Night Huntress

Page 13

Suddenly hungry, I filled my plate and began chowing down as we sorted out our plans. We were too tired tonight, and tomorrow we had a trip to OW to make. But come tomorrow night, we could drive up into the mountains and search for the cave. And-with a little luck-we'd find the seal before anybody was the wiser.


For the first time in ages, I crept into bed alone, not knowing if Chase would ever be in it again. At first, exhausted though I was, I tossed and turned, unable to sleep. I thought about getting up, sneaking downstairs to watch late-night trash TV with Menolly before she had to go to work. But she was still pissed at me, and I didn't feel like answering any questions about Chase right now. So I padded over to the window seat and shifted into cat form. I hopped up on the cushioned bench and curled into a ball, staring out at the moon.

Sometimes life made more sense when I was in cat form. I was still me, my emotions still ran freely, but life on two legs didn't seem quite so important or quite so painful. I inhaled deeply and let it out with a soft purr. So Chase was screwing around. Did it really matter? In the long run, would it matter at all? We were a long way from winning the war against the demons, and who knew if any of us would be around in a year? We might all be dead. Or my sisters and I might be called back to Otherworld. Chase might just be a blip in the road map of my life.

I stood, stretched, and turned around three or four times, trying to find the most comfortable position. As I rested my head on my paws, settling in for a much-needed doze, there was a faint knock on the door, and then it opened and Menolly peeked around the side. She glanced around the room, looking puzzled, until she caught sight of me.

"Kitten? Hey, Kitten, what you doing over here, furble?" She silently crossed the room and, in one swift motion, sat down on the bench next to me. I glanced up at her, not sure I wanted to change back just yet. She caught me up in her arms. When I was in cat form, I was especially sensitive to Menolly's scent. She reminded me of Hi'ran. Her fragrance was that of graveyard soil and old bones and dusty rooms long hidden from the sun. She smelled slightly sweet, like overripe fruit, but it was so faint that most people would never catch her scent on the wind. But the Fae-and Weres-we could smell the undead.

Sometimes I still got creeped out by the thought that my sister was a vampire. Our family had been ripped apart by her death and rebirth. Camille had managed to keep it together until help arrived, and one thing Father never knew-nor did Menolly-was that I'd been there. I'd seen the whole thing, but I'd been in cat form, and when she came bursting through the door like a bloody terror, Camille had grabbed me up and tossed me out the window, whispering for me to flee, to get away.

I'd run for help but had been so frightened that I couldn't change back, and it had taken Camille's piercing screams to summon aid. Long after she'd managed to lure Menolly into the safe room and lock her up-a room Father had made in case we were ever overrun by trolls or goblins-Camille had continued to scream.

When I realized that she hadn't followed me out and that I was useless in going for help, I'd doubled back and climbed up the tree next to the living room. I watched as Camille raced to the door, still screaming, and out into the streets.

After that, I lost track of what happened, but it wasn't long before Father arrived home, along with several members of the OIA. By then, I managed to shift back, and I came in like I'd been away all afternoon. I was too ashamed to say I'd been there but hadn't lifted a finger to help Camille. She never told anybody, and for that, I was grateful. Later, she tried to convince me that she understood, but I couldn't forgive myself for letting her down.

Now, of course, things were vastly different, but the memory of what Menolly had first looked like when she burst through the door, a murderous rage filling her face, covered from head to toe in blood-both her own and her victims along the way-stuck in the back of my mind. No matter how hard I tried, it was an impossible image to erase. Camille had managed to get past it, but I still couldn't. So I tried to spend extra time with Menolly, to overcome the web of fear that still wove itself around a corner of my heart.

Menolly scooped me up in her arms and chucked me under the chin, scratching softly. I shook off my worries and settled into her arms as she cooed over me gently.

"Kitten, I know you can hear me. I know you can understand me. Chase called again a few minutes ago. He wants you to call him; he wants to talk to you. He said he'd be up for another hour or two."

She paused, then let out a long sigh. Menolly didn't have to breathe. When she did so it was purely for effect, though sometimes I suspected she used breathing exercises to cope with the bloodlust when it hit her. With a scritch between my ears, she whispered, "You should call him, you know. Get this straightened out one way or another."

Obviously, she wasn't going to let this go. I leapt out of her arms and padded softly toward the bed. I was going to have to talk to her sometime, it might as well be now. But before I could shift, I felt a lurch in my stomach. Damn it. Why now?

My body shook as I began to hack. It was like having a hair caught in your throat and trying to spit it out, only I didn't have fingers and I couldn't feel around inside my mouth to grab hold of it. I backed up, yowling once-loudly-before I began to cough and then it was there, slimy and thick. Struggling to expel it from my throat, I strained, coughing loudly.

Menolly sighed. "Hairball? Oh, Kitten, I'm sorry. I'll make sure Iris grooms you more. Or I can brush you if you like. Let me know which you prefer." As she spoke, I opened my mouth, and the glob of gunk ricocheted out of my throat, onto the braided rug. It would have to be the rug. It was always the rug, or the bedspread, or the pillow. Never the floor. Nope, no matter how hard I tried, I could never land one on the hardwood floor, where it would be easier to clean up.

As soon as the hairball was free, I shifted back. I'd had enough playing kitty cat for one night. I stretched and yawned as I shimmered back into bipedal form and blinked. Menolly grinned at me as she cleaned up the hairball for me.

"Playing nudist, I see?" She ran her eyes up and down my body in an exaggerated leer.

I glanced down. Oh shit, I'd changed into cat form when I was naked. No wonder I hadn't been wearing my usual collar. "Very funny," I said, grabbing my sleep shirt and yanking it over my head. It was chilly, so I fished out the magenta pajama bottoms to match and slid into them, then hopped on the bed and crossed my legs. I searched through the nightstand drawer until I found my stash of Snickers. Tearing open the wrapper, I bit into the gooey treat, sighing as the taste of chocolate coated my throat.

I stared at the candy bar. "Sometimes, our mother's people get it right, and when they do, they get it right in a big way."

Menolly shrugged. "I wouldn't know. At least not now . But I remember when Mother brought home the bag of chocolate Kisses from one of her trips. We were what . . . I don't remember . . . little, though. Camille had barely started her training with the Coterie of the Moon Mother. They were good, I remember, but almost too sweet for me."

"Nothing's too sweet for me," I mumbled, taking another bite of the chocolate bar. "You aren't going to let it drop, are you? About Chase?"

She shook her head. "You need to talk to him. One way or another, you have to come to terms with this."

"I thought you said we were doomed." I stared glumly at the pattern on the comforter. I'd picked out one with a swirl of roses and ivy, and now I thought maybe I should trade it in for a SpongeBob bedspread, or something with monkeys on it. Something whimsical to make me laugh.

"I still think you are, but that doesn't mean you can leave it like this." She stood up. "Whatever happens, I'm here for you. But don't push me out of the loop, Kitten. I love you, and I care about you. Even when I'm being a total badass bitch." She kissed me on the forehead and headed toward the door, stopping to peer over her shoulder. "By the way, while you and Camille are back in OW, if you get the chance, try to scrape up a few toys for Maggie. Something she'd like to play with that would at least introduce her to her home world. I want her to know both Earthside and OW culture."

I nodded, smiling, but said nothing. Menolly was playing mama to Maggie. She was following in the steps of our own mother, but if I told her that, she'd pooh-pooh it. I finished my chocolate and turned off the light, sliding under the covers. Finally, somewhere near midnight, sleep caught up to me, and I fell into an exhausted, dreamless slumber.

Camille, Morio, Smoky, Iris, and I stood at the entrance to the Hydegar Park portal. One of the random portals to open up over the past few months, it was in the corner of a small, two-block-square park that the city had let grow wild. Luckily, the park was seldom used, and we'd gotten away with assigning an elderly-but still powerful-elf to watch over it.

Sent by Queen Asteria, Mirela dressed like a bag lady so as not to attract attention and spent her days in the park. At night, she cast a temporary seal on the portal, but it never held for long; the energy of the portal dissolved it. By morning the seal dissipated, and Mirela was once again camped out in the park, watching to make sure nothing nasty got through. In case it did, she had a cell phone and our numbers, and we'd hear about it in under five minutes.

The portal led straight to Darkynwyrd, problematic because the dark forest bordered the Shadowlands and shortly thereafter, the Southern Wastes. Should the beasties who prowled the woods there realize that the portal had opened, there would be plenty of creatures who would take delight in crossing over to wreak as much havoc as they could.

That was the problem with goblins and trolls and any number of other denizens of Otherworld. The more trouble they caused, the more butt-slapping, back-patting bullshit went on back in their native watering holes. It was like a men's locker room, only worse. And the women were just as bad. I'd only met a few goblin wenches, but they were just downright nasty.

Camille waved at Mirela. "Hey, we're ready. Anybody around this morning?"

Mirela shook her head. "Nobody stirring but the birds, and even they have been uncommonly quiet. There's a storm brewing-thunder, it feels like, and lightning, and heavy dark clouds coming this way."

Iris sat down beside her on the bench. "You're right about that. I've sensed it since I woke this morning. Camille, you'll probably be able to, too, if you close your eyes and focus."

We'd decided to bring Iris with us because she was an expert with plants, and she'd be able to ferret out a Panteris phir plant without any problem. Maggie was tucked away in Menolly's lair, and we'd left Rozurial to watch over the place. Vanzir had been sent packing for the day. Not that we didn't trust him, but we preferred to err on the side of caution.

The elf motioned to the two trees that created the framework for the portal. Sometimes portals were erected between standing stones, other times they were dependent on trees or cave entrances or even large boulders. In Hydegar Park, one of the trees was oak, the other cedar. Guardians both, and sentient, though they would not speak to me. I could sense their watchful natures, observing us, taking in all that went on around them. Earthside forests kept to themselves. Compared with our woodlands back home, they were quiet and sometimes sullen, resentful of those who had destroyed wide swaths of thicket and copse.

The energy flowed between the trunks, alive and vibrant and new. The portal had been dormant for who knew how long, for at least a thousand years, and had woken to life a few weeks back. Rogue, independent of the spirit seals, the new portals' opening signaled a breakdown in the energies dividing the realms. Even if we found all the spirit seals, even if we regained the third one from the Demonkin, who knew how long the system would maintain itself?

Aeval, Morgaine, and Titania-the three Earthside queens of Fae-insisted the Great Divide had been a colossal mistake on the part of the Fae, that it had altered the energy holding the realms together in such a manner that backlash was inevitable. Perhaps they were right.

Smoky examined the trees. "The energy isn't stable. I think this could close on its own at any time. We run a risk traveling through it."

"We have no choice," I said. "If we use Grandmother Coyote's portal, we'll have a long journey to travel to reach Darkynwyrd. This should hold up for the trip there. And the trip back. I hope."

The fact that the dragon considered it risky made me nervous. Smoky wasn't afraid of much. In fact, the only real things I'd seen him wary of were the Autumn Lord and-to some extent-the werespiders. But I wasn't about to nix our plans now. I needed that plant. I didn't want to find out what would happen if I disobeyed a direct order from Hi'ran.

Camille shrugged. "We might as well give it a try. If we get stuck over there, we'll just have to find another portal to come home through. It's not the end of the world."

I flashed her a silent thank-you and marched up to the nexus point between the tree trunks. "Here goes nothing," I said and, seeing the others were behind me, stepped into the swirl of light.


Walking through a portal is a little like putting on a suit of armor and gallivanting between two giant magnets. It's like being torn to tiny bits within the blink of an eye. Then, suddenly the magnets disappear, and a whirlwind spins you back into one piece again. The whole experience isn't really painful, but it's definitely dizzying.

I hadn't been home in a long time. When Camille and Menolly made the trip to Aladril a few months back, I'd been jealous as hell. Now it was my turn. Too bad our destination was Darkynwyrd, but at least with Morio and Smoky to back us up, we weren't in as much danger as we would be otherwise.

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