Storm Born


Chapter One

I'd seen weirder things than a haunted shoe, but not many.

The Nike Pegasus sat on the office's desk, inoffensive, colored in shades of gray, white, and orange. Some of the laces were loosened, and a bit of dirt clung around the soles. It was the left shoe.

As for me, well...underneath my knee-length coat, I had a Glock .22 loaded with bullets carrying a higher-than-legal steel content. A cartridge of silver ones rested in the coat's pocket. Two athames lay sheathed on my other hip, one silver-bladed and one iron. Stuck into my belt near them was a wand, hand-carved oak and loaded with enough charmed gems to probably blow up the desk in the corner if I wanted to.

To say I felt overdressed was something of an understatement.

"So," I said, keeping my voice as neutral as possible, "what makes you think your shoe is...uh, possessed?"

Brian Montgomery, late thirties with a receding hairline in serious denial, eyed the shoe nervously and moistened his lips. "It always trips me up when I'm out running. Every time. And it's always moving around. I mean, I never actually see it,, I'll take them off near the door, then I come back and find this one under the bed or something. And sometimes...sometimes I touch it, and it feels cold...really" He groped for similes and finally picked the tritest one. "Like ice."

I nodded and glanced back at the shoe, not saying anything.

"Look, Miss...Odile...or whatever. I'm not crazy. That shoe is haunted. It's evil. You've gotta do something, okay? I've got a marathon coming up, and until this started happening, these were my lucky shoes. And they're not cheap, you know. They're an investment."

It sounded crazy to me - which was saying something - but there was no harm in checking, seeing as I was already out here. I reached into my coat pocket, the one without ammunition, and pulled out my pendulum. It was a simple one, a thin silver chain with a small quartz crystal hanging from it.

I laced the chain's end through my fingers and held my flattened hand over the shoe, clearing my mind and letting the crystal hang freely. A moment later, it began to slowly rotate of its own accord.

"Well, I'll be damned," I muttered, stuffing the pendulum back in my pocket. There was something there. I turned to Montgomery, attempting some sort of badass face, because that was what customers always expected. "It might be best if you stepped out of the room, sir. For your own safety."

That was only half-true. Mostly I just found lingering clients annoying. They asked stupid questions and could do stupider things, which actually put me at more risk than them.

He had no qualms about getting out of there. As soon as the door closed, I found a jar of salt in my satchel and poured a large ring on the office's floor. I tossed the shoe into the middle of it and invoked the four cardinal directions with the silver athame. Ostensibly the circle didn't change, but I felt a slight flaring of power, indicating it had sealed us in.

Trying not to yawn, I pulled out my wand and kept holding the silver athame. It had taken four hours to drive to Las Cruces, and doing that on so little sleep had made the distance seem twice as long. Sending some of my will into the wand, I tapped it against the shoe and spoke in a sing-song voice.

"Come out, come out, whoever you are."

There was a moment's silence, then a high-pitched male voice snapped, "Go away, bitch."

Great. A shoe with attitude. "Why? You got something better to do?"

"Better things to do than waste my time with a mortal."

I smiled. "Better things to do in a shoe? Come on. I mean, I've heard of slumming it, but don't you think you're kind of pushing the envelope here? This shoe isn't even new. You could have done so much better."

The voice kept its annoyed tone, not threatening but simply irritated at the interruption. "I'm slumming it? Do you think I don't know who you are, Eugenie Markham? Dark-Swan-Called-Odile. A blood traitor. A mongrel. An assassin. A murderer." He practically spit out the last word. "You are alone among your kind and mine. A bloodthirsty shadow. You do anything for anyone who can pay you enough for it. That makes you more than a mercenary. That makes you a whore."

I affected a bored stance. I'd been called most of those names before.