Cat Adams continues the Blood Singer urban fantasy series with All Your Wishes, a thrilling new adventure available October 4th from Tor Books!
A client begs Celia Graves—part human, part Siren, part vampire—to help return a genie to his bottle. The attempt makes Celia a target for the currently incorporeal ifrit. If she doesn’t give him her body, he’ll kill everyone she loves. If she does, he’ll use her physical form to free thousands of evil djinn.
Celia’s not going to hand over her body, but her client tries to trick her into it—so that he can kill the ifrit while it’s trapped in her flesh. That doesn’t end well for the client. Celia might not get paid for the gig, but she’s got to get the ifrit re-bottled before all hell breaks loose—possibly literally!
I saw Rahim Patel before he saw me. Weapons stowed and outfit changed, I was coming down the stairs from my office and spotted him standing in front of the reception desk.
First impression: he was pretty. He was not handsome, at least not to my mind. His features were too soft for that. Slender, he stood five foot six or so. His eyes were lovely, wide and dark, with just a hint of laugh lines at the corners. His lips were full, with a cupid’s bow, very kissable, but not very manly. While he wasn’t a big man, he held himself with poise and confidence. His suit was high quality, well tailored, and immaculate. The white shirt he wore stood in stark contrast to the dark caramel color of his skin, and against his black suit it was so bright that it practically glowed.
His appearance was perfect—which seemed a little odd to me in light of the fact that Dawna claimed he’d been in such a panic. I’ve found that people who are that upset don’t take time to polish their appearance. Then again, he might have stopped at a hotel to change so he would make a good impression.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Patel.”
He turned to face me and extended his hand. “Ms. Graves, thank you so much for agreeing to see me. I know this isn’t a convenient time for you, but the situation really is urgent.”
He looked me up and down as I approached. I could tell from his expression that I didn’t quite look the way he’d expected. Oh, I was still five ten and leggy, but I hadn’t had a lot of publicity since the debut of my new, very trendy, very short hairstyle. And my eyes were no longer gray; they were blue, thanks to a brush with the same heavy-duty magic that was killing Bruno’s mother.
As we shook hands, I caught a glimpse of what looked like it might be a curse mark on his wrist, peeking out from beneath the cuff of his shirt. Interesting.
“Would you like something to drink?” I really hoped he wouldn’t. The kitchen was at the far end of the building—next to what had once been the altar area. It hadn’t occurred to me until just that moment how inconvenient that was going to be for Dottie, who had to use a walker to get around. Crap. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw she’d already taken measures. A small table had been set up in her corner, with a coffeemaker and bowls of sugar and packaged creamer.
“Thank you. Your receptionist offered me something, but I said no.”
I glanced at said receptionist, trying to get her nonverbal take on our client. Aside from the fact that she’s a powerful clairvoyant, she’s smart and observant. She doesn’t miss a thing, and she is cheerfully capable of using her age and seeming disability to gently bully people into revealing more than they intended… and doing things they hadn’t wanted to do.
In short, she’s an absolute gem in the front office. I honestly don’t know what we’d do without her. Dottie doesn’t put in quite as many hours now that she’s married to Fred, but she gets the work done. In exchange, she gets a salary that is just barely below the amount that would screw up her benefits—and the opportunity to spend time with her beloved Minnie the Mouser, though the cat was nowhere to be seen at that moment.
“Let’s head up to my office.” I gestured to the staircase, letting him take the lead. I don’t like having people behind me, particularly in an enclosed space. It makes me twitchy. Gwen, my long-term therapist, says I have trust issues. Talk about your understatement of the millennium.
“Dottie, will you please buzz Dawna and ask her to join us?”
Walking into my office was like stepping into a rainbow filled with boxes. The sun wasn’t yet shining directly through the stained glass, but it was bright enough outside that the colors shone like jewels just the same. Patel stopped and stared.
“Wow.” He smiled as he turned his attention to carefully removing Minnie from her seat on the visitor’s chair facing the desk. He brushed the seat with his hand to clear away any stray cat hairs, then sat. Minnie, offended at finding herself on the floor, gave him a baleful, green-eyed glare.
“It is pretty impressive,” I agreed. “It almost makes up for the temperature difference.” Actually, it more than made up for it to me. I could get another fan or a room-cooling unit easily enough, and the play of light was beautiful and unique.
I moved a stack of boxes from atop the desk to the floor so that I could see my guest, then settled in. Dawna arrived and took the chair next to the client, shifting it close enough to my desk that she could set her iPad on it and take notes. “So, Mr. Patel, what is it you need from our firm?” she asked.
“I am about to undertake a very dangerous quest. My wife tells me that I need you,” he stared directly at me when he spoke, to make his point absolutely clear, “to ensure that I survive long enough to complete it.”
I blinked. I hadn’t heard someone seriously refer to something as a “quest” in a while—if ever. But he meant it. His expression was terribly serious, and there was a hint of sadness in those beautiful brown eyes. “Your wife?”
“Abha is a level six clairvoyant. She was most insistent.”
Dawna and I traded a knowing glance. You ignore the advice of a seer at your own peril. That explained why Patel was here, in spite of his visible misgivings.
He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a device approximately the size of a cell phone. I recognized it immediately. It was the latest piece of technology to take the market by storm. Ridiculously expensive, it combined magic and electronics and was the darling of law enforcement agencies, criminal defense firms, and more. It used a spell disk to create a holographic recorder and projector and could produce accurate, three-dimensional scenes that seemed so real you could practically touch them. The little machine even incorporated smell. The movie industry was desperately scrambling to find a way to incorporate the technology into the theater experience, although, honestly, I wasn’t sure having slasher flicks seem that real was a particularly great idea. And really, who’d want to live through the explosions in action movies? I’ve been in real explosions: there’s nothing fun about it.
Still, I’d bought one when Isaac Levy first got them in stock. I wasn’t sure what use I would make of it, but I’d splurged on one just the same. I mean, seriously, it’s a tech toy. How could I resist?
“Sure, go for it,” I answered.
He set the device on my desk, pressed the button, and “poof,” just like that, I was on the holodeck of the old science-fiction show I’d watched as a kid. Well, not really. But I might as well have been. My office disappeared and while I knew Dawna and Rahim Patel were there, I couldn’t actually see them unless I concentrated really hard. Instead, I was sitting in a well-lit room full of shelf after shelf of… djinn jars.
Shit, shit, shit! I cursed inwardly. I knew it. I just knew it.
Stationed at regular intervals on the shelves, the ancient jars were absolutely gorgeous. They varied in size, each one a completely unique and beautiful cloisonné creation, tiny jewels set with shining gold or silver wire to form unmistakable patterns on each individual jar. A large jewel sealed each vessel—precious rubies, diamonds, and sapphires, at least the size of my fist, being used as stoppers to keep über-powerful creatures trapped inside. The jewels were sealed in place with black wax delicately inscribed in runes, and while I knew I was looking at a projection, I would swear I could feel the power of their magic pounding at me hard enough to give me a blinding headache.
The air in the room had that stale, canned quality that you get when a place is biosealed and the air is filtered and recycled repeatedly. The ambient light was gentle, but bright enough to see clearly, and, since I couldn’t see any source, I assumed it was magically generated.
I looked carefully around the room, my stomach knotting in dread as I counted more and more jars. Then I saw what had brought Patel to my door.
One jar was not where it was supposed to be. Two feet tall, patterned in smoky gray, dull red, and bright orange with brass, it lay on its side on the white tile floor, its seal broken, the stopper gem missing. I shuddered at the realization of just how big a problem that might be.
“His name is Hasan.” Rahim Patel pronounced the name in a tone fraught with… well, it sounds melodramatic, but “doom” was the word that sprang to mind.
I didn’t answer or react, mainly because the name meant absolutely nothing to me.
“Hasan is one of the most ancient and powerful of the beings which my family guards. There are tales—” he stopped speaking and I heard him swallow hard before he resumed. “It is my duty to protect the world from the creatures contained in those urns. I have failed. Because the urn itself is still secure, there is… hope. I may be able to recapture him—to fix this. But I must live long enough to do so. If I die, my replacement will be my ten-year-old son. He is a good boy, but he has not learned all that he needs to serve as Guardian even of the jars contained in the vault. My family will help him, but he has nowhere near the knowledge and skill required to contain this disaster. I must recapture Hasan before the unthinkable happens.”
“Why do you think you can recapture him?” Dawna’s tone was businesslike. If the thought of dealing with the djinn spooked her, you certainly couldn’t tell.
“I have the jar. They tried to steal it, but they were unable to get past the perimeter. They tried to destroy it—there is evidence of that farther along in the video. They were unable to do so. The worst they were able to manage was to free him. They took the jewel, which means that they have a bond with him, but they will not be able to control him. Not,” he added quickly, “that anyone has ever truly controlled a djinn. A djinn must grant the human’s wishes, but they always twist the granting to do the most possible harm to the person manipulating them—and that is the best of them, a genie. An ifrit of Hasan’s power…” Again, he stopped talking. I stared through the projection and saw Patel shudder.
“Why would Hasan kill you?” I asked.
“Three reasons: First, because I am the Guardian; I am the only one with the knowledge and power to trap him, to seal him away again and render him helpless to do harm. He hates being imprisoned. Second, he hates me personally for being from the line of the man who originally ensnared him. He is an eternal being. His hatred is eternal as well.”
“And the third reason?” I asked.
“Power. Ifrits lose power during the term of their imprisonment. The stones which serve as a stopper on the jar drain them until, eventually, they are… neutered, for lack of a better term. If freed before that happens, they try to replenish their magic by draining it from other sources. Places, things… people. Given the opportunity, Hasan will gladly drain me dry.”
I’d seen a mage drained once before. An ancient artifact, the Isis Collar, fell into the wrong hands and was used against a friend of mine. If Bruno hadn’t stepped in, John Creede, one of the most powerful mages in the world, would have lost his magical abilities permanently, and might even have died.
As I focused on the jar it came into sharper focus. It was a lovely thing. Glossy black at the bottom of the round, lower portion of the jar. Red and orange flames had been worked into the brass in a pattern of flames that actually seemed to flicker upward to an indentation, before bowing out and up to a long, narrow neck that was colored with the grays of smoke.
Still, beautiful as it was, I wouldn’t have wanted to touch it. Not for a million bucks. It just reeked of bad mojo.
I tore my eyes away from the jar long enough to meet Patel’s gaze. “I don’t see any way that we can protect you from a being like that.” I didn’t like admitting it, but it was the truth. I knew my limits. This was beyond them. It was a damned shame, but he was screwed.
He gave me a sad smile. “I know. Nor do I expect you to. There are certain… measures… things that have been done that protect members of my family—for the most part—from the ifrit we guard.”
He interrupted me. “I will have to lower those protections to recapture Hasan. It is the only way. I ask that, if for any reason I am unable to, you safely transport the jar with him in it to my wife and son. They will return him to the vault.”
Again he interrupted. He was either very stressed, very arrogant, or both. I stifled my irritation before he could notice. “I would have you guard me from the people who tried to steal the jar, who released the ifrit. My protections are against actions by the spirit itself. But he can, and will, manipulate humans against me—and them I have no shield against. A small group of intelligent, magically powerful people managed to get through the vault’s defenses and to that specific jar. They knew exactly which jar they wanted—none of the others were touched. Whoever those people are, they will be your opponents.”
“Well, then,” Dawna said reasonably, “the first logical question is, who are we up against? We need to concentrate on finding out who tried to steal the jar.” Her fingers moved swiftly across the surface of the little computer.
“No. That is not your problem. My family is taking care of it. I don’t want you interfering or wasting time looking into it.”
Wrong answer, bucko, I thought, but kept my mouth shut.
Dawna simply gave him a sweet smile and said, “Actually, it is our problem. We can’t manage the logistics of this without knowing who we’re up against and what they are capable of.” She continued, “Obviously, they are very powerful and well connected. I assume the existence of your vault is not common knowledge, let alone its location and the specifications of your protections. And yet your enemies managed to find it, got in, and very nearly managed to remove one of the jars. From the look of it, they even knew which jar contained the particular djinn they wanted.”
He glared at her. She pretended not to notice.
“It sounds to me as if someone is feeding them inside information,” I said.
This time I got the glare.
“And then there is the problem of what they’re going to be doing with him,” Dawna continued. “It’s not as if anyone can actually control an ifrit. He’ll be wreaking havoc.”
She was right, of course. It wasn’t like we could expect Hasan to sit around twiddling his incorporeal thumbs while we moved against him.
“My people are taking steps that will keep Hasan occupied.”
“And if there is a traitor in your camp, the people who liberated him will be taking countermeasures.” Dawna responded.
It was interesting watching the ever-so-polite battle of wills. Dawna is so much more diplomatic than I am that it isn’t even funny. That meant that in situations like this, she got to do the bulk of the talking.
I sat silently, listening and thinking. We should turn down the job. I knew we should. It was such bad news. But I remembered case studies I’d read back in college, reports of what an ifrit had done.
Hasan needed to be captured. If he wasn’t… well, that didn’t bear thinking too closely about.
“Is there anyone in your organization who might have a grudge against you? Someone with a personal axe to grind?” I asked when there was a pause in the conversation.
Rahim Patel looked at me with his mouth slightly open. I could almost see the gears grinding as his personal feelings warred with what was obviously a very logical and necessary question.
“I trust all of the members of my family implicitly,” he said, but his tone, and the flicker of doubt I saw pass through his eyes, told me otherwise. On the other hand, it looked like pushing him would get me absolutely nowhere.
“What about outside the family? Anybody else have access to the vault or know what you keep there?”
“No.” His eyes had narrowed, darkening until they were nearly black. I could see he was clenching his jaw. He was getting pissed.
“So you want me to keep you alive long enough to capture Hasan, and if you die in the pro cess, I’m to transport the hopefully filled jar back to your wife and son. Is that it?”
“Exactly,” he said, and pressed the button that shut off the recorder. My office was once again an office.
That it was more of a relief than it should have been told me just how afraid I was. The job sounded simple. But simple is not the same as easy. I met Patel’s gaze across the desk. Beneath the calm veneer I could sense a level of fear and desperation. But I didn’t think it was for himself: for his son, perhaps, and the rest of us.
I traded looks with Dawna. Since my siren heritage gives me a limited ability to speak mind-to-mind, I sometimes talk to her that way when there are things I don’t want the client to overhear, but we’ve known each other for so long that I often don’t even need to.
If we took this case, and that was still a big if, we’d work it on our own terms. If the client didn’t like that, he could damned well fire us.
I was afraid. I did not want to do this. But if I didn’t, and Patel failed, I would never forgive myself. Every death, every injury would be on my conscience.
“When would we start?”
“Now would be good. Abha insisted I retain you before I even begin working the tracking spells.” His voice grew annoyed, and his face showed apparent frustration. “I do not know why.”
That was a seer for you. Tell you what they wanted you to do, then clam up tight about anything else. If you pressed, they’d give you a lecture about “changing the possible futures.” That was so annoying. I loved Dottie and Emma, and Vicki Cooper had been my best friend up until her death. But there were times when I’d wanted to throttle each of them for doing to me what Abha had apparently done to her husband.
“When we finish our negotiations, you’re welcome to use our casting circle. It’s brand new, so there’s no chance of any residual magic fouling your work.” Not that I’d let Tim get away with using the circle without cleansing it after—or that he’d even try. He wasn’t stupid, or, as far as I could tell, lazy. If he had been, we wouldn’t have hired him.
“Thank you. I wish to get moving on this as soon as I possibly can.”
“Fine by me,” I agreed, then continued. “Now, is this a short-term job, or long-term? If it’s long-term, we normally work with at least a three-person team.”
He shook his head, jaw set like granite, lips compressed into a thin line. “It should not take long. I would not even have involved you if my wife had not insisted.” He was obviously unhappy. “It took time to get here—time I did not believe I had to spare.”
“But you did it.”
“Yes.” He didn’t say, “Duh,” but the look he gave me implied it.
“Which may mean there’s more to the situation than you originally thought,” Dawna added. “So we should probably consider a long-term plan, just in case.”
“No team. Just you,” he said flatly, pointing to me.
I sighed, but kept my voice free of the irritation that was starting to build within me. “There are physical limitations involved. A person needs to sleep, eat, go to the bathroom. It’s very hard to protect somebody when you’re taking care of your own bodily functions. I can go without sleep for a while, same with food and other things. But eventually your body’s demands can’t be ignored, and that will ruin your effectiveness.”
“I can stretch my power to protect myself and one other from the magic of the ifrit. Only one.”
“One person will be guarding you each shift. You won’t need to protect the two who are not on duty.” I kept my tone calm, reasonable. I didn’t want to. I absolutely hate it when amateurs try to tell me how to do my job. It could get them killed. It’s even more likely to get me killed. And while Bruno had accused me of having a death wish when we were arguing, I really don’t.
I came this close to telling Patel to take a hike. I’d actually opened my mouth to say the words, when the intercom buzzed. “Excuse me, this must be important. Dottie wouldn’t interrupt otherwise.”
I picked up the line. “What?” I sounded more annoyed than I intended.
Dottie’s voice had the far-away quality it gets when she’s in the middle of a vision. A powerful clairvoyant, she’s guided me through seriously dangerous waters and I’m still here to tell the tale. Because I listen—most of the time.
“You need to do this. It’s important.”
Well, crap. “Dottie…” I started to argue, though I knew it was pointless. “Your future depends on it as much as his.” She hung up.
Excerpted from All Your Wishes © Cat Adams, 2016