In parting, I leave you with most of chapter one of Shield of the Dragon. You get to meet Diamond, and we'll see if you can guess the special guest(s) :3 As ever, this is the rough draft so pardon errors, etc.
Diamond sucked on his cigarette, blew the smoke out lazily to join the lazily falling snow steadily blanketing the city. He reached up absently to brush snow from his face and hair, then took another slow drag.
"Shit, what the fuck time is it?"
He turned to look back into the bedroom, where Alana was scrambling to pull her jeans back on and untangle her hair all at the same time. She caught him staring, paused to glare. "Why did you let me sleep so long?"
"All this snow? Nobody is going to be at the club, Gwen called to say no rush for you to be back downstairs."
"Oh, then I'm sleeping a bit longer, fuck it." She yawned. "Though maybe I should go find breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Whatever."
"Whatever," Diamond agreed, and dropped the end of his cigarette to stamp it out. Retrieving it, he threw it in the trash on his way back into the tiny apartment he called home. He grabbed the leather jacket hanging off the back of one of the chairs at the dinky dining room table and shrugged into it, then picked up the Glock on the table, check it over, and slid it into its shoulder holster. "There's coffee, some shit in the fridge, if don't want to deal with the weather."
Alana smiled, and climbed back out of the bed to walk over to him and fuss with his jacket, help tug out the hood beneath, ran fingers through ink-black hair. "Thanks for letting me crash, Diamond. You're always a sweetie."
"Not hard to let people sleep," Diamond replied, especially when those people were the few who didn't completely treat him like he was a freak. "Gotta go, never pays to be late when summoned."
"See ya later." She waved him out, closed and locked the door. Diamond could ever so faintly hear the sound of the bed creaking as she settled back in.
He headed downstairs and out the back door of the brothel, across the street to the parking lot. The guard waved to him as he passed. "Stay warm, Diamond!"
Diamond lifted a hand, but otherwise ignored the words. He crossed all the way to the back of the lot, where only two cars resided: a 1969 Chevy Impala, which belonged to Nadia, who ran the brothel. And his own, a dark blue '68 Pontiac GTO. Unlocking, he slid behind the wheel and drove off, waving to the guard on his way out.
The streets were quiet in that way only snowfall could bring, though the odd person was still walking around. Moonlight made everything glow, and the wind was up just enough to make driving irritating. But he made it across town without incident, to the low key sprawl of building at the south edge of downtown where the Cambry Syndicate headquarters were located.
He parked near the front entrance, lit another cigarette as he headed for the door.
The guards stationed there relaxed as they saw it was him. "Thought that was you, Diamond. Aren't you off tonight?"
"Who the fuck around here ever actually gets a night off?" Diamond asked, taking a pull on the cigarette before handing it off the guards, who smiled gratefully before sharing it between them.
They handed it back when there was just the barest bit left; Diamond could taste chapstick and bubblegum on the paper. He stamped the butt out, then headed inside as they pulled the door open. "Stay warm."
The smell of blood and metal permeated the inside of the main building, not much of an improvement over the dust, mildew and faded chemicals that had dominated when they'd taken over the buildings. He could hear the distant growl of several dragons, though the tenor was off, like the dragons were larger, maybe. Had the weird ones arrived, then? Boss wouldn't call him in for that, though. Huh. Well, he'd find out soon enough.
He stopped outside the main office suite and let the guards there pat him down and take the Glock. "How's it going?"
"You should see the new dragons, they're freaky as fuck," the younger of the two guards said. "Color of stainless steel, I shit you fucking not. The other dragons won't go fucking near them."
"You talk too goddamn much," said the second guard. Diamond didn't know them, new guys whose names weren't worth knowing since Cambry cycled through guards about as fast as he cycled through fucks. Diamond preferred the 'build trust' method of operating, but he wasn't the Boss so it wasn't his problem.
The first guard rolled his eyes. "What the fuck am I telling him he ain't gonna hear in five fucking minutes anyway?" He looked at Diamond, jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "You're clear."
"Pleasure as always," Diamond drawled, and strode past them to key in his entrance code and push through the Fort Knox door, pushing it behind him. He yawned as he walked down the short hall to the open double doors at the end. A fountain trickled off to the left of the enormous, GQ office, surrounded by gold-flecked black tile that turned into black carpet across the rest of the office. There were no windows, but damn near enough expensive landscapes to make up for it. The whole left wall was given over to special, locked glass shelves, every single one filled with various bottles and other containers. An entire goddamn wall of poisons, each more deadly than the one before. They were Cambry's pride and joy and his only true love.
Behind a desk big enough to be compensating for something sat the fat, fat cat in charge: Jonas Cambry, Boss of the Cambry Syndicate, bald, pink-skinned, roughly the size of a house, with hard, dark green eyes and a mean smile.
Of all the top syndicates, Cambry was best known for its scientific bent. They might not be top dog for fights won or nastiest dragons on the block, but they had some of the best control and were constantly refining and improving the changers and other drugs used to control the dragons.
Not that Diamond gave a fuck. He had fuck all to do with that part of the business. His job was retrieval and the odd clean up, where a bullet was more effective than dragging the poor bastard in to play lab rat to Cambry's poison of the week.
Diamond stopped in the middle of the room, resting easy but not relaxing. Movement caught the corner of his eye, but he didn't bother to look. York would open his mouth soon enough, and nobody else but Cambry's wife was allowed to just wandered around the office and she always smelled like her fancy Dior perfume.
"It's about time you showed up, Snow White."
Yep, there he went. Diamond finally dragged his eyes over to the right side of the room, where York, as tiny and bity as an angry yippy dog, was somehow both filing papers and typing on his computer at the same time. Man was hot as fuck and wild in the sheets, but he was an annoying little shit. But he also never seemed bothered by Diamond, which was a rarity—just York and some of the girls at the brothel. "I don't need a gun to end you, York," Diamond said lightly. "You gonna get a new line, cause making fun of my looks isn't even fucking trying."
"I'm just calling it as I see it," York replied.
"Shut up both of you," Cambry growled as he hung up his phone. "Diamond, light a cigarette or something, you look ready to crawl out of your skin."
"Thanks, sir," Diamond replied, and promptly did so, sinking into the scent and taste and feel of tobacco and mint. "Sorry if I'm late, the snow was bitchier than it looked."
Cambry dismissed the word with a wave of one meaty hand, the heavily jeweled rings on it glinting in the light. "It's fine, you're not on a tight schedule for this one. I need you to go to Lebanon, pick up a guy for me."
"Pick up a guy? There's plenty of guys here to pick up for you, Boss."
Cambry gave a hungry, wolfish grin. "Not that kind of guy. You get laid, Diamond? You seem to be in a good mood."
"I got sleep," Diamond replied. "Infinitely better."
"If you say so. Anyway, you're retrieving a witch for me. Maybe a sorcerer. I can't tell the fucking difference."
Sorcerers were more powerful, but more confined, like a grid. Witches didn't have as much power, but it was raw, unconfined, and they made up in versatility what they lacked in strength. But Diamond didn't bother saying that, Cambry never fucking remembered anything he considered beneath him. "Why the hell do we need a witch?"
"For this new thing we're doing," Cambry said. "Some group, call themselves a clan, are having trouble bonding with their dragons. They've come to us to fix the problem, but I need more input than science and archives can provide. They said magic first created the bonding thing, so I'm starting there."
Sounded like he needed an alchemist, not a witch, but Diamond wasn't paid to give a fuck, just to do as he was told. "Where, when, and what do they look like?"
"No picture, but there's a description in here and he sent along a ring you're to wear." He cast Diamond a look, faint amusement on his face. "Or take with you, at any rate, I know how twitchy you are about jewelry."
"You wear a necklace with a curse laid on it, see how much you like mystery jewelry after that," Diamond muttered, and when Cambry jerked his fingers approached the desk and took the folder he held out.
White, blond hair, gray eyes, 5'9"… He closed the folder and took a pull of his cigarette as he backed up to the center of the room again. "So fetch the witch and bringing him back here to you?"
"That's it, and if you suspect anything, kill him instead. I can find a witch anywhere, although it'd be hard to match those credentials. He specializes in laying spells or whatever on living creatures, and modifying the same where they already exist."
Diamond nodded. "Will do. Probably take extra time in all this snow, and if it gets bad enough may not be back until tomorrow."
"Call if you're going to be there overnight, otherwise I'll expect you when I see you."
"You got it, Boss. Later." He spun on his heel and strode off.
Didn't make it halfway down the hall before York called after him, "Remember: don't eat apples."
"I ate an apple yesterday, fuckhead," Diamond replied, finishing his cigarette and throwing the butt in a hallway ashtray. The last part of the curse hadn't even been an apple. It'd been a peach, because they were his favorite. A scarf, a necklace, and a peach. Diamond hadn't known what hit him until he woke up almost dead and made of poison.
He turned around, stared at York, the emotional disconnect he always felt when he was around Cambry, or doing errands for him, fracturing as he stared at York and the unmistakable look in his eyes. "Shouldn't you be working?"
York hefted the folders clutched in his arms. "I am working. Come on, I'll show you." He turned and headed down the hallway that ran parallel to the office.
Diamond counted to five, giving himself a chance to think with his head instead of his dick. But his dick tended to win out when York wanted to get frisky, and god knew nobody else wanted to fuck him, so he did as told and cut back down the hallway and then left, catching up to York just as he slipped into a room near the far end of the hall.
A file room they'd used before, the dents in the cheap plaster where he'd shoved the table up against the wall were still there. York had already ditched the stack of folders on an empty shelf and was working on his tie and vest, carefully setting the costly purple fabric aside before working on his shirt.
It was always kind of cute and funny the way the man was willing to fuck anywhere, but wouldn't tolerate his clothes getting messed up. Diamond admired the willingness to be caught fucking around bare ass naked, there was an all or nothing perspective he respected.
But he much preferred pissing York off. He waited until the man was naked, then closed the space between them, grabbed him by the wrist and spun him around, bent him over the table, then grabbed the discarded tie and used that to tie York's wrists together behind his back.
Diamond pushed two fingers into his mouth, rubbed against that fine ass, grinning at the moans that promptly swallowed York's protests. He ran his free hand along York's smooth, warm, olive skin with yellow undertones. Diamond's skin had been a little darker, and his hair a dark gold-brown with hints of auburn. He'd thrown up the first time he'd looked in a mirror and seen himself with skin the color of bleached bone. The hair and lips he could have lived with, if not loved. But even covering damn near every inch of his body in tattoos had not taken away from the corpse-like whiteness of his skin. Diamond fucking hated it, but there was fuck all he could do about it.
So he settled for admiring York, hot and pretty and eager. He trailed his fingers down to York's ass, gave it a sharp inch that made York jerk and swear.
Pulling his fingers free, Diamond gripped his hips and rutted against him for a bit, enjoying all the eager, frustrated noises that got him, peppered with curses. Finally he drew back enough to kick York's legs open wider, pushed a finger into his hole, not surprised to find him already slick and stretched. "You're the sweetest slut I've ever known, York."
"And you're the slowest fuck I've ever had to keep dealing with," York snapped. "Get—" He was cut off again as Diamond shoved his fingers back in York's mouth.
"Suck like the slut you are," Diamond said, grinning at the moan that elicited, the hungry way York began to suck at his fingers. He used his free hand to get his jeans open, shoving as much fabric out of the way as he could as he pulled his cock out.
Removing his fingers again, holding York's head down against the table in silent order for him to stay just like that, he then gripped York's hip with one hand and guided his cock inside that hot, tight body with the other, then gripped both his hips and thrust all the way inside. "Been too long since I've done this."
"Show up more often instead of being a lazy—" York broke off, breath punched out of him as Diamond fucked hard into him, drew almost all the way out only to slam back in.
It wasn't really a surprise when the table wound up slamming into the wall again, though the fact it actually made a small hole this time was probably something to give a fuck about. Probably had never moved Diamond much.
York's ass, on the other hand, moved him leagues. He fucked York a few more times, pounding him as hard and deep as he knew how, then pulled out with a groan just to hear York mewl and whine. Flipping him over, not giving him so much as a chance to breathe, Diamond spread his legs wide and thrust back into him, sweat trickling down his face to drip on York's gleaming skin, the room filled with the sounds of the table hitting the wall, their gasps and pants and moans, the slap of skin.
York's eyes were a pale, pale gray, like winter clouds still growing heavy with snow, but they burned like a wildfire as he stared at Diamond, silently taunting that he wasn't even fucking trying.
"Hungry little slut, aren't you?" Diamond drove into him, then stopped, held still even though he trembled with the effort. He bent to bite York's throat, lap at the marks left behind before nibbling up to his ear. "Bet you'd take two at once and still ask for more, wouldn't you? Do you crawl back to the office after you're done with me and call someone else?"
York gulped air, throat working visibly. "Usually Cambry gets off on knowing I've slunk off to spread for you. He'd fuck you in a minute if he thought you'd say yes."
"That is not doing anything for my cock," Diamond said with a grimace.
York moved his hips, squirmed against him as he struggled against the tie still trapping his hands beneath him. "Liar."
"That's all you," Diamond said dryly, and gave a small thrust just to watch York shudder.
"Well, Cambry likes your sloppy seconds."
York's shoulders moved in an attempt at a shrug. "Comes with the job. And you're a perk, so get back to fucking me, Snow White."
Diamond snarled. "Stop. Fucking. Calling. Me. That." He punctuated each word with a hard thrust, then resumed the relentless pounding, determined that York would feel the fucking for the whole rest of the day and well into the next.
He came with a groan he didn't bother to muffle, and sinking as deep into that sweet body as he could get. When his panting had calmed sufficiently, he gently pulled out and turned York around to undo the tie, working the soreness out of his arms and shoulders.
York turned around, looked up, a pensive look on his face.
"What?" Diamond asked, doubt curling through him. He hadn't done anything they hadn't done several times before. It hadn't taken him long to figure out York's buttons. But had he—
His brain short-circuited as York planted one on him. Okay. Kissing was new. Diamond hadn't kissed anyone since his lovers had decided he'd gone from attractive to libido-killing creepy looking. As introductions to the paranormal world went, cursed and dumped was a long way from the worst. But it had still fucking sucked.
He reacted without thought, reaching up to curl his fingers into the hair at the nape of York next, tilting his head to better get at that sweet little mouth, pushing his tongue inside and making it clear he was just as good with his tongue as his cock.
Eventually York drew back, and Diamond didn't like at all the way the feel and taste of him lingered. This had just turned from something casual to something decidedly not. He stared into York's eyes. "What was that?"
York dropped his gaze, tucked Diamond back into his clothes and zipped his jeans. "Whatever you want." He nudged Diamond out of the way to go over to the shelf where he'd stacked his clothes. Diamond looked away before he got caught staring at the mark he'd left on York's throat, the come painting his thighs. "Get going, before the snow gets too bad. Be careful."
"Yeah," Diamond said. "Watch your smart mouth, it's gonna get you in real trouble one day." He left before York could reply, pulled out a cigarette to try and sooth his badly-rattled nerves.
He grunted at the guards as he passed them, retrieving his gun from the table beside them without pausing.
"Did you look at the dragons?" the younger called after him.
"No time," Diamond replied. "Maybe next time." Maybe never. Definitely never. A thousand failed attempts at bonding left very little desire to ever look at another dragon if he didn't have to. A stupid thing to be upset about, but he'd seen the dragons not long after finding himself alone in a world that had always been welcoming. The dragons… they'd made him feel like he could belong again, at least to one other being in the world.
But even with the drugs, no dragon would bond with him. After that Diamond had given up bonding with anyone or anything. He kept to himself and his books, outside of when Cambry dragged him out to retrieve a package or deliver a bullet. And occasionally fucking York in the file room.
He waved farewell to the guards stationed outside, then climbed back into his car and drove off.
Lebanon was normally a two hour drive, but with the snow it took him twice that. He called Cambry once he reached Lebanon to tell him he wouldn't be getting back before tomorrow, then flipped open the folder to find where he was supposed to meet the witch.
A small café on the edge of the city; it smelled like chicken soup and coffee as he opened the door and rushed in surrounded by swirls of snow and the caw of the biggest fucking raven he'd ever seen in his life. The stupid thing landed on the little iron fence that surrounded the garden in front of the café, seemed to peer at him through the glass.
Diamond ignored it, shaking snow from his hair and stamping it off his boots before looking around the café.
A slender, somber looking man with blond hair sat in the corner reading a newspaper. There was no one else around, so Diamond shrugged and pulled out the ring Cambry had given him, a silly thing made of tin, but it tingled faintly with magic.
He set the ring on the table with a soft clink. "I'm here on behalf of Cambry." The man looked up, and Diamond reared back, went for his gun reflexively, because he'd been told gray eyes and this guy had eyes blue enough to be a summer day. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Sit, please," the man said, folding the newspaper but still holding it. He spoke with a soft English accent. Not quite London, but Diamond didn't know enough other accents to better identify it. "You are correct, I am not the man with whom Cambry initially spoke. I paid that man off to take his place."
Diamond didn't sit, and he didn't let go of his gun, though he did leave it holstered. "You're about to get a bullet in the face."
"I doubt that," the man replied, and set the paper aside. He brought his left hand up at the same time, and with a softly murmured word Diamond didn't catch, dropped four small objects on the table. Diamond felt the tingle that always came with magic. The man stared at the objects, then looked up at Diamond. "Moon. Bond. Imbalance. Death."
"What?" Diamond asked. "Is there a single magic user in this crazy world that isn't weird as hell?"
"I cannot speak for all," the man replied with a bare smile. "But in my not inconsiderable experience, the answer is no. Sit, please. I intend you no harm. I require help, in fact, and I think you can provide it."
Diamond sighed and sat. There was no point in arguing with a magic user until they were done being weird. Best to just go with the flow until he could swim to shore.
"As I was saying, you called the runes moon, bond, imbalance, and death."
"Runes?" Diamond repeated with a frown. "Nobody uses those anymore."
"Yes, and quite the travesty that is," the man said with a sigh. "Taken together, and in the context of the question I asked them, they mean Diamond betrayed by love."
Diamond flinched. "It doesn't take runes to know that, witch. You could ask damn near anyone."
"I didn't know who would walk through that door to retrieve me. You could have been useless. But you don't have the look of someone born to this life, and your appearance suggests a Snow White Curse. How did you avoid it killing you?"
Mouth twisting in a sour frown, Diamond replied, "Dumb luck. The guy who did it wasn't as good as he thought, he fucked up the last stage of the curse and it backfired on him. Not enough to save me, but I lived, so you know, can't complain."
"Who cast the curse?"
"My brother. He fancied himself an alchemist, and it fucked with his head. He loved me right up until he loved alchemy more." Diamond shrugged. "He's dead, and I'm a walking corpse with poisonous blood. So it goes. Anything else you want to pry into, witch?"
"No, and thank you for being so forthcoming. I assure you that you do not look anything like a walking corpse, for whatever that is worth. I have seen walking corpses on many an occasion."