Hunters prayer, p.17
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       Hunter's Prayer, p.17

           Lilith Saintcrow
 
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  Saul’s hand closed over my wrist. One of his eyes had slid open a bit, and he yawned. “And where do you think you’re going?”

  “Hey, baby.” I didn’t have to work to sound relieved to see him. “How are you?”

  “Pissed as hell,” was his languid reply. “How you feelin’, kitten?”

  The tension in my chest eased at his calm tone. “Okay. Not going to be running a marathon anytime soon, but I can work. Saul—”

  “Goddammit, Kiss. I told you to stay with Perry.” He opened his eyes and curled up to a sitting position, shoving blankets aside.

  How a man in boxers and a Santa Luz Wheelwrights T-shirt could look so delicious was one of the wonders of the world. I swallowed hard and wrenched my mind away from that. It’s just the survival thing. You know that. Chemical cascades and psychological necessity to prove you’re still fucking alive after a dicey situation. No time for that now. “I couldn’t.” The words stuck in my throat. Christ, Saul. I couldn’t stay there. Not around that mindfucking bastard.

  “What did he do to you? Huh? What did he do to you?” The charms in his hair tinkled, moving against each other; his fingers sank into my arm. I took another deep, lung-stretching breath. A shiver of pleasure went through me. Even though he was holding me hard enough to bruise, I liked it. The thought that he was touching me was enough to make me catch my breath, threatened to make me melt.

  What didn’t he do? “Nothing. Just … nothing. Mindfuck. Like usual. There’s a reason why I don’t want to stay there when he’s finished with me. Last night it was bad.”

  “Two nights ago. Perry’s been putting the house back together. Avery has the girl. There are three more bodies. I’ve got files.”

  Lovely. Great. Wonderful. I’ll read ‘em in the car. “I got things to do. We have to get that doctor. And Jimmy Rocadero—”

  “Rocadero?” Saul snorted. “He’s one of the bodies, kitten. And I want to make it abundantly clear to you how fucking unhappy I am with the chain of events that ended up with you, here, facing that thing alone with no fucking backup. Very, very fucking clear.” His eyes glowed with a Were’s peculiar lambent orange tint.

  “Rocadero’s dead?” Holy shit, that’s news.

  “Straight-up dead. But he’s still got his internal organs—they’re just spread all over his goddamn house. I also found out a few things in the barrio.”

  I stretched. My entire body ached. God, I hate using that thing. But I’m alive. Alive. And Cecilia is too. “What did you find out?”

  His fingers flicked, and the length of cluttered leather braid and obsidian arrowhead dangled. A venomous dart of blue light splintered from the arrowhead. “I found out what this is.”

  “Well?” I stretched, loosely. My skin twitched and rippled with soreness. The headache was returning, circling like a shark, though with less of its former virulence. “You’re killing me here, baby.”

  “Don’t fucking say that.” His fingers flicked again, the arrowhead vanished. Neatest trick of the week. “Want to wash up, then we’ll talk?”

  “Okay.” But I reached out to grab his arm as he turned away, his skin warm and hard under my fingers, under the T-shirt’s sleeve. “Saul?”

  “Don’t ever do that again.” He stared at the window, his profile suddenly clean and classic. His mouth turned down bitterly at the corners. “I dropped by here to pick up fresh clothes and ammo for you so we could track down the leads I found straight from the barrio. Imagine my surprise at finding Perry and that goddamn thing here before me.”

  “Perry was here?” What the hell was he doing here so late? Protecting his investment?

  “He’d just arrived, I saw him coming down the street. That thing was tearing up the inside of the house. We came in and saw you beating the shit out of it. You looked …”

  I winced. With the staff in my hands, I probably looked feral, my hair standing on end as I moved in ways a human body shouldn’t. And the laugh, the chilling crystal laugh, bruising the vocal cords as it ripped free. “Horrible,” I said flatly.

  “Deadly. Beautiful.” His eyes dropped. “Jesus Christ, Jillian. You could have died.”

  I know that. “I had to.”

  “For one of Diamond Ricky’s girls?”

  Just a whore, right? Just another teenage hooker on the cold street. I swallowed the words. Saul wasn’t like that; I was just … edgy. Too willing to think the worst, no matter what anyone said. “A civilian. She asked for my help.”

  He made a short, vicious growling sound. “And those are the magic words, aren’t they? Well, I need your goddamn help too.”

  Please, baby. Don’t do this now. “Saul.”

  He turned his head, his eyes trapping mine. “You listen to me. You end up dead and you know what happens to me? Do you?”

  A Were dies when his mate does, but I’m not Were. I’m human. Fucked-up with hellbreed, but still human. “Saul—”

  “I put up with Perry. I put up with you throwing yourself into every goddamn mess in this city. But god-dammit, Jillian, I do not want to lose you!”

  “Saul.”

  “I want you to meet my people,” he said softly. “I want you under the Moon with me.”

  Holy Christ. My mouth dried up. “That’s serious.” Then I kicked myself. Couldn’t I come up with something less stupid to say?

  “Very serious.” He removed my fingers from his arm gently. His hand was warm. “As serious as it can get. Need a shower?”

  For a moment, I thought the stone in my throat would stop me from speaking. “You offering to seduce me?”

  His teeth flashed in a white grin before he levered himself off the bed. “I’d love to, but duty calls. Hurry up.”

  “Where in the barrio did you go?”

  “Couple of places,” he said over his shoulder on his way to the closet. “But I found what I needed in a little bar off Santa Croce. A real dive. You’d love it.”

  I peeled the sheet away. I’d bled on it, nosebleed and from the wounds that were now pink scars, rapidly fading. It had marked me a couple of times. Left side up my ribs, shoulder, leg. I was lucky to be alive. “I suppose it was a smelly place full of nasty characters.”

  “Just like usual, baby. You’ve broadened my social horizons, that’s for sure.” He opened the closet door, and I spent a few moments in artistic appreciation of his boxer-clad ass before hauling myself up out of the bed.

  There was work to be done.

  I called Hutch from the cordless in the bedroom, but he had still not had any luck digging up whatever chutsharak meant. I was beginning to think it was a dead end.

  Just like Saint Anthony’s spear. Gui and I were going to have a little talk about lying to hunters, just as soon as I had some time.

  Hutch did have other news, though. “Hey, it’s the end of the Sorrows’ three-year cycle this year.” His voice whistled slightly with excitement.

  “Three-point-seven,” I corrected, shoving my feet into my second-best boots. My coat was still torn up, but better than nothing. I wriggled my toes, rocked up to my feet, and accepted a cup of coffee from Saul. It was thick black mud, and I could drink about half a cup before I needed food in me to balance out the caffeine. I nodded my thanks to Saul, bracing the phone against my shoulder. “So they’re in the Dark Time now.”

  “Looks like it. Though if you ask me, those motherfuckers are always at thirteen o’clock. So, the Dark Time. Cleansing within Houses, hunting down apostates—and evocations of the Elder Gods.”

  That rang a teensy bell. “Wait a second. Evocations?”

  Saul’s eyebrows rose.

  “Miguel de Ferrar says it’s SOP for a House to evoke their patron Elder at this time. Lots of demonic activity, that sort of thing. It’s when they believe the veil between this world and the world of the demons gets real thin, like Samhain for witches.”

  I leaned back in the chair, taking a sip of coffee. “So. What’s necessary for an evocation of this magnitude? Say, if a Sorrow was
doing it alone?”

  “They can’t do it alone. That’s why houses are collective, it takes a full House to hold a door in the world open for an Elder to reach through even briefly. We’re talking granite floors carved with the Nine Seals, perfect-tallow candles, velvet robes, ambergris and amber incense, the whole nine. The whole nine, including gold laid in the circle for the Elder, the sacrifice, and the psychic energy needed to rip a hole in the ether.” Hutch was sounding more cheerful by the moment. He did indeed love his research.

  She is attempting an evocation, hunter. She is fueling it with death and acquiring funding from the sale of bodily—

  “So it’s a massive financial as well as sorcerous effort,” I said slowly. “Hutch, what’s the market like in Santa Luz for black-market organs?”

  “Organs? What kind of—”

  “Human organs. Kidneys, livers, that sort of thing. Stem cells, too.”

  “Hell, I don’t know. But I can find out. Five minutes on the Internet and—”

  “Never mind. Listen. Which patron Elder rules the end of this cycle? I know each House has their special dedication, but which one of the Ninety-Nine rules this particular cycle in general?”

  Saul’s eyes met mine. I took a scalding mouthful of coffee.

  I heard paper rustling and his breath whistling as he dug around for it. “I just had it, I just had a copy of Luvrienne’s Chaldeans open … ah-ha. Here we are.” More paper rustling. “Let’s see … if we calculate from the Chaldean calendar … carry the one … leap years … the Gregorian … okay. This year’s winner is … oh, shit.”

  “What?” Hutch, I hate it when you say oh shit.

  “It’s the Nameless.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “And the cycle ends in four days.”

  It felt like all the hair on my body was trying to stand straight up. It probably was. The charms tied in my hair tinkled. I set the coffee cup down on the nightstand. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” I whispered. “The Nameless?”

  “Destroyer of babies. Eater of worlds. He-Who-Rewards—”

  “Shut up, Hutch.” I know the titles. I swallowed dryly. “Listen to me. Leave the bookstore right now. Go over to Galina’s. Stay there until I come get you. Take the Luvrienne and de Ferrar with you, I might call there. Okay?”

  “Oh, God,” he moaned. “What have you gotten me into now?”

  “I haven’t gotten you into anything, stupid. I just want you safe. Better safe than eviscerated. Get my drift?”

  “Oh, shit, Jill. I hate you.”

  “Galina will be glad to see you.”

  “You bitch.” But I heard more paper rustle, and knew he was getting ready to do as I asked. “Okay. I’m on my way. I’ll leave everything locked. If you come in, try not to burn the place down, okay?”

  “Hutch!” For once, I sounded scandalized. “I wouldn’t ever burn down a bookstore. Jeez, what kind of hunter do you think I am?”

  “One who’s made it her personal mission to get me into trouble. Bye, Jilly.”

  “Don’t call me that.” I hung up and stared at my bedroom phone, feeling my forehead pucker. Holy fuck. The Nameless. Why would a Sorrow break away from her House and do an evocation? It makes no sense.

  Well, there was one person who could explain it. The catch, of course, was if I could trust her explanation.

  Saul was silent. He stood by the window, sunlight touching his hair, making the silver sparkle and bringing out the richness of his skin. He had his hands in his jeans pockets, the black Cazotte Lives T-shirt strained at his shoulders. The tiny bottle of holy water on its silver chain at his chest glittered, throwing darts of hard light from the glass.

  All right, Jill. I looked at the fall of sunlight against his hair. Think. What pattern do we have here? Having a pattern is the first step.

  If what I was suspecting was really going down, why hadn’t there been bodies showing up earlier? Or if there were bodies, where were they now?

  That isn’t a very comfortable line of thought.

  I didn’t have enough pieces of the puzzle to make a pattern I was happy with logic-wise. Once Saul told me what the arrowhead was, I would have a little more. Hopefully.

  And the thing, the clawed and furred thing that I couldn’t quite get a mental picture of no matter how hard I concentrated … what did that have to do with it? Was it a piece of Chaldean sorcery I hadn’t seen before? It wasn’t exactly likely, given the study of the Sorrows I’d done. But was the furry thing the chutsharak? If it was, and Belisa and the younger Sorrow were fleeing it—

  No, that didn’t make any sense. Was the furry stinky thing unrelated to the murders? But no, its smell was gagging-strong over the scenes. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re related. Does it?

  I coiled the bullwhip at my side, checked my guns, my knives, and shrugged into my coat. I caught a fading whiff of iron, pre-Atlantean bloodlust, and furry stink on the tattered leather. “Saul?”

  “Yeah?” He looked away from the window.

  “It’s time. You can tell me what that thing is.”

  “Come on out into the kitchen first.”

  “Why?”

  “You need breakfast, and Perry’s here.”

  Jesus Christ. “What? He’s still here?”

  His dark eyes were fathomless. “Of course he’s still here. He’s patched up the windows and everything, he thinks he should shadow you until this is over. I happen to agree.”

  “What?” My jaw threatened to drop completely. The charms tinkled in my hair, and my palms itched with the memory of a slender piece of steel, reverberating with bloodlust. “He left the Monde Nuit and he’s in our kitchen and you want him to stay there?”

  He shrugged. “I want him to stick around. You’re safer with both of us looking after you.”

  “Saul—”

  He held up the arrowhead. “I found out what this means, kitten. And believe me, you don’t want any of it.”

  “Well, spill it.”

  “Come on into the kitchen and I will. I’ll make you breakfast, and we’ll strategize.” He was utterly serious.

  I held up both hands, Mikhail’s ring glittering in the thin hard sunlight. “Wait just a goddamn minute. You don’t like it when I visit him, whether to track down a hellbreed or pay my dues for the bargain I made. What the hell are you doing playing pattycake with him now?”

  “If he’s going to help get your stubborn ass through this in one piece I don’t care.” Saul folded his arms, muscle sliding under the T-shirt’s thin cotton. “This is bad, Kiss. As bad as you think it is, it’s worse.”

  My heart was doing something strange, pounding so hard I felt faint. I didn’t like the thought of Perry in my house. The thought of something so bad Saul didn’t care if Perry was running around unchaperoned inside the warehouse was even worse. “Why? What is that thing?”

  “Come out, have some breakfast, and I’ll tell you. Then you can decide what you’re going to do.”

  In the end I gave up. Saul had a good reason for anything he asked me to do, and I trusted him. But for Chrissake, something so bad he wanted Perry around as backup… .

  It was enough to give even a seasoned hunter the willies.

  19

  Saul set the plate down in front of me. “Eat.”

  I eyed it. Eggs, pancakes, bacon, more coffee, an English muffin. Another plate of eggs with hollandaise, and a peach, cut up carefully and decoratively. Nothing experimental, and nothing fancy. For Saul, this was the culinary equivalent of a polite non-answer to a question that hadn’t even been asked.

  Perry hunched on the stool at the end of the kitchen counter, his gray suit sharply and immaculately creased. He seemed not to like the sunlight falling through the windows, and I was secretly glad. For all that, his hair glowed and his eyes burned blue, and the warehouse—while smelling of hellbreed—was neat and repaired, the ice gone, every inch of glass swept up and new panes put in, the wood fused back together, shattered furniture either patched up or replaced.
It was a massive expenditure of cash and sorcerous power, and one I wasn’t quite sure I liked the thought of incurring.

  I finished examining my plate and glanced at Perry, who snickered into his coffee cup. “Don’t worry, Kiss. Saul and I negotiated terms. This doesn’t enter into our bargain.”

  “Is that so.” I tried not to look relieved; tried also not to feel a little wriggle of panic that he had guessed what I was thinking. Picked up a piece of bacon, crunched it between my teeth. “Well? Care to clue me in, Saul?”

  He leaned against the counter on the other side, and I realized he was keeping Perry in the corner of his eye. “I found out what our hairy little friend is.” Saul poured himself a glass of orange juice. “You want the bad news or the bad news first?”

  “Just tell me something. I’m getting impatient.” I tucked in with a will, finding I was indeed hungry and my stomach would, indeed, accept nourishment. Hallelujah.

  Perry snickered again.

  Saul didn’t even glance at him. “It’s a wendigo.”

  I choked on a bite of pancake. “Urf? Mrph murfr mrph!”

  “They’re not myths. I wish to Christ they were.” Saul had actually paled. “I had to take the arrowhead to a Moonspeaker in the barrio, an old one. She’d seen a wendigo before and remembered the smell. She said it was a hund’ai, part of a fetish meant to control or create a wendigo. The sight of it turned her into a sobbing heap and her mate nearly had my liver and lights for upsetting her. I ended up at a little bar with a werespider; she’d actually hunted a wendigo up Canada way. She started to shake while she talked about it.” Saul’s tone was dead level. His eyes were as dark and serious as I’d ever seen them.

  I glanced at Perry. He stared into the coffee cup, his face arranged in a mask of bland interest. All the same, he looked miserable. My blue eye twinged a little, I could see the edges of his aura fringing a little bit, wearing down.

  Maybe our favorite hellbreed didn’t like being out during the day. I was suddenly immensely cheered by the thought. Inside his jacket, pants, and open-collared crisp white shirt he looked almost normal, and profoundly uncomfortable.

 
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