Home > One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3)(17)

One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3)(17)
Author: Ilona Andrews

I turned. Helen was holding the nameless cat. The huge Maine Coon I had rescued from a glass prison in PetSmart stared at me with slightly freaked out eyes, clearly not understanding how this small human creature dared to grab him.

“He has fangs,” Helen said.

“That’s a kitty,” Maud said. “Be careful. They have sharp claws.”

“What’s his name?”

“He doesn’t have one,” I told her. I hadn’t gotten around to it. “I tell you what, you can name him.”

Helen’s eyes got almost as big as the cat’s. “I can?”

“Yes.”

“I’m going to name him Olasard, after he who hunts the evildoers and rips out their souls.”

The Ripper of Souls gave me a befuddled look.

I looked at Maud.

“There weren’t a lot of kids’ books,” she said. “Melizard used to recite the heroic sagas for her.”

A gentle magic tug told me Sean was coming to the door. I went into the front room and opened it for him. Sean hadn’t bothered changing. Still jeans and a T-shirt. For some reason, I liked him just like this.

“Hi again,” I said, feeling awkward for no reason. “Come inside. We have food.”

“Thanks for inviting me.”

We went to the kitchen. Normally Caldenia, Orro, and I took our meals together at a breakfast table, but given the larger company, I extended the kitchen to accommodate the big heavy table the inn pulled out of storage. Rustic, made of an ancient scarred door that must’ve at one point graced a mission or an old Texas hacienda, it was sealed with several coats of resin until it shone.

We took our seats at the table. Orro had gone the traditional American Breakfast route: stacks of light as a feather pancakes with butter melting at the top; paper-thin crepes filled with strawberries; tiny, muffin-sized apple pies with delicate dough lattices on top; hash browns; heaps of bacon and sausage; and three types of eggs, over easy, sunny side up, and scrambled. He swept by giving me the Look of Death, and retreated into the kitchen. Later I would get a lecture about not letting him know in advance that extra guests would be arriving.

“Her Grace, Caldenia ka ret Magren,” I said. “My sister Maud and her daughter Helen.”

“Letere Olivione.” My sister inclined her head. “We’re honored by your presence.”

“Honored is such a serious word, my dear.” Caldenia flashed her sharp teeth. “I’m but a quiet, country recluse now, no one important.”

Maud put eggs, a crepe, a sausage link, and a piece of bacon on Helen’s plate.

“Your regal presence elevates all surroundings with its magnificence,” Arland said. “A diamond in the rough shines ever brighter.”

“My dear boy, I did miss you.” Caldenia sipped her tea.

Helen bit a piece of bacon. Her eyes got big again and she scarfed it down and reached for the platter. Arland had reached for the bacon at the same time. They stared at each other across the table. A vampire standoff.

Helen wrinkled her face, showing him her tiny fangs.

Arland bared his scary fangs, his eyes laughing.

A low, tiny sound came from my niece. “Awrawrrawrawr.”

“Helen!” Maud turned to her. “Don’t growl at the table.”

Arland leaned back, pretending to be scared. “So fierce.”

Helen laughed, her giggles bubbling up. “Awrawrawr.”

Arland shuddered.

Helen giggled again, grabbed her mug, and hurled it at the wall. The mug shattered. I looked back. Helen’s seat was empty. The platter of bacon had vanished.

Sean lost it and laughed.

“What a delightful little girl,” Caldenia said, her eyes sparkling.

Maud looked lost. “I… She never…”

“The child has an inborn grasp of tactics.” Arland grinned.

Magic chimed, announcing a visitor. Hmm. In broad daylight? Coming in from the northwest, not the street. I’d have to meet them in the stables. I hadn’t yet collapsed the inn structure left over from the summit, mostly because I was so damn tired. It had taken so much energy to put everything where it needed to go so it would be invisible from the street, and packing it back in would take time and effort. Short term, the maintenance took less energy since everything was already formed and there. I was going to wait until after Christmas.

“Excuse me.” I picked up Helen’s plate, added one of the small apple pies to it, went into the front room, and lifted the green cloth on the side table. Three sets of eyes stared at me: one canine, one feline, and one half-human. I held the plate out. It was snatched from my hands. I dropped the cloth back down and headed to the stables through the hallway.

Sean stepped out of the kitchen and quietly followed me. I let him catch up.

“Problems?”

“Visitors,” I said.

We made our way to the stable gates.

In the field, beyond the small area of Otrokar holy ground, a green spiral sliced through the fabric of existence, unwinding from a single point into a funnel. Darkness puffed into the mouth of the funnel and withdrew, taking the spiral with it. An odd creature landed on the grass. Five feet tall, it stood on two grimy metal legs ending in metal hooves. The legs were a mess of old dented metal, gears, tiny lights, and thin tubes channeling a milky white substance. A bulbous hump protruded from its back. A tattered shroud, draped over the hump, hid most of its body. Two massive, oversized metal hands stuck out from the openings in the shroud, and, like the legs, consisted of a chaotic jumble of different parts. The creature’s folded, wrinkled neck, made of an alien rubber-like substance, seemed too long. A helmet that slightly resembled a medieval plague doctor’s face mask concealed the alien’s face. Three faceted high tech “eyes,” pale yellow and round, pierced the helmet. The whole thing looked like someone had scooped handfuls of garbage out of some cosmic trash heap and formed a vaguely humanoid creature out of it.

   
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