Daphne led us to a small room off the main ‘courtyard’ with the marble tree, which held a table made for four, and some cooking implements on another, smaller table, that were usually reserved for camping trips. No electricity in the tunnels, I supposed.
As Daphne busied herself with making what looked like tea, Oliver chose the seat where his back was to the wall and he faced the entrance to the courtyard. Thinking Daphne might feel better with at least one seat between her and one of us, I took the one to Oliver’s left, so as not to obstruct his access to his Null Stick.
Most Omnies had some kind of magical or psychic ability, but were still human enough that the general human populace didn’t want to see them behind bars, or dead. They were the middle ground between full-blown supernaturals, like vampires, shifters, Weres, Strixes, Naiads like Daphne, and so on, and the regular run-of-the-mill Ords. While the Omnies couldn’t always go toe-to-toe with supernaturals on their own, they usually did okay in groups.
As for Oliver, I’d never seen him use anything but the Null Stick, which meant his abilities were probably more psychic than magical, like say a Witch or Shaman. Now wasn’t the time to press him about it, but it did make me wonder if his ability was why he didn’t have a partner, when almost all of the other Omnies did.
Daphne was finished with the water for tea, and set the cups of steaming liquid down in front of us, along with a box of various teas to choose from. She chose the seat next to me, leaving an empty spot between her and Oliver.
“It’s not as good as loose-leaf, of course, and the water here has never been right for a good tea, but it’s passable,” she said by way of apology, as Oliver and I chose what kind of tea we wanted.
“I’m sure it’s great, Daphne,” Oliver said, and chose a black tea from the selection. Daphne’s shoulders relaxed a bit at the reassurance, and I chose the same kind as Oliver. Anything to help fortify me for what was to come.
After a few minutes of letting the tea steep, we all took a few sips. It tasted great, despite her protestations, though I usually enjoyed mine with a little sugar and even more cream. After the day I’d had, though, something hot and delicious was much appreciated.
“Strixes,” she started, by way of breaking the silence, “are usually heralds of woe and chaos–ill omens. How badly the situation is will depend on the number of Strixes gathered at a location.” Daphne turned her lovely gaze to mine, and her worry did nothing to diminish her beauty. “How many did you see?” she asked, and I drew back at the question. How in the world had she known I was the one to see them? Did I have a freaking stamp on my forehead?
She waved a dismissive hand at my reaction. “If you were not a witness, Oliver would not have brought you along; he’s not one to lightly put others in danger.”
I relaxed, and then shrugged. “Five, that I could see.”
Daphne pursed her lips and considered her tea. “Did any of them have golden eyes, to match their beak?” she inquired. I pursed my lips and recalled the memory, but after a moment I shook my head.
“No, all their eyes were amber, and pupil-less.” I shuddered at the memory and took another fortifying sip.
“How odd,” she murmured, and considered her drink, a frown forming between drawn-down brows, though once she changed expressions no hint of it would remain, I was sure. “Many have gone through great lengths to destroy anything concerning the Strixes and their habits–sort of like destroying the instructions to an early warning system.
“What I do know is they generally travel in flocks, and the leader of the flock has golden eyes to match the beak. Five is not usually cause for concern, but five without a leader among them…” she trailed off, following some line of thought in her head. Whatever it was, she didn’t like where it led her, and she leveled a concerned look at Oliver.
“Five Strixes, including a leader, could mean a minor ecological disaster, or natural one. It could also foreshadow rioting with minor to moderate casualties, and events on those scales. Five Strixes with no leader could mean something much worse; it is usually a pattern shown when they are attempting to spread the chaos and feeding of chaos around the city.”
It was news to me that Strixes fed off the chaos they supposedly heralded, aside from whatever flesh and blood meal they consumed, but it wasn’t outside the realm belief. You learn something new every day, my mother’s words echoed in my head. However, I didn’t think this was exactly what she meant when she’d told me that.
“So based on previous activity like this, what could we expect?” Oliver prompted after Daphne fell into silence. Her concern turned grim.
“Think almost worst-case, like category four hurricanes, disasters with under fifty-thousand casualties, or coup d’etats where almost all the leadership is disposed of,” she said, and dropped her gaze to ponder the depths of her cup.
I sucked in a breath at her estimations, and looked over to Oliver. He shook his head, and pulled a cell phone from an inside jacket pocket.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said, heading out of the little room, and across the courtyard.
“Do they always come before natural or man-made disasters, and is it just anywhere?” I asked, curiosity and a need to fill the silence loosening my tongue.
Daphne sighed sadly and looked over to me. “Anything that is likely to cause sufficient chaos and woe can attract them, though it isn’t always a guarantee; Strixes are not the only ill omens of the world. If we had more than just Strixes, I’d be far more concerned than I am.”
“Huh, you and me both,” I muttered darkly. “Do you think anyone controls them, since they don’t seem to show up to each one?” I pondered, more aloud than to her in particular, but she shrugged in response.
“Perhaps. There are always rumors, or boasts, of such feats, but nothing anyone could ever prove conclusively–one way or the other.”
She quieted once again, and I couldn’t think of anything interesting to add, or ask, on the subject, so we simply waited for Oliver. By her very nature, she made it difficult not to openly stare at her–Naiads were incredibly beautiful, after all. Not to mention the fact that my Sight worked its way through whatever glamors she used to appear as human as possible.
It was not a little distracting, and I blew out a breath and looked around the room, rather than stare at our host. My mother had always taught me that staring was rude, even to someone like Daphne. If the damned shifters hadn’t been able to track my scent, I wouldn’t be in this mess, I lamented at my current situation.
Getting tangled up in catastrophes, demons, Greek myths, and things that wanted to rip my guts out, wasn’t my style–at least not on purpose. I knew I was a coward, no two ways about it. To have the power to See all that I did, yet do nothing to protect myself from it, lent an air of vulnerability that many supernaturals found too tempting to resist.
I was just starting to get into the hundreds on my count of the cobblestones on the far wall, when Oliver came back to join us. He drained his cup but didn’t sit back down.
“Headquarters just confirmed other reports of Strix attacks throughout the city. Far too many to be perpetrated by a group of five,” he sighed, and dipped his head at Daphne. “I passed along the information to my superiors, and they are–quietly–getting things in order for a variety of situations,” he finished grimly, and motioned for me to stand.
“Where are we going?” I asked, finishing my tea, too, and sliding the chair backward.
Oliver blew out another sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ve been tasked with meeting some of the more powerful beings that wander our particular city, in the hope that they’ll be able to help,” he finished, the stubborn set of his jaw almost making mine ache. “Thank you for the information, Daphne, as well as the tea,” he said, and lifted one of her delicate hands to his mouth, giving it a light kiss.
She smiled wanly and nodded, folding her hand with the other on her lap. “Best of luck to you both,” she said, though the undercurrent of her voice said much about what she expected our chances to be.
As we left out the way we came, which was just as uncomfortable as the first time but at least I was prepared for it, Oliver paused for a moment and looked down at me.
“I’d take you home if I didn’t think the shifters were waiting, and headquarters is going to be a damned mess,” he started, and I held up a hand to stop him.
“I know, and trust me, I’d love to find some kind of bolthole to hunker down in until all this blows over. On the other hand, if anything does happen I’m more likely to get help, faster, with an Omnie present,” I conceded, and though the wimp inside me whined that I was likely in more danger with him than without him, I’d weighed my options and found Oliver to be the best one–even if it was crap.
He chuckled and shook his head. “Makes sense, and it doesn’t at the same time.”
I huffed and rolled my eyes. “Welcome to my world, buddy.”