Home > Downpour (Greywalker #6)(6)

Downpour (Greywalker #6)(6)
Author: Kat Richardson

“What business y’got with Mr. Leung?” he asked.

“My own business.” Shea’s eyes went a little cold and flat as I said it, as if he were about to do something I wouldn’t like. I continued. “Just trying to find him; nothing sinister. But he’s not here, so . . . I guess I’ll ask his daughters.” I turned and stepped back onto the deck, away from Shea, starting toward the stairs to the upper story, then turned back in a rush, expecting to catch him moving. But he was just standing the same way, with his hands back in his pockets. “You couldn’t tell me where I could find them, could you?”

He chuckled, dismissing whatever danger he’d thought I posed. “Don’t think you’re too likely to catch up to Willa. Might have more luck with the older one, Jewel. You might not want to dawdle getting to her—folks say she’s dying, though she’s been doing it a while now.” Shea didn’t look broken up, and I thought I saw the tiniest flick of a smile pull one corner of his mouth as he said it. “She and her husband’ve got a big house on Lake Crescent. Ask anybody—they’ll show you. I gotta get back ’fore the light goes.” But he didn’t turn to go. He held still and watched me go up the stairs and across the upper deck.

I’d have to come back once he’d left. I wanted a look at that clearing without Shea or anyone else around, but I didn’t think he’d hang about long if he was seriously worried about getting home before dark; the shadows were already lengthening. I got back into the Rover and drove out to the highway, pulling in at the general store I’d passed when escaping the white monstrosities by the side of the road earlier. I checked on Chaos, who was still sleeping in her nest of sweatshirts, before turning the truck around and returning to Lake Sutherland Road. I left the Rover farther out this time, at the very edge of the scrubbed-clear space ahead of Leung’s home, and walked along the edges of the tree line to get back to the house on the lake. Twilight had dyed the overcast sky ink blue and leached the colors of the world to indigo and navy with odd patches of bone white where the rocky ground was na**d of cover. The trees around me looked like charcoal smudges and I found the footing treacherous in shadow.

Nervous about what might happen, I let myself sink into the Grey where the world between worlds was bright with silvery mist and colored lines. I braced for any attack, noise, or the invading reach of the magical grid. But aside from the rattling whispering of the grid and the muttering of ghosts, nothing came for me this time. I couldn’t see the lakes, but the whole area within my view was like a more intense version of what I’d seen on the shore of Lake Crescent a few days earlier: Strange bolts of colored light shot horizontally through the mist, dodging the shadow-shapes of corporeal trees and diving suddenly downward toward the lake. Something gave a sharp laugh that came from no human throat, but no shape loomed from the Grey fog with it.

Ghost whispers grew louder as I worked my slow way back to the house, skirting the time-worn memory of the trees, and fell away as I emerged just south of the house, on the edge of the rise. I saw no sign of Shea or anyone else living—though there was a thin, boiling fog of ghosts along the shore. I caught my breath while my heart settled back into a normal pace.

I made my way to the hidden clearing next to the house with the quietest tread I could muster on the frosty loam, touching trees as I went, as if they would protect me from danger. Even out of the Grey, the effects I’d seen as I approached lingered. The lake below and the wooded hill I moved across seemed menacing and otherworldly in the still, cold dusk with a strange, sparkling light flickering from deep below the lake’s surface. I stopped at last at the edge of the weird clearing, peering at it through the Grey.

A hair-thin line of blue energy encircled the clearing and a thin sheen of silver stretched over the ground within, unmarred by other energy colors or strands of magic. The dark shadows I’d spotted before still lay there, and just beyond them a roiling haze of color with no defined shape that seemed to be tied to the circle in some way I couldn’t see. I stayed on the outside of the circle and moved around, trying to figure out the configuration of the shadows and colors and if they were meaningful. But the more I studied it, the more it looked as if the persistent Grey shadows were the residue of people working magic here for a long time, and some hadn’t bothered to clean up after themselves.

I pulled out my pocketknife and flipped open the long blade—it wasn’t ideal, but I thought it would do in a pinch—and squatted down. Then I drew the blade through the hairline of energy, breaking the circle’s edge. The Grey sighed a little, the colored haze dispersed, and the circle dimmed a bit, but nothing spectacular happened. Nothing active was going on there. That was fine with me. I stepped into the clearing proper and started looking for clues to the area’s purpose. Magic, of course, but to what end and what kind? I didn’t see the angry red and black accumulations of blood magic or necromancy, but the feel of the place was unsettling nonetheless, like unseen cobwebs fluttering against my face.

I poked at the dark hummocks of Grey shadow, trying to get an idea of what they were. One of them felt cold and wet and sharp against my fingertips, a bit like the edges of a temporacline. I put my hand flat on that one and pushed on it, careful not to step into it if it should suddenly open into a layer of time. The dark thing unfolded and I could glimpse a bent view of something happening in the circle sometime in the past.

A figure too warped to discern was casting a spell of some kind, holding up a rectangular metallic object and slowly moving it over a bowl with great effort, as if it weighed more than it possibly could. The mage struggled a bit with it. A second figure, something wavering and bright, not human, joined the first, seeming to step into it and add a green, energetic glow to their combined shape. The joined figures dropped the metal oblong with a grunt and it splashed heavily into the bowl, sending up a huge gout of liquid. I could feel it sting my face and I flinched, hoping it wasn’t blood or something worse. The figures broke apart and finished their spell, the first chanting and lighting a candle that sparked oddly, before it began sputtering and smoking, then burning furiously until it was just a puddle of dark wax on the gravelly ground. The second withdrew to the edge of the circle, waiting. Once the flame was out, the original magician picked up the bowl and carried it to the edge of the circle, to a hole dug just inside the line, where the contents—including the metal thing—were dumped into the shallow pit and buried. Then the mage scuffed a foot over a dustylooking symbol on the ground.... The loop of memory and magic shuddered to a halt.

I let go of the crumpled bit of time and started looking for the place where the spell’s remains had been buried. I found it at the edge farthest from the lake where the dirt that had collected under the trees had become thick over time. It took a bit of digging with my knife and hands, and my fingers were scraped and stinging with cold by the time I found the metal object.

It was the front license plate from Steven Leung’s car, badly rusted, burned, and bent but recognizable. From the condition, I assumed the plate had been on the Forester when it had burned, so the mage had taken it off the car afterward. I frowned, not sure what the spell had been meant to do.... I shivered and stood up, holding on to the license plate. I was too cold and not just a little paranoid about the place to want to risk hanging around in someone’s magic circle any longer. I kicked dirt back over the hole and tramped it down, covering it with a scatter of junk and gravel. It wouldn’t deceive anyone who took a good look, but it would stand a casual glance, especially from a distance. Tucking the license plate into my jacket, I made my way back to the Rover as fast as discretion would allow.

It was full-on dark and beginning to sprinkle by the time I got to the truck. I could hear a few nocturnal creatures moving about in the forest, heading for cover from the incipient rain, which made the place seem a little more normal. I just hoped none of them were the white things. There was nothing unusual near the truck and I was grateful to get inside and leave the area. I still wasn’t sure what the spell I’d observed in the crumpled bit of Grey memory was meant to do, but my best guess would be that it somehow hid or moved Leung’s burned car where it had, so far, gone undiscovered. If I could figure out where, I might be able to lead the authorities to the car and lay the ghost to rest.

The road back to Port Angeles hadn’t changed, but it seemed lonelier and more dangerous in the wet and the dark. I kept an eye out for the white creatures, but I saw no sign of them, and I got back to the hotel without further strange events.

Chaos, having napped while I’d scrabbled in the dirt, was ready to run around the hotel room. I preferred to take a hot shower and check the damage to my hands. It wasn’t bad—mostly scratches and a couple of ragged fingernails—but I was more tired than I’d expected. The lake was only at five hundred feet or so, but the thinner air and the adrenaline burn of being chased, as well as my paranoia and effort in the Grey, had taken a toll I wasn’t used to. I was out of practice at being a Greywalking hard-ass. Of course, I’d probably feel better once I dressed and ate. Before I could to that, I’d have to call the Danzigers and see if they could make any suggestions about unraveling the meaning of the loop of magical memory I’d watched up at Leung’s lake house.

The ferret had no such problem with priorities; she was busy slurping up water and crunching kibbles while I dressed. Apparently she’d started by hiding some food for later . . . in my boot. I dumped the crushed stash into the wastebasket while she ignored me. To hell with it—I would emulate my pet and eat first. The Danzigers were probably having their own dinner now, anyway.

My hotel didn’t have a restaurant, but there were several in walking distance, and though the early darkness made it seem much later than it was, they were all open. I promised the ferret a longer romp when I got back and took myself out for food.

When I returned, Chaos gave me the poor-pathetic-ferret look, lying flat on the bottom of the travel cage and sighing at me, but she ruined the effect by bouncing up and wiggling impatiently as I opened the cage door to let her out again. She danced around, nipping at my toes and chuckling as I sat down on the edge of the bed to call Ben and Mara.

“Ouch,” I said as someone answered the phone.

“Pardon?” asked Mara.

“Hi, Mara. The ferret nipped me.”

“Have you been insisting on wearing your shoes yourself instead of letting her have them?” Ben and Mara had been stuck ferret-sitting for a while last year and they were well aware of her kleptomaniacal shoe fetish.

“Yes.”

“Well, you know how she gets about that.”

“To my toes’ eternal, ferret-gnawed sorrow, yes.”

Mara whooped a laugh, easing the discomfort I’d felt ever since I’d gone up the mountain. She wasn’t given to decorous, careful enjoyment; if she was amused, she let her pleasure out into the world, wide and open for anyone to share. “You’ll be hobbling come summer if you don’t give in.” She chuckled.

I tucked my sock-clad feet up under my h*ps and out of the dancing weasel’s way. “Pray for sandal weather.”

“Aside from the depredations of carpet sharks, how’ve you been?”

“Still a little sore and slow, but I’m back to work full-time. I’m out at Port Angeles right now and I wanted to ask you some questions about something I saw.”

“Would it be geology or magic?”

“Magic, though geology might enter into it, I suppose.” Since I was the expert on the Grey itself, there was no point in asking her what might be causing the strange colors and streaks I’d been seeing at the lake. It might be linked to something geologic, but the manifestation was something only I would know about. So I stuck with the most immediate questions.

“Just a moment, then.” Mara moved her mouth away from the phone and called out to Ben to keep an eye on their son, Brian, while she spoke to me a while longer. “All right, then. What was it you saw?”

“I found a dormant spell circle—someone’s been using it over a long period of years, so it’s worn a pattern into the Grey—that had a strange accumulation of memories, but they weren’t like regular temporaclines. They were more like residue that hadn’t been cleaned off, kind of crumpled up and piled around the edges.”

“That’s slovenly of them.”

“Convenient for me, though. I was able to replay part of one of them and I’m trying to figure out what was done. An object was moved somewhere and hidden by magic, but I don’t know where and I need to find it. Can I tell that from what I saw in the image?”

“Possibly, depending on the spell and the residue. How big an object are you talking about now?”

“A car.”

“Oh. I’d imagine something that size would take a bit of doing. What sort of spellcraft was it?”

“Well, that’s what I’m not sure of. I didn’t see the setup, but there seemed to be some candles, some designs drawn in powder or herbs or salt, a bowl of water, and a piece off the car. I couldn’t see the spell-caster very well, so I don’t know the sex or race, but he or she had some kind of magical help—like a double or a ghost of some kind—that lent some additional . . . lifting power to the spell near the end. They picked up the metal from the car and dropped it into the bowl of water. It looked like the movement took a lot of energy and was difficult for the magician alone, so the other one pitched in. Once the metal was in the bowl, one of them lit a candle—dark but I couldn’t say what color—that burned down abnormally fast. When they were done, the human one buried the water and the metal in the circle and then smudged out the power symbols. What does that sound like?”

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