The Witch With No Name
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I hadnt meant to put a sexual innuendo in there, but there it was.
His sour tone slumped my shoulders, and I pulled back. His eyes wouldnt meet mine, but his hands never fell from around my waist and kept me where I was. Wincing, he glanced at the book. The charm Im familiar with affixes souls based on aura identification. Felix doesnt have his natural aura anymore. My balance shifted as Trent flipped to a new page, his long fingers moving the paper like fingers over a keyboard. We can use the first part to capture the soul, no problem, he said when he found it, but well need to tinker with the second half to find something to affix it to, something not altogether alive and coated in someone elses aura.
Al and Newt have collections of souls. I bet they have a way to affix them.
Trent stiffened under me. Youre not asking Al.
I know. I leaned to put my head on his shoulder. It was awkward, but I didnt care when his arms went around me again. Ill ask Newt unless you have something in your library. This was nice. I didnt want to move.
Newt isnt any better than Al, Trent muttered, but we had little choice. Elves and witches seldom worked with souls, and never to affix them to a nonliving thing. The Weres focus was kind of like a soul. Maybe I could use that curse?
Trent squirmed, and I got up knowing he probably wasnt altogether comfortable. Well find something. I needed professional guidance, but my professional guide was pissed at me. Fidgeting, I looked at the cookies, wishing I had something better to offer Trent. Id seen his taste in cookies, and I was a bohemian by his culinary standards. You dont have any more books on the subject, do you? I asked as I pulled the bag to me and snapped one to check for staleness. Flat.
Maybe simply capturing Felixs soul will buy us enough time.
Depressed, I set the open bag down and sat in the chair next to him. He was silent, waiting until I took three cookies before he reached in and pulled out five. I swear, I didnt know where the man put his calories. Maybe a box in his basement. Al would know, I said softly, and his eyes jerked to me. He took a breath to say something, then hesitated.
Is that really how you eat those?
I looked at the bite out of my cookie and flushed. Yeah, I lied, brushing the crumbs off. To be honest, I usually separated them, eating the cookie part first and scraping all the frosting into one gigantic wad. But I wasnt going to in front of Trent.
Huh. Trent screwed his cookie open and scraped the frosting out with his teeth. I thought everyone opened them up.
Damn it, I was flushing, and saw him file my lie away for later. Trent leaned closer. Dont call Newt, he said. Were not out of options yet. Landon owes you a favor.
Landon? I said around a mouthful of crumbs. The man is slime! I exclaimed, and Trent bobbed his head, ruefully agreeing. Nothing but a . . . politically perfect engineered piece of backstabbing elf slime who thinks only of himself and the hell with the rest.
Leaning back and looking uncomfortable, he nodded. I know.
He tricked his predecessor into suicide! I said, hand flying up into the air.
Frustrated, I stood up. Trent, Im not asking Landon for help. I dont trust him. If it wasnt for him, I never would have damaged the Goddess to begin with!
I know. But it all worked out.
Worked out? I sputtered, trying to find the words, and Trent took my hand and pulled me closer. Rachel, I agree its risky. The elven dewar and enclave would still like to see the vampires die outand you and me with thembut Im not asking the elves, Im asking Landon. He owes you, and Ive got a little blackmail left in me.
Expression sour, I pulled my hand from him, arms around my middle as I moved to stand beside the sink. Trent silently waited. I knew how much it had hurt Trent going from everyones owing him to his owing everyone. He was still making his genetic medicines in his basement labs, but now it was more to keep his customers from turning him in than the other way around.
You think Landon knows how to fix souls to bodies? I asked.
Sighing, Trent unscrewed another cookie, stacking the black cookie with the rest hed already scraped clean. Positive. If I can convince him that success will mean the end of the vampires, hell tell you. Jaw clenched, he stared at nothing.
You think hell believe that?
Trents gaze sharpened on mine. Why not? Its a distinct probability.
But . . . I thought of the chaos that had taken Cincinnati and the Hollows when the undead had fallen asleep for four days. Head cocked, I leaned back against the counter. Remind me of why were doing this if you think its going to topple the vampires power structure. Not like I really had a choice.
Trent put an ankle on his knee, looking totally yummy with that cookie in his hand. The charm Landon would know works one to one, not en masse. One vampire going insane and walking into the sun isnt going to have an impact on the world. And when Cormel understands that having his soul will send him into the sun, theyll all accept that its not a viable way to extend their undead existence.
I didnt like the idea of even one vampire committing suncide because of a charm I twisted, and seeing it, Trent stood, coming to me and taking me in a hug. Rachel, Felix wont survive more than a few more months regardless of what happens. Leaning back, he caught my eyes with his own. Or it will work with no ill effects, and well have a different issue to deal with. Either way, Landon will help if only for the chance to see the end of the undead.
But I didnt trust Landon. Whats to stop them from just killing them all, then? I mean, after we prove it works? Elves can go to the ever-after, same as witches.
Nodding, Trent reached into the bag of cookies. True, but whoever was going to try would have to not only catch a surface demon, but catch the right one. Its a miracle we found Felixs. Besides, if elves cant make money on it, they wont do it, and witches know better than to try.
He put a cookie in my hand, and I ate it, thinking it over as I chewed and swallowed. But as the only alternative beyond Landon was Al, the choicewas easy. Fine. Ill ask him.
Trents arm around me tensed. Ah, you mind if I ask him?
Ahhh, I thought with a smile, thinking this might be why Trent was so hot to give Landon a shot at this. If it failed, then Landon would lose face in the dewar and the enclave. Sure.
Immediately Trent went back to mowing down those cookies, slowing when he realized I was staring at him. What are we up to now? Ten? Great. Ill go give him a call, he said, dusting the crumbs from his fingers and reaching for his phone.
There was only the faintest flicker of unease as I dunked my cookie into my coffee. Even if Landon caught a flight today, he wouldnt be here by sunset. I dont like doing this by phone. Too much chance for someone overhearing it, I said, but Trent was already scrolling for the number.
We wont have to. Trent stretched and yawned, reminding me that this was his usual down time. Hes in Atlanta trying to win his position back, he said as he rolled his shoulders. He can be here in a couple of hours.
Its not going as well as hed like? I prodded, and he smirked.
Getting old men and women to agree on anything new is like wrangling cats, and he has no practical skills. He hesitated. Yet, he amended. But things change. I get better reception outside. Back in a second.
His hand trailing across my cheek raised tingles, and I darted my tongue out to tag a knuckle, making him jump and smile. Wicked demon, he muttered, and I watched him leave.
My smile faded fast. I didnt trust Landon. The last spell he taught me nearly killed me. I was sure the demons would have a curse that would do the same thing, and after listening to make sure Trent wasnt going to walk back in, I pulled my scrying mirror from between my cookbooks and spelling tomes.
The cracked glass was cool, and as soon as I set my hand atop the calling glyph, I felt the hint of connection to the demon collective. Tapping the line out back strengthened it. Heart pounding, I reached out with a soft thread of awareness, lacing my thought with enough regret to choke a horse. We had the same aura resonance, damn it. Al could at least be civil.
Rage boiled up through the folds of my brain, and I jerked my hand back as the wave crested, threatening to swamp me. His anger fell back into my mirror, and the sudden snap of the cracked glass breaking made me gasp.
You okay? Trent shouted from outside.
Shit. Ah, just dropped a cookie, I lied, face flaming as I looked at the broken shards. Im good!
But I wasnt good, and I took the broken pieces to my saltwater vat and dropped them in one by one, watching them ride the currents of their passage to the bottom. They lay there, sending glimmers of light sideways out their broken edges.
Depressed, I stared out the window and watched Trent meet Izzyanna, Jumokes young wife. I couldnt help but wonder if Al was angry because Trent and I reminded him of what hed lost long before I knew hima woman hed once loved enough to risk everything for, give everything for, but was too afraid to fight the anger of two worlds for. Maybe Al was angrier at himself than me.
But as I washed my hands free of the salt water, I didnt think it mattered.
The chill of the coming September evening seeped into me, the cold as real and enduring as the damp grit of the earth pressed into my fingers as I lifted the last stone and replaced it in the low wall that separated the graveyard from the more mundane garden. It had been knocked out of place, and though Jenks had permanently taken up residence in the church walls, I knew it would be something hed want fixed.
Straightening, I wiped my hands off on my jeans and looked at the red light of sunset shining against the familiar stones I mowed around every week. Well, not every week. The grass had gotten long, catching the leaves that had shifted color and dropped early. My weekends were a lot more interesting now that Trent had more free time, and the yard was beginning to show it.
Sorry, Jenks, I whispered as my gaze lifted to the church. I knew it bothered him that the graveyard was going fallow apart from a small space Jumoke and Izzyanna had claimed. The garden felt empty, and my mind wouldnt stop circling over the thought of endings. It was why I was out here moping in the garden. That, and Trent had been underfoot ever since getting up from his noon nap, driving me to distraction as he went over that charm hed brought.
The bright sparkle of pixy dust glowed at the far side of the garden. It was joined by a second, and the twin trails of dust wound around each other in breathtaking beauty until they both arrowed to me. It was Jumoke and Izzyanna, but my welcoming smile faded when two car doors slammed on the street. Landon. Apparently hed brought a friend.
Izzyanna reached me first. The little pixy looked about ten, a late age for a pixy to become a bride, but her eyes were as dark as well-turned earth. It wasnt the typical death sentence that Jumokes hair was, but it had obviously prevented a more traditional joining age. Her smile, though, was cheerful, and her eyes shone with an impish humor that balanced Jumokes stoic, introverted personality. I couldnt help but wonder if there was a slight swelling at her middle. It was unusual for pixies to be born in the fall, as they wouldnt make it through the winter. Izzys children, though, wouldnt have to hibernate, and a fall birth would give them a head start in the spring.
Rachel, your guests are here, the pixy said, her flush spilling into her dust.
Guests, huh? I said, glad she was starting to slow her speech down. The first week shed been here, I hadnt understood a word she said. Who did Landon bring with him?
Please not the I.S. Anyone but the I.S.
Its a woman, Izzy said, hand protectively over her middle as she hovered backward before me as I headed for the churchs back door.
Woman? I said. Thanks for the heads-up.
Immediately she flew away with Jumoke, winding about themselves and talking so fast and high that it might as well be another language. It wouldnt be long until the garden was again noisy with life, and that gave me more peace than I wouldve expected. I liked beginnings better than endings.
But it wasnt meant to last, and I jerked to a stop when I recognized Ellasbeths haughty voice coming through the open kitchen window. Ellasbeth? What in hell was she doing here, and with Landon?
She is a demon! Ellasbeth exclaimed, her tone accusing. Your father made her!
He did not make her. He enabled her to survive. There is a difference. Trents voice was soft in anger, and I stayed where I was, my hand reaching for the back door faltering.