Tengu regarded me with his eerily colored eyes for a long moment, as the koi splashed noisily in the pond. “You say your magic is random and stupid. Does this mean you had no intention of cursing Jack?”
“Of course I didn’t mean to hurt him!” This time I couldn’t help my shout. Did they really think I would attack someone I thought of as a friend?
“Yet, you were trying to shut him up,” Furfur pointed out. He’d stopped his incessant pacing to lean against the vine-covered wall. In the courtyard behind him, I thought I detected the flash of black and white feathers. Magpies? Sarah Jane’s gang? Had they come to seek revenge?
Wishing the birds outside could hear me, too, I said, “Yeah, but that’s not the same, is it? It’s not like I even shoved him—either of them. I just said a swear word.”
“Yes, but it’s much more akin to a shove if you knew the curse would explode.” Tengu explained. With a glance at his partner, he said, “But it seems you did not.”
Furfur, who was thoughtfully pulling on his lower-lip, shook his head. “She stays here until we find the dragon. I’m not buying this just because it makes sense.”
“Yes, that’s very like you to deny logic and go on instinct,” Tengu said, sounding both irritated and appreciative. “But, she’s the only coroner.”
“Bodies can stay on ice,” Furfur said, pushing off the wall. “And we could call someone in from Minnesota. One of ours. Someone who actually understands magic.”
Still, I probably deserved that. Honestly, it would be nice if they called someone like that in. I clearly needed a mentor.
But…. “You guys aren’t planning on keeping me locked up in here, are you?”
“No,” Tengu said slowly standing up, “this is the interrogation room. We might need it. We’ll lock you up in a proper cell.”
“What? You’re arresting me?”
Furfur took a step forward. His hand shot out and his fingers curled around empty air, as if reaching for something. Fingers curled slowly around fiery sparks that materialized into shimmering handcuffs. The manacles glowed like molten lava. I watched in horror as the chain formed between them, and, as it was pulled from the aether, I swore I heard the screams of a thousand tortured souls.
I nearly fell backwards over the seat. I didn’t even remember standing up, much less trying to back away. Tengu’s arm caught my elbow sharply. “You’re under arrest for assaulting the techno-mage Jack and his familiar Sarah Jane.”
For all that it was forged of some kind of freaky Hellfire, the cuff was cold and heavy when it snapped around my wrist. Furfur had my other hand in his, the other cuff open and ready, but the screeching hiss of my tattoo made him pause. The snake’s mouth was wide open, showing its long, sharp fangs, poison dripping from the tips. Furfur’s gaze darted up to capture mine as if to say, ‘call it back.’
“I can’t,” I murmured. “It’s was never mine to start with. I have no control over it.”
“Useless,” he grunted. Furfur’s eyes narrowed and the flames around the edges of the cuff flared. Under my skin, I felt the snake cringing back. In a second, it retreated further up my arm, coiling around itself for protection. I now had a tattoo of a very irritated snake, its yellow eyes peering out from a thick bundle of scales that bunched from my forearm to my mid-bicep.
The second cuff snapped around my wrist with a horrible feeling of finality. Tengu, whose arms still held my elbow in a vise grip, said, “Time to see your new accommodations, Alex Connor.”
They led me to a door I’d never seen before. It was hidden under a thick growth of vines at the base of the amphitheater. Tengu raised a hand and started making complicated gestures while muttering in some language I didn’t know though I figured must be Japanese. As his fingers moved, trails of light started following them until I swore I could see a pattern of symbols.
A thud against the glass made me jump.
“What the…?” Furfur muttered, when the glass was hit with another thwump.
I twisted, trying to see around the two bulky suits. I thought I saw a big, black bird swooping in to throw itself hard against the glass. The magpie gang! What the hell were they doing? Were they trying to get to me first?
The door’s lock clicked open as Tengu said, “Go.”
Furfur stepped forward and held open the door as Tengu hustled me through to the increasing thumping of bird bodies hitting glass. Closing the door, Furfur said what I’d been thinking, “Seems you’ve made a few enemies.”
There wasn’t much I could say to that, so I just nodded. We’d stepped into a wide hallway. The walls were brick and mortar. Above us were exposed pipes and ductwork. I would have tripped on the uneven dirt floor, if the two agents weren’t holding me so tightly. As we walked, we passed a series of doors—some were wooden, some appeared to be stone—but all of them were different and each had been marked with their own special rune or symbol or… something.
“What is this?” I asked, “Where are we?”
“These are holding cells,” Tengu said. “Have you never been down here?”
I shook my head. They finally stopped in front of a forbidding black door. It seemed to be made of some kind of polished gemstone that, instead of reflecting the light of the overhead blubs, seemed to swallow it whole. In the center of it was blood red glyph, the edges of which was drooling and ragged, like it had been spray painted by an angry, inexperienced tagger.
Never had a simple door made me more uncomfortable in my life. I shrank back against the agents’ solidity and asked, “You’re not putting me in there?”
“We have no choice,” Furfur said. “Nothing else could hold a dragon.”
“But, I’m not—“
“But you are,” Tengu interrupted. “You may not understand or know yet how to wield it, but you are just that.”
As if on cue, the door swung open on its own. The hinges made a hollow, empty creak that echoed in the hall, and seemed to reverberate against my bones.
With a shove, I fell into a dark, gaping maw.
YOU ARE READING
Alex Connor thought that being the South Dakota Hughes County Coroner was going to be a boring cushy job. She didn't count on the fact that her first case would leave her with a magical, living tattoo and awaken her latent magical powers. Now she'...