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Black Arts (Jane Yellowrock #7)
Faith Hunter


Insanity’s Not the Point

The crash shook the house, sounding as though the front wall had exploded. I whirled as my front door blew in, icy wind gusting with hurricane force. My ears popped. The bed skirt blew flat beneath the bed. My Beast rammed into me, the light going sharp and the colors bleaching into greens. Beast-fast, I grabbed two nine-mils from the bed, off-safetied, and chambered rounds into both. Raced into the foyer.

The door was open, the knob stuck into the wallboard, the hinges bent. The glass of its small window was busted all over the floor. Again.

Gale-force winds rushed through the open door. No one stood there. Icy air whirled through the house with a scream. I heard windows breaking in back. My ears popped again. A table in the living room tumbled over. Daylight patterned the wood floor off the foyer and reflected off broken glass shoved by the wind into the corner. Not vamps, I thought. But I’d been a target for blood-servants and scions for months. This wasn’t the first such attack, but it was the first that had gotten this far. And then the frigid cold tingled up my arms, blue and golden, flecked with darker sparks of frozen force. It smelled like the air over a glacier, fresh and full of suspended, preserved power. It circled over me, tried to latch onto my skin.

My Beast rose and batted the spell away. Magic, she thought. Air magic. Angry, like storms rising on the horizon. Witches.

I advanced the few steps from my room to the front door, the frigid squall pushing against me. In my peripheral vision, I saw Eli at the top of the stairs, his hunting rifle in one hand, a blade in the other, a small subgun on a sling over his back. The former Ranger was wearing boxers, his dark skin slick with shower water.

There was no music in the attack, no wind instrument, no whistling, no singing, none of the usual methods air witches used when they attacked. And the wind seemed random, blustery, not the tornado of might from a focused attack. More like wild magic, the kind teenaged witches might toss when their power first fell on them, out of control and turbulent. I danced into the doorway and back, getting a glimpse out. Despair pelted over me, sharp and burning as sleet, as I identified him. Sorcerer Evan Trueblood, my best friend Molly’s husband, was standing in the street, attacking my home.

Eli raced halfway down the stairs, his bare feet placed with rooted precision, his wet skin pebbled from the cold.

“No guns,” I shouted to Eli.

“Are you insane?” he shouted back.

“Probably, but insanity’s not the point. It’s Evan.”

Understanding dawned in the set of his shoulders and Eli raced back up the stairs. I turned my full attention to the open door. “Whaddaya want, Evan?” I shouted.

The wind receded marginally.

“I don’t want to fight you,” I called out. “I know I’d lose.” Maybe. Possibly. Okay, not likely, not with Eli and Beast on my side, but why stir a frozen pot? My big-cat huffed with agreement. “Talk to me, Evan! Please!”

“Tell Molly to come out and I’ll leave your house standing.”

My eyes went wide. I hadn’t seen Evan’s wife, Molly, in months, not since I killed her sister. Instantly I felt my hand on the knife as the blade slid into Evangelina. Hot blood gushed over me. I blinked away the unexpected tears that the cold wind stimulated and the memory evoked. I had killed her. I’d had no choice.

The police in Asheville had cleared me. There had been a hearing two weeks ago, attended by me, my lawyer, Adelaide Mooney, two local vamps, the PsyLED hand of the law, Rick LaFleur, and lots of press.

Molly hadn’t come to my hearing. None of her sisters had come. I’d kept glancing to the back of the courtroom, hoping. But they hadn’t come. I had only seen two of the Everhart witches while I was in Asheville, and that was because of vamp business, not friendship. Molly’s friendship had died. And why not? I didn’t deserve to have a relationship with her.

Despite, or maybe because of, the media coverage of Evangelina’s dying, I’d been cleared of any wrongdoing in the same way anyone would have been cleared, anyone who had stopped an armed killer from talking more lives. But the feeling that I’d managed to hide from in the months since I killed Evangelina had roared up like hot flame and taken me over. I couldn’t get rid of the feel of her blood, hot and sticky on my hand. Even now, I wiped the back of my hand on my jeans, feeling the cooling blood, long gone, but as real to my flesh and nerves as if it still coated my hand.

I had survived the distance from New Orleans and my accidental binding by Leo Pellissier, Master of the City of New Orleans, but only by hours. I’d flown back on Leo’s private jet, the fastest transport available to me. And retched the entire way home, sick as a dog because of my Beast’s inadvertent binding to the MOC, one that put a deadline on how long I could be apart from him, and also how far away from him I could go, even for short time periods. Getting my legal problems settled had made me deathly sick, but maybe the nausea was only partly from the binding. Maybe the rest of the sickness had been because Molly hadn’t been there. Hadn’t returned my fifteen million phone calls to her cell.

“Send her out!” Evan shouted, and a burst of wind hit the house. It creaked under the pressure. Evan wasn’t attacking my house on purpose. He was losing control. He was so furious that his magic was operating on its own, ripping free.

“Molly . . .” I stopped as my voice cracked. I took a slow breath, bent, and set the nine-millimeter semiautomatics on the floor in the open doorway where he could see them. The rushing air nearly froze the skin on my hands. I stood and crossed my arms, putting my hands under my armpits to warm them. “Molly’s not here. I haven’t seen her,” I shouted to him. “Why would you think she’d come to see me? If Molly ever really forgave me, she would have called. Answered my calls. Texted me. Something.” I laughed shakily. “She didn’t.” My voice dropped. “Though why that would surprise me, I have no idea. I haven’t been able to forgive myself.”

Moments later, the wind slowed to a trickle. Something in my bedroom overbalanced at the change in pressure and shattered to the floor. I glanced back to see the bed skirt dropping down and a lamp on the floor. I shivered in the cold. Over my head on the landing upstairs, I heard a faint click. Eli readying a gun. I looked up and saw the barrel of the rifle angled down from the floor. Eli was lying prone, aiming into the doorway. “Put it away, Eli.” When he didn’t move, I stepped into the doorway, standing so he’d have to shoot me first, before any attackers. He cursed softly behind me.

I stood in the doorway, the sun’s glare hiding Evan from me, except for a silhouette. A huge bear of a silhouette, six-six and more. Squinting, I made out his red hair and beard, fire-bright, his flannel plaid shirt and jeans. Boots laced up.

I put up a hand to shield my eyes from the sun and studied him. His face was drawn and pale, nose red as if from crying. Dark circles puffed beneath his eyes. He stood less than fifteen feet from the freebie house I lived in. Molly’s minivan was behind him, sunlight bouncing off the chrome. Evan’s rattletrap red truck hadn’t made the trip; it had barely made the previous trip to the Deep South, even with an air sorcerer tinkering with it. Which meant that if Molly was traveling, it was by air or rental car. Or maybe bus. Train. Anyway, easy to track, no matter how she’d traveled. My investigational brain kicking in when the emotional one was in turmoil. I tried for something lighter than his unintentional attack on my house. “You coulda called, you know. I’d have told you she wasn’t here, saved you a trip.”

Big Evan looked bewildered. “Why would you tell me the truth? Where is she?” he whispered. Louder, he said, “Her sisters agreed that she wanted to put things to rights with you. She’d been talking to all of us about you.” His body wavered, and he put a hand to the minivan to steady himself. I figured he was drained by the magic, or maybe drained by trying to control his magic, and wondered if my house would still be standing had he really been trying to destroy it. He said, “She forgave you a long time ago. I told you that she forgave you.” He raised his head and met my eyes, his cloudy with worry, his leaning, propped body looking unutterably weary. “She even went to your trial, in disguise, so the press wouldn’t give her trouble. With the numbers of people, you never caught her scent, did you?”

I opened my mouth, but no words came. I couldn’t help the rush of joy that flooded through me. Molly had come? Did that mean she had really, truly forgiven me?

“I’ve looked everywhere. Her mother hasn’t seen her. There’s . . . no other place she could have gone. No other place. She just vanished.”

And then I realized Molly was missing. And the cold from Evan’s magic stabbed into my heart. Where was Molly?

The van’s back door, on the far side, opened, and I tensed, until I heard the scamper of small feet racing toward the house. I took a step out the door as Angie Baby rounded the front of the van and hurled herself at me. I caught her up in my arms and sank to my knees on the front porch. And then settled into a sitting position, Angie on my lap. Her arms tightened on my neck, holding me so close I could feel her heart beating fastfastfast in her chest. She smelled of strawberry shampoo and sunlight and love. A moment later Little Evan joined us, pushing onto my lap. He smelled of baby powder, prepackaged juice, and crayons. I pulled him into the group hug.

Inside me, Beast murmured, Kits . . . Missed kits. She huffed and settled her chin to her paws.

I started crying in earnest, my tears falling to Angie Baby’s head and trickling into her hair. Little Evan, who had grown three inches since I saw him last, stood on my jeans-clad thighs and grabbed my braid like a rope, saying, “Aunt Jane. Aunt Jane. Aunt Jane,” like a chant over and over.

There was no way he could remember me. Not with the memory of a child and the months that separated us. Yet he seemed to know who I was, and that was enough for now. “Yes. Aunt Jane,” I said. “Ow. That hurts. Stop that.” Which made Little Evan giggle and yank harder, pulling my hair until my scalp protested. “Stop,” I said, laughing, wiping my face, pulling them close. I stood, holding them both. Most people couldn’t carry a six-year-old—seven-year-old now—and a toddler, but I wasn’t just anyone. And since most of the world now knew that I was a skinwalker, I didn’t have to hide my stronger-than-human strength. “You coming in?” I asked their father.

Evan scowled. I shrugged and toted his children, Molly’s children, inside. I looked up, not seeing the barrel of a rifle, which meant my backup had stood down. “Eli,” I called, “can you get the door to close, and cover the broken windows with plywood?”

“On it,” he said, clattering down the steps from the second story. He was dressed in jeans, unlaced combat boots, and layered T-shirts, the tees hiding the weapons he never went without. A toolbox was in his left hand, keeping his right free for weapons. “Alex’s getting his toys, on the way down to start a search for one Molly Everhart Trueblood.” Eli paused in the doorway, studying the big man who still stood on the street, as if he couldn’t make up his mind if he wanted to enter my home. “How long has she been gone?” he asked Evan.

“Three days. No. Four now.” Evan wiped his face with a hand as if trying to wake up. “Sorry. It’s been a long drive.”

I felt, more than saw, Big Evan approach the house, blocking off the light at the door for a long space of time as he made up his mind to enter. Standing in the middle of the foyer, his hands hanging loose and empty, he said, “Molly’s not here? You haven’t seen her? For real?”

“For real,” I said. His face looked ravaged, his eyes bleary.

“Details,” Eli said, setting the tools on the floor and kicking aside broken glass.

I wanted to make Big Evan talk, with my fists, if necessary, but the children were more important. I moved into the house and sat on the couch, holding my godchildren to me. My partners, Eli and his little brother, the Kid, were a well-oiled team, capable and self-reliant. They had listened to the dialogue between Big Evan and me and were already getting to work, even though it wasn’t a for-pay search. Money was important, but not even close to the importance of family. The Truebloods were my family.

“I saw her last on Monday. I kissed her and left for work in town. I have a gig installing lights in a new bar. When I got home that night, her sisters were there.” He stepped into the house and stood in the foyer, so tired he was nearly wavering on his feet. “Regan and Amelia. Babysitting. Not unusual. Until they left and I found the note on the bed.”

The hurt in his voice made my eyes tear up. “Evan, may I see the note?” He put a hand to his back pocket, but didn’t pull anything from it. “Does the note tell you why you thought Molly was coming to New Orleans? Coming to see me?”

Evan handed me the paper. It was oft folded and worn, shaped to a slightly rounded curve, like the way a wallet shapes to the wearer’s buttock.

Juggling children, I slowly opened the note and read aloud. “Darlin’, I’ve gone to New Orleans to make things right with Jane, and put some other things to rights too. I can’t hide from it anymore. But don’t try to contact me. I’ll be busy and not able to answer for a while. I love you with all my heart and soul and might. Kiss our babies. Molly.” Something about the message sounded so final. As if a good-bye was included in the words, without ever being said. I turned the paper over. Nothing was written on the back. “What can’t she hide from anymore?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Something about her magic. She was having trouble growing things, making them thrive. The woods behind the house were hit with some kind of blight, beetles or fungus or something, and they were dying and she . . . couldn’t make them right.”

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