A Fistful of Charms
A Fistful of Charms
Жанр: Фэнтези про драконов
Год издания: 2019
“Rachel—” Kisten said, the warning in his voice jerking my attention to him.
Matalina rose three inches into the air, her face alight even as the tears continued. “He’ll be angry if he finds out I came to you for help. D-Don’t tell him I asked you.”
Ignoring Kisten, I took a resolute breath. “Tell me where he’s going to be and I’ll find him. He isn’t going to do this alone. I don’t care if he talks to me or not, but I’m going with him.”
The coffee in my cup was cold, which I didn’t remember until I had it to my lips. Sharp and bitter, the taste of it puckered my face an instant before I let it slip down my throat. Shuddering, I held another dollop on my tongue. A soft thrill lifted through me as I tapped the line in the graveyard and set my pencil down on the kitchen table.
“From candle’s burn and planet’s spin,” I whispered awkwardly around the coffee, my fingers sketching out a complex figure. “Friction is how it ends and begins.” Rolling my eyes, I brought my hands together to make a loud pop, simultaneously saying, “Consimilis.” God help me, it was so hokey, but the rhyme did help me remember the finger motions and the two words that actually did the charm.
“Cold to hot, harness within,” I finished, making the ley line gesture that would use the coffee in my mouth as a focal object so I wouldn’t warm up…say…Mr. Fish’s bowl. “Calefacio,” I said, smiling at the familiar drop of line energy through me. I tightened my awareness to let what I thought was the right amount of power run through me to excite the water molecules and warm the coffee. “Excellent,” I breathed when the mug began to steam.
My fingers curled about the warm porcelain, and I dropped the line entirely. Much better, I thought when I went to take a sip, jerking back and touching my lip when I found it too hot. Ceri had said control would come with practice, but I was still waiting.
I set the mug down, pushing Ivy’s maps farther out of my space and into hers. The robins were singing loudly, and I squinted, trying to read in the early dusk of the developing rain clouds as I leafed through Kisten’s borrowed books. I’d have to leave in half an hour to accidentally run into Jenks on his run, and I was getting antsy.
Ivy was in one of her moods, and Kisten had hustled her out shortly after Matalina left so she wouldn’t drive me crazy all afternoon. I’d find out soon enough what was bothering her, and maybe Kisten could take care of it for me instead.
My spine cracked when I straightened, arching my back and taking a deep breath. I pulled my fingers off the dusk-darkened print, feeling the tingle of disconnection strike through me like a reverse static shock. Kist’s books were indeed demon texts. I’d quickly gotten used to the numb feeling of the pages, lured into exploring them when I realized every curse mixed earth and ley line magic, utilizing both to make more than the sum of the parts. It made for fascinating reading, even if my Latin sucked dishwater, and I was only now starting to remember I was supposed to be afraid of this stuff. It wasn’t what I had expected.
Sure, there were the nasty spells that would turn your neighbor’s barking dog inside out, strike your fourth-grade teacher with agony, or call down a flaming ball of hell to smack the guy tailgating you, but there were softer spells too. Ones I couldn’t see harm in, spells that did the same things many of my eminently legal earth charms did. And that’s what scared me the most.
Mood going introspective, I flipped the page and found a curse that would encase someone in a thick layer of air to slow their movements as if they were in molasses. I suppose one could use it to gain the advantage in a fight and kill them with a blow to the head or knife thrust, but would it tarnish one’s soul if all you did was slow them down so you could slap a pair of cuffs on them? The more I looked, the harder it was to tell. I had assumed demon curses were black as a matter of course, but I truly couldn’t see the harm here.
Even more worrisome was the potential power they all had. The curse detailed before me wasn’t the illusion of molasses that black ley line witches used to give people bad dreams in which they were unable to escape something or to help a loved one. And it wasn’t the earth charm that had to be laboriously cooked and targeted to a specific person, which resulted in slower reactions, not this almost complete immobility. The demon curse took the quick implementation and wide range of application of a ley line charm and harnessed it in a pair of “polarized” amulets, thereby giving it the reality and permanence of earth magic. It was a mix of both. It was the real thing. It was demon magic, and I was one of two people who could both walk under the sun and kindle it.
“Thanks, Trent,” I muttered as I turned the page, my fingertips prickling. “Your dad was a peach.”
But I wasn’t complaining. I shouldn’t have lived to puberty. The genetic aberration that I was afflicted with killed every witch born with it before they were two. I truly believed that Trent Kalamack’s father hadn’t known that the same thing that was killing me had made it possible for me to kindle demon magic, accidentally circumventing a genetic checks-and-balances. All he knew was his friend’s daughter was dying of an ancient malady and he had the wisdom and technology—even if it was illegal—to save my life.
So he had. And it kinda worried me that the only other witch Trent’s father had fixed was now suffering a living hell as the demon Algaliarept’s familiar in the ever-after.
Guilt assailed me, quickly quashed. I had told Lee not to give me to Al. I’d warned him to get us the hell out of the ever-after when we had the chance. But no-o-o-o-o. The wicked witch from the West thought he knew everything, and now he was paying for his mistake with his life. It had been either him or me, and I liked where I lived.
A freshening gust of wind blew in, carrying the hint of rain and shifting the curtains. I glanced at the book before me and turned the page to find a curse to pull out someone’s intelligence until they had the brain of a worm. Blinking, I closed the book. Okay, so it was easy to figure out that some of them were black, but was there such a thing as a white curse?
The thing was, I knew earth magic was powerful, but giving it the speed and versatility of ley line magic was frightening. And the mixing of the two branches of magic was in every curse. In the few hours I had been sitting here, I found curses that shifted mass to line energy or vice versa, so you could actually make big things little and little things big, not just project the illusion of a size change, as with ley line magic; and since it also involved an earth magic potion, the change was real—as in “having viable offspring” real.
Nervous, I pushed myself away from the table. My fingers tapped the old wood in a quick rhythm, and I glanced at the clock. Almost six. I couldn’t sit here any longer. The weather was shifting, and I wanted to be in it.
Surging to my feet, I snatched the book up and knelt at the low shelf under the center island counter. I didn’t want to shelve it with my usual library, but I certainly didn’t want the three of them under my pillow, either. Brow creasing, I moved a mundane cookbook to serve as a buffer between my spell books and the demon tomes. So I was superstitious. So sue me.
The last two books slid into place, and I straightened, wiping my hands on my jeans while I looked at them sitting oh so nicely between the Country Farm’s Cookie Cookbook I’d swiped from my mom and the copy of Real Witches Eat Quiche I had gotten from the I.S.’s secret Santa three years ago. You can guess which one I used the most.
Grabbing my bag, I headed out, boot heels clunking as I went down the hallway past Ivy’s and my bedrooms and bathrooms and into the sanctuary. The pews were long gone, leaving only the faded reminder of a huge cross above where the altar once stood. Stained-glass windows stretched from knee height to the top of the twelve-foot walls. The open raftered ceiling was dusky with the early twilight from the clouds, and I would use my panties as a sun hat if I could hear the whispered giggles of pixies plotting mischief up there again.
The large room took up half the heated space in the church, and it was empty but for my plant-strewn desk on the ankle-high stage where the altar had stood and Ivy’s baby grand piano just past the foyer. I’d only heard her play it once, her long fingers pulling a depth of emotion from the keys that I only rarely saw in her face.
I snatched my keys from my desk in passing, and they jingled happily as I continued into the dark foyer. Squinting, I plucked my red leather jacket and cap from the peg beside the four-inch-thick, twin oak doors. At the last moment, I grabbed Ivy’s umbrella with the ebony handle before wedging the door open. There was no lock—only a bar to lower from the inside—but no one on this side of the ley lines would dare steal from a Tamwood vampire.
The door thumped shut behind me, and I flounced down the steps to the cracked sidewalk. The spring evening was balmy, the humidity of an approaching storm shifting the air pressure to make the robins sing and my blood quicken. I could smell rain and imagine the distant rumble of thunder. I loved spring storms, and I smiled at the fresh green leaves shifting in the rising breeze.
My steps quickened when I saw my car tucked in the tiny carport: a bright red convertible with two seats up front and two unusable seats in back. Across the street and a few houses down, our neighbor Keasley was standing at the edge of his front porch, his spine bent from arthritis and his head up as he tasted the changing wind. He raised a gnarly hand when I waved, telling me everything was fine with him. Unseen preschool-age kids were shouting, responding to the air pressure shift with less restraint than I was managing.
Up and down the street, people were coming out of their Americana middle-class homes, heads up and eyes on the sky. It was the season’s first warm rain, and only three days out of a new moon. The I.S. would have a busy night trying to rein everyone in.
Not my problem anymore, I cheerfully thought as I settled in behind the wheel of my car and took the time to put the top down so I could feel the wind in my hair. Yeah, it was going to rain, but not for a few hours yet.
Saucy little red cap on my head, and wearing a snappy leather jacket to block the wind, I drove through the Hollows at a modest pace, waiting until I crossed the bridge and got on the interstate before I opened her up. The damp wind beating on my face brought every smell to me, sharper and more vivid than it had been for months, and the rumble of tires, engine, and wind muffling everything else was like freedom itself. I found myself inching past eighty when I saw the cruiser parked on an entrance ramp. It had the Federal Inderland Bureau emblem on it, and waving merrily, I tunked it down and got a headlight blink in return. Everyone in the human-run FIB knew my car—heck, they had given it to me. The FIB wouldn’t stop me, but the Inderland run I.S. would, just out of spite for having quit their lame-ass, nationwide police force.
I tucked a strand of blowing hair behind my ear and warily checked behind me. I’d only had my car a couple of months, and already the entire fleet of I.S. flunkies doing street duty knew me by sight, taking every opportunity to help me rack up points on my license. And it wasn’t fair! The red light I ran a month ago was for a darn good reason—and at five in the morning, no one had even been at the intersection but the cop. I still don’t know where he had come from—my trunk maybe? And I’d been late for an appointment the time I got pulled over for speeding on 75. I hadn’t been going that much faster than everyone else.
“Stupid car,” I muttered fondly, though I wouldn’t trade my little red ticket magnet for anything. It wasn’t its fault the I.S. took every chance they could to make my life miserable.
But “Walkie Talkie Man” was cranked, Steriogram singing so fast only a vamp could keep up, and it wasn’t long before the little white hand crept up to eighty again, pulling my mood along with it. I even found a cute-looking guy on a cycle to flirt with while I made my way to Edgemont where Jenks had his run.
The cessation of wind as I came off the interstate was almost an assault, and when a rumble of real thunder rolled over me, I pulled to the side of the road to put the top up. My head jerked up when the guy on the cycle whizzed past, his hand raised in salute. My faint smile lingered for a moment, then vanished.
If I couldn’t get Jenks to talk to me, I was going to kill the little twit.
Taking a deep breath, I turned my phone to vibrate, snapped off the music, and pulled into traffic. I jostled over a railroad track, peering into the coming dusk and noting that the pace of the pedestrian and bike traffic had changed from casual to intense as the threat of rain increased. It was a business district, one of the old industrial areas that the city had thrown a lot of money at to turn it into a themed mall and parks to attract the usual outlying shops and apartments. It reminded me of “Mrs. Bryant’s flat,” and I frowned.
I drove past the address to evaluate the multistoried sprawling building. By the art deco and the mailbox drive-through, it looked like a manufacturing complex turned into a mix of light commercial and upscale apartments. I hadn’t seen Jenks, but that wouldn’t be unusual if he was tailing someone. Matalina said he was on a smut run to build up money to buy an airline ticket.
My brow was furrowed in worry when I turned the corner and got a lucky spot at the curb in front of a coffeehouse, jerking the parking break up and shifting the stick to neutral. Pixies couldn’t fly commercially—the shifting air pressures wreaked havoc with them. Jenks wasn’t thinking straight anymore. No wonder Matalina had come to me.
Snatching up my bag, I timed my move with traffic and got out. A quick look at the lowering clouds, and I reached for Ivy’s umbrella. The smell of coffee almost pulled me inside, but I dutifully went the other way. A quick glance, and I slipped into the alley of the building in question, walking so my feet were silent in my vamp-made boots.
The scent of garbage and dog urine was strong, and I wrinkled my nose and pulled my jacket closer, looking for a spot where I could stay out of sight and watch the front door of the complex. I was early. If I could catch him before he went in, it would be all the better. But then I froze at the sound of a familiar wing clatter.
Face going still, I looked up the narrow passage to find a pixy dressed in a black body stocking rubbing a clean spot to see through on a dirt-grimed, bird-spotted, upper-story window.
Shame stilled my voice. God, I had been so stupid. I didn’t blame him for leaving, for thinking I hadn’t trusted him. The ugly truth was, I hadn’t. Last solstice I had figured out that Trent Kalamack was an elf, and getting the wealthy son of a bitch to not kill me for knowing that the elves weren’t extinct but had gone into hiding had taken a pretty piece of blackmail. Finding out what kind of Inderlander Trent was had become the holy grail of the pixy world, and I knew the temptation for Jenks to blab it would be too much. Even so, he deserved better than my lies of omission, and I was afraid he might not listen to me even now.
Jenks hovered, intent on whatever was inside. His dragonfly wings were invisible in his calm state, and not a hint of pixy dust sifted from him. He looked confident, and a red bandanna was tied about his forehead. It was protection against accidentally invading a rival pixy’s or fairy’s territory, a promise of a quick departure with no attempt at poaching.
I nervously gathered my resolve, glancing at the wall of the alley before I leaned against it and tried to look casual. “So, is she cheating on her husband?” I asked.
“Nah,” Jenks said, his eyes focused through the glass. “She’s taking an exercise class to surprise him on their twenty-fifth anniversary. He doesn’t deserve her, the mistrusting bastard.”
Then he jerked, slamming back six feet to nearly hit the adjacent building.
“You!” he cried, pixy dust sifting like sunbeams. “What the hell are you doing here?”
I pushed myself off the wall and stepped forward. “Jenks—”
He dropped like a stone to hover before me, finger pointing as the pixy dust he had let slip slowly fell over us. Anger creased his tiny features to make him grim and threatening. “She told you!” he shrilled, his jaw clenched and his face red under his short blond hair.