I sighed. When we found Esmeralda, she and I would have a nice long talk. "You don't really get rich from worshipping. Especially not Morrigan."
"What kind of a goddess is she?"
"Celtic kind. Old Irish. There are a few versions of her, so I'll tell you what I think might be close to the truth. Morrigan is three goddesses rolled into one. She changes depending on what she wants to do. Kind of like putting on different outfits. It's called having divine aspects. Sometimes she is the goddess of fertility and prosperity and her name is Annan. I'm guessing that's the aspect your mom worshipped. Annan also guides dead people to their resting place in the Otherworld. That's the place where the Celtic dead live. The second aspect is Macha. She oversees kingship, governance, and horses. The third aspect is Badb, the great battle crow." I paused. In light of Julie's missing mom, mentioning that the Badb drank the blood of the fallen and reveled in the slaughter was not a good idea.
"I've forgotten what the first one is called." Julie's voice gained a slight sleepy thickness. Excellent. She needed sleep and so did I.
"It doesn't really matter. They're all Morrigan."
"Who did she battle?"
"Fomorians. That's the thing to remember about gods: they always have someone to fight. Greek gods fought Titans, Viking gods fought Frost Giants, and Irish gods fought Fomorians, the sea-demons. Morrigan kicked a lot of butt, and finally the Fomorians were driven into the sea." My Celtic mythology was a bit rusty. I'd have to brush up the first chance I got. Nobody could hope to remember all of the mythological heavyweights, so the trick wasn't to know everything. The trick was to know enough to figure out where to find the rest.
"So why can't you get rich worshipping her?" Julie yawned.
"Because Morrigan doesn't grant wishes. She makes deals. That means she always wants something in return." Only fools made bargains with deities.
She closed her eyes. Good. Sleep, Julie.
"How did your mom die?"
I opened my mouth to lie. The response was automatic: I hid my blood, I hid my magic, and I hid the truth of where I came from. But for some odd reason, the lie didn't come out. I wanted to tell her the real story. Or at least a part of it. I never spoke of it and now the words itched my tongue.
What's the harm? She was only a child. It would be like a twisted good-night story. She would forget it by morning.
"I was only a few weeks old. My father and mother were running away. A man was chasing them. He was very powerful and evil. My mother knew that of the two of them my dad was the stronger one. She was slowing him down."
My voice shook a little. I didn't expect the words to be so hard.
"So my mother gave me to my dad and told him to run. She would delay the evil man as long as she could. He didn't want to go but he realized it was the only way to save me. The evil man caught my mom and they fought. She stabbed him in the eye, but he was very powerful, and she couldn't kill him. And that's how my mother died."
I tucked the blanket around her.
"That's a sad story."
"It is." It's not finished, either. Not by a long shot.
She patted the afghan still on my lap. "Did you make this?"
"It's nice. Can I use it?"
I put it on her. She kicked the blanket off and wrapped herself in the afghan, like a little mouse nesting. "It's soft," she said and fell asleep.
A VOICE SPREAD THROUGH THE APARTMENT, PURE like a crystal bell, sweet like honey, soft like velvet. "Girl...Want girl."
I opened my eyes. The magic was up, setting the bars on the windows aglow with ethereal bluish light. I saw Julie slip into the hallway, a ghostly, silent shape in the darkness of the night-drenched apartment.
"Girl..." It was coming from the outside.
My fingers found Slayer's textured hilt. I took it, rose, and followed her.
"Need girl...Girl...Want girl..."
Outside the kitchen window, a pale shade floated an inch from the glass and my ward. Female, with a delicate, almost elven face and a heartbreaking body, she looked into my house with lavender eyes. Her skin glowed with a faint silver radiance. Improbably thick, long hair streamed from her head, coiling like tentacles. "Giiiirl," the creature sang, stretching her arms to the window. "Neeed...where, where?"
Hi. And what kind of screwed-up beastie would you be?
On my kitchen table, crouched atop a crumpled curtain, sat Julie. She had worked the window latch open and was trying to pry the mechanism securing the iron grate.
I put Slayer down and took Julie by her waist. She clutched at the bars.
The creature hissed. Her jaws unhinged with reptilian flexibility, baring rows of anglerfish teeth in a black mouth. A strand of her hair whipped at the window, aiming for the kid. The ward reacted with a pulse of angry carmine. The creature jerked in pain.
I pulled on Julie. "Julie. Let go."
Julie snarled something wordless and charged with fury. I dug my heels in and pulled harder, throwing all of my strength and weight into it. Julie's fingers slipped and I almost crashed to the floor. She kicked, struggling like a pissed-off cat. I dragged her off into the bathroom, dumped her into the tub, and slammed the door shut behind us. With a howl, Julie launched herself at me. Her nails raked my arm. I grasped her by the back of the neck, forcing her down into the tub, and opened the cold water tap. She writhed under my hand, spitting and biting. I dunked her under the stream and held her there.
Gradually her convulsions subsided. She whimpered and went limp.
I shut off the water to a trickle. Julie drew a long shuddering breath and sobbed. Slowly tension leaked from her muscles. "I'm okay," she gasped. "I'm okay."
I pulled her from the bathtub and put a towel on her head. She trembled and hugged herself.
I opened the door and glanced out. The lavender-eyed thing hovered by the kitchen window, her eyes fixed on the door. She saw me and hissed again.
Julie sank to the tile, squeezing into the narrow space between the toilet and the bathtub, chopstick legs sticking out. "She was in my head. She's trying to get back in right now."
"Try to shut her out. We're safe behind the wards."
"What if the magic falls?" Julie's eyes widened in pure panic.
"Then I'll cut her head off." Easier said than done. That hair would grab me like a noose. It's hard to cut hair unless it's held taut.
"Shut the hell up!"