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Magic grave, p.4

Magic Grave, page 4

 

Magic Grave
 


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  But the previous, deadly streams of fire that had scared me with their ferocity seemed to have vanished. The most dangerous thing I could do with my hands now was light someone's cigarette.

  "Oh, shit," my mother whispered.

  I couldn't agree more.

  "Protect Tammy," I yelled, then grabbed for my knives, cursing as I tried to dodge another hail of blades aimed at me. Some of them found their mark, but none in my chest, thank God. Still, that silver burned where it landed, making me fight the urge to yank it out now. I flung some of my weapons instead, adding more silver to the barrage Bones had just sent. Then I rolled behind one of the cars for cover, finally getting the chance to snatch out the silver embedded in my shoulders and legs.

  Tammy screamed as some of the vampires took to the air. I took two of the knives I'd pulled from my body and sent them winging at the vampire closest to where she was crouched. The blades found their mark, and he crashed into a car instead of Tammy and my mother, who was crouched over her.

  The rest of the vampires seemed more concerned with taking on Bones than dealing with Tammy or my mother. I rolled under a truck to get to Bones – and then screamed as my shirt went up in flames.

  Goddamnit! There must have been oil drops pooled underneath the truck I'd rolled under, and the useless sparks from my hands ignited it.

  "Kitten, you all right?" Bones called out.

  "Fine!" I yelled back, afraid he'd get killed rushing to check on me.

  Stupid, stupid, stupid, I lashed myself. Oil plus sparks equals fire, dumb ass!

  I'd just ripped my burning shirt off when a car slammed into me, pinning me to the vehicle behind me. I gasped at the unbelievable pain, paralyzing in its intensity. Tammy screamed. Over that, I heard Bones hoarsely call my name.

  Something thudded on the mangled car pinning me. The redheaded vampire. He smiled as he pulled out a silver blade, knowing as I did that I couldn't shove the car off in time to save myself.

  But there was something I could do. Oil plus sparks equals fire, I thought savagely, and rammed my fist through the car's fuel tank.

  A terrific boom went off, combined with the agonizing sensation of being thrown backward, burning, across the parking lot. For a stunned second, I didn't know if I was still alive. Then I realized I wouldn't hurt this much if I were dead.

  Move, I told myself, fighting back the lethargy that made me want to curl up wherever I'd landed. Keep blinking, your vision will come back.

  After a few more blinks, the parking lot was in a double outline, but I could see. Check for incoming. Do you have any knives left? Two, right, make them count.

  "I'm okay," I called out, my voice almost unrecognizable. I hated giving away my position, but I was more worried about Bones losing it if he was too distracted to feel our connection and thought I'd been blown to bits.

  "Christ almighty, Kitten," I heard him mutter, and smiled even though it felt like it cracked my face. I was afraid to look at my skin. Burnt bacon could pass for my twin right now. You'll heal, I reminded myself. Quit worrying about your looks and get back to worrying about your ass.

  I flexed my fingers, relieved that the horrible splitting sensation was gone. Now I could grasp my knives with purpose, and my vision was clearing by the moment. Through the dirty car window in front of me, I saw Bones fighting off four vampires. He whirled and struck in a dizzying display of violence, slicing and hacking whenever they came too close. Now, where were Tammy and my mother?

  I'd snuck around a few dead vampires – one of them crispy – I noticed with satisfaction – and was tiptoeing around a Benz when X sprang out of nowhere. He shoved me, slamming me into yet another car – God, I was so sick of feeling my bones crunch against metal! – but instead of springing forward, I let myself slump as if dazed. X was on me in the next second, knees pinning my torso to the concrete, glowing green gaze victorious as he raised his knife.

  My hand shot out, the silver knife clenched in it going straight into his chest. I smiled as I gave it a hard twist. That's it for you, X.

  But he didn't slump forward like he should have. Instead, the knife he'd raised slammed into my chest without an instant's hesitation.

  Pain erupted in me, so hot and fierce it rivaled what I'd felt when the car exploded on me. That pain grew until I wanted to scream, but I didn't have the energy. Everything seemed to fade out of view except his bright emerald gaze.

  "How?" I managed, barely able to croak out the word.

  X leaned forward. "Situs inversus," he whispered. His hand tightened on the blade, twisting -

  Blue filled my vision. I didn't understand why, and for a second, I wondered if it was even real. Then the blue tilted to the side, X's severed arm still holding the knife in my chest, but the rest of him elsewhere. Sheet metal, I thought dazedly. Bones must have ripped it off a car and wielded it like a huge saw.

  X was on his back, the stump from his right arm slowly extending out into a new limb as he fought Bones. I wanted to help, but I couldn't get up. The pain had me pinned, gasping and twitching as I tried to escape from it.

  "Don't move, Kitten!" Bones shouted. A brutal rip from his knife sliced open X's chest, oddly to the right of X's sternum. Bones twisted the blade so hard it broke off, and then he was next to me, his hand pinning my wrists above my head.

  "Kitten."

  As soon as I saw his face, I knew how bad it was. That should've occurred to me before, considering I had a silver knife with shriveling hand still attached to it in my chest, but somehow, the pain had blinded me to reality. Now, however, I realized these were my last moments on earth.

  I tried to smile. "Love you," I whispered.

  A single pink tear rolled down Bones's cheek, but his voice was steady. "Don't move," he repeated, and slowly began to tug on the knife.

  My chest felt like it was on fire. I tried not to look at the knife. Tried to focus on Bones's face, but my own gaze was blurred pink, too. I'll miss you so much.

  The blade shivered a fraction and a spasm of pain ripped through me. Bones compressed his lips, letting my wrists go to press on my chest with his free hand.

  "Don't move…"

  I couldn't stand it. That burning from my chest felt like it had spread all through me. A scream built in my throat, but I choked it back. Please, don't let him see me die screaming…

  The agony stopped just as abruptly as it started. Bones let out a harsh sound that was followed by a clatter of metal on the ground. I looked down, seeing a slash in my chest that began to close, the skin seaming back together as it healed.

  And then Bones spun around. A vampire stood behind him, holding a big knife and wearing the weirdest expression on his face. He dropped to his knees and pitched forward, a silver handle sticking out of his back. My mother was behind the vampire. Her hands were bloody.

  "Rough, quick, and thorough, or you won't get a second chance," she mumbled, almost to herself.

  Bones stared. "That's right, Justina." Then he began to laugh. "Well done."

  I was stunned. Bones swept me up, kissing me so hard I tasted blood when his fangs pierced my lips.

  "Don't you ever frighten me like that again."

  "He didn't die," I said, still stunned by the recent events. "I twisted a blade in his heart, but he didn't die."

  "Like he said, situs inversus." At my confused expression, Bones went on. "Means he was born with his organs backward, so his heart was on the right. That's what saved his life before, but he shouldn't have admitted it while I could hear him."

  I hadn't known such a condition existed. Note to self: Learn more about anatomical oddities.

  Bones scanned the parking lot, but the only vampires out here were the ones gathered around the side of the nightclub. Onlookers, I thought in amazement. Had they stood there the whole time and just watched?

  Fear leapt in me. "Where's Tammy?"

  "I ran her inside after the car blew up," my mother said. "She'd be safe in there, you said."

  And
then she'd come back outside to face a pack of hit men. Tears pricked my eyes even as Bones smiled at her.

  "You saved my life, Justina."

  She looked embarrassed, and then scowled. "I didn't know if you were finished getting that knife out of Catherine. I couldn't let him sneak up on you and stab you until my daughter was okay."

  Bones laughed. "Of course."

  I shook my head. She'd never change, but that was okay. I loved her anyway.

  Verses walked out of Bite with Tammy at his side. From her red-rimmed eyes, she'd been crying.

  "It's over," I told her.

  Tammy ran and hugged me. I wanted to say something profound and comforting, but all I could do was repeat, "It's over."

  At least Tammy wouldn't remember any of this. No, her memories would be replaced with one where she'd been sequestered by boring bodyguards provided by her father's former friends. Tammy would go into adulthood without the burden of knowing there were things in the night no average human could stand against. She'd be normal. It was the best birthday present I could give her.

  "You fought on the premises," Verses stated.

  Bones let out a snort. "You noticed that, did you, mate?"

  "Maybe if you wouldn't have stood there and done nothing while we were ambushed, your precious premises would still be in one piece!" my mother snapped at Versus. "Don't you have any loyalty? Bones said you were a friend!"

  Verses raised his brows at her withering tone, then cast a glance around at the parking lot. Vampire bodies littered the area, one of the cars was still on fire, and various others were smashed, ripped, or dented.

  "I am his friend," Verses replied. "Which is why I'll let all of you leave without paying for the damages."

  "He doesn't sound like we'll be welcomed back," I murmured to Bones. "So much for coming here during the rest of our vacation to explore all those private areas."

  Bones's lips brushed my forehead. "Don't fret, luv. I know another club in Brooklyn I think you'll really fancy…"

  About the Author

  Jeaniene Frost is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of the Night Huntress series and the Night Huntress World novels. To date, foreign rights for her novels have sold to seventeen different countries. Jeaniene lives in North Carolina with her husband Matthew, who long ago accepted that she swears like a sailor, rarely cooks, and always sleeps in on the weekends.

  A QUESTIONABLE CLIENT by Ilona Andrews

  The problem with leucrocotta blood is that it stinks to high heaven. It's also impossible to get off your boots, particularly if the leucrocotta condescended to void its anal glands on you right before you chopped its head off.

  I sat on the bench in the Mercenary Guild locker room and pondered my noxious footwear. The boots were less than a year old. And I didn't have money to buy a new pair.

  "Tomato juice, Kate," one of the mercs offered. "Will take it right out."

  Now he'd done it. I braced myself.

  A woman in the corner shook her head. "That's for skunks. Try baking soda."

  "You have to go scientific about it. Two parts hydrogen peroxide to four parts water."

  "A quart of water and a tablespoon of ammonia."

  "What you need to do is piss on it…"

  Every person in the locker room knew my boots were shot. Unfortunately, stain removal methods was one of those troublesome subjects somewhere between relationship issues and mysterious car noises. Everybody was an expert, everybody had a cure, and they all fell over themselves to offer their advice.

  The electric bulbs blinked and faded. Magic flooded the world in a silent rush, smothering technology. Twisted tubes of feylanterns ignited with pale blue on the walls as the charged air inside them interacted with magic. A nauseating stench, reminiscent of a couple of pounds of shrimp left in the sun for a week, erupted from my boots. There were collective grunts of "Ugh" and "Oh God," and then everybody decided to give me lots of personal space.

  We lived in a post-Shift world. One moment magic dominated, fueling spells and giving power to monsters and the next it vanished as abruptly as it appeared. Cars started, electricity flowed, and mages became easy prey to a punk with a gun. Nobody could predict when magic waves would come or how long they would last. That's why I carried a sword. It always worked.

  Mark appeared in the doorway. Mark was the Guild's equivalent of middle management, and he looked the part – his suit was perfectly clean and cost more than I made in three months, his dark hair was professionally trimmed, and his hands showed no calluses. In the crowd of working-class thugs, he stood out like a sore thumb and was proud of it, which earned him the rank and file's undying hatred.

  Mark's expressionless stare fastened on me. "Daniels, the clerk has a gig ticket for you."

  Usually the words "gig ticket" made my eyes light up. I needed money. I always needed money. The Guild zoned the jobs, meaning that each merc had his own territory. If a job fell in your territory, it was legitimately yours. My territory was near Savannah, basically in the sparsely populated middle of nowhere, and good gigs didn't come my way too often. The only reason I ended up in Atlanta this time was that my part-time partner in crime, Jim, needed help clearing a pack of grave-digging leucrocottas from Westview Cemetery. He'd cut me in on his gig.

  Under normal circumstances I would've jumped on the chance to earn extra cash, but I had spent most of the last twenty four hours awake and chasing hyena-sized creatures armed with badgerlike jaws full of extremely sharp teeth. And Jim bailed on me midway through it. Some sort of Pack business.

  That's what I get for pairing with a werejaguar.

  I was tired, dirty, and hungry, and my boots stank.

  "I just finished a job."

  "It's a blue gig."

  Blue gig meant double rate.

  Mac, a huge hulk of a man, shook his head, presenting me with a view of his mangled left ear. "Hell, if she doesn't want it, I'll take it."

  "No, you won't. She's licensed for bodyguard detail and you aren't."

  I bloody hated bodyguard detail. On regular jobs, I had to depend only on myself. But bodyguard detail was a couple's kind of dance. You had to work with the body you guarded, and in my experience, bodies proved uncooperative.

  "Why me?"

  Mark shrugged. "Because I have no choice. I have Rodriguez and Castor there now, but they just canceled on me. If you don't take the gig, I'll have to track down someone who will. My pain, your gain."

  Canceled wasn't good. Rodriguez was a decent mage and Castor was tough in a fight. They wouldn't bail from a well-paying job unless it went sour.

  "I need someone there right now. Go there, babysit the client through the night, and in the morning I'll have a replacement lined up. In or out, Daniels? It's a high-profile client, and I don't like to keep him waiting."

  The gig smelled bad. "How much?"

  "Three grand."

  Someone whistled. Three grand for a night of work. I'd be insane to pass on it. "In."

  "Good."

  I started to throw my stink-bomb boots into the locker but stopped myself. I had paid a lot for them and they should have lasted for another year at least, but if I put them into my locker, it would smell forever. Sadly the boots were ruined. I tossed them into the trash, pulled on my old spare pair, grabbed my sword, and headed out of the locker room to get the gig ticket from the clerk.

  *** *** ***

  When I rode into Atlanta, the magic was down, so I had taken Betsi, my old dented Subaru. With magic wave in full swing, my gasoline-guzzling car was about as mobile as a car-size rock, but since I was technically doing the Guild a favor, the clerk provided me with a spare mount. Her name was Peggy, and judging by the wear on her incisors, she'd started her third decade some years ago. Her muzzle had gone grey, her tail and mane had thinned to stringy tendrils, and she moved with ponderous slowness. I'd ridden her for the first fifteen minutes, listening to her sigh, and then guilt got the better of me, and I decided
to walk the rest of the way. I didn't have to go far. According to the directions, Champion Heights was only a couple miles away. An extra ten minutes wouldn't make that much difference.

  Around me a broken city struggled to shrug off winter, fighting the assault of another cold February night. Husks of once mighty skyscrapers stabbed through the melting snowdrifts encrusted with dark ice. Magic loved to feed on anything technologically complex, but tall office towers proved particularly susceptible to magic-induced erosion. Within a couple of years of the first magic wave they shuddered, crumbled, and fell one by one, like giants on sand legs, spilling mountains of broken glass and twisted guts of metal framework onto the streets.

  The city grew around the high-tech corpses. Stalls and small shops took the place of swanky coffee joints and boutiques. Wood and brick houses, built by hand and no taller than four floors high, replaced the high rises. Busy streets, once filled with cars and busses, now channeled a flood of horses, mules, and camels. During rush hour the stench alone put hair on your chest. But now, with the last of the sunset dying slowly above the horizon, the city lay empty. Anyone with a crumb of sense hurried home. The night belonged to monsters, and monsters were always hungry.

  The wind picked up, driving dark clouds across the sky and turning my bones into icicles. It would storm soon. Here's hoping Champion Heights, my client's humble abode, had some place I could hide Peggy from the sleet.

  We picked our way through Buckhead, Peggy's hooves making loud clopping noises in the twilight silence of the deserted streets. The night worried me little. I looked too poor and too mean to provide easy pickings and nobody in their right mind would try to steal Peggy. Unless a gang of soap-making bandits lurked about, we were safe enough. I checked the address again. Smack in the middle of Buckhead. The clerk said I couldn't miss it. Pretty much a guarantee I'd get lost.

 
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