“It’s fucking cold out here,” I hissed through chattering teeth. No matter how much I willed my jaw to remain motionless, it didn’t listen and the rattling inside my head was driving me insane.
The fire flickered in the pitch-darkness of the Outer Realm, casting an eerie glow across the snow. Beyond the miniscule light of the fire, as large as we dared make it here so we didn’t attract other and more dangerous beings, inky blackness stretched on forever. The oppressive nature of the dark night and the fact that I knew it could literally stretch out for eternity, was some cruel realization that I was infinitesimal in an expansive place with creatures that would eat me for the hell of it.
Shaking off my descent into bat-shit-crazy, I considered the first time I’d been here and each subsequent journey back. Each time I crossed the veil into the Outer Realm, it got just a bit colder, the air bitter and chilled. This time there was a light dusting of snow on the ground with flurries brushing against my exposed skin. I’d dressed for cold, knowing full well how the wind had burned through my clothes the last time. But this was worse. The wind was piercing and sharp as it howled through the trees and my layers.
Beyond the minimal warmth and light of the fire lurked beasties and creatures of every shape and size, and the focus of their eyes on me was a weight I felt in my gut, a tight clench of fear that made me queasy, alert, and on edge. I fought the urge to run, knowing that I couldn’t outrun any of them. I could fight but I would lose. The Outer Ream was a place where strength was valued, and weakness was devoured. Maybe they were just curious. Maybe they were hungry. I had no choice but to wait and hope they remained in the dark beyond the light of our fire.
“Make the fire warmer,” Adrik snorted, landing on my shoulder and rubbing his hands together, holding them out before the inadequate flames. The four-inch-high pixie stood close to my neck, soaking up my body heat. He knew I could use my magic to increase the heat of the fire, and I’d considered it, but I didn’t want to give too much away too soon. Bargaining with the fae was a delicate balance of knowledge and cunning. Negotiating from a position of strength was better but I wouldn’t lay all my cards on the table just yet.
“I don’t want to burn my eyebrows off,” I said, smirking at the pixie. He rolled his small silver eyes at my obvious lie. “When are they going to get here?” I asked, wanting desperately to be home and warm in my bed. The longer I stayed in the Outer Realm, the bigger the likelihood that someone would notice either on this side or my side of the veil that I was not where I was supposed to be.
Adrik and I had been making small trips to the Outer Realm for weeks without letting anyone know. I was pushing my luck before either Patrick or Dean noticed and gave me hell, at the very least a lecture. After the mountain where I’d killed Rokap but lost Milagra and Konstantin, Dean and Patrick had been different. More protective. More confining. More everything. Dean especially. If they knew what I was doing, Dean would lose his shit. Right now, this was better. He didn’t worry and I didn’t have to deal with his anger. I was being a coward but right now, I was willing to be a coward to keep them safe just a bit longer.
“The representative should be here momentarily,” Adrik responded.
“You’d think I’d figure out how to dress properly to be here, but it always seems colder than the last time,” I said, unable to keep my teeth from chattering. The fleece lining wasn’t enough.
“It is not your imagination,” Adrik answered, his voice rough through the already guttural accent. His English was much better, but I could still hear the centuries of Russian in the shape of his words.