The Banishing Spell
Jeve looked up as the barmaid leaned over to set down his drink and a small bowl of peanuts, and watched perhaps more closely than he should as she leaned over to set a bowl of water down on the bar’s floor.
“There you both go,” she said, straightening up and brushing a lock of stray curly red hair out of her face with a grin. “Goodness, is your dog a coyote?”
“That she is,” he said. “Her name’s Juniper.”
“I’ve never heard of a pet coyote before,” she said wonderingly. “Can I pet her?”
Tell her I bite, Juniper’s voice came in Jeve’s mind.
“I’d be careful. She can still be wild,” Jeve replied, flashing the coyote a stern warning look.
“Awww,” the waitress said, crouching and holding her hand out for Juniper to sniff.
The coyote did so, and then gave the woman’s hand a lick. The woman giggled, scratching Juniper briefly behind the ears before standing again. “How did you find her?”
“She found me,” Jeve said. “She’s my familiar.”
Someday I’m going to put my foot down over you never introducing me as your owner. His mind briefly filled with the image of his body being pinned under a single coyote toe. He blinked away the vision and surreptitiously kicked Juniper in the side.
“Oh!” the woman said, brows lifting. “You’re a magician. We don’t see many of you anymore.”
“Don’t I know it. Jeve Galliway, the last itinerant wizard, at your service.” He sketched a seated bow, and grinned. “I don’t suppose you’re in need of any of my services?” He accented the word services in a way that had just a hint of suggestiveness.
She smiled more broadly. “We can talk about it later, Mr. Galliway,” she said with a wink. She walked away, sashaying a little more than she had when she approached.
Juniper lightly bit Jeve’s ankle. My ass is nicer than that and you never stare at it that way.
“Most of the time you’re in the form you are now,” he hissed under his breath, “and even when you’re not your ass is furry.”
Furry and sexy, and we both know you think that. And if you kick me again, then when I eventually take you I’ll do it in this form.
Jeve gritted his teeth. She’d joked about “taking” him more than once, a subject he was uncomfortable with for multiple reasons—chief among which was the certainty that she was capable of it. In the multiple dreams he’d had about that—nightmares, he corrected himself fiercely—she at least had the courtesy to be in her bipedal form, albeit sometimes at very disconcerting sizes.
He’d finished the peanuts and gotten halfway through his second beer when his client entered the pub.
Jeve had never seen the man before, and hadn’t expected to meet anyone tonight—he’d hoped word of his presence would get around and prospective clients would appear before suspicious lawmen did. But the moment the man stepped through the doorway, Jeve simply knew. Something about the gait, the searching, desperate look. Most of the people who came to him looked that way, and that was both boon and bane. Desperate people weren’t choosy about who they would hire and would agree to near any terms, but there was always a reason they were desperate. Of course, these days having a job you needed a genuine wizard for could be cause enough.
The man’s eyes alighted on Jeve, and he strode toward the table. He appeared to be perhaps fifty, not in the best of health, with sunken black eyes and a face that had forgotten how to smile. He stopped just before he ran smack into the table’s edge, and stared down dolefully.
Jeve glanced back up and flashed his most encouraging smile. The man said nothing. After a few moments passed, Jeve took a drink of his beer and leaned back, waiting with a noncommittal yet patient expression.
“You’re a wizard?” The man’s voice was hesitant and gravelly.
“I am,” Jeve replied. He knew his vest with its bright red handkerchief, matching the color of his sweeping overcoat, gave him a style more foppish dandy than sober professional; he’d always thought wizards should be just a touch eclectic, and recently he’d been just successful enough to finally look the part. “Do you need one?”
The man took a deep breath, and then fell silent again, seeming to chew over his next words. He looked away, opened his mouth, then closed it again without making any noise other than a grunt.
“If you’re not going to speak, would you be so kind as to refill my bowl of peanuts?” Jeve finally said, crossing his arms.
The man frowned, then abruptly slid into the seat opposite Jeve. “What do you know about demons, sir?”
“Call me Mr. Galliway.” He extended his hand. “And you are?”
The man shook it. “Peterman.”
“I have some experience in dealing with them. Enough to know not to do so under most circumstances.” Jeve’s knowledge of demons came mostly from books, along with one unsettling but inconsequential summoning ritual his former master had performed as an exercise. And, of course, his experience with Juniper. She insisted she wasn’t a demon, and truly she didn’t act like any demon he’d read about. Except for the part about being destructive. And eating people. Juniper seemed to really like both of those.
“Aye,” the man said, nodding grimly. “Would my partner have followed that sage advice.”
“This sounds like the start of an unfortunate tale.”
Pursing his lips, the man seemed to spend a few moments composing his answer. “Understand that Mr. Stowbridge has a vision, sir, a vision he’s been committed to since before I met him. A vision of building a railway in the sky.”
Juniper lifted her ears. Jeve uncrossed his arms and steepled his hands in front of him on the table. “I mean no disrespect, but that sounds absurd on its face. Rails suspended in the air? Through the force of magic?”
Peterman shook his head. “Through marvelous engineering, sir. Imagine great steel towers and a single rail suspended between them that the trains ride on. They’d avoid all the problems that come from traveling on the ground—right of way concerns, collisions, track hazards—but be little more difficult to build stations for than normal trains would be.”
Jeve cleared his throat delicately, leaning forward. “Those who follow the path of engineering rarely consort with those who follow the path of magic, I’ve found, sir.”
Sighing, Peterman leaned back and looked away. “I confess I have no love for your profession, Mr. Galliway, and Stowbridge’s misadventures make me trust magic even less.”
Juniper had begun to bare her teeth, but remained silent, except speaking in Jeve’s mind again. In about ten seconds, I’m going to make him really hate magic. Jeve shot the coyote a warning glance, and then spread his hands as he looked Peterman in the eyes. “So how did your partner get you to a point where you’d seek out one such as myself?”
“Our limited partnership had run out of capital, and we had little to show for it but a single mile of tracks and a two-car test train. Stowbridge told me he would find a way, and he went on a month-long trip, and returned flush with cash. Or so it seemed. More track was built, our first contract was signed. On the surface he’s performed a miracle.” He leaned forward. “But I have yet to see any trace of the financing he secured. I’m all but shut out of the business now.”
“I agree that sounds scurrilous, Mr. Peterman, but not infernal.”
“I found this two nights ago, left in a small chalk circle in our warehouse.” Reaching into his coat, the man pulled out a small satchel and emptied its contents onto the bar table: a green powder that smelled of sharp acid, half-burned paper, a stub of a candle, and a shriveled… something. It took Jeve a moment to recognize it as a heart. A human heart.
Juniper sat up, then set her forepaws on the table, studying the pile.
“Mind your dog,” Peterman said, moving to push her down.
“Let her see as well. The coyote is my familiar,” Jeve said. “It does look like your partner—or at least, whoever these belong to—is involved with something disturbingly necromantic.” He frowned. “This paper looks like a receipt. The powder seems to be a component I’ve seen in summoning rituals. If it was a small circle, it’s likely a minor demon—”
A “minor” demon that requires human sacrifice? Despite being only in his head, Juniper’s voice dripped sarcasm.
“—but of course there’s the presence of the heart, so we shouldn’t leap to any conclusions yet,” Jeve finished. “But if you found this two nights ago, your partner is surely missing them by now.”
“He’s on a business trip through the end of the week. We have two more days.”
Jeve rubbed his chin. “I’ll certainly see what I can learn,” he said at length. “But you do understand that banishing this demon will almost certainly mean the end of your partnership and your current livelihood.”
“Better that than my soul.”
Jeve nodded solemnly after a moment. “Of course, of course. Well. Let’s talk expenses, shall we?”
When they got back to the hotel room, Jeve was grinning maniacally. “This will be one of our biggest consulting fees yet, dear, and for barely two nights’ work.” He clapped his hands, and set out two of the five tomes he traveled with, liberated from his former master’s library shortly after he’d met Juniper. He still wasn’t quite sure what she’d done to the library guards, but had decided it was better not to ask.
Juniper leapt up onto the bed and flowed into her bipedal form: an attractive woman, about five feet high, wearing the most realistic coyote costume imaginable. The blending might have been comical but instead was unsettlingly seamless—she remained just as attractive as she would be were she human. “So what’s your plan?” she said aloud.
“First, we have to find out what demon we’re dealing with.” He set the bag Peterman had given them on the table by the book, opening it but leaving its contents inside, and murmured an incantation under his breath as he traced a sigil in the air three inches above it. A rainbow appeared where his fingers moved, a multicolor band of light that represented the collective signature of the artifacts: a sorcerous equivalent of a spectrometer.
“That’s not a spell most junior magicians know,” Juniper observed.
“I’m not a junior magician. I’m a brilliant magician whose formal studies were curtailed due to unfortunate circumstances.” He began flipping through the book, ignoring the coyote woman’s derisive snort.
After about five minutes, he said, “Ah-ha. Look.” He tapped one page.
Juniper got to her paws and walked over, looking over his left shoulder, her hand on his right. Her weight and warmth were momentarily distracting, the feel familiarly human and disquietingly animal at the same time. “Really,” she said skeptically. “A minor imp.”
“The signatures match,” he protested, waving between the diagram in the book and the rainbow floating in mid-air. “Am I wrong?”
“I don’t know. It’s a match, but not an exact one.” She leaned toward the magical light. “See? This line isn’t there in your book.” She pointed a claw tip at a thin red band across the largest field of blue. “Or this one.”
“But it’s certainly in the right class. The major phylum is a perfect replica. Perhaps we’re dealing with a different kind of imp, but only a minor variant.”
Juniper grunted. “Maybe you screwed up the spell.”
“I did not screw up the spell,” he snapped. “I’m quite sure my familiar would have sensed that.”
“Wizards make very demanding pets.” She straightened up, crossing her arms.
“Well, you should have thought of that before getting one, young lady. If you wanted undemanding you should have gotten a goldfish.”
“It’s not too late to turn you into one.”
“You can’t—” He stopped at her smug expression. “Really?”
“Don’t worry.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek, more of a wet lick. “I wouldn’t turn you into anything I might eat.”
He rubbed his cheek. “That would be a wee bit more reassuring if you didn’t eat humans.”
She just grinned, showing all her teeth. Jeve had gotten used to it enough not to flinch, at least when she was roughly on his own scale.
Jeve sighed melodramatically and waved a hand. “I haven’t asked anything more than any wizard asks of any familiar. Much less than Smathin asked of his damn crow. I can’t count the number of times that poor thing was nearly fricasseed by power coursing through it.”
“Of course.” She abruptly dropped to a sitting position, like a student before a wise teacher, and looked up at him with a big-eyed earnest expression. “So what wonderful magic shall you do that your familiar might help with in some modest fashion?”
Jeve pursed his lips, frowning down at her. “A banishment ritual for the imp, and a marking ward to dissuade any other imps Stowbridge might learn about from dealing with him.”
She nodded. “Have you performed a banishing spell before?”
“Of course.” He waved a hand. “Once.”
“On a demon? Or at least a minor imp?”
“Yes, a minor imp. Well, technically, she was a pixie.”
“A pixie,” she repeated flatly, staring up at him. “You banished a pixie.” She waved her hands in the air. “Demons beware! The pixie-banisher approaches!”
“That’s not fair,” he said indignantly. “The fair folk can be quite dangerous, if you know anything about them.”
“I’m pretty familiar with them,” she said, tone dry even for her. “A pixie isn’t exactly a Daoine Sidhe.”
He rolled his eyes. “And an imp isn’t exactly an arch-demon. Fortunately, I’m not planning to deal with either one.”
She got to her feet, and leaned over his workspace again, poking at the summoning artifacts with a claw. “Jeve, I trust your spell work. But I’m telling you, this worries me.” Her finger rested on the heart. “You don’t need human sacrifice to bind an imp.”
Jeve dismissed the analysis spell with another quick hand gesture, and shook his head at the coyote. “Maybe Stowbridge is just an overachiever. You’ll be with me as my familiar, and if things seem amiss I’ll trust you to let me know.”
“Of course,” she said with a weary smile. “I have to keep my pet safe.”
He turned around in the chair so he faced her, flashing his own curious smile. “We’ve been traveling together over half a year, and I confess I’m still not sure how serious you are about that.”
“Mmm.” Juniper grinned enigmatically—having the face of a coyote helped immensely with being enigmatic—and stretched out on the bed.
He looked at her, then over at the expensive dog bed he traveled with, set up in the corner. Whenever possible he got a hotel room with two beds so Juniper could take a conventional mattress if she chose, but that hadn’t been available here.
She followed his gaze, then looked back at him. “This is a double-sized mattress and there’s more than enough room for two people to sleep on it. I want to sleep in this form tonight.”
“I… but… I thought we had this… worked out,” he muttered hesitantly, glancing at the dog bed again and then back at her.
“Jeve, we can work out your neuroses some night that we’re not going to be facing a demon in the morning. Either you take the other side, or I’ll shrink you and make you take the damn dog bed.” She fixed her gaze on him with a look he’d come to recognize as the argument is now over.
Swallowing, he stripped down to his boxers—something that he still felt vaguely awkward doing in front of her, no doubt thanks to her frequently lewd comments—and slipped into the bed, staying as close to the far edge as he could without falling out. He extinguished the oil lamp. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” she said in the darkness, sounding distinctly amused.
When Jeve awoke just after sunrise, Juniper was still asleep. He’d rolled toward the center of the bed, and woke up on his side; she was also on her side, facing away from him but much closer to him than he felt strictly comfortable with. Her thick tail lay over his legs. It felt… nice.
He edged slowly back, trying not to disturb her. As soon as her tail was dislodged, though, she rolled onto her back, opening her eyes.
Jeve hadn’t been with a woman in a very long time, and there were moments when his guard was down that his view of Juniper shifted completely from magical coyote to beautiful woman. This was one of those moments. He sat up hurriedly.
“There, you got through the night with your morals intact,” she murmured sleepily, pushing herself up to a sitting position.
“Indeed,” he said, smile slightly forced.
She leaned forward and put her hand on his chest. It was a mix of human hand and coyote paw, the pads like soft leather against his skin. “You don’t have to get through the morning with them intact, though.” She grinned mischievously.
Jeve scrambled back, nearly falling out of bed. “We’ve been over this, and several times,” he spluttered, hopping to his feet. “Humans and whatever it is you are aren’t meant to be attractive to one another.”
She let her gaze rest pointedly on his boxers. “Of course not.”
He looked down and huffed, turning beet red, and grabbed a bathrobe, stalking toward the shower. “As you pointed out, we have work to do today. Get back to your four-on-the-floor shape and we’ll go call on Mr. Peterman after breakfast.” He ignored Juniper’s melodramatic sigh.
Peterman’s office clung like a barnacle to a great wooden warehouse facing the waterfront, clearly once used for boat wrights. Now the warehouse was stocked full of long metal track pieces, gears, girders and cables—the building blocks for Stowbridge’s implausible “mono-railway.” Juniper kept her ears folded back through the short tour of the warehouse itself, but Jeve was grudgingly impressed by the sheer magnitude of the little company’s ideas.
The office itself was small and cluttered, but not cheerless; it reminded Jeve oddly of a wizard’s cramped study, but with engineering manuals and tiny mechanical models replacing the spell books and magical components. As Peterman sat down behind his desk, he pushed a stack of invoices to the side—Amalgamated Cabling, Moore Metalworks, Guthrie Steam Power—and stared at them dourly.
“You have the money now, presumably,” Jeve said with a small smile.
“But won’t if your plan succeeds.” He shook his head. “It’s quite a shame, Mr. Galliway. Stowbridge’s recklessness will set rail travel back a generation.”
Jeve nodded sympathetically, and launched into a description of his plan: drawing the imp out, banishing it from the area, setting up wards. Peterman listened without comment, then nodded slowly. “If it must be done, it must be done. From what little I know of your field, it sounds like you’ve done your research. Shall we meet back here at dusk?”
“Oh, there’s no need to wait. We could start—”
“Now?” Peterman said, arching his brows. “No, quite out of the question. Keep any use of strange magical rituals to a time when the area is mostly closed for business. We must be circumspect.”
“Full sunlight is considerably better than full moonlight if you’re planning to banish a demon rather than summon one.”
“I’m afraid I insist.”
“I may have to add a surcharge for added complications, then.”
“Very well.” Peterman waved his hand irritably. “At dusk it is.”
When he stood back on the street outside the warehouse, facing the docks, Jeve rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It doesn’t add much complication to the matter, and he didn’t even blink at the surcharge.”
And that doesn’t raise your hackles? Juniper said. Stowbridge used a ritual that’s clear overkill for an imp, and Mister Smiles back there wants us to reverse it after dusk on the night of the full moon.
“I’ll be as careful as I always am.”
That’s what I’m afraid of.
He gave her a dour look. “Ha ha.”
Ha ha. I came to you because we’re supposed to be trying to stop engineering from pushing out magic, remember? I can just eat Peterman and Stowbridge and shrink their train track down to toy size. When you get an office it’d make a lovely conversation piece.
“I don’t want a conversation piece, I want a check. And having a few engineers who don’t hate me might give us an advantage later, you know.”
She chuffed, but fell silent.
“All right,” Jeve said. “You’ll want to stay some distance away, sir.” He’d drawn another chalk circle on the floor, set the bag of Stowbridge’s own summoning artifacts in its center, and lit candles at the four major compass points.
Peterman simply nodded, retreating to the shadows of the warehouse. Juniper sat on her haunches a few feet from the circle, watching intently; Peterman seemed a little disgruntled by the coyote’s presence, which suited Jeve just fine.
Jeve took a deep breath and raised his hands, surreptitiously consulting the scrap of note he’d written earlier at the hotel, then started to speak an incantation. Unlike the analysis spell of last night, this time he spoke boldly, the Latinate phrases echoing around the huge building.
After a full thirty seconds of chanting, Jeve drew his rarely-used wand and pointed it at the artifacts with a flourish. They shimmered as if in a heat wave, then the chalk circle burst into flame, as if a match had been thrown into a puddle of gasoline.
The wizard raised his wand, drew a symbol in the air, and pointed it at the center of the circle once more, calling the imp’s name. Then again. Then a third time.
The fire roared higher a moment, then dropped down until it was back to the chalk circle, now merely glowing a warm orange. Within a funnel of smoke, the demon appeared.
Standing about two feet high, the imp was more intimidating than Jeve had actually expected: taut grey skin, stubby bat wings, oversized fanged jaws. It looked like it could bite through someone’s hand, or throat, or perhaps steel without any effort. It would be genuinely frightening if the creature hadn’t looked far more frightened of Jeve than he did of it.
“Well.” Jeve put his hands on his hips. “You’re what good Mr. Stowbridge has been making his deals with.”
The imp curled its upper lip. “Sssssstowbridge… is…,” it started to growl, then abruptly stopped, grimacing as if in pain.
Juniper’s ears perked forward, and she started to pace around the circle. This isn’t right.
“Stand back, familiar,” Jeve said, trying to balance command with affection. He raised his wand again. “The banishment is simple enough at this point while he’s bound.”
The imp stared at Juniper and its eyes widened.
This isn’t right, the coyote repeated, her ears folding back. He’s already—
Jeve thrust the wand forward, and the flames leapt upward again. At the same time, Juniper leapt for Jeve, knocking him over. Stop!
The wand flew out of his hand. “What the hell—”
Dammit. She whirled around, just as the imp fell forward, through the flames, lying there motionless.
Jeve blinked, sitting up. “It’s not supposed to kill it,” he muttered.
The imp was already bound by something else. That’s what those lines on your reading meant.
The flames rose higher, then shot forward, the circle expanding rapidly. Jeve cried out and started to scramble back, but the wall of flame roared past him, a burst of heat that left him in only momentary pain—but left him, and Juniper, inside the circle with the dead imp.
He could just barely hear, as the fire started to die back down, Peterman’s laughter.
It was bait. For us. And we’re bait, too, now.
A shadow formed in the circle’s dead center, a shadow cast by nothing. It rose up, up, filling the space between the floor and the warehouse, then coalesced into… something. It looked like a cat, in the same way that Juniper looked like a coyote in her bipedal form. A cat with solid red fur, and the wings and claws of a dragon. The muscles of a bodybuilder, the tail of a snake. Fierce glowing eyes. And he—there was no doubt about the demon’s sex—was so massive he had to stoop over in the warehouse, despite the ceiling being a good three stories overhead.
“I told you this would be easy, Mr. Peterman,” the demon rumbled.
“I—wait, I don’t—” Jeve said rapidly, getting to his feet and staring up, in as much astonishment as fear. “There—was no Stowbridge?”
At that, the demon fixed its gaze on him. “You’re slower than I’d have expected.” It leaned over and touched a huge claw to the shriveled—and now smoking—heart. “Meet Mr. Stowbridge.”
Jeve ran a hand through his hair.
“And what’s your full name, Mr. Galliway?”
“How do you—” Jeve stared. “You’ll understand if I choose not to cooperate.”
Abruptly the huge hand wrapped around the wizard, and hauled him into the air. “Mere idle curiosity. I’m not going to bind or control you. I’m going to eat you. Peterman has fulfilled his end of his bargain.”
“To get you a wizard to eat?” Jeve wheezed, incredulous.
“The feeling of a mage dying whole and alive in my gut is indescribably pleasant. But since there’s not many of you left, I don’t experience it often.” He grinned, showing off fearsome fangs. “With any hope, there won’t be any soon, and we won’t be having to put up with your incredibly irritating summonings and bindings—what?” He stared down and scowled. “Tell your dog to stop biting my foot.”
“I’d rather she bite harder.”
The demon snorted and squeezed Jeve until he screamed, then raised his foot and stomped it down toward the coyote.
“Run!” Jeve tried to call, although it just came out as a wheeze. He thought frantically through the pain. There weren’t many spells he knew how to cast without a voice, but—
He concentrated, squeezing his eyes shut, and managed to twist his hands into position. The demon’s hand and forearm shimmered, quickly encased in a thin layer of ice.
“What?” the demon said, sounding more irritated than pained. He transferred Jeve to his other hand and shook the frost off, then dangled the wizard upside down in front of his feline/dragon muzzle. “It’s a good thing I didn’t specify a competent wizard, Mr. Peterman.” He focused his gaze on Jeve. “Is there anything else you’d like to try before I eat you?” he said, tone dripping derision.
Jeve had been searching the ground frantically for signs of Juniper; the stomp hadn’t ended with a fearful squish noise, so he assumed she’d gotten away. Finally he spotted two glowing eyes off in the shadows. “I’d like my coyote to bite you again,” he wheezed.
The demon rolled his eyes. “Mr. Incompetent Galliway—you won’t mind if I just call you Incompetent, will you?—I am a greater demon. If you hadn’t been stupid enough to prepare for a mere imp, then perhaps you’d be ready with something annoying enough that I’d kill you immediately instead of slowly. Yet your desired last-ditch effort against me is to have a dog bite me.” He crouched down, and held out his other hand. “Here, little coyote, come chew my finger.”
Juniper trotted forward and sat down on her haunches by the demon’s hand, looking up at him.
“See, even it knows better than that. I’m surprised it’s… even…” He trailed off and looked at Juniper expressionlessly for several seconds. Juniper pointedly stared at the demon’s closest finger, then back up at the fiend’s face.
“Mr. Peterman,” the demon rumbled very softly, “you neglected to mention the wizard traveled in the company of fae.”
“He does?” Peterman said incredulously.
“I do?” Jeve said under his breath.
“Most curious,” the demon said after a moment. “You chose your traveling companion poorly, little doggie pixie.” He closed his hand into a fist and brought it down on the coyote.
When his hand hit, he grunted in pain, eyes widening. Abruptly wind howled through the warehouse from all directions, loose cables flapping and snapping, loose debris smacking ringingly against metal girders. As it reached a shrieking pitch, Juniper appeared in her bipedal form—kneeling with her much larger hand wrapped tightly around the demon’s, squeezing. Even though her legs were flat to the floor, her ear tips brushed the building’s roof.
“I am not,” the giantess growled, “a fucking pixie.”
Peterman started to run for the door; Juniper gestured with her free hand and he rose into the air, kicking wildly and flailing, hanging as if suspended from a rope.
“Now,” she said to the demon, “about that finger-chewing.” She brought her other hand to grab his wrist, and lifted his hand up to her muzzle.
The demon tensed, then snarled, flinging Jeve to the side.
Jeve yelled as he sailed through the air, and Juniper let go of the demon, gesturing the same way she had for Peterman. Jeve stopped as if he’d hit a wall of pillows, hanging in mid-air.
The demon rose to his full height, punching a hole through the roof contemptuously. “Perhaps I’ll have both you and the wizard,” he said. “You’re a pretty enough creature.”
“I’m flattered.” Juniper rose to her own full height, knocking pieces of the roof out of the way. The demon came only to her chest level. “We’re going to attract quite a crowd this way.”
“That is not my concern. And your wishes are not my concern, either.” He raised his hands, lightning forming between them, then smashed his open palms against the coyote’s chest. She yelped, staggering backward, and crashed to her knees. Girders and track lengths crashed to the floor, tumbling and destroying more of the warehouse walls that Juniper’s paws hadn’t just plowed through.
“You may not be a pixie, coyote girl, but you are no match for an arch-demon. This night may be far sweeter than I had—”
Juniper snarled, launching herself into the demon. He toppled, the coyote spirit on top of him; the force slid both giants through the front of the warehouse, over where the office was and out across the waterfront street. Jeve heard screams from outside now. “I think we’re quite failing to be circumspect at this point,” he muttered, and formulated a hasty spell under his breath to lower himself to the ground.
“You know what I’m not, but it’s time you get a clue what I am,” Juniper snarled, trying to pin the demon.
He snarled back, shoving the larger but much slimmer giantess off him. “I do not care what you—are—” He stopped speaking abruptly.
Jeve strained to see. From what he could make out, the demon was looking directly into Juniper’s eyes.
“I did not realize,” the demon said, suddenly hoarse. “I do not want trouble with either Faerie Court.”
“Don’t worry about them,” Juniper growled, baring all her teeth. “You have trouble with me.”
The demon’s catlike ears folded back completely. Then he bared his own teeth and went for Juniper’s throat, rolling over on top of her. The coyote’s paws took out most of the neighboring warehouse in that direction.
The ensuing cloud of dust made it hard to see what was going on. Jeve cursed and ran toward the two fighting giants, skirting around rubble to grab his wand and then climbing over toppled girders to try to make it outside. He could dimly make out the demon rising to his full standing height, then Juniper rising to her own. A fire had started somewhere nearby, casting both sets of huge legs and feet in a devilish orange light.
He didn’t see what happened next, but Juniper screamed. It was an inhuman, blood-curdling noise; Jeve wasn’t sure how he knew it was hers, but he did. “Juniper!” he yelled out, then dived to the side as she staggered toward him, her huge paw sliding into the debris he’d just barely managed to climb past a moment ago.
Then that foot lifted off the ground, kicking wildly. Jeve stared stupidly at the huge paw before he realized that the demon had picked her up. The huge creature turned and hurled her out toward the water; there was a tremendous splashing sound followed by less of a spray of water than an airborne wave.
Jeve traced a sigil with his wand. “Don’t hurt my familiar, you bastard!”
The demon turned to face him, expression incredulous. “Your familiar?” he snarled. “You’re under the delusion that a Daoine Sidhe is—”
The blast of ice from the wand hit the demon full in the face. He stumbled backward, clutching his muzzle with both hands.
Water sloshed back over the whole of the street as Juniper pulled herself out of the water. A small shop that had been nearby—its stock likely already ruined by water damage—had the misfortune to be squarely where her left hand fell as she scrabbled for purchase; by the time she got to her feet, the tiny building had been simply erased, everything in it scraped into the water. Jeve doubted the coyote had even noticed: she was focused entirely on the demon, and the expression in her eyes would have sent the bravest general’s forces into panicked retreat.
The demon turned in her direction, but hadn’t quite cleared his face of the ice yet. Juniper leapt forward and grabbed him by the wing, pulling it down hard against the ground. He snarled, flailing with his arms, and she fell on him with a snarl that might have been just a little more frightening than his.
Jeve didn’t have the right angle to see what happened next, but he heard it. So did everyone else in the city, he imagined. The coyote-spirit’s earlier scream had been loud and frightening enough, but it was nothing compared to the scream of the demon. Windows blew out for a block in every direction.
He started to run again, but came to a halt just before the demon’s hand smashed down a few yards ahead of him, the stump where his finger had been gushing black liquid. Where it hit the ground, it sizzled.
Juniper rose to her huge height, standing up over the demon’s prone form, water cascading off her soaked fur. She was breathing hard, raggedly, staring down with not hatred as much as disdain.
“How dare—” the demon began, trying to sound imperious but sounding too clearly frightened to pull it off now. Juniper cut him off by stomping a broad canine paw down hard on his chest; his words ended in a choking noise.
“If you go after my wizard again,” she growled, panting, “I’ll bite off your head.”
The demon snarled, then disappeared in a cloud of sparks and brimstone. Juniper lost her balance and toppled forward, barely catching herself with her hands. Jeve found himself staring directly up at her chest. The slicked-down fur showed her curves off all too well. She did, however, smell like a hundred wet dogs.
He shook it off quickly and ran forward. “Good lord. Are you all right?”
“Oh, just great,” Juniper wheezed, before dropping onto her side, rolling onto her back and groaning. She lay there a few moments, catching her breath and staring at the sky. “I just rolled through another intact building, didn’t I?” she said at length.
“I’m afraid so.”
“Crap.” She groaned again and rubbed her forehead, then sat up. “It’s going to require some really serious work to make this look like a natural disaster.”
“Do you think that’s even possible?” Jeve said skeptically.
“How many fights between giants have you read about?”
“None, of course. But—” He stopped and stared at her, then raised his hands. “I really don’t want to know.”
“Of course you do.” She stood up, then winced.
“You’re hurt,” Jeve said, running over to one of her huge paws.
“I’ve been fighting an arch-demon. I’m a little banged up,” she muttered. “All right, let me go back to—”
“Please get me down!” Peterman wailed from where he remained in midair. Both Juniper and Jeve looked over at him.
“Of course. I’ll do that,” Juniper said, straightening up and starting to walk toward him very slowly. Jeve suspected she was putting effort into making each paw step thud as ominously as possible.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he blubbered. “None of it was my idea, it was my partner’s! My partner’s! He suggested that demon who was known to hunger for wizards. He found you, Mr. Galliway. He promised that—”
“I really don’t care what he promised,” Jeve said. “He was going to eat me alive. Do you have any idea how horrific that would be?”
Juniper had gotten to within a few yards of the hapless businessman; he wasn’t quite at her chest level, and she was looking nearly straight down, expression very… predatory. “Answer his question.”
“No, I don’t,” he whispered.
“Good,” she replied. “It’ll be a wonderful surprise.” She began slowly lowering her muzzle toward him, jaws opening slowly. And widely.
“No!” Peterman wailed, staring up and starting to flail his arms and legs frantically. “Mr. Galliway, I beg you—”
“You’d better beg her.”
Peterman’s vision at this point was mostly black lips, white teeth and a long coyote throat. “Please! We can—I can—” He trailed off as the jaws came down around him. He still hung in the air helplessly as her teeth closed behind him like a gate. “No! I beg you—M-miss Coyote—please—”
She tilted her head back, and Peterman began to scream. It cut off abruptly when she swallowed.
“Horrific,” Jeve said, sounding pleased rather than horrified. “I wonder if he’s still screaming.”
“I hope so,” Juniper muttered, seeming to sag, as if she’d used up the last of her energy terrorizing Peterman. Then she shimmered and abruptly became her normal size, still soaked. “That arch-demon would have done the same thing to him, you know. Sooner or later.” She jabbed her hand into Jeve’s chest, and blinked woozily. “And if you’ve got to be eaten alive by a magical being… I’m a… lot cuter,” she finished, and then fainted into her wizard’s arms.
Jeve sat back in the bar he’d first met Peterman in, having lunch—breakfast for him—and a glass of wine. Juniper lay at his feet, like before. She hadn’t spoken much since she’d recovered, although she’d glowered at the flirtatious barmaid when the woman had brought over the newspaper Jeve requested.
“Well, well. A fire on the docks last night, they say, that knocked out windows and sent columns of flame fifty feet into the air,” he read aloud to the coyote. “Extensive property damage to several buildings, and two missing people, a Mr. William Peterman and his employee, a Mr. Michael Stowbridge. Eyewitnesses describe the conflagration as incredible, and that at times it seemed like the flames and wind were alive and directed.”
“But no reports of giant animal creatures, demons and faeries.” He looked down at her speculatively.
At length the coyote lifted her head, looking back up into his eyes. I’m good at covering my tracks.
“I know,” he murmured with a half-smile. “And you make arch-demons nervous.”
When we met, I told you I was very powerful, didn’t I?
“Mmm.” He tapped the paper. “We have a mystery, you know. Who was Peterman’s partner?”
Stowbridge. She seemed quizzical.
“Ah, but Stowbridge was Peterman’s employee. And remember Peterman’s dying words?”
‘Miss Coyote please aaaaaaaaaaa,’ I believe.
He rolled his eyes. “He said his partner found that demon and found me. Me, specifically?”
Juniper tilted her head to the side and chuffed, looking thoughtful.
The waitress returned with his bill. “Here you are, Jeve.” She leaned over more than necessary as she handed it to him.
He glanced at it, and handed her coins that covered not only the check but a far-too-generous tip. “Keep the change, dear.”
“Oh, how lovely!” She grinned, straightening up. “I get off shift tonight at five. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to—”
“I think I’d be quite willing, my dear.”
Juniper rolled onto her back, paws in the air as if she were playing dead. Jeve shot her a warning glance; she gave him her best stupid-dog look and let her tongue loll out.
“Oh, your coyote’s so cute. See you tonight!” The barmaid gave a little wave and sashayed off.
When Jeve sat down on the bed that evening, Juniper—stretched out in her coyote-woman form again—bolted upright, eyes wide. “I didn’t hear you come in,” she said.
“I’ve been in the dressing room,” he said. “Given your hearing I think you’d know that.”
“I wasn’t paying that close attention.” She sank back on the bed on her side. “Well, have fun on your date. I can be… elsewhere… if you need the room.”
He stood up, shaking his head amusedly, then paused, looking back at her. Her eyes were just a little red.
“What?” she said, narrowing her eyes.
“You’re sure you’re all right with this?”
“Why wouldn’t I be? That’s a silly question.”
“You do tease me an awful lot about dating.”
“I tease you about raping you.”
“Yes, but you’re mean. So you’re all right with this date?”
“I just said yes,” she snapped.
“And you’ll say that even if I ask you three times, Miss Fae?”
Juniper crossed her arms, looking away. “Go. Shoo.”
“I’ll be back shortly,” Jeve said, and stepped outside the room, shutting the door gently behind him.
Instead of heading to the bar, though, he headed to a general store adjacent to the hotel, picking up a loaf of bread, a good aged cheese and salami, and a jug of red wine. He headed back up to the hotel room, after a stop by room service to furtively nab some plates and wine glasses.
When he opened the door, Juniper was curled on the bed, looking more feral than usual for her bipedal form. She lifted her head and just stared at him wordlessly as he set the food on the table.
“You’re bringing her here?” she finally said. Her voice had none of the assured smoothness it usually did.
“Who?” he said in a studiously innocent voice as he filled the glasses.
“Your date!” she gritted.
“Ah, but she’s already here,” he said, holding out his hand to her.
Juniper sat up and stared open-mouthed for a few moments, then wiped one of her eyes with the back of a hand-paw. She took his hand, and let him lead her over to one of the wooden chairs.
After dinner he cast a spell to get the room’s fireplace going, and they sat down on the bed, scooting back against the headboard. “If I cuddle against you,” Juniper murmured, “will you pull away?”
“Not if you answer me the question I have to ask after our adventure last night. Are you… are you really a Daoine Sidhe?”
She stiffened, frowning a little at him, then nodded once.
He let out a breath. “Goodness.”
Without waiting for prompting, she stretched out against him. Hesitantly, he put an arm around her, then both arms as she nestled in.
“This is nice,” she murmured.
“I admit it. It is.”
Her strong tail wagged slowly. “Are we going to have sex now?”
“No,” he said with a faint smile.
“Okay, not on the first date. How about a kiss?”
Jeve laughed. “I’m not sure—”
She put a finger pad to his lips to stop his protest. “Thank you for a very lovely evening. Now, pet, kiss your familiar.”
He did.Comments powered by Disqus