Home > Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson #9)

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson #9)
Patricia Briggs

1

I sat up in bed, a feeling of urgency gripping my stomach in iron claws. Body stiff with tension, I listened for whatever had awakened me, but the early-summer night was free of unusual noises.

A warm arm wrapped itself around my hips.

“Mercy?” Adam’s voice was rough with sleep. Whatever had awakened me hadn’t bothered my husband. If there were something wrong, his voice would have been crisp and his muscles stiff.

“I heard something,” I told Adam, though I wasn’t certain it was true. It felt like I’d heard something, but I’d been asleep, and now I couldn’t remember what had startled me.

He let me go and rolled off the bed and onto his feet. Like me, he listened to the night. I felt him stretch his awareness through the pack, though I couldn’t follow what he learned. My link to the Columbia Basin werewolves was through simple membership, but Adam was the Alpha.

“No one else in the house is disturbed,” he said, turning his head to look at me. “I didn’t sense anything. What did you hear?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Something bad.” I closed my fist on the walking stick that lay against me. The action drew Adam’s eyes to my hands. He frowned, then crouched beside the bed and gently pulled the walking stick away.

“Did you bring this into bed last night?” he asked.

I flexed my fingers, frowning with annoyance at the walking stick. Until he’d drawn my attention to it, I hadn’t even realized that it had, once again, shown up where it shouldn’t be. It was a fae artifact—a minor fae artifact, I’d been told.

The stick was pretty but not ornate, simple wood shod in etched silver. The wood was gray with age, varnish, or both. When it had followed me home like a stray puppy the first time, it had seemed harmless. But fae things are rarely what they seem. And even very minor artifacts, given enough time, can gain in power.

It was very old magic and stubborn. It would not stay with the fae when I tried to give it back to them. Then I killed with it—or it had used me to kill something. Someone. That had changed it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I’d given it to Coyote.

My life so far has been a learning experience. One thing I have learned is: don’t give magical things to Coyote. He returned it, and it was . . . different.

I opened and closed my hands several times; the fierce knowledge that something was wrong had faded. Experimentally, I reached out and touched the walking stick again, but my fear didn’t return.

“Maybe I just had a nightmare,” I told him. Maybe it hadn’t been the walking stick’s fault.

Adam nodded and set the walking stick on the top of my chest of drawers, which had become its usual resting place. Shutting it up in a closet had seemed rude.

He came back to the bed and kissed me, a quick, possessive kiss. He pulled back and looked at me, to make sure I was okay.

“Let me just take a look-see around the place to make sure.” He waited for my nod before he left me alone.

I waited for him in the dark. Maybe it had been a nightmare, or maybe something was wrong. I thought about the things that could be triggering my instincts—or things I was worried about.

Maybe something was wrong with Tad and Zee—that would explain the walking stick’s presence in my bed. The walking stick could be concerned about them—they were fae. At least, Zee was fae.

When one of the Gray Lords who ruled the fae had declared independence from the human government, the fae had retreated to their reservations. Zee, my old friend and mentor in all things mechanical, had been forced to go to the Walla Walla reservation, which was about an hour away.

The fae barricaded themselves inside the walls the government had built for them. For a month or so, they’d let the humans figure out that the walls weren’t the only things that protected the reservations. The Walla Walla reservation had all but disappeared, hidden by illusion and magic. The road that used to lead to it no longer did. Rumor had it that when people tried to find it by airplane, the pilots forgot where they were going. Satellite photos were a gray blur for an area far larger than the reservation had occupied.

Then they released some of their monsters upon the human population. Fae that had been held in check by their rulers were let free. People died. The government was trying to keep a lid on it, to avoid panic, but the media were starting to notice.

I closed my hands again on the gray wood of the walking stick lying across my lap, the one that Adam had just set on the top of the chest of drawers. The walking stick moved on its own, though I’d never managed to catch it in the process.

I hadn’t worried about Zee a whole lot at first—he can take care of himself. Tad and I had been able to contact him now and then.

Tad was Zee’s son. Half-fae, product of a mostly failed experiment by the Gray Lords to see if fae could reproduce with humans and still be fae, Tad hadn’t been required (or asked) to retreat to the reservations. The fae had no use for their half-bloods, at least not until Tad had demonstrated that his magic was powerful and rare. Then they’d wanted him.

Seven weeks he’d been gone. Without Tad, I hadn’t been able to activate the mirror we’d used to contact Zee. Seven weeks and no word at all.

“Is it Tad?” I asked the walking stick. But it sat inert in my hands. When I heard Adam on the stairs, I got up and put it back on the chest.

Sitting at the kitchen table the next morning, I paged through yet another catalogue of mechanic’s supplies and made crabbed notes on the notebook beside me with page numbers and prices.

I hadn’t forgotten last night, but I could hardly sit and do nothing, waiting for something dire to happen. I had no way to contact Zee or Tad. I also had no way to tell if the walking stick had caused my panic over something real, or if I’d had a nightmare and that had called the walking stick.

If something dire was going to happen, in my experience, it would happen whatever I was doing—and waiting around was singularly useless. So I worked.

The wind rustled the pages gently. It was early summer yet, cool enough to leave windows open. A few more weeks, and the heat would hit in full force, but for now we only had the occasional windstorm to complain about. I flattened the page and compared the specs of their cheapest lift to the next cheapest.

We’d managed to scavenge some tools out of my shop when a volcano god toasted it, but a lot of things got warped from the heat—and other things got demolished when the rest of the building collapsed. It would be months before the shop was up and running, but some items were going to take a few months to order in, too.

Meanwhile, I sent a lot of my customers to the VW dealership. A few of my oldest customers—and a few of my brokest customers—I had bring their cars out to the big pole building at my old place. It wasn’t really tooled up, but I could take care of most simple issues.

Music wafted down from upstairs out of Jesse’s headphones. Her door must have been open or I wouldn’t have heard it. The headphones were an old compromise that predated me. Jesse had told me once, before her father and I got married, that she suspected that if she were playing Big Band music or Elvis or something, her dad wouldn’t have minded her playing it on a stereo. He liked music. Just not the music she liked.

She also told me that if she hadn’t told him that her mother let her play whatever she wanted (true—you don’t lie to a werewolf; they can tell), he probably wouldn’t have been willing to compromise on the headphones. Werewolves can hear music played over headphones, but it’s not nearly as annoying as music over speakers.

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