I’m getting tired of stories jumping up and grabbing me. This is the opening of the next Familiar novel.
“I just do not know,” Shoshana declared, paint-stained hands waving. “I do not know. The air is wrong.”
Lelia didn’t push the artist for more. If Shoshana Langtree said it was wrong, then it was wrong. Lelia was the last person to question Shoshana when it came to art and atmospherics. Instead she asked, “Is there a way Tay and I can help?” Tay, the ring-tailed lemur perched on Lelia’s shoulder, nodded his agreement.
Shoshana walked from the easel to the workroom door and back. She folded her arms and glared at the painting. “Can you make the bad air go away?”
Tay wrinkled his nose as his mage sorted out what Sho might mean and what mage and Familiar could do about it. “Um,” Tay started, “Uncle Leopard. If we talk to Uncle Leopard, and find out what he does, then we can build on that and cast a ward. Maybe?”
Lelia rubbed under her nose, mindful of her pale cosmetics. “We can do that. If you will give us permission, Sho, Tay and I will just look at the outside of the workroom and shop. Then we’ll talk to Uncle Leopard and either refresh what he’s done, with his permission, or add to it. This time of year, who knows what’s moving through.” She sighed. “Besides the geese and teenagers.”
The larger woman sighed as well, and ran a hand through her navy-blue streaked black hair. “I give you permission.” She frowned at the painting and planted her fists on her hips. “Now, you,” she glared. “Stop that. The publisher does not want a dragon, she wants a lady-knight in green armor on a brown horse. So stop trying to be a dragon.”
Lelia took that as a good cue to sneak out of Shoshana’s work room. She picked up Tay’s carrier and her handbag, and eased out the doorway, lowering the curtain so light from the workroom wouldn’t spill into the gallery part of the shop. She and Tay hurried past the tap-dancing hippo painting, looking to the side so they wouldn’t start giggling. Lelia set her things down by the front door, and detached Tay from her shoulder, setting him on the floor. She knelt.
“I want to just take a look,” Lelia murmured to Tay. “Walk the inside, then we’ll go look at the outside, in case anything’s trying to work its way in, or someone accidentally broke the wards.”
He nodded and swished his tail. “Yeah. She’s not making sense, but not the usual way. If that makes sense.”
For anyone but Shoshana, it wouldn’t, but it did. “Agreed. Uncle Leopard probably used a basic shield, maybe keyed to her, himself, and possibly Bolts, but I don’t know.” Lelia stood, feet shoulder-width apart, arms at her side, and relaxed. Then she shifted her vision to what she thought of as mage-sight, drawing power from Tay as she did. Tay began walking along the inside of the gallery wall, and Lelia let her eyes follow him, seeing the older spell as a faint shimmer. She did not try to read it, but just studied the basic pattern and strength. The spells flared a little as Tay moved, reacting to him. That was normal, according to the books, if Uncle Leopard had used the spell Lelia thought he had.
Nothing seemed out of place, at least until Tay passed the door to the workroom. As he turned the corner and began walking back toward Lelia, he froze. Something skittered out of the shadows under a big oil landscape. Lelia pulled magic through him and made a magical net. “In nomine Deus, lux argentumque,” she chant-whispered, then “tossed” the net to Tay. He rose onto his hind feet, caught it, and tossed it over the skittering shape, then pounced. The thing tumbled, and he wrapped it, then bit down. The shadow stopped moving.
“Blagh! Pa-thooy!” he spat, hanging his tongue out. “Whatever it was, it had terrible taste.”
Lelia hurried to the magical net and its contents. “I think we need to take this outside the wards to dispose of,” she said. “It’s giving me the creeps.”
“Agreed.” Tay hesitated, amber eyes glowing with concern. “I don’t think it’s from around here.”
Oh no. That’s really not good. Lelia drew more power through her Familiar and imagined silver gloves on her hands. She picked up the netted thing and gagged as a really bad smell emerged. Tay raced ahead of her and once she bumped the gallery door open with her hip, he dragged his carrier and her handbag out the door. She followed, and after glancing around for watchers, set the thing down on the sidewalk. Then she pulled white string out of the pouch on her belt. Tay took the end and made a circle around the net and its contents. He returned to stand opposite Lelia. She raised her hands, he lifted his forefeet, and she murmured an invocation, raising a protective circle over the string. Then she reached in and removed the net, sending the power back to Tay.
It looked wrong. The parts didn’t match, the fur had a rotten-avocado color with black patches, and the head reminded her of something out of Hieronymus Bosch’s worst nightmares. “In the name of the Most High, maker of every good and perfect thing, may this return to where it belongs. Lux aeterna, lux arumque, lux sempiternam.” She squinted as magic flared and the thing seemed to burn, then the ashes faded away. “Amen, selah, so mote it be.”
Only after she lowered the circle and put everything back in the pouch did Lelia start to shiver. She pulled a little baggie of “lemur recharge” chow out of her purse, opened it, and gave it to Tay. Then she removed the can of real-sugar soda from the depths of her purse, opened it, and said, “Cheers.”
“Mrgf,” he replied, mouth full of nuts and dried fruit. Lelia drank the sugar and caffeine, then gnawed on a beef stick. “Right.” He began after swallowing. “That didn’t come from around here.”
“We finish looking at the wards, then get groceries, then go home,” Lelia decided. “I don’t want to talk about it, not out in the open.”
Tay shook, releasing grey and black fur. “No.” He dove back into the chow and Lelia finished the meat.
To her mild surprise, the wards around the workroom appeared intact, at least from outside. As they were finishing their inspection of the alley-side of the wall, a classic pick-up pulled into the alley. It parked, the door opened, and a young man with close trimmed black-dyed hair, in black work pants and a black long-sleeved tee-shirt emerged. “Hi, Lelia!”
“Hi, Bolts. Sho called us in to look at the place.”
The industrial goth glanced around, then approached her and leaned to her ear. “Good. I don’t like something, but I don’t know what.” He straightened up. “Did you remind her to eat?”
Lelia hung her head. “Ah, no, I forgot. I was too busy getting an ear-full about the shop, and a canvas that wants to be a dragon even though it is supposed to be a horse.”
Bolts chuckled. “Yeah. Sho let me read the summary of the book, and I think the dragon would sell better, but that’s not what the publisher wants.” He stretched, shoulders popping. “Sorry. I spent the afternoon working on a transmission.”
“No problem.” Lelia crouched as Tay sauntered into his carrier and closed the door from inside. She picked it up, and balanced it with her handbag. “The tap-dancing hippo, though.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Oh, yeeeeaaaaaahhhh. I don’t want to know where that idea came from. But I bet it will sell as soon as Uncle Leopard gets it uploaded and priced.”
Thppppth came from the carrier.
“I agree, Tay, but fluffy and puffy is big right now,” Bolts reminded the lemur.
Lelia mock-shuddered, “Alas, yes. And we’re going to miss the bus—literally—if we don’t get moving. Later.” Bolts gave her a shoulder-hug, then started tapping on the door to the work room, as Lelia hurried up the alley and back to the main street.
Not until the groceries were unloaded, Tay fed, and Lelia had a big sandwich made of dollar-off cold cuts did she start thinking about the thing and the shop. “OK,” she said, sitting on the neo-Victorian couch, a latté in her hands. Tay bounced onto the seat beside her. “That thing did not come from one of Sho’s paintings.”
He tipped his head sideways. “But it’s not from here. It was from somewhere nasty.”
And here isn’t nasty? Yes, she knew what he meant, but she’d lived on the streets and he hadn’t. ‘Agreed.” She sipped the coffee and stared out the front window at the darkness around the rented house. “But the feeling didn’t match any of Sho’s ‘elsewhere’ works.”
Tay licked his nose. “I’ll…” He thought for a moment. “I’ll give you that. It didn’t match. And the wards,” he hesitated, then continued, “the wards are OK. But they are weaker than I expected.”
(C) 2019 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved
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