Home > Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(11)

Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(11)
Author: Kevin Hearne

“Oh, yeah,” he says near the end, like it’s something he almost forgot, “I should probably tell you that the Morrigan’s dead.”

I took a break from the tattoo work to give him a thorough cussing for that. But I have to admit that the week passed quickly with all the talking, and I had only a half hour’s work left on his arm when he finished.

“I noticed a pattern,” I says to him after taking some time to think it over. “When ye stayed hidden, nobody died.”

“Well, everybody thought I was dead for a while.”

“They didn’t think ye were dead for two thousand years, before ye killed Aenghus Óg, and somehow they all survived. It’s only when ye exposed yourself and waved your sword around that—”

“Hold on, now, that’s a poor choice of words,” he says.

Sometimes I have to bark at Siodhachan to make him focus. “Stop paying attention to me word choice and pay attention to what I’m telling ye!” says I, and he shuts up and gets that sullen expression on his face he always gets when I tell him how it is. “Now, ye know right well I’m in favor of solving problems through stomping on nuts, but the first rule to follow—the one ye didn’t remember—is not to stomp on your own. If ye want to learn how to do it right, take a lesson from the person what’s causing all your trouble lately. Who did ye say it was again?”

“I didn’t. I don’t know who it is.”

“Fecking exactly, lad. We’re dealing with a sneaky nut-stomper here. That’s what you need to be.”

“I’m trying, Owen,” he says. “You’re part of my sneaking, because you haven’t revealed your loyalties or even your name yet to the Tuatha Dé Danann. They’re going to be seeking your favor.”

I hawked up something loose and spat to the side. “It’s nonsense you’re talkin’ now, lad.”

“It’s true. I’ve been the only Druid in town for centuries. Granuaile is obviously on my side. But unless you told them who you were before I got there, you are still an unknown quantity.”

“No, I kept my mouth shut. You can’t trust the Tuatha Dé Danann, and I didn’t know what was going on. But I’m sure they know who I am.”

“I’m not sure of that at all,” he says. “Why would they?”

“Because you’re so well known, lad. How can it be a secret?”

“Because I wasn’t well known back when the Morrigan put you on that island. I was just another Druid amongst many and had done nothing special to draw their attention. And the Morrigan was not the sharing type. She told Goibhniu that she put someone on that island but didn’t tell him who. He had no way of knowing anything about you.”

“But he knows something now, doesn’t he?”

“Aye. He knows you’re ugly.”

I punched him in the arm where it was still tender, and he winced. “Well, then, you can bet he’s been doing some investigation on top of that.”

“It’s been more than two thousand years since she put you on that island. That’s a pretty cold case.”

“And don’t I know it?” I says, and I shuddered, remembering. “What a miserable fecking day that was.”

“No, a cold case has an additional meaning apart from the temperature, but never mind. Tell me what you were doing when the Morrigan put you on the island.”

“I was telling your mother her cooking tasted like salted shite.”

“Oh. Guess you don’t want to talk about it,” he says.

“You guess right. What kind of favors do you think the Tuatha Dé Danann would be seeking from me?”

“They might begin with seeking your actual favor. If you pray to some and not others, you lend them more power. But they may have other ideas that they would never share with me, and they might say things to you that they would keep private in my presence.”

That deserved another spit to the side. “Are ye really thinkin’ they’ll just spew all their secrets to me because I haven’t walked the earth for a while? I’d be a fool to count anything they say as more than a half-truth. And they may tell me all sorts of things merely to see if it reaches your ears.”

“Understood, but anything they do will provide us more information than we have now, which is nothing.”

“What’s all this ‘we’ business, Siodhachan? Are we sharing the same pair of pants now? Don’t be making any plans for me, lad. I’m grateful to ye for bringing me here and setting me up, but I won’t be running any errands for ye.”

Siodhachan sighed in frustration, and it was like old times. But he collects himself and then keeps his voice civil—respectful even—as he says, “I’m not sending you on an errand. You have to go to the Fae Court anyway and present yourself to Brighid. She’d feel slighted if you didn’t. All I’m asking is to be aware that someone already has Granuaile and me on their list of people they’d like to kill, and you might be added to it. If you happen to learn of a way to keep us safe, I’d appreciate knowing about it.”

“Aw, Siodhachan. That was so sweet, you’ll be having me thinking ye want to get into me pants after all.”

“Gods below, are you finished yet?” His irritation was clear.

I stabbed once more with the ink-stained thorn, and the soft green glow of Gaia’s guidance faded. His bindings were whole again, and his skin returned to normal, with a bit of assistance from Herself. “Aye. All done. Ye can shift to a dodgy otter and get eaten by an eagle if ye like.”

Can ye believe he didn’t even thank me for my help?

Chapter 7

Oberon had been so patient while we fixed my tattoos that I declared we needed to hunt before we did anything else. Owen thought it a fine idea but decided to be our spotter instead of joining in. In the earliest gray of dawn, I shape-shifted to a hound and he assumed his bird form, a red kite, before taking wing and searching for game. After a few minutes he gave a screech to the east and we ran over to see what he had found, and it was a small herd of deer.

Owen and I shifted back to human after we brought down a buck, and we waited until Oberon had eaten his fill—neither of us was particularly fond of eating in our shape-shifted forms. Owen practiced speaking English with me to fill the time. He could understand the flow of speech pretty well now, but speaking is always tougher than listening. He was nailing the accent, though, and once he achieved fluency he would fit in fine.

It was as we were getting dressed again, back at the binding site, that we were surprised.

"Atticus, someone’s coming. Over there in the trees."

I squatted down by reflex to minimize my silhouette, and Owen did the same without knowing what had alarmed me. We were squinting toward the tree line when a tiny, delicate woman wearing a rich red-and-white kimono appeared from behind an alder, perhaps fifty yards away. Seeing that I had spied her, she bowed. I inclined my head but kept my eyes on her. Aside from the fact that she was something of a visual non sequitur—an outfit like that belonged in Kyoto, not the Pyrenees—there was something off about her. Unprovoked, Oberon growled and then barked aggressively.

Oberon, what’s wrong?

"That’s not a lady, Atticus!"

Okay, thank you. I’m warned of her, and she is warned of you. Please hush so that I can hear her if she speaks.

She had a narrow face, high cheekbones, and large, close-set eyes. Those eyes were currently fixed on Oberon, and her entire frame seemed to quiver, the way frightened animals sometimes do. Her black hair was twisted and piled atop her head, held in place with jade pins, and these blurred in my vision with distance and her shuddering fear.

Oberon, I need you to retreat out of sight. Let her see you leave.

"But why?"

I think she wants to talk but she won’t while you’re here, and I would really like to know what she has to say.

"Don’t trust her, Atticus."

I won’t. I don’t.

"Okay, then." Oberon turned and trotted away until the underbrush obscured him completely, though he’d gone only thirty yards or so. I rose and bowed to the woman, and she nodded in return but did not move toward me for a full minute. Her eyes focused behind me where Oberon had disappeared. Perhaps she was making sure he wasn’t coming back. During the course of that minute, her shaking gradually calmed and she regained her composure, and Owen rose and stood next to me.

“Who the feck is that, Siodhachan?” he whispered. “Never seen a woman like that.”

“And you probably never will again. This is a treat. Just watch. It’s safe, I think.” I could have checked her out in the magical spectrum, but there was no need. Judging by clues of her behavior, I thought I already knew what she was. Owen didn’t, and I heard him speak the words to cast magical sight. I doubted it would tell him much beyond what Oberon had already said: That lady wasn’t really a lady at all.

Finally satisfied that it was safe to draw closer, she approached another ten yards, then twenty, before stopping. She bowed again and spoke Japanese in a soft, ethereal tone. Owen quietly breathed, “Balls,” frustrated that he couldn’t understand.

“Begging your pardon, honored sir, but may I speak with you briefly?” the woman said.

“It would please me if you did. This one is called Siodhachan Ó Suileabháin.” At the mention of my name, Owen shot a questioning glance at me. I didn’t have time to explain, unfortunately.

“Then you are he whom I seek,” the woman said. “This unworthy one is called Fujiwara-no-Kuni. We are much alike.”

“How is that so?”

“We are both bound creatures. We serve that which is greater than ourselves. And we do not always show the world our true face.”

I gave her a small smile. “I serve Gaia. Whom do you serve?”

“I serve the celestial and radiant Inari, who wishes to speak with you on matters of great import, provided your will and convenience be untroubled.”

“This one is honored and grateful for the invitation. Where should I seek an audience?”

“Seek her at Fushimi Inari-taisha near Kyoto. Do you know of it?”


Kuni pulled one of the jade pins out of her hair and flourished it with a graceful twirl of silken sleeve before tossing it to me gently. I caught it and held it still, away from my body.

“Place that at the foot of any kitsune statue around the shrine and call my name,” she said. “There are many statues spread across the mountain. I will come and usher you to Inari herself.”

“I understand and will visit very soon. May I ask, however, how you knew where to find me?”

“You may. This I am permitted to answer, but I must begin with a question. Do you remember a dream you had featuring the Vedic god Ganesha?”

“I remember very well,” I said. He had instructed me to leave Hel alone and delivered a not-so-subtle threat should I choose to ignore his orders.

“I was instructed to say that, in the dream, Ganesha mentioned he represented certain other parties. The one I serve, the sublime Inari, is one of those parties. And another of those parties is omniscient. He can find you regardless of your iron protection. My mistress wishes to speak with you more about the issues originally raised by Ganesha.”

“Understood. Thank you for your trouble. I wish you and your mistress harmony, Fujiwara-no-Kuni.”

“Good health and good fortune to you, Siodhachan Ó Suileabháin. This one apologizes for not speaking to your companion. Please accept this small gift as a token of my respect for you both.” She bowed and then abruptly shrank into her kimono, which fluttered to the ground. A white fox with five tails leapt out of it and, with a flash of fur, disappeared into the forest, leaving the kimono behind.

“A five-tailed fox!” Owen exclaimed. “Why’d it have five tails? Does it have five arseholes?”

“No. Well, I guess I really don’t know—uggh, gods, I hope not! I never thought about it before. But never mind! That was a kitsune, a messenger of the Shinto gods in Japan. The number of tails indicates its relative power. Five is not the most powerful, but neither is it weak.” I silently let Oberon know it was okay to return now.

“What did she want?”

“I have been summoned to visit the goddess Inari. Well, I was invited, but such invitations are really given with the expectation of attendance. Willing to spend some more time with werewolves?”

Owen shrugged. “Sure, they’re fun when you’re not around.”

I ignored his gibe and said, “All right, let’s go back to Arizona and I’ll present you to the Tempe Pack. The alpha there, Hal Hauk, handles my legal affairs, and if you decide you like him, he can handle yours too. He’s well connected with packs around the world.”

“Sounds like the werewolves kind of run things now.”

“No, not really. They have no interest in running anything but their own territories. I prefer dealing with them because they’re human most of the time and have largely human priorities. And if I want something from them, all they want is money. When you deal with witches or vampires, they always want favors instead.”

“You won’t find me dealing with witches or vampires.”

“I don’t imagine I will. Come on. Let’s grab that kimono and I’ll introduce you to the horrors of the internal combustion engine.”

“Make sense, damn you.”

“That robe is called a kimono. The kitsune left it for you.”

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