Magic In the Blood ab-2, page 16part #2 of Allie Beckstrom Series
Which was why I was so surprised to see the heavy gold knot of burnt magic webbing the door of the elevator. Someone had cast a hell of a spell here.
Paul said it was three days old, yet it still pulsed with the slow throb of magic in rhythm to the city’s heartbeat. That was strange. Unless someone was paying the price to maintain it-to come back and pour more magic into it-it should have burned out by now.
I walked over, not caring that Stotts was taping me, not caring that the spell was centered around an elevator, not caring that a low pastel fog was gathering at the edges of the garage and slowly, slowly lifting.
The spell wasn’t complicated. It was clearly an Illusion glyph, cast to hide actions from another person. Under a strong Illusion spell, a herd of hippos could roll down Main Street and no one would notice.
If I were going to smuggle something or kidnap someone, this is the kind of spell I would use.
I leaned in toward the elevator door and took a deep breath, my mouth open so I could get the smell and taste of the spell on the back of my palate and sinuses at the same time.
It stank of burnt wood and something sweet I couldn’t quite nail. I drew my fingers gently along the thickest line of magic. A snapping tingle resonated up the marks on my arm.
I traced the glyph, memorizing the strokes, the turns, the twists. The signature was familiar. I traced the full glyph and then pressed my mouth against the strongest pulse of the spell, at the spell’s heart, to taste it. Cool metal of the door met my lips.
The flavor of hickory and sweetness bloomed in my mouth and spread out through me like I was drinking it down.
Magic stirred in me, and I wanted more, needed to taste the spell, the magic. I knew I had Hounded this signature before, knew I had been around this caster. There was more to it, more of the spell I needed to unravel, more of the rank sweetness hidden inside the lines of magic. I wanted to taste that, smell it, lick it.
Closer. I needed to be closer.
I pressed the elevator button, impatient and not caring that I’d have to get in the damn thing. The door opened. I took a deep breath.
And nearly gagged. There was Glamour here. A blocking and shielding that burned with anger, with strength.
Someone had hurt that girl. Hurt her and then taken her. I could smell the slippery musk of violence in the lines of the spell.
There was blood here too, but not on the floors, not on the walls. The blood was in the spell. I knew blood magic was usually cast by dipping the tip of a silver or gold needle or knife in the caster’s blood, and often the victim’s blood, and then drawing the glyph in the air with the knife instead of the fingers. Great care had to be taken that the blood didn’t touch any other surface while it was tracing the glyph; otherwise magic would not flow into the spell.
Blood magics hurt. Blood magics scarred. And mixed with drugs, blood magics could be the highest high ever obtained.
Which is why they were illegal except for during certain medical procedures performed by well-trained and well-regulated doctors.
It was very difficult to sniff out and separate the mix of blood cast in this spell. Every person’s blood carried its own unique scent, but the differences were so minute, it would take a better Hound than me to untangle all of them.
I stepped into the elevator, into the tiny space with no air and no room, walls closing down around me, magic clogging my nostrils, burning my throat, hurting my lungs.
Pain. Violence. Glamour. They didn’t see anyone on the elevator with the girl because the attacker had been hiding. In plain sight. But he had been there. He had been right here.
I knelt down, pressed my palm to the floor. She had fallen here. She had been frightened here. Hurt.
This is where the true center of the spell was located. In the faint burnt ash of the caster’s handiwork, I could finally recognize the signature.
A Hound had cast this spell.
A Hound I knew.
I didn’t want to believe it. I traced the lines of the spell again. Inhaled again. Hickory, just like Pike; the glyph drawn just like Pike’s signature. And the blood, at least one of the bloods involved, was Pike’s. I was sure of it. He’d been bleeding this morning. I’d had plenty of time to learn the smell of his blood.
But the sweetness that lingered in the spell, I had never smelled on Pike. It was the tang of sweet cherries, blood magic. Maybe Pike wasn’t doing house repair. Maybe he’d been bleeding for another reason. Maybe Pike was teaching Anthony, who always smelled like cherries, how to use blood magic.
But why would Pike kidnap the girl?
Maybe he didn’t think he was kidnapping her. He might think he was saving her. Saving her like he couldn’t save his own granddaughter who had been about her age. Saving this girl before Lon Trager could get his hands on her.
Or maybe Trager had already found Pike, cut his wrist, and told Pike this was the favor he owed him. I didn’t like any of those ideas, didn’t want to tell Stotts that my friend might be behind the disappearance of these girls.
My heart thumped against my chest as I looked over my shoulder at Stotts.
A wave of watercolor people gathered behind him. They took one slow step, two, slid past Stotts, slid through Stotts, hollow blackness where their eyes should be, mouths open and hungry, hands reaching out for me. For my magic.
“What?” Stotts said. “Allie? What’s wrong?”
The watercolor people lunged.
They filled the elevator, smelling like fetid death. Cold fingers stabbed me and I yelled at the pain. Fingers pulled magic off my bones like meat from a turkey. They stuffed the magic in their mouths and moaned for more.
I yelled again. Fingers slid into my mouth, sucked at my tongue and inside my cheeks. The taste of raw, rotted meat filled my mouth. I rocked back on my heels, hit my head on the elevator wall. I pushed at them, at their hands, but it was like pushing air. I let go of the glyphs for Sight, Smell, and Taste. I wanted, I needed a spell, another spell. Something to make them go away.
As soon as I let go of magic, the watercolor people were gone.
I breathed in short, shallow gasps. Everywhere they had touched me burned. And they had touched me-all of me-inside and out.
“Allie?” Stotts said from somewhere far away.
I needed air. I needed to be out of this elevator.
I got up to my feet and ran out of the elevator, ran past Stotts, ran across the garage. I heard footsteps behind me, chasing me, but I didn’t stop until I slammed into the concrete railing at the edge of the garage. Air. Space. I was going to puke.
I leaned over the edge.
A fist grabbed the back of my coat and yanked so hard I landed on my ass on the floor. I groaned. Too much. It was too much. I rolled up on my knees, and then I lost everything in my stomach.
“Shit,” Stotts said from close above me but not too close.
I heaved and heaved, trying to get the taste of death out of me, trying to get their rotten touch out of me, trying to forget them reaching inside of me and pulling me apart.
Why didn’t magic ever take away the memories I wanted to lose?
A hand, Stotts’ hand, pressed gently on my back. “Here,” he said.
I swallowed until I was sure nothing more was coming up and sat back. Stotts kept his hand on my back, a comforting weight. He offered me a handkerchief, and I took it, wiped the tears from my eyes, blew my nose, and used the last dry corner of the cloth to wipe my mouth.
“Think you can stand?” he asked softly.
I wondered if he had kids. He seemed like an old pro at this.
I stood, and his hand came under my elbow to help support me. “I’m fine,” I said. “I’m good.” My legs, however, didn’t believe me. Exhaustion rolled over me, and I stubbornly locked my knees to stay standing. Even so, I was trembling.
“You’re doing just fine,” Stotts said. He helped me walk maybe six or seve
“I’m going to help you sit. That’s good,” Stotts said from somewhere farther away than the ringing in my ears. “Now I’m going to help you lie down. That’s good. I’m going to go get the car. I will be right back. You are going to stay right here. No trying to jump off the building again, okay?”
Jump off the building? Did I look like I was in any shape to jump off the building?
As soon as I could open my mouth, I was going to ask him what he meant.
Maybe I blacked out. I don’t know. The next thing I knew, his hands-warm, human, living hands-helped me up.
“I’m going to help you into the backseat so you can lie down.”
“No,” I mumbled. What do you know, I could talk. “The front. The front’s fine.”
“Are you sure you can sit?”
“I’m feeling better,” I said. Even I could tell my voice was gaining strength. He helped me into the front seat, closed the door. The weight of the car shifted as he got into his seat. He twisted to pull something out of the back and then handed me a blanket.
“Thanks,” I said. I draped the blanket over my lap and leaned my head against the headrest. I was feeling stronger, but the magic that usually filled me so full was distant, dulled. I felt empty but not in a good way.
The watercolor people had done more than just eat the magic of my spell. They had pulled the magic out of me, and magic was having a hard time filling me back up.
The absence of it, the absence of its weight and motion, made me feel raw inside. Knowing those people could do that scared the hell out of me.
“Sorry,” I said.
“Tell me what happened.” The engine was running, and the heater was on full blast, but we were not driving anywhere yet. “Tell me what you saw. Could you trace the spell?”
I nodded. “It was still strong. Even after three days.”
“Do you know who cast it?”
“I want to Hound the other site before I say.”
“We aren’t going to Hound the other site. Not with you trying to leap tall buildings back there.”
“I wasn’t going to jump.”
“Listen.” I took a deep breath. Pike told me to confide in Stotts. Even though I was feeling a little shaky about Pike’s loyalties at the moment, he was right about one thing-Stotts knew about magic and magical crimes. If anyone in this city would know what those watercolor people were, it might be him.
Well, and maybe Zayvion, but Zayvion wasn’t here, was he?
“Listen,” I said again, keeping my voice calm. “I Hounded the spell and it’s very strong. Blood magic was involved. There was more than one blood used for it. Those things I would swear to in a court of law. I have a suspicion of who cast it. But I want to Hound the second site so I can be one hundred percent sure. And me freaking out back there?”
Do it, Beckstrom, I told myself. Don’t be a pansy ass.
“I saw people. I think they’re ghosts. They attacked me, and pulled apart the spells I cast, and ate them.” I didn’t tell him they sucked the magic out of me too, because as far as I knew, he didn’t know I could carry magic in me. As far as anyone knew, I pulled magic out from the stores deep beneath the city and poured it directly into the glyphs, just like every other magic user.
No one was stupid enough to try to draw magic into their bodies-magic always demanded a price, and the price of holding it in your body was organ failure and death. At the very least.
Take that, Pike. Now who you calling pansy?
Detective Paul Stotts had a good poker face. He gave me a considering gaze, and I returned it. I was beginning to get my strength back and might even be capable of walking when I got out of the car. But the sunburn from the watercolor people’s touch was worse than the last time they’d attacked me. I wondered how many more raw circles would be on my skin when I next looked in the mirror. It felt like a lot more-dozens more.
“Can you describe what you saw?” he asked.
This was the calm and controlled police and procedure thing I could really appreciate right now.
“I saw a pastel mist rise at the edges of the parking garage before I got in the elevator. I finished Hounding the spell, and when I turned, several people who were not solid were walking toward me. I could see their clothes and I could see their faces, except for a blackness where their eyes should be.”
“Could you smell them?”
I nodded. “They smelled like death. Rotten flesh, compost pile, matter breaking down.”
“Did you recognize any of them?”
“When did you stop seeing them?”
I frowned. “What?”
“When did they disappear? I’m assuming they did disappear?” One of his thick eyebrows twitched upward.
“Yes. They did. They disappeared as soon as I stopped using magic.”
“All right. Did you first see them when you were using magic-Hounding?”
“And have you seen them before?”
“Just today, but yes.”
He didn’t have to say it-I’m not stupid-but he said it anyway.
“You see them when you cast magic, and they disappear when you stop casting magic. It might be some sort of side effect you’re experiencing from magic use. A hallucination, an afterimage-I don’t know. I haven’t ever heard of this before. But you’re a Hound. You use magic a lot, and I’m not surprised something like this might happen. I think you need to see a doctor.”
No, I thought. I most certainly did not need to see a doctor. “Okay,” I said. “Well, that’s a place to start.”
I knew I wasn’t hallucinating. Zayvion had seen them too. Zayvion had fought them with me. If I was hallucinating, then so was he, at the same time, and about the same thing. Not likely.
“I’ll take you back to the station,” he said. “I’ll get your statement and the paperwork started, and then I’ll take you home.” Stotts didn’t wait for me to answer. He put the car in gear and followed the exit arrows.
“I’d rather finish the job first.” I was tempted, really tempted, to put Influence behind my words. With no more effort than breathing, I could make Stotts do what I said.
I’d seen my father use that power far too often- on others and on me-to think it was a moral action. Still. I really wanted to Hound the second site to see if Pike’s signature was on it too.
Stotts picked up his coffee, drank the cold dregs. “I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“Let me tell you why you’re wrong,” I said. That got his attention. He smiled and glanced over at me before looking back out the front window.
“I think I know who cast that spell. But I am not sure, not certain enough that I would testify in court. If I Hound the second site and it looks like it’s the same person, then I would be happy to stand in front of the law and point fingers. But if I don’t have a second site to compare to, I will not feel comfortable taking the stand.”
“Who do you think it is?”
“Not until I see the second site.”
“Are you trying to bribe me, Ms. Beckstrom?”
“If I were trying to bribe you, you wouldn’t have to ask that question,” I said.
“So you won’t tell me what you found, even though I’m paying you for your services and you are legally obligated to tell me?”
“Oh, I’ll tell you. But I won’t testify to it.”
I didn’t have a choice. If I wanted a stab at that other site-and I did-and if I wanted a chance to clear Pike’s name-and I did-I would have to trust Stotts would give me that chance.
I felt like a complete jerk, but Stotts did not look surprised at all.
“I’m not the first Hound to indicate him in this, am I?”
“No. But you’re the first one who has doubts.”
“Something about the spell doesn’t smell right,” I said.
“And you’re not the first one to say that.” We were on the ground floor of the parkade now. He paused and then turned right. “I’ll take you to it,” he said. “But if you see anything strange while you’re using magic, anything like back there-ghosts, or whatever-you will stop and we’ll call it a night.”
“Thanks,” I said, and I meant it.
It was dark now and still raining. The drops were smaller, icier, driven by the wind like a sandblaster.
We drove through the neighborhood and I worked on calming my mind. Magic stirred in me, sluggish, distant, but it did respond. I might have been drained by the watercolor people, but it was not permanent.
Good. I didn’t care what Stotts said. I was going to pull on magic for as long as I wanted and Hound this spell no matter what the watercolor people did to me.
Now that I was expecting it, I could handle the pain. The watercolor people had hurt me, but they hadn’t killed me. Yet.
Stotts parked at the curb. “This is the second site.”
More people moved around in this part of the neighborhood despite the rain and cold. Shadows hunched in doorways and overhangs, light catching the cherry embers of cigarettes, the flash of teeth, the glitter of eyes.
This, I decided, was not the kind of place to be alone in the dark. Stotts pulled his gun, did something with it, and then reholstered it. Good thing I’d brought a buddy.
Hells, what about Davy? Was he out there, skulking in the shadows? If he was, he should be easy for me to spot. I glanced at the street, at the houses and abandoned shops and boarded-up buildings. I didn’t see Davy. I hoped he had stayed home.
Stotts took a deep breath and traced a glyph too quickly for me to see which spell he was casting. Then he closed the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, creating a circle and holding magic there like a trigger, ready to pour it into the glyph when he needed it.
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