A Fistful of Charms
A Fistful of Charms
Жанр: Фэнтези про драконов
Год издания: 2019
“Look,” I said, feeling uncomfortable. “Why don’t you and Matalina talk it over.”
“I don’t need to talk it over,” Jenks said tightly. “I’m not going to do it.”
My shoulders slumped, but I was too afraid to push him further. “Fine,” I said sourly. “Excuse me. I have to move my laundry.”
Covering my worry with a false anger, I stomped out of the kitchen, sneakers squeaking on the linoleum and then the hardwood floors as I went to my bathroom. Slamming the white enameled doors harder than I needed to, I shifted Kisten’s sweats to the dryer. Jenks didn’t need them anymore, but I wasn’t going to give them back wet.
I wrenched the dial to dry, punched the on button, and heard the drier start to turn. Arms shoulder width apart, I leaned over the dryer. Low temperatures would severely limit Jenks after sunset. Another month and it wouldn’t matter, but May could be cold in Michigan.
I pushed myself up, resigned to dealing with it. It was his choice. Resolute, I padded toward the kitchen, forcing the frown from me.
“Please, Jenks,” I heard Ivy plead just before I turned the corner, the unusual emotion in her voice jerking me to a stop. She never let her emotions show like that. “Rachel needs someone as a buffer between her and any vamp she runs into outside of Cincinnati,” she whispered, unaware that I could hear. “Every vamp here knows I’ll kill them twice if they touch her, but once she’s out of my influence, her unclaimed scar is going to make her fair game. I can’t go with her. Piscary—” She took a shaky breath. “He’d be really pissed if I left his influence. God, Jenks, this is just about killing me. I can’t go with her. You have to. And you have to be big, otherwise no one will take you seriously.”
My face went cold and I put a hand to my scar. Crap. I forgot about that.
“I don’t need to be big to protect her,” he said, and I nodded.
“I know that,” Ivy said, “and she knows that, but a blood-hungry vamp won’t care. And there might be more than one.”
Insides shaking, I slowly backed up. My fingers felt for the knob of my bathroom door and I yanked it closed, slamming it, as if I’d just gotten out. Then I briskly entered the kitchen, not looking at anyone. Ceri was standing by my smallest spell pot with a finger stick in her hand; what she wanted was obvious. Ivy was pretending to read her e-mail, and Jenks was standing with a horrified look on his face, Matalina beside him. “So, I guess we’re stopping every hour?” I said.
Jenks swallowed hard. “I’ll do it.”
“Really, Jenks,” I said, trying to hide my guilt. “It’s okay. You don’t have to do this.”
He flitted up, hands on hips while he got in my face. “I’m doing this, so shut the hell up and say thank-you!”
Feeling miserable and vulnerable, I whispered, “Thank you.”
His wings clattered as he flitted shakily to Matalina with a little huff. She clutched at him, her beautiful angel face looking scared when she turned him so his back was to me and they started to talk, their words so high-pitched and fast I couldn’t follow.
With the practiced silence of a slave, Ceri eased close to set the spell pot with the Were potion beside me. She placed the finger stick next to it with a small click and backed away. Still upset, I fumbled the sterile blade open and glanced at the brew. It looked like cherry Kool-Aid in the miniature copper pot.
“Thanks,” I muttered. White or not, using demon magic wasn’t what I wanted to be known for. The prick of the blade was a jolt, and I massaged my finger. Three drops of my blood went plopping into the vat, and the throat-catching scent of burnt amber rose as my blood kindled demon magic. How nice is that?
My stomach quivered, and I looked at it. “It won’t invoke early?” I asked, and Ceri shook her head. Lifting the heavy tome, she moved it in front of me.
“Here,” she said, pointing. “This is the word of invocation. It won’t work unless you’re connected to a line or you have enough ever-after spindled to effect a change. I’ve seen what you can hold, and it’s enough. This one here”—she pointed farther down the page—“is the word to shift back. I suggest not using it unless you’re connected to a line. You’re adding to your mass on this second one, not removing it, and it’s hard to know how much energy to withhold from your spindle to make up for the imbalance. It’s easier to connect to a line and let it balance itself. Saltwater won’t break demon magic, so don’t forget the countercurse.”
Nervous, I shifted my grip on the little copper pot. It would be enough potion for seven earth charms, but ley line magic was usually one spell per go. I looked again at the word of invocation. Lupus. Pretty straightforward.
“It won’t work unless it’s inside of you,” Ceri said, sounding annoyed.
Jenks flitted close, hovering over the pages. His gaze moved from the print to me. “How is she going to say the word to shift back if she’s a wolf?” he asked, and a flash of angst burned through me until I guessed it must be like any ley line charm that only required you to think it hard enough. Though shouting a word of invocation definitely added a measure of strength.
Ceri’s green eyes narrowed. “Saying it in her mind will be enough,” she said. “Do you want me to put it in a pentagram to keep it fresh, or are you going to take it now?”
I raised the spell pot, trying to smooth out my brow so I at least didn’t look nervous. It was just an elaborate disguise potion, one that would make me furry and with big teeth. If I was lucky, I’d never have to invoke it. I felt Ivy’s attention on me, and while everyone watched, I downed it.
I tried not to taste it, but the biting grit of ash and the bitter taste of tinfoil, chlorophyll, and salt puckered my lips. “Oh God,” I said while Ivy grabbed a second slice of pizza. “That tastes like crap.” I went to the dissolution vat and gave the empty spell pot a quick dunk before I set it in the sink. The potion burned through me, and I tried to stifle a shudder, failing.
“You okay?” Ivy asked as I shivered and the pot rattled against the sink before I let it go.
“Fine,” I said, my voice rough. I’d just taken a demon spell. Voluntarily. Tonight I was peachy keen, and tomorrow I would be taking the bus tour of the nicest parts of hell.
Ceri hid a smile, and I frowned at her. “What!” I snapped, but she only smiled wider.
“That’s what Al said whenever he took his potions.”
“Swell,” I snarled, going to sit at the table and pull the pizza closer. I knew it was anxiety that was making me irritable, and I tried to smooth my face out, pretending it didn’t bother me.
“See, Matalina?” Jenks coaxed, and he flew to land beside her on the sill next to my beta. “It’s fine. Rachel took a demon spell and she’s okay. It will be easier this way, and I won’t die of the cold. I’ll be just as big as she is. It will be okay, Mattie. I promise.”
Matalina rose in a column of silver sparkles. She wrung her hands and stared at everyone for a moment, her distress obvious and heartbreaking. In an instant she was gone, out into the rain through the pixy hole in the screen.
Standing on the sill, Jenks let his wings droop. I felt a flash of guilt, then stifled it. Jenks was going whether I was with him or not, and if he was big, he would have a better chance of coming back in one piece. But she was so upset, it was hard not to feel like it was my fault.
“Okay,” I said, the bite of pizza tasteless. “What do we do first for Jenks?”
Ceri’s slight shoulders eased and she gripped her crucifix with what was clearly an unknowing gesture of contentment. “His curse will have to be specially tailored. We should probably set a circle too. This is going to be difficult.”
The harsh smell of low-grade yarn dye didn’t mix well with the luscious scent of leather and silk. Through it ran a dusky incense that soaked into me with each slow breath, keeping my muscles loose and slack. Kisten. My nose tickled, and I pushed the afghan from my face, snuggling deeper into the sound of his heartbeat. I felt him shift, and a sleepy part of me remembered we were in the living room on the couch, lying like spoons. My head was tucked under his chin, and his arm was over my middle, warm and secure.
“Rachel?” he whispered so softly that it barely stirred my hair.
“Mmmm?” I mumbled, not wanting to move. In the past eleven months I’d found that a vampire’s blood lust varied like tempers, dependent upon stress, temperament, upbringing, and when they had slaked it last. I had gone into living with Ivy as a roommate as a complete idiot. Turns out she had been on the extreme end of the hairy-scary scale at the time, being stressed about Piscary wanting her to make me a toy or kill me, acerbated by her guilt at her desire for blood and trying to abstain from it. Three years of abstinence made for a very anxious vamp. I didn’t want to know what Ivy had been before going cold turkey to try to remake herself. All I knew was she was much easier to live with now that she was “taking care of business,” though it left her hating herself and feeling she was a failure every time she succumbed.
I’d found Kisten to be on the other end, with a laid-back temperament to begin with and no issues about satisfying his blood lust. And though I wouldn’t feel comfortable napping in the same room with Ivy, I could snuggle up to Kisten, provided he took care of things beforehand. And I didn’t do jumping jacks in his sweatshirt, I thought sourly.
“Rachel, love,” he said again, louder, with a hint of pleading. I could feel his muscles tense and his breathing quicken. “I think Ceri is ready for you to kindle Jenks’s spell, and as much as I’d love to pull blood from you, it might be better if you did it yourself.”
My eyes flew open and I stared at the bank of Ivy’s electronic equipment. “She finished it?” I said, and Kisten grunted when my elbow pushed off his gut when I sat up. My sock feet hit the rug, and my eyes shot to the clock on the TV. It was past noon?
“I fell asleep!” I said, seeing our pizza-crust-strewn plates on the coffee table. “Kist,” I complained, “you weren’t supposed to let me fall asleep!”
He remained reclining on Ivy’s gray suede couch, his hair tousled and a content, sleepy look to his eyes. “Sorry,” he said around a yawn, not looking sorry at all.
“Darn it. I was supposed to be helping Ceri.” It was bad enough she was doing my spelling for me. To be sleeping when she did it was just rude.
He lifted one shoulder and let it fall. “She said to let you sleep.”
Giving him an exasperated sigh, I tugged my jeans straight. I hated it when I fell asleep in my clothes. At least I had showered before dinner, thinking it only fair I get rid of the lingering scent of wearing his sweatshirt. “Ceri?” I said, shuffling into the kitchen. For crying out loud, I’d wanted to have Kisten’s borrowed van packed and be on the road by now.
Ceri was sitting with her elbows on Ivy’s antique table. Beside her was a pizza box, empty but for a single slice and an untouched container of garlic dipping sauce. Her long, wispy hair was the only movement, floating in the chill breeze from the window. The kitchen was cleaner than I ever managed when I did my spelling: copper bowls stacked neatly in the sink, the grit of salt under my feet from where she had made a circle, and a scattering of ley line magic paraphernalia and earth magic herbs. A demon book was open on the center counter, and the purple candle I burned last Halloween guttered even as I watched.
The early afternoon sun was a bright swath of light coming in the window. Past the drifting curtains, pixies shrieked and played, shredding the fairy nest in the ash tree with a savage enthusiasm. Jenks was sitting on the table, slumped against Ceri’s half-empty cup of tea. “Ceri,” I said, reaching to touch her shoulder.