The Fist of a Child
The prickly sensation crawled over my left fingertips, up my fingers, and snuggled into my palm like the fist of a child. For a moment it was pleasurable, and in my dreams, my heart warmed. I thought of my goddaughter, Angie Baby, and smiled in my sleep.
Then something exploded up my hand and arm and into my torso, a magical bomb going off. An electric sensation, like a burning cactus, the thorns on fire, the blooms as weapons blossoming open through me. Scorching thorns ripped through my flesh. The blooms detonated like heat-seeking missiles.
I gasped a single breath that sent a shock wave of pain through me. Opened my eyes as I woke. But I didn’t move otherwise. Lying in the dark. Terror rising. The heat and power of a magical working—a spell, to the mundane world—rolled through me. Reading me. My heart raced. My breath came too fast.
Familiar . . . I had felt this—or something like this—before. With a tearing sensation, the working ripped out of me and across my bed. And I could breathe. The fear-stink of my own sweat filled my nostrils, tart and acerbic. My heart raced, an uneven thump against my ribs.
For a moment I knew it, remembered it, and then the memory faded, like a dream upon waking, as if the working was designed to be forgotten. But my Beast reached out and swiped it into her claws, keeping it for me.
Beast shoved her night vision into me and I saw the energies of the working on the walls and ceiling and floor as it roiled slowly, a pale green power that licked its way forward, through my room, leaving nothing in its wake but shadows. Nothing happened. So . . . it wasn’t a magical trigger waiting to be set off. It looked as if it was taking a 3-D picture of everything, like a 3-D laser recording of the room. In preparation for . . . what? Nothing. Yet.
The moment it moved off the bed, I picked up the unsheathed vamp-killer and nine-mil on the bedside table, only inches from the hand where the spell had commenced. Rolled to my feet, careful to keep my soles away from the searching magics. I was dressed in leggings and a tee, both in shades of charcoal so that I could move through the house, only slightly darker than a shadow, without being seen from outside. Or inside, for that matter.
My palm, where the magics first touched me, sent a sizzle of pain up my arm when I gripped the vamp-killer. Not lightning, I thought, calming my racing breath. Not lightning. I was still getting over having been hit by lightning, but the panic attacks weren’t totally gone yet. The feel of the vamp-killer hilt in my palm settled me, the crosshatched grip, the fourteen-inch silver-plated blade, the perfect balance for hacking.
Forcing calm into myself with each breath, attempting to quiet my heart rate, I tried to decide if running was smart or playing dead was smarter. Since I wasn’t actually dead yet, and since the magics might have been intended to flush me out where someone could hurt me worse, I decided to stay in the house, silent.
As a skinwalker, one who also carries the soul of a mountain lion in my body, I knew not racing away, not taking the offensive, was the more difficult choice. Especially when attacked in my home. Flight or fight was more natural, but that might get me killed this time. Might get my business partners, sleeping upstairs, killed. They were human. I could heal from most wounds and injuries; humans might not. My heart raced. Breath sped. Muscles tightened.
With my Beast-vision, I followed the magics as they moved slowly through my bath and into my closet. I had left both doors open and so was able to watch as the working rolled through the spaces and the piles on the floor. Sometimes it paid to be a slob. Without a pause, the pale green energies swept over the sabertooth lion skull on the top closet shelf. But the working hesitated and hovered over the small wooden carving of a crow. The carving was positioned over my stash of magical trinkets given to me by my best friend, Molly Everhart, long ago, the crow and its working hedge, recharged on her last visit. The box of magical doodads were protected by the crow and its upgraded hedge of thorns ward, which spat and spluttered as the magics feathered their way over them. Hedge of thorns, renovated to hedge of thorns 2.0, had been tested recently. It was, so far, unbreakable, but . . . there was always a first time.
The working brightened and turned reddish, as if trying to read the spells, even encapsulated in the spelled box containing them. The magics grew brighter, a sparking purple, edging toward grape, and then back to scarlet as they tried to penetrate and read. I smelled ozone and a stink like hair burning as the sizzling increased. The meeting of two such workings might trigger something more catastrophic than the sparks and shadows I could see now. I needed to get the guys.
Whatever the working was, its attention was not on me at the moment. I drew on Beast-speed and her energy flashed through me, an adrenaline flush of my skinwalker magics. Slipping the H&K into my right hand, the blade in the other, I leaped over the edge of the pale green working where it had paused and thinned on my floor, its attention in the closet. I landed, a tingling of magic passing through me, my braid slapping my butt. But nothing changed. The scan hadn’t noticed me move. Heart still pounding, I sped out of my room and into the foyer, up the stairs, three at a time, using Beast-stealth to keep my passage from creating any vibrations that the working might pick up.
It might have been smarter to go inside Eli’s room and speak, but I didn’t know what my partner slept in, and I didn’t need to find out tonight. I stopped outside his door and hissed, the sound softer than air, but I knew Eli would hear it, evaluate it, and determine it was likely me, even in his sleep, picking it out as a “not normal” night sound. You can take the Ranger out of the special forces, but you can’t the special forces training out of the Ranger.