I dropped my phone back in my pocket and
hurried toward the Lincoln. "Hang on tight," I called, hoping the
ferret would hear and understand. "I'm gonna turn the car over."
I spoke the word of a long-dead tribe that
described the act of putting a turtle or beetle back on its feet. I made a
sweeping movement with both hands. The headache throbbed anew, but I ignored
it. I wasn't going to keel over
The Lincoln creaked over and whammed back
down on its wheels. A moment later the ferret poked his head up in the open
I ran to the car and started to unbuckle the
ferret's harness, wishing I could remember more about what I was supposed to do
with a newly-awakened familiar. According to Cooper, familiars could be
tremendously knowledgeable, veritable furry little walking magic encyclopedias,
provided you were lucky enough to get an experienced one. If the ferret was as
green as I was, though, it would be "Magic For Dummies" time and we
were probably screwed.
Freed from his harness, the ferret clambered
up the door's spongy weather stripping to the roof of the car so we were seeing
"So do you have any idea what's
going on here?" I asked.
"His true body is coming through into
this plane," the ferret told me, staring wide-eyed at Smoky's
increasingly-monstrous form. The
ferret sounded smart, his voice like that of an excitable middle-aged librarian inside my head. Finally, some good
"It's what?" I asked.
"This animal body ... it's just a flesh
vessel for my consciousness. I am
not a ferret, and the entity that has inhabited Smoky's body is most assuredly
not a cute little doggie. If I'm not mistaken, he's changing into something close
to his true form," the ferret said. He had a little bit of an accent, I
realized. A Canadian librarian.
"Clearly the magic from the portal has
... altered him."
"But how?" I did realize I was
starting to sound like a three-year old.
"I'd hazard to say it's a side effect of whatever disastrous magic caused that portal to open."
"Which is a fancy way of saying you
don't know?" The pain was making me crabbier than usual.
The ferret reared back, looking offended. "I admit I've never
seen anything like this before, but I am certainly capable of educated
The rain was coming down harder; it looked
like Cooper and I had called up a real gully washer of a storm.
"Why wasn't I affected?"
"Well, you're not a transdimensional
being like us familiars, are you?" the ferret replied.
"Badly-controlled portal magic will inevitably affect us; I was lucky to
be further away."
"So what are you?" I asked.
"What's your true form?"
The ferret blinked. "You might find my
true form ... upsetting. I would seem somewhat alien in my natural state."
The ferret shuffled his feet uncomfortably.
"Can't I just tell you later, once we've gotten to know each other a bit
better? I've been a familiar for over 300 years, and during my service I've
unfortunately encountered many humans who are prejudiced against --"
"Okay, fine, whatever." I held up
my hands; we really didn't have time to argue. Whatever he was, I was stuck
with him, at least for a while.
"Do you have a name?"
"My name in your language is
'Palimpsest'. You can call me 'Pal', if you like."
Smoky roared. He'd grown positively huge;
his scaled body was over twenty feet long, and I guessed he'd stand as tall as
me once he got his six sets of taloned legs working under him. His tail was
long and covered in the bladelike scales. His red-eyed head looked more crocodilian than canine, and his maw was filled with serpentine teeth the
length of my hand.
Smoky roared again, and bright green flame
erupted from his mouth. His transformation seemed nearly complete.
"A dragon? All this time, he was really
a dragon?" I asked.
"For lack of a better name, yes, a
dragon. But he shouldn't be here."
Pal's whiskers quivered
as he sniffed the air. "I ... something's not right here. I can feel a shift.
I think he's warping reality."
"Warping? How?" I asked, thinking
of my brief chat with my dead, damned aunt.
"I don't have a good sense of exactly
what's happening yet. But I worry that once torn, the fabric of your world
could keep tearing. You were right to close the portal as you did; now you've
got to deal with Smoky."
My stomach sank. "Deal with him
"Subdue him, however you have to. He's
too dangerous to let run around loose."
Was he talking about killing Smoky? Jesus. I
sure wasn't looking forward to that. "Would Cooper's shotgun work, or do I
need to summon up the Calad Bolg or some damn thing like that?"
"The shotgun should work as well as
anything else," Pal replied.