Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson #9)

by Patricia Briggs

1

I sat up in bed, a feeling of urgency gripping my stomach in iron claws. Body stiff with tension, I listened for whatever had awakened me, but the early-summer night was free of unusual noises.

A warm arm wrapped itself around my hips.

“Mercy?” Adam’s voice was rough with sleep. Whatever had awakened me hadn’t bothered my husband. If there were something wrong, his voice would have been crisp and his muscles stiff.

“I heard something,” I told Adam, though I wasn’t certain it was true. It felt like I’d heard something, but I’d been asleep, and now I couldn’t remember what had startled me.

He let me go and rolled off the bed and onto his feet. Like me, he listened to the night. I felt him stretch his awareness through the pack, though I couldn’t follow what he learned. My link to the Columbia Basin werewolves was through simple membership, but Adam was the Alpha.

“No one else in the house is disturbed,” he said, turning his head to look at me. “I didn’t sense anything. What did you hear?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Something bad.” I closed my fist on the walking stick that lay against me. The action drew Adam’s eyes to my hands. He frowned, then crouched beside the bed and gently pulled the walking stick away.

“Did you bring this into bed last night?” he asked.

I flexed my fingers, frowning with annoyance at the walking stick. Until he’d drawn my attention to it, I hadn’t even realized that it had, once again, shown up where it shouldn’t be. It was a fae artifact—a minor fae artifact, I’d been told.

The stick was pretty but not ornate, simple wood shod in etched silver. The wood was gray with age, varnish, or both. When it had followed me home like a stray puppy the first time, it had seemed harmless. But fae things are rarely what they seem. And even very minor artifacts, given enough time, can gain in power.

It was very old magic and stubborn. It would not stay with the fae when I tried to give it back to them. Then I killed with it—or it had used me to kill something. Someone. That had changed it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I’d given it to Coyote.

My life so far has been a learning experience. One thing I have learned is: don’t give magical things to Coyote. He returned it, and it was . . . different.

I opened and closed my hands several times; the fierce knowledge that something was wrong had faded. Experimentally, I reached out and touched the walking stick again, but my fear didn’t return.

“Maybe I just had a nightmare,” I told him. Maybe it hadn’t been the walking stick’s fault.

Adam nodded and set the walking stick on the top of my chest of drawers, which had become its usual resting place. Shutting it up in a closet had seemed rude.

He came back to the bed and kissed me, a quick, possessive kiss. He pulled back and looked at me, to make sure I was okay.

“Let me just take a look-see around the place to make sure.” He waited for my nod before he left me alone.

I waited for him in the dark. Maybe it had been a nightmare, or maybe something was wrong. I thought about the things that could be triggering my instincts—or things I was worried about.

Maybe something was wrong with Tad and Zee—that would explain the walking stick’s presence in my bed. The walking stick could be concerned about them—they were fae. At least, Zee was fae.

When one of the Gray Lords who ruled the fae had declared independence from the human government, the fae had retreated to their reservations. Zee, my old friend and mentor in all things mechanical, had been forced to go to the Walla Walla reservation, which was about an hour away.

The fae barricaded themselves inside the walls the government had built for them. For a month or so, they’d let the humans figure out that the walls weren’t the only things that protected the reservations. The Walla Walla reservation had all but disappeared, hidden by illusion and magic. The road that used to lead to it no longer did. Rumor had it that when people tried to find it by airplane, the pilots forgot where they were going. Satellite photos were a gray blur for an area far larger than the reservation had occupied.