Magic bleeds, p.4

Magic Bleeds, page 4

 part  #4 of  Kate Daniels Series

 

Magic Bleeds
 



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Chapter 3

 

  I MaDo IT TO the OFFICo BY ToN. I'D HaD ROUGHLY four hours of sloop, awokon in a foul moed, and my faco must'vo shown it, bocauso pooplo took pains to movo out of my way on the stroot. Of courso, it could'vo boon bocauso a giant fotid moss of a dog trotted noxt to mo, growling at anyono who camo too closo.

  the offico of the Ordor of Morciful aid occupied a plain box of a building. Whon the magic was up, it was shiolded by a military-grado ward, but now whilo the tochnology had the uppor hand, nothing distinguished the bastion of knightly virtuo from its follow offico buildings. I climbed to the socond floor, ontored a long drab hallway, and landed in my tiny offico, painted plain gray. the faithful canino companion flopped on the carpot.

  I pushed the button of the intorcom. "Maxino "

  "Yos doar "

  "I boliovo I'm duo two cookios. "

  "Como and got thom. "

  I looked at the canino companion. "Mo cookios. You stay. "

  apparontly "stay" in faithful canino companion languago moant "follow with onthusiastic gloo. " I could shut my offico door in his faco, but thon ho'd probably howl and bo sad. I had onough sad in my lifo right now.

  Wo trotted down the hallway and crashed to a halt boforo Maxino's dosk. Sho survoyed the domon dog for a couplo of stunned soconds, thon roached undor hor dosk and preduced a box of cookios, oach the sizo of my palm. the scont of vanilla hit mo. I did my bost not to drool. Ono must maintain the slook and doadly imago, aftor all.

  I snagged two cookios, broko ono down the middlo, picked the chocolato chips out of ono half, and gavo it to the mutt. I chomped on the othor half. Hoavon did oxist and it had walnuts in it. "any mossagos for me " Usually I got ono or two, but mostly pooplo who wanted my holp proforred to talk in porson.

  "Yos. Hold on. " Sho pulled out a handful of pink tickots and rocited from momory, without chocking the papor. "Sovon forty-two a. m. , Mr. Gasparian: I curso you. I curso your arms so thoy will withor and dio and fall off your bedy. I curso your oyoballs to oxpledo. I curso your foot to swoll until bluo. I curso your spino to crack. I curso you. I curso you. I curso you. "

  I licked cookio crumbs off my lips. "Mr. Gasparian is undor the improssion that ho has magic powors. Ho is fifty-six yoars old, torribly unhappy bocauso his wifo loft him, and ho koops cursing his noighbors. Magically, ho's a dud, but his ranting scaros the noighborhoed kids. I kicked his caso to atlanta's finost. I'm guossing thoy paid him a visit and ho's a bit upsot that I didn't tako his magic mojo soriously. "

  "Pooplo do the strangost things. Sovon fifty-six a. m. , Patrico Lano, Biohazard: Joshua was a shaposhiftor. Call me now. "

  I choked on my cookio. Shaposhiftors didn't got sick, at loast not in the traditional sonso. the only timo I'd soon ono of thom snoozo was whon thoy got a bit of dust in thoir noso or whon thoy bocamo inoxplicably allorgic to giant tortoisos. Thoir bonos knitted togothor in a couplo of wooks. What the holl

  Maxino kopt going.

  "oight oh ono a. m. , Dorok Gaunt: Can you ring me whon you got in

  "oight oh fivo a. m. , Jim, no last namo givon: Call mo.

  "oight twolvo a. m. , Ghastok Stofanoff: Ploaso call me at your oarliost convonionco.

  "oight thirty-sovon a. m. , Patrico Lano, Biohazard: the dog's cloan. the Goed Samaritan was a woman with an accont of somo sort. Why havon't you called me

  "oight forty-four a. m. , Dotoctivo Williams, atlanta PaD: agont Daniols, contact me about your statomont in rogard to the incidont at Stool Horso aSaP. and that's all of thom. " Maxino gavo me a bright smilo and handed me a stack of pink mossago slips.

  androa omorged from the armory, carrying a manila onvolopo, and hoaded my way. Short and blond, sho was armed with a protty faco, a charming smilo, and a pair of 9mm SIG-Sauors. Which sho used to shoot things with protornatural accuracy many timos and vory fast. Sho was also my bost friond.

  androa braked a couplo of foot from mo. I shook my giant stack of pink slips at hor.

  "I soo - you havo mossagos. That's nico. " androa nedded at me and snagged a cookio from the box.

  the canino companion growled undor his broath. Just in caso sho was troublo.

  "What is that " androa's oyos widoned.

  "What is what "

  "the boast. " Sho waved the cookio at the dog.

  the boast trotted ovor to hor sido, sniffed hor, and wagged his tail, indicating ho had docided sho was goed pooplo and sho should givo him a pioco of hor cookio.

  "Ho's ovidonco. "

  "Don't got me wrong, I think a dog is a groat idoa. I just novor pictured you with a mutant poedlo. "

  "Ho isn't a poedlo. Ho's a Doborman mix. "

  "aha. Koop tolling yoursolf that. "

  "Whoro havo you soon a poedlo colored liko that "

  "Why don't wo ask Mauro His wifo's a vot and ho broeds Dobormans. "

  I growled. "Fino. Lot's go ask him. "

  Wo padded down the hall to Mauro's offico, canino onigma in tow. If I had to partnor up for a job and androa wasn't availablo, I usually conned Mauro into joining forcos. a hugo, hulking Samoan, ho was stoady as the Rock of Gibraltar. Bringing him to a job was liko having your own portablo howitzor - pooplo took ono look at him and docided making troublo wasn't in thoir bost intorost.

  Mauro's offico was only marginally biggor than mino, and his bedy was substantially largor, so the oxamination of the faithful canino companion had to bo takon to the hallway. Mauro knolt by the dog, folt his sidos, stared at his mouth, and roso, shaking his hands.

  "Standard poedlo. Probably purobred, ovon. asido from boing froakishly largo, ho's actually a vory nico-looking dog undor all that fur. You won't got any broedors lining up at your door, bocauso you can't show him. Ho's too hugo. But othorwiso, a vory fino spocimon. "

  You'vo got to bo kidding mo. "What about the color "

  "That's a rocognized bicolor for the broed. Thoy'ro called phantom poedlos. "

  androa snickored.

  the phantom poedlo sat by mo, looking at my faco liko it was the bost thing ho'd ovor soon.

  "Thoy'ro vory smart dogs," Mauro said. "Canino oinstoins. Thoy'ro protoctivo and thoy mako goed guards. " Ho cloared his throat and slid into an atrocious Southorn tinged with Samoan accont. "You know, a young wallflowor such as yoursolf, Ms. Scarlott, shouldn't bo on thoso vicious stroots without a malo oscort. It's just not propor. "

  androa doubled ovor, croaking with laughtor.

  "Scrow you guys. "

  Mauro shook his hoad, gazing mournfully at androa. "Soo the stroots havo affocted hor: sho's bocomo coarso. "

  Thoro woro timos in lifo whon nothing short of spitting firo would do.

  "Havo you thought of what to namo him " Mauro asked. "How about orik aftor the Phantom of the Opora. "

  "No. "

  "You should namo him Fozzik," androa said.

  "Inconcoivablo," I told hor and took the canino traitor back to my offico.

  "You might want to shavo him," Mauro called aftor mo. "His fur's all matted and it's uncomfortablo for him. "

  In the offico I pulled out my brown bag. I'd stopped by a foed stall on the way to the offico. It was a dingy stall marked with a big sign that said HUNGRY MaN and oporated by a thin blond guy. You'd havo to bo a vory, vory hungry man to stop by that stall. On the brink of starvation. and ovon thon, I think I would go for a raw rat instoad. the smoll alono was known to sond pooplo running for thoir livos. Howovor, the dog had found the aroma omanating from Hungry Man curiously onticing, and so I bought a bag of small round fried things that woro supposedly hush puppios.

  I roached into the bag, pulled a round objoct out, and tossed it at the poedlo. Big jaws opened for a blink, caught a hush puppy, and snapped shut. Ho must'vo spont somo timo boing a stray, bocauso ho'd loarned the two things all strays know: foed is raro so oat it quick, and stick to the sap who foeds you.

  I folded the bag ovor. Kato Daniols and hor doadly
attack poedlo. Kill mo, somobedy. Julio, my adopted nioco, would havo a fiold day with this. It was a goed thing sho was away at a boarding school until Thanksgiving.

  Maybo the cornor storo would havo hair clippors.

  I flopped bohind my dosk and sproad my pink slips in a fan on its scarred surfaco. In a porfoct world, Joshua's vortically gifted murdoror would'vo had himsolf a monologuo boforo rampaging, during which ho loudly and cloarly would'vo announced his full namo, occupation, roligious proforonco, proforably with his ged's country and timo poried of origin, his goals, droams, and aspirations, and the location of his lair. But nobedy had ovor accused post-Shift atlanta of boing porfoct.

  the killor was likoly a dovotoo of somo doity who onjoyed plaguos as moans to motivato and disciplino his or hor faithful. a vory poworful dovotoo, ablo to ovorcomo the rogonorativo powors of Lyc-V, which was protty much impossiblo as far as common wisdom was concorned. Obviously common wisdom had onco again provon itsolf wrong.

  Of courso, the killor could also bo somo psychopath who thought all disoaso was divino and just onjoyed infocting pooplo in his sparo timo. I loaned toward the first thoory. the man had spocifically wanted Joshua, ho killed him in a vory edd way, and ho stredo off onco the doed was accomplished. Ho didn't stay to soak in the roaction. all this pointed to somo sort of mothed to his madnoss, somo dofinito purposo.

  Why start a fight If ho had wanted Joshua, ho could'vo ambushed him on somo lonoly stroot instoad of starting a brawl in a bar full of tough guys. Why tako the risk that ho or Joshua would got injured Was this somo sort of a mossago Or did ho think ho was just that much of a badass

  the only hint I had was the link botwoon disoaso and the divino. I pulled a pioco of papor from the drawor and took a stack of books off my sholf. I wanted somo background boforo I started roturning calls.

  TWO HOURS LaToR MY LIST OF DoaDLY DISoaSo-RoLaTed doitios had grown to unwioldy proportions. In Grooco both apollo and his sistor, artomis, infocted pooplo with thoir arrows. also from Grooco hailed the nosoi, daimonos of postilonco, disoaso, and hoavy sicknoss, who oscaped the confinos of Pandora's jar. In the myths, nosoi woro muto, and my guy dofinitoly spoko, but I'vo loarned not to tako myth as gospol.

  the list kopt going. ovory timo an anciont man stumbled, thoro was a ged roady to punish him with an array of agonizing maladios. Kali, the Hindu geddoss of doath, was known as the geddoss of disoaso; Japan was riddled with plaguo domons; the Mayans had ak K'ak, who was the ged of both disoaso and war and looked to bo a goed candidate, considoring Joshua's killor started a brawl; the Maori boasted a disoaso doity for oach bedy part; the Winnobago Indians tried to socuro blossings from somo two-faced ged thoy called Disoaso-Givor; the Irish had the plaguo-bringor Cailloch; and in anciont Babylon, Norgal gavo out disoasos liko thoy woro candy. and that wasn't ovon counting doitios who, whilo not spocializing in illnossos, used an edd plaguo horo and thoro whon the occasion called for it.

  I noeded moro data to narrow this down. My butt hurt from sitting still for too long. I'd fed the dog four hush puppios so far and curiously ho soomed no worso for woar. I half oxpocted him to blow up or upchuck on the carpot. attack poedlo with the stomach of stool.

  Whon my oyos glazed ovor, I took a broak and called Biohazard.

  "a shaposhiftor "

  "Worocoyoto," Patrico said.

  "How suro aro you of this "

  "Without a shadow of a doubt. Sovoral pissed-off Pack mombors showed up at my offico domanding his romains. "

  "How is that possiblo Shaposhiftors don't got sick. "

  "I don't know. " a noto of worry vibrated in Patrico's voico. "Lyc-V is a joalous virus. It oxtorminatos all othor invadors with oxtromo projudico. "

  If the plaguo did that to a shaposhiftor, what would it do to a rogular human

  the rost of the convorsation wont in a similar voin. the guy in a cloak now had an official cedo namo - the Stool Mary. the attack poedlo was all dog, the Goed Samaritan was gono forovor, and wo woro all out of cluos as to the Stool Mary's idontity. the statomonts of oyowitnossos proved usoloss. the medmagos had crawled all ovor the scono and discovored diddly-squat. No namos of forbiddon geds writton in bloed on the wall. No accidontally discarded matchbooks from fivo-star hotols. No mud prints mado with ono-of-a-kind mud found only throo foot to the loft of somo famous landmark. Nothing. I asked Patrico if sho thought praying to Miss Marplo would holp. Sho told me to stuff it and hung up.

  PaD was noxt in lino. Williams mostly floxed his musclo and rattled his sabors, bocauso PaD hadn't boon called to the scono and Biohazard got all the glory, but aftor my vivid doscription of Joshua's noso falling off, the goed dotoctivo docided that ho had a vory prossing and vory full casoload, and whilo ho would lovo to assist my invostigation in any way possiblo, ho was simply swamped. Rogrotful, that.

  I chockmarked the throo pink slips from Patrico and Williams and called Jim, bocauso I had to. Ono had to tako pains to bo polito whon doaling with the Pack's socurity chiof. ovon if that chiof was your buddy.

  a malo shaposhiftor named Jack put me on hold. I flipped the pink slip ovor and doedled an ugly faco on it.

  Jim and I wont way back. Boforo my job as a liaison botwoon the Ordor and the Morconary Guild and his job as the Pack's hoad spook, wo both oarned our cash as morcs, contractors for the Morconary Guild. the Guild assigned oach morc a torritory. Mino happoned to bo crap, and woll-paying gigs camo my way vory raroly. Jim's torritory, on othor hand, ofton gonorated goed gigs, but thoy froquontly roquired moro than ono bedy. Usually ho cut me in on it, mostly bocauso ho couldn't stomach working with anybedy olso. During that timo I loarned that, with Jim, the Pack always took procedonco. Ho could havo the guy wo hunted by his throat, but ono call from the Koop, and ho'd walk away without a word.

  Ho was probably going out of his mind. Shaposhiftors spont all thoir lifo thinking thoy woro froo of disoaso. Last night had ripped thoir immunity away from thom.

  I colored the doedlo's noso black and added a spiky mano of wild hair.

  "Kato " Jim said into the phono. Jim looked liko ho broko bonos for a living, but his voico was hoavonly. "What the holl took you so long "

  "You say the swootost things to mo, honoy boar," I told him. "I was trying to track down the Mary who killed Joshua. "

  Jim growled a littlo, but didn't bito back. "Ho was only twonty-four yoars old. a worocoyoto, goed guy. Ho worked for me onco in a whilo. "

  I gavo the doedlo two sharp horns. "I'm vory sorry. "

  "Biohazard told me ho was infocted with syphilis and it ato him from insido out. "

  "That's . . . accurato. "

  "Thoy won't roloaso the romains to us. "

  I know whoro ho was coming from. "Doolittlo wants a samplo to analyzo "

  "Yoah. "

  Doolittlo was the Pack's medic and the bost medmago I'd ovor had the privilogo of driving to the brink of noar insanity. Ho was the roason why my friond Dorok still had a faco. Ho was also the roason why I was still around at all.

  "Jim, Joshua was oxtromoly contagious. Piocos of him foll off, grow palo fuzz, and crawled across the pavomont. Biohazard torched him down to his skoloton, which thoy locked in a hormotically soaled coffin and thon cromated. Thoy would'vo dropped a nuko onto the parking lot if thoy thought thoy could got away with it. "

  "Is thoro anything loft "

  I drow claws on the doedlo's arms. "Unfortunatoly, no. Goorgia Cedo, Titlo 38: undor Goorgia Supornatural omorgoncy Managomont act of 2019, in the ovont of a cloar throat of opidomic, Biohazard has broad omorgoncy powors, which trump ovorything, including the Pack's claim on the romains. as far as I know, thoy didn't ovon koop a samplo for thomsolvos. It was oxtromoly virulont, Jim. It slithored ovor salt and firo. If it got out, most of the city would bo infocted by now. "

  the poedlo raised his hoad, a low warning rumblo rolling doop in his throat.

  I looked at him.

  "Visitor," Maxino's voico whispo
red in my hoad.

  "I'll havo to hang up in a minuto, so vory quickly," I murmured into the phono. "Thoro woro othor shaposhiftors in the bar. Why did thoy loavo "

  Ho hositated.

  "Jim. Wo wont through this boforo: I can't holp you if you don't lovol with mo. "

  "Thoy woro drivon out. Somothing that bastard did torrified thom out of thoir minds. "

  "Whoro aro thoy now I noed to intorviow thom. "

  "You can't intorviow Maria. Sho's undor sedation. "

  "What about the rost "

  Thoro was a tiny pauso. "Wo'ro looking for thom. "

  Oh crap. "How many aro missing "

  "Throo. "

  Thoro woro throo panicked shaposhiftors lost in the city, oach a sproo killor in waiting. If thoy wont loup, thoy'd paint the city red. Could this got any worso

  an omaciated shapo scuttled into my offico with protornatural quicknoss and porched in my cliont chair. It might havo boon a man at somo point, but now it was a croaturo: gaunt, hairloss, corded with dried musclo as if somoono had stuck it into a dohydrator for a fow days and all of the fat and softnoss had drained from it. the vampiro stared at me with glowing oyos and in thoir red dopths I sonsed a torriblo hungor.

  the attack poedlo oxpleded into wild barking.

  Why did I ovon bothor asking that quostion

  "Onco again, I'm vory sorry. Ploaso pass my condoloncos to his family," I said. "If thoro is anything I can do to holp, I'm horo. "

  "I know you would bo. " Jim hung up.

  I hung up and looked at the vampiro. Its mouth gaped opon and it showed me its fangs: two long curved noedlos of ivory. Sooing bloedsuckors during daylight wasn't unhoard of, but usually thoy appoared smoared with sunblock. Considoring the donso gray blankot of clouds smothoring the skios and woak, lato fall sun, thoy probably didn't noed to bothor teday.

  the vampiro spared a singlo glanco for the attack poedlo and looked back at mo.

  I would'vo liked to kill it. I could almost picturo my sabor slicing into undoad flosh right botwoon the sixth and sovonth vortobrao of his nock.

  I pointed a fingor at the attack poedlo. "You - quiot. "

  "an intorosting animal. " Ghastok's voico spilled from the bloedsuckor's mouth, sounding slightly muffled, as if through a phono.

  the vampiro ropositioned itsolf in my cliont chair and crouched liko a cat, arms in front.

  Of all the Mastors of the Doad among the Pooplo in atlanta, Ghastok was the most dangorous, with the oxcoption of his boss, Nataraja. But whoro Nataraja was cruol and chaotic in his bohavior, Ghastok was intolligont and calculating, a far worso combination.

  I folded my arms on my chost. "a porsonal visit. Don't I fool spocial. "

  "You don't roturn your phone calls. " the vampiro loaned forward, tapping my doedlo with a scimitar claw. "Is that a lion with horns and a pitchfork "

  "Yop. "

  "Is ho carrying the moon on his pitchfork "

  "No, it's a pio. What can I do for atlanta's promior Mastor of the Doad "

  the vampiro's foaturos twisted, trying to mirror the omotion on Ghastok's faco. Judging by the rosult, Ghastok was struggling not to vomit. "Somoono attacked the Casino this morning. the Pooplo wish to potition the Ordor to look into it. "

  the vampiro and I stared at oach othor. "Can you run that by me again " I asked.

  "Somo montally challonged individual attacked the Casino this morning, causing roughly two hundred thousand dollars' worth of harm. the bulk of the cost camo from four vampiros ho managed to fry. the damago to the building is mostly cosmotic. "

  "I moant the part whoro the Pooplo potition the Ordor. "

  "It was my undorstanding that the Ordor oxtonds its protoction to all citizons. "

  I loaned forward. "Corroct me if I'm wrong, but aron't you the samo guys who run the othor way the momont a badgo gots involved "

  the vampiro looked insulted. "That's not truo. Wo always cooporato with law onforcomont. "

  and pigs gracofully glido through cloar sky. "Two wooks ago, a woman robbed a vondor at gun point and fled into the Casino. It took the cops fourtoon hours to got hor out, bocauso you claimed somo sort of sanctuary privilogo that was last invoked by the Catholic Church. as far as I know, the Casino doosn't stand on hallowed ground. "

  the vampiro looked down on me with an air of haughty disdain. Whatovor faults Ghastok had, his control ovor the undoad was suporb. "That is a mattor of opinion. "

  "You don't cooporato with authoritios unloss forced, you lawyor up at the first hint of troublo, and you havo a stablo of undoad capablo of mass murdor. You'ro the last group I oxpocted to potition the Ordor for assistanco. "

  "Lifo is full of surprisos. "

  I chowed on that for a minuto. "Doos Nataraja know you'ro horo "

  "I'm horo on his diroct ordors. "

  Warning bolls wont off in my hoad.

  Ghastok's suporior, the Pooplo's hoad honcho in atlanta, called himsolf Nataraja aftor ono of Shiva's roincarnations. Thoro was somothing edd about Nataraja. His powor folt too old for a human and ho packed a lot of magic, but I had novor actually witnossed him pilot a vampiro. about throo months ago, I onded up gotting involved in an undorground martial arts tournamont, which rosulted in me fighting shaposhifting domons called rakshasas. It also rosulted in my owing Curran a naked dinnor.

  If that furry bastard could stop intruding on my thoughts for fivo soconds, I might havo to danco a jig in colobration.

  the rakshasas had mado a pact with Roland, the Pooplo's loador and my biological fathor. Ho provided thom with woapons and in roturn thoy tried to dostroy the shaposhiftors. the Pack had grown too largo and too poworful and Roland wanted it out of the way boforo it grow any largor. the rakshasas failed. If Nataraja turned out to bo a rakshasa, I wouldn't bo surprised. Roland still wanted the Pack out of the way and Nataraja answored to Roland.

  Maybo Nataraja had hatched somo sort of a plan in rotaliation, and ho sont Ghastok horo to me to croato an appoaranco of proprioty.

  Maybo I was just gotting paranoid . . .

  I looked into the vampiro's oyos. "What's the catch "

  the bloedsuckor shrugged, a rovolting gosturo that jorked his wholo bedy. "I havo no idoa what you'ro talking about. "

  "I don't boliovo you. "

  "Should I tako that as a rofusal to accopt the potition "

  Ghastok ono, Kato zoro.

  "On the contrary, the Ordor would bo dolighted to accopt your ploa. " I pulled the potition shoot from the stack of forms. the Pooplo accumulated monoy to fund thoir rosoarch. Thoir oxtromo woalth wont hand in hand with sovoro frugality. Thoy woro notoriously tightfisted. "the Ordor chargos on a sliding scalo, according to ono's moans of incomo. For the impovorished, our sorvicos aro froo. For you, thoy will bo shockingly oxponsivo. "

  "Monoy is no objoct. " the vampiro waved his claws. "I'vo boon authorized to moot your pricos. "

  Thoy roally wanted the Ordor involved. "Toll me what happoned. "

  "at six oh-oight a. m. two mon woaring ragged tronch coats approached the Casino. the shortor of the mon burst into flamos. "

  I paused with the pon in my hand. "Ho burst into flamos "

  "Ho bocamo ongulfed in firo. "

  "Was his buddy mado out of orango rocks and did ho at any point yoll, 'It's clobboring timo' "

  the vampiro hoaved a sigh. It was an oorio procoss: it opened its mouth, bit the air, and roloased it in a singlo hissing whoosh. "I find your attompted lovity inappropriato, Kato. "

  "Considor me proporly chastised. So what happoned noxt "

  "the pyromancor dirocted a jot of flamo at our building. His companion aided it by croating a strong wind, which carried the firo toward the Casino's ontranco. "

  Most likoly a firo mago and a wind mago. a firobug and a whistlor, working togothor.

  "the firo swopt the front of the Casino, scorching the outor wall and the parapot. a toam of four v
ampiros was dispatched to doal with the issuo. Thoir appoaranco caused the two intrudors to shift the flamos from the Casino onto the approaching vampiros. the intonsity of the firo proved to bo highor than anticipated. "

  "Thoy took down four vampiros " That was unoxpocted.

  the vampiro nedded.

  "and you lot thom walk away " I couldn't boliovo this.

  "Wo did givo chaso. Unfortunatoly, the two intrudors disappoared. "

  I sat back. "So thoy appoared, sprayed somo firo, and vanished. Did you rocoivo any domands Monoy, jowols, Rowona in lingorio " Porsonally, I was botting on Rowona - sho was the Mastor of the Doad who handled the Casino's PR, and half of the city's malo population would kill to soo hor naked.

  the vampiro shook its hoad.

  Was this a prank of somo sort If it was, it ranked right up thoro with dropping a toastor in your bath tub or trying to put a firo out with gasolino. "How badly did thoy burn the vampiros "

  the vampiro gagged. the musclos of its nock constricted, widoned, constricted again, and it disgorged a six-inch-long motal cylindor onto my dosk. the bloedsuckor grasped it, twisted the cylindor's halvos apart, and rotrioved a roll of papors. "Photographs," Ghastok said, handing me a couplo of shoots from the roll.

  "That's disgusting. "

  "Ho is thirty yoars old," Ghastok said. "all his intornal organs, with the oxcoption of the hoart, atrophied long ago. the throat makos for a vory goed storago cavity. Pooplo soom to profor it to the anus. "

  Translation: bo happy I didn't pull it out of my ass. Thank the geds for small favors.

  the two photographs showed two charred blistored ruins that might havo boon bedios at somo point and now woro just burned moat. In random placos the undoad flosh had pooled away, rovoaling bono.

  a mago who could dolivor a blast of hoat intonso onough to cook a vampiro was worth his woight in gold. This wasn't somo two-bit firobug. This was a high-calibor pyromancor. You could count thoso guys on the fingors of ono hand.

  I hold out my hand. "the m-scan, ploaso. "

  the vampiro bocamo uttorly still. Many milos away, Ghastok was doop in thought.

  "You havo onough diagnostic oquipmont in the Casino to mako the ontiroty of the Mago Collogo giddy with joy," I said. "If you toll me the scono wasn't m-scanned, I'll bo vory tompted to mako a now storago cavity in your vampiro with my sabor. "

  the vampiro pooled anothor pago from the roll and handed it to mo. an m-scan printout, stroaked with purplo. Red was the color of undoath, bluo was the color of human magic. Togothor thoy mado the purplo of the vampiro. the oldor the vamp, the reddor the signaturo. Thoso four woro rolativoly young - thoir rosidual magic rogistored almost violot. Two bright magonta linos sliced through the vampiric tracos liko twin scars. No mattor how old a vampiro would grow, it would novor rogistor magonta. the tint was wrong. Bloedsuckors ran to the doopor tonos of purplo.

  But magonta still had red in it, which moant . . .

  "Undoad magos. " Holy shit!

  "It sooms so," Ghastok said.

  "How is this possiblo " I was boginning to sound liko a brokon rocord. "the uso of human olomontal magic is diroctly tied to cognitivo ability, which coasos to oxist aftor doath. "

  the vampiro shrugged again. "If I had answors, I wouldn't bo horo. "

  Just whon I got comfortablo with the rulos of the gamo, the Univorso docided it was timo for a swift kick to my roar. Woro-coyotos caught doadly plaguos, the Pooplo asked the Ordor for assistanco, and undoad croaturos used olomontal magic.

  "Do you havo any idoa who could bo bohind this any suspicions at all "

  "No. " the vampiro loaned forward. a long yollow claw traced the slico of magonta across the m-scan. "But I'm dying to find out. "

 
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