I took three big steps back and palmed my gun. “You don’t have to tell me twice.”
The mage whispered something under his breath. A pop sounded, and a small plume of smoke rose from the cage. The bird came to life in an explosion of avian rage. Terrible screeching filled the space. A blizzard of white feathers blew around the room. The owl’s body slammed against the bars of his prison.
When the chaos began, Adam jumped out of harm’s way to join me at the doorway. “He keeps that up and the whole thing’s going to tip over.”
The cage already had scooted four inches toward the edge of the table. I nudged Adam’s ribs. “Maybe you should put it on the floor.”
“I’d prefer to keep all my fingers, thanks.” He waggled the digits in question. The room tingled with magic that made the hairs on my arms prickle as the cage rose from the table. The bird’s furious movements made the whole thing wobble in the air. But a few moments later, the cage safely touched down on the linoleum.
“There,” Adam said, brushing his hands together.
I cringed. “Oh, shit, you’ve angered it.”
“Me? He hissed your name.”
For some reason, a memory from that night in Jackson Square with Lavinia flashed into my head, giving me an idea. “Hold on,” I said. “I want to try something.” I took a step closer to the cage. Stryx flung himself against the bars. Showing no fear, I paused and looked directly at the owl. “Master Mahan.”
“Hoot?” Instead of the evil hiss of before, the owl’s call now sounded plaintive, a little sad.
“What the ….. ?” Adam said, looking confused.
“The other night every time Lavinia said that name Stryx did the same thing. What do you think it means?”
Adam rubbed the patch of hair on his chin. “Well, we know Stryx works for the Caste, right? Damara told us that back in New York.” Damara was Rhea’s magic apprentice who had been secretly working with the Caste to try and kill me. At the end, she’d sung like a canary and shared all sorts of interesting tidbits about her connection to the Caste. Except for the trying-to-get-me-killed thing, she was really not much more than a misguided, naive girl. Too bad her choices got her killed. “Maybe the truth is Stryx really belongs to Master Mahan.”
“Like a pet, you mean?” I said, eyeing the owl dubiously.
Adam shrugged. “Maybe. I wish I knew more about this mysterious Caste leader. I mean, what kind of being would keep that as a pet?”
Before I could answer, Stryx hissed and rammed his head into the bars. He seemed even angrier, if possible. “The more immediate question is: Will the cage hold?”
Adam squinted at the bars. “Not sure. I can ward it so he can’t get out, but maybe we should secure it just in case.”
I pursed my lips and looked around the room. “What if we put the whole cage in something sturdy?” I nodded toward the far end of the kitchen.
“Sabina, don’t you think that’s a little cruel?”
I crossed my arms. “Adam,” I said, matching his tone. “He’s a godsdamned vampire owl from the depths of the underworld. Given the chance, he’d drain each of us dry and pluck out our eyes with his razorlike beak. So, no, I’m not particularly worried about stowing his cage in a broken refrigerator. Especially if it means we get a decent night’s sleep.”
Adam thought about it for a moment, his eyes on the fridge. While he pondered, Stryx kept up his berserker act. The cage squealed across the floor like nails down a chalkboard. Finally, the damned thing hit the edge of the cage so hard it slammed into Adam’s foot. The mage yowled and jumped. I bent down to look at his foot and found a new hole in his boot leather courtesy of the aforementioned beak. The owl stilled. Then something that sounded specifically like an evil cackle rose up from the cage.
I glanced at Adam with an eyebrow raised. He scowled down at me like a judge handing down an order of execution. “Put the f**king bird in the fridge already.”
The next evening, we all gathered in the shop. Giguhl catnapped on the counter. In deference to his desire to be more involved, we’d come to an agreement about him staying in cat form while in the public areas.
Zen and Brooks discussed inventory over by a display of voodoo dolls. I leaned against the counter, chugging cow’s blood, and tried to shake the fog out of my head. Adam stood bleary-eyed behind the counter, nursing his coffee.
I wrinkled my nose at the cloying scent wafting up from the cat. “Giguhl, do you really need to wear that thing down here?” He wore a red chamois bag attached to his cat collar. Zen had anointed it with jasmine oil, which alone might have been okay, but mixed with sandalwood, comfrey, and gods only knew what else, the aroma was overpowering.
The cat perked open one eye. “Don’t take your grumpiness out on me. It’s not my fault the stupid owl screeched all night.”
I scowled at the cat and took another swig of caffeine. My idea of sticking Stryx in the fridge the night before hadn’t been so brilliant, after all. The box kept him contained, all right, but instead of dampening the incessant banging and offended screeches, the hollow box amplified the racket. It hadn’t been so bad in my bedroom, since I could close the door. But the racket forced Adam and Giguhl out of the living room and into my bed. Around five a.m, they burst in and took over despite my vehement protests. I finally gave up when Adam reminded me that putting the bird on ice had been my idea. Therefore, I’d spent the majority of the day wedged in between a hot mage and a snoring demon.
Zen walked over and interrupted my grumpy woolgathering. “I take it you still haven’t figured out how to communicate with the owl?”
Adam sighed and set down his mug. “No. I tried to talk to it before we came down, but he wouldn’t stop hissing and scratching. You’d think he’d run out of steam at some point, but—” He shrugged and shook his head.
Zen pursed her lips. “Have you considered asking the spirits for help?”
“That’s not exactly my area,” Adam said. “But we’re open to suggestions.”
I leaned with my elbows on the counter, both eager to hear the voodooienne’s ideas and resentful that we needed a human’s help to find my sister. However, the sad fact was, despite my mage heritage, I knew very little about magic. Sure, I’d had some preliminary training from Rhea, but the sum total of my skills included summoning Giguhl and the ability to immolate my enemies with my eyes. While the latter option held great appeal where Stryx was concerned, I wasn’t ready to give up on the possibility he could help us find Maisie.