High Voltage

Page 9

As I was about to kick up into the slipstream, a sudden movement from above caught my attention. I paused and glanced up to watch something roughly the size of a playing card falling from the sky, end over end.

I have a theory about people. Actually, I have a lot of theories about people but this particular one goes: if someone throws something at you, you’re either a catcher or a ducker. I’ve never been a ducker. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s sometimes wiser to be.

Still, instincts being instinctual and all, I jumped and caught the object while it was a few feet above my head.

“Ow!” I exclaimed. The edges were sharp and cut the tips of my fingers as they closed around it. Cursing softly, I wiped the blood on my jeans before turning my attention to the card.

Four inches by three, about a quarter of an inch thick, it was fashioned of alternating strands of green and black metals, woven together in an intricate, repeating Celtic knot pattern. It was beautiful. I’m Irish to the bone and proud of it. I love my country, my heritage, the fierce resilience and pride of the Irish people. This was fine work, done in the old way, lovely but slightly rough, as if smelt and beaten by a blacksmith. I had no idea what it was or why it had fallen from the sky. Shrugging at yet another mystery, I turned the metal piece over.


was chiseled into the metal in light green letters. A dozen instant responses took vague shape in my mind. Seriously? It was a bloody long list. I rolled my eyes and was about to toss it in the gutter when I saw something shimmering at the border and retracted my hand to inspect the card more closely.

I dropped it, as if burned.

A spell was etched into the metal, nearly undetectable, in slightly darker shades of green on green around the perimeter. A person with normal vision would never have seen it. Years ago I’d have instantly blamed Ryodan for any spelled thing I found, but he was gone and, in our new, magic-enhanced world, the possibilities were vast. Another sidhe-seer, Enyo, had told me just last week that some of the Fae lording over cultlike encampments in the rural areas were believed by many to not be Fae at all. None of her wary sources had been willing to elaborate on what they really were, but they’d insisted the charismatic, powerful beings hadn’t descended from the True Race and that those of us at the abbey should give them a wide berth.

Which, of course, only made me want to go exploring.

I stared down at the metal card on the pavement. What was its purpose? What did the spell do? I shivered, grateful I hadn’t muttered a wish aloud. I like wards. They’re practical, straightforward, and don’t usually bite you in the ass when you use them. Spells, on the other hand, are convoluted, dangerous, and unpredictable things. Especially when blood’s involved.

I glanced down at my fingertips. Then back at the card.

My blood was smeared along the top edge.

Bloody hell.

I wasn’t picking it up again, on the off chance I hadn’t already activated whatever the spell was meant to do. I’d learned more than I ever wanted to know about blood-spells from the monstrous Rowena. There was no way I was giving it a second shot at me. Nor was I willing to leave it lying around for someone else to cut themselves on.

I toed the thing into a nearby gutter, watched until it vanished down the drain, disappearing into the vast, watery tunnels and caverns of Dublin below, then kicked up into the slipstream and headed home.

And Shazzy’s got stormy eyes

“SHAZAM, WHAT IS GOING on here?” I wrinkled my nose as I stepped into my bedroom, peering through the gloom.

The dark room smelled funny, like a zoo. Fecund. I’ve always liked that word. Just not in my room.

The glow of Dancer’s stereo cast enough light so I could see Shazam had either doubled in width or there was something next to him on my fluffy, freshly laundered cloud of a white comforter. Coupled with the strong animal odor, it could only mean one thing. “You know the rules, no eating in bed,” I rebuked. No blood, no guts, no gristle in my sheets. I didn’t think that was too much to ask.

“I’m not eating. That’s all you think I do. I do other things, too,” came the derisive sniff from the darkness.

My eyes fully adjusted now, I could clearly see the outline of a carcass lying next to him, furred and lifeless. “Like what, saving leftovers for later?” I slid my sword off over my shoulder, propped it against the wall, and unzipped my jacket.

He said smugly, “I have a mate.”

Holy hell. I froze, half out of my jacket. Thoughts collided in my brain too fast to process, leaving a single horrid image: sharing a bed with a mating Hel-Cat.

I’d take blood, guts, and gristle any day.

I flipped on the light and nearly burst out laughing, but I’m not foolish enough to laugh at a Hel-Cat who might be mating.

Shazam was sprawled on the comforter, one massive, tufted paw clamped tightly around the neck of an utterly terrified, exhausted creature, keeping it pinned to the bed.

It was no wonder I’d thought it was dead. Stretched on its side, it was barely breathing, round golden eyes wide and fixed on nothing. There was froth on its muzzle and whiskers.

Good grief, Shazam had brought home a Pallas cat.

“This is Onimae,” he informed me proudly.

I shook my head, not certain where to begin with this latest escapade of his. He certainly kept things interesting. “Shazam, you’re a sentient, talking, highly evolved being. That,” I stabbed my finger at it, “is a cat, and barely a quarter your size. Let the poor baby go.” She looked traumatized. Deeply.

“You’re not the boss of me.”

“Am, too,” I reminded. “You agreed to that. Where did you find her? Have you considered that she may already have a mate, a family of her own?”

He smirked. “Brought them, too, tiny red.”

I dropped my jacket to the floor, guns and knives forgotten, and glanced hastily around, realizing I should have seen this coming. Shazam had been obsessing over wildlife DVDs for the past few months; looking for new game to spice up his nightly hunt, I’d thought. But he’d been searching for a girlfriend. Solitary creatures that lived in grasslands and steppes, Pallas cats were the size of a domestic cat, with stocky bodies, shaggy, dense fur, stripes and ringed tails. I wrinkled my nose again. They were also known for scent-marking their territory, which explained the foul odor in my bedroom. “How many and where?”

He shrugged nonchalantly. “Don’t know, don’t care. They aren’t Onimae.”

I dropped to the floor and peered beneath my bed.

A dozen yellow eyes glared out at me from fluffy faces, regarding me with identical expressions of hostility: low-set ears flattened to their heads, a single side of their mouth drawn up in an Elvis-like sneer.

Sometimes I feel like I live in a cartoon. There were six Pallas cats from the far reaches of Asia sneering at me from beneath my bed. As they began to growl, I bit back another laugh—once I began laughing I would either hurt Shazam’s feelings or lose what little respect I managed to command with him at times like these—and said firmly, “Shazam, you will return all of them to wherever you found them.”

“Will not.”

I poked my head up and glared at him. “Will, too.”

“Can’t make me,” he said airily.

Technically that was true. Handling Shazam took patience and tact. I pushed myself up from the floor. “When did it, er—Onimae eat last?”

“She will eat after we mate,” he said grandly.

“Does it really look like she’s about to jump up and mate with you anytime soon?”

“She’s gathering her strength.”

“She’s scared out of her wits.” My first goal was to get the small, terrified cat away from him. “She needs food and water. Earth animals can’t go as long as you without eating. Let her go and I’ll get some food for, er—” I glanced under the bed at my sneering, growling companions and sighed. “—our guests.”

Shazam had been in Dublin with me for over two years and I knew it had been a big adjustment for him. I’d found him on a planet in the Silvers, living in another dimension, half mad from long solitude. He was the only one of his species left, and I could only imagine how lonely that must be. Perhaps he should have a mate. Perhaps the Pallas cat might grow to like him. Who was I to say he shouldn’t have a family of his own? Could he have a family of his own with an Earth animal? Did Pallas cats have large litters? What the bloody hell would I do with half a dozen Pallas/Hel-Cats? My brain thinks in Batman quips under pressure, a defense mechanism that keeps my chin up while the world goes to hell around me. This time it married an old Star Trek episode to my favorite comic book hero and pronounced: Holy tribbles, Batman, we’ve got trouble! Swallowing my mirth, I demanded, “Can you have babies?”

He gave me a strange look. “Children? Of course.”

“Is that what this is about? Do you want to make them with her?”

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