- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 1
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 2
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 3
- Malady Place – E102 “The Roomie Rules” Act 1
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 4
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 5
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 6
Winter Capshaw leaned her head against the cool glass of the window as she rode in Renee Faust’s gigantic burgundy boat of a Cadillac away from the Chinese/Japanese restaurant where she’d just been informed her life was over.
Which didn’t feel like much of an exaggeration. After all, she was no longer a full human; ‘invested’ with the power of the dragon Yu—a creature her superiors had no information on either on a personal or organizational level. Whatever the investiture was, she knew she was now in Yu’s debt if not under his sway, and that it would alter her magic at a basic level.
But of course, that wasn’t the worst part. No, that was just a side effect of the fact that a powerful demon—one of the Fallen, a rival in power to Renee herself—had declared her fair game to attack in order to get at Renee. He’d almost turned her into a demon herself if not for Yu’s intervention.
Of course, the final humiliation had come when Renee offered her protection—by making Winter her roommate. Considering the sorry state Renee’s office had been in, Winter was not looking forward to that.
And then, as if to drive the whole ordeal and its myriad absurdities home, Renee had opted to stop and get takeout for dinner instead of just taking her home so she could slip out of her work shoes and into a nice, deep denial.
So there she sat, clutching a paper bag Renee had given her after expressing a fear that her ‘new best friend’ was going to throw up in her car. She was counting it as a major victory that she hadn’t made use of it yet.
After ten minutes though, her stress and fear was starting to give way to the boredom of the idle. The car was parked in a big shopping center lot; one anchored by a chain grocery store on one end and a thrift shop on the other. In terms of eateries, she noted a Chinese buffet, a Somali cafe and a Pho shop.
Given her very recent history with Yu, she prayed that Renee wasn’t getting them Chinese. Then again, this was Renee she was thinking about: she might return with anything from burgers to roasted grasshopper to long pork.
A tiny shiver ran down her spine as she noticed herself already thinking of Renee in familiar terms after less than a day of knowing her. Not a lot was known about demons on Renee’s level, but the ability to alter minds wasn’t unknown among the creatures from the Other Realms. Almost every Fey court, for example had at least one discipline in their magical traditions along those lines.
Even humanity was capable of mind-bending magic—though that particular skill was highly regulated in the US and most other so-called first world countries. Not that the laws of man did much to stop truly determined creatures of the Other Realms.
Her thoughts were derailed by the driver’s side door opening and a plastic bag being thrust into her lap. “Hold this,” Renee chirped. Winter took it absently, feeling warmth emanating through the bag and the thick plastic containers within.
Renee slid into the driver’s seat with a huge smile on her face. “Not that I’m an expert, but I have it on good authority from commercials that hot soup is a comfort food and the best hot soup I know in this city comes from this place: Pho with rare steal and meatball and an egg roll cut up on top. Didn’t know what you like with yours, so I got a ton of stuff on the side.”
She started to put her key in the ignition, but paused to study Winter’s face. “I can think of at least three reasons you’re not happy right now, but in the interest of eliminating the forth: Are you okay with pho? I could run into the Somali place—they’ve got this delicious pastry thing stuff with cheese and shredded goat. I wouldn’t recommend the Chinese place in this shopping center though: the cook never seasons things right. If you want something else, there’s other stuff around… subs, burgers, Mexican…” She left the rest hanging, hoping for a response.
Drawing on deep reserves of inner strength, Winter managed to nod and murmur, “Pho is fine. Thank you.”
If she’d had any hope that a simple answer would be enough to dissuade Renee Faust, that hope died swiftly as the demoness continued to stare at her with an enigmatic expression on her face. At length, she let out a sight.
“Look Snowy, I know this isn’t an ideal situation. I was kinda hoping for at least a month’s worth of honeymoon period where we could get to know each other before some weird shit went down, but that’s not in the cards, okay?” She tossed her keys onto the dashboard and adjusted her seat so she could recline. “Here’s what’s in the cards: I swear on my wings and flame that I’m going to help you make this work. No reason you can’t live a rich, full life even with the… new additions. It’ll be weird, but you can’t possibly have taken this job without expecting some weird. Just turns out you’re getting a triple scoop with extra weird sauce right off the bat.”
Eyes fixed on a cigarette burn in the ceiling above her head, Renee extended a hand. “So what do you say? Friends?”
Winter sighed, unable to conceal the hopelessness in it, and to the offered hand. “It is my job after all.”
Renee shook. “And I also promise it’ll stop feeling like work eventually.” After lazily stretching, she raised her seat into a driving position and snatched up her keys. “Now let’s roll: you’re gonna love your new home.”
Winter had to admit that Renee’s apartment building wasn’t foreboding at least. She’d been expecting to see something resembling a Gothic cathedral converted into condos.
Instead, it was utterly ordinary: a five-story brick building situated at the end of a line of two-story houses on a street called Jeopardy Lane. The property was surrounded by a cinder block wall with a small amount of nice green space along the edges of the parking spaces; enough for there to be two picnic tables with benches flanking the lot.
Renee seemed to gauge her reaction without looking in her direction. “Not the place you expected me to live, huh?” She threw the car into park and snatched the bag off Winter’s lap before stepping out. Once they were both out of the car, she led the way up the short, concrete path to the glass doors of the main entrance.
As that walked, Renee started talking again. “I only started living here about forty, forty-five years ago. Came here on a routine extermination job. A real extermination job. If you’ve ever had a cricket in your house, you’ve got a good idea of a fraction of how annoying a colony of minstrel flies are.” As they reached the doors, Renee shrugged and pulled one open.
“Once the pests were gone, this was a really nice place as it turns out, so I was the first one to sign a lease.” Once inside, they were confronted by a cramped atrium: a wall of mailboxes to the left and an old desk bearing a vase of fresh flowers and stacks of takeout menus under a cork board covered in pinned-on fliers. Renee ignored them, instead heading directly up the stairs straight ahead.
“No elevator?” Winter asked absentmindedly, head on a swivel for anything that might be supernatural in origin.
Renee laughed lightly and mounted the stairs. “Are you kidding? This place is ancient! Built after the Chicago fire in the 1870’s. There’s fey nobility younger than this building. So yeah, it’s a three flight walk-up, but it’s worth it.”
And so Winter meekly climbed those three flights until they reached the landing for Renee’s floor and followed the adjacent hallway to Apartment 432, a door which happened to be at the very end of said hall between two windows overlooking the parking lot.
It took Winter a moment to process that: the two windows were immediately adjacent to the door and as they approached, it became readily apparent that there wasn’t an apartment jutting out into the empty space between them. Just by looking, it seemed clear that the door had to open onto thin air four stories up.
So when Renee unlocked the door with a big, brass skeleton key, and it opened onto a cozy-looking living room, Winter had to stop and gawk for a second.
A wry smirk crossed the demoness’s face as she gestured for her new roommate to enter ahead of her. “Yeah, that. None of the actual apartments was exactly what I wanted, so I added one. There’s a little hex tied to the door that keeps Earth-realm creatures from making the right logical connections and realizing there was something weird going on. Standard for the home of someone like me, but not something we usually tell the fibbies.”
Winter started to accept the invitation, but then her own realization hit. “You’re telling me… because I’m not an Earth-realm creature anymore.” Her eyes met Renee’s, locking truly for the first time as she couldn’t keep a hold on the fear inside her any longer. “Am I?”
Renee was at a rare loss for words for a time before swallowing and putting on a shaky grin, breaking their gaze and then doing everything to avoid it. “It’s not as if you’re not human any more. You are. And you’re the same person too. It’s just that you’ve got a few things extra mixed in…”
“A few extra?” Winter was starting to shiver openly. “Not just dragon?”
The demoness twiddled her fingers together like a child caught in a lie. “While yes, you are Yu’s investiture and that did revoke Zaimiel’s mark, it didn’t exactly undo what had already happened.”
The only reply Winter could come up with was a flat, dull-eyed, “What.”
If it were possible, Renee seemed to look even more guilty. “You were transforming into a daemon—an Earth-born demon compelled to serve the one who created them—from the instant he put the mark on you. There’s going to be some ‘residue’,” she made air quotes as she said the last word, “left behind. Nothing Zamiel can use to control you, but little bits of Hell floating around inside.” She brightened a bit before saying, “But no worries: Yu’s power binds all those little bits up so they’ll never ever give you any trouble. It just means that you ‘count’ as human, hellish and draconic; both Earth-realm and Other-realm.”
When Winter started to go pale and look nauseated instead of letting out a tiny sight of relief, Renee raised her hands as if to ward off a tantrum. “Wait. It’s a good thing in, you know, some ways. Like you’re on the inside now, supernaturally speaking. No more being just another ignorant human agent of a government that hardly accepts magic exists and barely believes in the Other Realms.”
Working up a bit of courage, she put her hands on Winter’s shoulders. “That’s what it was going to be like Snowy: what it was like for my last fibbie-buddy and the ones before him too. But you? I don’t have to lie to you or keep things from you that could get you killed…” She bit her lip and starred at her feet. “…got the last one killed.”
Her grip tightened and finally she was able to look Winter in the eye. “But not you, Snowy. You’re gonna live and you’re gonna be happy. Thrones and throats, I swear it to you. I’ll even swear it thrice.”
That cut through Winter’s gloom and fear if only because she knew what it meant. For a demon like Renee, to swear thrice was to swear on one’s power. Breaking such seriously professed oaths would have a tangible side effect; sickness, loss of powers, or maybe even death in the right situations. Nothing from the Other Realms capable of swearing thrice in such a way would ever do it idly, not even ones as powerful as Renee.
Winter flinched at the hands on her shoulders as if she’d just become aware of them. “Why would you swear to that? You can’t guarantee any of it.”
Renee let go of Winter’s and squared her own shoulders. “Because this is my fault, Snowy. Normally, I wouldn’t take responsibility for the things I do, but this time it got to me.”
“Got to you?”
The demoness shrugged and folded her arms, drawing into herself a bit. “You came into this knowing nothing because I’ve made it so bad apparently that the FBI doesn’t think any agents would take the assignment otherwise. Then one of my old loose ends comes back and puts a mark on you in order to rope me into something. And to fix it, I get you in even deeper.” A scowl creased her face and she huffed. “You didn’t deserve this, Snowy. So I’m swearing thrice: on my power, on my my wings and flame… on the very Throne. I’m swearing so you know I mean it when I say I want to make this right,” she then gestured once more into her living room. “That I want to make this work.”
Winter scrubbed one hand across her face and gave Renee a considering look. Despite her former association with the literal Prince of Lies, the Fallen One looked genuine at least. Plus, she had to admit that given her situation, she couldn’t afford to turn away Rene Faust’s helping hand.
Her superiors would not appreciate finding out that she now had one foot in the Other Realms—the US government was officially neutral toward all the Powers in exchange for them policing their own and keeping too many people from ‘disappearing’.
As for her family… she had no idea how her family would react, but she had no interest in finding out.
That left Renee and if Renee sincerely wanted to help, who was Winter to turn her down?
It wasn’t the most heartwarming conclusion, but she could accept it.
“Thank you,” she began, voice high and thin from the tension, “For helping me, for taking me in… for everything, really.”
“Except for the parts where everything that led to me helping you were my fault to,” Renee added offhand.
Winter blinked. “Yeah… that too. But you’re making it up to me, so while we’re not necessarily okay yet…”
“It’s a start?” Rene asked hopefully.
“It’s a start.” the ghost of a smile came to Winter’s face at the demoness’s antics.
Any sign of guilt or sincerity melted off Renee in the space between heartbeats as she bounced on her heels wearing a huge grin. “Then welcome home, roomie!” She lunged at Winter, crushing her in a hug that had her lifting the other woman off the ground.
Almost as soon as she’d done so, however, she set Winter down and stepped back looking serious and intense. “Now let’s go inside and let’s discuss the rules of the house.”
“Oh, this isn’t me being uptight. Seriously, you need to follow these or you’re gonna die and that’d break the oath… so I mean it: we need to lay down the ground rules.”
To Be Continued…