I Killed the Only U’tlun’ta in NOLA
I had been in my bed for all of one hour, and though the scent of Bruiser from the sheets and from his boxing gloves tied to my bedpost usually filled my head with calm, today his personal aromatherapy wasn’t working. I had rolled over half a dozen times trying to find a comfortable spot. Now the covers were twisted around me, my hair was tangled in a knotted mess, trapping me, and I was ready to explode. I resorted to punching my pillows in growing irritation, not that it helped. “I should give up and find something else to punch. Someone else to punch,” I muttered, thinking of Leo Pellissier, the Master of the City of New Orleans.
My attitude was so bad that my Beast retreated into the deeps of my mind to get away, her paws padding in a jog. “Coward,” I snarled at her. Being two-souled wasn’t easy for either of us.
A soft knock sounded at the front door. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap, tap. The first tap in each repetition more forceful than the others, but barely loud enough to hear through the closed bedroom door. Maybe a preacher. Or a steak salesman. Beast stopped and looked back at me. Excitement zinged through her. Man who sells meat? Cow at door?
I chuckled internally. Could be, I thought back at her. Or a proselytizing vacuum cleaner salesman. Did vac salesmen even exist now?
Is vacuum good to eat? Or salesman? Both? she added hopefully.
The knocking came again, a bit louder. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap, tap. It was a rhythm that Aggie One Feather, my Cherokee Elder, might have drummed. My partner and soon-to-be adopted brother Eli hadn’t answered the door, and I could hear shower water upstairs. I grinned and I was pretty sure I was showing teeth. Lots of teeth. I wondered if they were all mine, but I didn’t really care. I was sleep deprived and ornery and if this was some vamp’s minions calling to cause trouble about the arrangements for the upcoming Sangre Duello, that might actually make my day. I could use a good fight. A blood challenge to the death between Leo and the European emperor and all their pals would surely provide that, but until then, I had the knocking visitor.
I threw off the covers and twisted my long black hair back in a knot. In the black yoga pants and black T-shirt, I looked like a ticked-off ninja. I picked up a fourteen-inch-long vamp-killer I kept on the nightstand and tore open the bedroom door. The knob slammed into the wall behind as I reached the foyer. Eli stopped on the stairs behind me, shower-wet, a weapon at his side. My partner in protect mode. I shared my grin at him and his brows lifted, an infinitesimal gesture that meant loads for the former (and forever) Army Ranger. I didn’t bother to try to figure out loads of what. I peeked out the front, through the tiny slice of clear glass in the layers of bullet-resistant and stained glass window.
On the other side of the door stood a man, facing the street. He was tall, lean, maybe six feet three. Straight black hair hung long, down his back to his hips. Golden skin showed at his clean-shaven jaw, which looked tight with frustration. He was wearing black slacks and black blazer jacket. A white dress shirt collar showed from this angle and he was wearing polished leather cap-toe oxford shoes, what my boss, the Master of the City and walking, talking fashion plate, called a Balmoral. Imported shoes.
It griped my goat that I knew all that. Just another useless thing I had learned hanging around vamps. Another way they had changed me and my life. My irritation flamed.
I yanked open the door. The air swept his scent in. It was vaguely floral. A scent that teased at the back of my mind. Tsalagi. Cherokee scent. Beast surged into the forefront of my brain, landing crouched on silent paws. The man turned.
He had yellow eyes.
Beast thought, Littermate.
What? I said to her.
“Hello, e-igido. Dalonige’ i Digadoli,” the man said, his expression soft but intent. “Nuwhtohiyada gotlvdi.”
How did he know my Cherokee name? I knew those last words: Make peace with me.
The air swirled inside and back out. The man’s nostrils widened as he took a breath. Taking in my scent. His face changed—fear, horror, revulsion, dread. “U’tlun’ta,” he whispered, the word meaning liver-eater, black-magic skinwalker. Evil. Faster than I could follow, he drew a weapon, centered it on my chest.
Inside me Beast tore through, doing . . . something.
In a single instant, the man fired.
Time stood still.
The round exiting the weapon was stopped an inch from the barrel. The killer was frozen. Everything was frozen except me. Beast had bubbled time, taking me outside of normal space/time/relativity physics. She had saved my life. Again. “Thanks,” I muttered aloud to her.
She snorted, a half chuff, half growl, staring through my eyes at the man, even as the headache/bellyache/muscle aches hit. It was like a tiny bomb going off behind my left eye combined with a case of the flu, and if the two most recent time-bubbling experiences were an indication, it would only get worse. For now, I was okay-ish. Not perfect. Not totally okay. But able to function.
The stranger was firing one of the new Glock GDP-20s, a military-issued police service weapon. I looked closely to see a hollow-point round. Somehow, being shot at calmed my anger. Using my vamp-killer and muscle power, Beast knocked the round down, changing its trajectory to impact the floor molding. The sound of silver-plated vamp-killer blade hitting lead was a dull tang in the Gray Between. The wood stood the best chance of stopping the round and the hole could be filled with wood filler and painted over. Eli was good at that kinda stuff.
I stepped into the man’s reach and, still using the blade, lifted his notched lapel to reveal a pocket beneath, heavy with a case about the size of a pack of playing cards. Without touching his body, I pulled out the case and opened it to reveal a badge.
“Well. That figures,” I muttered, maybe talking to God, maybe talking to whatever evil spirit had cursed me. “Like I needed the candy sprinkles of a gun-happy cop dumped over my blood duel ice-cream cone.” The badge was a PsyLED shield, issued to the Psychometric Law Enforcement Division of Homeland Security, the cops that police paranormals. Like me. But I’d think not even PsyLED would send someone to kill me at my own front door. In the middle of the day. With tourists walking across the street. Maybe the badge was a fake? I looked at the guy. He didn’t look like a killer. There was nothing forgettable about him and most assassins worked to be average and unmemorable. His clothing was well-tailored but more Brooks Brothers and Men’s Wearhouse than Armani. His eyes were wide. Terrified. And he was firing one-handed, his left still rising for a standard two-hand grip. Panic-shot.
Not good ambush hunter, Beast said.
Right. This had been surprised, messy, not well planned. I went back over what had just happened. An assassin or a PsyLED cop came to my door. A Cherokee, one with yellow eyes, who spoke at least some Tsalagi, knew my full Cherokee name, and asked me to make peace. Then freaked out over my scent, called me a nasty name, and shot me. Yeah, that covered it. I leaned in closer and searched his irises for the telltale shimmer of amber contact lenses. There was nothing. A frisson of shock lanced through me and I shoved down on it.
Yellow eyes. Floral scent. Beast calling him littermate. What did Beast mean? My breath was still coming fast. Getting shot at will do that to a girl. I shoved down on my reaction and slipped out of the assassin’s reach without touching him. Last thing I needed was to drag a killer inside a time bubble with me.
Beast said nothing, but I felt faint tremors running through her.
My belly wrenched, a sick, snaking pain, as if my guts were knotting, a reaction to bubbling time.
I stood barefooted in the entry and studied him. The man was handsome. Golden skinned, lightly tanned even in winter. Fine lines at the corners of his eyes. Maybe twenty-five, showing age from spending time in the sun. Or older if he had a good beauty regimen. I sniffed again. Definitely floral, very delicate and faint. Aftershave? Traces of a woman’s perfume? I studied his jaw. Not shaved. But the clean, hairless jaw of some tribal males. The electric shock trying to flood me intensified. My whole body was aching.
I looked up the stairs. Eli, wearing only damp workout shorts, had a steady aim on the man, just over where my shoulder would have been. He had already fired, the round in midair. My bro had fast reflexes after drinking vamp blood for healing. His round would enter the man’s right eye, killing him instantly.