives, or young women who were courting, and even though Jasmine was past the proper age, her parents had yet to allow her to begin the elaborate human courting rituals intended to help her find a husband. It was because, she remembered bitterly, she wasn't deemed "ready" for such interactions. She had to learn to behave more womanly first, so that she wouldn't be rejected out of hand. As soon as word were to get around that Jasmine wasn't the docile, gentle daughter her parents were expected to have raised, it would become exceptionally difficult to attract suitors. She was twenty years old, and there was already plenty of speculation as to why Cardinal Gentian's daughter hadn't starting courting at the age of seventeen, like most young human women.

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Once the tub was filled, she slipped off the detested clothes, and slid slowly and carefully into the bath with a sigh. She could feel the heat soaking into her body, pulling the stress out of her very pores. She picked up a pouffy purple bath sponge, poured a generous dollop of shower gel on it, and lathered it up in her hands. Then she proceeded to take her time, enjoying the soft floral scent of honeysuckle and roses, running the sponge over every inch and crevice of her body - between her toes and fingers, across the insides of her elbows and behind the backs of her knees and every other hidden spot that you usually skimmed over during five-minute long showers . After that she washed and conditioned her hair - proof that the bathroom had been stocked for needs as well, since they'd even purchased an organic, sulfate-free shea butter shampoo perfect for her curly hair, and a conditioner to match. Somehow, she thought with an amused smirk, she doubted her perfect-looking host needed to worry about his moisturization routine.

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Once she had finally finished indulging herself (and mostly because her stomach was starting to constrict painfully at the thought of food), she toweled off, dressed, and brushed out her hair carefully. She pulled it up in a ponytail - impressed with the extent of thoroughness exhibited by Puck's personal shopper for purchasing everything down to a package of ponytail holders - and made her way into the kitchen.

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That was followed by a half-hour of fruit and coffee, which she savored, and a more thorough examination of the small guest house. She examined the living room and the clothes in her wardrobe. She made her bed, tossed the dirty clothes in the hamper (though she considered the trash, too), and slipped on a simple pair of black flats. Finally, the only unexplored area was Puck's bedroom. There was a light shining out from underneath the door that look like he had left the light on, and so for awhile she thought perhaps he was just occupying himself with a book or something. She ignored it for awhile, curling up paging through a magazine or two he had laying on his coffee table. But eventually, curiosity overwhelmed her. She made her way to the bedroom, and quietly tapped at the door.. but there was no response.

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This is stupid. He's probably not even home, he probably just left his light on.

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So, finally, she worked her courage up, turned the knob, and peered into his bedroom.

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Puck's bedroom was plush and extravagant, but instead of the impersonal neutral tones of the room she'd woken up in, this one was lavishly decorated in shades of red with white and gold accents. The curtains had been pulled tight against the daylight and neither the chandelier lights nor the nightstand lamps were on, but every detail of the room's decor was highlighted in the glow emanating from her supposed new 'master'. The beauty and light she'd seen from some of the nephilim at the casino the night before were barely sparks next to the sun curled up in black silk and leather on top of the cream-and-gold duvet on the bed. The presence she'd felt when he'd declared his claim of her the night before washed over her again, more gently than before. It felt sleepy, seeping into her skin and down along her muscles, inviting her to curl up with the exquisitely rediant nephilim sprawled out on the bed. Images tickled at her mind of what it feel like - the warmth of his skin, the silky feel of his hair, undoing the buttons of his shirt to slide her fingers over toned muscles-

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Puck's Room
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She glided forward without realizing it, drawn to the luminous creature like a moth to a flame. It was as if she were in a haze, and everything around her had just drifted to the edges. She reached the edge of the bed, her gaze locked on his sleeping form. Slowly, her hand reached forward, and then -- she stopped. She blinked, looking down at her hand, and then pulled it away and stumbled backwards. The movement jarred his nightstand, knocking over a lamp, which proceeded to crash to the ground and shatter. Puck jerked awake to the sound, and to his new parijana's startled cry of distress. "Oh God, I'm sorry!!"

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She moved her hands in swift gesture over the lamp, fingers spread out at first, and then brought together and intertwined. Nothing happened, and she blinked, and tried it again, and then a third time. Each time the pieces shook slightly, and then the third time, they started to pull together, but in a way that didn't match up properly.

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"Damnit!" She bit her lip sharply, and made the gesture again, this time angrily, and with more force. Finally, the lamp came back together, pieces sealing back as if they'd never broken in the first place. She picked it up and put it back on his nightstand, her hands shaking slightly and her pretty, cinnamon-colored cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come in here. I didn't mean to disturb you, I--"

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Puck waved her silent, rubbing his hands over his face to help him wake up. "It's fine and the lamp is fixed." A frown flickered over his expression as he looked at his glowing hands; the light and the presence receded, freeing her from the last traces of his supernatural allure. "Just, maybe, knock next time, okay?"

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She nodded dumbly, still flushed from embarrassment. There was a moment of silence while the two just looked at each other.

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"Well?" he finally mumbled, still waking up. "Did you need something?"

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"Uh, no," she stuttered, "I was just...It's afternoon..." She cleared her throat and squared her shoulders, getting a grip on herself. "I've been up for several hours and I wasn't sure if you were here or not or what I'm supposed to do as your pir- pra-"

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"Pirajana," he supplied and scrubbed his face again. "Afternoon? Okay. Have you had breakfast yet?"

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"Yeah, there was coffee and fruit in the kitchen-"

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"Good. Then I'll get dressed and call in some lunch and we can talk." He spoke over her, the way she was used to men doing, and she bit back a flare of irritation. He waved his hands at her, shooing her out of the room, "Lemme take a shower and change clothes, I'll be out soon."

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Twenty minutes later they were sitting at the dining table in the great room, platters of far more food than two non-Therians could eat in a single sitting being uncovered by a man Puck identified as Messer Geran. A tall, thin nephilim of both aristocratic and servile bearing, Geran reminded Jasmine of her first tutor. He'd been a strict man, confirmed into the Church when he was abandoned at the Cathedral of New York as a young child, and being the private tutor to her and her siblings would be the height of his career. Geran seemed more pleasant, but then he hadn't really said anything other than, "As you say, ser," yet. The last platter he uncovered held several dozen colorful cards and about half that number of small, expensive-looking gift boxes. Puck made a face at it and nodded to Geran. "Thank you. That will be all for now."

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Geran bowed. "As you say, Ser," he murmured again. He left as quietly as he'd come, one more silent servant to the rich and powerful - and their guests.

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Puck dug into the food, taking samples of most of the platters and motioning her to follow suit. She hadn't balked at being served or squirmed in her chair the way some of his occasional overnight guests had, meaning wherever she came from, it had included money and power. That was interesting in that it could be both very helpful and a pain in the ass at the same time. The last thing he needed was to have claimed some wealthy human woman on a bender before getting sold off to a husband, or even worse, one hiding from an ugly or abusive one - not that Puck would have blamed her on either account, it would just make this entire mess one more degree of complicated and annoying.

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"So," he said after they'd both cleared off some of their plates, "let's start with something simple. I'm not going to ask your name again. You didn't tell me before and human women don't show up on Ibiza without a reason. I'll call you Cinnamon until you tell me something else."

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He paused and Jasmine thought it over for a moment. "Cinnamon's fine," she finally said, but added, "for now." She pointed at the platter of card and boxes, deciding to get her own questions in before he ran over her in the conversation again. "So, what are those?"

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"These," he picked one of the cards up and scrunched his nose at it distastefully, "are your fault."

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"I asked what they were," she replied archly, "not whom to blame."

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That tugged a smile out him and he leaned towards her, tapping the card on his lips. "You're not like other human women. They all seem...broken, mostly."

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"They mostly are," she said softly, her sadness smothering the playful air of her host.

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"Well," he said after a moment, leaning back and flicking the card back onto the tray with the others, "it's a good thing you're not. A Sumaya must be many things, but they cannot be broken, cowardly, or stupid. These," he continued on before she could respond to that, "are invitations and congratulations on the establishment of my Household. Your first duty as my Sumaya will be to respond to them. It should be fairly simple, I'm declining all of them." He fished through the pile while he spoke, then pulled out one thick vellum card with a bright green ribbon wrapped around it. "Except this one." He held it out to her across the table.

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She took the card and slid off the ribbon, then flipped it over to see what it said. It was about the size of a human wedding invitation, and written on delicate vellum paper backed by heavy, expensive-feeling card stock. She skimmed it quickly, and he saw her cheeks flush again. She sat it down and picked up another, scanning it briefly as well. Then she sat it down too, trying to suppress the confusing flush of heat that the illicit and obvious letters had made her feel, chalking the confusing sensations up to embarrassment.

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"These women all want to be your.. lovers." She hesitated, and he could tell it was the first time she'd probably ever spoken the word.

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"That implies they care about cuddling or the morning after. They just want me to get them pregnant."

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She picked up the one he'd handed her again, her gaze flickering over it to the bottom. "But.. this one is from a man."

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"Yes, well, he actually does care about cuddling the morning after, which is why I'm accepting. You're welcome to come along, if you'd like." His lips curved seductively, and she responded with something other than a blush, for the first time.

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She tossed the letter down onto the pile with a slight huff, and then looked up at him, meeting his gaze straight on. "Look, I want to make this clear. I appreciate your help last night. I appreciate.. all this." She motioned towards the food, and the room, encompassing all the things he'd arranged for her in one graceful gesture of her hand. "Really. But I want to be very clear about something. I am not going to sleep with you."

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"So you left because you're a lesbian? Mikal has a cousin.. she's pretty hot." It was somewhere in between a statement and a question, and Jasmine's brow furrowed in confusion.

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"What is a lesbian?" she asked. "Why would I care about his cousin?"

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He arched a brow, now becoming a bit confused himself. "A lesbian means you like having sex with women, but not men. And Mikal's cousin is hot, and female!"

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Her eyes widened slightly, and she shook her head, looking a bit overwhelmed again. "No! I mean - I don't even know how that would work! I just don't want to sleep with you."

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"I don't understand." He blinked back at her, looking utterly confused now.

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"What's so hard about it? I don't know, or care, what you want to do with other people. I'll send out your responses, if that's part of my duties. But I do not want to have sex with you!" Something inside her felt a little off saying that, the way one might feel if they tried to convince someone the sky was green. She swallowed it back, not really understanding, but willing him to listen to what she was trying to say.

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He leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together, looked down at himself briefly, then back over to her. "Why not?"

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It was his tone of voice that caught her short. It didn't sound accusatory, so much as bewildered. "Does everyone want to have sex with you?"

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"Yes! Constantly!" He motioned to the pile of letters with an impatient wave of the hand. "Annoyingly so! That's what all of these are about! And those are just the ones that came while we were sleeping! Don't get me wrong, sex is fun. But it's nice to cuddle sometimes too."

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She blinked, a bit confused, and shook her head, looking just as bewildered as he did. "How about we just leave it at I don't, okay? If you're sick of everyone begging you to have sex with them, surely finding the one person who doesn't should be a relief, don't you think?"

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He sat there silently for a minute, trying to figure that out, and she decided it was time to move the conversation forward.. hopefully to a far more comfortable place. "So what else are my duties, as your First?"

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Puck leaned back in his chair and sighed. "You know...pretty much nothing about nephilim society, right?"

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A flippant remark sprang to her lips - about corruption and stealing souls - but she bit it back at his expression - a mix of annoyance, seriousness, and an undercurrent of something she couldn't quite pin down but that seemed a little bitter. "Yeah."

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"Okay, then, we'll start somewhere near the beginning. Nephilim society, despite appearances of being nothing more than a collection of degenerates and drug dealers, is actually highly structured. Everyone has a place - a rank, if you will - that is a combination of their familiy's standing, wealth, and influence, and their personal standing, wealth, influence, and blood purity." He idly shuffled through the small boxes as he spoke, opening them and inspecting the contents with minimal curiosity. "Blood purity is how strong their angelic heritage is and that particular aspect is the single most important determination of a nephilim's worth. The other parts can all be acquired or faked in the course of a lifetime, but purity, that's set the moment you're born. A poor nephilim of high blood purity will always outrank a thin-blooded nephilim of great wealth and influence. Take Cessily. She's a vicious little bitch, which would be more of a positive trait for her had she not been born so thin-blooded. Not only was her mother fairly thin-blooded herself, but her father is a snake therian. This means that Cessily is only half as pure as her mother. Even had her mother been somewhat pure-blooded, Cessily's non-nephilim heritage would have kicked her down several ranks below where she'd've normally been."

,,

He tossed a card decorated with pink and red roses and smelling strongly of rose petal perfume back down on the tray and shrugged, "That's racism for you. Unfair to Cessily, perhaps, but the World is the World. No matter if she had the mind and charisma to wheedle her way into great wealth and personal influence, she still lacks any noteworthy family connections and none of the important Families," he stressed the capital again, "would ever consider her for anything other than a low-ranking servant, and certainly not for mating privileges. So she'll stay at the lower edge of society her entire life. It's part of what makes her so full of spite and venom. She particularly hates me because we are opposite ends of the spectrum."

,,

He glanced up at her, flipping the next card he'd picked up between his fingers. "What you saw when you came into my room this morning? That's a mark of a pure-blood nephilim and I'd appreciate you not speaking about it to others. Janessa broke the locks, but I usually put a chair in front of the door to keep her or others from coming in uninvited." His fingers worried over the card and he wasn't quite looking at her. "The stronger a nephilim's angelic blood, the brighter they will glow when not glamoured and the more draw they will have. Their glamour will be stronger, as well, and a nephilim's lifespan is also tied to their purity."

,,

He did look up at her then, his impossibly blue eyes pinning her in place. "These are things not told to humans or therians that are not bound in service, Cinnamon. You can run away, like I said before, and it will take me time - possibly even the rest of your lifetime - to track you down, but if you speak of these things to those not bound in service to another nephilim, you will be killed by my people. As will the people you have spoken to and anyone else that is suspected of knowing. Loose lips on your part can kill dozens, even hundreds, of people. We do not share our secrets with others."

,,

"Then why tell me?" Jasmine whetted suddenly dry lips, unconsciously leaning back from him.

,,

"Because," he replied in that same serious tone he'd threatened her with, "like it or not, we are bound to one another for now and I am not yet prepared to leave Ibiza. That means you will be my Sumaya here and you will need to understand these things when dealing with other nephilim and their servants. Like Geran. You outrank him even though I am only a guest in this house. You cannot order him to betray his Family, but you can order him around, if you wanted to, and if he acts disrespectfully to you - which he won't - it would be as if he acted rudely to me. He would be punished by the Quinns, possibly even released from service if they perceived that I was offended by his behavior."

,,

She nodded, taking that in and mulling over what he'd told her so far. "The therian last night, the one with the eyes-"

,,

"Ndale, the one that was trying to get you killed?" Puck interjected.

,,

"Yeah, him. He said you hadn't claimed to be from a Family, right?" She watched him closely, learning the little tells of his movements and expressions. "But from...from what you said, about this morning and your...the way you..." She trailed off, not sure enough what she was allowed to say about it without making him annoyed or even angry.

,,

"Nephilim can't always control themselves when they sleep. Sometimes they loose their glamour completely," he explained. "Especially if they've had a stressful night." He tried to hold a stern look, but a smirk hooked onto his lips after only a few seconds. Despite the annoyance her appearance was causing him, Puck found himself liking his new human. She had a spark he'd rarely seen in human woman and the presence of mind to roll with the curves life was throwing at her.

,,

Jasmine managed not to flush at the smile and nodded, "Right. So, if you're that pure-blooded...?"

,,

"Why don't I have a Family?" he finished for her. "I do, I just don't claim them and that's all I want to talk about that." She could tell that struck a nerve with him, especially when he changed the subject as she had just a few minutes before. "Now, back to what it means to be a Sumaya. You are the head of my Household, which right now consists of you and me. Usually, you would have been groomed for this position for years, even from birth, and the establishment of my Household would have been some grand event, complete with presents of property, servants, slaves, and any number of other ornamental things complimentary to my lineage and personal success as a kizora - a young nephilim that is not a child but has not yet begun their Household."

,,

He gave her a crooked smirk. "You've officially forced me into adulthood, Cinnamon. I hope you're proud of that." His tone had that same undercurrent of bitterness, but it was cut with a self-deprecating humor. "No doubt over the next several days these invitations and presents will become more elaborate and larger. Hopefully people on Ibiza will know me well enough by now not to try sending me people, but don't be surprised if strangers show up claiming that they now belong to me. Send them back with a polite thanks but an explination that my Household is as large as I deem necessary at the moment." He glanced around the pool house and shrugged, "At the least, I don't have room for anyone else." He held up a hand as a thought occured to him, "Oh, any gifts of property must also be refused. Just say...uh...that I haven't decided where I intend to settle my household yet. That should hold them off for a while."

,,

Jasmine's eyes widened at that. "Will people really try to give you things like that?" she asked incredulously.

,,

"Oh, yes, the ones that can afford it or desperately need a mate for themselves or a female relative," he assured her with complete seriousness. "Remember the rna? Not even the gift of a mansion or country estate would be enough for any Family on Ibiza to try to claim me for rnin, and part of that is because they're kept off balance by not knowing just how pure-blooded I am or what Family I undoubtedly must belong to, but they are trying to incur enough debt with me to be able to claim a mating contract from me. I've kept the Quinn women out of my bedroom and usually been more circumspect in my sleep for the times when they were able to sneak in, but they know enough to know that I would create children of greater purity than they are - and they are the most pure-blooded nephilim in the Mediterranean, at the very least. Their prospects for mates to produce high purity children that aren't far too closely related to them is already quite a small pool of candidates, which is why they've put up with supporting me for so long even though I was upfront with them from the moment I arrived on Ibiza that I did not want to father children-"

,,

"And giving you a place to stay and whatever else they have hasn't already been enough?" Jasmine was doing her best to keep up with everything he was telling her, trying to make correlations to the human lifestyle. That wasn't working much, but she had a sharp mind and a good memory.

,,

She was rewarded with another genuine smile from Puck. "There are several things in play on that. The first is that they gain prestige from hosting me, lessening any rna I would incur from staying here. There's also some traditional hospitality rules among the nephilim that further lessen any debt I would have to them. Also, I'm very good at this." The smile turned into a cocky grin, one Jasmine was sure she was going to learn to want to smack him for in the future. "Nearly everything I've gotten from them I've gotten one or another of them to declare dana, especially when the women were initially trying to curry my favor. Finally, the Quinns can afford to be patient. They're pure-blooded, remember? And that means that they will live much longer than a human or therian. I've been here for...a while. A long time, by human standards, but by the timeline of a well-bred nephilim, I'm still 'settling in'."

,,

Her mouth had gone dry again and she asked, "How long have you been here?"

,,

"How old are you, Cinnamon?" His eyes were twinkling with amusement, but she could feel him pulling back some from her.

,,

"In my twenties," she replied vaguely, her own reservations about revealing too much about herself rushing back in.

,,

"Then I arrived on Ibiza some time shortly before or after your birth."

,,

Her jaw dropped a bit in shock and she closed her mouth with an audible clack from her teeth. He barely looked as old as her, let alone old enough to have been travelling around on his own before she was even born. "H-how old are you?"

,,

The twinkle fled from his eye and the grin disappeared completely. He put down the box he'd been hold, shutting the lid over the gem-covered tie-tack. "Old enough. That's a sensitive question to ask a nephilim, by the way, Cinnamon. Don't ask it of anyone else again unless I specifically direct you to, understood?"

,,

She nodded and he cast about the room for a moment, obviously collecting his thoughts again. "Good. Now....back to being my First. Your primary duties are to handle the affairs of my Household. That should take all of ten minutes on a busy day, as I don't plan on actually establishing a power base and playing politics on that level for a long time yet. After that, you are to attend to my needs and any duties I direct you to. Like returning these invitations. You can read, which is good. How is your penmanship?"

,,

Jasmine shrugged, "Fine. Why?"

,,

"Some of these invitations will require a written response, as opposed to a printed one." He was already sorting them out into two piles, one significantly smaller than the other. "Do you know how to use a computer?"

,,

"Yes," she answered with more of a huff than she'd intended and Puck looked up in surprise. "Like I said before, Cinnamon, most human women I've met are barely literate, if they can read at all, and haven't been allowed to use a computer for anything other than browsing for clothes and make-up. And those were the daughters or wives of wealthy, influential, or incredibly permissive human men."

,,

"Sorry," she mumbled. She sat down in a chair next to him and added, "I have good penmanship, I can type and I know how to use most programs on a computer. I am not particularly good at cleaning or healing." She tried not to sound bitter or angry, but it was difficult. The memory of failing at so simple a miracle as fixing the lamp she'd broken still stung in her mind.

,,

Puck just nodded, as if that was not only normal, but perfectly acceptable for a woman to be deficient in her proper duties. "Geran does all the cleaning and would probably have a fit if you tried, and I do my best not to get injured so I think we'll be fine there. Computer skills are much more useful. How are you with diplomacy and etiquette?"

,,

Jasmine's brow furrowed in confusion at Puck's blithe indifference to her unwomanlyness. The only kind of diplomacy or etiquette women were taught was what was necessary to set up important dinners for her husband and knowing how to keep out of sight while the men ate and socialized; being the daughter of a Cardinal, she'd learned a little more from the need for state events and photo ops, but again she was expected to be seen and not heard speaking. "I...I know a little. What do you expect me to do?"

,,

"Meet with people I don't want to or can't for social reasons, mostly. You're my interface with the public world now. It will be expected that in order to see me, formally, others will have to go through you first. The highly ranked nephilim will send their own servants, other Sumaya if they want to show respect and lesser servants if they're particularly arrogant or trying to establish that they're more highly ranked than I am. Or that they're offended at having to deal with a non-nephilim Sumaya. Ask anyone that comes to you to identify themselves and the Family they represent first thing, and send anyone that identifies a Family but doesn't identify themselves as a Sumaya away immediately. The others," he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I guess I'll need to get you a smartphone and keep a calendar with you. I'll mark the times I'll leave open for meeting with people and you'll schedule them in. Their masters, I mean. Never schedule me to meet with a Sumaya or other servant unless I've told you to. You meet with servants; I meet with the nephilim they represent, if I agree to it. Never promise or indicate that I will, only that you will check with me. You can use the phone for that as well, unless I text you that I need to think about it or need time to decide or check them out." He took a breath and blew it out slowly, going over things in his head as he continued, "Humans or therians representing themselves or another human or therian must go through you, because even after a half-dozen millenium, we still haven't gotten over having ruled over the rest of you before the Flood. Be polite to others, but remember never to accept a gift unless it is declared dana, for yourself or on my behalf. And don't lose your temper - it makes you look weak and exploitable, and rudeness itself can incur rna and since you represent me, that rna falls on me."

,,

He stopped and let silence fall between them for several moments, then tilted his head and tested her. "Now, what are the important things I just told you?" His tone and intensity belied his youthful look, giving a glimpse of that pure-blood nephilim agelessness he'd spoken of.

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She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, her mind reeling from all the new information she'd just been given. This was even more complicated than human theocratic hierarchy. She took a small sip of her water, then closed her eyes in concentration, and began rattling off all the points that he had emphasized the firmest, with only a little bit of ironic inflection sprinkled throughout.

,,

"Let's see.. blood purity is more important than anything else. Don't ever tell any of the stuff you're telling me to any non-nephilim not in the service of a nephilim, or I'm as good as dead, as is anyone I've so much as ordered a soda from ever since. I outrank the servants of other, lesser-blooded nephilm. However people treat me, it is as if they are treating you that way. Politely refuse all gifts of property and people. Asking nephilim about their age is even ruder than asking vain human women about theirs. I will be expected to meet with people who are representing people who want to meet with you. Families that don't send Firsts are trying to grandstand. You never intermingle with the help officially, that's my job. Never promise you'll do anything, only promise to speak with you about it. Humans and therians have to speak with me first, no exceptions, because of our inferior status. Make sure everything is dana, whether it's for you or me. Don't lose my temper."

,,

He saw her falter slightly there, and bite her lip nervously. "Cinnamon? You can manage your temper, can't you?"

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She nodded, but he could see her fingers twisting her cloth napkin nervously. "Yes.. most of the time. It.. it takes a lot to make me mad, anyway. All human women are taught to be mild and evenly-tempered. It's just that, sometimes.. if someone makes me really mad, I.." She swallowed, and cringed a little under his sharp gaze. "I lose it a little. But I'll do my best not to, I swear. It might be unnatural for human women to possess tempers, but that doesn't mean I haven't learned to control mine."

,,
He sat for a minute, staring at her, then burst out laughing. "By the North Star, Cinnamon, if you can hold your temper for more than five minutes with these assholes, you'll be doing better than me." He chuckled for a moment more, then leaned in towards her, "Two tricks for you. One, imagine them covered in jam or mustard or something. They'll look ridiculous and then you'll be fighting off the giggles. If that doesn't work, go to two - check your phone and pretend I sent you a message. Step away and take a moment to compose yourself. If neither of those work, call me and I'll either give you a good reason to leave or walk you through calming down and finishing up." He reached out to squeeze her hand. "Don't stress too much about it, or you'll go into already half flustered. I'll get you a phone today and we'll make it through, okay?"
,,

"Thanks." She breathed a sigh of relief, and relaxed back into her chair, glancing at all the little boxes mixed up with the cards. "What about those? Should they be returned, since they're not dana?"

,,
He picked one up, plucking out a single earring in the shape of a robin's head in profile, glossy black obsidian with a diamond eye. "These? Nah, they're trinkets. From who they're from and to someone like me, they're not worth more than a smile and pleasant greeting in public." He grinned and put it on, flicking his right earlobe to make the diamond twinkle in the light. "Besides, it's shiny."
,,

She laughed a little, and nodded. "Well, I think that was it then. Oh, wait! Don't tell anyone about your wattage." She flashed him a small grin, and between the laugh and the smile he got his first feeling that she wasn't just rolling with the punches.. she might even be enjoying part of the ride. "Did I forget anything?"

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“Wait!” a feminine voice behind him called and Devon scowled as he recognized the voice of the woman with Ndale. He didn’t slow down; he’d only left their table behind a block ago and he still hadn’t worked off his anger at the confrontation. “God damn it, just wait a second!”

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Devon spun on his heel and glared at her. “If you’re looking for a punch in the face, you just earned it with that curse.”

,,

Cissily blanched as she skidded to a halt. “My apologies, Black Wolf.” She bowed her head in contrition, and it was enough for Devon—for now.

,,

“What?” he growled, glaring at the pretty nephilim.

,,

“I have a proposal for you.” She flicked open a button on her blouse and arched her back at him.

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“Stop whoring yourself at me. I’m not going to fuck you.” Devon turned to leave, stopping only when the girl dashed in front of him.

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“Stop, wait… that’s not it!” Cissily drew herself up once he’d stopped and tried an alluring smile. She did resist flashing more skin at him. “I need some muscle. I’m willing to bet you’re in Ibiza for a reason. Let me help you. What are you looking for?”

,,

“What are you looking for?” he asked grumpily.

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She hesitated and he could see her judging if she could get him to spill first. His gray eyes bore into her lovely dark ones, clearly communicating how very few fucks he gave. “I need you to kidnap someone.”

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He quirked an eyebrow at her. “Riiiiiight. Because I would love to spend a few weeks in nephilim jail.”

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“No, you wouldn’t get caught. Puck wouldn’t even call the police because he’d be too embarrassed to do so. And it’s not like I’m telling you to kidnap a nephilim. It’s just a human.” Cissily smiled at him. “And in return, once I have my contract, I’d help you with your problem.”

,,

This is why therians had no respect for the nephilim. Kidnapping or theft would never be handled in such a lame way. A contract as ransom? “No thanks.” Devon walked past her.

,,

She still chased after him. “Why?” she whined as she got in front of him again.

,,

“First, I ain’t your go-fer, to fetch some human for you. Second, I don’t like you. Third-” His nostrils flared. “You stink like the carrion you associate with.” This time, she didn’t chase after him.

,,

Devon was thankful to leave her behind. He didn’t like nephilim, and that girl was the prime example of why. If you wanted something from someone, you went and got it from them. You didn’t send a lackey to kidnap their servant or slave so that they would give it to you. Fucking Soulless.

,,

But she had given him an idea. It was underhanded and dirty. It was exactly what a nephilim would do, which is why it might actually work…

,,

* * * * *

,,

It was surprisingly easy to find his quarry. Dropping Puck’s name at a tourist hut not only immediately got recognition, it also got him directions to the family Puck was staying with. Devon didn’t understand why Puck didn’t have his own house; the man running the kiosk had explained that he had just started his house, and that he’d had chosen a human as his First. Devon had blinked at the use of the word until he inferred what it meant to the nephilim.

,,

Regardless, the information was freely given with the delight of shared scandal; Devon was getting sick of the way nephilim conducted their business. Too bad he wasn’t anywhere close to done with them.

,,

The directions he received took him to the wealthiest part of town. Devon could tell because the houses became bigger, gaudier and gated. They also drew back further from the road, as if pulling away from the rest of the city. When Devon found the Quinns, the first task was to get past the gate. There was a button marked ‘Call’ on a box and Devon obligingly pushed the button.

,,

“Yes?” The voice that answered was erudite and snooty.

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“I’m here to see Puck.” Devon stopped there; the rest of the information was for Puck.

,,

There was a pause. “Are you representing a family, ser?”

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Devon sighed and counted to ten. “No, I’m representing myself.” He couldn’t quite keep the sarcasm out of his tone.

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“May I have your name, ser?”

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“Devon Carson.” He fully expected the response: to wait where he was until Puck deigned to see him. Typical fucking nephilim bullshit. Devon slouched against the fence and settled in for a long wait—who knew when the prince would descend from on high to see him.

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Before Puck had a chance to answer, there was a distinct rap at the door. Puck sighed slightly, and leaned back in his chair. "So it begins. Come in, Geran." The servant entered, and stood politely at the door.

,,

"There is a Devon Carson here to see--" The servant paused, realizing his mistake, and focused his attention on Jasmine instead, resuming as if he hadn't been about to make an insulting error. "--here to see Ser Puck. He is representing himself. A therian, Ser..." He trailed off, not knowing what to call the human girl.

,,

Jasmine swallowed nervously, and glanced at Puck. He smiled at her reassuringly, and motioned towards the door. "Ser Cinnamon will do, Geran. Well, your first assignment. Do me proud, I'll wait here. We don't have your phone yet, so you'll have to come back and tell me what he wants."

,,

"Alright." She stood up, and smoothed out her skirt a little nervously. Then she straightened her shoulders, and drew in a breath, heading out the door and down towards the gate. So what if she'd never met a therianthrope before? She could handle this. This was like.. a job. She never thought she'd get to have a job. And even if some rebellious part of her squirmed at the idea of being beholden to a nephilim, she did owe him her life. And it was a lot better so far than any of her other alternatives. It seemed she'd even have a measure of authority here. She knew she wouldn't be happy in this position forever, but it seemed like a good place to start trying to figure out who she was now, and what she was going to do. Puck had alluded to the fact that she would have to do this while in Ibiza.. nothing about whether he expected her to stick with him if he left the island. For now, she was going to try not to think about it too hard. She was safe, she wasn't vulture-meat, and she wasn't on her way back to the monastery.

,,

Devon saw her before she saw him. She was an attractive young thing, dressed in a simple but attractive green dress and a fashionable but simple black belt that cinched her waist prettily. Her naturally curly hair was pulled up in a ponytail, but was still long enough to hand loosely down to the middle of her back. Her skin was the same dusty brown color that he had such a fondness for, and her feet were covered with a simple pair of black leather flats. It was not how he had expected a nephilim's servant to be dressed, much less a Sumaya. She saw him and hesitated for a brief moment, and he could sense that moment of hesitation, like prey startled before a predator. It was the beginning of the same reaction he'd gotten out of the few human females he'd encountered, before they ran screaming in terror. But then she squared those pretty human shoulders of hers, and walked straight over to him, meeting his angry feral gaze head-on with a polite smile and eye contact. She had eyes the color of dark-chocolate, so brown they were almost black, but with a warm richness to them that kept them from feeling distant.

,,

"Mr. Devon Carson, I presume? My name is--" She started to move her lips in a certain way, as if she were accustomed to saying something, but had suddenly decided not to do so. "--Cinnamon. I am Puck's Sumaya. How may I help you?"

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He took a longer look at her, interest flickering when she announced her new position. When he spoke, his voice had a deep rumble to it that was a near-growl. "I told the other guy - I'm here to see Puck."
,,

Amazingly, she neither backed away, nor trembled in fear at the unfamiliar roughness of the therian's voice. Instead, her lips twitched wryly, as if she were amused by something. Then she tilted her head slightly, studying him. "I assumed. I hope you'll forgive me, but I'm a bit new at this. I must ask you what your business is with--" She paused as she realized she didn't know what she was supposed to properly call him in these formal situations, and bit back an exasperated noise. It was kind of like she were reading a script, and had suddenly forgotten her line. "--with him."

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So this was the little thing that so many were making a fuss over. Devon didn’t see the appeal. She was attractive enough, certainly—if one liked their women to be mewling, quivering masses of fear. He’d seen human women before: camp followers and nuns who tended to the wounded. It didn’t matter if they were dressed to warm the beds of the soldiers or covered head to toe in shapeless clothes: when faced with a therian, they all ran. It was nice to see some that didn’t.

,,

“I have a trade for him – information for a favor.” He pushed his sunglasses up on his face and Jasmine had another myth dispelled: he didn’t have animal eyes. His hair was shaggy and there was the hint that he bore more body hair than a human under his clothing, but there were no fangs or cat-eyes. He did have something about him that was wild and half-feral; it was the mark of Lilith, Adam’s willful wife, which her children carried.

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Her pretty little lips parted and he shook his head. “Don’t ask for more; the rest is for him.”

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Cinnamon smirked wryly. “I was going to ask if you would mind waiting here.”

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Devon looked surprised; without the grumpy scowl, he appeared younger than she had thought. “Huh, politeness. Wasn’t expecting that.” He tilted his head. “Your name really Cinnamon?”

,,

“It’s the name you can call me by,” the human told him pointedly.

,,

The impish grin came over his features suddenly; therians were unstable she’d heard, but this seemed more playful or mercurial than dangerous. “Is it ‘cause you taste good baked in a roll of dough?”

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Her eyes widened slightly, and then narrowed a bit as her nostrils flared slightly. Surely that wasn't -- anger? He'd never heard that human women were capable of the emotion, but this one looked as incensed as a felethrope about to take a swipe at him. She blinked the reaction away quickly though, and if it weren't for her rejoinder, he'd have almost thought he imagined it.

,,

"No, I believe it's because I'm slightly bitter, and useful for driving away irritating pests. Thank you so much for waiting, Mr. Carson, I'll go find out if Puck wishes to see you." She turned and walked away from him, chin tilted at an impertinent angle. She opened the door to the pool house and stepped back in, trying to keep her voice smooth and the temper out of it. With luck, the therian wouldn't mention her little outburst, and Puck wouldn't be the wiser.

,,

He was sitting on the couch, a fingertip moving slowly over the screen of a tablet. Access to the internet was a restricted privilege back at home. Jasmine, her sisters, and her mother had all been allowed access to certain devices, but with their own passwords and screen names that had heavily restricted their site allowances. Human women were exposed only to what media their husbands or fathers allowed them to be exposed to, and to what was deemed 'gentle enough' for female eyes and ears. Puck glanced up at her, and beckoned her over to where he sat. "Well, what does he want?"

,,

"He wants to speak with you about a trade - knowledge for a favor. I tried to ask him more, but he told me he would say nothing else, except to you." She reached the sofa and took the electronic tablet he held out to her, glancing down at it.

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There was a picture of the therian displayed on the screen, and Puck gestured to it eagerly. "Well, is that him?"

,,

"Yes.. yes, that's him." She handed the screen back to him. "Who is he?"

,,

"He's the Black Dog - nephew of Michael Carson, the First - leader of the therians." He tapped the back button on the screen, which took him back to a news article about the shape-changer waiting for him at the gate. "Well, don't just stand there, Cinnamon - bring him to me! I wonder what he wants."

,,

Puck sounded intrigued, even a little excited. Jasmine on the other hand looked a little nervous, and didn't move immediately towards the door. "Oh God. I.. may have been a bit of a.. smart-mouth."

,,

Puck blinked slightly, a little startled that she'd managed trouble quite so quickly. "Well, hrm. Let's hope he doesn't kill me, then."

,,

Her eyes widened a bit and she stared at him, looking a bit afraid. It would have been soothing to the ego after that whole 'I won't have sex with you' incident from earlier, if he hadn't been fairly convinced she was more afraid of what would happen to her if he died so soon after accepting her as his Sumaya. He motioned towards the door again, his voice amused and only a little reproving. He was fairly convinced the therian wouldn't kill him this far into nephilim territory. ""Let's not keep the furry killing machine known as the Black Dog waiting, Cinnamon."

,,

She started at that, and nodded again, looking a little less sure of herself this time. But she made her way back out to the gate again, and opened it for him this time, trying her best to maintain that smooth, unruffled attitude she'd used before. "Come in, Mr. Carson. Puck has agreed to see you. If you could please follow me."

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He probably shouldn’t have made the joke, Devon mused as he watched her stalk away. He enjoyed watching her go; she was fit and human women were built, superficially, like therian women. So were nephilim women, for that matter. The difference was that therians were typically more heavily muscled than either of the two races. Devon could admit he found humans or nephilim attractive; they were just cowards or untrustworthy, and he didn’t want either in his bed.

Devon didn’t want to be here. It wasn’t that he hated these people; it was that this was a battle that he wasn’t used to fighting. Therians didn’t sit down and talk much; deeds counted far more than sounds. Yet he was on a mission where his claws were a detriment and his mouth was not to be used for biting. It sucked.

It would also cement his place in his people’s hearts, if he could pull it off. That’s why Uncle Mike had sent him--not just because he had faith in Devon, but as a benediction of worthiness. If Devon could work out how to keep his people free from this threat, he would be First in deed, and the words would follow. This path before him wasn’t easy for him or any therian, though.

The werewolf slipped his shades down and leaned against the stone wall, relaxing into the sun-warmed rocks. Somewhere, a bird was singing; he could smell the sea and the sun-dried earth; he felt warm and content. Behind his closed eyes, he was at peace, for the moment.

Her return interrupted his peace but he showed no irritation. He wanted to get on with this and was already in motion by the time she was done talking. “Devon.” He said the name as he stepped through the open gate.

“Pardon?”

This close to him, without the gate between them, the human realized how large he was. It wasn’t just his height; he had a presence that filled more space than he physically occupied. “Call me Devon. ‘Mister’ is a human term. Though I appreciate the courtesy, it’s unnecessary. Don’t take offense that I’m requesting you not use human or nephilim terms on me.”

“What should I call you?” she asked as she led him to Puck’s residence.

“Devon. Black Wolf. Carson. Hey, you.” He shrugged as they entered the building and came under the influence of the house’s cooling system. Devon pulled off his sunglasses and tucked them into his front pocket. “Words are air. Though Black Wolf is close to a formal title, if you’re required to use that.”

“Not...” Cinnamon’s voice trailed off.

“Black Dog? Call me that if you want your arms ripped off.” The threat was leveled casually but Devon was proud that he’d said the hated name without much of a growl in his tone. “That’s what the fucking humans call me. Little shits got tired of me murdering them so they twisted my other name into an insult.” He remembered that he was talking to a human, but he wasn’t going to play tame pet for her, or this Puck guy.

“It must be a little like having someone use your name to compare you to a pastry?” Cinnamon asked brightly and with a suspicious amount of earnestness.

Devon did a double-take, blinking at her. For a moment, it looked like he might lash out; then he threw his head back and laughed. It was a booming sound, proceeding them into the room where Puck waited. “Yes, it is a little like that.” He wanted to say more--what therian wouldn’t want to talk to the wonder that was a smart-mouthed human woman? But they were approaching Puck, and as much fun as Cinnamon was, he had serious business with the man of the house--or whatever Puck was. As he approached, he tilted his head at the nephilim in a gesture of neutrality but waited for Cinnamon to do the formal introductions. He didn’t even know Puck’s title, and he knew the nephilim would want him to use it. They always did.

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Jasmine couldn't help feeling a little heady. Since arriving here, she'd done little except for act in all the ways that she wasn't supposed to back at home, and this was the second person it seemed to impress, or at least amuse, instead of offend. Maybe it was due simply to the novelty, but she was willing to go with it. At least she wasn't quite as worried about the repercussions. She stepped in and held the door open for him, motioning him into the luxurious pool house.

,,

"Puck, this is Devon Carson, known formally as Black Wolf. Black Wolf, this is... Puck." She put a slight emphasis on the 'Wolf', just so that Puck was clear about the difference. But when it came to Puck, she hesitated a brief moment before giving his name. He'd given her no formal name to call him by, and the only name she'd heard anyone else use was 'of no claimed family', which had sounded suspiciously like an insult at the time. Also, it's what he'd been called by Ndale, which didn't seem like a good person to take her cues from. If her new 'boss' wanted her to call him something more official, he'd have to tell her what it was. She stood between the two men, though off to the side so they could greet each other, however that was going to work. "Ser, would you like me to wait here, or in another room?"

,,

"You can stay, Cinnamon." He nodded his head at the door slightly, and she caught his meaning and closed it behind Devon, so the two men would have privacy. Then she stepped off to the side of the room and sat down in one of the various accent chairs, alert and as curious as Puck was about what the nephew of the First wanted to talk about. She strongly doubted it had anything to do with nephilim breeding practices.

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Puck kept his seat, unlike the human tradition of standing and shaking he hands. He motioned for Devon to take a seat himself, and watched the therian curiously, trying to hold back his usual boyish enthusiasm for new and interesting things. "So, what sends the Black Wolf, nephew of the First, to Ibiza? Since you're here and not hip-deep in sex and drugs already, I assume it's not the usual reason."

,,
"This is business." Devon didn't seem entirely comfortable with his business. "I need some help, something that therians can't do themselves, and in return, I offer you therian help."

Puck arched a brow and stood up, pacing over to a large crystal decanter of strong bourbon and poured them both glasses; he held one out to Devon. "Well, I might be able to help you, depending on what it is you actually need, but I'm a bit curious as to what kind of 'therian help' you think I need?" he asked, his tone inquisitive rather than sinister.

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"I've been approached to kidnap your Sumaya." Devon actually winked at Cinnamon, and took the drink, "and I coulda done it to, if I'd snatched her at the gate. However, I'm not even interested in that. First, I'll let you know who approached me, but better, I'll spread word among the therians not to help anyone moving against your Sumaya."
,,

Puck lounged back into his chair, sipping at the bourbon. "That might be helpful," he conceeded, but continued, "except that the most likely therians to do such a thing would be in the service of a nephilim and not care one shit what you told them once they were out of your admittedly esteemable presence." He watched Devon with curious lidded eyes, "What do you need? If I know that I could tell you what it would be worth in return from me."

,,
"True, I don't have any influence over bottom-feeders. But I'm not in service, and I was approached." Devon paused and lifted his drink to his lips. Puck noticed him stop before it reached his lips, his nostrils flaring wide. Lowering the glass without drinking, he continued, "I need to get to a human of influence and speak with them. I'd be helpful if they were a human who didn't have their head lodged up God's ass so far all they hear is His farts."
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From the corner of the room, they heard a small, un-genteel sound - something in between a snort and a laugh. Both men turned and glanced at Jasmine in surprise, and she'd covered her lips with her fingertips, her eyes wide with embarrassment. She was pretty sure she'd just broken at least a half-dozen formal etiquette rules. "I'm so sorry - please. I didn't mean to interrupt."

"I don't mind you interrupting at all." Devon was grinning like a wolf.

Puck waved her over to join them. "What's on your mind, Cinnamon? And drink his bourbon, if he's not going to," his challenged both of them, his grin infectious.

"I mean no insult," Devon assured Puck, even as he extended the glass to the human. "Strong alcohol smells make drinking strong liquor unpleasant."

Jasmine studied Puck for a moment, and her lips twitched. She had been mortified, afraid she was making for a very poor Sumaya. But she was starting to get the feeling that her unorthodox methods might be just what her new 'master' would be able to tolerate. She shrugged slightly, then stood up and walked over, taking the glass from Devon. She sat down with them, and took a small sniff at the bourbon. She'd never had strong drink herself, but what the hell. "Well.. it's just that.. I don't know what humans you've met, but.. there's no such thing. Maybe Puck knows something I don't. But all influential human men have been afflicted with that.. aforementioned problem. So.. good luck with that."

Devon slumped into his chair, scowling. "Is there one that would listen to a therian with a major issue? Something that concerns human interests?"

Puck sat back, mulling that problem over in his head. "I guess it would depend on what the interest actually is..." The prompt wasn't subtle, but he couldn't really even point the Black Wolf in a better direction until he knew what was going on.

Devon glared at his clasped hands for a moment. "Therians all over the world are being approached by a strange man. He's offering them friendship, but my uncle has come to believe that they are looking for soldiers for a war. Namely, front line soldiers." Devon looked up at Puck and Cinnamon as he added, "He calls himself Samael."

Jasmine's brow furrowed slightly. "War? What kind of war?"

Puck nearly jerked upright. No one, no one gave their children angelic names, except for the occasional touched nephilim. It was bad luck, like naming the child Death or as blasphemous as naming them God. "Samael? Are they nephilim?"

Devon glanced at Jasmine, first. "He's promising to give us back the lands the humans took. All of them, from North America to Europe." When he glanced at Puck, he hesitated. "I haven't met him. But the therians I've spoken with didn't think they were. They..." Devon paused, the hesitation of a man who's expecting to be called a nut or a liar. "They didn't know what he was."

Puck ran a hand through his hair and leaned forward. "Do they have any suspicians?"

Again the Black Wolf paused, a motion that seemed unnatural to him. "Maria thought he was a nephilim at first. But she didn't know by the end of it."

"Why didn't she know? Did he use human miracles?" He caught Devon's eyes, some of his glamour slipping just enough for his eyes to deepen into cereulean blue. "Did she describe anything useful?"

"He glowed. Maria had heard that the neffs did that, so that's what she thought. But he arrived in a storm that left the moment he stepped foot on land, he glows brightly even in daylight, and he restored Maria's eye." Devon pointed at his own left eye as he explained, "She lost it to an attempted rapist years ago. The neff knew that, which he shouldn't since she killed the fucker, and he healed it. She can see out of it and everything. By the way, I'm talking about the First of the Americas. She's not a woman prone to making shit up."

Puck stood up and started pacing nervously. "And she's certain he wasn't a human, just doing... something... to look like a nephilim? The glowing?"

Devon frowned. "Can humans glow? I always thought that was a nephilm-exclusive thing."

Puck glanced at Cinnamon and shrugged, "I've never met one that could without setting themself on fire or something, but... Cinnamon? Is that something a powerful human sanctified could do?"

Jasmine bit her lip slightly. "I've never met a human who could do spells like that, not even a sanctified. That sounds very.. nephilim. Human miracles traditionally doesn't effect appearances - the Church calls it 'Altering the Intention of God'. More proof of nephilim ungodliness."

"No. Several therians have heard about it. Word's getting around." His gray eyes narrowed. "What are you thinking?"

He collapsed back into a chair, looking pensive, "That you're sitting on a mountain of powderkegs the moment this gets back to other nephilim. Look, I don't know any living influential humans, and even those that might still be around certainly wouldn't agree to a sit-down with a... therian. Even, well especially the Black Wolf. I doubt there even are any."

"That might not be true." The two men turned to her, brows arched and expressions surprised. She took a tentative sip of the bourbon, and though she blinked slightly and grimaced a little at the taste, she sort of liked the slow burn that it left as it went down. As the two men watched her, she settled back in the sofa slightly, her mind quickly recalling all the important men of the Church she'd met over the years. Men she'd met at important sermons, with high-ranking family mingling encouraged at small soirees afterwards. Men she'd met at charity luncheons and promotion encouragement events. Men she'd met while she'd served dinner at her family's home in New Orleans, or at expensive hotel suites in various cities. She took another small sip, then straightened and sat the glass down. "Look, most influential men of the church are pure politicians. They're ambitious, they're in it for the power and the prestige. You're shit out of luck with those men, because even the risk of meeting with or speaking to a nephilim or a therian isn't worth the risk to their career." Her father was in this category, and her voice held the grim familiarity of one who knew that type of man too well. "Then there are the truly holy men - the ones who aren't going to listen to either of you because you're Beasts and Soulless-- foul creatures that speak nothing but lies. But.. there may be a few. A few of them who might listen, if the reason were important enough. There aren't many though, because human men who serve to truly honor God and protect his children rarely make it to the upper clergy. They're too busy doing God's work on the ground to worry about climbing the ladder."

"But can they talk up the ladder?" Devon asked eagerly. Puck just watched her quietly while she spoke, reevaluating her once again.

She drew in another deep breath, then let it out. Speaking with lower, more honorable men - priests, maybe a much loved deacon or two - that might be the way to go. "Maybe. Maybe they can. Such a priest can have great influence over a bishop, because they hold the love of the congregation in their hands. Common humans.. the non-clergy.. they don't care as much for the opinions of the bishops, or the cardinals. They care about their priests and their deacons, and if you could convince some of the priests of the legitimacy of your concerns, if they feel their congregations are in danger... it might work."

"If." Devon said the word distastefully.

She shrugged slightly, looking apologetic. "Look, human children are fed horror stories of your people from the moment they're born. You are their boogeymen, the monster under their bed. Disobedient children are threatened with being thrown out into the wilderness, and 'left for the wolves'. They're not talking about the ones who spend their whole lives on all fours. I've no doubt your people speak just as disdainfully of us - that there are things you believe of all of us that may not be true."

"It's a better chance than just a 'n-" Puck was interrupted by a beeping from his phone; he pulled it just to glance at it. His eyes widened and color drained from his face. "Uh, Cinnamon," he said, his voice trembling slightly, "could you arrange that for Devon, here? Meeting someone he could talk to?"

She looked at him, a expression a mixture of curiosity and concern. "Um.. I doubt it. I'd have a hard time getting one to even listen to him, much less travel here in order to do so."

"Oh, no, no, I meant we'd go to them," he managed to glance up at her, then back down to the phone. "Yeah, we go to them. Would that work?"

"Yeah, if that's what we got to do. Wait, we?" Devon caught the phase right as he spoke.

Jasmine's eyes narrowed suspiciously, and she studied her new 'boss'. He seemed awfully anxious to jump onto this bandwagon, all of a sudden. "Yeah.. we?"

Puck nodded again, tapping on the touchscreen of his phone while he spoke. "Yeah. Here's the deal. We help you out on this thing, until the situation with this 'Samael' is dealt with. In return for the assistance of myself and my Sumaya, you are our bodyguard. If we at any point refuse to continue assisting you, you are released from guarding us but cannot take retaliatory action against us for our refusal. Agreed?" It was a fairly direct deal, incredibly direct as far as nephilim bargaining went, but there was certainly more to the situation than Puck was sharing.

"Not until I hear why." Devon had his head tilted to the side; the gesture reminded Puck of a predator sizing up dinner.

Puck stood up again, all nervous energy, and began fiddling with the phone, prying at the plastic case. "The short story is that I don't much like the people I grew up with. I left home, they don't think that should have been an option, and I just got an alert from a friend that some of them are headed to Ibiza because of the stir from last night. So I have to leave Ibiza. I can either go somewhere remote and utterly uninteresting, or you can agree and get my and her," he nodded at Cinnamon and the case popped open in his hands; he broke the SIM chip into small pieces, "help. Or you could shop around for another nephilim to help you. One that doesn't have any need you can play off of at the moment."

"Am I going to have to fight nephilim to keep you safe?" Devon was as blunt as one would expect the therians to be. "That's not an objection, just a clarification of who you'll be expecting me to guard you from."

"Nephilim, therians you won't like anyways, and humans." He ditched the useless phone on the table and looked around the room. "I really liked it here, too," he complained, "I got presents all the time...."

"Wait!" She licked her lips nervously, looking a little twitchy herself. "Puck, I'm so sorry I got you into this mess - if you hadn't have stepped in like that, and saved my life, I don't know.. I mean, I'd be dead. But.. I - I can't promise anything! I don't even know if they'll listen to me, I'm a -- I'm a woman."

"They just have to listen to me, and I do have a cock, so maybe that means something." Devon looked to Puck. "We're agreed. We leaving now?"

"No, stop! Look, I'm - I'm being hunted too." She couldn't let this man agree to protect her, when it wouldn't be from something he'd agreed to in the terms. It felt wrong, and her inherent honesty refused to let her trick him like that.

Puck put his hands over his face and tried not to scream. "Okay...are you being hunted in a particular country? What if we go somewhere other than Europe? America? Japan? We've got ten minutes to figure this out and get packed before we have to be on a plane that's being readied as we stand here and talk."

"You two work this out. I need to call my hotel and get my stuff dropped at the airport." Devon stepped back from them and pulled out his phone. He'd known he might have to move fast, so he was ready. It was just annoying to not even get to sleep in that nice bed first.

"Not the airport, here." Puck corrected him. "We won't be leaving by the airport."

Devon nodded, even as someone answered and he started to talk to them.

,,

"Europe, last I checked, but the only help I can probably be is in America. My father is hunting for me. I'm an embarrassment, and he's a very ambitious man. I haven't broken any human laws, but he checked me into a monastery so I wouldn't sully his name, and he won't just let me disappear on my terms, now that I've escaped. If I'm spotted in America, he'll hunt for me there." Jasmine ran a hand through her hair, looking as frazzled as Puck did now.

"If you're spotted anywhere he'll hunt for you, from the sounds of it." he said. "Is there someone in America who will listen to you?"

,,

"Maybe." She shrugged, looking unsure. "It's the only chance we've got."

,,

"The pilot needs a city, so you'd better figure one out by the time we get to the plane." He was still shaken, but the nephilim seemed a little more relaxed now that they had a destination in mind to flee to.

,,

Jasmine swallowed, picked up the drink, and downed the rest of it. She'd never had heavy liquor before, but she'd heard it had a dulling effect - there were many men who drank it to quench anxiety. She winced at the burn of it from one gulp like that, then glanced at Devon as he hung up the phone. "Are you sure you're okay with that part, too?"

,,

"Killing for you.. killing for him.. doesn't make a difference to me," he said with a wolfish grin.

She nodded, then glanced at Puck. "Do you have a bag I could throw some things in?"

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