Jane Yellowrock is the queen of the vampires, and that makes her a target as she fights to maintain control and keep peace in the city of New Orleans. She has enemies at every turn, because vampires live forever, and they keep their grudges alive with them. That includes the Heir, the vampire sire of the Pellissier bloodline, which gave rise to Leo Pellissier himself—Jane’s old boss and the former master of the city.
With the Heir and all the forces of darkness he can muster arrayed against her, Jane will need all the help she can get. She’ll find it in her city, her friends, her found family, and, of course, the Beast inside of her.
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Like a Stray Animal
Haunting Aggie's Home
Eyes closed, I felt the movement of unexpected cool air as the sweathouse door opened and shut. Last week, I had learned that Aggie One Feather, the Cherokee elder leading me into understanding my personal and tribal history, sometimes left and reentered when I was sweating through a haze of her herbal infusions and my own hidden memories. She said humans couldn't survive five or six hours in a sweathouse like I could, let alone all night, so she would slip out and back in.
I had asked her if she had a nanny camera hidden in the sweathouse to keep track of me. Her reply had made me laugh: "You need a legion of angels to look over you, but a nanny cam could help."
The rustling of her cotton shift, the sound of her breath, and the crackle of flames seemed loud as she settled across the fire from me and fed the coals. I smelled cedar and burning herbs and heard the scritch-grind of her mortar and pestle. Behind my lids it seemed lighter than before. It had to be near dawn.
It occurred to me that the ceremonial fire was, itself, symbolic. It was parts of this world and the next, the two halves of the universe, energy and matter. It was wood and air and energy, and together they made flame and smoke, the destruction of matter into energy. Then that thought wisped away with the fire.
Aggie said, "Drink."
I opened my eyes against the crack and burn of dried sweat, and studied the small pottery cup she held. On the third try I managed to croak, "Eye of newt? Ragweed? Mold off your bathroom floor? Peyote?"
"That never gets old," she lied, amusement hidden in her gaze. "I have no mold on my bathroom floor."
Which meant the liquid could be composed of the other three. Or not. I took the cup and drained it. The decoction tasted of lemon peel, fennel, wild ginger, something I couldn't identify, and salt. I turned the empty, handleless cup in my fingers. It wasn't traditional Cherokee work, but something fired in a modern kiln and given a bright blue glaze.
"What did your dreams show you?" Aggie asked.
I handed back the cup and said, "Same as last time. The angel's location looks a little like my soul home. Walls that curve in toward the ceiling, dark streaks of water on them. Wings that seem to lie flat across the ceiling and down, as if dripping to the floor. Light that comes from nowhere and everywhere. There might have been a puddle of blood on the floor. Hard to tell. But unlike my soul home, I keep seeing people standing along the walls."
"People or other angels?"
I frowned at the question. Had there been wings behind the people? "Maybe. Maybe a suggestion of wings, like shadows. Or maybe I just want to have seen that and so I remember it now."
"Did you see yourself in your dream-state?"
If I watched myself, as opposed to being an active part of the dream, that would tell her a lot about whether this was a vision teaching me about myself and my life path, a prophetic dream portending something about the future, or if it had been a memory. I closed my eyes again and pulled at the fragments. The angel's wings draped, so much larger, longer than in artwork depicting the messenger beings. I heard the faint drip of water, but the echo was different from the usual loud reverberations of my soul home. This place itself was subtly different from previous visions.
In the memory of my vision, I saw myself. My hair was braided into a fighting queue and I was dressed in armor, one of the latest models Eli, my brother of choice, bought these days, now that money wasn't an object. In teaching visions, I usually wore tribal clothing, the kind my father had worn when I was a child.
In addition to the armor, at my waist I was wearing the Mughal blade that Bruiser had given me.
That was interesting.
In the dream-state I did nothing, said nothing, so it probably wasn't a vision teaching me about who I was or guiding my path through life. Seeing myself meant it wasn't a memory. The ancient knife itself was part of a prophecy, and I seldom wore it, mostly for ceremonial occasions when the prophecy did me no good. Only rarely had I worn it into battle.
When he gave the blade to me, Bruiser had said, "A certain wily salesman suggested that the damascene blade is charged with a spell of life force, to give the wielder the ability to block any opponent's death cut. Pure balderdash, but it makes a nice tale." Except that Alex, the tech-genius of Yellowrock Securities and Clan Yellowrock, had traced the blade back to the seventeen hundreds, and there were stories over the centuries about people surviving the death stroke of an opponent's blade.
"Prophecy?" I asked the universe. Or God, if he was listening. Not that anyone answered, not even Aggie. And since I hadn't looked for the future in rain droplets in months, I might not know what this meant until it was too late. However, if I went searching for the meaning in the future, I probably wouldn't understand it anyway, and if I saw danger-and I would-I might feel forced to meddle in time. Meddling in time-timewalking, time-jumping- might trigger the return of the magic cancer. All of which was why I hadn't tried. Seeing the future was like that. Helpful. Until it wasn't. And then it tried to kill me.
I inhaled and caught a familiar scent. He had to be close because I was human-shaped, and my nose in this form was unspectacular. I cleared my throat again and warned, "Werewolf."
"In the vision?" Aggie asked.
"No." There was only one werewolf in New Orleans, and the moon wasn't full, which made them cranky, so he'd be chill and not bite anyone. I wasn't worried. Yet.
I frowned, my thoughts going back to the angel in the vision. "Hayyel was Angie's . . . whaddaya call it. Guardian angel. And he helped to deal with Evangelina's demon-calling circle. I'd always thought that he was just in the right place, right time, and jumped in to send the demon back. But maybe dealing with the demon caused him to be partially chained to something in this plane? Chained to the world of matter when he should be a being of energy? That doesn't make sense. Sending demons back has to be part of his job, right? So maybe he had already been chained here?"
That was a scary thought. It meant that either an unknown person with more power than I understood was currently involved, or that an unknown someone in the past had that power and had chained an angel.
I accepted and drained a bottle of water. "From the beginning Hayyel was close by. He had the freedom to act and intervene in some events, but maybe he didn't have autonomy?" I stopped speaking aloud, following the layered implications in the vision.
I had postulated that Hayyel had already been partially chained, here on Earth, and was, currently, already part of the events taking place. Maybe he had been waiting for Evil Evie's demon circle to manifest . . . and for all of us to be present so he could do . . . whatever he did to us all as he dealt with the demon Evangelina called.
I had sometimes wondered if he had planned it all, planned to change us. Maybe use us. Molly, my BFF, and her family: Evan, her partially-in-the-closet air witch husband, her children, my godchildren: Angie and EJ. Rick (my former boyfriend and now a wereleopard), Kemnebi (another wereleopard), Brute (werewolf stuck in human form). Even my Beast, the other soul who lived inside me. We were all changed in fundamental ways by the banishing of the demon and the proximity to the angel.
A chained angel? Partially chained?
So maybe Hayyel had been, and was, still close by. Maybe he could help, even if he was chained. Or maybe he needed help to deal with being chained. Or both.
I was glad I hadn't said all that aloud, because there was power in this vision and some kernels of truth. I opened my eyes, not sure when they had closed.
Aggie was sitting across from me, wearing her linen shift. She rubbed something onto her knees, as if they ached. When she saw me looking, she shrugged and reminded me, "Werewolf? Demon? Angel?"
"There were two werewolves inside Evangelina Everhart's circle with a demon. The demon was eating them. The angel appeared and-" I stopped. There had been a burst of light at the demon circle when the angel appeared, Hayyel doing something, changing something. "The angel did something to all of us." But the most obvious change had been to Brute, the werewolf I thought I'd just now caught a whiff of. Brute was bound to the angel in some way, probably even more than Angie.
The memory of the werewolves in the demon circle vision was overlapped with memories and visions of the Mughal blade, the prophecy attached to it, and me in armor. Which was strange unless what I'd seen was a combination of all these three: memory, prophecy, personal spiritual vision.
I closed my eyes and pulled the visions back to me. "What do you need?" I whispered, not fully sure who I was talking to. Hayyel? Aggie One Feather? God? "What do you want me to do?"
The memories and visions shifted, as if being shuffled like cards in a deck. In the overlapping of it all, things came clearer, almost as if the sun rose and shone light into the space, ruby and sapphire light, like a prism. In the vision, in the strange place, the people who watched the angel came clear.
The people standing along the walls wore brightly colored clothes-robes. Like people wore in Biblical times. I inhaled in shock. Not a vision. Not my soul home. The red and blue light seemed to flow across the walls, brightening the angel wings. I took it all in, memorizing everything.
Something scratched on the sweathouse door.
"He's here," I said. "At the door."
Aggie tensed. "The angel?"
"No." I'd been out awhile again, and my voice slurred. I swallowed to try and moisten my throat. "The werewolf."
Aggie swore and dumped a bucket of water on the fire. Smoke, sparks, and filth shot out like miniature fiery thunderheads blooming. On the far side of the firepit, the elder was standing, a wicked blade in her hand. "You bring an abomination to my door?" she spat.
"He's not feral," I said, pressing against my scalp to put out any sparks. My hair made crunching sounds from dried sweat salt. I crawled to my feet, hearing the salt crack and feeling it crust painfully in places best not mentioned. I was salty and sweat-streaked and now sooty. My braid swung forward, stiff as a stick, filthy.
"All werewolves are rabid beasts." Aggie hissed the last word and I blinked at her. She didn't look like herself. Dressed in her handmade, undyed ritual shift, her hair cut short to her shoulders, her feet bare, Aggie held a single-edged vamp-killer-fourteen inches of steel, silver-plated on the back of the blade, one that would poison vampires or were-creatures.
A weapon in the hands of a Cherokee elder, in the midst of a sweathouse ceremony. Aggie, furious. Her mouth twisted down in fear.
I stared at her, trying to decide if what I saw, the terror I saw on her face, was real or part of a drug-induced ceremonial hallucination.
Is real. Elder smells of fear, Beast thought at me. Aggie is afraid of werewolf. And is afraid of the I/we of Beast. Aggie has feared since she first saw us in half-form.
Yeah. And werewolves are evil in post-white-man tribal tradition, I thought back. Evil.
A shiver of shock raced through me. I tried to lick my lips, but they were cracked and I tasted blood. "Not all werewolves are rabid. And this one travels with a grindylow who'll kill him if he so much as opens his mouth to lick someone." I stepped slowly to the door, my eyes on Aggie and her weapon, one that could kill me as easily as the vampires for which the blade had been designed and named. The reasons an elder might be armed in a place where no such weapons were allowed flitted through my mind. Her fear, her need to protect herself from me was the best possibility.
She no longer trusted me to keep her safe.
I unlatched and cracked open the door.
A huge white snout tipped with a black nose poked into the crack. It snuffled and snorted.
Aggie smelled of terror, even to my human nose. She raised the blade higher. So far as I knew, she wasn't trained in fighting with a vamp-killer but I had never done a deep background on her. And lack of skill didn't make her any less dangerous. "He won't hurt you, Aggie. Hey, Brute. You got a grindy with you?"
A kitten-nose appeared over Brute's and a neon-green-furred face followed. The grindy was sitting on the white werewolf's head, which even in my dehydrated state was adorable. The grindy tilted its head and made a meep sound.
Brute shoved the door wider and peered inside. He stopped, watching Aggie. He wagged his tail and sat, perking his ears forward, tongue lolling out one side of his mouth. At a quick glance he looked like a bleached-out Great Pyrenees dog, maybe one whose bloodline included moose or elk. Then you saw the wolf fangs, icy eyes, and high-set predator ears. No sweet Great Pyrenees at all. He whined. The grindylow said meep again, and pulled itself higher on Brute's head, holding on to his ears with both paws.
Aggie lowered the weapon, but her eyes were still too wide, her stance uncertain.
"Let's step outside," I said to Brute.
Moving slowly, I bent and picked up a few bottles of water, one of which I opened as I left the sweathouse and guzzled, crunching the plastic to force the water out and down my throat fast. I drank two more and swallowed a salt tablet with the last one.
Talking to a werewolf in wolf form was difficult. At the house, we had a soundboard that Beast could tap on to communicate. It was new and it made our lives so much easier, but out in the wild we were still stuck with the Q and A, yes and no, method of communicating, a series of questions to which Brute could respond with a no head-shake or a yes nod.