Penetrating the funnel cloud wouldn’t be a problem. She’d mastered that magic year two, Silverside. A few well-placed wards could degrade almost any self-contained Fae storm, allowing passage.
For a month now, ever since she’d arrived back in Dublin, she’d been looking for a ward, a spell, a totem, some way to mark a Silver, embed something on its shimmering surface, something visible from both sides.
Her efforts had yielded no fruit.
Now, as she moved through the corridors of the abbey, she gathered recent news from the sidhe-seers and dispatched orders, impatient to be in her chambers, craving Shazam’s warm, irascible presence and time alone with him to analyze and refine her plans.
He was slumped in a mound of fatness and foul mood. He didn’t even lift his head when she came in.
“I brought you something,” she said, removing an oily brown paper bag from her pack. His head shot up. He was insatiably curious.
He was insatiable, period.
His whiskers trembled with anticipation and he burped.
“Have you been eating something while I was gone?” she demanded.
“What do you expect? You didn’t leave me anything.”
“Technically, you don’t need to eat.”
“Ever heard of boredom? What am I supposed to do in here all day? Make the bed I never get out of because there’s no place I’m allowed to go?”
She assessed the room. Every single pillow was gone.
When he belched again, a feather floated from his mouth.
“They couldn’t possibly have tasted good.”
“Good is relative when all you have is nothing,” he said sourly.
“Soon I’ll let you out. Soon you’ll be free again.”
“Right. And soon sentient beings will stop destroying one another and themselves. Not. We’re all going to die. Alone and miserably. With lots of pain. That’s the way life goes. People make promises and don’t keep them. They say they care about you and forget you.”
“I didn’t forget you. I never forget you”
She tossed three raw fish on the bed and Shazam exploded upright, straight up in the air, bristling with excitement. He fell on the fish like they were manna from Heaven, slurping and sucking and devouring every morsel until only fine bones remained on the down comforter.
“You are forgiven,” he said grandly, settling down to polish his face with spit-moistened paws.
If only she was.
“But you, you’re not allowed, you’re uninvited…”
Jada pressed her palm to the door of Ryodan’s office a full hour earlier than she’d been advised to arrive. He might think he’d ordered her to be there, but no one ordered her anymore. They worked with her or against her.
She’d refined her thoughts during her time with Shazam, the two of them deciding her next move would have to be risked, that she’d have to accept the tattoo he’d offered.
So when the door slid aside, before she even stepped in, she said, “I’ll let you tattoo me.”
Barrons and Ryodan both looked over their shoulders at her, and she was struck suddenly by how…inhuman they looked, their faces more savage, their movements more…animalistic and sleek, as if caught momentarily off guard, engrossed. But their masks went up the instant they saw her and then they were just Barrons and Ryodan again.
The owner of Chester’s was sitting backward in a chair, watching monitors, while Barrons sat behind him, tattooing his powerfully muscled back.
Ryodan reached for a shirt, tugged it on over his head. When he stood, he and Barrons exchanged a look, then Barrons nodded at her and said, “Jada, good to see you,” and walked out.
“You shouldn’t cover fresh tattoos,” she told Ryodan coolly. “They weep.”
He stood legs wide, arms folded, silver cuff glinting, looking down at her. “How would you know anything about tattoos or weeping?”
She was five-foot-ten now, and still had to arch her neck to look at him.
“I’ve heard,” she said. He had a tight-fitting tee-shirt on. Then again probably every tee-shirt he put on was tight because of his sheer width and musculature. She could see the delineation of each muscle in his abdomen through the shirt, the pronounced outline of his pectorals. His lats flared, his biceps were sculpted, his forearms thickly corded. For a moment she was fourteen again, looking up at him. And she finally understood and acknowledged what she used to feel. The teen had suffered an intense crush on Dancer. The superhero had been utterly infatuated with Ryodan. They’d become her world when Mac had turned her back. She’d felt safe being with Dancer. Yet Ryodan had made her feel safe.
They stood a long moment, ten feet apart, looking at each other as silence spun out.
“What changed your mind?” he said finally.
“I’m not sure I have fully changed my mind,” she said, noting his second use of the interrogative in a single conversation and wondering if he really was done baiting her all the time. “How does it work?”
He sliced his head once to the left. “If you mean the mechanics of it, too bad. Bottom line is this: if you let me tattoo you and you carry the phone, I can find you if you ever get lost again.”
“There are three numbers programmed in. Mine. You call it, I answer. The second one is Barrons’s number. If I don’t answer for some reason, Barrons will. The third one is called IISS.” He waited.
“I resent being cued. It makes me not want to know.”
Tiny lines around his eyes crinkled as he threw his head back and laughed.
Jada fisted her hands behind her back. She hated it when he laughed.
“Good to see you haven’t lost all your irrational prickliness,” he said. “IISS stands for I’m In Serious Shit. Use it only if you are.”
“What will happen?”
“Hope you never find out. But if you’d called it in the Silvers, I’d have been there.”
“What good would that have done?”
“I’d have gotten you out.”
“Who can say your way would have been better? Maybe it would have taken us ten years with you leading the way.”
“Doubtful. Maybe it would have taken ten days. And you wouldn’t have been alone.”
“Who says I was alone?”