Home > Tracking the Tempest (Jane True #2)(17)

Tracking the Tempest (Jane True #2)(17)
Author: Nicole Peeler

Keeping my eyes on Trill's still form, I waited impatiently for Nell to let us in. Finally her shields opened, just a bit. Anyan inserted a wedge of his own power, seamlessly integrating our combined force into Nell's so that our little orb of shield grew out of Nell's larger orb, just as sometimes happens when children blow bubbles and two of them combine.

We moved forward, the two bubbles integrating seamlessly, until we were entirely within the circle of Nell's power.

Inside the gnome's shields, all was eerily quiet. Only Nell's enraged shouts echoed as, to my utter disbelief, she swore a blue streak. I am well aware of my own penchant for the potty mouth, but I could only stare at Nell in awe at the expletives streaming out of her mouth.

She had just started in on Conleth's sexual affinity for ground squirrels when Anyan barked my name, reminding me what we were there for.

I went to him, shuddering at the sight of Trill. The kelpie looked awful. Her little pony shape was blistered and blackened, and it took me a second to see that she was, indeed, still breathing. I tamped down a wave of nausea at the sight of her oozing wounds as I knelt down to where Anyan was already hard at work healing her.

The barghest had created a bubble of power around her, keeping the air off her wounds to decrease the risk of infection. Slowly, painstakingly, he was healing her from the inside out. I sent him a thread of my own power, this time careful to monitor my power expenditure. With all of his attention focused on Trill, Anyan pushed what I gave him into his little infection-shield without comment or acknowledgment.

I kept pumping him energy, but other than that, I didn't know what to do. In this shape, Trill had no hand to hold and I couldn't see a patch of untouched skin to stroke and try to comfort her. There was nothing I could do to help her besides feed Anyan my strength.

Nell hovered above us, still shrieking insults and threats as she hurled bolts of power at Conleth. I shifted around, trying to get a better look at the ifrit halfling, but Anyan was in the way.

So, still feeding the barghest my energy, I walked around him toward the outer edge of Nell's shield where I could get a better look.

Conleth was starting to falter under Nell's onslaught, and his fire had become less bright, which meant I could finally discern a human shape. Tall and slender, his focus seemed to be on Nell. Until suddenly, I saw eyes, startlingly blue in all that fire, shift from the gnome to my own face.

The halfling's attacks ceased as we stared at one another. It only lasted a few seconds, but his intense gaze was enough to raise the hairs on my arm. To my amazement and horror, he raised a hand to me in a manner that appeared… beseeching.

Before I could react, Nell had taken advantage of our attacker's momentary lapse of concentration. She hit him with a double-barreled blast of power—one from each hand—that made him stagger. He sent me one last searching look as she gathered herself for another hit, and then suddenly he was engulfed in even more flame than before.

And that's when he blasted off, like a motherfucking rocket ship. One moment he was there; the next he was gone, arcing away from the pasture to the gods only know where.

“Well, well,” Nell breathed, obviously impressed.

We were both still standing there, blinking in shock, when Anyan called to Nell.

“Gnome! Here!”

Nell was instantly at Trill's side, taking over for Anyan.

I switched my power feed from Anyan to Nell as the big dog stood and shook himself.

His fierce, iron gaze met mine. “Stay with Nell,” he commanded before turning to the gnome.

“Protect her,” he rumbled, causing me to shiver.

With that, the barghest was off, streaking away to follow the trail of fire that Conleth had left blazing behind him in the night sky.

My shivering increasing, I finally realized just how very f**ked I was as I plopped down next to the nearly healed kelpie.

Then I dug my cell phone out of my pocket to call Caleb.

The next morning, at 8:00 A.M. sharp, my ride rolled in. I recognized Caleb's SUV as it pulled in the drive, and Daoud climbed out to collect me. I was expecting Ryu, but I wasn't about to kick up a fuss, considering my audience.

I turned to say one last good-bye to my very confuzzled father.

“Okay, Dad. I'll see you soon. As soon as I can. I know this is out of the blue, but Ryu needs my help with something important. In the meantime, Nurse Ratched here is going to help around the house.”

My words were backed up by a gentle compulsion from Nell, whom I'd called Nurse Ratched in a moment of complete and utter retardation. Luckily, she didn't get the allusion, so it was fine. Because, as I had learned last night, she could kick my ass from here to Montreal without breaking a sweat.

“Okay, honey. Call me when you get there,” my dad replied foggily. I hated all the magic we'd worked on my dad for the past week, but we had to keep him happy so I could lure Conleth away from him and the rest of Rockabill. My dad also had to be amenable to having a gnome bodyguard. Ideally without him realizing she was, indeed, a gnome. Or a bodyguard.

So I had my father's welfare covered, and Amy was covering for me at work. Now that Valentine's Day had passed, Sarah, from the Sty, could also take a few shifts. And there was always Miss Carol, although I shuddered at the thought. Miss Carol, Nell's niece, was an immature gnome with a penchant for debauchery. She special ordered books so filthy we had to keep them wrapped behind the counter. Miss Carol was also constantly insinuating she'd like to work at the bookstore, for kicks, but the woman had a major edit-button malfunction. She said everything and anything that popped in her head. “It's just the truth,” she would always say in her own defense, and I'd grown tired of trying to explain that the truth did not make for easy listening.

I hadn't yet told Grizzie and Tracy, as I figured I'd call them on the seven-and-a-half-hour-drive to Boston from Rockabill. And because I was a coward. At least I'd sorted everything out, schedulewise, so I didn't feel quite so bad leaving Grizzie and Tracy in the lurch the second week running. Plus, at the end of the day, I'd rather they fire me than have them barbecued because Con had attacked me at the store.

I gave my dad a fierce little hug, careful not to linger and make him worry. Then I wheeled Iris's big ole suitcase outside and passed it on to Daoud. I hadn't yet unpacked it except to take out my dirty clothes and my toiletries, since I'd been rather distracted the last week, and most of it was Iris's contributions, anyway. So I'd just shoved some more practical clothing on top of all of Iris's impracticalities and called it a day.

Daoud loaded my bags as I climbed into the backseat. Caleb smiled at me from the front.

“Hello, Jane.”

“Hi there, Caleb.”

“Ryu's at the scene. We'll deliver him to you and then we'll all leave for Boston.”

“Okay,” I said, as Daoud got in the car, and we drove off toward Nell's. We'd all had a long night, so we didn't bother chitchatting.

When we got to the cabin, Ryu's little car was parked rakishly in front of the wide front steps. He was around back, with Trill, examining the destroyed pasture with an extremely irate expression on his face. The kelpie looked almost normal, except that her mane was pretty much burned off. When I walked toward the pair, a look of pure relief came over Ryu's face. He trotted over to me, picking me up in a fierce hug.

“Thank the gods you're unhurt, baby,” he murmured, holding me tight. But I wasn't paying any attention to the vampire.

For over Ryu's shoulder, I could see the remains of the once lush pasture. It had been dark when Con had attacked last night, and seeing all the damage in the light of day freaked me right the f**k out. It was one thing to be attacked in Boston, but this was Rockabill. This was my home. And it was devastated. Trees were uprooted around the edges of the field and partially burned. The grass was gone, and huge gouts of earth were upturned like divots from a giant's polo match. My face was grim as Ryu walked me to the cabin's back stairs.

He sat me down gently, turning my chin till I met his eyes.

“Are you okay, baby?”

“He came to where I live,” I said, anger infusing my tone. Ryu leaned in to kiss me, stroking my hair soothingly.

“I'm sorry,” I said finally. “I just didn't realize… Shit, I didn't realize.”

“Yeah, Con does pack a punch,” Ryu said dryly, stroking his thumb over my cheek.

I shuddered, looking out again toward the ravaged pasture.

“I'm sorry, baby. I'm so sorry this happened.” Ryu's voice had lost the sarcastic edge. He sounded very sad.

“It's not your fault,” I said. “I'm just lucky Conleth was dumb enough to attack when he did. If he'd come for me at home, or at the bookstore, things would have been different.” By “different,” I meant I'd be very, very dead. And so would a few other members of Rockabill's human population, most probably.

“Yeah. He probably hasn't come across any gnomes and thought she'd be easy pickings. Thank the gods she was here.”

“And Anyan,” I agreed. “He's the one who saved me.”

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