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Every Which Way But Dead
By Kim Harrison
Chapter OneI took a deep breath to settle myself, jerking the cuff of my gloves up to cover the bare patch of skin at my wrist. My fingers were numb through the fleece as I moved my next-to-largest spell pot to sit beside a small chipped tombstone, being careful to not let the transfer media spill. It was cold, and my breath steamed in the light of the cheap white candle I had bought on sale last week.
Spilling a bit of wax, I stuck the taper to the top of the grave marker. My stomach knotted as I fixed my attention on the growing haze at the horizon, scarcely discernable from the surrounding city lights. The moon would be up soon, being just past full and waning. Not a good time to be summoning demons, but it would be coming anyway if I didn't call it. I'd rather meet Algaliarept on my own terms - before midnight.
I grimaced, glancing at the brightly lit church behind me where Ivy and I lived. Ivy was running errands, not even aware I had made a deal with a demon, much less that it was time to pay for its services. I suppose I could be doing this inside where it was warm, in my beautiful kitchen with my spelling supplies and all the modern comforts, but calling demons in the middle of a graveyard had a perverse rightness to it, even with the snow and cold.
And I wanted to meet it here so Ivy wouldn't have to spend tomorrow cleaning blood off the ceiling.
Whether it would be demon blood or my own was a question I hoped I wouldn't have to answer. I wouldn't allow myself to be pulled into the ever-after to be Algaliarept's familiar. I couldn't. I had cut it once and made it bleed. If it could bleed, it could die. God, help me survive this. Help me find a way to make something good here.
The fabric of my coat rasped as I clutched my arms about myself and used my boot to awkwardly scrape a circle of six inches of crusty snow off the clay-red cement slab where I had seen a large circle etched out. The room-sized rectangular block of stone was a substantial marker as to where God's grace stopped and chaos took over. The previous clergy had laid it down over the adulterated spot of once hallowed ground, either to be sure no one else was put to rest there accidentally or to fix the elaborate, half-kneeling, battle-weary angel it encompassed into the ground. The name on the massive tombstone had been chiseled off, leaving only the dates. Whomever it was had died in 1852 at the age of twenty-four. I hoped it wasn't an omen.
Cementing someone into the ground to keep him or her from rising again sometimes worked - and sometimes it didn't - but in any case, the area wasn't sanctified anymore. And since it was surrounded by ground that was still consecrated, it made a good spot to summon a demon. If worse came to worst, I could always duck onto sanctified ground and be safe until the sun rose and Algaliarept was pulled back into the ever-after.
My fingers were shaking as I took from my coat pocket a white silk pouch of salt that I had scraped out of my twenty- five-pound bag. The amount was excessive, but I wanted a solid circle, and some of the salt would be diluted as it melted the snow. I glanced at the sky to estimate where north was, finding a mark on the etched circle right where I thought it should be. That someone had used this circle to summon demons before didn't instill me with any confidence. It wasn't illegal or immoral to summon demons, just really, really stupid.
I made a slow clockwise path from north, my footprints paralleling the outside track of the salt as I laid it down, enclosing the angel monolith along with most of the blasphemed ground. The circle would be a good fifteen feet across, a rather large enclosure which generally took at least three witches to make and hold, but I was good enough to channel that much ley line force alone. Which, now that I thought about it, might be why the demon was so interested in snagging me as its newest familiar.
Tonight I'd find out if my carefully worded verbal contract made three months ago would keep me alive and on the right side of the ley lines. I had agreed to be Algaliarept's familiar voluntarily if it testified against Piscary, the catch being that I got to keep my soul.
The trial had officially ended two hours after sunset tonight, sealing the demon's end of the bargain and making my end enforceable. That the undead vampire who controlled most of Cincinnati's underworld had been sentenced to five centuries for the murders of the city's best ley line witches hardly seemed important now. Especially when I was betting his lawyers would get him out in a measly one.
Right now the question on everyone's mind on both sides of the law was whether Kisten, his former scion, would be able to hold everything together until the undead vampire got out, because Ivy wasn't going to do it, scion or no. If I managed to get through this night alive and with my soul intact, I'd start worrying about me a little less and my roommate a little more, but first I had to settle up with the demon.
Shoulders so tight they hurt, I took the milky green tapers from my coat pocket and placed them on the circle to represent the points of a pentagram I wouldn't be drawing. I lit them from the white candle I used to make the transfer media.
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