The Initiate – Snippet 30

“The hell do those two think they’re doing?” Moreno snarled as the car screeched to a stop. “Hand me that baggie in the glove compartment. The big one.”

Sam opened the glove box to find it full of little jars, ziplock bags, plastic storage tubs, and paper envelopes. The biggest bag held a dried dead bat, but when Sam touched it he felt such intense power that his hand instinctively flinched back, as if it was red hot. He grabbed the bag, careful not to touch the bat, and handed it to Moreno as if it was a bomb.

Moreno tore open the plastic and shouted “Hualmonochilia Camazotz!”

The dead bat came to life and fluttered into the air. With each wingbeat it grew — first as big as a pigeon, then a hawk, then man sized, until finally a midnight-black bat the size of a small plane skimmed low over Taika’s head and soared up to the battle going on. It caught one of the snake-women in its bloody fangs and dispatched her with a single bite.

It circled around and dove at the bull, which gave a bellow of rage and took to the air itself, charging with horns forward and legs tucked up neatly for streamlining. But the bat continued to grow, so that the winged bull simply vanished into an open maw like a tunnel entrance. The bat then wheeled and scattered the remaining snake-women with a gust of wind from its mighty wings.

And then a little dried dead bat fell to the grass.

“Okay, what’s going on?” Moreno shouted. He and Sam got out of the car and walked across the graveyard toward the rock outcropping. Sam spotted Isabella perched atop a tombstone a few yards off to one side, eating a very drippy ice cream cone and watching the battle with glee.

“That disgusting man killed my husband!” Taika called back, setting down her bucket, which smelled of seawater.

“She’s mad!” Stone put in. “I was just looking for new ghosts to collect when she attacked me!”

“Both of you cut it out. Mrs. Feng, the Count killed your husband, and he’s dead now.”

“I got a message that he” — Taika pointed one thumb over her shoulder at Stone — “had been working with the Count. And when I confronted him he admitted it!”

“I said I wasn’t sorry Feng died, which is simply the truth, and I said the Count was my friend and I regretted his death.

Which is also true. But I had nothing to do with what happened to your husband. If you ask me, she’s making a bid to succeed him as Master of the Circle by eliminating any rivals.”

“I didn’t ask you,” said Moreno. “Now listen up, both of you. This stops, now and for good. Taika, your husband’s death has already been avenged. The Sage agrees. Stone, don’t make accusations unless you can back them up. Right now it’s no harm, no foul. Let’s keep it that way — because if anything happens to either of you, I know who’s at the top of the list of suspects. Understand?”

Taika glared for a moment, then kicked over the bucket of seawater and began walking toward the cemetery gate. As she passed close to Sam and Moreno she stage-whispered, “Don’t trust him!” Isabella slid off the tombstone and trotted after her as she left.

Stone, with some effort, scrambled down off the rock and tried to salvage some dignity. Once Taika was out of earshot he approached Sam and Moreno and extended a hand. “Thank you for showing up when you did. As I said, I think she –”

“Never mind about that,” said Moreno. “Can you get back to your home safely?”

“Of course,” said Stone. “I have other protections in place. She caught me by surprise. I’ll be all right.” He strolled off, looking deliberately casual — but Sam noticed he walked in the opposite direction from the one Taika had taken.

After a minute Sam looked at Moreno. “What was that all about?”

“No idea. I guess people are more scared than I realized.”

The two of them went back to Moreno’s car and drove out of the cemetery more sedately. At the corner of Riverside they passed Taika and Isabella getting into an old Å koda limousine.

“That’s not good,” said Moreno.

“How come?”

“That’s Miss Elizabeth’s car. If those three are working together they could be a problem.”

“Taika, Miss Elizabeth, and . . . Isabella?”

“Bingo. They can do a classic triple. Maiden-Mother-Crone. Big juju. Draw down the Moon, crap like that. I hope they don’t try anything stupid.” Moreno steered north on Riverside as he talked.

“So . . . what’s up with her? Isabella, I mean.”

“She’s a big pain in the ass for me. Her family were Apkallu. Both old lineages — second cousins, I think. Wizards are like European royalty; everybody’s related, and a lot of them are kind of funny. Anyway, her parents died exactly a year after she was born — Halloween, no less. A working went wrong. Called up something neither of them could handle. Tore them to bits, knocked down the house. Nothing grows on the property any more. It’s out in Montauk. Getting her away from the subs was quite a job. I finally had to control a judge and get a court order.”

Moreno got onto the Henry Hudson Parkway, still going north. “Feng lined up another Apkal family to take care of her — remember that kid Shimon? His parents, the Zobris. They had Isabella for a couple of years. Cute kid, very smart. Started walking and talking early. Then she started running off. It got harder and harder to find her. They called me in to help, but even I had trouble. She’d go off for a day, a week, then two, then a month. And finally . . . we all just kind of gave up. I know it sounds cold, but even when she was just five or six she could take care of herself. Kid’s got serious magical juice, more than most grown Apkallu I know. Now she lives wherever she wants. Sylvia tries to keep tabs on her — and I’ve heard she’s taken a liking to you, too.”

“I worry about her. I know she’s got spirit protection, but is that really enough? New York’s got some bad people in it.” Sam remembered his own little boy, not much younger than Isabella. Just the thought of Tommy alone in the city gave Sam a panicky feeling even two years after his son was dead and gone.

Moreno actually laughed at that. “Don’t be a dope. No sub can do anything to Isabella. It’s cleaning up after her that gives me problems. She’s always doing magical shit in public — showing off for kids on the playground, taking stuff she wants, sometimes just messing with people for the hell of it. That’s one reason I pushed to get her initiated early. Now she’s oath-bound. If she harms another Apkal I’m gonna crack down on her as hard as I can manage.”