Here's the next unedited chapter in Invasion!
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Greenwich Village, The Island of Manhattan, New York, The night before Samhain
Shan Wong-Washington jerked awake at Cu Chulainn’s low growl. The Irish foxhound lay at the foot of the brown comforter on hers and Jamal’s wrought iron bed. Ambient light of New York City filtered past the closed blinds of the bedroom’s only window and displayed the dog’s alert posture.
“What’s wrong, boy?” she whispered. Cu Chulainn jumped down from the bed.
Or rather stepped down. The dog was so huge her sister-in-law Tanja and cousin Livvy rode him when they were toddlers. He padded down the short hallway between the bedroom and the living room of the loft.
Shan slid out from under the covers. The hardwood floor was oddly cold against her bare soles, considering the building’s cranky furnace had been blasting so much heat before bedtime she’d resorted to a sleep t-shirt and shorts instead of her sweats. She listened carefully, but there was only silence from the loft’s living room. Were the girls up to something? Was that what riled Cu Chulainn?
The wolfhound wouldn’t have growled if it were something minor. He would have trotted out to the living room and stopped whatever mischief the girls were up to.
Shan followed the dog out to the living room. The night light in the kitchen gleamed yellow, softening the harsher glow of Manhattan from the skylight.
No shenanigans here. Both girls were out cold. Tanja was curled in a tight ball, sound asleep. Only a few of her dark braids poked out from under her blanket. Livvy lay beside her, blond hair and limbs sprawled across the couch and chair cushions the girls has placed on the living room rug to form their bed. They had convinced their respective parents Shan needed the company while her husband Jamal trained at the Johnson Space Center. It definitely wasn’t the two nine-year-olds who woke Cu Chulainn.
The wolfhound stood at the top of the narrow steps leading from the second-floor loft down to the store. Another low growl rumbled deep in his chest. Something was definitely wrong in the shop.
Shan had double-checked all the doors and windows of Morrigan’s Cauldron, the store Jamal’s mother co-owned. Everything had been locked, and the steel gates pulled into place and secured. As much as she loved Manhattan, and Greenwich Village especially, she wasn’t stupid about safety. Especially not with two little girls under her care.
The wolfhound place a paw on the first step, his hackles raised.
“No,” Shan commanded in a whisper. “Stay.”
Cu Chulainn gave her a look that obviously said he disagreed with her, but he did as she ordered.
Shan went back to the bedroom to slip on her canvas shoes. A slight hum came from the closet. Crap. If Lexi was indicating danger, things were worse than Shan feared.
She carefully slid open the closet door. The scabbard hung from its peg, and Lexi’s hum became even more urgent.
Shan drew her husband’s sword from its scabbard. The steel gave off a slight golden glow in the dim room. The blade had gone through many titles over the millennia. The Sword of Lugh. The Spear of Destiny. Excalibur. Now, the family simply referred to it as Jamal’s crazy singing sword. Or Lexi.
And she was a much better weapon than Shan’s aluminum baseball bat.
“Tone it down, girl,” Shan whispered. “You’re going to give us away to whatever is downstairs.
The sword’s glow dimmed, and she stopped the eerie humming.
“Thank you.” Shan retrieved her charmed copper knife and crept back out to the living room. The girls hadn’t moved at all. Cu Chulainn remained on guard at the top of the stairwell.
Maybe she should call her mother-in-law Phylicia. As a witch, she could handle whatever was down there.
No, there was no sense waking up the in-laws if she was blowing something out of proportion.
A bang came from downstairs. Cu Chulainn growled low in his chest.
“What was that?” Livvy whispered.
Crap. Both girls sat on their makeshift bed, wide awake and staring at Shan.
Another crash resounded through the building.
“Lock yourselves in the bathroom, and call 9-1-1,” Shan whispered. “Cu Chulainn, guard the girls.”
The wolfhound still didn’t look happy, but he padded over to Tanja and Livvy. He let the girls grab their phones before he herded them toward the bathroom.
Shan crept down the narrow steps, Lexi providing her only light. While some of the objects Morrigan’s Cauldron carried were expensive, a thief couldn’t easily fence a one hundred-pound block of purple quartz. Phylicia took the receipts for the day for deposit on her way home. So, why the hell would anyone break into the store? Everyone in this neighborhood knew better than to mess with Phylicia. Or Grandmother Wong.
So it had to be someone desperate. Or whacked out on drugs. Or both.
Shan opened the door at the foot of the stairs and froze when the hinges creaked. She held her breath and listened. Someone shuffled around in the storefront. Whoever it was hadn’t heard her. Thank goodness for old creaky buildings in the village.
She carefully locked the door to the stairs and crept through the storeroom. The beaded curtain hung between her and the invader. Odd chittering came from the dark figure standing behind the cashwrap. The light from the street showed the gates over the door and windows closed. Had her potential thief jimmied the front door and its gate and closed them so the NYPD didn’t get suspicious? Or had he come in through the back door? Were there others with him?
None of her conjectures made sense. Phylicia’s wards would have deterred someone trying to come into the building after hours and much as the locks and gates.
The rustle of parchment came from the top of the cashwrap. For a split second, the figure’s mumbled words that sounded like the similar language spouted by the woman who had brought in a strange grimoire.
The customer claimed she found the volume in a dead aunt’s attic and had wanted an appraisal. Of course, the woman came in after Phylicia had left for the day. Was someone trying to steal the grimoire?
Or worse, had the woman cast a spell inside the store without Shan realizing it to get the intruder past the after hours wards?
The more she watched, the less the thing flipping through the grimoire resembled a human being. Its moves were jerky, and its joints seemed to move in unnatural direction. The smart thing would be to retreat to the loft stairwell, lock the door behind her, and wait for the cops. But between the locked gates and the warding, the thing was trapped inside the building with Shan, Cu Chulainn, and the girls.
And unless Shan unlocked the gates, there was no way for the police to enter Morrigan’s Cauldron and apprehend the intruder.
Which still left the question of how the intruder got into the building in the first place.
None of her conjecture mattered. An unannounced night visit wasn’t good, and surprise was still on her side. She eased her left hand past the strands of bead and nudged the light switch.
The antique fixtures flared to life. The thing messing with the grimoire jerked. It was definitely not human. It was covered in greyish—well, the dermis wasn’t exactly scales, but it wasn’t skin either. And its limbs were tentacles tipped with wicked-looking talons.
One of the tentacles shot toward Shan, ripping off several strand from the bead curtain is the process as it tried to grab her. She deflected the appendage with Lexi. Both the sword and the intruder screeched. A thin trail of smoke curled from the blade. Even more smoke poured from the lengthy cut on the now-drooping tentacle.
Whatever the thing was, it was vulnerable to magic. Too bad she didn’t have her grandmother’s talents.
The intruder backed away from the cashwrap and began chirping and chittering, the noises reminiscent of locusts. The sounds were rhythmic. The damn thing was casting a spell.
Anger and protectiveness of her family fed Shan’s strength, and she charged the creature. It dodged both the Tuathan blade and her blessed copper knife while dragging its disabled tentacle.
A swirling vortex of white and blue lights appeared behind the intruder. The tone of its speech changed. A fifth tentacle shot from its body and wrapped around her right ankle. Nausea raked her at the alien feeling of its epidermis.
Before she could bring Lexi down on the tentacle, the intruder yanked her off balance. Her hip landed hard on the polished wooden floorboards, but she managed to keep her hold on both the sword and knife.
The sounds changed again to chittering broken by huffs. Laughter. The damn thing was laughing at her. She knew it in her bones as the damn creature dragged her into the vortex with it.