Under Witch Moon (Moon Shadow Series), page 17
"Play," I begged. I handed her back the long flute, the powder safely scattered inside. The spell was heavy. It wouldn't filter into the air quickly.
"I'll wait until Sam is finished."
"Could you accompany him on the song he's playing now?" I was more than a little frantic.
She backed up a step. "Well, I think I should wait. It won't be long."
"Or let me play it!" If I didn't distract Sheila soon, Harold was going to sell the keys to the kingdom or the secrets to blowing up the world.
"No, no, I'll uh, okay, a note or two." Watching me out of the corner of her eye, she blew a trickle of notes.
The spell leaked into the air and reacted immediately. It was too blue. She looked like she was smoking a giant blue cigarette.
The source of the spell was going to be obvious to any witch worth her salt unless I managed another distraction.
The flutist stopped playing and frowned at the end of her instrument before turning an accusatory glare my way. The horn continued to glow even though she had stopped playing.
"Harmless," I mouthed. "Honestly. Illusion."
She shook the flute, but that only made it worse.
"Play?" I put my hands together beseechingly.
A pinched look on her once friendly face, she put the instrument to her lips. The notes gave me cause to shiver. The woman had her own brand of power, and she was purging her instrument.
The other musicians glanced at us, but never missed a beat.
"Sorry," I mouthed, turning away.
With a desperate gulp, I headed for Sheila. I couldn't afford to leave Harold in the clutches of the witch a moment longer.
I got about two steps before bouncing off White Feather.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, grabbing my shoulders.
"She's at it again! Got to stop her. She's dangerous. Don't you dare get involved this time!"
The chemical from the horn finally dispersed enough to react with the lights. Once it hit actual bulbs, the room tinted blue. Art changed nuances, and people's faces were suddenly bathed in a soft blue color. The soothing scent of fresh mountain water filled the air.
I looked back. The flutist inclined her head, but not in a friendly manner. She was aware she had been used.
"Oh boy." I needed to find a better way to make friends. The woman probably would have gladly participated had I taken the time to explain.
Turning back to the problem at hand, I found Sheila and her crowd still standing near the fireplace. I watched in dismay as Harold extracted his checkbook from an inside jacket pocket. "Uh-oh."
Harold pulled out a pen and started writing a check. The man to one side of Sheila helpfully supplied a small notebook to support the pen and checkbook.
"Dammit." I couldn't afford to use magic around Sheila, but the mundane would do. I zipped around White Feather and headed straight for the fireplace. Unfortunately, my disguise spells were gone. If she spotted me, she would remember my real form.
I picked up the fire poker. Using my body to block the view of it as long as possible, I jabbed it hard above my head.
"Excuse me," I heard someone say behind me.
Candy exploded from the burro's piñata cart as I tore the poker out, letting it slide down my arm.
Tiny bombs of wrapped candy flew, startling the suit talking to Sheila and Harold. The poker "fell" over in the excitement. I giggled and fled from under the deluge as though I had nothing to do with the piñata breaking open.
Like children, the crowd reached for a prized piece of candy. One of the many, I bent to collect some. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Harold staring down at the check in his hand. Sheila was looking straight at me. My heart skipped a beat, and I started praying.
She took a step toward me even as I dropped my eyes and scurried harder, my hand retrieving another spell from the pocket on the bottom of my dress. There was a tingle of power, a feeling of intense rage. The lady next to me gasped and grabbed her heart.
Instinctively, I blocked the power, clutching my silver necklace and reaching for mother earth through the floor for all I was worth. Sheila's power may have been directed magic or generalized, but it was ugly. Deflecting it was almost unconscious on my part; survival instinct.
The defense was, unfortunately, bound to draw her attention to me.
No matter, I couldn't stand her filthy aura oozing across me.
I don't know what might have happened had White Feather not entered the fray. Magic or mundane, his arm was no less accurate than a pro-pitcher. Two other piñatas exploded in a rich succession of candy and happy screams from the onlookers.
I moved with the crowd to the new candy, pushing the lady next to me into Harold in my rush. Harold swayed. He might have stepped back.
The feeling of evil rage stopped as suddenly as it started.
She refocused. "Harold, it's so generous of you to donate to the charity," Sheila said.
I felt a resurgence of power, but it wasn't the rage, it was a return of the coercion and control of before. "Aztec curses!" There was enough magic in the room to distract an entire coven of witches, but not Sheila. The suit who had handed Harold a supporting notebook was not even paying attention any longer. He was leaned over collecting a piece or two of candy. His face was clean-shaven except for giant white caterpillar eyebrows that were long enough to nab some candy on their own. If his beard came in white, he'd make a good Santa Claus. Maybe that was why his face seemed vaguely familiar.
Sheila's reminder about the check got Mr. Eyebrow's attention. He abruptly stood.
That's when I got my first real break.
Mr. Eyebrows had to step sideways in order to avoid stepping on another candy-hunter. Sheila moved to give him room and very nearly toppled over the person collecting candy behind her. She had to step away to avoid falling over.
No way was she looking at me and neither was Eyebrows.
I reached out and grabbed Harold's checkbook.
Faster than a gnat could buzz, I dispersed the next spell, a magical element of the smoke bomb variety. The light already shown blue, but now it bounced off white smoke that drifted into insubstantial shapes; trees, a balloon, a puppy dog. The spell was one of Matilda's wonderful illusions, blending perfectly with the party atmosphere. I prayed that it kept Sheila from spotting me half crawling, half duck-walking as I returned to collecting candy.
The checkbook went down the front of my dress. Maybe it would keep my heart from jumping out. If Sheila had seen me take the checkbook, I was toast. Almost as bad as using my own magic in her presence, thievery would immediately associate me with the break-in.
I moved several paces before standing with my candy. Someone threw more of the stuff playfully into the throng. I glanced towards the fireplace.
Sheila was staring straight at Harold's empty hands.
Before she looked my way, I reached under the slit in my dress for another spell pack. If I didn't distract her, she might have the audacity to try and track me from Harold's hands. Fortunately, he hadn't lifted a finger, so I wasn't certain I had even touched him. Still, his essence was on the checkbook.
White Feather was nowhere to be seen, but I felt another cleansing breeze, not as strong as the first one. The flutist may have taken pity on me, because I could feel magic from that direction also.
Had Sheila seen me take the checkbook? Would she remember my face?
I got myself outside.
Harold's check, the one he had started, went straight into a decorative tiki torch at the very back of the garden. To my amazement, I noted that he had written it to "Dr. Arthur Gonzales" to the tune of ten thousand dollars.
After the name, there was a shakily written HF and either the start of a "B" or "P."
After the check was ashes, I took the rest of the book and scorched it as best I could. The smoking, charred leather remains went under a bush where I hoped it would never be found.
With luck, it would take Sheila time to sort out all the spells. To be complete and fair, I used one of my own spells when I left. If Sheila had noticed me, she was going to have a hard time knowing when I departed. I pushed a touch of my magic around a couple talking in the garden. They would remember seeing someone of my description long after I was gone.
On the way home, I stopped at the San Miguel church to retrieve my wig. I was scared out of my mind that Sheila was going to somehow retrieve it. It was well after midnight, and I couldn't use magic because the church wouldn't allow it. I thought about ramming the car through the doors, but decided it was probably not a good idea.
I stood on the cobblestones outside the old adobe building and shivered violently. I couldn't feel mother earth. Was it because the ground was sacred or…had Sheila done something to me? What if I never felt mother earth again?
I swallowed hard to keep from crying. No one could take away mother earth, could they? What would I be if I couldn't feel her? Ever again?
I clenched my fists, concentrating as hard as I could. There was a pulse here; I had felt it before. A small keening escaped my lips, making me realize how crazy I was acting. I clamped my mouth closed. I was tired. Very tired, stressed and scared. Magic was no different than anything else. I couldn't perform the simplest of spells right now, never mind feel the energy of the earth.
I forced my fists to open, but my hands were shaking. Dealing with Sheila petrified every bone in my body. The look on Harold's face as she called him…I wasn't about to become a mindless playing card. Or worse.
Lynx could help me break into the church. I could get my wig back. I could set things right.
I ran for my car like a woman possessed and drove worse than a drunk. Panting, I ran up the porch steps, only to stop in despair. "Moonlight…curses," I hiccuped. The pot remained in its lonely location, ignored. Lynx had not moved the cactus to indicate a meeting time. He was obviously still mad at me.
Maybe tomorrow I would go looking for him. Or maybe I'd go after Zandy to tell him what I thought of him involving Lynx in his games.
I turned away from the pot and dragged myself inside. Too tired to walk into the bedroom, I collapsed on the couch.
I needed tea. Or food. I closed my eyes. It was too much work to prepare anything, but on the other hand, I was afraid to sleep in my current state. After having seen the soulless, wanton witch in action, I wanted to be on guard, I wanted my wig back…I wanted to scream and run far, far away.
For certain I had to call Vi to make sure she changed all her checking accounts and credit cards. Legally, anything Harold signed they would still have to pay for, but Vi could do her best to make it harder for Sheila to hand out Harold's dollars.
Half slumbering, I felt as though Sheila were eyeing me again, her mouth moving in words that would destroy me. Where was mother earth? My home was suffused with earth, with herbs, with mud, with silver. Why was there no comfort here?
Sheila need only raise her hand and the spell would be finished. I couldn't let her utter that final incantation or I would be under her power. I had to stop her! I had to finish this!
With a start, I jerked so hard I fell off the couch.
I was too young for night sweats, but I was drenched as though I had been running full-out.
Crouched on the floor, shivering as the sweat dried on my skin, I knew. Sheila may not have recognized me, but she had guessed I was at the party. The sweat indicated that she still had a real piece of me--skin, hair, something--and she was closer now than White Rock.
The clothes and backpack had been burned so she couldn't use them against me. I was damned lucky she wasn't strong enough to do more than cause night sweats through the adobe and silver of my house.
I got up and showered. The water blocked whatever spell was out there, but I knew she would try to reach through my dreams. I removed my dream catcher from the headboard above my bed and went into the lab. Sheila's fingerprints were still safely in a silk-lined silver box. Working with them while I was her focus was dangerous, but I had no choice but to trust the safety mechanisms in my lab.
I was so tired that if I had had to weave the entire spell from scratch, I don't think I could have done it--even though my life depended upon it.
I took a tiny snippet of Sheila's essence as I had done to create the compass for Vi's house, only this time, I wove a spell into the dream catcher's net that would specifically block Sheila. Anything bad would be trapped in the turquoise beads already a part of the catcher. With her essence woven into the fiber of the spell, she didn't stand a chance at getting through to my dreams unless she had another witch set the spell. Somehow I couldn't imagine anyone cooperating with her that closely, not on her best day.
I put the dream catcher in place and then went to the kitchen to boil water.
I filled four separate jars with the steaming water and carried them back to my room. I added crushed tobacco to the east, sweet grasses to the north, sage to the south, and cedar to the west. I was so tired, I scalded myself twice and nearly stabbed myself with a piece of cedar, but the steam would do its job. The very air in the room was now protected.
When I was finished, I finally crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep.
By lunch time the next day, I still hadn't heard hide nor hair from Lynx. In case he didn't plan on stopping by my place out of stubbornness, I tried The Owl.
"Hey Tino," I called out to my friend at the bar. Taking a stool I said, "I've got another job, but for the alley rat. Have you seen him?"
Tino shook his bald head. Even though we never used names, he knew who I meant. "According to the rat, he won't be needing small jobs anymore. He stopped by a couple of days ago to let me know he appreciated my business, but that he wouldn't be able to keep taking on the small stuff."
"What'd you do, insult him?" Guilt at my own mishandling of the situation made me flush.
"Nah, he was in to eat, part of the standing payment." Tino shrugged. "Pretty happy about his "mother lode" as he put it. Said he was going to go house hunting over on the east side."
I stopped chewing. "What?" I tried not to choke on my mouthful of green chile burger.
"You surprised too about the house thing?"
"The house, the big job--what's the kid talking about?"
Tino gave a dry chuckle. "Who knows? All the shifters seem to be doing big business these days. If they aren't, they lie and say they are. Your friend said he was all about protection, so he couldn't mix his old business with his new one."
"Did he give you any more details?"
"Someone told him he needed a squeaky clean reputation to work the protection racket. He said it was a big job that offered to hire the best, and nothing but the best. Your buddy couldn't stop talking about how it was his reputation for being trustworthy that would give him the edge over the competition."
I put the burger down slowly. "The best?" My next sentence came out a squeak. "He's not working for a vampire is he?"
Tino's eyes blinked fast, as though his brain was reloading. Then he roared with laughter. "Where did you get that idea?"
I shrugged sheepishly. "I've been hearing about people looking for the "best" lately. Vampires, cops, whoever. It's making me nervous."
"How many people you get looking for the worst? Or average?" He chuckled.
I nodded, but something still didn't feel right. "Of course."
"Don't worry, chica. It can't be a vampire. What would they need with shifter protection? Not much affects those guys." He laughed again. "And the kid is right. You know anyone else you can count on like him? He takes any job there is, and he gets it done. At least he did until now."
"Yeah. I know." I sat back. My remaining fries and burger didn't look so appetizing anymore. "Can I get this wrapped to go?"
"Sure. Speaking of jobs, you still do the little ones, or do I
"I'm not looking for a house on the east side yet. Whatcha got?"
Tino wrapped the burger expertly in aluminum foil and took out a bin for both it and the fries. "Granny Garcia needs some perfume. Hide the depression, bring out the beauty."
"Okay sure." Granny Garcia was never the same woman. Tino put in various orders, specifying if the "perfume" needed special spells for relaxation, herbs to make a woman more beautiful, or whatever. Aromatherapy was generally one of the weakest spells out there, but for some clients, that was as far as they wanted to venture down the magical trail. Perfumes like this were really Matilda's forte, but not every client wanted to walk into a public shop.
"Single dose is all she needs," Tino said. "She makes her living cooking tortillas. Had a tragedy. Needs to surround herself with something cheerful."
This was more than I usually got. Lack of info sometimes meant the client didn't like the perfume, but in this business it was pay first unless the client was longstanding. If the client was willing to provide enough information or money, sometimes I'd throw in a few samples until we got the mix perfect. "I'll bring it by."
"I'll have the cash."
When I got home with groceries and supplies, the cactus pot still hadn't moved. Lynx either hadn't stopped by or he had ignored the request. Reluctantly I moved a second pot to a different location to indicate that it was important.
In the meantime, there were spells to be spun. Under the circumstances, the lab represented the safest place in the world for me right now.
My hair was the most likely object held captive by the Big Bad Witch. To counter such, I designed glass beads filled with a spell made from holy water and appropriate herbs. Blowing glass beads strung together with a thin filament of silver thread was not easy. The result was a lot like my tortillas. They were bulky and not very round. Still, the elements I needed were trapped in the glass.
The whole mess was easily entrenched in a French braid with extra beads for a necklace, bracelet and ankle bracelet. I didn't think I could stand the beads at night, but at least I wouldn't be completely vulnerable while walking around or attending any more public parties.
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