Knight and Day

I went to bed with the curtains open, my eyes fixed on the silver white circle of the moon through the naked branches of the tree outside my window. I did not sleep. My mind played an endless loop of warnings. Protect the book. Move. Tell Rick you love him. Stop the nekomata and the nightmares. Kill Bathory. Beware Julius. Rinse and repeat.


Poe landed on the branch nearest my window, tossing a mouse into the air before swallowing it whole. He tapped his beak against the glass, and I reached over to open the window and let him in, shutting out the blast of icy air that followed him into the room.

"Must be hard to sleep with your eyes open," he said. "Something keeping you up?"

I told him about Silas and what I saw at Avery's house. "Where were you anyway?" I asked him. "As my familiar, aren't you supposed to sense when I'm in distress and come to my aid?"

"Sure, if I know you're on witchy business, but you hadn't come home from work. I thought some human was giving up their ghost in the ER, so I didn't respond."

"Nice, Poe."

"Hey, you wouldn't want me flying into the hospital windows every time your heart raced during the day. If you want me on the job, give me a heads up."

Harrumph. I crossed my arms over my chest and stared at the ceiling. Why in the world did the woman in the garden give me a raven as a familiar?

"Do I need to remind you that I saved you from the troll and delivered Rick to rescue you from Julius? It's not as if I haven't earned my keep."

"Sorry, Poe. You're right. I should have stopped home and got you before I went to Avery's."

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He waved his wing. "Exactly my point."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure." He hopped from the windowsill to my nightstand.

"Who was the woman who gave you to me? The one in the garden?"

Poe cracked his beak in a movement I'd come to interpret as a smile. "Hecate, goddess of the dead, otherwise known as Santa Muerte depending on where you are in the world, and a host of other names. She's your first mother and the source of your power."

I closed my gaping mouth and raised my eyebrows. "Truly? That was her?"


"And you, like, hang out with her when I'm dead?"

"Something like that. She remakes me each time for you, but a part of me is always with her." He nested down next to my lamp.

"Why a raven? Why did she think I needed you, Poe?"

He twitched, blinking his eyes.

"Sorry. No offense. I like you a lot; I'm just wondering why you weren't a cat or an owl."

"I don't know for sure but I can tell you my honest opinion."

"I want to know."

"Cats are for manifestations who need independence. A cat won't come when you call it. It will help you only when it comes to respect you." He paused, taking me in. "You didn't need independence."


"No. An owl is for manifestations who need wisdom or common sense. An owl familiar is perfect for an uneducated lass trying to make it in the world. You are not uneducated, nor lacking in wisdom."

I smiled. "I'd like to think I'm smarter than the average witch."

He nodded. "Ravens on the other hand are given to those who lack self-worth. A raven will intervene only when a witch can't do something herself and then only when she decides what to do. I will tease you within an inch of your life, and I will expect you to take care of yourself. I will also make you brave and strong, trusting in your intuition. I'll challenge you to know what you want and to take it. A raven as a familiar will make you a warrior."

"Are you saying I have low self-worth?"

"I'm not saying anything. Don't shoot the messenger, m'kay. But since we've met, have you done more on your own?"

I thought about that. "I guess I have."

"And do you know what you want?"

My head immediately filled with images of Rick. "I think I do."

Poe shook his head and coughed. "Don't think, know!"

"Okay, I do! I know what I want."

He met my eyes. "And do you feel you are worthy of what you want?"

I searched Poe's face and my innermost thoughts. "Yes. I'm worth it. I deserve Rick. I deserve this house. Gary wasn't my fault and neither was the financial situation he put me in. I'm a great witch, Poe."

"Very good." He hopped back to the windowsill. "Then I was the right familiar for you after all. Big day tomorrow. I recommend you get some sleep." He tapped on the glass.

I obliged by partially opening the window again. "Thanks, Poe."

"Don't mention it."

... take a walk with your sister the moon... Bono's croon of Mysterious Ways popped my eyes open. My ringtone. I pried the phone from my bedside charger; the screen read 11:00 a.m. My heart started to palpitate. How had I slept so late? One hour until the winter solstice and I still had sheet marks on my cheek!

My dad's face filled the screen, his real estate agent smile promising unicorns and rainbows. I punched the screen and brought the phone to my ear. "Dad?"

"Grateful, I'm glad I caught you."

"What's up?"

"I just wanted to give you a heads up, Mr. Nekomata is going to stop by the house this afternoon. He was completely fine with you living there another week but he wants to survey the property."

"Wait. What? Today is not a good time, Dad."

"He said it would only take a few minutes."

"Call him back and tell him he needs to come a different day. Today, is bad for me. Very, very bad." My heart was threatening to jump out of my mouth. Down deep, my intuition was playing a dirge, throwing up caution flags like confetti.

"Nekomata is a very busy man, Grateful, and it is his house now."

Across the inside of my arms and down my sides, a prickling sensation scampered like an army of tiny bugs had invaded my skin. I forced myself to swallow before confirming what I knew to be true. "You sold the house."

"Don't worry, Honey, I got it in writing that you have permission to stay there a few more weeks."

"But you sold it. The house is no longer legally yours."

"Correct. We closed this morning. The paperwork is still being processed but he effectively owns the house."

"Oh Dad. Why? Why!" I screamed into the phone, but I knew, the nekomata would make it impossible for him to deny them. If they couldn't convince him the human way, they would simply have a nightmare possess him, like Avery. Nothing was going to stop these guys from reaching the book, especially not a human man.

Silence. Our call was still connected, but Dad didn't respond to my screaming. After a few awkward moments, he finally said, "I'm sorry. If it makes you feel more comfortable, Seraphina is with him. You won't be alone with a strange man in the house."

"Seraphina? Why would Seraphina be with him?" I thought my Dad was breaking up with her not sending her out with clients.

"She's his niece, Grateful. That's how we met."

A series of images seized me, causing my fist to clench around the phone. Her superhuman beauty and grace, the way she made my chest tighten. How could I have missed it? Seraphina was a nekomata. The whole time, she wasn't interested in my father, she was interested in making sure he sold my house.

"I've got to go, Dad," I mumbled.

"Call me when you're ready to look at apartments." He hung up on me without saying goodbye.

Okay, I probably deserved that. After all, Dad didn't understand that he might have signed my death certificate. He was just doing his job.

I needed a plan. Every cell in my body pinged against my skin in warning. My heart raced. My palms broke out in a cold sweat. Coping skills first, plan second. I took a deep breath in and let it out slowly to the count of three. And again, slow breath. I wiped my mind of every thought and simply listened to my breath. Once I was in control, I focused on the task at hand.

Priority one, determine if the protective enchantment around the house was still in place. I tapped my Book of Light app and searched for a spell to detect enchantments. Thankfully, the magic was there; Michelle and I had made it past "E".

With one last deep breath to steel my nerves, I stripped out of my pajamas, fetched Nightshade from the corner, and strapped her to my back. Then I dressed like a ninja, black stretchy pants, military boots, long sleeved black shirt with a large neck to give me access to my blade.

I rushed from the room, stopping in the attic for some things from my chest. Salt, silver bowl, a sprig of St. John's Wort. Down to the kitchen. One part salt, one part lemon juice, a drop of my blood, a cracked egg with the yolk broken by my blade. I placed the bowl next to the front door. When nothing happened, I opened the door and placed it on the threshold. The yolk of the egg swam a little in the concoction, reaching for my drop of blood. It didn't mix with the spot of red, but surrounded it. I checked my app, then gawked at the bowl like a pregnancy test with an unwanted result. The enchantment was fading. Fully in place, the yolk would not be able to touch my blood. I'd know when it fell completely because the yellow would blend with the red. Already the yolk pressed against the outside of the bubble of blood.

"It's only a matter of time," a deep voice said, snapping my head up from the threshold. Mr. Nekomata stood at the base of my porch stairs, and what do you know, Seraphina smirked at his side. "Give yourself over to us and we will let you live. We only come for what is rightfully ours. Invite us in, give us the book, and we will consider you a friend of our clan."

I stood up and faced him from inside my doorway. Salt and pepper hair, distinctively Japanese features, exceptional height. His camel hair coat caught a spray of powder from the snow and flapped in the breeze that chilled me to the bone.

"I've recently learned Seraphina is your niece," I said, lowering my chin and narrowing my eyes.

His thin lips pulled back. "Yes. I believe you've already met."

Seraphina wiggled her leather-gloved fingers, her fitted wool coat undulating against her legs in the winter chill. "Nice to see you again, Grateful, especially considering I don't have to eat your cooking."

I squared my shoulders and drew Nightshade from her sheath. The blade glowed blue although I could barely tell in the daylight. "Then, may I presume you are uncle Kai?" I was pleased with myself for remembering what Seraphina had said about her family.

Mr. Nekomata nodded. "I am Kai."

"Good. I always like to know someone's name before I kill them. Any next of kin I should notify after I slay both of you?"

He cracked his neck, then turned his chin slowly toward the woods across the street from the house. Monstrous creatures stepped out from between the trees. Even from a distance I could make out sharp teeth and claws on hairy cat-shaped bodies the size of saber-toothed tigers, all with forked tails-the nekomata in their shifted forms. Kai had brought an army. "These are my kin."

I muttered a curse my brain tossed out for me like a life vest. Kai bent slightly at the waist, as if a minor discomfort had washed through him. Any sign of distress was gone in an instant. He loosed a patronizing laugh. Why couldn't the solstice happen at midnight? I was my weakest during daylight hours.

"Looks like there will be a meal today after all," Seraphina said. "And you're the main course."

The nekomata closed in. I could see them clearly now: long tawny fur, black stripes, and spots over their flank, and a long, cougar-style snout that would undoubtedly lock on to you and never let go.

"Join us, Witch, or die," Seraphina demanded.

"You say 'die' like it's a big deal or something. I've died lots of times, bitch, and you're not worthy of a repeat." With a sneer, I kicked the silver bowl inside and slammed the door, locking it behind me. I looked down at the contents of the bowl. Orange. The yolk had permeated my blood; the expiration date on my enchantment had officially come to pass.

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