Magic Dreams Page 13

“A very complicated ward. Took me an hour to make,” I told her. I had made it while still in tiger form, after I had learned at the grocery store what I would be facing.

“I am Hiromi Jorogumo, the Binding Maiden, the Bloody Mother. You will give him to me!”

Wow, now she was bestowing titles on herself. I crossed my arms on my chest. “And I am Dali, the White Tiger, the Guardian of Bunut Bolog. My magic is as strong as yours. You will not pass.”

I’d guessed right—Hiromi was hung up on being a jorogumo. She viewed it as an honor and she was arrogant and vain, which meant I had a chance. It was a tiny, tiny chance, but it was better than nothing. I just had to play the game by her rules.

A grimace jerked her face. “I’ve heard of you, Dali Harimau, White Tiger. You can’t guard him all the time. He has to sleep eventually and when he does, I will devour him.”

“I’m not arguing with you. That’s why I want to offer you a bargain.” I held up the piece of paper.

Hiromi leaned forward. “What bargain?”

“A contract. You ask me a riddle. If I answer correctly, you will leave him and me alone.”

Riddles were the traditional way to resolve issues. If she truly thought like a demon, it would appeal to her.

Hiromi’s eyes narrowed. “And if you don’t?”

“Then you get to eat Jim and me.”

“You? The magical White Tiger?”


Hiromi’s mouth gaped open, releasing a row of sharp fangs. Saliva stretched down from her teeth in thin strands. She was imagining eating me and drooling. Eww.

“Three riddles,” she said. “You answer every one.”


I corrected the contract.

“What guarantee do I have that you will submit?” she asked.

“The contract is magically binding.” I put the paper on the ground and pushed it across the ward with a stick. “It’s signed in my blood. If you sign it in your ichor, we will have a deal.”

Hiromi lowered her big spider body to the ground and swiped the piece of paper with her human hand.

Come on, Hiromi. Be as greedy as I hope you to be.

Hiromi struck at her side. Pale translucent liquid spilled out, carrying with it small knots of yellow slime. Ew, ew, ew!

The jorogumo dipped her finger into the liquid and drew it across the contract. Magic snapped, clutching at the paper.

I took a deep breath and touched the ward. It melted into nothing.

“First riddle.” Hiromi bared her teeth. “It rises to the heavens but never reaches them; it flies like a bird but has no wings; it makes you weep without a cause; those who see it stop and stare; it served as my black funeral shroud and it was the only one I had. What is it?”

Funeral shroud. What did she see as she lay dying? People walking and the city on fire, because of the phoenix birthed by the flare. And where there was fire, there was … “Smoke,” I said. “When you died, Atlanta was burning. Next.”

Hiromi clamped her mouth shut. Her spider legs kneaded the ground. “Men make it, but gods crave it; its loss weakens, its appearance threatens; fear chills it, war heats it; it binds family together, and I watched mine leave me.”

“Blood. You watched yourself bleed out onto the street.”

Hiromi rocked back and forth. She had powerful magic, but it didn’t make her smart. The blood riddle was almost painfully obvious. What else could fear chill except for your blood?

“Last one.”

Hiromi shifted back and forth, left and right, thinking. On the bench Jim opened his eyes. He blinked and saw the jorogumo. His lips drew back, revealing his teeth. Hiromi saw him and hissed, her legs churning the ground.

I pointed at Jim. “Stay where you are! Hiromi, we had a deal. The last riddle.”

Hiromi bit the air with her fangs and hissed at me. “It has eyes but cannot see; it has ears but doesn’t listen; it has fangs, but it doesn’t hunt; it has a womb, but it’s shriveled and dry; it has knowledge but can’t save itself; it will die alone, regretting everything. What is it?”

Ha! “It’s me. Do you think I don’t know myself, Hiromi?”

She snarled. Spit flew from her mouth.

That’s right, rage away. You know you want a piece of me. I’m so tasty. Come get me.

Hiromi wailed in helpless fury.

She was almost there. I just had to piss her off enough. “You are stupid, Hiromi. Baka, baka Hiromi. You are dumb like a worm.”

White substance burst from behind her in wet clumps and flew to the trees and the house, unfurling into webs.

Behind me Jim tried to rise.

“Jim, stay down!” I barked. “Look at him, you had him and I took him away from you. Even if you weren’t a freak, he would never be with you. There is nothing you can do about it, Hiromi. Nothing! We will go free. You are weak! Helpless and we—”

Hiromi let out a screech and charged at me. The huge spider body swept me off my feet. Hiromi’s chitin arms grasped me and dragged me up to her mouth.

Jim pushed himself off the bench and stumbled forward, like a drunk man on wet cotton legs.

A sweet, slightly woodsy aroma drifted through the air.

Hiromi’s mouth gaped at me, the fangs dripping drool and venom.

A swarm of long yellow petals swirled around us. Wet mist slicked my skin and Hiromi’s chitin.

Jim conquered the last two feet and clamped onto Hiromi’s spider leg, trying to rip it apart.

Hiromi’s arms shook. “What is this?”

“Punishment for eating people.”

Her fingers lost their strength. I slipped through them and fell clumsily on my butt.

Hiromi reared above me on her hind limbs, the six remaining spider legs waving in the air. Her back arched, farther and farther, and for a second I thought she would crush me. The jorogumo screamed, a desperate shriek of pain and sheer terror.

Jim threw himself over me.

Hiromi twisted left, her legs jerking back and forth, rocked by spasms. She dashed into the water and smashed into the statue of Lakshmi, leaving a yellowish splatter on her side, veered left, banged into a tree, trampled through the oleander bushes, rammed herself into the fence, and spun in place, screaming. The yellow petals chased her, clinging to her skin.

I pulled Jim up into a sitting position and hugged him in case he fell. He wouldn’t remember it later anyway—far more exciting things were happening.

Hiromi’s legs churned the ground. She sprinted to the house, ran up the wall partway, until she was almost vertical, and crashed back down. Her human arms flailed. She plunged them into her body and ripped chunks of skin out.

Her front left leg snapped like a toothpick. She screeched and hammered herself into the house. A yellow stain spread on the wall. She rammed the house again and again. The brick walls shook. Tiny cracks crisscrossed Hiromi’s body. She charged the house again and her body burst. Ichor drenched the wall. The remains of the jorogumo slid down and lay still.

A sickly salty smell hit us.

“That’s a hell of a thing,” Jim said.

He came for me again. He could barely move, but he dragged himself up and threw himself at an enraged demon for my sake. It was enough to make a girl cry. Except that now the danger had passed and my head was clear. I knew I was reading too much into it.

“What did you do to her?” he asked.

“I couldn’t curse her directly, so I wrote a contract with a curse in it. She signed it with her ichor,” I said. “She gave it power over herself, and when she broke the agreement, it tore her apart.”

“And the petals?”

“Chrysanthemums.” I smiled and rested my cheek on his shoulder. “The punishment curse written into the contract. They produce pyrethrum oil. It’s deadly to insects and arachnids: It attacks their central nervous system, drives them mad, and then kills them.”

We looked at the yellow mess on the side of the house.

“My mother is going to kill me,” I said.


I TOOK THE metal teakettle off the stove and poured boiling water into the smaller ceramic one. The delicate jasmine fragrance spread through my kitchen. Around me my house was quiet.

It had taken two days to clean up my mother’s house. For two days I did nothing but scrub nasty demonic spider insides off the walls, the benches, and the rocks while Jim got to eat great food and be fussed over by my mother. Last night he got better and left. I spent the night at my mother’s and then came back to my place. The mail had piled up. Pooki probably missed me, although he didn’t say anything when I came to check on him in the garage.

It was evening now. I poured the tea and sat on my short couch.

I’d made a total fool of myself. I had kissed Jim and then I hugged him. So embarrassing. Hopefully he wouldn’t remember.

That’s what happened when you let your emotions get the better of you—you lost the ability to think clearly. Sooner or later we would have to work together. It would be so awkward. I put my hand over my face. I was by myself in the house and I was still embarrassed.

Sad, pathetic blind girl drinking her tea and hiding her face. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I needed another race. It would make me feel better. Somewhere in that stack of paper was the estimate from the repair shop. The sooner I gave them the okay, the faster I’d get Rambo back.

A familiar male scent tugged on me.

Oh my gods. No. No, no, no, no.

I took my hand from my eyes.

He was inside the room, leaning on the wall next to my patio door. He looked great. Like nothing ever happened.

What do I do now?

Jim raised a small wicker basket.

“What’s that?”

“That’s a steak for me and mushroom pasta for you. The pasta is made with tofu and palm oil instead of eggs. I cooked it myself. My steak is wrapped in several layers of foil. It’s not touching the container with your food, so no worries.”

Um … He made me dinner. He cooked for me. In shapeshifter terms that was like delivering three dozen red roses with a tag that read I LOVE YOU. What in the world was he doing?

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