Perry dropped his duffel bag on the stony bank of the lake. He hadn’t come back out here once in the last three weeks—not since he’d had to carry Mystery back home. But today it was necessary. He’d crept out of the brewery as soon as Max and Shepherd had left for the countdown party. The Faire was transitioning back to reality in a matter of minutes, and Perry couldn’t afford to go with. There was no way he could show his face back on Earth. Not after what he’d gotten into in prison. Not after who he’d fucked over.
Dangerous people would be watching the Faire. Several of the others knew this, and Max and Shepherd had agreed that Perry should probably stay behind, but nobody else seemed to take the threat seriously. They seemed to think that if the Faire could protect them from Kelderman, the drug lord, during Max’s first year here, they could survive whatever stupid trouble the idiot addict Perry
A few years ago, Perry might have agreed. But not now. The magic of the town was failing. They’d barely made it to the Glen at the end of last season—and even that
had been thanks to Mystery’s freaky powers. Perry doubted that the traces of magic still residing in the town could protect him the way Max had been protected, three years before.
That lack of magic was why the town’s leaders were so worried about helping Mystery find his chump volunteer. Sure, Mystery could manipulate a little bit of magic. But if anyone from Splinter caught wind of Perry’s location after his two-year stint digging up secrets, Perry didn’t trust that Mystery alone could handle the shit inevitably coming the Faire’s way. He’d incurred the wrath of one of the largest drug rings in the States.
Perry had seduced Gary Rock—one of Splinter’s disgraced lower-level members—while in prison, and gotten a few very interesting names to pass on to the FBI. One was Christopher Hale, a rich and supposedly squeaky-clean politician. Another was Abel Axon, the head of another organized crime family on the West Coast, one that the FBI hadn’t realized was working with Splinter. Apparently, that name alone got the Bureau to double the number of people on Yves’s team. Axon wasn’t one to mess with.
So Perry was taking steps to stay in the Glen and make sure he didn’t put himself or anyone else in harm’s way. And almost as importantly, he’d be out from Shepherd’s and Max’s watchful gazes. The two of them smothered him, and only Shepherd actually liked him.
It’d gotten tedious.
Perry sat down as the darkness around him intensified. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do, now that he had three months of free time stretching ahead of him. He didn’t have a place to live yet, so that’d be first. All the cabins around the lake were occupied by people who tended the crops that weren’t located within the town’s walls, so he’d have to build something himself. Or find a shed.
Perhaps he’d help with the harvest. He’d never been the sort to get his hands dirty actually growing things. He’d never really thought about farming before. Or gardening. Or, really, anything that had to do with food. His passion had always been chemistry, when he’d really cared about anything at all.
But after diving into the dark side of chemistry, he didn’t dare get into anything more in-depth than a batch of yeast for brewing. He’d made promises to Shepherd he didn’t intend to break again. He’d learned a lot of hard lessons during his time away.
The stars dimmed, and Perry leaned back as thick white fog rolled across the sky.
A faint gasp sounded behind him, and he jolted upright and looked around. Nobody else had been along this stretch of the lake. He’d made sure of that. He hadn’t wanted to get dragged back to the town before transition.
A small bright-blue orb caught his eye. It hovered not ten feet away from him, just along the tree line.
“Not another one of you,” Perry said. He wanted to chase it away, but then he remembered the bruises coating Mystery’s chest. The orbs had done that. Somehow. He grimaced and flinched away.
“I won’t hurt you.”
The voice sounded familiar. With a jolt of surprise, Perry thought of the chestnut-haired girl he’d met in the ruined building when he’d found Mystery. Her accent was the same, even if it came from some strange ball of light.
“You’re one of them,” he said. He’d known she was one of them, of course, but hearing her voice come out of the ball really drove it home.
“Of course I am,” the voice said. It sounded quite a bit less perky than he remembered. Almost like the orb was sad. “But I was one of you, long ago.”
It took a shuddering breath, almost as if it was crying, and Perry cringed. He never did do well with tears, even if he couldn’t see them. Where in the hell did an orb cry from, anyway?
“You should be in town with your Mystery.”
“No, I shouldn’t.” Perry rolled his eyes.
“You are the chosen. You need to twine with him, and that process must start on the other side of the veil. You cannot do it here.”
“Like hell. They can choose someone else.”
“But your Mystery has his heart set on you.”
Perry scowled. “No he doesn’t. And if he did, he shouldn’t. Literally anybody else would be better. Besides, it’s too late.”
“It’s never too late. Especially not when one of the Anai is involved. And Mystery still thinks mostly like an Anai, even if his form is slowly becoming human.”
“He’s got to be too busy making the town move to worry about me. The magic can’t do it alone anymore.”
“I am aware.” Her voice cracked and strained. “I can barely feel Roima anymore.”
“Is Roima the one you volunteered to twine with?” Perry frowned as mist spread through the Glen. The magic had started to dance along his skin in tiny prickles, and he felt a little sick with it. He wondered how long it would last when he wasn’t actually getting transported.
“I wasn’t a volunteer. I was told, and I obeyed. But it was the best thing to happen to me. I will never regret it, even if I’m angry and bitter at this moment. I’ve spent a thousand years tied to her, loving her, laughing with her, and I can’t bear thinking about life without her.”
Her glowing blue pulses slowly dimmed as the mist seeped between them. Perry couldn’t see across the lake anymore. The quiet noises of the Glen seemed muffled now, too, and he closed his eyes in the descending peace. He was surprised to find the fog so thick this far away from the town’s transition. He wondered how far out it spread.
“It looks like you won’t be able to escape him anyway.” The orb’s voice was barely audible. And then it gave a little ripple of startled laughter.
“The fuck do you mean?” But an absolute silence fell over him, and it felt suffocating. The rock he’d been sitting on vanished. He plummeted, seemingly in free-fall, and terror threatened to overwhelm him. He hadn’t escaped after all.
The prickle of magic had sharpened into a series of stings. The magic pulled at him, just like it pulled on everyone inside the town’s walls. With every pulse of his heartbeat, his panic grew stronger.
no. He couldn’t go back. He didn’t want to fucking die.
He opened his eyes, and all he saw was white. His feet had nothing beneath them, no matter how he kicked and lashed out. The sting of the magic intensified more than he’d ever felt it, tearing at him like a hundred knives, and for a moment, he thought his skin would rip off in long, tattered shreds. This was so much worse than traveling in the town. His stomach roiled and heaved, and he puked. Over and over, his stomach emptied until nothing more came up. Most of the vomit had vanished into the emptiness, but some splattered across his clothing. The tang of bile clung to his mouth, but even throwing up didn’t ease the sickness in his gut, and he kept heaving.
It was worse than the withdrawals he’d had going cold turkey both times he’d been forced to quit his cocaine habit.
He fell for what felt like hours. Vomit stained his shirt, soaking through the cotton and cooling. The scent lingered long after his stomach finally gave up.
Then his feet hit something solid, and he crumpled down onto ground as hard as cement. His bones felt like they’d been reduced to fragments. He threw out his hands, breaking his fall at the last minute, but his head still struck the earth. White-hot pain lanced through his body. He thought he was going to be sick again. His vision sparked as he went as still as he could manage. He hurt everywhere, and he felt like someone was dangling him above a pot of boiling water, he felt so fucking hot.
“Well, that certainly wasn’t expected.”
Perry groaned and tried to roll away. The voice sounded like it belonged to Zion, and Perry really didn’t want his ex-boyfriend to see him like this.
“Is he okay? He doesn’t look good.” That came from Zion’s boy toy. The architect. Vin? Vin. Perry was pretty sure that was his name, anyway.
“Oh hell. I’ll go get Doc.” Spear, this time—one of the only people in the Faire Perry was genuinely a little frightened by. Max was scarier but more straightforward. Perry knew when he needed to get the fuck away from Max. Spear just had an aura of menace around him that never went away.
“I’ll be fine,” Perry said. The nausea was already fading, and the worst of the hurt leached from him in strange, soothing waves. He rolled onto his back and opened his eyes. The setting moon was just a thin sliver.
“Doesn’t matter,” Spear said. “It still might be a good idea to get checked over. I’ll hit Doc and let him know about you before I go see my brothers.”
“You go find Keegan and Vasily. I’ll take care of Perry.” A faint, familiar scent hit him even over the intense funk of all the sick covering his shirt. Someone smelled like the Glen. They smelled like magic—clove and spice and wind and cedar and dirt and the grass after it rained. Perry wanted to cry with the familiarity and safety of it.
A shadow fell over him, and a hand touched his cheek. It felt delightfully cool against Perry’s still-heated skin. His headache disappeared almost immediately, and he sighed into the touch.
“Perry?” Mystery spoke, his voice soft and tentative. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
Perry struggled to sit up. Something had gone wrong. Terribly wrong. He definitely wasn’t okay, though not in the way Mystery was asking. “I just got pulled through space and time like a dog on a fucking leash.”
“The same as the rest of us,” Zion said, shaking his head. “Only you weren’t with us earlier. You just sort of landed here as the fog cleared.”
“Yeah. Because I wasn’t actually in the town to begin with.” Perry managed to make it upright, and dizziness hit him hard. He reached out to steady himself, and Mystery caught his arm. Everything hurt, right down to his core, and he leaned heavily on Mystery for a moment while he adjusted to all the new sensations coursing through him.
“You were by the lake,” Mystery said as Perry finally found his balance. “I panicked. I could feel you when I had to help move everyone, but you were so distant. So I grabbed you too. I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t.”
Perry wanted to pick Mystery’s statement apart, but he was too exhausted to try now. “Shit. I wanted to stay behind. I needed to.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Nobody told me that, and you’re important, and—I’m sorry.” Mystery sounded like someone had just set fire to his most beloved possession, and his gaze was wide and watery.
Perry closed his eyes. He didn’t need to deal with it now. He was upset, sure—or he would be, when the hurt and exhaustion fell away—but Mystery didn’t seem to have brought him intentional harm. He couldn’t blame the other man. “I think I need a shower.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Zion said. “You look like shit and smell like worse.”
And all Perry could think as he stumbled back to the brewery—Mystery keeping him steady the whole way—was that his plan had backfired spectacularly.