A Fistful of Charms
A Fistful of Charms
Жанр: Фэнтези про драконов
Год издания: 2019
Her head jerked up. “O di immortals, Gally,” she said, clearly not awake. “My apologies! Your curse is ready. I’ll have your tea directly.”
Jenks took to the air in a clattering of wings, and my attention shot from him to her. “Ceri?” I repeated, frightened. She called Algaliarept Gally?
The young woman stiffened, then dropped her head into her hands again. “God help me, Rachel,” she said, her words muffled. “For a moment…”
My hand slipped from her shoulder. She had thought she was back with Al. “I’m sorry,” I said, feeling even more guilty. “I fell asleep and Kisten didn’t wake me. Are you okay?”
She turned, a thin smile on her heart-shaped face. Her green eyes were tired and weary. I was sure she hadn’t slept since yesterday afternoon, and she looked ready to drop. “I’m fine,” she lisped faintly, clearly not.
Embarrassed, I sat before her. “Jeez, Ceri, I could have done something.”
“I’m fine,” she repeated, her eyes on the ribbon of smoke spiraling up from the candle. “Jenks helped me with the plants. He’s very knowledgeable.”
Eyebrows rising, I watched Jenks tug his green silk gardening jacket down. “You think I’m going to take a spell without knowing what’s in it?” he said.
“Jenks helped you make it?” I asked.
She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter who makes it, as long as you kindle it.” Pale face smiling tiredly, she nodded to the potion and finger stick.
Moving slowly, I rose and went to Jenks’s spell. The crack of the safety seal on the finger stick breaking was loud.
“Use your Jupiter finger,” Ceri advised. “It will add the strength of your will to it.”
It made a difference? I wondered, feeling ill from more than lack of sleep as I pricked my finger for three drops of blood. Kisten stirred in the living room when they went plopping into the spell pot and the scent of burnt amber rose. Jenks’s wings blurred to motion, and I held my breath, waiting for something to happen. Nothing. But I had to say the “magic words” first.
“Done,” Ceri said, slumping where she sat.
My eyes went to Kisten’s lanky form when he strode into the kitchen, barefoot and rumpled. “Afternoon, ladies,” he said, pulling the pizza box closer and dropping the last stiff slice on a plate. He wasn’t the first guy to have a toothbrush at my sink, but he was the only one to have kept it there this long, and I felt good seeing him here in his disheveled, untucked-shirt state, content and comfortable.
“Coffee?” I asked, and he nodded, clearly not functioning on all levels yet as he dragged the plate from the table and headed into the hall, scratching the bristles on his jawline.
I jumped when Kisten pounded on Ivy’s door and shouted, “Ivy! Get up! Here’s your breakfast. Rachel is leaving, and you’d better hurry if you want to see Jenks change.”
So much for coffee, toast, juice, and a flower, I thought, hearing Ivy’s voice rise in disgust before Kisten shut her door and cut off her complaints. Ceri looked mystified, and I shook my head to tell her it wasn’t worth explaining. I went to clean the coffeemaker, turning the water to a trickle when Kisten thunked my bathroom door shut and my shower started.
“So, we going to do this, Jenks?” I prompted while I swirled the water around.
His wings shading to blue, Jenks landed by the shot-glass-sized cup of brew. “I drink it?”
Ceri nodded. “Once it’s in you, Rachel will invoke it. Nothing will happen until then.”
“All of it?” I asked, eyes widening. “It’s like, what, a gallon in pixy terms?”
Jenks shrugged. “I drink that much sugar water for breakfast,” he said, and my brow furrowed. If he drank like that, we might be stopping every hour anyway.
My fingers fumbled to unroll the coffee bag, and the dark scent of grounds hit me, thick and comforting. I measured out what I needed into the new filter, then added a smidgen more while I surreptitiously watched Jenks procrastinate. Finally he scuffed his boots on the counter and spooned out a pixy-sized portion with a tiny glass. He downed the dripping cup in one go, making a face when he lowered the cup.
I flipped the coffeemaker on and leaned against the counter, arms crossed. “What does it taste like?” I asked, remembering the demon spell already in me. I was hoping he didn’t say it tasted like my blood.
“Uh…” Jenks scooped out another cupful. “It tastes like the garden in the fall when people have been burning their leaves.”
Dead ashes? I thought. Gre-e-e-e-eat.
Chin high, he swallowed it, then turned to me. “For the love of Tink, you aren’t going to stand there and watch me, are you?”
Grimacing, I pushed myself from the counter. “Can I make you some tea?” I asked Ceri, not wanting to look like I was watching but not wanting to leave either. What if he had a reaction or something?
With a barely perceivable motion, Ceri regained her upright posture, my offer seeming to turn on an entirely new set of behaviors. “Yes, thank you,” she said carefully.
I returned to the sink and filled the kettle, wincing at Jenks’s tiny belch and groan. The sound of running water seemed to revive Ceri, and she rose, moving about the kitchen to put things away. “I can do that,” I protested, and she watched my eyes go to the clock above the sink. Crap, it was getting late.
“So can I,” she said. “You have a long way to drive, and all I have to do is—” She looked sourly about the kitchen. “I don’t have anything to do but sleep. I should be thanking you. It was exhilarating to craft such a complex curse. It’s one of my best efforts.”
Her pride was obvious, and after the burner ignited under the kettle, I stood against the counter and watched Jenks belch and recite his ABCs at the same time. Would the man’s talents never end? Curiosity finally prompted me to ask, “What was it like, being his familiar?”
Ceri seemed to grow drowsy as she stood in the sun at the sink and washed her teacup. “He is domineering and cruel,” she said softly, head down as she watched her thin hands, “but my origins made me unique. He enjoyed showing me off and so kept me well. Once I became pliant, he often gave me favors and courtesies that most remained ignorant of.”
My thoughts returned to her embarrassment when speaking of Al’s favorite appearance of a British nobleman. They had been together for a thousand years, and there were countless cases of captives becoming enamored of their captors. And that nickname…I tried to meet her eyes, but she avoided it.
“I’ll be back,” Jenks said, patting his stomach. “This stuff makes you pee like a toad.”
I cringed as he took to the air and flew heavily past Ceri and out the pixy hole in the screen. A glance at the spell pot brought my eyebrows up. It was half gone. Damn, the man could slam it faster than a frat boy.
“I made anywhere from thirty to fifty curses a day,” Ceri said, taking a rag from the sink and wiping the island counter free of salt, “apart from warming his bed and putting food on his table. Every seventh day he would work in the lab with me, expanding my knowledge. This charm…” Eyes distant, she touched the counter beside the remaining brew. “This one we would have spent all day with, going slow so he could explain the complexities of mixing curses. Those days…I almost felt good about myself.”
Clasping my hands about my middle, I felt cold at the hint of wistfulness to her voice. She nearly seemed to regret she wasn’t working in a demon sweatshop anymore. Eyes distant, she took the boiling water from the stove and poured it into a small teapot.
Jenks returned without comment, settling before the brew with his little cup. The hair on the back of my neck pricked, and Ivy came in with a soft scuffing, hands busy tucking her shirt behind her jeans. Not meeting anyone’s eyes, she shuffled to the coffeemaker and poured two mugs even as the last drips spilled onto the hot plate to sizzle. I looked up in surprise when she hesitantly set one beside me.
Kisten’s words echoed through my thoughts as I watched her sit at her computer, reading the tension in her shoulders when she jabbed the on button and hit the shortcut to her mail. What he’d said about her leaning on me more than him because I didn’t know her past tightened my gut. I looked at her as she sat at the far end of the kitchen, distant but a part of the group. Her perfect face was quiet and still, not a glimmer of her savage past showing. A chill went through me at what might lie beneath it, what might come out if I left her. Just how bad had it been?
Ivy looked from her monitor, her eyes fastening on me from under her short bangs. My gaze dropped. Good Lord. It was only for a few days.
“Thanks for the coffee,” I said, uncurling my fingers and lacing them about the warm ceramic while I steeled my emotions. I had to go. Nick and Jax needed help. I’d be back.
She said nothing, her face showing no emotion. A screen of new e-mails came in one after the other, and she began winnowing through them.
Nervous, I turned to Ceri. “I really appreciate this,” I said, thinking of the long drive ahead. “If it wasn’t for your help, I wouldn’t even try it. I’m just glad it’s not a black charm,” I added. White or not, using demon magic was not what I wanted to be known for.
In her spot in the sun, Ceri stiffened. “Um, Rachel?” she said, and my heart seemed to skip a beat. My head slowly lifted and my mouth went dry. Jenks stopped with his cup halfway to his mouth. He met my eyes, his wings going absolutely still.
“It’s a black charm?” I said, my voice squeaky at the end.
“Well, it’s demon magic…” she said, sounding apologetic. “They’re all black.” She looked between Jenks and me, mystified. “I thought you knew that.”
I took a shaky breath and reached for the counter. It was black? I had taken a black charm? This just keeps getting better and better. Why in hell hadn’t she told me?