Ink & Sigil | Chapter 22 of 45

Author: Kevin Hearne | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2902 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 15 u Sometimes, Ghost Dogs Are Too Much

Wards are like insurance policies in that you have them in hopes you’ll never need them. For one thing, if you need them, you’re being attacked. For another, you sometimes think you’re covered against something only to find out when it’s too late that you’re really not.

Standard procedure in my flat was to close all the doors, all the time, because they’re all warded. The windows leading outside were warded too. When the doors in the flat were closed, it functionally made my kitchen and living area the keep of the castle. Something might get past the outer walls, then—a distinct possibility, since I liked keeping windows open for fresh air as much as possible—but they’d still have to get past the warded doors to threaten me.

Saturday morning, I was in the kitchen with Buck, teaching him how to make French toast, when we heard snuffles and growls coming from the hallway bathroom. Buck caught my eye and said, “Is there sumhin ye’d like tae share with me about who ye brought home last night?”

Buck had been snoring on the couch when I came in late, and I found him still there when I came out to make coffee. I poked him awake and congratulated him on a spectacular pisstaking the night before and relayed both my acute embarrassment at the time and Brighid’s compliments. That brightened his morning immediately, but he looked less sanguine now.

I shrugged and shook my head, snatching up my phone.

[Do not open any doors, period.]

“Okay. What in nine hells is happening, then?”

I turned off the stove and removed the skillet from the heat before answering. [The bathroom window must have been open. Something got in.]

Buck followed me as I walked over to the door to listen a bit closer.

“Like what?” he asked. “That bathroom window is a wee thing, good for nothing but ventilating the noxious fumes of yer hole. Nothing can get through there but a pixie.”

[Or barghests.] With the ward rendered impotent by the open window, they could flow through the small space in their ghostly form and take on solid flesh when they had room to do so. The ones in my flat now snuffled at the crack beneath the bathroom door and growled again. One of them even scratched at it. The only thing stopping them from entering the open living area was the Ward of Spectral Abeyance I had on the door. They’d already be in the kitchen and tearing out Buck’s neck otherwise.

My hobgoblin turned a much paler shade of pink.

“Oh, shite,” he breathed. “Shite shite shite fuckity shite! They’re here for me, in’t they?”

[I imagine so.]

“What do we do?”

[Wrap some towels around your neck in case they get in. As many as possible. Deny them that target.]

Buck ran to the drawer where I kept them. “What else?”

[We need to determine how many there are and if they’re in the bathroom only or the other rooms as well.]

“How?”

[We listen. And don’t touch the doors.]

We crept forward together. Judging by the snuffles and Buck’s counting of noses near the floor, there were three barghests in the bathroom. I doubted there were more—even two was overkill in most cases—but it would be best to be thorough. No noses at the bottom of my master bedroom or the study. No noses at the bottom of the guest bedroom either, which was now Buck’s bedroom.

[Good job keeping the door closed,] I said. [This is exactly why we do it.]

“Well, aye, I’m gonnay follow the rules of the house, in’t I, when it’s gonnay keep me alive. The question is why ye left the bloody bathroom window open!”

[Noxious fumes of my hole, as you said.]

“But there’s people who want tae murder me!”

[This is actually good, Buck.]

“How? How is it good?”

[They’re not in the hallway of the building, terrorizing my neighbors. And since we know where they are and they have only one way forward, we can do something about them. We can craft a plan.]

“The plan is to wait until they get bored, right?”

[They won’t get bored. They’re on a contracted hunt. This is about meat and teeth and tearing into the first with the second. I can’t make them stop, because I’m not the contract holder.]

“Fine, we’ll just never use that bathroom until they starve tae death.”

[They’ll go out and eat in shifts. They’re single-minded but not stupid.]

“So you go out and fix it somehow.”

[You want me to leave you in here alone?]

“Fuck no! Don’t you dare leave me here alone!”

[Okay. I couldn’t go outside to fix this anyway. Think it through. We have a little time because they can’t get through that door until they shred it.] The scratches we heard were multiplying.

Buck took a deep breath and considered. “Well…could they get recalled by the contract holder?”

[Yes. But the contract holder is most likely Clíodhna. She would not show up at the home of a sigil agent to call off an illegal contract, because then she would be liable for a violation of the treaty between the Fae and humanity. So that’s out.]

“If I leave the flat, they’ll know it, right?”

[Definitely. They can smell you now and they’re locked on. Exit the flat and they will exit the bathroom and keep coming after you until you’re in their jaws.]

“Can ye put ’em in a magic jar or sumhin? A box made of wards?”

[Naw. Can’t be done. Spectral Abeyance keeps things out, not in. Line a container with the ward and then the ghost can’t get in the container. They’re not going to get in a container and politely wait for me to paint the wards inside to trap them.]

“So, what do we do? Kill them somehow?”

[Yes. Or we let them tear you apart. Those are the only options.]

“But I thought ye liked dugs.”

[I do. All the dugs who aren’t trying to kill my friends and me. I feel the same way about people. I think they’re great until they try to kill me.]

“Won’t Clíodhna just send more?”

[Maybe, but I doubt it.]

“Why?”

[Barghest contracts vary in value, but sending three of them at once is very expensive. It indicates that there’s some doubt that one or two will be enough and there might be loss involved. That ups the price considerably. And if all three never come back, well, there’s going to be a cost for that. The barghest handlers won’t want to deal with a person who’s going to send their animals out to be killed.]

“Ah, so she’ll have to try something else.”

[That’s my guess, yes. But first we need to solve this problem. Three barghests is a significant one.]

“Too right it is. How do ye kill one of them, much less three?”

[Same as any Fae: with iron.]

“I cannae use iron.”

[Yes, you can. You’ve been using my steel knives in the kitchen because you grip the wrapped handles. Pick two. I’m going to draw Sigils of Iron Gall on them and put that on my cane as well.]

A Sigil of Iron Gall would take the normal damage from a steel blade and, to paraphrase the immortal guitarist Nigel Tufnel, turn it up to 11—at least when applied to the flesh of the Fae. It accelerated the poison of iron in the blood and hastened their disintegration into ash.

“So yer plan is to open the door, let the dugs come at me, and I just stab them?”

[It’s a little more complicated than that.]

“Wot’s the plan, then?”

[Barghest fishing with Buck bait.]

The hobgoblin didn’t just shake his head; his entire body quivered with a shuddering negative. “Naw naw naw, see, the general idea in fishing is that the bait gets swallowed. I’m no gonnay stand for that.”

[Didn’t say you’d stand for it. Was rather hoping you wouldn’t.]

I filled him in on the plan and then left him in the kitchen to up his armor class with towels while I ducked into my study to paint sigils on the blades and my cane.

My fingers trembled with the brush as it hovered above the first knife, and I withdrew my hand and took a few deep breaths to calm down. I’d presented this to Buck as a quick fight, easy to win, but it wasn’t going to be easy at all. It would, for sure, be quick, one way or the other. Barghests do not circle around their prey or play with their food. They simply attack.

Sigils completed, my intestines made hungry noises. If we were going to be meals in a wee while, we might as well have our last meal. Insisting that it was necessary and I required the calories and blood sugar, I finished making French toast while the barghests bayed and scratched at the door, occasionally pounding at it with their huge paws. It rattled in its frame.

“I’m no hungry,” Buck said when I put a slice in front of him and poured on some maple syrup.

[One bite,] I said.

He groused but did it and gave me no compliments on its taste.

I tried mine, attempting to relax and enjoy it as murderous hounds howled for blood less than twenty feet away, but the toast tasted of tension, and I knew after a single bite that I wouldn’t be finishing it either.

Buck noticed and gestured to the door. “That shite affects the appetite, eh?”

I nodded and studiously did the dishes and set them to dry in the rack as Buck paced back and forth on top of my kitchen island, now swaddled in layers of towel around his neck and face, which might do very little to save him. But he gripped the two knives in his fists and looked willing to use them.

[Ready?]

“Almost,” he replied. “Look, ol’ man. If they get me, well…I just want to thank ye for a few extra days of life. Thank ye for trying tae make things right. It’s only been a wee while, but I can see I would have had a good thing going here. Ye’ve been kind tae me when ye didnae have tae be.”

Nodding an acknowledgment, I moved to the bathroom door, which faced the end of the kitchen island on which Buck stood. When I opened the door, the barghests would have a straight shot at him. And I would have a shot at them as they came out.

The living room would be stretched out along to their left from the kitchen area, giving Buck some room to operate.

Since it might be the last thing I ever said to him, I asked aloud, “Are ye ready?” The hounds sensed that they were going to get their chance soon. Their barking and tearing at the door intensified. Buck took a single deep breath, exhaled, then nodded.

I gave myself strength and agility sigils, twisted the handle, and pushed just enough to break the seal of the ward, and that’s all the barghests needed. They didn’t require the door to be flung wide open. They turned to ghostly mist and streamed over, under, and through both sides of the door. And I madly swung my carbon-steel cane with the Sigil of Iron Gall on it through the lot, hoping it would do some damage to them in their incorporeal form.

The barghests would have to become flesh in order to do Buck any damage, but they typically waited until the last possible moment to do that, since the relative invulnerability of ghostliness was something anyone would take advantage of if it was available.

As the first began to coalesce, Buck popped away from the island to the far side of the living room, thereby drawing the barghests away.

The clatter of the knives on the counter revealed a fatal flaw in our plan.

“Shite!” I heard him say. “I couldn’t teleport the iron, ol’ man!”

“Pick them up when ye come back!” I said. “Proceed as we planned!”

“This is gonnay be dodgy!”

“No way around it!”

Scrambling to the island as the ghost dogs banked left to pursue Buck, I planted myself in front of it, facing the living room and waiting. Buck popped himself back to the island as the hounds solidified and crashed into the far wall, their target gone. The hobgoblin muttered, “Shite, shite, shite!” as he scrambled to pick up his knives and the hounds whirled around to locate him.

My defensive strategy was to put myself between the hounds and Buck, and he’d put his back to mine on one edge of the island. The barghests could flow around me and over the top, perhaps, but the plain fact of the matter was that only one of them could fit on the island at a time. Buck would have a shot at using those knives and surviving the exchange if only one barghest could come at him.

That left the prospect of two coming at me, however, in their attempt to reach Buck from the floor.

Handling one was within the realm of possibility for me.

Not two.

The trio of ghost hounds growled, seeing me standing there with Buck peering over my shoulder at them and perhaps assessing their best options. They seemed to confer, exchanging glances and some assorted growls and barks. If they were feeling any of the Iron Gall I’d swiped at them in their ghost form, they weren’t showing it.

“Fuck,” Buck whispered. “Fuckity fuck fuck.”

“Steady,” I said.

Two of the barghests turned incorporeal and whooshed our way, while one remained flesh and charged straight at me. Out of necessity my focus had to remain on him, and I brought my cane down hard on his head and snout, causing him to cry out, and I realized a split second later that he was just taking one for the team. One of the other two barghests materialized just to my left and batted a massive paw at my face, claws raking down my cheek and nearly taking out my vision on that side. Buck and I and a barghest behind me all screamed at nearly the same time, albeit for different reasons.

As I staggered to my right, clutching my face with one hand and my cane in the other, the barghest who’d raked me eyed a spring at Buck, who cried out in pain as the bargest who’d taken shape on the island tried to bite him in half. The hound took two knives to the shoulders for his trouble and released the hobgoblin to wail about it, and once out of its magic-dampening jaws, Buck was able to pop away to the other side of the room, thwarting a pounce from the barghest who’d scratched me, leaving the one I’d conked on the head growling and clearly considering switching targets to me.

The barghest that Buck had stabbed kept yowling as the Iron Gall corrupted the very magic that allowed him to exist and systematically shut down his being. The other two swung their heads around to locate Buck, and as they did, the knife handles clattered back to the countertop. The barghest had turned to ash. One down.

Buck had not escaped unscathed. The barghest’s teeth had penetrated, and multiple puncture wounds bled through his clothing but thankfully not through his swaddled neck.

The poor wee man looked ready to collapse, though. I probably didn’t look much better.

“Again,” I said, and lunged forward, swinging with everything I had at the barghest who’d first charged me. He yipped, and this time, between taking another strong dose of Iron Gall and the sheer force of my magically boosted strength, he collapsed and crumbled to dust. Buck popped back to the island countertop and picked up the knives again, breathing heavily. The multiple teleports combined with his wounds were draining him quickly. The last barghest became mist as I tried to bat him down and missed so badly that it threw me off-balance. I crashed into my coffee table, but it wasn’t the easily broken sort you see in films. It was solid wood and sharp on the edges. Pain spiked in my back where I hit, and my right side went numb, a nerve cluster having been struck. The table won that battle, and Buck was on his own. I could push myself up to wish him luck and watch what happened but could do nothing to help in time.

The barghest swirled in a circle around him, trying to decide where to take shape—preferably behind him—and Buck waved his knives around and spun, refusing to give the hound a stationary target or a free shot at his back. He was wheezing and running on pure adrenaline, or whatever the hobgoblin equivalent to that was.

Buck eventually lost a step and the barghest thought he saw his chance. The hound became solid, his head cocked to one side and jaws opened wide, and he closed them on Buck’s body, trapping his right arm against his torso. The top row of teeth sank into Buck’s back and the bottom into his front, with the arm trapped in the middle, only possible because the hound was large and Buck was small. The barghest’s magic nullification prevented Buck from teleporting away.

The hobgoblin screamed as the barghest lifted him up in his jaws, but Buck’s left hand stabbed repeatedly into the side of the barghest’s neck and the top of its shoulder, because that’s all he could reach. The hound shook him left, then right, testing his weight, and what came next would be a rapid-fire thrashing about in an attempt to break Buck’s neck. But the hobgoblin flew out of the maw on the next shake to the left as the barghest came apart under the iron poisoning and added its ash to that of its companion.

The wee man flew, trailing blood, until he landed with a pained grunt on the sofa not far from me.

“Buck!”

“Auggh,” he groaned. “Ghost dugs are ma least favorite kind of dugs.”

“I understand. But at least we’re still here.”

“Maybe…not much longer. Auggh! It hurts.”

“Here.” I pulled out a Sigil of Healing and a Sigil of Knit Flesh, opening both before his eyes. “Have a look at these and stop bleeding on my couch.”

There was a soporific and an anesthetic quality to the healing sigil that sent Buck into unconsciousness after a few seconds, and his breathing steadied soon afterward; I was confident that he’d close up and get better from there.

The sigil cards in my hand were covered in blood because my hands were. The barghest’s claws had scratched deeper than I’d thought, perhaps reaching down to my neck, and I was starting to feel a bit dizzy from blood loss. I found another Sigil of Knit Flesh for myself to close everything up, but I was out of healing sigils and couldn’t make any more. Those inks were all at my office.

The strength and agility sigils wore off about the time that my wounds began to close up, and I felt drained and unsure if I could actually get to my feet. I struggled at it, however, using my cane to help, and once I was mobile I limped and moaned my way to the bathroom, where I closed the damn window. We did not want another pack of dugs or anything else coming in.

The interior of the bathroom door was shredded to splinters. It would have to be replaced, but it would hold for now. I took some multivitamins to aid my healing the old pharmaceutical way and drank plenty of water to replace my fluids, carefully not looking in the mirror, because I was scared of what I’d see. Then I exited and closed the door firmly, renewing the ward’s seal.

There was so much else to do—sweeping and sponging and mopping and calling Nadia to come and help—but I sat down on the couch next to Buck, or rather half-crashed there, for a short rest, since I could afford one now.

My hands began trembling after about twenty seconds and tears sprang up in my eyes, immediately stinging the wounds on my cheek. We had come so close to losing that one. And though what I’d told Buck earlier was true—we’d likely see no more barghests after this—I worried about what Clíodhna would send next.

To calm myself, I began inhaling deep lungfuls of air and exhaling slowly. I focused on my breathing, internalized the truth that I had utter control over my reaction to this crisis, and knew that I would heal and set things right.

I fell asleep soon afterward, blood-soaked skin and clothing and all, and dreamt of the most delightful French toast with sliced bananas, my mind trying to find a happy place while my body tried to deal with its trauma.

Usually my Saturdays went better than this.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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