Authors: Kim Harrison
To the guy who knows that the rose is more
beautiful with the thorns still on it
I'd like to thank two people who have been with me from almost day one, whose combined efforts and business savvy have been so instrumental in putting me somewhere I never dreamed possibleâ
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â my editor, Diana Gill, and my agent, Richard Curtis.
Â Â Â
Hammering my fist against the back of my closet wasn't one of my more pleasant dreams. Actually, it hurt. The pain broke through my comfortable sleepy haze, and I felt the primitive part of me that never slept coolly measuring my slow gathering of will as I tried to wake up. With an eerie feeling of disconnection, I watched it happen, even as in my dream I tore the clothes off the rod and threw them to my rumpled bed.
Something, though, wasn't right. I wasn't waking up. The dream wasn't passively shredding into hard-to-remember bits. And with a jolt I realized I was conscious but not awake.
What in hell?
Something was really, really wrong, and instinct sent a pulse of adrenaline thorough me, demanding I wake. But I didn't.
My breath was quick and ragged, and after I emptied the closet, I dropped to the floor and tapped my knuckles on the boards for a secret compartment I knew wasn't there. Frightened, I grasped my will and forced myself awake.
Pain reverberated through my forehead. I sprawled, all my muscles going flaccid. I managed to turn my head, and my ear stung instead of my nose breaking. Hard wood pressed against me, cold through my pajama shorts and top. My cry came out as a gurgle. I couldn't breathe! Somethingâ¦something was in here with me. In my head. Trying to possess me!
Terror smothered me like a blanket. I couldn't see it, couldn't hear it, could hardly
it. But my body had become a battlefieldâone where I didn't know how to win. Possession was a black art, and I hadn't taken the right classes.
Damn it, my life isn't supposed to be like this!
Utter panic gave me strength. I tried to mobilize my legs and arms under me and push. I managed to rise to my hands and knees, then fell into my bedside table. It crashed to the floor and rolled to the empty closet.
My pulse hammering, the fear of suffocating overtook me. I managed to stagger into the hallway, looking for help. My unknown assailant and I found common ground and, working together, we took a breath that escaped in a choked cry.
Where the devil was Ivy? Was she deaf?
Maybe she hadn't yet come in from her run with Jenks. She'd said they'd be late.
As if bothered by the cooperation, my attacker gripped harder, and I collapsed to the floor. My eyes were open, and the red sheet of my hair stood between me and the end of the dusky hallway. It had won. Whatever it was, it had won, and I panicked as I found myself sitting up with an eerie slowness. The thick scent of burnt amber hung in my nose, rising from my skin.
I cried in my thoughtsâbut I couldn't even speak. I wanted to scream, but my possessor made me take a slow, sedate breath instead.
I heard myself curse, my voice carrying an odd accent and a sophisticated lilt that had never been mine.
That was the last penny in the jar. Fear shifted to anger. I didn't know who was in here with me, but whoever it was, was going to get out. Right now. Making me speak in tongues was just rude.
Falling into my thoughts, I felt the barest brush of someone else's confusion. Fine. I could build on that. Before the intruder could figure out what I was doing, I tapped the ley line out back in the graveyard. Stark, foreign surprise filled me, and while my assailant struggled to break me from the line, I formed a protection circle in my thoughts.
Practice makes perfect,
I thought smugly, then braced myself. This was going to hurt like hell.
I opened my thoughts to the ley line with an abandon I'd never dared before. And it came. Magic roared in. It overflowed my chi and poured into my body, burning my synapses and neurons.
I thought in agony, the word opening the mental channels to spindle the energy.
The rush would have killed me if I hadn't already burned a trail of nerves from my chi to my mind. Groaning, I felt the power sear anew as it raced to the protection circle in my thoughts, expanding it like a balloon. It was how I spindled ley line energy to use later, but at this rate it was like diving into a vat of molten metal.
An internal yelp of pain resounded in me, and with a mental push that I mirrored with my hands, I shoved away from myself.
A snap reverberated through me, and I was free of the unknown presence. From the church's belfry above came the sound of the bell tollingâan echo of my actions.
Something rolled and bumped down the corridor to crash into the wall at the end of the hall. I gasped and pulled my head up, then groaned in pain. Moving hurt. I held too much ley line power. It felt as if it had settled in my muscles, and using them squeezed the energy out.
“Ow,” I panted, very aware that something at the end of the hall was standing up. But at least now it wasn't in my head. My heart beat, and that hurt, too. Oh God, I'd never held this much power before. And I stank. I reeked of burnt amber. What the Turn was going on?
With a pained determination, I squeezed the protection circle in my mind until the energy slipped back through my chi and into the ley line. It hurt almost as much as taking it in. But when I unspindled the ever-after from my thoughts to leave only that which my chi could hold, I looked up past the snarls of my hair, panting.
Oh, God. It was Newt.
“What are you doing here?” I said, feeling coated in ever-after slime.
The powerful demon looked confused, but I was still too out of things to appreciate its shocked expression: either a smooth-faced adolescent boy or a strong-featured female. Slender of build, it stood barefoot in my hallway between the kitchen and the living room. Squinting, I looked againâyeah, the demon was standing this time, not floating, its long, bony feet definitely pressing the floorboardsâand I wondered how Newt had managed to attack me when I was on hallowed ground. The addition to the church, where it stood now, wasn't sanctified, though, and it looked bewildered, wearing a dark red robe that looked somewhere between a kimono and what Lawrence of Arabia might wear on his day off.
There was a soft blurring of black ley line energy, and a slender
obsidian staff as tall as I was melted into existence in Newt's grasp, completing the vision I remembered from the time I had been trapped in the ever-after and had had to buy a trip home from Newt. The demon's eyes were entirely blackâeven what should be the whitesâbut they were more alive than any I'd ever seen as they stared at me unblinking down the twenty feet that separated usâtwenty tiny feet and a swath of hallowed ground. At least I hoped it was still hallowed ground.
“How did you learn how to do that?” it said, and I stiffened at the odd accent, the vowels that seemed to insert themselves into the folds of my brain.
“Al,” I whispered, and the demon's almost-nonexistent eyebrows rose. Shoulder against the wall, I never took my eyes from it as I slid upward to stand. This was not the way I wanted to start my day. God help me, I'd only been asleep for an hour by the looks of the light.
“What's the matter with you? You can't just show up!” I exclaimed, trying to burn off some adrenaline as I stood in the hallway still in the skimpy shirt and shorts I wore to bed. “No one summoned you! And how could you stand on hallowed ground? Demons can't stand on sacred ground. It's in every book.”
“I do what I want.” Newt peered into the living room, poking the staff over the threshold as if looking for traps. “And assumptions like that will kill you,” the demon added, adjusting the strand of black gold that glinted dully against the midnight red of its robe. “I wasn't standing on hallowed groundâyou were. And Miniasâ¦Minias said I wrote most of those books, so who knows how right they are?”
Its smooth features melted into annoyance, at itself, not me. “Sometimes I don't remember the past right,” Newt said, its voice distant. “Or maybe they simply change it and don't tell me.”
My face went cold in the predawn chill. Newt was insane. I had an insane demon standing in my hallway and roommates coming home in about twenty minutes.
How could something this powerful survive being this unbalanced?
But unbalanced seldom equated with stupid, though powerful and unbalanced did. And clever. And ruthless. Demonic.
“What do you want?” I asked, wondering how long until the sun would rise.
With a troubled look, Newt exhaled. “I don't remember,” it finally said. “But you have something of mine. I want it back.”
While unknown emotions flitted through and Newt's thoughts cataloged themselves, I squinted down the shadowy hallway, trying to decide if it was male or female. Demons could look like anything they wanted to. Right now Newt had pale eyebrows and a light, absolutely even skin tone. I'd say it was feminine, but the jaw was strong and those bare feet were too bony to be pretty. Nail polish would look wrong on them.
It was wearing the same hat as beforeâround, with straight sides and a flat top made from a scrumptiously rich red fabric and gold braiding. The short, nondescript hair falling to just below the ear gave no clue to gender. The time I'd questioned what sex he or she was, Newt had asked me if it made a difference. And watching Newt struggle to place a thought, I had a feeling it wasn't that the demon didn't think it was important but that Newt didn't remember what parts he or she had been born with. Maybe Minias did. Whoever Minias was.
“Newt,” I said, hoping my shaking voice wasn't too obvious, “I demand you leave. Go directly to the ever-after from this place, and don't return to bother me again.”
It was a good banishmentâapart from my not having put it in a circle firstâand Newt raised one eyebrow at me, its puzzlement set aside with an ease that spoke of much practice. “That's not my summoning name.”
The demon jerked into motion. I shrank back to invoke a circleâpaltry though it would be, undrawn and unscribedâbut Newt stepped into the living room, the hem of its robe the last thing I saw slipping around the doorframe. From out of sight came the sound of nails being pulled from wood. There was a sharp crack of splintering paneling, and Newt swore colorfully in Latin.
Jenks's cat Rex padded past me, curiosity doing its best to fulfill its promise. I lunged after the stupid animal, but she didn't like me and so skittered away. The caramel-colored kitten paused at the threshold with her ears pricked. Tail twitching, she sat and watched.
Newt wasn't trying to pull me into the ever-after, and it wasn't trying to kill me. It was looking for something, and I think the only reason it had possessed me was so it could search the sanctified church. Which boded well as a sign that the grounds were still holy. But the damned thing was crazy. Who knew how long it would ignore me? Until it decided I might be able to tell it where
A thump from the living room made me jump. Tail crooked, Rex padded in.
The sudden knocking on the front door of the church spun me the other way to the empty sanctuary, but before I could call out a warning, the heavy oak door swung open, unlocked in expectation of Ivy's return.
Great. Now what?
“Rachel?” a worried voice called, and Ceri strode in, fully dressed in faded jeans with dirt-wet knees, clearly having been in the garden despite it being before sunrise. Her eyes were wide with worry, and her long, fair hair billowed about her as she paced quickly across the barren sanctuary, tracking in mud from her garden-inappropriate, elaborately embroidered slippers. She was an elf in hiding, and I knew that her schedule was like a pixy's: awake all day and night but for four hours around each midnight and noon.
Frantic, I waved my hands, alternating my attention between the empty hallway and her. “Out!” I all but yelped. “Ceri, get out!”
“Your church bell rang,” she said, cheeks pale with concern as she came to take my hands. She smelled wonderfulâthe elven scent of wine and cinnamon mixing with the honest smell of dirtâand the crucifix Ivy had given her glinted in the dim light. “Are you all right?”
I thought, remembering hearing the bell in the belfry toll when I had pushed Newt from my thoughts. The expression “ringing the bells” wasn't just a figure of speech, and I wondered how much energy I had channeled to make the bell in the tower resonate.
From the living room came the ugly noise of paneling being ripped from the wall. Ceri's blond eyebrows rose. Crap, she was calm and sedate, and I was shaking in my underwear.
“It's a demon,” I whispered, wondering if we should leave or try for the circle I had etched in the kitchen floor. The sanctuary was still hallowed ground, but I didn't trust anything except a well-drawn circle to protect me from a demon. Especially this one.
The questioning look on Ceri's delicate, heart-shaped face went hard with anger. She had spent a thousand years trapped as a demon's familiar, and she treated them like snakes. Cautious, yes, but she had long since lost her fear. “Why are you summoning demons?” she accused. “And in your sleepwear?” Her narrow shoulders stiffened.
“I said I'd help you with your magic. Thank you very much, Ms. Rachel Mariana Morgan, for making me feel worthless.”
I took her elbow and started dragging her backward. “Ceri,” I pleaded, not believing that her delicate temper had taken this the wrong way. “I didn't call it. It showed up on its own.”
Like I would even touch demon magic now?
My soul was already tainted with enough demon smut to paint a gymnasium.
At that, Ceri pulled me to a stop, steps from the open sanctuary. “Demons can't show up on their own,” she said, the flicker of concern returning as her white fingers touched her crucifix. “Someone must have summoned it, then let it go improperly.”
The soft scuff of bare feet at the end of the hallway cut through me like a gunshot. My pulse catching, I turned, Ceri's attention following mine an instant later.
“Can'tâor don't?” Newt said. The kitten was in its arms, paws kneading.