Read When Demons Walk Online

Authors: Patricia Briggs

When Demons Walk

BOOK: When Demons Walk
6.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
When Demons Walk
Patricia Briggs

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


When Demons Walk


Book / published by arrangement with the author


All rights reserved.

Copyright ©
Patricia Briggs

This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

For information address:

The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.


The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is


ISBN: 1-101-13393-7



Books first published by The Ace Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

and the “
” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

Ace Books by Patricia Briggs


This one's for my siblings who've all contributed to my books:


Clyde Rowland who introduced me to Dick Francis and Louis L'amour;
Jean Matteucci who introduced me to Rice Krispies cookies, Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels; Ginny Mohl who introduced me to Andre Norton and Marion Zimmer Bradley;
and to my sisters' husbands Dan and Greg, for putting up with me all these years. Love ya all.


This book owes debts to a number of people—


Dr. Virginia (Ginny) Mohl, MD, PhD—who put up with late-night phone calls concerning a variety of gruesome topics.


Donald J. LaRocca, Associate Curator, Arms and Armor, Metropolitan Museum of Art—who recommended a number of sources of information on swords, and answered a vital question concerning Kerim's sword.


Jess Roe, swordsman, swordsmaker, and martial artist—who lets me pick his brain at every con I see him at, and is largely responsible for all the authentic details for the fights in this and future books. Any mistakes are mine.


ham sat on a low stone fence in the shadows of an alley pulling on her boots. In the darkness that even the moonlight failed to reach, a sea breeze caressed her hair. She drew in a deep breath of the fresh air.

Even the sea smelled different here in the hilly area of Landsend. The Cybellian conquerors, like the Southwood nobles before them, had chosen to make their homes far from the wharves. In Purgatory, the westside slum where Sham lived, the ocean air smelled like dead fish, old garbage, and despair.

She stood up and ran her hands lightly over the silk of her courier's tunic to make sure that the black and gray material hung properly. She had to fluff the opaque sleeves twice to keep them from revealing odd bulges where she stored the tools of her trade.

It was still early in the winter season, so the silk was warm enough if she kept moving, but she was glad the trousers were made of heavier material. After bundling her other clothes, she tucked them out of sight in the lower
limbs of a tree that graced the garden behind a wealthy merchant's house.

Messengers were common on the streets of Landsend, Southwood's capital, even in the darkness of early morning. Female messengers were not, but Sham was lightly built and, on the streets, could pass easily as a boy—as she had for the last twelve years. Even the long braid that hung down her back was not out of place. Only recently had the Southwood men begun to crop their hair like the Easterners who had conquered them.

As she strode through the empty, moonlit street, she noticed a guardsman standing near a cross street watching her.

The east-city guards were as different from the guards of Purgatory as the smell of sweetsalt was from rotting fish. Most of them were younger sons of Cybellian merchants and traders rather than the glorified street thugs who were supposed to keep order in the less prosperous areas of town.

The guard caught Sham's eye and she waved to him. He responded with a nod and waited for her path to bring her nearer.

“Late night,” he commented.

She noticed with hidden amusement that he was even younger than she'd thought—and bored as well to talk to a mere messenger.

“Early morning, messire,” she grumbled cheerfully in Cybellian, not bothering to hide her Southwood accent since her white-blond hair kept her from claiming Cybellian birth—as long as she chose to leave it uncovered.

He smiled agreeably and she continued past him, careful to keep a rapid straight path and looking neither to the left nor the right until she'd traveled several blocks.

The house she was looking for was on the end of a block, and she waited until she'd turned the corner before giving it more than a casual glance. The hedge was too high for her to see much of the building, but there were no signs of occupation in the upper story. First checking to see if anyone was watching her, Sham dropped to the ground and shimmied under the wall of greenery that enclosed her target for the evening.

The manicured lawn was tiny: Land was expensive in this part of the city. The tall greenery that surrounded it kept out the faint illumination provided by the street torches as well as the somewhat brighter light of the moon. Sham knelt where she was, watching the dark mansion intently for movement that might indicate someone was inside.

The three-storied edifice was newer than the hedge around it; the Eastern noble she was robbing had purchased an old manor and had it torn down and rebuilt in the Cybellian style as soon as the fighting had died down. Open-air windows on the second and third floor might have been useful in the hot, dry climate of Cybelle, but Landsend, despite its southern location, was wet and chilly in the winter months as the ocean currents brought cold waters from the other side of the world to the cliffs of Southwood.

She approved heartily of the new style of architecture, after all,
didn't intend to live in it. The open windows, even shuttered, made her job much easier than the closed, small-windowed native styles. As she studied the building, she warmed her hands against her body. The night air was cool and warm hands gripped better than cold ones.

According to her informant, the owners of this particular house were currently enjoying a se'nnight at the hot pools a day's ride from Landsend. Some entrepreneurial Cybellian had taken over the abandoned buildings there, turning them into a pilgrimage temple to Altis, the god of the Cybellians.

The Cybellians didn't believe in the restless spirits who were responsible for the abandonment of the old settlement. They called the native people “backward” and “superstitious.” Sham wondered if the protection of Altis would keep the ghosts under control—and hoped that it wouldn't.

However, she wasn't going to wait for the Wraiths of the Medicine Pools to attack the Cybellians. In her own small way, she continued the war that had officially been lost twelve years ago to the god-driven Cybellians and their eastern allies who crossed the Great Swamp to conquer the world.

Using almost nonexistent hand-holds, she pulled herself
up the walls. Setting her calloused fingers and the hard, narrow soles of her knee-high boots in the slight ledges where mortar separated stone, she climbed carefully to a second-floor window and sat on the narrow ledge to inspect it closer. The lip of one shutter covered the opening where both met, making it more difficult for a thief to release the inner latch.

Her informant, the younger brother of the owner's former mistress, had said that the wooden shutters were held closed by a simple hook-latch. A common enough fastening, but not the only possibility, and it was necessary for her to know exactly what she was dealing with in order to open it.

Closing her eyes, she put a forefinger on the wooden panels and muttered a few words in a language that had been out of use for living memory. The shutter was too thick for her to hear the faint click of the latch hook falling against the wood, but she could tell it was done when they opened slightly.

She slid to one side of the window ledge and used her fingertips to open one of the shutters. Stealthily, she entered the building and pulled the panel closed, hooking the latch behind her. Magic was a useful tool for a thief, especially when her victims, for the most part, didn't believe in it.

She stood in a small sitting room that smelled of linseed oil and wax. With the shutters closed the room was awash in shadows. Without moving for fear of knocking something over, she drew magic from a place that was not quite a part of this world. She pushed aside the familiar barrier and tugged loose a small bit, just enough for her purpose. Holding it tightly she molded it into the shape she wanted, using gestures and words to guide her deft manipulation. In another place and time she would have worn the robes of a master wizard.

Magic had always felt to her as if she held some incredible substance that was ice-cold but warmed her hands anyway. With a pushing gesture she flung it away, watching its white-hot glow with a mage's talent. If there was someone here, she'd know shortly. When nothing happened after
a count of twenty, she was satisfied she was the only person in the building.

The magelight that she called was dim, but it lit her way satisfactorily through the sparingly furnished halls. She wandered through the building until she found the room the boy had described as the lord's study.

Drawing a gold piece from one of her pockets, she murmured to it, then tossed it into the air. It spun lightly, and fell, clinking, to the hard floor. The coin spun on an edge before it came to rest—hopefully on top of the floor vault where the master of the house kept his gold.

Drawing her magelight near the floor, she inspected the parquet carefully. Under the cool glow she could just make out the subtle difference in fit where a group of tiles was slightly higher than the rest.
, she chided the absent lord lightly. Satisfied she'd found the vault, she starting looking for the release lever to open it.

Under the mahogany desk one of the wooden tiles was noticeably higher than those around it. She tried pushing on it to no effect, but it pulled up easily with a click followed by a similar sound from the vault.

She pulled off the loosened section of flooring and peered below. In the small recess there were several leather bags in a neat row next to a stack of jewelry boxes. Lifting one of the sacks, she found it filled with gold coins. With a smile of satisfaction, she counted twenty-three into a pouch that she carried under her silk tunic. Finished, she replaced the bag among its fellows and arranged the sacks so that they looked much as they had before she'd taken her plunder.

She didn't even think of looking through the jewelry. It wasn't that she was opposed to robbery; after all, that was how she made her living—but tonight she sought retribution and ordinary thievery had no place in it. After shutting the vault she reset the tile under the desk.

She left his study to continue her explorations. The money was only a third of what she came to do here this night.

The house looked odd to her Southwood-bred eyes. The
rooms were too big and hard to heat, separated by curtains rather than doors. Floors had been left bare and polished rather than strewn with rushes. No wonder they left their houses to bask in steambaths, haunted or not: the chill air crept through this house as if this were a centuries-old, drafty castle rather than a newly built manor.

She climbed the back stairs to the third floor and found a nursery, the servant's quarters, and a store room. Returning to the second floor, she continued her search. This particular nobleman collected instruments of all kinds, and she'd heard from the Whisper that he'd lately purchased one that was more than it seemed.

She found the music room by the main stairway, a small room dominated by the great harp that sat in the middle of the floor. Several other large instruments were on their own stands, but the smaller ones were arranged on various tables and shelves that lined the walls.

The flute she was looking for rested casually on a shelf next to a lap-harp, as if it were nothing but the finely crafted, eight-holed instrument it appeared. Carved from a light-colored wood and inlaid with small bits of semiprecious blue stone, it looked as ancient as it was. It was more battered than she'd remembered it; several pieces of stone were missing and there was a deep scratch on one side. Even so, she knew it was the Old Man's: There was no mistaking the magic in it.

She shook her head at the ignorance that left such a thing within easy reach of every person who strolled past. It was part of the magic of the flute that it attracted anyone able to use its powers: That the house still stood was proof that the Easterners had no magic in their souls. Impulsively, she lifted it to her lips and blew once, smiling as the off-pitch note echoed weirdly through the house.

She wondered if the nobleman had yet tried to play the instrument and been disappointed by the flat, lifeless tones. She blew again, letting the single tone fill the empty house. The magic the flute summoned made her fingertips tingle, and the note lifted until it was true and bright.

Smiling, she pulled it away from her lips, holding the
magic a moment before letting it free, unformed. She felt a momentary warmth that brushed her face before it was swallowed by the cold room.

She'd once heard the Old Man play it with true skill, but he seldom had taken it out, preferring more mundane instruments for casual practice. Until she'd heard of its sale, she'd thought the flute had burned with the rest of his effects when the Cybellians had taken the Castle.

Respectfully, she slipped it into a hidden pocket on the inside of the arm of her undershirt, and inspected the blousy sleeve of her outer shirt to make certain the lump wasn't obvious. One task remained.

The temples to Altis (every Easterner's house had one) were usually built near the entrance where the all-seeing eyes could protect the inhabitants. So, she left the rest of the second floor unexplored and trotted down the staircase.

It took her much less time to find the altar than it had to find the music room. At the base of the stairs was a set of golden velvet curtains. Moving the heavy drapery dislodged a cloud of dust and left her coughing in the sanctuary of the Easterner's god.

It was no bigger than a large closet, and filled with a musty odor. Despite the obvious signs of disuse, the shrine more than made up anything it lacked in size by sheer gaudiness.

Gold and precious gems covered the back wall in a glittering mosaic, creating the feline symbol that represented the god Altis. The emeralds that formed the cat's glittering eyes watched indifferently as Sham palmed three of the coins she'd stolen earlier.

The first time she'd done this, the cat's eyes had frightened her. She'd waited for lightning to strike as she invoked her spell, but nothing had happened then, or since. Still, she couldn't help the chill that crept up her spine. As a warrior recognizes his enemy in battle, she gave a nod to the green eyes that watched her, then she turned to her work.

Gold was the easiest of all of the metals to work magic upon, so it didn't take her long to melt Altis's cat from the
back of the coins. Two of them she left blank, but on the third she drew a rune that invited bad luck upon the house.

She held the third coin over the star on the cat's forehead and covered the green eyes with the other two, blinding the cat. Pressing her thumbs on the eyes and her index fingers on the star, she muttered softly to herself until the golden coins disappeared, leaving the cat mosaic apparently unchanged.

She stepped back and rubbed her hands unconsciously. The rune magic she used was not black; not quite—but it was not precisely
either and she never felt quite clean after working it. Not that it would do much harm: Ill luck took a particularly tricky rune. Still, the Old Man could have made it function for several years; the best that she had done was ten months—but she was getting better.

BOOK: When Demons Walk
6.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Heir Agreement by Leon, Kenzie
After the Fall by Patricia Gussin
Killer of Men by Christian Cameron
The Sea Garden by Marcia Willett
The Guardians by Ashley, Katie
Knight by Lana Grayson
The Hot Girl's Friend by Lisa Scott
A Fighting Chance by Shannon Stacey