Title: If Not for Hope
Authoress: ANT-chan
Rating/Genre: Romance/Mystery/NC-17 (for language, violence, dark themes, SLASH, and sex. Individual chapter warnings included.)
Summary: Private detective Tarantino Monetari has one last chance. One last chance to make this job work. If he can't make it big with this one case, he'll have to admit defeat and call it quits. But why couldn't he have chosen a simple investigation? Six years before One Moment. (2004) M/M

If Not for Hope

"If it were not for hope, the heart would break."

Chapter 1: My Ex-Husband was Right

As much as he hated, despised, no, loathed to admit it, his ex-husband was probably right. Tarantino Monetari (or just Terri, as he preferred), was most likely wasting his time. Had been wasting his time for the past two and a half years. He'd tried to keep his confidence up over the last few years, but the thrill of being his own boss was finally dying. Maybe he really should have just stayed on the force.

Terri found himself leaning back in the wrought-iron café chair that crisp, early spring afternoon, staring blankly at the almost mirrored windows of the coffee shop. He may have been waiting for his contact, but he was using his time to… reflect on his life. On himself. 'What are you doing with your life?' he silently asked his reflection in the café windows. 'You're not stupid. You're not ugly. Why do you keep making these stupid mistakes?'

It was all too true. Terri had never considered himself unfortunate. He wasn't what he would call handsome – and never had – but he wasn't ugly by any stretch of the imagination. He was just… normal. Like any face you'd see in the crowd. Average height, a solid 5'9", and stocky in build. A generically peachy skin tone, a normal face… the closest thing he'd ever had to a real insecurity was that he'd hated the slightly hooked form of his nose as a teenager. His thick black hair was getting a little long as of late, his bangs falling into his warm cocoa eyes every other second. He'd prided himself on his normal looks, for it helped him – more often than not – in his job.

Which brought him to the reoccurring question in his life at the moment. Of the last seven months and… two weeks? Terri checked his watch. Seven months, two weeks, thirteen hours, and fifty-two minutes.

But hey, he wasn't counting.

Terri wasn't stupid. He'd never been stupid. But he freely, and without shame, admitted that he'd hated school. He'd never been a great student. It wasn't so much procrastination (as was normally the case with such things) as sheer lack of interest in the bullshit assignments that he and his classmates were forced to do. Most of the time he'd done rather well on the tests. But he'd never had the grades or the desire to make it into one of the Isles' universities. He'd known his career of choice from the time he could walk. A policeman. As juvenile as it sounded, and as juvenile as it had started, Terri had always known he was going to be a cop. He'd always wanted to help people and to keep them safe. And not in the sense that a doctor would keep someone safe. He'd always dreamed of being the hero. Of taking down criminals and protecting the lives of innocents everywhere.

Unfortunately, his life-long dream had conveniently let him forget that he despised bureaucratic, political bullshit and had a chronic loathing for authority. He'd only lasted just over a year on the force. He'd told himself that he was in no way in trouble. He'd taken his qualification for a private investigator and passed with flying colors, and started his own business. He'd spent those first few ignorant months telling himself that he could do just as good a job as the police without the fancy badge and the unnecessary unspoken rules of engagement.

But that was where the whole "my ex was right" thing came in.

Grant had always told him that he was too optimistic… too carefree and reckless. Terri had always laughed it off and told him not to worry. When no real business had come in for most of the first year, Terri hadn't worried. "It just needs time," he used to say, over and over and over again. "It just needs time to pick up."

Business had never picked up, though. It had just continued at its frustrating pace, until he felt like he was going to choke the next person who came in to ask him to find proof of their spouse cheating on them.

And Grant…

Terri sighed in utter emotional exhaustion, and lowered his eyes to his hands. And more importantly, to the gold band on his finger that he still couldn't bring himself to take off. Grant had been the only thing, other than his own stubborn and optimistic nature, that had kept him going. He'd always kept up hope for Grant. He never wanted Grant to worry. He'd loved his husband. Some part of him still did.

But Grant couldn't love him, just to watch his whole life slip away. When the money started stretching thin, the man had tried – frequently – to convince him to quit. To get a more secure job. To maybe try to get his old job back. But Terri had never listened. He'd always brushed it off, falling victim to his own obstinate pride.

So then… Grant had done what Terri considered the unthinkable. He'd demanded a divorce.

And here he was, seven months, two weeks, thirteen hours and now fifty-nine minutes later. Alone. At the end of his proverbial rope. And hoping beyond hope, that he'd finally caught his break.

Yesterday, Terri had been fully ready to admit defeat. And then, she had walked into his office.

She had been pretty. That much he'd thought right away, and if he'd ever had any true attraction to women, he would've been tempted to flirt. Her skin was smooth and the most alluring shade of honey-mocha. Everything about her was fine-boned and slender and stylish. Right down to her carefully applied, accentuating make-up, her dark hair that fell in waves around her pretty face, and her designer wardrobe. But as pretty as she looked… whatever compulsion he could have had to flirt was killed by her expression.

The woman had looked beyond stressed. Past the make-up, she had been hiding the clear signs of grief and extreme duress.

And damn him, all he had thought at that moment had been:

'Please don't let this be another unfaithful husband.'

"How can I help you, ma'am?" he'd said right away, and had gestured to the chair in front of his desk.

'Please not an unfaithful husband.'

The woman had moved to sit, nervously tucking a lock of wavy hair behind her ear. "You're… the detective?" Her voice had been so strained and quiet. He'd known she'd been through the ringer right then and there.

"Yes, ma'am. What can I help you with?"

"My… My husband…"

'Fuck.' It had taken all his restraint to keep the professionally inquisitive and concerned expression.

"You might have seen it…" A newspaper clipping had slid onto his desk. The words "Body Washed Ashore" had stared up at him. Oh yes, he'd seen it. As had everyone in the Valley area. The mutilated body of Benjamin Evala had been found on the banks of the Navit River. It had washed up on the beach near the delta, just outside the downtown limits. But to Terri's knowledge, no culprit or even any real leads had ever been found.

A completely selfish form of excitement flooded him, which he quickly stomped out.

"Missus Evala, then?"

"Just… Just Gracia, please."

"Miss Gracia. Are you going to ask me to find who did this to your husband?" As much as the thought of sticking it to the CVPD had appealed to him, Terri had spent the past seven months realizing how ill-equipped he was to handle such a case.

But this was where his new client had surprised him. Her hands had clenched around the straps of her handbag. "I know who did this to my Ben." And then she'd handed him a business card.

'Neil Aelden. Aelden Imports- ...holy Kaemelia…'

"Ben was working for him at the time of his death."

Looking back on it, Terri could remember being completely flabbergasted, and more than a little suspicious. "No, he wasn't. His records from the security company were blank for nearly a month leading up to his death, and Aelden Imports was never on the list. I have contacts in the CVPD. They never suspected Aelden."

Gracia's expression had hardened from the visage of a tormented spouse to a determined, stony glare. The face of a woman on a mission. "That's because Ben never worked on the books for Neil Aelden. He was… not wanted for what things the public could know."

The force of her words had hit him with the force of a freight train. "He was one of Aelden's thugs."

It was with some reluctance that Gracia had agreed with him. "Yes. Sometimes a bodyguard, sometimes with… less legal things…" She had looked so pained, then. "But he was quitting. He was going to tell Aelden to take him off his underground payroll, or just stop hiring him all together." Gracia had smiled, and pressed a hand to her abdomen. Terri had known, right there, why she was coming to him. "We were going to have a baby. And now…" She had sighed. "There was no proof that Ben was working for Aelden. As much as the police would have loved to finally have something to put Aelden away on, they couldn't do a thing."

"But I can?"

"Maybe. If anything… I want you to find the proof they need. I need you to find at least some evidence that Aelden was responsible for Ben's death."

And like the sucker that he was… Terri had agreed to it. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. He had promised himself this would be his last try at a legitimate private detective business.

Why, though, did it have to be one that was practically impossible to pull off?

"You're slipping, Terri." A hand fell heavily onto his shoulder, making him nearly jump clean out of his chair. He whipped around, even though his brain had already placed that deep, unmistakably accented voice.

"Mik!" he laughed nervously. "Someone as big as you should at least make some sound when you walk." The friend he'd been waiting for towered over Terri at a staggering 6'5", and had a broad-shouldered, intimidating build. It was only made worse by his narrow, razor-sharp jade eyes and neutral expression. The only thing vaguely soft about Mikhail Aleskei was his hair – as black as Terri's own and carelessly brushed away from his face as it tumbled smoothly towards his shoulders. In the most petty part of himself, Terri envied that hair. His own was a pain in the ass to deal with, because it would frizz if you even looked at it wrong.

"I did make noise," Mik rumbled, his lips just barely quirking in amusement. "You losing your touch?"

Ugh, if only he knew. "Nah, man. I've just got a lot on my mind." Terri shook his head. No, he was not getting into that right now. "Sit down! For once in my life, I was actually here early."

"And you wonder why I worry about you." Mik took his invitation to the chair across from him, adjusting his uniform jacket and loosening the tie just barely peeking from under the lapels. The bold CVPD emblem stitched into the breast was still source of bitterness for Terri.

He and Mik had graduated from the Crimson Valley police academy at the same time. But Mik had always been better than him – both at being a cop and just… in general. He was stronger, faster, more intimidating, and most importantly: so much smarter than him. He was only twenty-one, a year younger than Terri, and already he had people looking at him for promotion. His parents were accomplished college professors and researchers too, and Mik had spent a third of his time in Russia (his parents' homeland), a third of his time in the Crimson Isles (the country of his birth), and a third of his time traveling around the world with his parents. And Mik definitely took after his mother and father.

Worldly, intelligent, good-looking… Why a man like that chose to be a cop- well, Terri could only imagine what went on in Mik's head on a good day.

And Mik was staring at him again. That same piercing gaze that Terri knew meant he was being picked apart. "I… told you over the phone that I needed help on a case…" he began awkwardly.

Mik nodded. "It was surprising, to say the least. You've never called for something like that before."

Another wave of bitterness (that he utterly hated, damn it) swept over him. "Yeah, I know," he smiled sardonically. "I've been too busy with lost pets and unfaithful husbands and wives. The life of a P.I. is tough." Oh, he wished he was kidding, and didn't have to fake that laugh. It was all completely useless, however. It was obvious by the pointed disbelief that Mik hadn't fallen for his ruse, even if he didn't say anything. "So! I er…" Terri scratched awkwardly at his scalp and then smoothed his hair back. "I had a case come in yesterday. A real piece of work." At his friend's expectant gaze, Terri sighed. "Gracia Evala walked into my office yesterday."

The reaction was immediate. The typically impassive expression was wiped clean from Mik's face, replaced with open, wide-eyed shock. But he didn't say a word. He didn't really need to. The question was clear on his face.

The stocky male nodded. "She was asking about her husband's death."

Mik's lip curled slightly and when he spoke, his Russian accent had become a bit thicker out of frustration. "Of course she was. That case is still open."

"But only to keep people from asking why the CVPD aren't investigating."

"There's no more to investigate, Terri." Mik growled in annoyance, pinching the bridge of his nose as if to ward off an oncoming headache. "We're still trying to find a solid lead on that. There was nothing. Nothing to point us to anything, any place, or anyone."

A grin touched his lips, sharp and stubborn. He reached into his pocket, and placed the sealed, clear evidence packet (a habit from his police days that he refused to let go) onto the table. "She gave me this. Said Evala was working for Neil Aelden at the time of his death. That he tried to leave Aelden's employ. Sound familiar?"

Those pale green eyes widened briefly, before all expression was forced from Mik's face. But the lack of reaction was answer enough.

"She told the detectives, didn't she? But either there wasn't any evidence or the DA was in Aelden's pocket, right?"

The accusation of police corruption barely made Mik pause. They'd both seen their fair share of powerful men escaping punishment because of their influence. Aelden was one of them. It was one of the biggest reasons that Terri had left. Mostly. His insubordination hadn't gained him any love with his superiors, either. "The ones heading the investigation are good. But they also know that they'll never be able to put Aelden away for anything if they go on a single lead. We need evidence to link him, without a doubt, to Evala's death."

Luckily, this was where he came in. "You can leave that to me."

Mikhail didn't seem too pleased with that statement, however. "Terri, don't go barging in recklessly." Ah, Mik knew him all too well, didn't he? But Terri had every intention to do things right this time.

"Don't worry about it. Aelden would have the evidence destroyed – hell, probably have me destroyed - before I could even tell anyone if I did something like that. I'll get you what you guys need. Some evidence of his connection that'll get you a warrant without him hearing about it. He'll have no time to destroy any other evidence and you can catch him with his proverbial pants down."

"Please, let's keep it proverbial."

Terri rolled his eyes theatrically. Mik's wry sense of humor decided to show itself at the strangest moments. "Homophobe."


"I could kick your ass any day of the week and you know it." The two of them shared a small laugh, and in its wake were left in an uncomfortable silence. Mik dropped his eyes to the table, and looked to Terri like he was debating something internally.

"I… heard about Grant." It was all he said.

And it was all he needed to say. "Oh. Ah… yeah…" Terri leaned back in his chair and rubbed his arm in discomfort and melancholy. Was it still supposed to hurt this much? "It happens sometimes. Y'know?"

Mik nodded, but his expression remained understanding. "It does. But that doesn't mean it's fair."

Terri laughed bitterly. "No kidding." He almost reached to twist his wedding ring on his finger, but instead shook his head. He didn't want to think about that anymore. "Enough about that. I need your help."

"I was expecting that."

"Of course you were. I need anything you know about the body. Anything that'll give me an idea what to look for."

The taller man's lips thinned. "That's just it. I can't."

"What?" Terri leaned forward, his frown incredulous. "Why not? It's not as if you guys are finding anything. Wait, this isn't some civilian bullshit, is it? Mik, I worked with you! We graduated from the god damned academy toget-"

"That's got nothing to do with it," Mikhail hissed back at him. His voice had become low and dangerous, and Terri realized he was treading on dangerous ground. "There was nothing found on the body. Nothing. No foreign hairs that we couldn't account for, no DNA, no characteristic wounds that we could identify. Nothing."

To anyone, that would not have added up. To a former cop and private detective, Terri knew from experience that such a thing was rationally impossible. "No way. You've got to be joking. I know you do joke occasionally. There's no way that a guy that was as fucked up as Evala was when he was hauled out of the river could have no usable forensic evidence. It had to have washed away in the river or was covered up by decay or something!"

Mik ran a hand through his hair. He looked – in this unguarded moment – just as confused as Terri. "He was found inside a body bag. Everything that could have washed off would have been in the bag. But it wasn't. And we took the decay into account. There were absolutely no weapon in use today that matched the wound tracts. And there were no unique characteristics about the weapon. And no shoeprints or fist marks or any kind of imprints from the bruises on his body."

"L-Let me get this straight…" Terri could almost feel a headache coming on. "This guy was tortured, beaten, brutally murdered, and dropped in a river. And there's nothing to tell you what was used? And no fingerprints?"


'Holy shit, Terri,' he thought miserably, 'you picked a great case to make it big, didn't you?' Because even as his rational mind grappled with this seemingly impossible fact, he was realizing what was left once he had ruled out the natural possibilities. "It's something nonhuman, isn't it?" he whispered.

His old colleague's face went blank. "It could be, yes."

The Crimson Isles police force had been ridiculed in the past, mostly from foreign dignitaries (when they actually had them come to the country) and tourists from more "civilized" nations, for being "superstitious." For sometimes writing cases of homicide off as something it wasn't. A freak accident, a mugging gone bad… you name it, the police in Terri's country had an excuse for it.

There were few countries left in the world that could boast of having such a rich and lasting mythological history. Many countries had entered the age of rationality, where if something could not be scientifically proven, it could not exist. But the Crimson Isles, or Navitnios as it was traditionally called, only talked a big game. Outwardly, they preached rationality, just as every other country. But they knew. There were things out there - things that the strictly rational and scientific mind could never comprehend.

Things that went beyond the norm and into the supernatural.

Not everyone in the police force believed, or at least claimed not to believe, but most of them knew. They'd either seen things themselves or read between the lines when a case was ended abruptly from the higher-ups. The supernatural and mythological was alive and well in the Isles. Hiding in the mountains and the forests, on the outlying islands, hell, even in plain sight in the cities. No human Terri ever met talked about it openly. It just wasn't something you brought up in normal conversation. And definitelynot when explaining the outcome of a case.

Who the hell in their right mind would tell someone that a succubus ate their husband or that someone's daughter was murdered by a particularly nasty tribe of Fae?

Luckily, when one of their own stepped out of line… there were bigger nonhumans in the food chain. They took care of their own for the most part. As much as used to burn Terri to think about it, the police were in no way equipped to handle the supernatural.

"And that's why CVPD never went through with an investigation?" This was looking worse and worse be the second.

But fortunately, Mik answered with a negative. "That may have been… a concern. But they're more worried about his own influence. He may have nonhuman allies, though. And if he does, they may stick up for him."

"The Sevastyans, you think?" The Sevastyans were the only well-known family that Terri knew for sure were nonhumans. When a case was put to rest without a truly viable explanation, it was understood that – nine times out of ten – the Sevastyans would be taking care of it. Publicly, the Sevastyan family were part of the Navit nobility, and had their hand in just about every facet of business in the Isles. They were the oldest, and undoubtedly the wealthiest (perhaps only second to the royal family) bloodline in the country. They had schools and theaters and plazas bearing their name. But privately, they were known to have their hands in much more than strictly legal ventures of business.

"The Sevastyans would be more likely to hinder Aelden than help him, Terri. We don't even know if he deals in… that kind of thing."

"I still don't know if I trust them. Their whole outlook reeks of like… conspiracy theory. They aren't on anyone's side but their own. And that's a little creepy."

Mik rolled his eyes. "Your idiocy does bring up an interesting problem. If Aelden is in league with the Sevastyans, there'll be no bringing him in. You don't mess with them."

"Fucking bullshit is what that is…"

"Cool it. There's always a bigger fish. The Sevastyans are quite a bit bigger than the common human cop."

Terri merely grumbled his irritated words of choice. "So you've got no idea if Aelden is even fair game." When Mik shook his head, the private investigator groaned. "Then what help are you, man?"

By the look on his friend's face, a lesser man would have taken a swing at him. And if Terri had felt even the least bit repentant, he might have been worried. "Because I can point you to someone who can. Not sure if I should now, though."

"Wha-" Something dangerously close to a whine slipped past his lips. "Miiiiikkkkk come ooonnnnn."


"Miiiikkk! Please?"

Mik's expression didn't change.

"Please please please please please please-"

"Alright, alright. Just shut up."

"Yes!" He still had it. But his excitement was short-lived.

"You should go out to the old warehouse district."

Terri's smile promptly dropped. "That's a shitty part of town, Mik…"

"I know. But a guy that works out of there, goes by the name Johnny Trick, knows people. If he can't answer your questions, he can tell you someone who can."

The name didn't inspire much confidence. "Sounds shady. Do I… want to know how you know this guy?"

Mik's subtle smile was mysterious and more than a little worrying. "You'll see what I mean when you go there. He'll help you out. I can promise you that."

'Mik, this shit had better be worth it.' It was all Terri could think as he parked his car – his pretty baby – safely behind a broken down warehouse. He wasn't far from where Mik said this "Johnny Trick" would be, so his Plymouth Barracuda wouldn't in too much danger.

He hoped so, anyway. His baby was the only thing that still held any uncontaminated good memories. He locked the door and ran an affectionate hand along the side. "You'll be okay for a few minutes, won't you, Bennie?" He smiled hopefully. "Of course you will, old girl." A gleam of sunlight hit the hood, almost seeming to answer his statement by trying to blind him. He chuckled. "Okay, okay, you're not old. Stay safe." It was all the goodbye he'd allow himself as he walked between the dilapidated buildings towards the street.

Which was deserted. And oh-so-creepy.

'Oooohhh this had better be worth it,' he thought again. Terri glanced as calmly as he could from side to side, trying to be subtle as he pulled his jacket closer to his body. It was early spring in the Isles and it wasn't exactly cold. He probably could have braved the crisp weather without one if he had wanted to. But he was a P.I. and a former cop. He wasn't going to let his nervousness manifest itself in any other way. He'd been to worse places when he'd been a beat cop. He could handle this. He could. Really.

There was a loud metallic crash as a dumpster was hit just a few warehouses over. Terri refused to admit that he nearly jumped out of his skin.

'Mik was right. I am losing my touch…'

He didn't get to think on it anymore, thankfully. A lanky man had walked out of an alley just down the road, and was walking casually towards him. Or the warehouse he was standing by. Terri couldn't tell which was his destination, really. He half hoped, and half dreaded that this man was the mysterious "Johnny Trick." He couldn't fully see the man's face, as the hood of his pullover was up and low over his eyes. What Terri could see of his face was thin, pale, and scruffy. But Terri didn't get the impression that it was in a sickly or unkempt manner, as he used to see with druggies and thugs back when he was with the police.

As the man approached, his head lifted just slightly, and his smooth gait faltered for just a moment. And then a sly smile drifted over his lips. His posture shifted, his head tilting.

His old police habits kicked in again. Terri frowned. 'Is that… recognition?' It couldn't be. He had to be losing his touch.

Or else he was going insane.

The man stopped a few paces from him, and Terri could feel his eyes – mere glints under the shadow of the hood – studying him. The man stood just a couple of inches taller than himself, and from what Terri could guess, his build was thin underneath the baggy clothes. He waited for the man to speak, and when a full minute had ticked by without a word, the dark-haired man cleared his throat awkwardly. "You uh… You Johnny Trick?"

There was a flash of white, straight teeth as the man's smirk widened. "That'd be me. What can I get for ya?"

'What can I-' He almost groaned as realization struck. 'A drug dealer. Mik, you sent me to a fucking drug dealer.'

"I'm… not here for any of what you're selling. I think there's been some mistake…"

"Oh, I doubt it, Monetari. Unless you've suddenly developed a taste for less than legal things in the past few years."

Terri's brain screeched to a halt. "How-" He managed to get his voice back under control before it cracked again from shock. Johnny Trick didn't miss it, and grinned wickedly at him. "Who are you?" he growled instead. "How do you know me?"

Rather than answer, the dealer slowly lifted his hands to the hood partially concealing his face. With deliberate slowness, it was pulled back, revealing a shock of short, messy brown hair – slightly unkempt and just a little greasy – and bright, intelligent blue eyes. It took Terri's breath away. There were a few differences; the hair had been dyed from the brilliant blond from his memory, and the eyebrow piercing and the multiple ear piercings were new. The face was a little thinner, less youthful and carefree.

But those eyes were the same. Those same pale, impossibly observant and intelligent eyes.

"B-Bellanger?" he gasped. "Sebastian Bellanger?"

'No way. No. Way.'

Johnny Trick brought a finger to his smiling lips secretively. "Now don't go spreading that around, rookie."

"You-" This was too much. "This is where you've been? You drop off the grid and come here? Why- how?"

Johnny- no, Sebastian chuckled, gesturing dramatically. "What can I say? I have a thrill for theatrics. The boss picked up on that right away. And here I am."

Terri's brow furrowed in confusion, and then suddenly his expression blanked in realization. "You're still- oh. Oh."

Sebastian smiled at him. "That's right, Terri. So we'll just keep this between ourselves, hmm?"

"Does… Mik knows, then? Does anyone else?"

The lanky brunet rolled his eyes. "Mik's smart. He figured it out in the first year. But only because he watches and listens. Other than him, only the important people know." The hood was moved back into place, concealing those too-sharp eyes. "So what can I do for ya, Terri?" His voice had gotten slightly deeper, the private detective noticed. Slightly rougher, too. Disguised just enough that no one would suspect.

Sweet, bitchy Navisha, what was with today? Had he fallen down the rabbit hole?

"I…" He shook his head. "Mik said you could help me get some information."

"One of your P.I. cases?"

"You… know about that?"

"I keep my eyes and ears open. You left the force nearly three years ago. Started your new business not too long after. And you haven't had any big breaks since." Sebastian chuckled, his smile knowing. "But if you've come to me, that's changed, hasn't it?"

Terri swallowed thickly. "Y-Yeah."

"I thought so. So, dear Tarantino. Who or what do you need information on?"

"Neil Aelden."

The dealer whistled lowly at that. "You aim big, doncha Terri?" A hand rose to scratch thoughtfully at the scruff on his jaw. "I couldn't tell you anything helpful myself. Even if I pay attention, I only tend to hear things low grade. High rollers like Aelden aren't really the talk of the town down here in the proverbial basement of the criminal hierarchy." Terri's heart started to sink. But Sebastian wasn't finished yet. "But… I do know someone who can help."

Severely irritated with how this day was going, Tarantino sighed roughly. "Who will what, say they know someone else who knows someone else? I've been getting the run around, y'know?"

"Haha! Don't worry. These guys are who I go to if I need information I can't readily get. I give them information, they give me some in return. That's their niche. They deal in the one true thing that everyone needs and wants nowdays. Information. Smart business move, if ya ask me. They've got contacts from here to Newblood and back again a few times over."

Well… that was certainly the most promising thing he'd heard all day. "And… where can I find these guys?"

Sebastian nodded in the direction of the city just in the distance. "They've got a place up on the Overlook. Address is 323. Can't miss the place." Terri could sense the man looking past him, and he glanced over his shoulder. A young man – in his twenties at most – was wandering toward them, his eyes shifting nervously from side to side. Sebastian's posture instantly changed, just enough that no one be a trained eye would notice. He slouched just a little, his body taking on a lazy appearance. "Just go into the place and tell the guy behind the counter somethin'. 'The nymphs dance under the light of Lunavi.' It'll get you in." And without another word, Johnny Trick sauntered away. Terri turned, wanting to ask what the hell the man was talking about. But the dealer was already zeroing in on his customer like a hawk on a skittering mouse.

"Who is that?" Terri heard the young man mutter nervously. "He looks like a cop."

Terri turned to leave. And as he ducked into the alley, he heard Sebastian Bellanger laugh easily. "Him? A cop? Naaaaahhhh, man. Just someone too fuckin' straight-laced and afraid to admit he likes a little fun. Here, look, I got your stuff here…"

Terri tried not to listen. Even if he knew the truth, the thought of a genuinely good man – an old friend – selling drugs was… disturbing. To such an extent that it left him shaken.

This case had better be worth it.

So here's my failed NaNoNovel that I will be continuing after the fact. :D The adventures of the slightly naive, derpy detective!

And this chapter is so chock-full of information on the Isles and on some side characters that I had a hard time keeping the pace under control. XD So let's see... yes, surprise! The Crimson Isles is a modern fantasy setting. :3 Nothing is as it seems.

And for those of you that read One Moment, the co-op epic I'm doing with the lovely VoodooPanda, you might recognize Johnny Trick. :D Even though he was only in one chapter.

Anyway! Please let me know what you think, even if it's criticism! :3 I'll see you with another chapter next Sunday!