Claimed By Shadow

Page 13

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"They attacked first," I said defensively, then paused to wonder whether that was strictly true. I hadn't seen what happened in the bar between the time I left and when Casanova and I tuned in to find Enyo throwing down with the mages. If Pritkin hadn't been with them, then they'd walked into a mess not of their own making. No wonder they hadn't been in a good mood when they met us again.

"It doesn't matter," Pritkin said, almost like he'd been reading my mind. "They want you dead. Making it easy for them won't change that."

I swallowed. I'd suspected that the Circle wouldn't cry much if I had an accident, but hearing it stated so baldly was hard. You'd think I'd be used to people trying to kill me by now, but for some reason it doesn't seem to get any easier. "You sound certain."

"I am. That's part of what we need to talk about." He looked at Casanova, who sighed.

"There are several emergency exits, but none are good options." He flapped a hand at me. "Can't you do whatever you did earlier, and shift away? With the internal defenses targeting you as well as them, I can claim you came here to bully me for information about Antonio and then left after trashing the place." He glanced around. "Oh, wait, that would even be true."

"Speaking of which, you were going to tell me where Tony is."

"No, as I recall, I was doing quite a good job of not telling you." He tried to hand me a handkerchief, I guess to wipe off the cupcake that had gotten smeared in my hair at some point, but I ignored it. "I'll help you get out of here, chica, and I will gladly tell lies to the Circle to throw them off the trail, but as for Antonio-"

"That vampire," Miranda spat on the ground. "He in Faerie. He bring usss here, then betray. We work like ssslavesss."

Casanova looked sick. I smiled at the gargoyle, who was actually rather attractive if you concentrated on her slanted red eyes. "Thank you, Miranda! Tell me more."

She gave a feline sort of shrug. "Not much to tell. He in Faerie." She looked at Casanova. "This sssircle, they come here?"

He ran a hand through his slightly tousled hair. Somehow, he had managed to avoid all the flying food. The only visible damage was a few wrinkles I'd put in his tie. "Possibly. It seems to be our day for unwanted guests."

"No!" she told him, poking his leg with extended claws. "We have work! No more messss!"

I noticed that a couple of valiant little gargoyles were trying to get a laden cart, which had somehow avoided the carnage, through the disorder to the door, and that another was grunting into a phone and scribbling an order on a pad. I was about to agree with Miranda that we needed to get out of their hair-or horns or whatever-when yet another visitor arrived. Pritkin's golem came through the doors and the keening noise started up again from every side.

I groaned and stuck my fingers in my abused ears. Pritkin stared intently at the golem for a minute, as if some sort of nonverbal communication was going on, then glanced at me. He made a gesture, and blissful silence descended. I knew it had to be some kind of spell, because the pandemonium didn't diminish, but the cacophony quieted to a faint background noise. "They're coming. We have to go."

I nodded. "Fine. Then get lover boy there to tell us where Tony's portal into Faerie is. And don't lie," I told Casanova. "I know he has one."

"Yes, he does, but I don't know where it is," Casanova said distractedly. "Miranda! Can you calm your people down, please? It isn't going to destroy anything!" He looked at Pritkin. "Is it?"

"It will if you don't tell us the truth," I said grimly.

He looked askance at the golem, which looked back as far as the vague indentations it called eyes would allow. It had no fangs, horns or other oddities. It was just a badly made statue, like something a potter had started and then forgotten. But I didn't like it any better than Casanova did when it turned those empty eyes on me.

"I don't know where the damn portal is!" Casanova insisted. "Tony was selling witches to the Fey, but he had a special group who dealt with that side of the business and I wasn't one of them. He took most of them with him when he disappeared, and the rest left with the last shipment a week ago. They aren't here."

I glanced at Miranda. "You must have come through the portal. You have to know where to find it!"

She shook her head. "On other ssside, we sssee. But here, no." She draped a dishcloth over the head of a nearby gargoyle. "Like ssso." The blind gargoyle ran into Pritkin, or more accurately into his legs, which was as far as the tiny thing could reach. The mage removed the towel and sent him back to Miranda with a little push.

"They must have been blindfolded before they were sent through," Casanova translated. "I suppose Tony didn't want them to know how the setup worked, in case the mages got hold of them."

"What about you?" I asked Pritkin. "The Circle must have access to a portal."

"We use the one at MAGIC."

I sighed. Of course. It made sense that MAGIC-short for the Metaphysical Alliance for Greater Interspecies Cooperation-would have one. It's a sort of supernatural United Nations with representatives from the mages, vamps, weres and Fey, and the delegates from Faerie had to get there somehow. On the plus side, it was nearby, in the desert outside Vegas. On the negative, MAGIC was crawling with the very people who were looking for me, and not to wish me a happy birthday. It remained to be seen whether I'd live long enough to celebrate my twenty-fourth, but sticking my neck in the noose didn't seem like the best way to ensure that. Unfortunately, portals into Faerie aren't exactly thick on the ground, and any others would doubtless be guarded, too. On the theory that it's better to go with the devil you know, I decided to opt for MAGIC. At least I'd been there before and knew a little about its layout.

"Do you know exactly where it is?" I asked. MAGIC had a big compound; it would be nice if he could narrow things down.

Pritkin looked at me incredulously, but whatever he might have said was drowned out by the sound of sirens going off. They were just a faint, tinny klaxon through the silence bubble, but Casanova swore loudly. "The mages have entered in force-that's a general alarm."

"Get the humans out," Pritkin ordered.

Casanova nodded, not protesting the grip the mage had on his arm. "It's already being done-standard protocol is to claim a gas leak whenever there's an emergency and to evacuate everyone. And the mages are supposed to avoid hocus pocus in front of norms, aren't they?"

"Normally, yes. But they want her badly." Pritkin jerked his head at me.

Casanova shrugged. "Any fireworks will be thought to be part of the show, as long as no norms are injured. This place was designed to look this way for a reason-we've had slipups before." From Pritkin's scowl, I was guessing they had gone unreported. "Let's get all of you safely away from here, then I can concentrate on damage control."

"Where's the nearest emergency exit?" I asked.

"Thanks to you, most of them are overrun. Your best bet is the one leading to the basement of a liquor store on Spring Mountain, just off the Strip." Casanova moved towards the room service phone and plucked it out of the claws of the gargoyle taking orders. He glanced over his shoulder. "I'll have a car waiting out back of the store for you, but that's as much as I can do."

"Wait a minute. You have a house safe, right?"

"Why?" Pritkin asked suspiciously.

"Oh, crap," Billy said.

"You want to risk taking them into Faerie with us?" I demanded.

Billy groaned and looked at the Graeae, who were chowing down on finger sandwiches. "Considering what popped out last time? Hell no."

I looked at Casanova, who was in the middle of a phone conversation. "They're bypassing the security system almost like it isn't there," he informed us, relaying a report. "A group of mages have been stalled in Headliners, but there are two other teams and-mierda! They shot Elvis. Tell me it doesn't show," he demanded of someone on the other end of the line.

"They shot an impersonator?" I was surprised, if not precisely shocked. The mages were supposed to protect humans, not use them as target practice, although they seemed to forget that where I was concerned.

Casanova shook his head. "No, the real thing." He turned his attention back to the phone. "No, no! Let the necromancers worry about the patch-up job; what do we pay them for? And have them raise Hendrix again, we're going to need a sub."

I lost track of the conversation because the swinging kitchen doors came flying off their hinges, straight at me. Pemphredo, whom I hadn't even seen move, caught them and sent them spinning back across the room at the group of war mages who were pouring through the entrance. Enyo tried to stuff me under the table, but I caught her wrist. "How would you like to have some fun?"

She gave me a withering look. Obviously, she felt that our ideas of fun differed. "I'm serious." I nodded at the mages, who were being attacked by a wave of hissing gargoyles that had apparently not appreciated the destruction of the doors. The mages were practically buried under a sea of thrashing wings and slashing claws, but I knew it wouldn't last. "Enjoy yourself. Just don't kill anybody."

A big smile broke over Enyo's face, making her look like a kid on Christmas morning, and the next thing I knew she'd picked up the massive prep table and thrown it into the breach left by the missing doors. She and her sisters ran across the room and hopped over it, cackling like the fiends they were as they took the offensive to the second wave of mages trying to get in.

"Bought us some time," I told Pritkin, who was looking conflicted. He might be having problems with the Circle, but he obviously didn't like the idea of them being play toys for the Graeae. Since the mages' idea of justice was to drag me off to a kangaroo court and a quick death, I had no such problem. "Come on!"

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