Excerpt: Fresh Meat

Deacon buried his mother at nineteen. Hunted down her killer and gutted him. Fought goblins. Draugr. Helped out some Ojibwe friends with a Wendigo that had fled onto clan territory. Dealt with Syndicate goons in two countries. That was just the tip of what he’d faced over the years. Much like his mother, his hair had gone gray well before he reached thirty. Very little intimidated or frightened him anymore.

So why in the world was he finding it so hard to approach Amr and ask if he could take a few months off? Mordred was well-settled. Deacon had people who could run the guards just fine without him—his cousin Heather chief among them; she already practically ran the field teams all on her own. When she wasn’t able to handle something, for whatever reason, there was Ken, the Mordred Steward, who had essentially been bred to handle anything involving violence and mayhem.

There was absolutely no reason he couldn’t ask for a break, and Amr would grant it without hesitation. He was a good friend and a great leader. He wanted his people happy and healthy, and would probably be the first to agree that Deacon deserved a vacation.

All Deacon had to do was ask. Instead he was sitting alone in his office fretting about it and stalling on heading home.

At his feet, Pentacle growled mockingly. Deacon nudged him with one booted foot, but he may as well have been trying to nudge a rock. In human and dragon form, Pentacle was a tank. He’d been particularly dangerous in the pits, according to former pit fighters, because everyone looked at his size and assumed it meant he sacrificed speed, but Pentacle could move like the wind, and his teeth and tail finished what sheer power didn’t, never mind that he was a quad-black, which gave him a formidable range of elemental attacks. In drills, he had no problem holding his own against the steel dragons. He was magnificent, and Deacon would never stop being awed that Pentacle had chosen him.

Pentacle growled again, affection and amusement in their bond, then went back to gnawing on the chunk of mutton Deacon had bought him as a treat from the usual cow and bison.

Deacon looked away, queasy as ever at the sight of meat—especially raw meat. A travesty in a knight, but not an infrequent result of dealing with goblins. Several of his guards who’d been involved in that incident had turned vegetarian in the aftermath. At least Deacon wasn’t so put off he couldn’t feed Pentacle himself, instead of needing someone else to do it.

And brooding about that wasn’t really fixing the matter of his vacation, which he wouldn’t get if he didn’t ask for it. Deacon sighed. Whatever, at this point it was a problem for tomorrow, when he went to see Amr and Ken to give them the weekly update on the guards and all they knew about the city. He set to tidying up his desk and contemplating what to get for dinner on the way home. Chinese? Falafel? Tacos? Burger? The diner close to Mordred headquarters made the best black bean burger in existence; even the vegetarian place he’d favored back in Montréal hadn’t been able to hold a candle to it.

The door creaked open, and Heather stepped in, looking her usual beautiful, deadly self, clothes stained with blood in a couple of places and who knew what else in others. At her side was her dragon, a large, beautiful steel with a nasty scar cutting across her face, right through her left eye. She was from the former Pellinore clan, which had been cursed by Prince Avalon and forbidden to go near dragons ever again. Most of them had been folded into Mordred, but some had gone with the newly formed Clan St. George.

Pentacle rumbled at them in greeting and growled inquisitively about the blood but didn’t rise from his place on the floor. Allah forbid.

“What?” Deacon asked, body tensing, dread settling into his gut like a bad meal. “I don’t like the look on your face. I’m hungry and I want to go home.” He groaned. “Please, Heather, don’t ruin my night like I think you’re about to.”

“Sorry, Asim,” Heather replied, expression just growing even wearier and more somber. It must be really bad if she was using his real name. “You know all those missing people?”

“Be hard to forget.” Over the past few weeks, people had been vanishing. Could have been for months, but it was hard to say. They were being taken with meticulous slowness—one here, one there. By the time they’d noticed, there was no telling how long it had been going on, or how many were actually missing. They were mostly syndicate reluctant to join Mordred or downright hostile about it. Some were homeless the clan had been steadily helping. Other so-called riff-raff that slipped through societal cracks. The kind of people that were easy to miss, easy to shrug off, easy to stop caring about—if anyone had ever cared at all.

Deacon cared. He cared a great deal. As much as he complained, if Heather finally had a lead for them to follow, he’d track it until he fell over.

“We found one tonight. Renlo.” She looked for a bare moment like she was going to cry. “Rather, we found what was left of him. If I had to guess, I’d say he got jumped and didn’t go down as easily as they anticipated.”

“Yeah, people like to underestimate Renlo.” Kid was quiet and shy, kept to himself, and was easily over three hundred pounds. He wasn’t homeless, exactly, but he didn’t have much of a home life either, and had refused all attempts to help him. People mistook him for a meek, fat pushover, when really he was just a guy who wanted to be left alone and could, when pushed, snap spines like they were dry twigs. “Still, if they managed to get him in the end anyway…”

“There was also a whole hell of a lot of non-human blood at the scene. I gave most of it to the lab to verify, but honestly it’s pretty damn obvious.” She set a plastic bag on his desk. Inside was a dishtowel or something soaked in black-red blood that was already turning true black at the edges.

Bile rose up to burn Deacon’s throat. No, not this. Not again. “We have goblins. ”

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