Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 17
The spells Saorla and her weremancers placed on them changed this. The dark sorcerers had been using weres as servants — wereslaves, I called them. They claimed to have magic that would free the weres from the moon, and allow them to control when and where they took their animal form. This magic, they assured their victims, was a gift.
In reality, it was anything but. All it did was give control over the weres to those who cast the spells. They could turn the weres at will, and compel them to do their bidding.
Six days remained until the start of the phasing, which meant that this were had probably been forced into owl form by a dark sorcerer, probably for the express purpose of delivering a message to me. Confident now that I wouldn’t spook the bird, I crossed to the shelves and carefully removed the note from its leg. Then I held out my arm.
“I’ll let you out. It’ll be easier than trying to squeeze through that hole in the screen.
The owl clicked its beak before hopping to my arm, its wings opening as it sought to keep its balance.
“You’re a beautiful bird,” I said. “I wish my father could see you.”
I opened the door and stepped outside. At the first touch of the night air, the owl leapt off my arm and flew away, wings beating silently. It flashed beneath the streetlamp, but after that I lost track of it. I scanned the street, but saw no one, and then went back inside, taking care to lock the door.
Billie was awake and sitting up, her hair a tangled mess, her eyes puffy.
“You’re here,” she said.
“Yeah. Sorry it’s so late.”
She pushed a strand of hair out of her face and yawned. “What time is it?”
I stepped into the kitchen, switched on the light and checked the clock on the stove. It was only a few minutes past ten, though it felt much later.
“Ten after ten,” I called to her.
I unrolled the tiny piece of paper I’d taken from the owl, and read.
You are not to interfere — S.
It was written in a tight, neat script. I had no doubt as to who “S” was. Apparently the circle of people interested in Gracie Davett was expanding by the hour.
Saorla had included no warning in her missive — there hadn’t been room on the scrap of paper for much more than what she’d written. But the fact that she had sent the wereowl here, to Billie’s home, was threat enough.
“Yeah.” I balled up the paper and threw it in Billie’s trash.
A moment later she shuffled into the kitchen, squinting against the light. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing. I was checking the time.”
She lifted her eyebrows. “You wear a watch.”
Even drowsy, she was smarter than me — I? — although I’m not sure that was saying much.
“Does whatever you’re hiding from me have anything to do with that big tear in my screen?”
I winced, scratched the back of my head. “Yes, it does. There was an owl waiting here for me when I got back.”
Her jaw dropped. “An owl? In my house?”
“It was a were, and it had a note tied to its leg.”
“Was the note for me or you?”
It was my turn to cock on eyebrow.
“Yeah, all right. Stupid question. Who was it from?” Before I could answer, she put up a hand. “No, let me guess. Saorla.”
“You’re getting good at this.”
“I don’t seem to have much choice. There was really an owl in my house?”
She gave a roll of her eyes and pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders. “I suppose it could have been worse.”
Billie scowled. “I was thinking of Saorla herself showing up. But thanks. Now I’ll be scanning the floor for weresnakes every time I walk into my kitchen.”
I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her. She snuggled against my chest.
“Have I mentioned that your job sucks?”
“A couple of times. And that’s just today.”
“What did Amaya want?”
“He hired me on behalf of an older couple. Their daughter and her children are missing, and they want me to find them.”
“That’s sad. But as things with Amaya go, it doesn’t sound too bad.”
“Not of the face of it, no. But I’m almost positive that this is the same woman I told you about over dinner, the one Kona is after.”
She frowned up at me. “The one from the burger place?”
“I think so.” I described for her my conversation with the Trejos and my encounter with Neil Davett. “And,” I said, “I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was a note from Saorla waiting for me when I got back here.”
“So the husband’s a weremyste, too.”
“Yes. And I think he’s into dark magic. I’m positive that if I’d given him the chance, he would have drawn blood for a spell.”
“Do you think he’s working with Saorla?”
It was a good question, one I didn’t know how to answer. I had little doubt that the weremancers at the burger place worked for her, the men inside who hadn’t been carrying ID, as well as the silver-haired man outside who could kill with a touch. But I had the impression that Neil was on his own. Saorla didn’t mess around, and she didn’t place her trust in amateurs. Even the couple at the motel earlier in the day had been powerful and professional enough to pose a threat to me. Neil had been careless; Saorla would have said that he was ruled by his emotions.
Billie rapped her knuckles lightly on the side of my head. “What’s going on in there, Fearsson?”
I smiled. “You’ve got me thinking. To answer your question, no, I don’t think her husband is working for Saorla. At least not on this. He struck me as a guy who was desperate to find his wife and kids.”
“So that he can abuse them again.”
I tipped my head, conceding the point.
“You need to find them before anyone else does.”
“Yes, I do. But first I need to sleep, and so do you.”
She canted her head to the side, the depth of her smile quickening my pulse. “I slept already. I’m not tired anymore.” She kissed me. “And I seem to remember somebody letting it slip that he’s in love with me.”
“I remember that, as well.”
“Good. Then take me to bed.”
“That’s easily the best offer I’ve had all day,” I said. I scooped her up into my arms, eliciting a giggle, and carried her back to her bedroom.
It was a late night.
Unfortunately, it was also an early morning.
I awoke to a faint, familiar chiming that at first I couldn’t place. It took three tones before I recognized the sound of my cell phone. It was still in the pocket of my bomber jacket, which lay on the floor near Billie’s bed.
I scrambled out from under the sheet and blanket, grabbed the bomber, and fumbled for the phone. The clock readout read “7:12.” And the caller ID beneath it read “Kona at 620.”
I opened the phone and sat back on the edge of the bed. “Fearsson.”
“Billie charging you rent yet?” Kona asked. “I can hardly reach you at your own place anymore.”
“No,” I said, still trying to wake up. “No rent yet.”
“Get your head in the game, Justis. I need your help.”
“Yeah, all right. What’s up?”
“I’m holding the M.E.’s report on Merilee Guilford, the woman who was killed outside the Burger Royale.”
The Medical Examiner’s report. That got my attention. “And?”
“Cause of death was blood loss.”
I shivered, as if Saorla herself had run a cold finger down my spine.
“Blood loss,” I repeated.
“That’s what they say. Now how do you suppose that silver-haired gentleman took her blood when we didn’t find a cut anywhere on her body?”
I didn’t want to speak the words.
“We need to find this guy, Kona. You’ve seen what blood magic can do.” She and Kevin had witnessed our battle with Saorla and her weremancers during the summer. They had also investigated a series of ritual killings committed in the weeks leading up to that confrontation. “And you’ve seen that dark sorcerers have no qualms about taking blood from people without their permission.”
“Yeah?” she said, seeming to brace herself for what I was about to say.
“Well, I think this guy can take their blood just by touching them. He’s like a magical vampire.”
For a few seconds, she didn’t answer. “You know what?” she said. “I must be spending too much time with you and your magical friends. Because that’s exactly what I was afraid you were going to say.”