Why Julie? Why now? Was that thing her mother, turned into something by the coven's magic?
"Julie, does that thing look like your mother?"
She shook her head, locked her arms over her knees and began to rock. She could only move an inch or two squeezed into that narrow space. "Gray. Muddy, sliding, shifting, nasty purple gray."
"Gray like the skeleton. Nasty..."
"Julie, what's gray?"
She looked at me with haunted eyes. "Her magic. Her magic's gray."
Oh God. "What color is a werewolf's magic?"
A sensate. A living m-scanner, who could see the magic, very rare, very valued. I had her with me the whole time. I knew there was something magic about her, but between metal dogs and infected boyfriends, I never got a chance to ask. "That thing, she's gray and purple? Did you say purple? Like a vampire?"
"Weaker. Pale purple."
Purple was the color of undeath. If the creature was indeed undead somehow, she had no consciousness. Someone had to control her, the way Masters of the Dead controlled the vampires.
"Julie, you have to come out. I can't protect you if you're here hugging the toilet. Get up."
"She'll get in. She'll kill me. I don't want to die."
"You will die if you stay here." I held out my hand. "Come on."
"Come on, Julie! Show that bitch you have some backbone."
She bit her lip and took my hand. I pulled her up.
"Use it. It will keep you sharp. In the Honeycomb, why didn't the magic grab you?"
It took her a second to shift gears. "I blended. I made it think I was the same as it was."
"Blend with me, then." Mimicking a different type of magic would camouflage Julie's mind, forcing the creature to concentrate on the magic object instead. Like hiding a weak light in the flare of a strong one. That thing couldn't target her mind if it couldn't sense it.
She shook her head. "I can't. I've tried already. Your magic's too strange."
Shit. Another side effect of my screwed-up heritage. It wasn't enough that I had to burn my bloody bandages so nobody could identify me, but now I couldn't even shield a little kid. What did I have that she could blend with? There were a half dozen enchanted artifacts in Greg's collection but nothing that exuded enough magic to hide her.
I dashed to the kitchen, swiped Slayer off the table, and sprinted back to the bathroom. Julie's face had gone blank. I thrust Slayer into her hands and barked, "Blend!"
Awareness snapped back into her eyes. I felt the magic creep to the blade. Julie's breath came out in ragged gasps.
A barely perceptible change took place within the magic field. She took a deep breath. "Okay," she said. "Okay."
The creature screeched in frustration.
I hugged Julie to me. Physical danger I could deal with, but having Julie turned into a zombie would've screwed things up beyond repair. As long as we could keep that bitch out of my kid's head, we had a chance. She clamped the sword with both hands, face pinched, concentrating on the blade.
I steered her to the doorway. "Let's go."
We stepped from the bathroom. The creature's lavender eyes focused on Julie. It licked the ward, burned its tongue on the crimson, and recoiled.
I tried the phone. Dead. Why me?
"Giiirl. Want, want, need..."
The magic crashed. I took Slayer from Julie and tried the phone again. Still dead. Fuck me.
The creature's hair fell lifelessly about her. She clutched onto the bars to keep from falling. Yeah! Choke on tech, you piece of crap. No tentacle hair for you.
The creature thrust her legs against the wall and heaved. The bars bent with a long, tortured screech.
Julie darted into the bedroom. Now wasn't a good time to hide. First rule of bodyguard detail: know where your "body" is at all times.
The creature heaved again. The bars parted.
I stepped into the kitchen. First I'd deal with my lovely new window ornament and then I'd go and dig Julie out from under the bed.
Julie reappeared with her knife in her hand. Her fingers shook, making the point of the dagger dance. She planted herself behind me and bit her lip.
They would not get this girl. Not today. Not ever.
Something hit the door with a solid thump. Julie jumped.
"Steady. The door's solid. It'll hold." At least for a few minutes. I stepped deeper into the kitchen and moved a chair out of my way, giving myself space to work.
At the window, the creature tasted the air with her tongue like a snake and thrust her head into the gap.
I jumped onto the table and sliced her head off in a classic executioner stroke.
The head thudded on the table and rolled to the floor. The body froze halfway through the bars. Thick reddish slime slid from the stump of the neck in a slow gush. An oily stench of rotten fish and bitter, stale seawater spread through the room.
I picked up the head by the tangle of hair and stuck Slayer's point into the left cheek. The flesh sagged a little, liquefied by the saber's magic. Nothing as obvious as what the blade would do to a vampire, but Slayer's magic affected it. Thin tendrils of smoke rose from the saber's blade. Julie was right. Definitely an undead, but not as undead as a vampire. Perhaps, she was just mostly undead. Could you even be mostly undead?
The door splintered, vomiting chunks of wood onto the hallway carpet. I dropped the head, grabbed Julie by the shoulder, and shoved her to the left, behind the wall.
The last of the wood fell from the frame. A twin to the creature I had just shortened by a head stepped into my apartment, half-hidden by the black hair drooping to her ankles.
The magic surged back up, banishing technology. My spell flared shut, two seconds behind the monster. Life wasn't fair.
Pale silvery fire ran down the creature's hair. The glossy strands shivered, stretched...
I shifted my grip on Slayer.
Coils thrust, catching the door to the bathroom. Slowly the hair parted, revealing flesh that glowed like a beacon. Feeble radiance shimmered along the creature's skin, elusive yet hypnotic, like a swamp light, like a glimpse of a mermaid beneath the waves. She held out her hands. The glow rippled down her ankles and spread in a ghostly, gossamer semblance of a fish tail.
"Girl?" Her voice floated. "Girl?"
"No girl! Get out of my house, you crazy bitch."
The creature leaned forward, her arms ready for an embrace, her lavender eyes full of cold amethyst fire. Thin, flexible...Ten to one, I had pulled Bran's bolts out of her sister's skeleton.