"Disaster," Raphael supplied.

The Sisters of the Crow. It was a terrible name for a coven.

Andrea shook her head. "Those idiot Sisters couldn't actually be that ignorant. Fumbling spells - yes, but screwing up enough to accidentally pray to the wrong deity? Morfran and Morrigan aren't even of the same gender."

"Maybe they started out praying to Morrigan, and then fumbled just enough to give Morfran an opening. Maybe Morfran managed to make a deal with Esmeralda. She wanted knowledge and he offered it to her. Taliesin, Morfran's half brother, served as a druid for King Arthur after Merlin. It follows that Morfran was probably also a druid. Who else would've taught Esmeralda druidic rites?"

Andrea leaned forward. "Okay but to what purpose? Why go through all that trouble?"

"I don't know. If you were a god, what would you want?"

I refilled Aunt B's teacup and then my own.

"Life," Raphael said.

"I'm sorry?"

"I would want life. All they do is look down on us from wherever they exist but they never get to take part. Never get to play."

"It doesn't work like that," Andrea said. "Post-Shift theory says a true deity can't manifest in our world."

"You see reports of deities all the time," Raphael said. He was kneading her shoulders again.

She shook her head. "Those aren't actual true deities. They're conjurer's constructs, wicker men for their imagination. Basically magic molded into a certain shape. They have no sense of self."

My brain had difficulty wrapping around the fact that deities actually existed. I knew the theory as well as anybody: magic had the potential to give thought and will substance. Faith was both will and thought, and prayer served as the mechanism to merge them and to catalyze the magic, defining it much like a spoken incantation defined the will of the in-cantor. Practically, it meant if many people had a specific enough image of their deity and prayed hard to it, the magic might oblige and deliver the deity into existence. The Christian God or the neo-Wiccan "goddess" would probably never gain an actual form, because the beliefs of their faithful were too varied and their power was too nebulous, too encompassing. But something specific like Thor or Pan could theoretically come to life.

I held that "theoretically" like a shield between me and Morrigan and Morfran. Few things are more frightening than the thought of your god coming to life. There is no such thing as privacy between a deity and his worshipper. There are no secrets, no glossed-over failures. Only promises kept and abandoned, sins committed and imagined, and raw emotion. Love, fear, reverence. How many of us are ready to have our lives judged? What would happen if we were found wanting?

Andrea's voice penetrated my thoughts. "First, most people imagine their deity within some magical realm. I mean, what worshipper pictures Zeus strolling down the street with a thunderbolt under his arm? To manifest on Earth would require independent will on the part of the deity. That's a pretty big hurdle right there. Second, deities run on the faith of their congregations like cars run on gasoline. The moment the magic ebbs, the flow of faith cuts off. No juice, no powers. Who knows what would happen to a god? They could hibernate, they could die, they could be jerked out of existence..."

In my head Saiman's voice said, It's magic time. Time of the gods.

"The magic is simply not that strong and the shifts are too frequent for a deity to appear..."

"Unless she does it during a flare," I said.

Andrea opened her mouth and closed it with a click.

"During the flare, when the magic is at its peak for several hours, a deity could manifest and vanish back to its hiding place before the tech hits."

Aunt B set her cup on the table. "If that's so, nothing good will come of it. Gods aren't meant to meddle in our business. Good or bad, we're running things our own way."

I looked at Andrea. "You said something really smart a couple of minutes ago, about the boy being reborn through the cauldron. Manifestation is a rebirth, in a sense. What if the cauldron is Morrigan's way into our world? A cauldron is missing from the Sisters of the Crow's gathering place. I saw the imprints of its legs and it was huge. I don't think even Curran could lift it. Who would bother to take a giant cauldron unless it was really important?"

Andrea sighed. "It makes sense, I suppose."

"One big problem with this theory. I have no clue how the Shepherd and Red's necklace fit into it. Everybody wants the necklace, but nobody will tell me why."

"Where is it now?" Aunt B asked.

"I put it into Curran's hand. He promised to keep it safe." I rose. "I'm going to chat with Morrigan's bowman. Andrea, you wouldn't watch my things for me while I do my hop and dance, would you?"

She got up, moving the chair back with a screech. "You don't even have to ask."

"Why not just ask the bowman?" Raphael said.

I smiled. "Because he's a thief and a liar. The Witch Oracle is neutral and will tell me the truth."

BEHIND THE BOUDA House LAY A NICE WIDE FIELD. In the middle of the field grew an old oak. Massive, its branches spread so wide they almost touched the ground, it cast a deep shadow in moonlight. Perfect.

"This isn't complicated." I headed to the oak, carrying a big ceramic bowl and a pitcher full of water. "I'm going to do some weird dancing. If all goes well, I should disappear."

"What do you mean, disappear?" Andrea followed me and Raphael followed Andrea.

"Go into the mist. A calling is a very old spell. It's used by witches to find their familiars. Usually it's done in the woods. The witch dances and her magic draws the most compatible animal to her. There are many variations of the spell. Some are tailored to draw a man, although in my experience nothing good ever comes from that one. Some draw the caster to a specific person. It won't work with a normal person, otherwise I'd be where Julie is right now, but Bran is so saturated with magic, he should be able to pull me to him."

I unzipped my leather vest and put it under the oak. Next I unbuckled Slayer's sheath and handed it to Andrea. Boots and socks followed the leather. Technically the dance worked best when done naked, but I didn't feel like prancing in the nude into Morrigan's Hound's arms. I'm sure he'd be thrilled to see me.

I stood with my toes touching cool slick grass and took a deep breath. I knew how to do a calling. Someone had taught me a very long time ago, so long, I couldn't even remember who or when, and I've seen a couple of them done. I'd just never done one myself.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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