“I just got off shift,” he said, gaze not leaving Eilahn. “I’d be glad to help you look. What’s your cat’s name?”
Eilahn shot me a glance, and I masked a grimace. Crap. We hadn’t counted on anyone actually wanting to help us look for a cat in the middle of the night. “Erm, its name is Fuzzykins.”
The demon’s expression didn’t change a whit, but I could feel the withering Fuzzykins? That’s the best you can do? as clearly as if we’d shared a telepathic bond. Damn good thing we didn’t. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to know what she was thinking most of the time.
“Fuzzykins,” the officer repeated, grinning. “I love it. I’m Tim, by the way,” he said to the demon. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Eilahn,” she replied with an easy smile.
“Nice to meet you, Ellen,” he said. I bit back a smile as her eyes narrowed at his mispronunciation. “So, what’s this cat look like?”
Her eyes flicked back to me. Damn it. I was on the hook again. “It’s, um, a calico.” Those were sort of rare, weren’t they? “Without a tail.”
“A calico Manx. Well, that shouldn’t be hard to miss,” he replied with a laugh.
Ah, hell. He really did intend to help us look for this nonexistent feline. So much for getting the warding finished tonight.
“Tim,” Eilahn said with a tilt of her head. “Perhaps you could run to the store for us and purchase some food for Fuzzykins to help lure her out.” She gave him a smile that even dazzled me. I quickly dug in my pocket and came up with a battered twenty-dollar bill that I passed to her. In turn she pressed it into his hand without ever breaking eye contact, letting her fingers linger on his.
The poor boy never had a chance. Half a minute later he screamed off in his cruiser.
I cocked my head and regarded the demon. “How the hell did you learn how to do that?”
Her brow furrowed in puzzlement. “Do what?”
“That smile-seducey, make-men-drool thing.”
She tossed off a shrug. “I read a lot.”
Damn. I needed to hit the bookstore.
I moved to the corner and peered down the street. A damp and chilly breeze ruffled the wrinkled tinsel wrapped around the lamp posts. One of the eyes of an illuminated reindeer flickered on and off, making it look like it had a twitch. A dog barked somewhere several streets away, but otherwise the smooth silence remained unbroken. No cars. No one to see us.
Eilahn turned back to the chain of arcane symbols, then paused, eyes narrowing. A whisper of arcane brushed over me even as a scuff of sound from the roof drew my attention upwards. I barely had time to note a black shape swooping down before Eilahn leaped at me in a flying tackle.
I remembered to tuck my limbs in, and somehow she managed to roll with me so that I didn’t hit the ground in a painful sprawl. The attacking demon was fast though. In the next instant it was on us, one clawed hand seizing my left bicep, and its other three on Eilahn. I tried to bite back the yelp of pain as one of its claws pierced skin. This was a graa—easy enough to recognize with its multiple arms. Hopefully this one only had the four. I’d seen some that had as many as eight—multi-jointed and ending in strange hands consisting of a thumb and two fingers, each tipped with curved claws. They looked almost spider-like—if spiders had wings like roaches and heads like crabs and hindquarters like a lizard.
Twisting, I tried to wrench my arm out of its grip, but I might as well have been a kitten trying to escape a lion’s mouth. Eilahn seized something on its head that looked like a spicule or antenna and yanked harshly, wringing a hiss like a teakettle from it. The three of us rolled in a weird tangle of arms and legs and claws—a strangely quiet fight, punctuated only by my breathless cursing and the graa’s hissing and snarling. They didn’t have vocal cords, and one of the reasons I rarely summoned this species of demon was because I had such a fucking hard time understanding them.
Eilahn had broken two of the demon’s arms, but now it was doing its best to slash a claw across her throat while she struggled against it, her own face set in a fierce rictus. I wasn’t wearing my duty weapon, but I had my backup piece in an ankle holster. It took a few more seconds of Twister-worthy contortions, but I finally managed to yank the little Kel-Tec .32 out of the holster, shove it against the demon’s midsection, and fire.
The demon let out a whistling shriek and released us both. I rolled aside, gasping raggedly, but Eilahn apparently had no desire to let it recover to attack another day. Her face twisted into a silent snarl as she pinioned three of the arms together. The fourth arm flailed uselessly against the pavement as the graa whistled and thrashed.
“Again, Kara,” Eilahn said calmly. “The side of the head should be sufficient.”
I staggered to my feet and shoved the gun against the creature’s head. It went still, oddly human eyes blinking at me, then it shuddered and looked away.
“Forgive me,” I murmured. This demon wasn’t attacking me for personal reasons. It had been summoned, and a bargain had been set for it to perform this service. My true vendetta was against whoever had sent it. But I had to do this, and there was no way it wouldn’t hurt the demon.
I fired once. The demon jerked, breath going out of it like a pierced balloon. Eilahn released it and straightened, standing over it as its limbs twitched and then went still. I stepped back as white light began to stream from the holes in its torso and head. Cracks appeared in its skin and the light flared to blinding levels. A heartbeat later a ripping crack split the air, and the demon was gone, leaving behind only the sour smell of ozone and a rancid perfume of rotted flowers.
With a shaking hand I hurriedly shoved the gun back into my holster and scooped up the two casings, stuffing them deep into a pocket. I knew I hadn’t actually killed the demon. Since it wasn’t of this plane I’d simply sent it back to the demon realm. It wasn’t a threat anymore—at least for now. That was the important thing.
“Are you injured?” Eilahn asked, gaze sweeping over me. I shook my head, then winced at the sound of running footsteps. I’d been hoping that the pop of my little gun wouldn’t be enough to draw attention, but apparently even a .32 was significant.
“Look annoyed,” I warned her as two uniformed officers came cautiously around the corner with their guns drawn.
“It was firecrackers,” I called to them, fixing a scowl to my face as I held up my badge. “Some assholes thought it would be funny to throw firecrackers out of their car at us.”
Both officers relaxed at the sight of my badge and holstered their weapons. “They’re lucky you didn’t pop them back,” one said, matching my scowl.
“No shit,” I agreed, adding a fervent snort for emphasis. “If my gun wasn’t in my car, I might have.”
Fortunately they seemed satisfied with our explanation, and didn’t look around for any detritus that firecrackers would have left behind. Probably helped that I’d had my badge ready to flash, and there was no reason to doubt my story. After the pair walked back toward the squad room entrance Eilahn turned to me.
“You are bleeding,” she said, a small frown pulling at her mouth.
I glanced down at my arm. My jacket was black so the blood was almost impossible to see, but there was definitely a rip, surrounded by a darker spot. When I touched it my fingers came away sticky. Scowling, I shrugged out of the jacket. “Damn. I liked this jacket.” I had on a long-sleeved grey shirt underneath, but I didn’t have any sentimental attachment to it. Hooking my fingers into the small tear, I ripped it wider.