When you give a demigod a beer, he will drink for a day. When you teach a demigod to brew, he will get humans drunk for the duration of his long, long, life.
Not that I was much older than these college kids who drank like it wasn't Wednesday. Relieving my tray, I slid plastic pitchers across the table. A beat-poet type took a sip of his Hefeweizen. His eyes widened behind thick glasses.
"Duude," he said, throwing a look at his orange-haired date. "This is the best hef I've ever had."
I grinned. "House recipe," I lied. The truth was that the bar shipped that swill here from Idaho. It tasted amazing because I had enchanted the mugs myself. Fishing for tips, I flashed a smile at Orange Hair.
"You should try the mead."
Hi, I'm your local Utah demigod of the harvest, and I have the best job in the world.
"Dmitry!" my manager's voice pierced my ears. "Order up!
I threw the towel over my shoulder and hurried over to collect the order before she got pissy.
The Salty Dog Brewery was hopping for a weekday and I caught an irritated glance from my manager, Tricia. She loved giving me a hard time. Scowling, she loaded my tray with more mugs and a martini glass full to the brim with something artificially pink. I touched each mug. The second my fingers touched the glass, I felt the bubbles and flavors inside. I repaired them all—balance, depth, and alcohol content. I left the pink abomination alone. Not even a god could save that.
My fellow server, Kiki, passed me, her toned arms carrying a tray full of nachos and cocktails with enviable grace. If I said that her etched dancer's shoulders, beautifully displayed by her revealing tank, didn't make my throat wobble, that would be a big ole Texas lie. She smiled with a row of straight, white teeth.
"The Bloody Mary bar could use the Dmitry touch," she said. Her French accent made "touch" sound like "tush." My toes tingled. Damn, that accent would make anyone drop their penny. God bless Senegal.
I saluted her. "Ma'am, yes, ma'am."
Her dark eyes dropped to my jeans.
"Do you have to carry those around?"
I glanced down. A pair of ancient knitting needles stuck out of my back pocket. My fingers circled around them protectively.
I winked at Kiki. "How else would I make you look at my butt?"
She laughed and left me to refill the tomato mix and vodka. When no one was looking, I transferred the needles from my back pocket to under my shirt. Losing them could cost me my life. And I wasn't about to get eaten by a back-alley werewolf when I'd worked so hard to stop my own family from killing me.
The lid on the gallon of lime concentrate was ajar. I sniffed at it and cringed at the vinegary stench. Some idiot had left it open and it had turned rancid. I was that idiot. Hefting the gallon, I headed for the back door.
The sun was low in the sky, and the June air smelled like linden blossoms. I breathed deeply. The Salty Dog had been my home ever since I turned twenty-one, five years ago. I never wanted another human job. Next week, after years of saving, I would sign documents for a small warehouse of my own. I would start a legitimate brewery. As long as the human law didn't get a clue that my "small" basement brewing operation was much bigger than what I claimed on my taxes. Or, my older cousin, Golo, didn't finally find me and marinate me in the marshes of Vyraj, the Slavic pantheon. So far, I'd dodged them both for a decade. #Winning!
The drain grate reflected the lights of the parking lot. Careful not to breathe in, I poured out the bottle. I watched the goo disappear, grateful to be alive to brew another day. I'd lived in Utah for twelve years. Outside of the occasional fairy raid on my garden, or a drunk vodyanoi crashing my roommate's party, I was largely undisturbed by the creatures of Vyraj.
Most of the supernaturals that lived in Salt Lake City had their own problems and their own families to dodge. They didn't care who I really was, or who was looking for me. The only other supernatural presence was the Spiral, a sort of extra-scary universal police that had an office downtown Salt Lake City. As the guardians of the human plane—or Yav, or Midgard, or Gaia, depending on what you believed—they had never taken an interest in me. There was a reason my famous grandmother sent me here when I was a kid. Who the hell would look for a brewing demigod among Mormons?
As I reached for the door handle, I heard the click-clacks of little nails against the asphalt. I turned around in time to see a blue shape shooting across the parking lot like a bullet. Behind it, a rippling tear in the universe bent the light of the setting sun. Its edges sparked with electricity. I recognized an inter-pantheon portal. The blue shape blurred closer, and I recognized a familiar noodely body.
The ferret looked frantic. Its fur was ruffled like it'd been through a spin cycle. Before I could do more than squeal like a girl, it scampered up my leg. Its—her—tail curled around my throat. She trembled.
"Alysa." I ran a comforting hand over her soft fur. "What are you doing here?"
A growl and a sucking noise snapped my attention back to the portal. Something that looked like lumps of muscles and joints fell out of the edges. Short-snouted, ape-like faces scowled at me with rows of yellow teeth. The empty bottle I still held fell to the ground and shattered. Backing into the door, I had the presence of mind to grope for the handle and pull.
"I gotta take a ten!" I yelled into the opening.
I slammed the door shut and slid the outer bolt in place.
"Hang on to me," I said to the ferret. Chattering, she dug her nails into my shirt. My hands fumbled for my needles. I drew them out, feeling the magic pulse in the ancient copper. An ear-splitting scream came from one of the creatures when it spotted the ferret around my shoulders. Instantly, I knew what I was dealing with.
Drekavacs, the screamers, were supposedly born of babies who died before baptism. Or so the misguided monotheists of Yugoslavia believed. In reality, they were nasty little goblins who were eating corpses way before Christianity stomped through the Old World with its iron boots.
The monsters came pouring out of the portal like a gang of angry monkeys. I counted five, all no taller than my hip. The real danger came from their muscles and claws that were made for tearing flesh. Their eerie baby demon mugs cackled when they saw a kid in an apron holding up two knitting needles. I might as well have rung the dinner bell.
"Give usss the shifterrr," they cooed in Slav as they circled. "She will diiie. You will liiive."
"Orrr," another joined in, his teeth dripping with saliva. "You bottth diiie."
My palms burned with energy as the knitting needles swelled in my hands. Two daggers glistened where the needles used to be. I flicked my wrists, and the blades caught the setting sun. Sila and Veter, Power and Wind, were comforting weights in my hands.
"Orrr," I mocked. "You realize that you crashed the wrong parking lot."
I dropped into a crouch as the first monster came at me. Its teeth snapped over my head. Thrusting up Sila, I opened its belly. The dagger cut through the creature like wire through lard. Its black blood sprayed me and stained my Salty Dog t-shirt. Damn it, I'd just washed it!
The drekavac behind him screamed a blood-curdling version of a baby's cry and set out to avenge his friend. Gaining speed, he pushed off with powerful legs and shot at me with the menace of a cannon ball. With Alysa riding the roller coaster of my shoulders, I rolled out of the way. The creature thudded against the back door. It fell, leaving a boulder-sized dent. Their pin-prick eyes red with anger, the three remaining drekavacs stared. The easy prey they had expected was turning out to have teeth of its own.
I wiped my bloody dagger on my apron and grinned. "Whoops." The blue ferret disappeared under the collar of my shirt.
The three remaining drekavacs did exactly what I expected them to—they split up to flank me. While one headed me straight on, the others shot at me from the sides. When they landed, claws out, I was no longer there.
Leaping over the head of my shorter assailant, I planted my feet behind him. I twisted my torso, daggers parallel, and buried them at the base of his neck and spine. The creature howled. I caught another drekavac on the ribs as he rushed me and left a gaping wound along his side. His teeth drew blood on my forearm. Retaliating, I wrenched Sila out of his friend and stabbed him between the eyes. The drekavac dropped.
The third creature paced back and forth while his friends died. His grotesque features turned from blood-lust to uncertainty. When I wrenched Sila out of the one that had tried to get me from the side, he backed up to the portal, turned and ran. True to its name, Veter, the wind dagger, whirled after him. It pierced his heart like an apple. I felt the pull through the fabric of realities as the daggers connected. Following the golden thread between them, I materialized on the other side and caught Veter's handle. I was just in time to see the drekavac collapse in a pool of its own blood. This was when I saw I'd miscalculated. There were not five drekavacs; there were six.
The last one had hung back in the shadows and watched his friends die. Now, he was sprinting toward the portal. I cocked Veter, then shrugged and lowered it. It was just the one, what was the harm? With a hateful look of its beady eyes, the creature bared its teeth and leapt through the edges.
A soft ball stirred in the sleeve of my shirt. The blue ferret slid out of it like a hairy python. She shook out her body and looked up at me in reprimand. Blurring, she swelled on the asphalt until her shape grew to the size of a girl. A pair of grumpy green eyes stared at me through the mess of bubblegum-blue hair.
"Sew it shut!"
I felt like I'd missed a sitcom episode. "Eh?"
"The portal, Dmitry!" she insisted. "Sew it shut with the needles."
I glanced down and saw that my daggers had slimmed down to the size of a pair of knitting needles. The golden thread of Fate hummed between them. Not sure what I was doing, I stumbled to the sizzling portal. Through it, I could smell pines and pond lilies. The sight of Vyraj's pink sky made me panic. I'd spent the last ten years trying to stay as far from my home as I could, and now there it was. A stone's throw away and crawling with creatures—and demigods—that wanted to kill me. A gust of wind pulled me forward until I realized that the portal itself was tugging at my hair and sucking at my shirt. It wanted me to step through.
I caught the two sparkling edges of the portal with my needles. The golden thread drew the gash closed and the entrance between the two worlds disappeared with a pop.
"What," I panted, "the hell was that?"
"That was the third portal I found," Alysa said. "In Salt Lake. This week."
Goosebumps of apprehension crawled up my arms. My human home had been safe for years. This was the last thing I needed.
"So?" I asked, trying to swallow my jolt of panic.
"So," she mocked, "we're both screwed if we don't find the asshole who's opening the portals to Vyraj."