Thirty-five miles offshore in the Pacific Ocean, and I’m dodging freakin’
selkies in my fishing boat. It’s like they’re seagulls, and I’m dropping French
fries at the beach. Man do they screw up the fishing. Worse, when they appear,
bad things tend to follow. And it’s just my luck. Of all fae to show up
randomly, it had to be these shapeshifters—the kind that could transform into
seals and even into sea lions, which scare the crap out of the fish. Every pile
of floating kelp we’d fished around so far had one of these fairies under it.
Every kelp except the paddy right in front of the boat.
look! Another seal,” the woman said, reaching for her camera.
And that selkie
made it a perfect five for five.
I couldn’t help
but hang my head. My clients—a simple Midwestern family of Mom, Dad, and
Teenage Son—considered it endearing to see a seal poke its head up from inside
the kelp, but I could see their true bulbous heads, seaweed-like hair, and
pudgy gray-green humanoid forms. Their giant, shiny-black eyes fixed on me as
if they knew exactly who I was.
shapeshifters were part of the Unseelie Court—fairies that are decidedly
unfriendly to humans—and the fact that we kept encountering them was starting
to unnerve me. Encountering one in the Pacific was rare. In fact, I couldn’t
recall one off Southern California since an entire tribe of them showed up
around Catalina Island in the 1980s. That appearance had led to a spate of
unidentified submerged object and alien sightings, not to mention a few
mysterious plane crashes around the island and a heap of sunken boats.
“Hey what’s that
big fin?” the father asked, pointing at the rapidly approaching triangular
object sticking out of the water and heading straight at the paddy from the
“Shark,” I said
with a sudden smile. “Damn big one, too. Great white, from the looks of it.
Rare for us down here in San Diego.”
“Oh, swim, seal!
Swim!” the mom said as all hell broke loose around the paddy.
the kid said. “It’s like a real National Geographic moment.” He whipped out his
phone to video the event.
I was the only
one on the boat rooting for the shark. If they’d known what that shark was
really chasing, they probably would have thought it was more like a National
selkie-shark conflict would ruin the fishing within a mile of that paddy, I
pushed farther out, always on the lookout for signs of life other than selkies.
As long as we could avoid them, we found lots of small football-sized yellowfin
tuna while we trolled, and I’d even managed to convince the anglers to release
the little guys, in hopes of finding bigger ones. The small fish kept me
blissfully busy until we made it back to the dock at around four in the
afternoon—so busy, in fact, that I forgot about how screwy the presence of
selkies was until I realized my buddy Ned was storming down the dock toward my
boat as I pulled in.
As usual, Ned
was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with colors usually reserved for Las Vegas
neon. The fact that he resembled a derelict version of Santa Claus usually drew
people’s attention. It was either that or the fact that he always smelled like
beer-soaked seaweed washed up on a beach. It could be worse given that Ned was
in fact the Titan God of the Sea, Nereus, in self-imposed exile.
As I secured the
boat to the dock, my cellphone, stashed inside my captain’s bag within the
console, chirped the unique ring my buddy Geek had helped me assign to Sarah
Wright. I felt guilty for avoiding her over the past two weeks. Despite
scrambling to reach the annoying device before the call went to voice mail, I
wasn’t quick enough. I tossed the phone on the console, thoroughly disgusted
with my wishy-washy-ness regarding our relationship—or whatever we had. I was
pretty sure we both wanted to take things to the next level, but I was
conflicted about what that would mean for both of us since my situation wasn’t
I’ll call her
back as soon as I can. I sighed, watching my three clients stumble off the
boat, trying to adjust to sea legs on land after a full day on the water. They
chatted excitedly about sharks and sea lions as they went. Ned stood down the
dock, waiting, staring intently at me with his hands on his hips and one
flip-flop-clad foot tapping away. The trio barely managed to get past him
before he charged the boat.
glad to see you made it back okay.” Ned’s shoulders dropped a bit as he exhaled
heavily. “Now get yer ass off the damn boat and back onto land.” He dipped his
head slightly and glared over his sunglasses at me, his brow deeply furrowed.
I stopped taking
rods out of the rod racks under the gunwales and stared back at him. Something
had him on edge, and that was saying something. Normally, he made people on
Prozac appear edgy. In over a thousand years, I’d never seen him like this
Now!” he said, raising his voice and gesticulating wildly.
The myriad of
seagulls and pelicans gathered around the boat awaiting leftover bait and fish
carcasses took off in a sudden deafening and chaotic commotion.
Ned. What’s got your panties in a bunch?” I said, getting back to my after-charter
chores. “Sheesh. Besides, I think the dad left a few beers if you want them.”
first question to me would have involved the possible presence of abandoned
beer. Instead, he fixed me with a withering stare. His hands were back on his
hips, and his foot again tapped on the dock. When we’d first met a few thousand
years before, he’d naturally emanated an aura of power. Though he’d since
willingly given up most of his other-dimensional essence, the preternatural
blue glow was now visible.
part of ‘now’ ain’t you understandin’?” He spoke through a clenched jaw and
pointed at the dock forcefully, like a parent demanding a child’s immediate
presence. Over his sunglasses, his eyes darted everywhere, keeping watch around
“Okay, okay,” I
said, eyeing my fish-slimed gear and all the sardine scales and scuff marks
marring the deck. “Who’s gonna clean all this up? You know if I let it sit,
it’ll be even harder to clean later.”
“I’ll take care
of it,” Ned replied. “Just get yer ass off the water. Right. Now.”
“Fine.” I kicked
at my rods like a petulant child. “Let me get my damn gear bag, and I’ll
I grabbed my
captain’s bag and stormed down the dock in a huff, glaring at Ned. I didn’t
even bother to take off my grungy gray rubber fishing bibs. He avoided making
eye contact as I passed him, which only pissed me off more. Instead, his eyes
continued to dart around the marina. Whatever.
I got to my
truck, threw my gear bag in the bed, then stripped off the rubber bibs. While
hopping around on one leg like an idiot, trying to get the bibs off over my
deck boots, I worked myself up from a huff to a tizzy. Who the hell did he
think he was ordering me around like that? Athena? Throwing my bibs into the
bed with the rest, I glanced over my shoulder, toward the dock.
Just as I was
about to get into my truck, a more pressing question hit me: Why? Ned actually
yelled at me. In over two millennia, I had never even witnessed him raise his
voice. What’d I do to him?
I instantly felt
like I owed him an apology, without even knowing what I’d done. I headed back
down to the dock.
As I approached
the top of the gangway, Ned was in a heated discussion with something in the
water on the other side of the dock from my boat. I couldn’t get a clear view
of who or what Ned was talking with, or hear what was being said. The only
things evident were the loud and freakish sea lion-like barks and Ned’s wild
and very uncharacteristic gesticulations. Instinctively, I searched for
something to use as a weapon—a boat hook was leaning against the fence next to
the gate down to the dock.
putty-colored round female head covered in thick yellow-green hair popped up
just above the dock and peered directly at me. Ned noticed me, as well, and all
at once, the creature disappeared below the water’s surface creating a wake
that tossed the floating dock and rocked the boats tied up nearby. She was
definitely one of the selkies I had encountered earlier offshore.
I stopped dead
in my tracks. Ned shook his head and stomped toward me, which couldn’t have
been easy in flip-flops. His eyes were ablaze—literally. His awakened aura
pulsed from white to blue like a lightning storm.
I shrugged and
raised my eyebrows as his gaze fell on me. The temperature began to drop, and
the water around the dock changed from a drab green to black and turned rough,
as if it were about to boil. The disturbance bounced the moored boats against
their bumpers and the dock, and the rigging on the sailboats began to clang.
Even the remaining birds evacuated—only noiselessly.
“Boy, who did
you piss off this time?” he said at me more than to me in a voice that
reverberated through my skull. It wasn’t loud, but it was insistent in its
“I… um… I, ah…
what?” I asked, vapor trailing from my mouth in the cool air.
recall having done anything to anybody since chasing down that witch, Medea, a
few months back, and as far as I knew, everyone I could have pissed off doing
that was dead.
Ned continued up
the ramp from the dock toward me, somehow appearing larger than normal. His
face, especially his eyes, darkened. “Don’t play games with me. You got selkies
chasin’ yer ass all over the Pacific, and they had to travel around the world
to get here to do it. Nytrocyon herself is here to find you.” He pointed back
down toward my boat. “She says Mab wants you. Says you killed Lord Indronivay.”
ruler of the selkies? Seriously?” My teeth started to chatter, and my jaw
muscles clenched in the frigid air. “Wait… she said I killed who? Lord
Indronivay, Mab’s warmaster? Are you kidding me? Why the hell would I have
killed that uptight belligerent asshole?”
I’d never even
met him, but his reputation as a jerk was legendary. Even as a Guardian and
protector of humanity, I knew him only through stories that suggested he was a
giant at nearly eight feet tall and was about as friendly as a shark with a
toothache. All I really knew about him was that he personally ran every major
war and military campaign Queen Mab of the Unseelie Court had waged for tens of
thousands of years. Hell, the guy might have charged into battle against Queen
Titania of the Seelie Court on the back of a triceratops.
Nytrocyon is lying?” Ned’s voice boomed through my head, shaking me back to
again. “Now why the hell would I do something like that? Honestly?”
dropped slightly, and his pulsing aura faded. Though his face brightened and
his bushy beard and mustache split, revealing his white teeth in a broad smile,
the rest of him remained rigid. “Good. I didn’t think you were dumb enough to
attack a member of one of the fairy royal courts. That’d be grounds for war.
Only problem is then, dude”—he slowly slipped back into his normal relaxed and
carefree persona—“you gotta ask yerself one question: why does she think you