Magic Dreams Page 12


I STOOD NEXT to my mother by the kitchen window. Through it, I could see the garden and Jim by the tree. It had taken eight hours for Keong Emas to mature and every hour had added years to Jim’s face. His beautiful skin looked dull, as if rubbed with ash. Puffy circles clutched at his eyes. He looked exhausted, drained, like a man who had spent a decade working in some hellish mine. Only the eyes remained the same: sharp, dangerous eyes, backlit from within by a lethal green glow. He had the will to live, but no strength to keep going.

He was dying.

Poor Jim. My poor, poor Jim.

My mother pursed her lips. “It’s not too late to let him go.”

“It is.”

“Your magic will not work on her. She is an insect demon.”

Arachnid, actually. “I have a plan, Mother.”

My mother turned to me slowly. Her lip trembled.

Oh my gods.

She hugged me, clenching me to her. “My brave baby, you’re the only one I have. The only one. My precious one, my sweet daughter. You’re my everything. I’m begging you, please, please, let him go.”

I smelled tears and I knew she was crying, and then I cried, too. “I can’t, Mother. I love him so much. I just can’t.”

She held on to me so tight, she must’ve been afraid I’d disappear into thin air. We stood holding each other for a long minute, and then she let me go. “All right. I will help you then.”

She picked up the glass jar. Inside it, a single fat pupa hung off the glass wall.

My mother sniffed back her tears. “We go now.”

We went out into the garden, my mother leading the way, and me following, carrying my calligraphy kit and old keris in my hand. The dagger curved in a wavy pattern from the asymmetrical base to the razor-sharp point, and the dozen metals that formed the blade shimmered as if the weapon was forged out of silvery running water.

Up close, Jim looked even worse. My family had kept him awake, but it had sapped all of his strength. Only the shell of a man was left.

Jim saw the knife. His lips moved. The words came out slowly. “If you needed a good knife, I’d let you borrow one of mine. You can’t even cut straight with that thing.”

I almost cried again.

My mother looked at me. Last chance to change my mind.

I nodded.

She sighed, opened the jar, and touched the tip of the pupa with her finger. Magic sparked through the tiny cocoon. It cracked and fell apart, breaking into dust. A radiant moth spread its wings in the pupa’s place. Magic washed over me, warm beautiful magic, so potent and strong, it made my heart skip a beat. I held my breath.

Golden and glorious, glowing with a soft light, Keong Emas crawled to the lip of the jar. It fluttered its wings, sending tiny sparks of magic into the air, and took to the air, raining golden dust and minuscule bits of magic. It hovered above Jim, circled above him once, twice, fluttered through the garden, and flew away, far into the trees.

The entire garden lay bathed in a golden glow, tiny sparks of magic gleaming on plant leaves like precious jewels. I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

Mother gasped. I spun to Jim. Long strands of spiderweb clenched his neck, stretching upward, growing more transparent with each inch until they finally vanished about three feet above his head.

I glanced at my mother. “Go.”

She set the glass jar down, turned, and fled. The rest of my family followed. In a moment, the garden and the house were deserted. Only Jim and I were left.

I came over and knelt by him. He slumped on the bench. He was so weak, he probably couldn’t even move.

“How are you?”

Ashen lips moved. “Great. Never better.”

“I found out what happened,” I told him. “During the last flare, a woman and her daughter were stabbed in South Asia. They bled out into the street and nobody helped. It was horrible. The daughter died, but the woman survived. She turned into a monster and once a year she demands a sacrifice from the people who ignored her dying.”

Jim’s voice was weak. “How long has that been going on?”

“Seven years.”

“And nobody said anything?”

I shook my head. “They felt ashamed. They tried hiring the Guild, but she killed the mercenaries. It became every family for themselves. August’s family was the last one targeted. He went to fight the monster.”

“With no backup?”


Jim sighed. “People are idiots.”

“That theory seems likely, yes.”

Jim coughed. “So what now?”

“There are spiderwebs attached to your throat. I’m going to cut them with my pretty magic knife. When I do, you will faint from shock. Then the woman will come back and try to devour you anyway, because her type never lets prey get away.”

“Is that why everyone left?”

I nodded.

“Are you going to curse her?”

“Something like that.”

Jim stared at me. “Dali?”

How did he always know when I was hiding something? “There is a small problem with that. My curses only work on animals and people. Something with blood. Hiromi has no blood. She has insect slime. Remember the kanji character you saw on the floor? Joro, the whore? That was part of her demon name. That’s why August knew it. His family had been terrified of her for years. She’s jorogumo, the whore spider. So I’ll have to be creative.” And if I fail, you will never wake up.

He tried to rise but managed only a twitch.

“You can’t stop me,” I told him. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”

“You should go,” he said. “Leave me.”

“Having a vegetarian blind girl save your behind really bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t want you to get hurt.”

I took his hand and squeezed it, trying to keep the tears out of my voice. “I’m about to cut the web, Jim. You have about a minute, so if there is something you really need to tell me, you have to do it now.”

His eyes told me he understood. This could be the last time we spoke to each other.

“I’m sorry about our fight.”

“I forgive you,” I told him, and sliced through the first line. The keris severed it in one short cut. It blinked and vanished. “You just don’t understand what it’s like not to be pretty. It’s because you’ve always been hot.”

He coughed. “Hot?”


“Have you ever looked at me?”

“I have. I look at you all the time, Jim.” I severed the second line. It disappeared. A shudder ran through Jim’s body. His legs trembled.

“About Indonesian,” Jim said. “I learned it so I could talk to you.”

Oh, Jim. What the hell, I might never see him again. This was my last chance. I leaned over and kissed his lips.

He kissed me back. It was tender and loving and everything I had dreamed it would be. Tears ran down my face and I couldn’t stop them. I loved him. I didn’t know if he loved me back. He might have kissed me out of gratitude or for some other strange reason, but it seemed so unimportant now. If someone offered me a choice, his life or his love, I would give him up. Even if it meant he would never remember me and we would never speak again. As long as he lived. That’s all I wanted. I just wanted him to be okay.

We broke apart and I looked into his eyes. “You’re ready?”

“Kick her ass,” he said.

I cut the third line.

His eyes rolled back in his head. He slumped back. I touched my fingers to his neck. Alive. Come on, Lyc-V. Fix him up.

There was nothing left to do but wait. I sat down. If I were Kate, I could pull out my sword and when Hiromi showed up, I’d spit some magic at her and then cut her to pieces. If I were Andrea, I’d shoot it until it died. If I were Jim’s cousin, who served as the female cat alpha until Jim found a mate, I’d rip into her with claws. But I wasn’t. I was me. All I had was my brain, ink, and some paper.

I opened my kit and began to write.

A small noise made me raise my head. A Japanese woman stood on the edge of the garden. She wore a long, flowing white robe. Her skin was like fine porcelain, her eyes were beautifully shaped, and her hair spilled down her back like glossy black silk.

Twenty minutes. Didn’t take her long at all.

“You can drop the disguise,” I said. “I know what you are.”

“And what would that be?” she asked. Her voice was like a silver bell. Even if she didn’t attack Jim, I’d hate her out of pure jealousy.

“You are a jorogumo. The whore spider.”

The woman’s kimono split at the bottom and ripped apart. Thick chitin legs spilled forth, bristling with stiff dark hairs. A demonic creature rose before me: her bottom half, spider, and her top half, a human torso sheathed in overlapping bands of black exoskeleton. Her spider body was as long as my Prowler and twice as wide. This was bad.

Ice clamped my spine. My throat threatened to close up. I bet Kate never got scared like that. I unclenched my teeth. “I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.”

“The man is mine.” Hiromi pointed her slender arm at Jim.

“No, this man is mine.”

Hiromi moved forward, one spider leg after another, probing the ground. I watched her come toward me, a dark monster in the glowing garden. In life she had so little, and the only thing she treasured, her daughter, was ripped away from her. If I were Hiromi, I’d see becoming a demon as a great honor. It was my chance to use my powers to punish those who wronged me, to be strong and feared. But the longer she stretched out her revenge, the more selfish she became. Punishing the wicked was no longer enough, I could see it in her eyes. She had given in to greed.

She was almost to the line I’d scratched earlier in the dirt. Step, another step …

If the magic fell, both Jim and I would be in serious trouble.

The ugly spider leg touched the line. A gold glow sparked and dashed across the grass and rocks, outlining an octagon with Jim in the center. The demon yowled and recoiled.

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