Home > The Outlaw Demon Wails (The Hollows #6)

The Outlaw Demon Wails (The Hollows #6)
Author: Kim Harrison

Chapter One

I leaned over the glass counter, squinting at the price of the high-grade redwood rods, safe in their airtight glass coffins like Snow White. The ends of my scarf slipped to block my view, and I tucked them behind my short leather jacket. I had no call to be looking at wands. I didn't have the money, but more important, I wasn't shopping for business today - I was shopping for pleasure.

"Rachel?" my mom said from halfway across the store, smiling as she fingered a display of packaged organic herbs. "How about Dorothy? Make Jenks hairy, and he could be Toto."

"No friggin' way!" Jenks exclaimed, and I started when the pixy took off from my shoulder where he'd been nestled in my scarf 's warmth. Gold dust sifted from him to make a temporary sunbeam on the counter and brighten the drab evening. "I'm not going to spend Halloween handing out candy as a dog! And no Wendy and Tinker Bell either. I'm going as a pirate!" His wings slowed as he settled atop the counter next to the stand of low-grade redwood dowels suitable for amulets. "Coordinating costumes is stupid."

Normally I'd agree, but, silent, I drew back from the counter. I'd never have enough disposable income for a wand. Besides, versatility was key in my profession, and wands were one-spell wonders. "I'm going as the female lead in the latest vampire flick," I said to my mom. "The one where the vampire hunter falls in love with the vamp?"

"You're going as a vampire hunter?" my mother asked.

Warming, I plucked an uninvoked amulet from a vanity rack to size my chest up. I was hippy enough to pass for the actress I was trying to mimic, but my excuse of a chest wouldn't match her spell-enhanced bust. And it had to be spell enhanced. Naturally big-chested women don't run like that. "No, the vampire," I said, embarrassed. Ivy, my housemate, was going as the hunter, and despite my agreement that coordinating costumes was stupid, I knew Ivy and I would stop conversation when we walked into the party. And that was the point, wasn't it? Halloween was the only time doppelgänger charms were legal - and Inderland and the braver slice of humanity made the most of it.

My mother's face went serious, then cleared. "Oh! The black-haired one, right? In the slut outfit? Good God, I don't know if my sewing machine can go through leather."

"Mom!" I protested, though used to her language and lack of tact. If it came into her head, it came out of her mouth. I glanced at the clerk with her, but she clearly knew my mother and wasn't fazed. Seeing a woman in tasteful slacks and an angora sweater swearing like a sailor tended to throw people off. Besides, I already had the outfit in my closet.

Frowning, my mother fingered the charms to change hair color. "Come over here, honey. Let's see if they have anything that will touch your curls. Honestly, Rachel. You pick the hardest costumes. Why can't you ever be anything easy, like a troll or fairy princess?"

Jenks snickered. "'Cause that's not slutty enough," he said loud enough for me to hear, but not my mother.

I gave him a look, and he simpered as he hovered backward to a rack of seeds. Though only about four inches tall, he cut an attractive figure with his soft-soled boots and the red scarf Matalina, his wife, had knitted him wrapped about his neck. Last spring, I'd used a demon curse to make him human-size, and the memory of his eighteen-year-old, athletic figure, with its trim waist and broad, muscular shoulders made strong from his dragonfly-like wings, was still very much in my memory. He was a very married pixy, but perfection deserved attention.

Jenks made a darting path over my basket, and a package of fern seed for Matalina's wing aches thumped in. Catching sight of the bust enhancer, his expression turned positively devilish. "Speaking of slutty..." he started.

"Well-endowed doesn't equal slutty, Jenks," I said. "Grow up. It's for the costume."

"Like that'll do anything?" His grin was infuriating, and his hands were on his h*ps in his best Peter Pan pose. "You need two or three to even make an impression. Fried eggs."

"Shut up!"

From across the store came my mother's oblivious "Solid black, right?" I turned to see her hair color shifting as she touched the invoked sample amulets. Her hair was exactly like mine. Sort of. I kept mine long, the wild, frizzy red just past my shoulders, instead of in the close cut she used to tame hers. But our eyes were the same green, and I had her same skill in earth magic, fleshed out and given a professional stamp at one of the local colleges. She had more education than I did, actually, but had few opportunities to use it. Halloween had always been a chance for her to show off her considerable earth magic skills to the neighboring moms with a modest vengeance, and I think she appreciated me asking for her help this year. She had been doing great these last few months, and I couldn't help but wonder if she was doing better because I was spending more time with her, or if she simply appeared more stable because I wasn't seeing her just when she was having problems.

Guilt slithered through me, and giving Jenks a glare at his song about big-busted ladies tying their shoes, I wove through the stands of herbs and racks sporting premade charms, each having a distinctive sticker identifying who had made it. Charm crafting was still a cottage industry despite the high level of technology available to smooth out the rough spots, but one tightly regulated and vigorously licensed. The owner of the store probably only crafted a few of the spells she sold.

At my mother's direction, I held each sample amulet in turn so she could evaluate my appearance. The clerk ooohed and ahhed, trying to push us into making a decision, but my mom hadn't helped me with my costume in years, and we were going to make an evening out of it, ending with coffee and dessert at some overpriced coffeehouse. It wasn't that I ignored my mom, but my life tended to interfere. A lot. I'd been making an effort over the last three months to spend more time with her, trying to ignore my own ghosts and hoping that she wouldn't be so...fragile, and she hadn't looked this good in a while. Which convinced me I was a crappy daughter.

Finding the right hair color was easy, and I nodded when my red curls turned a black so deep they were almost gunmetal-blue. Satisfied, I dropped a packaged, uninvoked amulet into the basket to hide the bust enhancer.

"I've a charm at home to straighten your hair," my mother said brightly, and I turned wonderingly to her. I'd found out in fourth grade that over-the-counter charms wouldn't touch my curls. Why on earth did she still have the difficult-to-make charms? I hadn't straightened my hair in ages.

The shop's phone rang, and when the clerk excused herself, my mom sidled close, smiling as she touched the braid Jenks's kids had put my hair in this morning. "That charm took me your entire high school career to perfect," she said. "You think I'm not going to practice it?"

Worried now, I glanced at the woman on the phone - the one who obviously knew my mother. "Mom!" I whispered. "You can't sell those! You don't have a license!"

Lips pressed tightly, she took my basket to the counter in a huff to check out.

Exhaling, my gaze went to Jenks sitting on the rack, and he shrugged. I slowly followed in my mother's steps, wondering if I'd neglected her more than I thought. She did the damnedest things sometimes. I'd talk to her about it over coffee. Honestly, she should know better.

Streetlights had come on while we had shopped, and the pavement glowed with gold and purple holiday lights in the evening rain. It looked cold, and as I went to the register, I adjusted my scarf for Jenks. "Thanks," he muttered as he landed on my shoulder. His wings were shivering, and they brushed my neck as he settled in. October was too cold for him to be out, but with the garden dormant and Matalina in need of fern seeds, risking a trip in the rain to a charm shop had been his only recourse. He'd brave anything for his wife, I thought, as I rubbed my tickling nose.

"How about the coffeehouse down two blocks?" my mom suggested as the dull beep, beep of barcodes being read clashed with the earthy smells of the shop.

"Grab some air, Jenks. I'm going to sneeze," I warned him, and muttering things I was just as glad not to hear, he flew to my mom's shoulder.

It was a marvelous sneeze, clearing out my lungs and earning a "bless you" from the clerk. But it was followed by another, and I hardly had time to straighten when a third hit me. Breathing shallowly to forestall the next, I looked at Jenks in dismay. There was only one reason why I would sneeze like this.

"Damn," I whispered, glancing out the huge front window - it was after sundown. "Double damn." I spun to the clerk, who was now shoving things into a bag. I didn't have my calling circle. I had cracked the first one, and the new one was sandwiched between spell books under my kitchen counter. Damn, damn, damn! I should have made one the size of a compact mirror.

"Ma'am?" I warbled, then accepted the tissue my mom handed me from her purse. "Do you sell calling circles?"

The woman stared, clearly affronted. "Absolutely not. Alice, you told me she didn't deal in demons. Get her out of my store!"

My mother let out a huff of annoyance, then her face turned coaxing. "Patricia," she cajoled. "Rachel does not summon demons. The papers print what sells papers, that's all."

I sneezed again, this time so hard it hurt. Crap. We had to get out of there.

"Heads up, Rachel," Jenks called out, and I looked up to catch a cellophane-wrapped stick of magnetic chalk as he dropped it. Fumbling with the wrapper, I tried to remember the complex pentagram Ceri had taught me. Minias was the only demon who knew I had a direct line to the ever-after, and if I didn't answer him, he might cross the lines to find me.

Searing pain came from nowhere. Doubled over, I gasped at the assault and fell back from the counter. What in hell? It isn't supposed to hurt!

Jenks hit the ceiling, leaving behind a cloud of silver dust like an octopus inking. My mother turned from her friend. "Rachel?" she questioned, her green eyes wide as I bent and clutched my wrist.

The chalk slipped from me as my grip went numb. It felt like my wrist was on fire. "Get out!" I yelled, and the two women stared at me as if I had gone insane.

We all jumped when the air pressure shifted violently. Ears ringing, I looked up, my heart pounding and my breath held. He was here. I didn't see the demon, but he was here. Somewhere. I could smell the burnt amber.

Spotting the chalk, I scooped it up and picked at the cellophane, but my nails couldn't find the seam. I was torn between fear and anger. Minias had no business bothering me. I didn't owe him, and he didn't owe me. And why couldn't I get the damned wrapper off the chalk!

"Rachel Mariana Morgan?" came an elegant British accent I'd expect from a Shakespearean play, and my face went cold. "Where a-a-a-a-are you?" it drawled.

"Shit," I whispered. It wasn't Minias. It was Al.

Panicked, I looked across the store to my mother. She stood with her friend, neat and tidy in her autumn-colored outfit, her hair perfectly arranged, and the skin around her eyes just starting to show a few faint lines. She hadn't a clue. "Mom," I whispered, gesturing frantically as I put space between us. "Get into a circle. Both of you!" But they just stared. I didn't have time to explain. Hell, I didn't understand it myself. This had to be a joke. Some perverted, twisted joke.

My eyes went to the darting clatter of Jenks as he came to hover beside me. "It's Al!" the pixy whispered. "Rache, you said he was in demon prison!"

"Rachel Mariana Mo-o-o-o-orga-a-a-a-an," the demon sang, and I stiffened at the tap-thunk tap-thunk of his booted feet coming from behind a tall display of spelling books.

"Damn fool moss-wipe of a pixy," Jenks berated himself. "It's too cold to take my sword," he said in a mocking falsetto. "It'll freeze to my ass. It's a shopping trip, not a run." His voice shifted, becoming angry. "Tink save you, Rachel. Can't you even go shopping with your mom without calling up demons?"

"I didn't call him!" I protested, feeling my palms start to sweat.

"Yeah, well, he's here," the pixy said, and I swallowed when the demon peeked from behind the display. He had known exactly where I was.

Al was smiling with deep, taunting anger, his red eyes, their pupils horizontal slits like a goat's, peering over a pair of round smoked glasses. Dressed in his usual frock coat of crushed green velvet, he was a picture of old European grace, the image of a young lord on the verge of greatness. Lace showed at his cuffs and collar. His aristocratically chiseled features, with a strong nose and chin, were tightened in bad humor, and his thick teeth showed in an expression that anticipated dealing out pain.

I kept backing up, and he came out from behind the display. "Oh, I say. This is splendid!" he said in delight. "Two Morgans for the price of one."

Oh, God. My mother. Terror snapped me out of my shock. "You can't touch me or my family," I said while I tried to get the cellophane off the magnetic chalk. If I could make a circle, I might be able to trap him. "You promised!"

The tapping of his boots stopped as he posed to show off his elegant grace. My eyes measured the distance between us. Eight feet. Not good. But if he was looking at me, he was ignoring my mom.

"I did, didn't I?" he said, and when he sent his gaze to the ceiling, my shoulders eased.

"Rache!" Jenks shrilled.

Al lunged. Panicking, I backpedaled. Fear hit hard when he found my throat. I dug at his fingers, my nails gouging him as he picked me up to dangle me from his grip. His sculptured face grimaced at the pain, but he only tightened his fingers. My pulse pounded in my head and I went limp, praying he wanted to gloat a little before he dragged me back to the ever-after to hopefully just kill me.

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