Black Arts Page 66


I closed my eyes and sought my center, my core, the dark place in the midst of myself that was my soul home. Here I found a peace of a sorts, though it was far from the peace of the soul that the redeemer brought. It was a cavern, dark and damp, smelling of flames from a dancing fire. And the redeemer had never been here. There had never been that kind of peace here.


I opened my eyes to see the flames, to smell the burned, dried herbs, sharp and astringent. In the dream state, I was dressed in deer hide, tanned in the old way, the way of the Tsalagi. The leggings brushed against me as I walked, to my right, toward the shadows, my moccasins tied tightly to my feet, making my passage silent. I was carrying a blade in my right hand. A steel blade, exactly like the one Edoda carried in the memory of the fish gall and the lesson learned. It was oft honed, the cutting edge curved and sharp and promising death. I carried it to the niche in the wall, where the black big-cat slept.


The black cat not truly a lion, but something else, something known only to my dream state was not without defenses, even here, in daylight, should I try to hurt him. But I had no intention of hurting him. I only wanted to free myself from him. I could let my anger against him go. I could find that much peace.


With my left hand, I reached up and touched the mountain lion tooth that hung around my neck on a leather thong, and I entered the gray place of the change. There, in the gray, flashing energies of the skinwalker, I bent and took the silver chain that shackled me to Leo Pellissier and I cut it with the steel knife. In the way of dreams, the metal parted easily, falling into two pieces. They landed on the floor of the cavern with a clanking rattle.


Leo opened his lion eyes and stared at me. ’’Jane?’’ he said.


’’Yes. You are free.’’


And Leo thinned into a mist and smoked away, the air of his passing smelling like sweetgrass and cedar and papyrus. The smoke rose in a spiral and touched the curved ceiling of my soul home to spread slowly on the calm air.


His passing left my soul home cleansed, like the burning of aromatic and bitter herbs.


I turned slowly, knowing what I would see behind me. Whom I would see.


Beast was on a ledge, at head height, stretched out, chin on her paws, her amber eyes watching me. ’’I\m not a killer only,’’ I said to her. ’’And I\ve gotten used to you being here. Even if it makes me insane, I\d like you to stay.’’


’’I/we should be together,’’ she said aloud. ’’We are much more than Jane and Puma concolor alone.’’


It was the first time I had really heard Beast\s voice. It was softer than I would have thought, and purring. Not unlike Molly\s familiar. I reached out a hand to Beast and scratched her behind her ears. The purring increased in volume. ’’Molly is in danger still,’’ Beast said. ’’KitKit is not enough to contain her death magics.’’


’’Yeah. I know. But you are.’’


Beast chuffed with laughter and closed her eyes. And I woke in the church. It was still empty.


Silently, without speaking to anyone, I left the church.


•••


Twenty-four hours after the battle on the golf course, I woke. Angie Baby was cradled against my stomach, curled as a kit might curl against Beast\s pelt. Her breath was regular and even, her lips making little popping sounds with each exhale. She smelled of strawberry shampoo again and, oddly, of pancakes. EJ was curled on my pillow, his entire little body at an angle to ours, the covers rucked up over him. He snored slightly, softly, smelling of little-boy sweat, dirt, and peppermint candy. The bed was a haven of warmth and home.


I rolled over, careful to not dislodge the children. I stretched, and thought back over the fight the night before. It had been horrible. We came close to losing it all, the entire territory of New Orleans. And we still might if the European vamps got involved in local affairs. Word had come giving us a date for the arrival of the emissaries, and a list of their expectations not demands. That would have been too crude a word, not that I could tell the difference between the two. It seemed the EVs were not happy with the American vamps, and Leo\s growing in power and influence was a problem they needed to consider. Whatever. Someone would deal with the diplomatic crap. Not me, but someone. The real problem was the impression that the EVs left, that they wanted all the magical items that had come to light in recent months. And they wanted info on, and research done into, the Soul-like thing that had attacked me, the thing that nearly killed an Onorio. The impression was they wanted to capture it and take it back with them, along with all the magical mojo items. Yeah. Not gonna happen. Magical stuff and vamps were problems. Usually big problems.


The magical items in Jack Shoffru\s possession were things that Leo had feared, things that Jack held over Leo. Not knowledge of crimes past, or a loved one imprisoned somewhere, but magic that Leo had figured he might not defeat without calling on the might of all the clans. And maybe even then, losing all the clans, all that power, to Shoffru in a transference as he was killed true-dead. But at the first possible opportunity, Leo had chanced it. Because Bruiser was there. And Molly. And me. And because Jack hadn\ been ready for the challenge, assuming it would be a far-off, distant fight. Sneaky, that early challenge. And maybe a bit stupid.


I didn\ want the stupid reason for the challenge to be that Leo believed in me. Or because he owed me. Because he . . . liked me. But maybe because he knew I had magic of my own that might counter Shoffru\s? I had a feeling that was part of it. Yeah.


We had been really, really lucky back at the golf course house. Really lucky.


I had been a lot less lucky in other ways. I remembered the feel of Leo holding me as I cried, his arms stronger than a human\s, but cold as death. Holding me because my former ex-boyfriend had become my once-again ex-boyfriend. Dumb. Stupid. I had been both dumb and stupid to let myself care so much about Ricky Bo.


Rick was out of my life, and I could accept that now. I could. And if a still, small voice, one that liked drama, continued to whisper that he might come back, I could ignore it for the dumb, stupid thing it was.


There were things I still had to deal with, like the betrayal by Reach. Or the supposed betrayal. Technically, our spy could have been someone else. It just wasn\ very likely. And I needed to determine if Cym, hiding under a don\ -see-me, don\ -smell-me charm, had drunk on Tattooed Dude when he was in captivity at Leo\s, and killed Hawk Head, which meant looking through hours of slo-mo security camera feed. I kinda hoped the mystery vamp was Cym, because I\d rather it be her than the alternative: Leo had enemies at HQ, but hopefully all of them had scent signatures.


I had managed to tell Katie that I had killed the kidnapper of her girls the woman with the nose ring, Shoffru\s heir and partner, not a witch like him, but a former human carrying a potent forget-me magical charm. I\d forgotten her all along, but once she was dead, I remembered every time I\d seen her. Every time she had done something that affected me like exchanging Molly\s pillows and towel in her hotel room. On my first visit, the original ones had been white. On my second visit, the used ones had been cream. Visual clues like color were things I tended to miss. I relied too heavily on scent and motion. I needed to work on that. But mostly I was just glad to have survived Katie\s demands.


And we needed to clarify the timeline of the events that led Adrianna who had her own plan in place from the day Grégoire left for Atlanta to merge her plans and her goals with Shoffru\s, because that\s surely what had happened. Nothing else made sense.


All we had so far was: Jack discovered the Damours were dead. Jack wanted the blood diamond. Jack hired an investigator likely Reach and found the gem was in Molly\s hands. (Except it wasn\ .) And the investigator discovered the identity of Shiloh E. Stone, something even Leo hadn\ put together. And so Jack got Molly to come to him, then took Molly, and then took Shiloh and Katie\s girls. And in there somewhere he had found Adrianna and convinced her to work with him to mutual goals. I was sure there was a lot more.


Overhead, I heard the floorboards creak and placed the sound as coming from Bruiser\s room. He was up and moving early, getting ready to do whatever it was that Onorios did. Maybe saving the world. Maybe he was dressing in a cape and tights. Which unlike seeing the Kid in such a getup I would pay to see. Oh yes.


Eli and Syl were in his room. They had been remarkably silent, for which I was grateful. The Kid had been sleeping on the couch, his tablets on his chest, moving with each breath, when I went to bed. I figured he was smart enough to still be there.


Across the hall from him, Molly and Evan slept together. They had been closeted alone there since KitKit joined them. I wasn\ stupid enough to think they were sleeping the whole time. The house had thin walls and thinner floors. The rest of us had made a lot of noise several times, turning up the TV, clattering pots and pans in the kitchen, to give them privacy. I was gonna tease them unmercifully about it later. Like much later. Like tomorrow.


For now, I snuggled deeper into the linens and closed my eyes in sleep.



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