Home > Seawitch (Greywalker #7)(8)

Seawitch (Greywalker #7)(8)
Author: Kat Richardson

“At least it is unlikely to read like a Stephen King novel,” he snapped, and that surprised me more than anything else I had seen or heard that day. He was deeply unsettled and it made neither of us happy.

And I had no choice but to make it worse. “You’re going to have to get used to the creepy factor, Solis,” I said. “Because we’re hip-deep in it.”

SIX

I got back to my condo about six thirty. The trip had been short once traffic cleared and there hadn’t been any point in lingering or stopping elsewhere. I’d type up my notes for the insurance company later; I’d been on the job for only twenty-four hours officially and they didn’t require a report so soon.

I didn’t see any sign of Quinton when I came in so I assumed he was busy elsewhere. We’re a couple but we don’t spend every free moment together, not least because we both have strange jobs, dangerous associates, and eccentric habits. Two born loners living—mostly—together requires a degree of laissez-faire most people haven’t got. I took off my boots and hid them in the hall closet to save them from possible predation by the ferret. Then I flipped on the TV to the first channel I found running a nature documentary and let Chaos out of her cage for a romp around the living room. Chaos loves nature shows, except for any part of Shark Week, which I think demonstrates a lot more common sense than I’d normally credit to a furry mammal the size of a sneaker who looks like an animated kneesock with teeth.

I was staring into the fridge and wondering why I never seem to have any food in the place when I got a whiff of an unpleasant odor that wasn’t coming from the icebox. A cold feeling ran down the back of my neck and I turned around slowly.

My kitchen and living room had vanished behind a wall of Grey mist and a gleaming doorway shape awaited my attention. I hadn’t seen this phenomenon in years—not since I’d first been introduced to the Grey. I’d seen it only once since then and none of these occasions had been pleasant. Apparently the Guardian Beast wanted to see me and was sending a formal invitation, for once. Usually it just showed up and beat me into doing what it wanted—not the most articulate of monsters, it tended toward violent demonstration more than discussion. Since it is, effectively, my boss in the Grey, when it shows up, I pay attention, especially since I’m pretty sure it could take me out permanently if it wanted to. I sighed and gave up on dinner.

“All right, I’m coming,” I muttered, and stepped toward the glowing portal of ghost-stuff, sinking out of the normal world and fully into the realm of shadows and magic.

The Guardian resolved from the boiling fog of the Grey, a long, sinuous, and coiling shape of silver reflection and ghostlight. The unpleasantly dragonlike head swooped down to my own eye level and looked me over, breathing cold and the odor of forgotten crypts on my face. Cold wisps of Grey mist suggested the imminent shapes of sharp horns and fangs.

I pushed the head back with the flat of my hand. “What do you want?” I asked. I would have demanded, but where’s the point in that?

“Seawitch,” the Grey sighed around me, silver-mist faces momentarily evolving from the cold steam of the world between worlds to give voice to the Guardian’s thoughts.

“I’m already on it, but I don’t have much to go on yet. You have to be patient.”

“Valencia,” the voices whispered.

“What?” I had no idea what the Guardian was alluding to. A city in Spain? An orange?

“Find . . . the lost.”

Not helpful, that. “That was on my to-do list already. If you have a more articulate or specific clue, I’d really appreciate it. I think I liked you better when you couldn’t speak at all.”

It laughed at me, the Grey rippling and rolling with its amusement. Then it coiled around me, wrapping its snakelike length up my body in cold loops that sent a metallic shock over my skin like touching the live contacts of a small battery. This time it didn’t pull me up and drop me down again, as it had once, but spun me round and round, the Beast uncoiling into a dark panorama before my dizzy gaze.

I reeled out of its clutches and stared at the scene it had composed of the Grey. A dark place with two large humped shapes and a black stain that thickened the air in one corner. . . . I’d been there, but it hadn’t looked quite like this. . . . Where was it?

As I looked, the dark clot of something widened and became more solid, spreading out to form an impossible crowd of black human shapes that couldn’t really fit in the confined space, yet they did—all contained as if warped into the area by some freak of black-hole physics. I thought there must have been a hundred or more, trapped behind the large, cold iron shapes of engines. . . . Yes, that’s what they were: engines. The space was Seawitch’s engine room. Not as I’d seen it last, but as it might look from within the Grey.

I pulled back from the Guardian and its vision with an effort. “OK, I see it. The engine room. I’ll go there tomorrow and take another look. Is that what you want?”

The Grey made a hissing noise that slowly faded to a chuckle as the mist drained away, leaving me flat-footed in the arch between my kitchen and the living room. “Wait,” I cried. “What sort of creature—” But it was too late and I couldn’t call the Guardian Beast back. I felt cold and my skin was damp and stiff. “Thanks,” I muttered. “Next time I’ll bring a towel.”

“Don’t you always know where your towel is?” Quinton asked. “What sort of Hitchhiker are you?”

I whipped around to glare in the direction of the front door from which his voice was coming.

Quinton was smiling at me from just inside the closed door. “Hi. Sorry if I startled you. I didn’t realize you were . . . here/not here.”

“Just having a little conference call with the Beast and its Greek chorus.”

“And this leads to towels . . . how?”

I shook my hands out, flinging salty water at him. “I’m wet. This case revolves around a boat that was lost at sea and has now returned like a bad penny—a very wet bad penny. So I got drenched. The new Guardian has what passes for a sense of humor. Mostly on the verge of nasty.”

He looked at the puddle developing around my feet, which had now attracted the ferret, who darted in to take a taste and then backed off, making a face that clearly said the water was vile and she disapproved of it intensely. “You need a towel. Luckily, like a good Hitchhiker, I know where they are.”

“What is with the hitchhiker reference?” I asked, grabbing a dish towel off the drain board to wipe the worst of the moisture off my face and hair.

Quinton ducked into the linen closet in the hall and brought back a large bath towel. “You might want to change out of your clothes here, where the floor’s easier to mop up. And haven’t you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?”

I took the towel and rubbed some more water out of my hair before I started to disrobe. “Nope,” I replied. “If it isn’t shelved in the mystery section, I haven’t read it.”

He heaved an exaggerated sigh and scooped up the ferret as she rampaged past. “One of the guiding principles of intergalactic hitchhiking is ‘Always know where your towel is.’”

I gave him a blank stare.

“I guess you had to be there,” he replied.

“I guess,” I echoed, taking off the last of my damp clothes. “This is the second time I’ve been soaked today by water that wasn’t there. Maybe I should be taking a towel with me.”

“The point isn’t that you have the towel with you—although that is implied—but that you know where it is.”

“Huh,” I grunted from under the terry cloth. “That almost makes sense.”

“How did you end up soaked with invisible water the first time?”

“Something on the boat we’re investigating doused me.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” he asked.

“Rey Solis—of all people to get stuck with a cold case that’s straight out of the Twilight Zone.”

“How’s he taking it?” Quinton asked, as I popped back out from under the towel.

“Better than he could have but not as well as I’d like. I think he’s actually taking in the idea that I’m not normal in a way that goes beyond his usual experience. We had the Chat.”

“The I-talk-to-ghosts chat?”

“Yup. And then I had to show him.”

Quinton snorted. “I’ll bet he loved that.”

“About as much as you’d expect.” I peeled off the last of my wet clothes and wrapped the towel around myself.

“Hey, you don’t have to cover up for my sake,” Quinton objected, smiling.

“I’m cold.”

His smile widened into a wicked grin. “I can tell.” He walked over and wrapped his arms around me, putting the ferret on my shoulder as he started to kiss and nibble at my opposite ear. “I can warm you up. . . .”

I laughed and tried to wiggle loose. “Silly man. Dinner first.”

Suddenly Quinton twitched backward. “Ugh! Ferret tastes disgusting!”

Chaos made a leap for the kitchen counter as I started laughing. “You’re the one who put her there!”

“I hadn’t considered that she’d stick her tail in my mouth,” he added, making a face and turning toward the sink in search of water to rinse from his mouth the taste of ferret fur.

I chuckled and caught the fuzzy miscreant so I could return her to the floor where she belonged. Not that I hadn’t enjoyed the kissing, but I was still wound up from the long day and once we got to the sexual gymnastics I wanted to do more with Quinton than rush through a quickie on the kitchen counter. I took his distraction as an opportunity to slip away to a quick shower and some dry sweats.

When I returned, Quinton was pulling things out of the fridge. Neither of us was much of a cook, but Quinton at least had the skill of recognizing what bits and pieces might go well together. I’m strictly a prepackaged dinner girl and if I tried to put a dish together from leftovers, we’d end up dining on something like cream of beet on toast. I like food well enough; I’m just lousy at making it. On the other hand, I have never put things in the microwave that don’t really belong there.

Later, when we were sitting on the couch with dinner in front of us and Chaos was occupied with reorganizing her stash of toys, I recapped my day to Quinton at his request. I told him about the Seawitch and her missing passengers, my first soaking of the day, Linda Starrett, and then our conversation with Captain John Reeve.

“What worries me,” I said, “is that I don’t know if whatever was watching was there to begin with or if it was summoned in some way.”

“You mean because of the spell thing in the fountain or because he called it in some way?”

I gave a half shrug. “I’m not quite sure. That is, I’m not sure about the connection or if there is one or if he somehow conjured the thing into existence.”

“I’m not quite following you. . . .”

“First, I’m not sure what it was that I saw. It could have been what he was describing—a large doglike thing—or it may just have been something that size and I filled in the idea of a dog thing myself.”

“Does it actually matter?” Quinton asked.

“It may. If I could figure out what the creature was, I might be able to get a line on what powers are involved here and if it’s one of those creatures that is attracted by its name or if it’s something that can be tethered or . . . what. Most of what I’ve seen so far is pretty foreign to me except for basic principles. It all seems to be about water, which I haven’t had much experience with up till now.”

“Except for up at the lake last year.”

“Yes, but that was freshwater and it didn’t feel like this. The water was just a carrier of magic in that case, but here . . . it’s like the seawater or the sea itself is a power of its own. And I’m not ignoring the fact that there’s blood magic involved and that blood is also salty. I’m not quite getting a handle on this.”

“Well, you are dealing with sailors and boats and there’s a lot of tradition and superstition there. If, as you’ve said, this stuff is influenced by the things people close to it think and feel and fear . . . then that’s a lot of influence and shaping over a very long period of time. And not all of it will be homogenous. You could have more than one tradition in the mix on this coast. I mean, we have everything from English legends to the local Indian lore and the Viking myths that came over with Leif Eriksson.”

I gave that a moment’s thought and nodded. “True. Could very well be any or all of them. Or maybe I’m just a little thrown off by working with Solis. He’s kind of hard to read. Even when he’s freaked-out.”

“That’s what makes him a good cop. You’re not easy to read, either, you know. Most people find you a little . . . aloof.”

I raised an eyebrow and looked askance at him, feeling a bit prickly. “Aloof? Doesn’t that imply dislike?”

“Not from me, but you can understand how your tendency to keep your distance may look like distaste or disdain to some people. I know it’s part of the job—you need to keep your thoughts to yourself and not become a factor of your cases—but it does put you in the position of disinterested observer and that unsettles some people. They don’t separate their observations from their emotions and they don’t really understand someone who does.”

“Do you speak from experience, O Wise Sage?”

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