Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wow, it's Wednesday already...

Wednesday snuck up on me thanks to the three day weekend. I not only didn't prepare a post for today, I've pretty much been buried in "Witch's Moon" because I sent it out to an editor last week and got it back super fast. She found several things I need to work on, so that's what I've been doing pretty much constantly since Saturday. Instead of a post, I'm going to share chapter five with you. I've posted part of this chapter before, but it's now been reworked to fix a flow problem the editor identified. Let me know what you think.

~ Rebecca

Chapter 5

Dante’s kitchen was a clown car. Literally. I had made that comparison when I saw all the barflies coming out of it earlier, but now I knew for a fact that all of them had actually come through the kitchen and not through some hallway or stairway just inside the kitchen door. It was kind of like seeing a six lane highway running through a factory district, with on and off ramps here and there, and one lane in each directing reserved for local traffic. I had no idea how they managed to get this to pass the health inspection.
I felt a tug against my waist and looked up into Mooney’s smirking face. I belatedly realized he’d tucked me under his massive arm and was guiding me through the mayhem of the Pleasure Club’s kitchen like a momma duck ushering a distracted chick across a busy road. I flashed a bewildered grin at him before turning back to watch the show, trusting him to keep me safe while I ogled.
The pedestrian highway running through the kitchen couldn’t have been more than twenty paces long, but there was so much to see that it felt much longer. It skirted to the left of the work area, with little more that storage along the right hand wall so that the chefs weren’t tripping over clubbers while executing their culinary ballet. And I do mean chefs, not cooks. As the owner/manager of a coffee shop that also served food, I know the difference. I am a cook. I heat partially prepared food out of cartons. These were chefs. They made delectable food from raw and sometimes odd ingredients. And they did it with style. I watched in fascination as one huge man flipped sizzling fajita meat and peppers in separate skillets over open flames without making a mess or catching himself on fire—not something I was capable of!
Mooney tugged on my waist again and I was whisked through a trapdoor in the floor, the culinary dance disappearing above my head as we descended. I blinked two or three times to clear my dazzled eyes of the magic of it all. The chefs were not magic users, but they were creating magic just the same. That’s the thing about magic. It didn’t simply exist, it was born of life just as oxygen was.
Plants breathed in carbon dioxide and exhaled oxygen, which animals then breathed in to create carbon dioxide. In that same way, the chefs took the largess of Mother Earth and created sustenance for Her children, which transformed the potential of the raw ingredients into something more easily used by higher beings like people and shape shifters. A true artist didn’t just effect the change, though. They also created magic of their own. I didn’t make magic when I cooked. I simply made food. But on the other hand, I doubt those chefs could make magic by combining herbs and intent to form a potion the way I could. We all had our own unique abilities.
I pulled my attention back to the present. As fascinating as the insanity of Dante’s kitchen was, I had actual work of my own to do still tonight. I’d sent a text to Lex as soon as I got back to Mooney’s truck, so it was probably him that Dante was leading us to meet with in the belly of the club. I looked around owlishly. Maybe not the belly of the club. This long, dimly lit and scarcely populated hall was more like an arm than a belly. Bellies tended to be busy places.
After a good long walk, during which we passed a few smaller halls and a few shut doors, Dante stopped. He didn’t turn around, though he did speak to us over his shoulder.
“In here. Please wait until I get back to get down to business.”
Mooney nodded once. I was still tucked up under his arm so he probably would not see it if I nodded so I mumbled a quick “you got it,” and Dante nodded once himself. He continued walking down the hall and disappeared into the gloom almost immediately, not making a sound on the rough pine floors. I felt a little zap of nervous energy at the display of shape shifter otherness. You don’t see or hear them if they don’t want you to.
Most people didn’t see this side of shifters because they made a point of blending in around humans. Dante didn’t strike me as the kind of wolf who made careless mistakes and he hadn’t been all wolfy up to that point. I was sure that little display was meant as a warning for me. It was an unneeded warning, though. I am not one of those magic using humans who feels the need to throw my weight around and offend my host. Besides, if Lex came here, that meant he wanted Dante to be in on the meeting. Getting down to business without him would be counterproductive.
Mooney opened the door to our left—all the doors in the long hall had been on the left and all of the side corridors had been on the right—and ushered me through, not quite relinquishing his claim on me. I wasn't sure why I didn’t object. Normally, being hovered over annoyed the crap out of me, but something about Mooney’s hovering made me feel… safe? Protected? I wasn’t sure. “Safe” wasn’t something I had much experience with and I had been protecting myself for as long as I could remember.
“Well, aren’t you two all cozy,” Lex said, his deep cultured voice dripping with condescension. I stiffed at the tone and what it implied. Mooney said nothing, just pulled me in tighter to his side. I looked at Lex, taking in his sneering half smile and insolent posture. You know what? Screw Lex and his judgmental attitude. I liked being tucked up close to this big, sexy wolf and I was going to stay here as long as Mooney wanted me here. Life was full of risks and just then, I was willing to risk a lot to keep this feeling of being safe and wanted, even if it was temporary and probably not real.
We took seats opposite of Lex at the long conference table and settled in to wait for our host to return. Mooney said nothing, just stretched his six foot plus body out in what was clearly a relaxed pose. He was letting Lex know that he felt not the least bit threatened, a silly thing since Lex could probably have taken the wolf in open combat. Lex may not be more than a few inched taller than my own five foot three, but he was an ancient Egyptian demi god. One didn't survive in that pantheon for four thousand years without knowing how to defend oneself. I knew this first hand, having been subjected to the Egyptians for most of my life.
Besides, Lex kind of wrote Mooney's pay checks. My wolf needed to watch himself.
Lex, by contrast, seemed perfectly content to sit across from us like the cat that he was, perfectly still and watching to see if we got nervous so that he could pounce. We didn't of course. It was a near thing for me. My relationship with Lex was more than a little screwed up. He was one part father figure, one part obnoxious uncle and one part teacher with a dash of big brother thrown in for good measure. While he had never made any moves towards me in a sexual sense, he had also not made any effort to protect me from the perverts of Ra's court. He’d even encouraged me to use my feminine whiles on his behalf from time to time, including with Mooney. I did not get this sudden show of passive-aggressive resistance and it was starting to piss me off royally.
Just as I was about to lose my cool, the door to the conference room opened and the smell of sizzling fajitas wafted in followed by none other than Gypsy Rose. She was wearing a barely-there black kimono robe that did nothing to hide the fact that she was still wearing her stage costume minus the snake, which meant she was pretty much nude.
"Put the try on the table, love," she murmured to the waiter in her husky southern drawl. "We'll serve ourselves." All eyes were on the sexy red wolf as the waiter slid the huge try of sizzling meat, peppers, onions, and tortillas onto the table. All eyes other than Mooney's, anyway. I couldn't help but feel pleased that the nearly naked she-wolf failed to draw his attention. Hell, I half way wanted to jump her and I don't swing that way. That didn't mean he wanted me over Gypsy, of course, only that he wanted fajitas more than he wanted to ogle a beautiful woman, but I was taking what I could get. And then he dished me up a plate of meat and peppers.
"Moon-dog, witches don't eat meat," Gypsy said with a smirk. Mooney stopped scooping food onto the plate he'd put in front of me and looked down sheepishly. I smiled at him, then stared at her as I pulled the plate closer.
"Wow, this smells awesome. Can you pass me a tortilla, babe?" I smiled at Mooney coyly and I popped a slice of green pepper into my mouth. He smiled back, looking a little uncertain about this but he did hand me a tortilla.
"Do you, you know, eat meat?" he asked quietly. I didn't answer, preferring to show him by popping a slice of beef in my mouth. Wait. That was not beef. That was... I didn't want to know what that was. I focused on chewing it enough to safely swallow it.
"What's the matter, monkey-child?" Lex said with a smirk, not making any move toward to food. "Cat got your tongue?"
"What an... interesting texture," I said carefully around the last traces of meat-like stuff in my mouth. "Um, that's not beef, is it?"
"No," Gypsy said with a smirk. "It's road kill special."
"Road kill?" I looked down at the meat still on my plate and carefully swallowed what remained in my mouth.
"It's, ah, mountain lion," Mooney said, grabbing for my plate. I slapped his hand away. Wolves tended to use food as courtship and he'd given me this food with his own hands. I could work with this. While I wasn't enthusiastic about eating animal flesh, this was inarguably organic and all natural, which did fit in with my food preferences. And it wasn't anything too strange.
"Ah. Yes, I guess the cat did have my tongue," I said, trying to joke about it. Lex snorted.
"What did you think it was, monkey-child?" he asked sarcastically.
"Well, when I heard 'road kill,' I admit I got a horrible premonition that I was being fed a squished prairie dog..."
Laughter filled the small room. Go me, I'd managed to amuse a room full of predators. I leaned over and gave Mooney a little peck on the chin--I couldn't reach his check while sitting down--and began filling a tortilla with peppers and onions and exactly one small piece of meat, all the while hoping Dante would come back so we could get on with this. As if he'd been waiting for exactly that moment, the door opened and Dante stepped in.
“Please excuse the long wait. It seems that there were some tigers prowling my territory. A patron took care of them, though. I kind of wished I had seen that fight, since the patron is a six foot tall rabbit in his other form.”
Dante had another wolf with him, one I didn't know. Mooney did, though. I saw him stiffen suddenly. Lex's snide grin turned malicious and Gypsy's amused smirk died. I put the food down and looked into a pair of very hostile, arctic blue wolf eyes.
"Nick," Mooney said, standing up and placing himself between me and the new comer. Ah, the big brother who had fired Mooney after his court appearance the other day. Mooney didn't talk about his brother much, but I had gotten the distinct impression that Nick didn't think very highly of Mooney. Judging by the looks I was receiving, Nick really didn't approve of his little brother trying to defend me from him, either. Oh, damn. Oh, holy hot damn, how was I going to get out of this? Without giving up Mooney, of course. I just ate freaking road kill for the big lunk; no way was I going to just walk away without a fight, or even a sampling of what being with the hunky wolf was like.
No one moved. No one even breathed for a long moment as the two brothers stared each other down. Nick the alpha who was expressing his displeasure. Mooney the beta who was expressing his independence. I began to realize that while Nick was not pleased to see me still wearing Mooney's coat, this was not about me at all. This was about a pack alpha who'd left one of his wolves hanging out to dry. Mooney had left a lucrative career in San Diego to come back to Talbot's Peak and work at the pack's business at Nick's request. Yeah, he’d had gotten himself into trouble, but Nick had turned his back on his little brother, too. There were a whole host of hard feelings between Mooney and Nick, and all I was was a bone to be fought over.
Finally, Nick turned his back on Mooney and took a seat at the far end of the table, catty corner to Lex and right next to Gypsy Rose. Dante didn't take a seat, choosing to lean against the wall in a tough guy pose. Everyone started breathing again.
"Well, monkey-child," Lex began. "We are all here. What is it you found so very important?"
All eyes shifted back to me, all except for Mooney's. He was still playing angry lock-eyes with his brother, his arm slung over my shoulder in a blatant declaration of ownership. Like before, I didn't shrug out from under it. I wanted this wolf, and that meant putting up with his macho uber-male posturing. Besides, I didn’t mind having the unswerving support of at least one of the predators in the room. And he still smelled good.
With all those unfriendly eyes on me, I launched into my description of the night’s progress, taking the time to explain how we’d gotten inside in the first place because I knew the territorial wolves would want to know what to look for to breach Ghan’s defenses. I also kind of wanted to brag up how good Mooney was at this cloak and dagger stuff, such as his knowing how to get past wards without taking them down and how he’d made a rather large group of guards look like rank armatures. Thinking back, I find it fascinating how quickly I’d gone from thinking of him as Mooney the Goof to having his back. It usually takes much longer—if ever—for me to warm up to someone.
Next, I walked them through my trek in the warehouse, making sure again to point out that most of the true workers were human and of Indian ancestry because that can be an interesting peek into someone’s mind if you know the culture well, and Lex did. I also managed to freak everyone except Dante out when I declined to give him my cell phone to extract the pictures, instead to projecting them on the wall directly from my phone using visio-mancy. Technology’s a bitch for wizards, but a witch like me can work with it really well. I filed away the knowledge that both of the other magic users were startled by that but not the top wolf. Either he was better than an ancient deity at hiding his emotions or he was much more versed in what an Earth witch could do. I was betting it was the later because Dante show any classic signs of being a practitioner.
It was a good bet, because he was the first to figure out what Ghan was up to with the twisted mash-up of spells.
“I count… eight separate non-elemental summoning spells.” He paused and looked around the room to see if anyone disagreed.
“Nine, boss,” Gypsy said quietly. “That’s not a standard containment circle around the whole area. It’s a summoning ring; see how it’s drawn with gypsum rather than chalk?”
“Looks like regular chalk to me,” Nick said. “Gypsum doesn’t lend itself to drawing on the floor.”
“Common drywall is sufficient for this use,” I injected. “It’s the chemical signature that changes the use in magic circles. Chalk is primarily decomposed limestone, which naturally blocks magic from crossing it. Gypsum is a sulfate, which does allow non-demonic transitions. Gypsy’s right; the ring is serving as a bulls-eye.”
“Well, if you knew that, why didn’t you say so?” Nick asked sarcastically.
“I know what it is,” I agreed, “but I’m not sure what exactly he’s trying to summon.  It’s always best to get other opinions of messes such as this.”
“He’s trying call a Stone,” Lex bit out. “A very clumsy attempt at that.”
“What kind of stone?” Dante asked.
“A Stone, not a stone, boss. Lexor means that he thinks Ghan’s trying to entice one of the rocks of creation.”
“Ok,” Dante said and then started nodding slightly to himself, staring intently at nothing for a long moment. “Ok, question one: will it work?”
“No,” Lex replied with a derisive tone.
“How sure are you?”
            “Completely sure. If all took to summon a Stone was random scribbles drawn crudely on a floor, every school child could do it while playing Hop-Scotch. But that is what the spell caster is trying to do. The Name of the Stone is worked into each of the individual spells.”
“Capital es and capital en, I take it?” Nick asked. Lex nodded once but said nothing, just kept studying the pictures very intently. Four sets of wolf eyes turned toward me yet again when it became clear that lex wasn’t going to explain.
“Ever notice that most ancient cultures have a creation myth involving either a flood or a sea? Well, every culture that has a myth like that also have include something about stones being instrumental in repopulating the world. Mayans had their sacred hearth stones. Greeks had the last two humans throwing stones over their shoulders, which became the new crop of humans. Yet even more cultures have the first people being actual stone people. If it popped up only here and there, it would be easy to dismiss. The fact that stone myths cropped up over and over in cultures that had had no contact what so ever is important.”
“So all of them are true?” Mooney asked, a confused expression on his face. I smiled up and squeezed his hand.
“More or less. The stone people are what we witches call elementals, Gaia’s spiritual children. The Creation Stones are slightly different, but related. They are the hearts of the first people who were, in fact, drowned in a great flood long before human-kind walked the earth. The Greek myth got it wrong; no one threw the Stones over their shoulders. The survivors of the first People—whom we now call gods—tried to resurrect their slain brethren. But not being true gods, they didn’t get it right. Instead of bringing their dead back to life, they created new life.”
“Humans,” Nick spat, the look on his face making it clear just what he thought of that idea.
“Preternaturals,” Lex murmured quietly. “Monkey-child, did you get a lead cast of this spell?”
“Preternaturals,” I agreed as I pulled the lead block out of my pocket and slid it across the table to Lex’s waiting hand. “Humans are a naturally occurring species on Earth, the product of Gaia’s will and a response to all the new creatures running around on Her surface. The creatures that would one day become shape shifters, vampires, genes, and such.”
“And true witches,” Gypsy added with a slight smile. I smiled back, acknowledging her unspoken accusation. Yes, I am a true witch and therefore a preternatural, not a true human, not that the distinction has ever benefitted me in any way.
Both Nick and Mooney froze with those words, though, and I silently cursed Gypsy for putting the idea in her mind. Witches and werewolves historically do not get along. Wolves tend to distrust us because a good half of all witches born turn dark by the time they reach puberty. I hadn’t but that was more because of Lex’s involvement in my life that anything. Had my mother kept me with her, my chances of turning to black magic would have shot up. Not to one-hundred percent, mind you, but higher than the normal fifty percent rate. And yet again, Dante hadn’t reacted at all, so yes, he had realized what I was before he ever set eyes on me this evening.
“One last question,” Dante said, dispelling the sudden tension in the room. I swallowed hard and turned my attention to him. “If this spell won’t work to call one of these creation stones, why should we worry about it?”
“Because it is very unstable, like a dirty magic bomb with a twitchy trigger,” Lex said with a disconcertingly pleasant smile. “One good thump and Kaboom! No more Talbot’s Peak.”


Pat C. said...

Okay, I'm hooked. Make sure you make a PDF version because I read on my laptop.

Just what's ZG trying to call up, anyway?

Rebecca Gillan said...

He's trying to resurrect a dead Indian fertility goddess. More on that in Chapters 6, 10, 11, ect.

Pat C. said...

How fertile can she be if she's dead? Although vampires have been known to bear/father children. Done it myself, once or twice. :)

Rebecca Gillan said...

Ahhhhh, I can't say any more without ruining it! I'll have to post chapter six next. Of just finish the edits and then another read-though because changing things have introduced typos... Pth, I'll just post chapter six next week.

Savanna Kougar said...

Besides Marissa's telling of it, and the story itself, I'm loving the intricacy, and all the magickal knowledge. Fascinating! And yeah, I'm hooked.

East Indian instead of American Indian? I assume.

Rebecca Gillan said...

Yes, East Indian rather than Native American.

Serena Shay said...

Awesome chapter, Rebecca! I can't wait to read more. I love Marissa's "voice" as she tells us the story. :D