Today, however, I was desperate. I didn’t get to be picky, or smart, today. I couldn’t count on both hands all of the reasons why it was a bad idea for me to see Dom. He was a domineering son of a bitch. He hated my guts. He had the power to mess up my life in all kinds of ways, and I tended to think he would use those powers. But the reason I was really desperate was more complex than any of that. Some bad shit was about to go down in this town. All signs pointed to a disaster headed our way on swift feet, and with our names on it’s smiling lips. Letting Dom find me at this point would be as good as dragging him right in the middle of it, domineering bastard that he was. He would turn Lynn and my issues from an ugly family skirmish into an outright World War, with himself right in the thick of it. I would go through some pretty unpleasant stuff to see that that didn’t happen, so I was desperate enough to attempt just about any other way to get the cursed geas off my wrist, and stay a step ahead and away from my Ex. And as ever, my head start would take it’s pound of flesh.

It was actually Caleb who had given me the crazy idea, months ago. Though it had hardly been relevant at the time, I’d taken note. He had mentioned, in an offhanded kind of way, that there was another way to deal with a geas, aside from just obeying it’s purpose. Lynn and I had scoffed at the time, though he wasn’t one to throw out misinformation. I remembered his words clearly, though. “A witch-hag could do it. It wouldn’t be pretty, but a powerful one has the ability. It doesn’t even take a human sacrifice, or at least, it doesn’t have to. I don’t know the specifics of the spell they use, but I do know what they charge for that sort of thing. A pound of flesh and a favor, bound by blood-oath. A steep price or a cheap one, I guess, depending on the geas.”

I parked several blocks away from the hag’s house, as though approaching it slowly would somehow make going into a viper’s den less idiotic. It was set up as one of the strange business/houses that were popular in the area. It was a particularly shabby little house, the yellowish stucco of the outside walls missing chunks, the faded red tiled roof missing half of the shingles. Business must not have been booming for the hag. The little sign out front read ‘Holistic Healing and Herbal Cures by Ethel’. Yeah, right. Ethel was well-known as the most powerful non-rogue witch-hag in the state, but even the legal hags had no talent for healing or curing. I had a very justified sick feeling in my gut as I opened her front door.

Ethel’s place was set up with a small waiting area attached to a tiny window, like a doctor’s office. If a doctor’s office looked and smelled like garbage, that is. The carpets were stained and ancient, the walls dirty and yellowed. One other ‘patient’ waited in the surprisingly large antechamber. From the outside, the house hadn’t looked as though it could hold even one room this large, and this was obviously only the waiting area, so I guessed there had to be several other rooms. The other patient was a dark-haired girl. She could have been anywhere from eighteen to twenty-five. She had stringy, dirty hair that trailed into her face as she read a gossip mag. She was small and mousy, buried in dark baggy clothes, and she didn’t glance up once from her magazine as I passed by her to reach the little window.

I checked the window and found that the little desk and messy office were vacant. I rang the little bell. It barely made a sound. I studied the other patient as I waited several minutes for a response.

Something was off about her, and my suspicious mind quickly started trying to piece together what it was. She was very still, and turned the magazine’s pages as though on a timer. I actually began to time her, and found that, sure enough, I was right. She studied each page for exactly one minute before turning the page rather absentmindedly. It was as though she had been placed there as a prop, which did nothing positive to my peace of mind.

I had nearly talked myself into leaving when an ancient looking woman hobbled into the small office space on the other side of the glass window. She smiled at me, a toothless grin. “Sorry for the wait, my dear. My secretary had to step out. I’m Ethel. How can I help you?”

I studied her for a moment before I spoke. She looked ancient, though that didn’t mean a damn thing. And her tone was kind, almost maternal. She made a very convincing grandmother type, which was unusual. Hag’s were typically as unpleasant as you’d have expected of women who’d sacrificed literally everything in their lives for some magical power.

I met her pale blue eyes as I answered. “I need something removed,” I told her frankly. I raised my wrist just enough to show her what I meant, hiding the object from the patient behind me.

Ethel’s eyes widened in surprised. “Oh, my, my. You’re in luck, my dear. I’m one of the few who can actually help you with that little nuisance. One moment, my dear.” Her tone was reassuring, but unsurprisingly, I was far from reassured.

I fidgeted and fought the urge not to bolt as I waited for a solid ten minutes. A door to the left of the windowed office opened to reveal the short hag. She beamed at me, a hideous sight. “This way, my dear. We’ll discuss your…difficulty in one of the healing rooms.”

I followed her hobbling form down the dingy hallway, studying her back as I trailed her. She was missing a foot, using some kind of prosthetic, I observed. On a witch-hag, that was a bad sign. It may have been missing from an accident, or countless other things, but it still made me antsy. If she had sacrificed body parts for power, it just made it more likely that she had done worse things, evil things, for the same purposes.

She led me into a shabby room that vaguely resembled an examination room at a doctor’s office. She waved for me to sit on a hard bench of an examination table. I did so, though every instinct that I had told me to get the f**k out of there. Following my instincts was a luxury on a week like this one.

She sat in a mock doctor’s chair, giving me her attention, a kindly look on her face. “As I said, I can help you with the geas, but I’ll need some information about it. And the price for such a task can be…difficult.”

I met her gaze steadily. “I figured as much. What do you need to know about the geas?”

She brightened. “So cooperative. I like you, my dear. I need to know the nature of the geas, the rank of the druid that placed it on you, and the nature of your own powers, of course. I’m well aware that you’re not human.”

I stiffened. I hadn’t anticipated that she would ask me outright what I was. It was common courtesy, among magic-users not to ask things like that. I supposed that coming to her for something so illegal sort of trumped the whole idea of courtesy. Double-fuck.

Tags: R.K. Lilley Heretic Daughters Vampires