Home > Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson #11)(16)

Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson #11)(16)
Author: Patricia Briggs

“I’ve never been in her new place before today,” he said. “I’ll ask the pack and see if anyone has been in her new house, but I don’t think so. We gave her some space right after she moved, and never quite regained our old relationship.”

“She moved last year, right? Just before Christmas.”

The timing was interesting. It would have been difficult to work black magic with neighbors too close. Mundane humans wouldn’t necessarily feel the magic—though that isn’t always true—but black magic produces bodies and also smells and sounds. Things that are easier to hide when the neighbors are more distant.

“That’s right,” he agreed. “I’m following you. Maybe she had to move when she slid from gray to black magic. She picked up her whole family—because the adults mostly had their own places before then—and took them out to the country where people might not notice they were burying a lot of dead animals.”

I tried to remember what had been going on around Christmastime. Not because I cared about finding Elizaveta an excuse. Black practitioners tortured and killed unwilling prey. As far as I was concerned, Elizaveta was anathema from this point forward and I didn’t need anything more than that. I’d seen those dead animals in cages. I’d probably see them again in my nightmares.

But Adam might feel better with a reason.

“Right after Thanksgiving, that necromancer vampire challenged Marsilia—Frost,” I said before I thought. If I’d been thinking, I wouldn’t have mentioned Frost.

His mouth tightened. Frost was a sore point. I’d been maneuvered into fighting beside Marsilia against Frost in a sort of vampire shoot-out. Frost could command the dead—and so could I, sort of. Marsilia had thought that pulling me onto her team would give her a better chance. Adam needed to get over it because I would have killed Frost if Adam hadn’t done it first. Probably. Maybe.

“Do you think Frost might have scared Elizaveta?” I asked.

“Scared me,” he said. “I don’t ever want to see you fighting a vampire again, Mercy, any vampire. That was too damned close.”

Okay, I needed to redirect this conversation because my rules were that he only got to chew on me one time per incident. And he’d already had his say about Frost.

“We were talking about Elizaveta,” I told him. “Would he have scared Elizaveta?”

He snorted at me, but answered the question. “She doesn’t have much to do with vampires.” Then his face grew serious. “You told me that necromancy is a rare talent for a vampire.”

“One of the vampires told me that,” I agreed. I’d relayed that information to Adam so he wouldn’t think that Marsilia would be likely to volunteer me to fight more of her rivals anytime soon. “It’s why Frost was so powerful.”

“Necromancy is more properly a witch thing, right?” Adam said. Then he shook his head and said again, “Elizaveta doesn’t have much to do with the vampires. I don’t think she ever met Frost.” He frowned. “But if he was witchborn, maybe she sensed something . . . It wouldn’t be an excuse for what we found at her house, but it would be an explanation.”

“When you talked to her,” I said, “what did she say when you asked her about the black magic?”

Adam sighed. “I didn’t. She would know that I understood what she’d been doing. But I think we both decided that was a conversation best not held over a transatlantic phone call.” He was the one who decided to change the conversation this time. “When was the first time you saw Frost?”

“When he tried that coup on Marsilia,” I said. “Um. Two years ago? Okay, right. That means it can’t have been Frost. Elizaveta didn’t meet him when he was here in November. And if she knew about him by some other means, that would have happened a long time ago.”

“If his power was witchborn,” Adam said, “Elizaveta would have known when he entered the Tri-Cities the first time. She has ways. So the timing isn’t right. At least if all she is responding to is his mere presence. Frost didn’t cause her to turn.”

He shrugged off the search for the answer to “why” and focused back on more immediate events.

“Who did you scent in the house?”

“All of the dead, Elizaveta, two strange witches—and I think, faintly in an upstairs bedroom, that missing man that we were helping the police look for two months ago—the guy with Alzheimer’s.”

Adam nodded. “Zack and Darryl caught that, too.” He looked away for a moment. “She helped us search for him, too, remember? I should have seen what was going on before this.”

“How?” I asked him. “She was hiding from you, Adam. That’s something she’s very good at.”

After a moment, he said, “So you only picked up two strange witches, also. Black witches.” I nodded. “And Elizaveta and her whole clan are . . . were black-magic practitioners. Did you find anything else?”

“A few things,” I told him. “And I don’t know what to make of them. Everyone in the house died at exactly the same time.”

“How do you know that?” But before I could answer, he snapped the fingers of his free hand, the one not touching me. “Ghosts.”

I shook my head. “They are all over in that house, but I didn’t get anything coherent out of them. Trauma might make for strong ghosts, but it doesn’t always make them good communicators.”

“So how did you know they all died at the same time?” Adam asked.

I frowned, because I wasn’t happy about this. “I just knew, Adam. I could feel it in that house—that life just stopped being possible in a single moment, and everything died.”

He grunted unhappily, which is how I felt. I did not like knowing that there was a witch out there who could do something like that. Fourteen people and dozens of animals died under her magic. If she could do that to a house full of witches, could she do it to a house full of werewolves?

I also did not like knowing how strongly I’d felt the moment of their death. I was beginning to understand how closely Coyote was connected to the transition between life and death—Coyote was the spirit of change, after all. The implications for me were unsettling.

Moving right along, then. “There were a lot of ghosts in that house,” I told him. “If you dig on her land, I bet you’ll turn up human remains along with the animals. More than just the gentleman with Alzheimer’s.”

He grimaced. “That’s something we’ll figure out when Elizaveta gets back.”

“Did she have any theory about who might have done this?” I asked.

He shook his head, then shrugged. “Someone trying to take over her territory while she was away.”

Frost was sort of in my head because of our earlier discussion. And he’d come to the Tri-Cities to take over Marsilia’s territory. And then my subconscious, which had evidently been plodding along most of the morning, finally connected a few dots.

Adam frowned at me. “Mercy?”

“Huh,” I said. “Frost.”

“What?” Adam asked.

“I just figured out who the witch that made those zombies smelled like,” I told him. “You know how scents are, after a while it takes a bit of jogging to remember when you smelled someone before.”

“Yes,” Adam said.

I nodded. “I knew that she smelled like someone I’d scented before. But I kept running through the witches I’ve met—there haven’t actually been all that many—and came up blank. But the parts of her that didn’t smell like black magic and witch smelled like Frost. Enough like him to be a close relative, sibling, child—even parent. But no further removed than that.”

“Huh.” Adam made the same noise I had, sounding unusually nonplussed. Then he seemed to gather himself together.

“Frost,” he said. “Do you think that this attack had something to do with vampires?”

“Or,” I said slowly, “maybe the whole Frost thing had something to do with witches.”

He pulled his hand free and used both hands to rub his face tiredly. He hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in nearly a week. Me, either, actually.

“Terrific,” he said. “Just what we need right now, a witch-maybe-vampire territorial dispute.”

“I’ve given you my current conspiracy theory,” I told him. “Maybe it is a coincidence?”

“But it makes me go hmm,” he said.

I leaned my head on his shoulder. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault,” he said. After a moment he said, “Did you hear Sherwood turn on the water?”

“No,” I said, sitting up. If Sherwood had taken a shower, we should have heard it. “Sherwood?” I called his name. He was a werewolf; he should hear me easily.

There was no reply.

“I can’t reach him through the pack bonds,” Adam said, getting out of his chair and heading toward the basement. “He’s there, but I can’t contact him.”

Adam didn’t run, but he didn’t waste any time, either. At the top of the stairs, he stopped and held up a hand for me to pause, too.

The basement was quiet, too quiet, and dark. Now that I was looking for it, I could feel magic at work. I would have sworn there had been nothing there when Sherwood had headed down. Come to think of it, Sherwood, unlike most werewolves, was sensitive to witchcraft—and this was witchcraft. If it had been there, he’d never have gone down.

Adam started down the stairs, but I grabbed the back of his jeans. He could see the darkness and hear the silence, but he couldn’t feel what I could.

“Wait up,” I whispered. “There’s a lot of magic right here on the stairs.”

Adam turned and gave me a quick kiss. “Mercy,” he said in a normal voice. “Neither you nor I can do anything about the magic, and one of my wolves is on the other side.”

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