Read Claimed By Shadow Online

Authors: Karen Chance

Claimed By Shadow (10 page)

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“You could get hurt! I can’t allow you to go out there!” Casanova was practically screaming in order to be heard, and he had a two-handed grip on Pritkin’s right arm. “The gargoyles view the kitchens as a sacred trust, as they once did the temples that fed them. They see the Graeae as a threat, but I’ll explain—”
“I don’t give a damn about your personnel problems,” Pritkin snarled, grabbing the vamp by the front of his designer shirt. “Get her to remove my
, or you will have more trouble than you’ve ever dreamed.”
“Hey, I’m the one with the
here,” I interrupted. “Remember? If anyone is getting anything removed, it’s me.”
“This isn’t about you!” Pritkin said as something heavy hit the tabletop and rolled off onto the floor. It was the little gargoyle with the hairnet and the donkey ears, and he wasn’t moving.
I dragged him under the table with us but wasn’t sure how to check for a pulse, or even if he was supposed to have one. What I was sure about was that the greenish colored blood he was leaking onto the tile wasn’t good. “Okay, that’s it.”
I crawled out from under the table and stood up. The noise level was unbelievable and, in the few seconds I’d been preoccupied, the kitchen had been completely trashed. Deino had retrieved the eye but was staggering about on the far side of the room, four gargoyles hanging off each arm while another perched on her back, hitting her over the head repeatedly with a rolling pin. Enyo, in all her blood-soaked glory, had the gargoyle with the earrings raised over her head and was about to throw her across the room. The throw alone might kill her, but if not, landing on the knives a grinning Pemphredo was holding out certainly would.
I took a deep breath and screamed, louder than I’d believed possible. The gargoyles ignored me, but the three Graeae stopped and looked at me inquiringly. None of them appeared overly upset. The only expression anyone wore was a lopsided grin on Pemphredo’s face. “Stop it,” I told them in a slightly more normal tone. “When I said I needed you to fight, I didn’t mean them.”
Pemphredo cackled and pumped her fist in the air. Enyo looked at me sourly but sat the gargoyle down anyway, who hissed at her and staggered off, looking dizzy. Deino managed to lurch over to Enyo to hand her the eye, but her sister waved her off less than graciously. Pemphredo came skipping over and plucked it out of Deino’s hands, looking triumphant. I suddenly got it. “You were betting on me?”
Enyo slumped onto the prep table, knocking some radish eyeballs out of the way and looking dejected. I wasn’t sure why—obviously she could see without the eye, or come to some approximation of it—but she seemed very depressed about missing her turn.
The gargoyles had stopped the attack once their leader was safe, but were eyeing the Graeae with understandable concern. Several of those nearby were starting to check on their fallen comrades, with one pulling Donkey Ears away. His hairnet had come loose, but at least he was starting to come around. I hoped he’d recover, but the only thing I could do for him was to be sure we didn’t cause any more harm. I reached under the table and pulled Casanova out by his fancy tie. “Explain to them that we’ll be leaving now.”
“We bloody well won’t!” Pritkin crawled out, looking like a madman with his bloodstained clothes and matted hair. He scowled about until he located the female gargoyle Enyo had released. “We aren’t going anywhere until she removes the
“Miranda!” Casanova called in a strangled voice, and I realized I might be holding the tie a bit too tight.
The gargoyle came over, but although it was hard to read her fur-covered face, her body language didn’t look cooperative. If someone can walk sullenly, she managed it. She poked Pritkin in the stomach, maybe because she couldn’t reach his chest. “You well. We sssafe. Good trade.” He tried to grab her but she dodged his hands with a fluid movement that seemed impossible unless she’d dislocated something.
Maybe she had, because her ears went back and she hissed at him, showing off a very nonfeline forked tongue. She crossed her arms and took a wide-legged stance behind Casanova, her long tail whipping about behind her.
“I do not deal with Fey affairs,” Pritkin said haughtily, as if such a thing was beneath him. “It is of no concern to me whether you are here legally or not. You have nothing to fear. Now, take it off!”
“What’s going on?” I asked Casanova, who was straightening his tie. He gave me a less-than-friendly look, which I guess was fair under the circumstances.
“In exchange for healing him, Miranda put a
on him not to reveal their existence to anyone. If the Circle finds out they’re here, they’ll be deported.”
“Is that all?” I turned narrowed eyes on Pritkin, who didn’t notice because all his attention was on Miranda. Considering the whopping
I was carrying, I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for his tiny one. “If you’re not planning to tell on them anyway, what difference does it make? Let’s go. Those mages could be back any minute.”
“I’m not going anywhere until she removes it,” he repeated stubbornly. The tone made me want to kick him. Instead, I prodded Casanova, who rolled his eyes.
“Miranda—” he began in a long-suffering voice, but she set her jaw. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t have to.
“Damn it, Pritkin!” I said angrily. “I’m not standing here until the Circle sends someone else after us. You want to talk, fine. Let’s go talk. Otherwise, I’m out of here.”
“There’s an idea,” Casanova said brightly. “I’ll call you a car.”
Billy Joe came streaming through the door and got swatted at by half a dozen gargoyles on his way over. Normally,
I’d have been surprised that they could see him, but after the day I’d had I didn’t even blink. “He’s with me,” I told Miranda, who nonetheless began hissing at Casanova in the strange language the gargoyles used. She had obviously had enough unwanted visitors for one day.
“Ixnay on the car,” Billy said, looking worried. “Is there an exit that bypasses the front, back and side doors? ’Cause they’re all being watched.”
“By who?” Now what was wrong?
“Oh, I don’t know,” Billy replied sarcastically. “Whose mages did you just beat the crap out of? The Circle knows you’re here, and they’re out there in force. There’s gotta be two, three dozen—I stopped counting. The trio we met in the bar was their advance crew, their way of asking you to come along nicely. But considering the way you returned ’em, I don’t think they’re interested in negotiating anymore. ”
“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
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,
, 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?”

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