Samantha took a sip of tea carefully, focusing on controlling her hands so that they wouldn’t shake in the presence of the La Faer Noir elders who sat with her. She hardly tasted the scalding liquid as it slipped down her throat. She set her teacup down with a practiced smile and turned to her guests. “Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company this evening?”
Lamia, a naga with light green skin and darker green hair, smiled politely back at her. The woman was half-human, half-snake, and while Samantha noted the end of her tail uncoiling along the ground out of the corner of her eye, she ignored it out of politeness. And perhaps a little out of fear.
“Some concerning news has come to our attention,” Lamia said, pausing for suspense. She turned to the other woman at the table. The third and final member of their party sat still and tall. She had an air of royalty about her, and the cold calm that Samantha felt in her presence was probably what she was intimidated by the most. Iyln was of the fae, and her bone white skin contrasted with her black, bottomless eyes in a beautiful, very alien way. Her ears were pointed, nearly touching the crown that sat atop her long, silky black hair. Samantha had never sat so close to her, and could only admire the silver crown that threaded through her hair, inlaid with emeralds, topaz and amethyst.
“And what news is this?” Samantha asked nervously, looking back and forth between the two women.
Iyln looked out over the balcony of Samantha’s suite, where the sounds of New York’s nightlife traveled up to them. Car horns blared, people yelled and hooted, and sirens rang out, echoing between the buildings. Samantha swallowed hard, wondering if perhaps she should have invited them to sit indoors. But then Iyln turned her piercing gaze on Samantha, and Samantha forced herself not to look away.
“The hunters, Miss Cummings,” Iyln stated. “We are concerned about the recent rift between the hunters.”
“The hunters?” Samantha frowned.
Tessa, a girl with blonde hair appeared out of the shadows and refilled Lamia’s teacup, the pink stone that fell over her forehead from a silver chain bobbing in the air for a moment. And then she disappeared back into the shadows, as if swallowed by the darkness.
It gave Samantha a small amount of courage knowing that Tessa was there, and she stood a little straighter, feeling more confident. “Yes, the hunters have split into two teams,” she said. “Valor and Hunter are leading a team with most of the original members, while this new government crony, Ross, has taken over their facility in Lime Bay.”
“Valor’s team is on the run, and are considered fugitives,” Lamia commented. “That is of concern to us.”
“Why should it concern you?” Samantha wondered, her eyes swiveling to meet Iyln’s. Then she smiled. “Ah. Shanna Hunt, of course.”
Iyln took a sip of her tea and tilted her head. “Not only is Shanna Hunt a person of interest to La Faer Noir, given her connections to our founder, the vampire Diana. But we had a…relationship with the hunters at The Agency that suited us.”
“Oh?” Samantha sat forward, her interest piqued. “How so?”
Lamia chuckled. “Frankly, the hunters are easily manipulated. We need only feed them a little information to give them a push, and suddenly, they take care of some of our more…unsavory problems for us. Like in New Orleans.” She paused. “They have been a rather surprising asset.”
“And, of course,” Iyln continued, “having no clue as to the whereabouts of Valor’s group is rather…unsettling.”
Samantha nodded slowly. “Of course. I have a spy in Ross’ team right now, but despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to locate the other team either. However, given that they’re hunters, all we need to do is give them the right bait to flush them out. They couldn’t stay away from a truly juicy supernatural threat.”
“Unless the other team responds first,” Iyln said, looking impatient. “Miss Cummings, we are making this your branch’s top priority.”
“Do you realize what could happen to La Faer Noir without Shanna Hunt?” Lamia added. “The Black Wings…they are everywhere, sabotaging our efforts. The hunters have been able to keep them under control recently, but without their help…” She shook her head. “The future could be a very dark place indeed, if those fools have their way.”
“Shanna Hunt?” Samantha echoed, frowning.
“Shanna Hunt is to be turned over to us as soon as she is located,” Iyln said. “If the Black Wings get to her first, we have no hope. We must be proactive if we are to be triumphant in the coming war.”
“War?” Samantha paled. “I didn’t realize that the situation had become so grim.”
“Without cohesion in La Faer Noir, without a truly united front, we will fall before our enemies. Shanna Hunt can reunite us, and strengthen our cause. With our original founder as a figurehead, we can continue to find ways to cohabitate with humans. Without her, it’s only a matter of time before the Black Wings triumph and out us to the world, bringing about a dark age.”
Lamia nodded. “It is pertinent that we get to Shanna Hunt first.
“But The Black Fire said that the choice was hers.”
“Irrelevant,” Iyln sniffed. “The Black Fire is a tool. We take its advice at our discretion.”
Lamia leaned forward. “So if you know where Shanna Hunt is…”
Samantha shook her head. “I don’t. I wish I…” She let her voice trail off, and chuckled. “That was a close one, wasn’t it, Tessa?”
Tessa appeared among them again and refilled the cup before Samantha, even though she had hardly touched the brew. “You let your concentration waver,” Tessa agreed.
“Ah, yes.” Iyln sat back to regard Tessa. “Your djinn.”
“Reports state that you only have one remaining wish,” Lamia stated, also watching the djinn closely.
Samantha stiffened, wondering how such information had leaked. It was perhaps a sign of weakness on her part, that she’d needed the help of a djinn recently. “I assure you that I have everything under control.”
Iyln turned to her. “If we didn’t have confidence in you, Miss Cummings, we wouldn’t be here. Do not let us down.” She stood abruptly. “Thank you for the tea.”
Samantha stood with Lamia and watched as the elders swept from the room. Lamia turned to look back at her from the doorway and smiled. “You are in line to be the next elder of the fire element, Samantha. This could solidify your place among us.”
Samantha hadn’t been expecting that, and stood there stupidly, blinking after them, long after they’d gone.
“Deliver Shanna Hunt to them, and you will claim the role you have coveted your entire life,” Tessa whispered in her ear, causing Samantha to shiver. “You will have limitless power.”
Samantha frowned. “Yes. And they will change Shanna Hunt into a vampire, so that they can have their precious Diana back.”
“Not a bad trade,” Tessa shrugged.
Samantha nodded, wondering why it bothered her so.