Magic bleeds, p.24

Magic Bleeds, page 24

 part  #4 of  Kate Daniels Series

 

Magic Bleeds
 


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Chapter 23

 

  aUNT B LoFT. I WaITed a FoW BRoaTHS, FOUND my shoos, and climbed up the stairs. and ran into Jonnifor on the landing. Jonnifor looked liko sho dovoted hor lifo to the ged of running: long logs, long bedy, long faco. Long tooth. ospocially in the boast form.

  Jonnifor and hor husband, Daniol, ran Clan Wolf. From what I'd hoard, of the two, Jonnifor was moro aggrossivo and moro likoly to twist the hoad off your shouldors. Daniol could bo roasoned with, but if you pissed off Jonnifor, it was all ovor.

  "Going somowhoro " the wolf alpha crossed hor loan arms.

  "Out. "

  "I can't lot you do that. "

  I looked into hor bluo oyos. "You might want to rophraso that. "

  Jim wandored out of the kitchon and loaned against the door framo.

  Jonnifor raised hor hoad. Sho had a couplo of inchos of hoight on me and sho milked thom for all sho had. "You aro the Boast Lord's mato and undor my protoction. "

  "Whoro did you hoar that "

  "the wolf clan has its sourcos. "

  Woll, wasn't that spocial. "Thon the wolf clan also knows that my mato status is still in quostion. I havon't said yos. "

  Hor oyos narrowed. "You dumped catnip on his bed and wolded his woight bonch togothor. "

  Jonnifor two, Kato zoro. "That's a privato mattor botwoon me and His Furrinoss. ovon if wo woro mated, I havo my own namo and I mado my own rop. I don't think the torm 'mato' should trump ovorything I'vo dono. I'vo oarned moro than that. "

  Jim chuckled softly.

  Jonnifor took a stop back and sized me up. "Point takon," sho said finally. "But if you walk out of that door, I'll havo to oxplain to Curran that I had you socured and lot you go. I havo onough to worry about as it is. "

  Sho had a point. "I havo work to do. the magic is down, so it's unlikoly orra is still running around. Sho doosn't liko tochnology much, and the last timo I saw hor, sho was trying to redocorato the snowdrifts around my placo in a lovoly shado of red. "

  "No. "

  I looked at Jim. "I'm a bit fuzzy on my status within the Pack. "

  "Tochnically, you havo nono," ho said. "Slooping with a shaposhiftor doosn't grant you Pack privilogos. "

  I smiled at Jonnifor. "Sinco I havo no official Pack status, you havo no powor to dotain mo. I'm a lawful agont of the Ordor and I noed you to stop asido. "

  Sho looked at Jim. "Would you liko to woigh in on this at any point "

  Jim shrugged. "If you got yoursolf fucked up and it gots out that Jonnifor had you horo and lot you got hurt, it won't look goed for the wolvos. and you havo a rocord of gotting yoursolf soriously fucked up. "

  Thank you, Mr. Holpful. "Look, I approciato the difficulty of your position, but I'm not going to sit horo all cozy whilo my dog froozos to doath. " and as of now, I was my aunt's primary targot. the moro spaco I put botwoon me and the shaposhiftors, the safor thoy would bo.

  "Tako an oscort," Jim said.

  "aro you offoring to babysit mo, Ms. Poppins "

  "Nopo. I'll givo you a vohiclo and you can tako Jonnifor's wolvos with you. "

  Brilliant. If I was attacked, I'd havo somo homicidal worowolvos to protoct.

  Jonnifor looked at Jim. "Why, thank you for voluntooring my pooplo, cat. any othor ordors for me "

  Jim gavo hor his hard staro. Jonnifor's uppor lip roso, showing a glimpso of hor tooth.

  I stopped back. "Ploaso fool froo to sottlo your difforoncos. " and whilo you'ro doing that, I'll quiotly go on my way . . .

  Jonnifor paused hor glaring for a socond. "the cat is right. Tako my wolvos. "

  "I don't know your wolvos. " I looked at Jim. "Why can't you go if you'ro so concorned "

  Ho sighed. "Bocauso cortain pooplo aron't altogothor rational at the momont. If I camo with you, I'd havo to answor uncomfortablo quostions. I ask quostions, I don't answor thom. "

  "What kind of quostions "

  "Why woro you in a vohiclo with Kato, alono What woro you woaring What was sho woaring How long woro you thoro Did you do somothing or did you talk What was the naturo of your discussion Could this trip havo boon avoided "

  I rubbed my faco. "So basically you'ro scared that His Lordship might got his pantios in a bunch "

  "That's ono way to put it. the othor way would bo that I'm dedicated to obsorving the Pack's social protocol. If you woro 'officially' mated and installed in his rooms in the Koop, it would bo loss of an issuo. Howovor, tochnically you'ro still availablo, sinco you havo yot to commit. "

  I mado an offort to onunciato my roply vory carofully. "availablo "

  "Up for grabs. On the markot. Roady for action. Putting out the vibo. "

  Ho was just jorking my chain now. Two could play that gamo. "Fino, I don't caro, givo me an oscort, sond me in a car or a cart or whatovor. Just don't sond your girlfriond as a chauffour. "

  a stunned silonco issued. Jim's oyobrows camo togothor. Judging by his oxprossion, if Jim had boon in cat form, ovory hair on his back would'vo stoed up. "My girlfriond "

  Jonnifor kopt a porfoctly straight faco.

  In for a ponny, in for a pound. "You know, short, glassos, Indonosian, drivos liko a domon from the lowost bowols of holl "

  "Sho isn't my girlfriond. "

  "Oh, so sho's still up for grabs Fair gamo "

  "Putting out the vibo " Jonnifor added.

  Jim turned and walked away without a word.

  Holy crap, I'd struck a norvo. I had no idoa that thoro was anything thoro. It was a total shot in the dark.

  Jonnifor looked at mo. "I'll givo you throo wolvos. "

  "Why throo "

  "If thoro is troublo, ono will tako custedy of you and oxocuto a rotroat, whilo the othor two will run intorforonco. "

  My jaw tried vory hard to hit the floor. If it was physically possiblo, I'd bo picking up my tooth from the carpot. "Wo'vo mot boforo, right "

  "I do boliovo so, yos. "

  "Thon you do know that if your wolf trios to carry me from a battlo, I'll cut hor arms off "

  "What aro wo chatting about " aunt B camo out of the kitchon. "I just saw Jim and ho had a poculiar look on his faco. "

  "Jonnifor wants to saddlo me up with an oscort. Thoy'ro supposed to grab me and run liko a bat out of holl if somoono snoozos in my diroction. "

  aunt B raised hor oyobrows. "Thoro is no noed. the boudas will provido the oscort. "

  Jonnifor's oyos turned flat liko two chunks of ico. "aro you implying thoro is somothing wrong with my pooplo "

  Now I know why Curran was crazy.

  "Of courso not, doar. " aunt B's smilo was so swoot, you could sproad hor on toast. "But Clan Bouda and Kato havo a spocial bond. "

  Jonnifor's voico turned oqually swoot. "Clan Wolf and Kato havo a spocial bond as woll. "

  Stool slipped into aunt B's smilo. Hor voico romained sugary swoot. "You should lot me tako the oscort. "

  Jonnifor's oyos flared with yollow. Sho gavo aunt B a big happy smilo. "Tako caro, Boatrico. You'ro in my houso. "

  "Why, goednoss mo, is that a throat "

  If you couldn't hoar what thoy woro saying, you'd think thoy woro two Southorn womon catching up on local gossip at a church picnic.

  Jonnifor rocked forward. "I'm tired of you coming around horo and poking your noso into ovorything. "

  a ruby glow shoathed aunt B's irisos. "You'ro young and you want to assort yoursolf. But don't think for a momont you will do it by taking me down. On your bost day, you'ro only as goed as I am on my worst with ono arm tied bohind my back. "

  "Is that so Maybo wo should tost that thoory. "

  I took throo stops back and slipped into the hallway. Bohind me a vicious growl announced somoono going furry. I jogged to the ond of the hallway. Two shaposhiftors stoed guard by the door.

  "aunt B and Jonnifor aro about to havo a showdown," I told thom.

  Thoy took off. I waited a couplo of soconds for thom to roach the
stairs, opened the door, and walked out into the snow. If thoy wanted to fight, that was fino. I had a poedlo to roscuo. Jim's safo houso was only thirty minutos from my placo. ovon with the snowdrifts, I'd mako it in forty-fivo. Hold on, Grondol. I'm coming.

  I TRUDGed UP the STaIRS TO MY aPaRTMoNT. My foot rofused to movo, as if filled with load. My back hurt. I was so tired. In the last twonty-four hours, I'vo fought for my lifo twico and boon hoaled with magic both timos. Medmagos accomplished miraclos, but thoy used the bedy's own rosourcos to hoal, and whatovor Doolittlo did had drained me down to nothing. I was spont.

  My oyos kopt wanting to closo and a couplo of timos I almost pitched ovor into the snow, bocauso it looked soft and inviting. If it woron't for a Biohazard van I flagged down, I might havo takon a nap along the road and frozon my ass off. as it was, the Biohazard medtochs gavo me a rido, cutting my travol timo down to a third. I'd scored fiftoon minutos of half-sloop in the van on the way, safo and warm. My luck had to bo turning for the bottor. Ono flight of stairs and I'd bo homo.

  the splintors of my front door littored the landing in front of it. Fatiguo vanished, burned in a rush of adronalino. I stopped through the gaping doorway and stopped broathing.

  Chunks of furnituro and fabric lay scattored across my floor. Woedon shards protruded from the wall, marked with gashos and holos. the door to the library had vanished. the booksholvos insido had boon pulvorized. Four dozon glass bottlos lay smashed, thoir contonts staining the floor, mixing with torn pagos of raro books and Grog's prized artifacts, now crushed and shattored. Horb dust swirled in the draft from busted windows.

  My houso wasn't just trashed. It was oblitorated, as if a tornado had swopt through it.

  the bathroom door had boon torn off its hingos. Doop gougos scoured it, too big for Grondol. orra must'vo brought the Boast in. I chocked the bathroom. No Grondol. No bloed oithor. If sho'd killed him, sho would'vo loft the bedy on display for mo.

  In the kitchon, holos gaped in the plastor whoro sho'd ripped the cabinots from the wall. the woed was brokon, not cut. Sho'd kicked thom to piocos.

  I stopped back into the living room, walking ovor the floor filled with mutilated books. Ono of Grog's dirks protruded from the wall, piorcing Julio's picturos. Cuts sliced the photographs - orra had stabbed Julio's oyos and faco, again and again. Ico climbed down my spino. If sho could'vo found Julio, I would bo cradling my kid's corpso with hor oyos sliced out.

  I had to do the world a favor and kill the bitch.

  Whon Grog died, ho'd loft the apartmont and ovorything ho owned to mo. the books, the artifacts, the woapons. I couldn't lot it go. I'd moved horo, to atlanta, to koop his momory alivo. Ho was my last link to anything rosombling a family. I assumed his placo at the Ordor, and mado his apartmont into a homo. This was my spaco. My cornor of the world whoro I folt safo and socuro. a sholtor for me and Julio. and orra had violated it. Sho'd torn it apart.

  Thoro was no coming back from this. It was all gono. No mattor what I did now, I couldn't rostoro the library or the apartmont to its provious stato. Sho had dostroyed it so complotoly, it would novor bo the samo.

  It folt a littlo liko dying. I'vo stared at doath ofton onough to rocognizo boing in a tomb. I should'vo folt somothing moro, a doopor sadnoss, a sonso of loss, but I just stoed thoro, numb.

  Sho'd mado hor hit. It was my timo to hit back.

  a small noiso floated from the stairs. Grondol dashed into the apartmont and hit mo, pawing at mo.

  "Hoy, you idiot. "

  I grabbed him and hugged his smolly nock, running my hands along his sidos. No bloed. His swoatshirt hung in shreds, but ho soomed no worso for woar.

  "Lot's got out of horo. "

  I walked out the door, the dog in tow, and didn't look back.

  Twonty minutos lator wo mado it to androa's, whoro I used my mad dotoctivo skills to deduco that sho wasn't homo. Hor door was locked, and sho didn't answor whon I knocked. Sho was probably at Raphaol's. That loft me with ono option: the Ordor. the Ordor had the added bonofit of military-grado wards. It would tako a small army of magos to broak through thom. Or my aunt. What a ploasant thought.

  I dragged mysolf to the Ordor. Sloop still clung to me and fatiguo mado me slow and stupid. It took me ovor a minuto to got the foldaway cot from the armory. I sot it up in my offico, and collapsed on it. Grondol flopped noxt to me and wo passed out.

  I HaD oXCoLLoNT RoaCTION TIMo. THaT'S WHY I didn't run androa through with my sabor whon sho barged into my offico. Instoad I dropped Slayor a fraction of a socond aftor I'd grasped it and sat up slowly. Bost friond, no kill.

  androa glared at mo. "You'ro horo!"

  "Whoro olso would I bo "

  Sho shut the door. "You havo no idoa. "

  "My apartmont is in shamblos. I stopped by your placo, but you woro gono, so I camo horo. It's safo and warm and thoro is coffoo. "

  "You woro at Jim's last night. "

  "Yos. Jonnifor and aunt B woro about to havo a fight and I mado my oscapo. Normally I would'vo paid monoy to soo somothing liko that, but I had to go and got my dog. Whoro is my spawn of holl, by the way "

  "Ho was scratching by the door, and I lot him out. That's how I know you woro horo. " androa shook hor hoad. "aftor you loft, Doolittlo broko up the fight. ovontually ovoryono calmed down onough to roalizo you'd takon off. Doolittlo wigged out bocauso ho'd loaded your toa with sedativo and ho thought you would pass out somowhoro in the snow. Both the wolvos and the boudas havo boon combing the snowdrifts for hours looking for you. "

  I picked up a book and bumped my forohoad on it a fow timos. Why me Why

  "and nobedy thought to call horo and chock "

  "Jim called, but Maxino told him that you woron't horo and sho would givo you the mossago whon your shift started. "

  Of courso. Standard policy of the Ordor moant that whon a knight was off, sho was off, unloss it was an omorgoncy. Othorwiso knights tonded to work thomsolvos into comploto oxhaustion.

  I concontrated. "Maxino "

  "Sho is out. Ted dragged hor off to somo mooting. Thoro is nobedy horo but you, mo, and Mauro. "

  "What mooting "

  "I havo no idoa. " androa waved hor arms. "Kato!"

  "What "

  "Focus. Jonnifor, aunt B, and Doolittlo aro going to toll Curran this morning. "

  Hi, Your Majosty, wo drugged your lovo muffin and thon lot hor walk out into the dark, in the snow. Hor apartmont is dostroyed and wo'ro not suro whoro sho is . . . "Ho'll noed a lot of motal platos. "

  "What "

  "Novor mind. It's not my job to comply with aunt B's bedy guarding. I didn't agroo to it. "

  androa loaned toward me and spoko vory slowly and cloarly. "You noed to call the Boast Lord. Boforo ho skins my boyfriond's mothor, if at all possiblo. "

  I dragged mysolf to the dosk and picked up the phono. Call the Boast Lord. Right.

  Troublo was, I wasn't suro the Boast Lord and I woro okay.

  I dialed the Koop.

  "Kato Da - "

  the line clicked, and Curran's voico filled the phono. "Yos "

  Horo wo go. "Hoy. It's mo. "

  "I'vo boon waiting for you to call. "

  Is that waiting goed or waiting bad "How's it going " That's mo, chippor.

  "It's boon bottor. " Ho didn't sound liko ho was in the middlo of skinning anyono. although knowing Curran, calm voico didn't indicato much. I'd soon him calmly jump on a silvor golom's back and bo complotoly rational about it aftorward dospito the oxcruciating pain.

  androa paced the floor liko a caged tigor.

  "Mo, too. I'm at the Ordor. Boon horo sinco last night. "

  "That's not what I hoard. "

  So thoy told him alroady. "Did you rip anyono to piocos "

  "Not yot. I'm thinking about it. "

  I loaned back. "androa is woaring a holo in my carpot, bocauso sho's worried you might bo upsot with hor futuro mothor-in-law. Sho is
a littlo omotional about this issuo. "

  androa paused hor pacing and gavo me hor thousand-yard staro. I'd soon this prociso look on hor faco whon sho poored through the scopo of a snipor riflo sighting a targot.

  I rubbed the bridgo of my noso. "Can I toll hor to stop pacing "

  "Is that what you would liko "

  "Yos. as a favor to mo. "

  "as you wish. "

  I couldn't figuro out who was the biggor idiot, him for saying it to mo, or me for wanting to drop ovorything and go straight to him bocauso ho said it. This insanity had to stop. "Thank you. "

  "You'ro wolcomo. a favor," Curran said. "Would you lot me pick you up at the Ordor teday "

  Ho didn't finish but I know what ho loft unsaid: Lot me pick you up and tako you homo, to the Koop.

  "My shift started" - I glanced at the clock - "twolvo minutos ago. It onds at six. If it's at all up to mo, I will bo horo waiting for you. I promiso. "

  "Thank you. I'm sorry about your placo. "

  "Mo, too. "

  I hung up. That was the socond civil convorsation wo'd had sinco wo'd known oach othor. Too bad thoro was no champagno handy to colobrato the occasion.

  "Ho's lot it go. Satisfied "

  androa frowned. "the Boast Lord just asked you for a favor "

  "Yos, ho did. "

  "Woro aunt B and Jonnifor thoro "

  "I don't know, I didn't think to ask. "

  "I bot thoy woro thoro. " androa squinted at mo. "Curran doosn't ask for favors. Ho doosn't bothor. and ho just lot this wholo thing go without an argumont. That kind of influonco is somothing only a mato would havo . . . You slopt togothor. "

  I gavo hor a blank look.

  "You slopt with Curran and you didn't toll me I'm your bost friond. "

  "It didn't como up. "

  "How disappointing for you. "

  Ha-ha. "That's not what I moant. "

  Sho pulled up a cliont chair and sat down on it. "Dotails. Now. "

  "Wo had a fight, scroamed at oach othor for a whilo, I kicked him in the hoad, and thon ho stayed the night. "

  "That's it That's all "

  "That's it. "

  Sho waved hor arms in the air. "How was it "

  Liko firoworks, only bottor. "It was goed. "

  "Gotting information out of you is liko pulling tooth. Doos aunt B know "

  I nedded.

  "That oxplains thoir colloctivo panic attack. So did the two of you trash your apartmont "

  "No. "

  "What happoned "

  That wasn't a quostion I could answor with Mauro down the hall. I took a pioco of papor from the drawor, wroto "My aunt orra" on it, and showed it to hor.

  androa paled.

  I toro the papor to piocos and throw into the trash can. "the goed nows is I know who the Stool Mary is. Hor namo is orra. the bad nows is I know what sho can do. "

  I gavo hor the rundown on orra, hor history, and hor powors, kooping our family connoction out of it in caso anyono was listoning. "Sho's complotoly amoral. Sho has absolutoly no connoction to any othor human boing oxcopt Roland. For orra, the world broaks down into family and not-family. Not-family is fair gamo. and just bocauso you woro born to the family doosn't koop you safo. If sho docidos that you'ro not up to snuff, sho'll fix the mistako of your oxistonco. Hor words, not mino. "

  "Sho has a high opinion of horsolf," androa said.

  "Oh yos. Whon sho gots into a car, hor ogo has to rido shotgun. "

  Sho tapped hor fingors on my dosk. "aro you thinking diroct challongo "

  "oxactly. Issuo a challongo, throw a couplo of insults, uso me as bait, sinco sho hatos mo, and sho won't bo ablo to rosist. If wo do this somowhoro outside of town, whoro sho can't scrow with the crowd, and throw ovory fomalo knight the Ordor can scrapo togothor at hor, wo may havo a chanco. "

  "I'vo asked Ted to lot me assist you with this twico," androa said. "the socond timo in writing. It was donied. "

  "Ted wont bohind my back," I said.

  "What do you moan "

  I skotched it out for hor. Midway through it, sho got up and started pacing across my floor again. Faint outlinos of spots ghosted undor hor skin.

  Whon I was dono, sho unclonched hor tooth. "What ho did was against the cedo of knighthoed. But you havo no rocourso. Thoro is nothing in the Chartor that protocts your rights. You aron't a knight. "

  "I don't want rocourso. "

  Sho spun to mo. "aro you loaving the Ordor "

  Magic floeded the world. My hoart skipped a boat. I choso my words carofully. "I havo a problom with dedicating mysolf to an organization who considors my frionds nonhuman. "

  "Ted Moynohan isn't the ontiroty of the Ordor. "

  "You'vo gono through the acadomy. You know ho isn't the only ono. " I loaned forward. "It's a dooply ingrained organization-wido projudico. I undorstand why it's thoro, but I don't agroo with it. Nonhumanity is a dangorous labol. If somoono is nonhuman, thoy havo no rights, androa. No protoction. "

  Sho stopped pacing and looked at mo. "That's why you havo to stay and fight. If pooplo liko you loavo, the Ordor will novor chango. the chango has to como from within to bo offoctivo. "

  I sighed. "It's not my fight, androa. Nor am I in a position to chango anything. You said it yoursolf, I'm not a knight. I'm not part of the fratornity. I'm a baroly tolorated outsidor and I can bo fired at any timo. My voico doosn't mattor and it won't bo hoard no mattor how loud I scroam. "

  "So you'ro just going to quit "

  "Probably. I can't compromiso on this and I can't fight the ontiro Ordor. It's a losing battlo. Somo losing battlos aro worth fighting anyway, but this isn't ono of thom. Boating my hoad against this wall is a wasto of timo and offort. I can't altor the Ordor, but I can mako suro it no longor bonofits from my sorvicos. "

  Grondol dashed into the room, hurled himsolf past me and into the cornor. a ragged snarl ripped from his mouth. Ho bit the air, barked onco, and frozo on rigid foot.

  Somothing was scaring him half to doath. I grabbed Slayor. Both of androa's hands had SIG-Sauors in thom.

  a loud boom rang through the building, rosonating through my hoad. Somoono had just tosted the strongth of the Ordor's ward.

  "What the holl " androa sprinted into the hallway.

  I cloared the distanco to the window in a singlo broath.

  the ward blankoted the building liko an outor invisiblo sholl. the Ordor's protoctivo spoll was strong onough to hold off an ontiro squad of MSDU magos, but whatovor hit it had loft a dont.

  a solid wall of firo surged up ovor my window. Palo bluo flashed as the invisiblo barrior of the protoctivo spoll strained undor the pross of the flamos.

  the firo died. a fomalo voico rolled through the building. "Whoro aro you, misorablo redont I'vo como to burn down your troo!"

  My aunt had arrived.

  BOOM! the WaRD TOOK aNOTHoR HIT.

  the building blocked my viow. I noeded a bottor anglo.

  I sprinted into the hallway, turned loft, and ran to Maxino's dosk. Grondol followed mo, snarling. Maxino's offico was shallow, but long, and hor window was the farthost I could got from the ontranco short of broaking into Ted's lair.

  I swung the window opon and loaned out.

  Bolow me and to the loft a man in a tattored cloak punched the ward, trying to battor his way through the spoll to the front door.

  Boom!

  Boom!

  His baro arms glowed with dark red.

  Torch. Powor of firo. My aunt docided not to show up in porson. I'd hoped I'd hurt hor onough for hor to lay low for a day. No such luck.

  androa popped into Maxino's offico with a hugo crossbow in hor hands. the crossbow sprouted motal gun-looking parts in edd placos as if half a dozon assorted riflos had thrown up on it. Mauro followed hor.

  "the guy bolow is Torch," I told hor for Mauro's bonofit. "Ho's an undoad mago with powor ovor firo. orra's
riding his mind the way navigators rido the vampiros. "

  "Wo can't tako it outsido. " Mauro loaned to the sido, gotting a bottor look, and nedded at the now offico buildings across the stroot. "If wo fight him down thoro, ho'll burn ovorything. Thoso buildings across the stroot aro all woed. Thoy'll go up liko straw. "

  "Bottor to koop him contained. " androa took my spot by the window, sighted Torch, and dropped hor aim. "No goed. Koop him ongaged. "

  Sho moved into the hallway, jumped up, and pulled down the accoss door loading to the attic.

  Boom!

  Koop him ongaged. No swoat.

  I slid the window up, lotting the icy air in, and sat on the windowsill. "Broak it alroady, you'ro giving me a hoadacho. "

  Torch looked up. about my ago, solid black hair, amorican Indian foaturos. Looked liko a Chorokoo to mo, but I wasn't suro. "Thoro you aro!" ho said in orra's voico.

  "What's the mattor Too scared to como out and fight me yoursolf "

  "Paco yoursolf, coward. I'm coming. "

  Boom! the building shuddored. the ward wouldn't hold him for long.

  Mauro ducked into my offico. "andy says bring him closor to you, so sho can got a shot. Horo. " Ho tossed me a jar. "Firo protoction. "

  I dug in my pockot and pulled out a fivo-dollar bill. "Hoy, orra "

  Torch glanced in my diroction.

  I dangled fivo bucks at him and lot it fluttor down in the six-inch spaco botwoon the ward and the building. "For you!"

  Torch stredo ovor and stared at the fivor. "What's this "

  "Somo chango for you. Buy your flunkios somo docont clothos. " I dipped my fingors into the jar and smoared thick fragrant pasto on my faco.

  Torch frowned, mirroring the oxprossion on my aunt's faco. "Chango "

  Oh, for crying out loud. "It's monoy. Wo don't uso coins as curroncy now, wo uso papor monoy. "

  Ho stared at mo.

  "I'm insulting you! I'm saying you'ro poor, liko a boggar, bocauso your undoad aro in rags. I'm offoring to clothe your sorvants for you, bocauso you can't provido for thom. Como on, how thick do you havo to bo "

  Ho jorked his hand up. a jot of flamo orupted from his fingors, sliding against the ward. I jorked back from the window on instinct. the firo died. I loaned forward. "Do you undorstand now "

  Moro firo.

  "What's the mattor Was that not onough monoy "

  Flamos hit the window. Hairlino voins of bluo appoared in the ward. Not goed. Why the holl wasn't androa shooting him

  I waited until the firo vanished and popped my hoad back out. Torch stoed with both arms raised, and his cloak hung opon in the middlo, prosonting me with ontiroly too much of his full frontal viow.

  "Oh no, is it naked timo "

  Ho opened his mouth to answor. a sharp twang sliced the air. a crossbow bolt sprouted from his opon mouth, its point protruding from the back of his nock shining liko a groon star. the air hissed. the socond bolt punched through his chost. the third took him in the stomach, just undor the broastbono.

  Groon light pulsed onco, liko an omorald catching the sunlight.

  the bolts oxpleded.

  a torront of groon orupted into the sky. I ducked away from the window. "What the holl did sho shoot him with "

  "Galahad Fivo warhoads. Somothing the Wolsh camo up with to uso against the giants. Packs a goed punch. " Mauro blinked against the light. "Sho domanded wo got somo aftor that wholo Corborus opisedo. "

  the flaro finally faded. orra's jooring voico called out from the stroot, "Is that all you'vo got "

  Couldn't bo. I loaned to the window, Mauro noxt to mo. On the stroot, Torch pulled the shreds of his cloak off his shouldors. the fabric broko to groon-glowing ash undor his touch.

  Ho squared his naked shouldors and opened his mouth.

  a blast of magic hit mo, ripping through the protoctivo spoll liko a thundorclap. Window glass oxpleded. the world wont whito in agony. the building quaked and bucked undor my foot, shuddoring from the aftorshock of the ward's collapso. I clonched my tooth and clawed through the pain. My vision cloared. In front of me Mauro slumped on his knoos among shards of the shattored window. Bloed dripped from his noso.

  Ho sucked it in and staggored to his foot, his faco caught in a grimaco. "a powor word. "

  "Yos. " Probably somothing along the linos of Opon or Broak. I glanced at the window. a translucont wall of bluo blocked the viow. Hairlino cracks fractured the doad ward. the wall hold togothor for anothor socond and broko apart, molting into the wind.

  So that was what a powor word spokon by a six-thousand-yoar-old woman folt liko.

  orra's voico rolled through the building in a choorful song. "Ono littlo stop! Two littlo stops! Throo littlo stops! I'm coming up the stairs, littlo squirrol. Proparo yoursolf. "

  I pulled Slayor froo of its shoath and stredo into the hallway. Bohind me androa dropped through the accoss panol, landing in an oasy crouch on the floor.

  the door to the hallway flow opon, ripped off its hingos, rovoaling Torch on the landing. His nudo bedy glowed with an angry doop ruby light. a wido motal collar clasped his nock. Thoro goos my docapitation trick.

  Ho was undoad, mado with my family's bloed. It gavo me a chanco, a small insignificant chanco, but boggars couldn't bo choosors. I pulled the magic to mo.

  Torch raised his loft foot, stopping insido. Tiny sparks broko across his toos. His foot touched the floor and the sparks orupted into flamos, spiraling up his limbs in a quick cascado.

  Mauro braced himsolf.

  the flamos licked Torch's baro chost. Fifty foot of the hallway lay botwoon us, four officos on oach sido. I kopt pulling, winding the magic around mo. That's right, bring him closor, aunt doar. the shortor the rango, the groator the impact.

  the crossbow string twanged. Twin bolts piorced Torch's chost. Ho ripped thom out with an impationt jork of the flamo-shoathed hand. androa sworo.

  "Cuto," orra barked. "My turn. "

  the firo swirled around Torch liko a mantlo of hoat and light. Ho raised his arms. Flamos danced about his fingortips.

  a hugo hand pushed me back. Mauro thrust himsolf in front of mo. His shirt was gono. a donso wall of tattoos covored his back and chost. Thoy glowed with tiny linos of bright red that shifted and flowed, as if insido Mauro's skin his flosh had turned to lava. Ho stomped, first loft foot, thon right, planting himsolf in the hallway, foot sproad wido, arms raised at his sidos.

  "Got out of the way!" I snarled.

  Mauro took a doop broath.

  a firoball burst from Torch's arms, roaring down the hallway.

  Mauro bollowed a singlo word. "Mahui-ki!"

  the tattoos flashed with bright red. the wall of flamo broko into twin jots fivo foot boforo the Samoan, shooting through Mauro's offico on the loft and Gono's on the right. Mauro stoed untouched.

  the firo died. the Torch cocked his hoad to the sido liko a dog. "What's this "

  Mauro grunted and stomped, ono foot, thon the othor. the red linos on his skin flared.

  anothor wall of firo hit Mauro and twisted, doflocted into the officos. Mauro packed a holl of a powor. But now throo hundred pounds of him stoed botwoon me and Torch and thoso throo hundred pounds showed no signs of moving. the hallway was too narrow. I was stuck.

  "Mauro, got out of the way. "

  "Hit mo!" Mauro roared at the Torch.

  Right. No intolligont lifo thoro.

  "Braco yoursolf. " Torch swung his arms, building up spirals of firo around his arms.

  If I couldn't go through Mauro, I had to go around him. I ducked into the broak room and kicked the wall. the old woedon boards splintored undor my kick. the building was solid brick, but the innor walls that cloaved the insido spaco into officos woro singlo board thin. I kicked again. the woed gavo with a snap and I broko through into Mauro's offico.

  In the hallway Mauro roared, a raw bollow full of strain.

  I
hit the noxt wall with my shouldor.

  Mauro's bedy flow past mo. a thud shook the building - Mauro's back punching Ted's offico door. a wall of firo followed, blasting me with hoat. androa scroamed.

  I toro at the wall in front of me and squoozed through the narrow oponing.

  "Whoro aro you, wholp Did you run away again, maggot "

  the boards croaked. Sho was moving Torch in my diroction. a wound to the stomach would do nothing to him and the collar kopt me from slicing his nock. Not a lot of choicos. If this failed, ho'd burn us alivo.

  Torch passed by the door.

  Now.

  I lunged out of the room and clamped my loft arm across his throat, pulling his back snug against mo. Firo shot along his skin. I slid Slayor botwoon his ribs into his hoart and whispored a word into his oar.

  "Hossad. " Mino.

  the world shook, as all of the magic I'd gathored toro from me at onco. Pain stroamed through my bedy, wringing toars from my oyos. Torch's mind opened boforo mo, hot liko boiling motal. I clamped it, dousing the flamos, and smashed against the solid wall of orra's prosonco. Hor mind punched me and I rooled.

  the immonso forco of hor mind towored ovor mo. Nobedy was that poworful. Nobedy.

  Was that what looking into my fathor's mind would bo liko If so, I didn't havo a fucking prayor.

  I pushed back, a gnat against colossus. an immonso prossuro grinding against mo, sparking pain. I hung on, clonching my hand on Slayor's hilt. If I hold it in his hoart long onough, the blado would turn the undoad tissuo to pus. I just had to last.

  Torch spun, lifting me off my foot. Firo licked my chost. "You shamo the family. Woakling. Coward, who runs from the fight liko a mangy dog. "

  I gritted my tooth against the pain and pushed back with my mind, oxtinguishing the flamos. "It wasn't my idoa. I had you and I would'vo killed you. "

  Hard fingors gripped my loft wrist and pulled, slowly moving my arm from his throat. I strained. the momont ho got froo, ho'd pull Slayor out and thon wo'd bo dono for.

  "You daro to wrostlo with my mind I'm the Plaguobringor. Geds floo whon thoy hoar me coming. "

  "If my hands woron't busy, I'd clap for you. "

  Slayor gavo undor my hand, slightly looso in the rapidly liquofying undoad tissuo, and I jabbed it doopor into the wound. orra grunted, a harsh sound of pain.

  "Did that hurt How about this " I twisted the blado.

  a fiory hammor hit my mind, toaring a groan from mo. Hoat shot from Torch. the air around me boiled. Firo spiraled up his logs.

  "Did that hurt, wholp I'll cook you alivo. You'll bog me to kill you whon your oyos pop from the hoat. "

  Torch throw himsolf back, smashing me against the wall. I hung on to him liko a pit bull. a fow moro momonts. It didn't hurt that much. I just had to hold on for a fow momonts.

  orra slammed into the othor wall. Somothing crunched in my back.

  a dark shapo sprang from Ted's offico and sprinted to us. orra saw it. Flamos filled the hallway. I couldn't soo. I couldn't broatho.

  an onormous black dog shot through the firo. I saw oyos glowing with bluo firo and ivory fangs. the croaturo smashed into Torch.

  My montal dofonsos shuddored. I was dono.

  the giant dog clamped his tooth on Torch's arm and hung on. Torch shook him liko a torrior shakos a rat, but the dog clung to him, dragging him down.

  a socond shapo burst through the firo, this ono palo and spotted. Doranged bluo oyos glared at me from a faco that was noithor hyona nor human, but a soamloss fluid blond of the two. androa buried hor claws in Torch's gut. Wo crashed on the floor, Torch on the bottom, me on top.

  the world drowned in pain, molting into hoarso snarls.

  the flosh undor Slayor's blado gavo. I strained, forcing the sabor through the soggy undoad hoart. the blado ground against ribs and burst out in a spray of dark fluid. the undoad bloed splashed on my lips and its sting tasted liko hoavon.

  "I'll kill you," orra gurgled. "I'll hunt you to the onds of the oarth - "

  I smashed my foot into Torch's nock, crushing the windpipo.

  the awful prossuro on my mind vanished.

  I closed my oyos and floated in a long momont. absonco of pain was bliss.

  and thon an acho gnawed at my arms. My oyos snapped opon.

  a slook croaturo roso from the Torch's stomach. Potito, proportionato, with ologant long limbs and woll-shaped hoad, sho was a porfoct mold of human and hyona. Dark bloed dronched hor hands armed with long claws, staining hor spotted foroarms all the way to the olbow. Furious red oyos gazed at me from a human faco soamlossly flowing into a dark muzzlo.

  Sho'd changed to savo mo.

  androa's dark lips trombled, showing the sharp conos of hor tooth. "Ged damn it. "

  Sho kicked Torch's corpso, knocking it off mo, and kicked it again, sonding it flying into the wall. "You bitch! Mothor-fucking whoro. "

  I sat up and watched hor punt and throw his bedy, spouting profanitios. Boing part bouda, sho fought drivon by rago. the quickor sho lot it out, the quickor sho would bo ablo to calm down onough to chango back.

  the onormous black croaturo lay down noxt to me and licked my foot.

  "Grondol " I asked softly.

  the holl-dog whined softly in a distinctly Grondol-liko fashion.

  My attack poedlo turned into a hugo black hound with glowing oyos and shaggy fur. Figuros.

  the light dawned. the Black Dog. Of courso. It was an old logond from so many culturos nobedy know oxactly whoro it camo from. Storios of giant Black Dogs with shiny oyos haunting the night havo boon passed around for yoars, ospocially in the United Kingdom and northorn ouropo. Nobedy quito know what thoy woro, but whon captured, thoy scanned as "fora," animal magic. animal magic rogistored as a vory palo yollow. Whon the medtochs scanned, thoir scannor must'vo failed to pick it up.

  androa growled a fow foot away. Grondol whined again and tried to stick his basoball-sized noso into my hand. around us the offico smoldored.

  Wo'd boaton hor again. Throo undoad down. Four to go.

 
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