This story is a part of a blog hop anthology all taking place within the WFGC Hotel. You can see the full list of stories in this blog hop anthology here.
This super-hearing heroine is done being used by her supernatural employers, but her early retirement is interrupted when peace between the three species shatters in her absence. If they need her that much then she definitely deserves a raise... or rather a throne.
The Triad and The Queen
By Lin Lustig for the WFGC Hotel Anthology blog hop.
The goat stared at me. I was used to stares from humanoid types—vamps, weres, the occasional mer—but a goat chewing a cigar was new. Its rectangular eyes narrowed as it gnawed on the brown stub. I rang the hotel desk bell again, even though the keening ding hurt my ears.
“Sorry ma’am.” The receptionist popped out from a back door and smoothed her suit jacket. She had black hair and a sharp chin with a nose the size of a button mushroom, and her skin was smooth. So, so smooth. “Welcome to the Hotel, would you like a room?”
“No, a haircut.” I waited for her to laugh. She didn’t. “Kidding, a room would be nice.” The edge of the formica reception desk pulled away as I leaned on it. The hotel, or rather the Hotel, had questionable stains on the ceiling and carpet to make The Shining proud. I didn’t want to look too closely, nor did I want to focus on the constant hum of distant voices from above. I’d stumbled on this place by accident and I was staying for one reason: I’d found no record of it being here. No Yelp reviews, no website, no GPS. It was perfect.
“It’s $165 a night plus tax and—”
The goat made a chuffing sound and the receptionist looked at it, then back at her screen.
“Is your name Ginger Hima?”
“Yes. Wait, how do you—”
“Fabulous! We have your reservation for room 108. Everything’s been taken care of.” The receptionist grinned, her super-white teeth making her skin look plastic.
“But I didn’t—” Who knew I’d be coming here? I hadn’t even known. Damn, it was probably my ex, Joel. I’d thought I’d have more time before he figured out I’d run. “Actually, thank you.”
She handed me an old-fashioned key with a long, smooth blade and clover-shaped bow, then directed me down one of the many hallways. But that damn goat was in the way. After all the horrors I’d faced, I chided myself for being wigged out by basically an oversized rabbit. Duffel bag in hand, I marched by it quicker than was strictly necessary.
My door plate read 108—a number that followed me everywhere. But I was done reading signs. Plain aged carpet ran wall to wall inside, but the bed was overrun with pillows and a fluffy comforter while a mounted flat screen TV filled the room with the crackle of an artificial fire. Cozy. Even the bathroom managed to come across as spa-like despite faded pink tile.
I ditched my duffel on the nearby chair and flopped back on the bed. The bag slid to the ground with a heavy clank. Probably the silver chains.
Voices needled into my brain, as well as the yap of a chihuahua. Someone a few floors up was having a terrible argument—discovered affair perhaps? Clopping hooves wandered the second floor—damn goat. Then, way above, came the mechanical clack of keys rhythmically struck. Tap tap tap. I put a pillow over my head, knowing it wouldn’t silence them.
Super-hearing had made me a decent PI, but I couldn’t follow the same rules when dealing with the supernatural. So, I decided to retire from their constant needs. Except, for people like me, retirement usually meant dead-dead.
A knock at the door startled me. I’d let the hotel noises overwhelm my ears and hadn’t heard anyone approach. I had to be more careful.
“Who is it?”
I hopped up and snagged the door, swinging it wide open to see Joel’s lanky frame and somewhat confused grin.
I groaned. “It hasn’t even been a full day. The world won’t fall apart just because I don’t want to fix it anymore.”
Joel scanned me from head to toe, his grey eyes snagging on my breasts and hips. I crossed my arms and glared. He shook himself. “I didn’t mean to barge in. I figured you left for a reason, but I went out and just kind of… landed here.”
His heart rate stayed even—not a lie then. “Look, I appreciate you paying for the room, but I’m done. I don’t want to go back.”
A crease formed between his eyebrows. “I’m not paying for the room if that’s your way of asking.”
“Then who—” I snapped my mouth shut. Nope. No mysteries. No who or what or where or how. I was done asking questions and the answers could go fuck themselves. I. Was. Retired.
“You’re the Triad’s favorite pet. When they realize you’re gone they’ll overreact. You need to come back.”
“You’re the ambassador, you can’t just ignore your responsibilities.”
“I never asked for that job and I’ve been trying to quit for three years. I’m done. Seriously.”
Joel walked past me and shut the door. Some of the external ruckus cooled, but I could still hear something electrical discharge above me, like a stun gun, followed by a whimper and… laughter? For once I was glad to be in my own shoes instead of theirs—I wasn’t into that kind of kink.
“Ginger, please.” Joel scooped up my hand in his larger calloused one.
I leaned in, my body remembering things my heart wanted to forget, but I forced a step back, taking my hand with me.
Joel continued, “I know you’ve been struggling, but you were practically made for this. You’ve helped dozens of times when most of the Triad won’t let an outsider get close. They only tolerate my human ass because I work for you, or I did until your business went under.”
I bit off a flake of dry skin from my lip, then said, “I don’t want to be their lacky anymore. I don’t want to be underpaid and underappreciated and over-relied on. I deserve a little control in my life.”
“And how do you expect to find that out here in a nothing hotel with no money and no friends?” Joel’s mouth flattened as he leaned against the dingey brown wall.
No friends. The words cut, but they were true. I had lovers and allies, but Joel was the closest to a friend, and he was a nosy nightmare. My only thought when I’d left had been enough.
“One I can survive,” I answered. My body was a map of scars, my bones lined with healed fractures and breaks. No more pain. No more heartache. Just a lot of wine and preferably someone serving me for a change.
“Christian doesn’t know.”
My heart creaked. “I know. He’ll understand eventually.”
“You made me promise never to bring it up, but you’re his Amalgamate. There’s no understanding this for their kind.”
I rubbed the back of my neck and regretted telling Joel that in a moment of weakness. Christian and I hadn’t meant to get so close—a human and a mer working side by side, sharing the steamiest of cold nights huddled together in a cave. He didn’t want to mate to me, but it happened.
Mating to a human was political suicide for any of the species. I wanted nothing to do with it. A few lovers among the supernatural was fine for a while, but I wanted to be their equal… their friend.
However, if I wasn’t careful, the Vampire Lord and Mistress would find out about Christian’s mate-link to me, as would Tribesman leader Brandon—who never got over me sleeping with his advisor. They knew I was the pet and lover to each of the lords in the Triad, but if they knew Christian had claims on me then the balance would shatter. The idea made me glad I’d run.
Joel’s heart skipped. “You love him, don’t you?”
“I love all of them,” I muttered as I flopped back on the bed.
Another knock at the door. I sprang up and glared at the block of wood. There’s no way a simple door could block out the sound of footsteps.
I answered the door to the receptionist’s blinding smile and a small envelope. “Ms. Hima, excuse the intrusion.” She handed it to me.
I took it with an automatic thanks and shut the door. Inside was a floor plan to the Hotel, except it was more like the Marauder's Map from Harry Potter with extra fold outs and something that looked like a portal in the closet of one of the suites.
No, thank you, Narnia. I refolded the map and tossed it aside, only then seeing the handwritten scribble on the back.
Inside my mouth we sleep,
Existing here and there.
Although we’ll never meet.
I leave things for your care.
With a frustrated groan I ripped the map in two and threw it at the not-actually-a-fire.
“What the hell?” Joel jerked back.
“Listen here, Universe, I’m done. You got that? No more using the little freak to solve your mysteries. You can fuck the fuck right off!” I yelled at the room. Someone pounded against the ceiling with an answering shout to shut up. All around the hotel people spoke, lingered, and begged me to listen in on their lives. A full length mirror reflected my cold, wide-set eyes and iron straight hair, my holey jeans and torn coat, the scars on my neck, my once-straight nose. Enough.
“Please go,” I said to Joel who was still alarmed—if his racing heart was any indicator.
“They need you. I need you.”
“The only thing you need is to leave before I make you.” I took a wide stance. I was shorter than him, but also stockier and battle-tested—well, brawling-tested.
He raised his hands in surrender. “You can’t run from your life.”
“No, probably not. But, I’m exactly where I want to be for once.”
With a last confused look, Joel left. I couldn’t hear his fading footsteps or follow his heartbeat. I couldn’t hear the receptionist or the entry hall. I poked my head out of my room door and heard nothing on this level.
I didn’t care about the map or the scrawled riddle, but a silent floor?
There had to be at least a hundred guests at the hotel judging by the ant-hill like shuffling, but all of it was from above. Even the rooms I passed indicated nothing inside. I’d say there was some kind of dampening on the first floor, but there were no soundproof panels and there wasn’t anything from the Triad that could affect a structure like this.
I approached the front desk with a dozen questions. This wasn’t PI work, no, this was like a doctor’s visit to understand why my hearing was acting up… in a strange unmarked hotel… in the middle of an evergreen forest.
“Ms. Hima, how can I help you?” The receptionist flashed her bleached teeth at me.
“Can you tell me when the Hotel was built? Are we on any unusual mineral deposits? How many people have died here?” The last question wasn’t strictly necessary for my ears, but no hotel was perfectly clean.
She straightened her jacket sleeves. “The hotel began construction about fifty years ago. New wings and floors are added frequently. We’re built on granite as far as I know, and no one ever really dies here.”
The hair on my arms stood up. An old sucker wound—giant squid, mer murders, don’t ask—ached. I’d died that day, though not for long. My body was attuned to the strange, and I couldn’t ignore the signs anymore.
“What do you mean, no one ever really dies?”
“I’m sorry Ms. Hima, I need to check in a guest. If you’ll excuse me.”
I glanced over my shoulder, but no one was there. Then a jingle sounded. I blinked and an attractive, dark-haired man in his forties appeared, wearing a somewhat baffled look on his reddish face.
Actually, I couldn’t remember entering the hotel either, I was just sort of… here.
My whole body shivered. I retreated.
I passed the pool and gym, the business center, a second lobby with chairs and couches around a real fire, and went up to the second floor. As soon as I touched the landing, all the sounds of the second level surrounded me in a way the sounds of the first floor hadn’t. I went up three more floors and felt grounded in my ability to hear in a complete 360 degrees—except for the space obvious in its absence: the first floor.
Damnit. I retraced my steps downstairs to the soundless void and returned to my room. The map was still torn in two across the floor. I picked up the pieces and examined it again. There was nothing about the first floor that stood out. No unaccounted for space like the upper floors, no basement, nothing strange about the building itself—other than the nonsensical design and general existence, which meant it had to be something or someone causing the soundproofing. I scratched at the scars on my neck. I needed to track down who had paid for my room and sent me this map, preferably before any more of my old flames decided to drag me home.
The riddle suggested whoever had left it wanted me to take care of something. Probably another supernatural staying here. I rubbed my temples as the muted cacophony of the floors above turned into a painful buzz. I needed more from the receptionist.
I yanked open my room door and met the quiet. One step into the hall and I stopped. Pressure flooded my ears, pressing my skull in a vice-like grip. My ears popped.
A silence that I’ve never known drowned me. I couldn’t hear my heart, my breath, the spring in the door handle, the rooms above. Nothing.
I screamed, or at least thought I did. The pressure increased until the silence bled from my ears to my eyes. Darkness tunneled in and I collapsed.
Something velvety brushed back my hair. It swished with a muffled wet flump. Oh thank the Triad! Noise! I woke in a rush, springing up and colliding with the course hair of a goat’s shoulder. I squeaked in surprise. The goat let out an alarmed bleat and stumbled back. The receptionist knelt down and steadied me.
“What the fuck is a goat doing here?” I relished the sound of my own voice. I was never going to curse my super-hearing again.
“She’s our nanny goat. She watches over our guests, a bit like a guard dog. Can I get you a glass of water? Do you need a doctor, Ms. Hima?”
The goat, having been brushed aside, started chewing on a corner of drywall. The receptionist threw it a new un-lit cigar.
“Seriously, what is going on here? Who paid for my room? Who sent me that riddle-map?”
She laughed and sat, then unbuttoned her jacket in a relaxed manner, exposing a blouse covered in tiny pink flowers. It suited her natural femininity, of which I had none.
“Your reservation was made by the Hotel. I forgot to give you the map at check in.”
“And that’s suppose to clarify things? What the hell was that riddle?” My thoughts felt like they were moving through centuries old vamp blood.
“Simply a reminder to let us know if you needed anything while staying here. Most guests find it cute.”
“Wait, so no one needs me to recover a kidnapped kid, or find some priceless magical sword? And how could you have a reservation for me? I didn’t even know I was coming.”
The receptionist shrugged. “The Hotel just knows.”
“The Hotel. Knows. As in, it’s sentient?” Supernatural creatures I could handle, but a whole hotel? An inanimate object... thinking? I should have stayed home.
She huffed and stood, brushing off her dress pants. “I understand your skepticism, but the Hotel offers guests a unique experience based on what they need. If you’re unsatisfied with your stay then…”
I stopped listening as my brain caught up. The Hotel had given me what I needed. Silence. An excuse to stay. A potential taste of retirement.
“Thanks,” I cut off whatever she’d been saying. “I’m good.”
She gave a curt nod and walked away. The goat, however, chewed thoughtfully at me.
“Don’t you start with me. And don’t lick me again.” I swiped my sleeve across my face and returned to room 108—the number that always meant I was where I needed to be.
After a long shower and a room service burger I didn’t order (but still ate), I sat in the relative quiet of a silent floor. This hotel wasn’t possible, yet I was sitting right here on the overstuffed bed now spotted with my spilled ketchup.
No mystery to solve. No one breathing down my all-too-vulnerable neck. Was this what retirement was like? It felt good.
But something nagged at me like a string wrapped around my heart. The supernaturals for all their commanding, overbearing, and pigheaded tendencies, were a part of me. I’d built my life over the last ten years with them, ever since the first mer showed up in Cannon Beach. I’m not sure I knew who I was without them—other than a freak of nature. My hearing didn’t make me any less human, but it did make me useful.
Was I really abandoning them?
The window shattered and a blast ripped through the air. I slapped my hands over my ears. Pain seared through my right shoulder. The room lurched. Sound ricocheted back like a snapping rubber band, adding a new layer of pain I didn’t need. The whole floor was suddenly alive with alarmed shouts and screams. I rolled off the bed and took cover, stripping a pillowcase free to wrap around my bleeding shoulder. The bullet passed through clean.
I could make out footsteps through the din. They were headed towards me. Great. Just when I thought I’d do really well being retired.
Staying low, I crawled to my duffel and pulled out the silver chains, a handful of wooden darts, and a grease bomb.
I caught the assailant’s heartbeat, which eliminated one species, but they didn’t slow. At the bottom of my bag I found the caffeine capsules and popped two in my mouth, crushing them and holding them under my tongue.
“Release the human and I let you live,” a song-like voice commanded.
“I still argue that life isn’t better under the sea!” I shouted back at him. His boots came down in a thud, crushing shards of glass.
“The Ginger? Where is your kidnapper?”
I popped up over the bed and stared. “What are you talking about?” Sebastian was a tall mer-man. In his human form he was nearly seven feet, but I happened to know from experience that he was ten feet with his tail.
“You were taken. Where is the—you’re injured.” His voice was like water tripping over stones. He signed something too fast for me to catch.
I stood and pointed at my shoulder. “Ow. Thanks for this. Another scar to add to the gallery. Now, what the fuck are you doing here?”
“My Prince is accused of kidnapping the Ginger. The other Lords are threatening war.”
“No one kidnapped me. I left on my own.” War? For me? That was oddly touching.
“I’m glad you are safe, but why leave?” He moved through the light, catching the iridescence on his skin.
I ran my good hand through my hair and snagged on a tangle. “I needed some space.” As the panic wore off, pain took its place.
“Good. This problem is easiest to resolve.” Sebastian helped unload the chains from around my neck and set them on the ruined bed. I was going to have to pay for repairs.
“Solve? I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the pain.” I stared at my bloody shoulder, making the ache more pronounced. “I’m tired of being used to fix everyone else’s shit.”
“Can I help?”
“You, help me?”
Sebastian nodded and sat on the bed. “My Prince’s connection with you has been discovered. The Vampire Lord and the Tribesmen claim you’ve been taken and forced to act in my peoples’ interests. Trust has broken.”
“I haven’t accepted Christian. And I’m not being forced to do anything. ” Other than have this conversation.
Sebastian made a face. “You have the ear of three species that cannot otherwise live entwined. You’ve created the first peace, but without you…”
Me? I was a gossip and a eavesdropping joke of a PI. All this time they’d used and abused me, then tossed me aside, but now a war could start over me? Maybe I didn’t need to retire. Oh, I was still done with being their little tool, but if I was so integral to their peace, then they deserved to know just how easily I could rip it all away.
They shouldn’t just respect me. They should serve me.
I laughed, at first it was a little chuckle, but then it became a wicked release. No more damsel in distress. No more bait on the hook. No more coming when called. I deserved a seat on the Triad’s council. I should be the equivalent of their Prime Minister. But to make that happen I couldn’t waste the network I’d built over ten years as their most trusted pet.
Sebastian leaned back from me, a glint of fear in his aqua eyes. Holy Triad, to think a supernatural creature would fear me.
Sobering, I found a pad of hotel scratch paper and scribbled a note, then bloodied my thumb on my shoulder and pressed it to the paper. “Deliver this to Christian, Victor, and Brandon. Don’t give me that look, the leaders all need to see it. They’ll meet me here tomorrow or I walk away for good.”
“Do it, or I take offense at being shot.”
Sebastian snapped his mouth shut and took me in, all five-feet seven-inches of me, scarred and all but broken after years of fighting their battles. I was no threat, but physical strength wasn’t all that mattered anymore.
He gave me a mer salute—palm to his forehead, fingers extended straight up, eyes averted.
“Forgive me for causing you harm.” He left through the door this time, leaving me alone in a room scattered with glass and stained with my blood. I called the front desk to seal the window. Once the outside air stopped leaking in, the sounds of the first floor faded to nothing.
I slept better that night than I could ever remember.
The next morning my shoulder burned. The bullet might have been covered in acid, a common mer tactic, or it was infected. Either way I’d have to leave the Hotel to have it tended, but not until my meeting. I popped some high-test painkillers from my go-bag and packed my things.
At the front desk, the receptionist paled at the hole in my coat and rust-colored bandage peeking through underneath. She, on the other hand, looked especially crisp in her blouse and vest combo.
“D-did you enjoy your stay?”
“Surprisingly, yes. There were some damages in my room. Do you take card?”
“Everything will be handled. Your stay was anticipated, so all overages are covered.”
I nearly dropped my bag. “Well shit. All right, thanks. Um, am I allowed to come back? Like, on vacation?” Not just by accident, I wanted to say.
She beamed at me, those glittering teeth bright enough to guide down aircrafts. “We already have three more stays for you in our system.”
“Great! When am I returning?”
“You’ll know when you arrive.”
I pinched my lips and huffed through my nose. “I have some friends meeting me, may we use the spare lobby with the fireplace?”
“Of course. Remember, I leave things for your care. The Hotel is here for our guests. Have a lovely day Ms. Hima.”
The sound of a crackling fire tickled my ears. It hadn’t been there a moment ago. I followed it to the expanse of chairs and couches surrounding a central fire. It spit and sparked merrily as I sat, but I wasn’t alone for long.
“Joel? What are you doing back here?” I stood to greet him with an awkward one-armed hug.
“I’m not sure. I was heading out to fill up the truck and just kind of... “
“Arrived? Yeah apparently that’s a thing here.”
He took a seat next to me, crossing his long legs and staring at my shoulder. “Do I want to know?”
“Mistaken as my own kidnapper”.
He snorted. I nodded towards the sound of newcomers. As soon as Victor, Christian, and Brendon entered the room, I could hear each footfall, breath, and heartbeat (or lack thereof). I stood to greet them. Everyone’s eye fell on my injured shoulder.
Victor floated to me first, though not literally. He had a light step like a dancer and wore skin tight clothes to show every sensual muscle. He kissed each side of my throat at my carotid, scarred where he and others has bitten me, then he nipped my chin like a petulant cat.
“Ballsy to summon a Lord.” He glanced at the others. “Several, in fact, but I’m pleased you’re safe, my favorite entree. Allow me to dispatch the one who injured you?”
I shook my head and wiped the feel of his fangs away. Christian glared at the vampire, aqua-marine eyes against black orbs, then he palmed my forehead. His fingers formed to the crown of my head in an affectionate gesture. I signed my thanks and tried to ignore the flush creeping to my cheeks. His crooked grin about melted me, as did his long formal robes and bare feet. Such a traditional mer.
Brandon, looking crisp in a three piece suit and well trimmed beard, nodded cooly.
“Thank you all for coming. Please have a seat.”
“Where exactly are we?” Victor leaned back to look around the fire.
“Long story, not important. What is important is that I’m retiring.”
Christian cleared his throat. “We need you.” He signed as well out of habit. He didn’t spend a lot of time on land.
“I don’t want to be your ambassador, so how about this: you guys can put me on the Triad.”
Brandon scoffed. I kept going.
“Or I can negate the treaties and alliances I brokered and let you all stew.”
“Ginger!” Victor put his hand to his throat. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Sense,” I said and crossed my arms.
“Absolutely not,” Brandon growled.
“I know things. I know how you each think. I know what you each want. I’m gone for a day and you threaten war. You need me more than I need you.”
Brandon stood. “Challenge.”
“You can’t challenge a human girl, barbarian,” Victor said to the were.
Christian stood and moved between me and them. Joel cringed.
“You want to fight me instead?” Brandon stood a foot shorter than Christian, but showed no fear. This was getting ridiculous. It’s not like it was a fight to the death. Unless one side refused to submit.
“Accepted,” I said, stepping around Christian’s broad back. He spun to catch me. Stop, I signed. His jaw flexed. I was retiring as a damsel in distress one way or another.
Brandon was stocky, muscular, and quick. I had a weak knee, a wounded shoulder, and no formal training.
“I didn’t know weres took such joy in squashing bugs.” Victor curled his lip.
Brandon removed his jacket, but left the vest. I tried not to eye the goat lurking beside a couch.
Fun thing about my hearing, when I focused, I could hear almost anything. His muscles shifted, a grind of cartilage in his knee, and I dodged to the side as he lunged. He spun mid-step, the tendon in his ankle twanging. I sidestepped. He missed and growled.
“Clever,” I corrected. He overreached, his ribs sticking out and I jabbed my fingers between them. He coiled away with a muted yelp, but snagged my jacket and ripped it across my bandaged shoulder. I screamed. Things went dim, but sharpened when I felt the prick of teeth at the base of my skull. He’d won—most challenges ended without the need to snap necks. But I didn’t want my old life back. I struggled against his canines.
“Enough!” Christian tried to intervene, but Victor held him back.
“Do it and see how long before war breaks in true,” I hissed. Brandon’s sharp inhale created space enough for me to turn on him. I jabbed my thumbs into his eyes. It was his turn to scream.
I eased before I did damage a were couldn’t heal. “Concede,” I ordered. He growled, but assented. At that I fell back clutching my shoulder. Christian caught me.
Victor clapped. “Dirty! I like it. So, what title would you like? Grand Advisor? Ladyship of the Triad?”
“You’re going to serve her?” Brandon held his hands over his eyes, but sat up.
“For dinner? Not today. She’s too spicy. But she’s right, we owe her.”
Christian’s arms circled me. “Yes,” he agreed. I shivered in pleasure. Now that the others knew of Christian’s Amalgamate attachment, I didn’t have to worry they’d read past his affections.
Brandon dared to look out one of his eyes and threw up his hands. “Never speak of this day. Cheating human. Eyes are cheap.”
“So is fighting an injured girl.” I grinned at him.
Joel cleared his throat. “Does this mean you’re coming home?”
“I forgot you were here. Mistress will be so sad she missed this.” Victor wiggled his fingers at Joel like one might a child. Joel rubbed his neck.
I squeezed Christian’s forearm and he let me up. “On one condition.” I took a deep breath, steading myself for the stupid thing I was about to ask for. They raised their eyebrows at me, waiting. “I want to be on the council, but I also want to be friends.”
Christian grinned, then palmed my forehead again.
“Friend? What a let down.” Victor grinned, his saccharine sarcasm a welcome sound.
“You could always name me your queen,” I teased.
Brandon glared. “Acquaintances.”
I heard hooves coming, but didn’t expect the goat to bash her oversized horns against Brandon’s backside. He yelped in true.
“Sorry about that. I think she likes me.” Suddenly, the goat wasn’t so eerie.
Brandon rubbed his back and glared at the goat who hadn’t even lost her cigar in the tussle. “Fine, we can publicly be friends. Now get me out of this madhouse.”
I smiled and said, “Actually, it’s a mad hotel.”