Changeling


Page 31


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"Rhoda?" I asked. "She's a werepuma, too?"


He nodded. "My ex-fiancée, actually. We were engaged until last year."


That stopped me cold. I had been so busy focusing on the current situation that I hadn't even bothered to wonder if he had a girlfriend. Not for more than a few minutes, at least. I felt myself start down that treacherous path of wondering what she looked like but stopped before I got past the garden gate. We were mired in a rapidly escalating crisis, and right now I needed to keep focused on the problem at hand.


"Good," Camille said smoothly. "We can use her." She gave me a look that told me she'd picked up on what I was thinking. "I guess that's it," she said dismally, counting on her fingers.


"What next?" I stretched, feeling antsy. When I was nervous, I needed to move my body. "We can't leave until Menolly wakes up and the rest of the men are here. And what about the shop?"


"Iris, do you mind taking it today?" Camille pushed away from the table.


"Not a problem. Let me go change and get Maggie ready to go." Iris bustled out of the room.


"What are you planning to do until dusk?" I asked.


She let out a long sigh. "I might as well drive out to Smoky's and ask him to help us."


"Just don't get distracted," I said, grinning at her. She paled, and I realized that maybe, just maybe, she wasn't so cavalier about her upcoming duties as dragon-lover after all. "Zach, do you mind waiting in the living room? I'd like to talk to Camille alone for a moment."


"Do you mind if I catch a few winks on your sofa?" he asked. "I'm exhausted."


I shook my head. "Go right ahead," I said as he carried his tea out of the room. "There's an afghan hanging over the back of the recliner that you can use."


When he'd trudged out of the room, I turned back to Camille. "Are you sure you want to go through with this? With Smoky, I mean?"


She snorted. "You think I could get out of it, even if I wanted to? He's gorgeous, and there are sparks when we meet, but…"


"But he's a dragon," I said softly.


"That's about the size of it," she said. "I just hope that's not the size of something else. I mean, all I can mink about is: How big is he going to be, and will it hurt?" She stared out the window into the backyard. "You think we should put up bird feeders? I think the birds are hungry."


I joined her, and we watched the rapidly growing blanket of white that was shrouding the yard. "Uh, bird feeders might encourage me in the wrong direction, Camille. Think about it."


With a sudden smile that lit up the room, she let out a low laugh. "Ah, Kitten, that's what I love about you; you're always able to make me smile. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. I'm sure Smoky will be careful. Meanwhile, how are you doing?"


"I don't know. I still don't know how I feel about Zach, other than he pushes my buttons. But I'm not sure…"


"What about Chase?"


"We talked. We fought. We agreed that we weren't going to be exclusive for now. But I don't know what he'll do if I end up sleeping with Zach." I played with the fronds of the spider plant sitting on the windowsill. "Never mind all that. We have to focus on this mess with the demons and Kyoka before things get any worse. How long is Trillian supposed to be gone? I'd really like to have him with us when we head out to Snoqualmie."


Camille was about to answer when a sudden flicker caught my eye. I glanced up and saw a brown spider above us on the top of the window, almost hidden behind one of the sweet-grass braids Camille had hung to the side of the sink. I nudged her elbow and gestured toward the arachnid.


Was it a hobo spider? A spy? Or was it just a brown house spider? Just then, Iris came back in the room.


"Maggie's in my room. You should see her playing with-" she started, but stopped when I held my finger to my lips. I pointed at the spider.


She pulled up her stool and climbed up so that her head was actually a few inches higher than mine. As she leaned forward, the spider suddenly scuttled toward the left-hand cupboard, and startled, Iris lost her balance and went tumbling backward off the stool. I leapt to catch her, but too late. With a loud thud, she hit the floor.


"Iris, Iris, are you okay?" Camille knelt by her side while I kept track of the spider.


Iris pushed her way to a sitting position and held out her hand, yelling, "Piilevä otus, tulee esiin!" There was a blinding flash and then a blur, as the force of her spell knocked the spider off the wall and onto the floor. Within seconds, the air around it was shimmering.


I recognized that shimmer! The spider was shifting form.


"Great Mother, the thing's a Were!" I'd thought it might be just another one of their sentinels, like the ones in Camille's car trunk. I hadn't expected it to be one of the actual Hunters Moon Clan members. Whirling, I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find, which happened to be one of the kitchen cleavers.


Camille thrust her arms in the air, and I could sense the flow of energy as she called down the Moon Mother's power. I leapt forward just as the spider disappeared, leaving a man in its wake. He scrambled to his feet, too quickly for my taste. He must have heightened reactions for him to move that quick after shifting-especially a forced shift.


He was tall and thin, even a little bony. Dressed in jeans, a black tunic, and a pair of leather tie-up moccasin boots that were popular among the recreationists' groups, he crouched in a fighting stance as I moved in, wishing I had my regular long knife with me. The cleaver was awkward and definitely not balanced for combat.


"Give it up," I said. "You're only going to get hurt. Surrender now, and we'll let you live." It was a lie, of course. I knew perfectly well that we didn't dare let him go. Camille had finally gotten it through my head that we were in an all-out war, and he was on the enemy's side.


"Right," he said, his voice low and gravelly. "I don't think so, blondie." With a movement so quick I could barely follow it, he yanked something out of his boot. Iris was on her feet by now, and she closed in behind me. I heard her muttering some sort of charm but kept my eyes on our opponent.


Just then Camille yelled, "Attack and subdue!" and a blaze of energy shot past my shoulder to strike the man in the legs. Holy shit, she was throwing lightning bolts in the house!


"What the fuck are you doing? You'll blow the place up!" I yelled, but then stopped as I noticed, more to my dismay than relief, that the bolt of energy hadn't done a thing to him. He shook it off like leaves in the wind.


"What the-" Camille said, confused.


The man let out a short bark of laughter and raised his hand to his mouth. Within a fraction of a second I saw rather than heard something go winging past me aimed squarely at Camille. In that same moment, Iris broke her concentration to throw herself against Camille's legs, knocking her to the floor . A solid thud echoed as a dart lodged itself into the wall instead of my sister. A miniature blowgun! Shit.


"Nobody messes with the D'Artigo girls and gets away with it!" I shouted and lunged, sidestepping so I wasn't in his direct line of fire. He turned to meet me, silent in his suede boots, and I could see a gleam of delight in his eyes.


"Come on, blondie, come and get me," he whispered, motioning me in as he lifted the blowgun again.


With no time to think, I body-slammed him. He managed to anticipate my move and was ready, dropping the blowgun and grappling me as I landed square on him. Then he rolled, taking me with him, so that he was on top of me, holding my wrists. The dude was freakishly strong for being as bony as he was.


"Well, this is fun," he said, grinning at me, and I could see that he had fangs that overlapped his front two teeth. They weren't as large as either mine or Menolly's, but they looked capable of inducing way too much pain and damage. He yanked one of my wrists up to his mouth. Damn! The creepy bastard was going to bite me and, from where I was lying, I could see a few drops of liquid glistening on the end of both fangs. Poison. Of course; he was a hobo werespider, and even in his human shape, his bite was venomous.


"I don't think so!" I yelled, yanking my knees up to my chest. He wasn't expecting it, and I caught him right in the balls. As he screamed, I threw him off, and we flipped again. This time I landed on top. I sank my knee into his groin as hard as I could, and that put an end to the fight right there. As he writhed, shrieking, Iris calmly hit him over the head with a stainless steel frying pan. Hard. Very hard. I looked at her, taken aback. I knew she could fight but never realized how resilient she was.


"That had to hurt," I said, clearing my throat. "You swing a mean skillet."


Iris beamed. "Hey, you learn to use what's handy. I had more than one skirmish in my day. Back in Finland, I protected the young ones of the family. Every now and then you'd get a bogey creeping in, or a kobold, or some other critter determined to raise havoc." She let out a wistful sigh. "Sometimes I miss those days," she said. "They were good, if a little hard, and I'd give anything to have seen the family live on, but they're all gone now."


While she ruminated on her past, Camille found some rope, and we tied him-hands and feet-to a chair. Remembering our fight with Wisteria a few months back, we also made sure we gagged him.


She picked through his pockets and found a wallet. "Not much here. Ten dollars… hold on, here's his identification. Horace von Spynne. Von Spynne … isn't that the name of the guy Zach got in a fight with a couple years ago?"


"Last name, yes," I said. "Geph von Spynne. They're probably related. They look a lot alike. What should we do with him?"


"For the moment, let's put him in the closet." We carried him to the closet, chair and all, and stuffed him in, locking it firmly. That little storeroom was quickly becoming a makeshift prison. Wisteria had spent some time in there, too.


Camille frowned, staring out into the yard. "I wonder why my blast of energy didn't affect him. It bounced off of him like he had a shield. And how the hell did he slip past my wards without alarming me? I'll be right back. I want to make certain they're still in place."


Iris picked up the skillet with a grunt. It was heavy stainless steel. There was no way in hell we could keep cast iron in the house, so we minimized its presence everywhere we could. The skillet was big enough for Iris to sit in. She had to have some muscles under that demure exterior.


I grinned at her. "I'm so glad you came to live with us. You sure you want to stick around here, though? It gets pretty dicey sometimes."


"Where else would I go?" she said. "With the OIA out of commission and my family in Finland long dead, I'm a free agent. And I like you girls-you're fun, and you make me feel needed."


Her words reminded me of how much house sprites depended on feeling like integral members of the household. Even in this day and age, if you treated them kindly and as one of the family, they would be loyal until the day you died.


"Trust me," I said. "We need you, all right. And Maggie needs you."


"That's good enough for me." Iris giggled. "What do we do with Mr. Eight Legs?" Her gaze darkened. "Delilah, you know we can't let him go. He'd run right back to the Hunters Moon Clan and tell them everything. We can't take a chance on letting them discover what our strengths and weaknesses are. I don't think we have much choice in the long run. He has to be eliminated."


Yep, she was delightful but deadly.


"I know. I don't like the thought of killing him, but I agree with everything you say. Say, why do you think Camille's energy blast didn't work on him? She's gotten pretty good with it, and that particular spell almost never backfires on her anymore. What happened?"


With a frown, Iris peeked in the closet. "Still out cold," she said as she reached out to touch his arm. After a moment, she closed the door again. "He has some sort of natural protection against moon magic, I think."


I held up his weapon and the dart that he had sunk into the wall. "The fact that he had a blowgun and hadn't used it before we saw him pretty much tells us that he must have just sneaked in. Otherwise, we'd all be dead if that poison is as dangerous as I think it is." As I finished talking, the kitchen door opened, and Camille entered, followed by Morio. "What did you find out? Were the wards still armed?"


She shook her head. "No, they weren't. And for some reason, I didn't notice them."


"I can tell you why," Morio said. "I dug around a little in town, talked to a few people, put the pressure on where I needed to. Apparently the Hunters Moon Clan is resistant to moon magic, thanks to their infamous creator. Kyoka worked with the moon when he originally created the werespiders, and it gave them some sort of natural immunity that must have been passed down throughout the years. It also gives them the ability to navigate your wards, since you call on the Moon Mother to set them."


"Fuck," Camille said. "That bites. What the hell am I supposed to do, then? I'm not exactly Wonder Woman in a battle. I guess I'd better haul out my short sword and get in some practice."


"Did anybody else notice that Zach slept through all the commotion?" I asked, suddenly remembering that he was in the living room.


Iris paled. "Nobody should have slept through that racket."


"My thoughts precisely." I raced into the living room, the others close on my heels. Zach was lying half-on, half-off the sofa, looking a little green. I hurried to his side and quickly scanned his neck and arms. Sure enough, there they were, hard to see but not impossible. Two puncture marks on his neck. Tiny, precise, and all too real.

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