Worried anew that I was losing my ability to use white magic, I began to pace around the yard,holding my flame hand well away from my body.
“You should try to get some rest,” Pal said.
“I will, in a little while.” I was absolutely bone-tired, and wanted nothing more than to liedown and sleep for the next sixteen hours, but I was afraid of what might happen once I driftedoff. If I drifted off.
My flame hand seemed to catch on something. I looked down, puzzled. I was out in the middle ofthe yard; there wasn’t so much as a tall dandelion nearby. I waved my hand through the emptyair. And there it was again, the sensation of an invisible seam.
“Hey, there’s something weird over here,” I said to Pal. “Can you see or feel anything?”
He came over to investigate. “No, I don’t sense anything?…?What is it?”
“I’m not sure.” I blinked through several views with my enchanted stone eye. One showed afaint blue rectangular outline in the air, just barely perceptible.
Acting on a hunch, I dug my flame fingers into the seam and pulled. A small door swung openmidair, revealing the inside of a wooden shipping crate. It was a little bigger than a schoolgym locker, maybe three feet tall and two feet wide, and perhaps as many deep. Stacked insidewere several plastic-wrapped bricks of white powder and compressed plant matter. The air insidewas musty with a familiar sweetly weedy odor.
ALSO BY LUCY A. SNYDER
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Shotgun Sorceress is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are theproducts of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actualevents, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
2010 Ballantine Books Mass Market Original
Copyright ? 2010 by Lucy Snyder
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Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House PublishingGroup, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
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For Sara Larson,
who, it should be noted,
bears absolutely no resemblanceto the Sara you’ll find in this book.
Well, okay, there’s one resemblance:her kitten Fred is indeed a little devil.
Cover Other Books by This Author Title Page Copyright Dedication Acknowledgments Part One - Suburban Outlaws Chapter One - A Kick in the Head Chapter Two - Cursed Chapter Three - Youthful Indiscretions Chapter Four - Raising the Tent Chapter Five - Hellement Chapter Six - Siobhan’s Boys Chapter Seven - Riviera Chapter Eight - Mirror, Mirror Chapter Nine - Cooper Chapter Ten - Faery Chapter Eleven - A Hole in the Sky Part Two - The Devil in Miss Shimmer Chapter Twelve - A Bale of Trouble Chapter Thirteen - Texas Hold ’Em Chapter Fourteen - Mirror Matter Chapter Fifteen - A Little Gift from the Welcome Wagon Chapter Sixteen - Highway Chapter Seventeen - Meat Puppetry Chapter Eighteen - Crazed State Unhinged Chapter Nineteen - Exorcism Chapter Twenty - Magus Shimmer Chapter Twenty-One - Doppelganger Chapter Twenty-Two - Fever Chapter Twenty-Three - Monsters
Chapter Twenty-Four - Sprung Traps Chapter Twenty-Five - Charlie’s Story Chapter Twenty-Six - Grave Matters Chapter Twenty-Seven - Izanamiko No Oni Chapter Twenty-Eight - Shadowland Chapter Twenty-Nine - Showdown
I’d like to thank the people who helped bring this book into the world: my agent, Robert L.Fleck; my editor, Shauna Summers; and her assistant, Jessica Sebor. I’d also like to thank mypublicist, April Flores, and my deepest gratitude goes to my first readers: Dan, Trista, and myever-patient husband, Gary.
And finally, I must express my appreciation to the following molecule for helping me make mydeadlines:
Image of caffeine structure courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A Kick in the Head
The festering mob of meat puppets in their tattered Sunday best shambled aside as I rode Paldown Main Street toward the stark white columns and broad marble steps of the Saguaro Hotel.There had to be a thousand bodies in the stinking brown sea parting before us. My skull waspounding, the July heat and hard West Texas sun nearly unbearable. I tipped my straw cowboy hatforward in a futile attempt to get some of the weak breeze on the back of my head.
And in a blink, Miko was suddenly there on the steps, Cooper and the Warlock strung up naked
and sunburned on rough-hewn mesquite crosses to either side of her. As a small mercy, theirlimbs had been tied, not nailed, to the twisted branches. Their heads hung forward, insensible,as their chests shuddered to pull in shallow breaths.
The devil kitten in my saddlebag was purring loudly. It could sense the impending carnage.
You ready for this? I asked Pal.
. What“Ready for a slow, bloody, excruciating death followed by eternal damnation? Of course
Ignoring his sarcasm, I drew my pistol-grip Mossberg shotgun and racked a cartridge into thechamber.
“Give ’em back, Miko!” My voice was tight, shaky, a mouse’s outraged squeak at a lion.
She smiled at me, and all at once her beauty and power hit me like a velvet sledgehammer. IfI’d been standing I would have fallen to my knees. I hoped I wasn’t getting wet; Pal wouldknow and it would be a sprinkle of embarrassment on top of the disaster sundae I’d brought toour table.
“You know what I want,” she whispered, her voice floating easily over the distance betweenus. “Give yourself to me, and your men shall go free.”
A tiny part of me—the part that was exhausted, weary of fighting, weary of running—wonderedif giving my body and soul to her would really be such a bad thing.
Oh, fuck that noise, the rest of me replied. Fuck that long and hard.
I’m getting ahead of myself?…?as usual.
????I should have known my life would keep going merrily to shit. The previous Friday had beenbusier than a dam full of beavers on crystal meth. I’d run police roadblocks, battled dragons,and literally gone to hell and back as I rescued my boyfriend, Cooper, and his little brothersfrom a fate considerably worse than death. Every muscle in my body ached, and I was lookingforward to getting some rest, if perhaps not much actual sleep. I’d seen some things thatevening that would probably give me insomnia for, oh, the next decade or so. And there was thelittle detail that I’d put our city’s head wizard into a coma and killed a major guardianspirit. They both richly deserved it, but I’d broken about infinity-plus-one laws and surelythe authorities were going to hunt me down with extreme prejudice. So I had prison and perhapsexecution to look forward to as well. Yay, go me.
But, so far, it appeared I was safe for the night. I was definitely looking forward to the latedinner my witch friend Mother Karen was making for me and the other Talents who’d helped inthe rescue. Whatever she had cooking in her kitchen smelled wonderful. And I knew my familiar,Pal, was plenty hungry.
I carried a platter of savory, steaming ham and a wooden bucket of water down Karen’s backsteps out into the moonlit yard. It probably looked the same as most other backyards in theneighborhood: rattan furniture and a shiny steel gas barbecue on the brick patio, a woodenpicnic table on the lawn, a scattering of oak and buckeye trees bordering the tall dog-earedplank fence ringed by softly glowing solar-charged lights. However, I suspected this was theonly place in the entire state of Ohio sheltering a shaggy, six-foot-tall spider monster.
Who, based on the circles his clawed legs had torn in the turf, had spent the past half hourstalking his own posterior.
“Hey, Pal, I got your dinner,” I called.
He stopped going around in circles and blinked his four eyes at me, licking his whiskeredmuzzle uncertainly.
At least, I thought Palimpsest looked uncertain; as a ferret his emotions had been pretty easyto read. But now that his familiar form had become magically blended with his true arachnoidbody?…?well, I didn’t exactly know what “happy” or “sad” or “puzzled” was supposed tolook like on such an alien face.
“Having troubles over there?” I asked, setting the platter and bucket down on the picnictable.
“I?…?have an itch,” he replied gravely, his voice strange and muffled in my mind. Ourtelepathic connection was slowly improving, but that, too, was taking some getting used to.
“I could reach every part of my Quamo body and my ferret body,” Pal continued, “but oddlythese new rear legs aren’t very flexible. I can reach my underside, but not my back.”
“Maybe you just need to do some yoga.”
Through the valved spiracles on his abdomen, he blew noisy chords that sounded like a childrandomly banging on the keys of an organ. Laughter? Oh-please snorts? I’d only known Pal for aweek, and already I had to get to know him all over again.
“That doesn’t help me at the moment,” he said.
“Horses back into trees and fence posts to scratch themselves,” I replied. “You’re tallenough to stand on tippytoes and scratch yourself on the low limbs of that oak over there.”
“How dreadfully undignified.”
“Or you could just roll around on the grass.”
“And that’s more dignified how?”
“Oh, hush. It’s not like anybody can see you back here,” I pointed out. “Otherwise you’dhave flipped out the neighbors already and the cops would probably be here.”
Long ago, Mother Karen had put her house and its yards under a camouflage charm to keep herfoster children’s magical practice sessions out of sight of the neighbors. So at least therewould be no panicked suburbanites dialing 911 to report a monster prowling through Worthington.
I glanced up at the sky, half expecting to see a Virtus silently descending, ready to smite melike a curse from Heaven. One of the huge guardian spirits had already tried to do a littlesmiting earlier that evening. Mr. Jordan, the aforementioned now-comatose head of the localGoverning Circle, had convinced the Virtus that I was committing some kind of grand necromancyinstead of simply trying to rescue Cooper. I’d defended myself, not expecting to win thebattle, but win I did.
It was still hard to believe: I had killed a Virtus. Nobody was supposed to be able to do that.
Not with magic or luck or nuclear weapons or anything. It was as if I’d thrown myself naked in
front of a speeding freight train in a desperate, stupid attempt to halt hundreds of hurtlingtons of iron?…?and had somehow stopped it cold.
Miracles had abounded that evening. But I doubted the Virtus Regnum would see me as anythingbut a threat. They’d be coming for me, and from what I’d seen so far, they were as mercifulas black holes.
I squinted up at the dark spaces between the stars, wondering what lurked there.
“Speaking of things that shouldn’t be seen by mundanes, how is that working for you?” Palasked.
“Huh?” I looked at him, confused.