UNMAKE (Spellhounds Book 2), page 1
Spellhounds: Book II
A Silverquill Studios Novel
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2018 by Lauren Harris
Cover design copyright © 2018 by Starla Huchton
No parts of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express written permission of the publisher. For information address: email@example.com
PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
To John, Janet, Winston, Kayla, Peyton, William, and (soon) Shelby Jean Harris.
You don’t get to choose family.
But sometimes you get lucky.
Also by Lauren Harris
About the Author
Freedom was a speeding car, an open roof, and seventy-five degrees of warm air kissing my skin. It was three hours of riding half out the side of my mentor’s Range Rover, staring at the shimmering expanse of Lake Superior with the sun baking my arms and the wind kicking back my hair. This was the warmest weather we’d had since I moved to Minnesota, and for a few blissful minutes, my troubles had turned to rippling steam in the air.
“You’re smiling,” Eric said, snapping me back into the moment.
“I’m not smiling,” I called, glancing over at the Sorcerer. “The wind is stretching my face.”
Eric snorted, shifting his grip on the steering wheel. He was a black-haired, tawny-skinned man in his mid thirties and, despite the fact that using magic burns more calories than a triathlon, he was big enough to play professional football. He was also my mentor in the Guild.
“Admit it,” he said, grinning past his well-manicured beard. “You like this job.”
I stuck my feet up on the dash. “Never.”
But that was a lie. It was hard to dislike something you were this good at. When you grow up in a sanguimancer’s gang, you pick up certain skills. I already knew how to fight, how to shoot a gun, and how to lose a tail. I can run miles without getting tired, and if it’s got wheels or a rudder, I can drive it. Really, the only thing the Guild had to teach me was how to use those skills to protect people.
Well, that and magic. I was still fairly new at that.
Still, six months ago, if anyone had told me I’d not only be working with the Sorcerers’ Guild but also training to be a field agent, I’d have transformed into a hound just to snarl in his face. A suggestion that I might even like the work would have ended in blood.
“You’re good at it,” Eric said. And he’d know. Eric managed to work for both the Sorcerers’ Guild and the mundane Police Department at the same time. As a Detective, he got to direct himself most of the time, which is how he spent so much time training me.
“Of course I’m good at it,” I said. “I wouldn’t have kept you guys off my ass for weeks if I wasn’t. Stop trying to recruit me.”
“Alright, then, Perrita. Tell me what we know.”
I leaned back against my seat and closed my eyes. The picture of the briefing document flashed at once into my mind.
“A series of five murdered homeless men turn up around Duluth, all of them with throats cut, bodies exsanguinated before being tossed in dumpsters. Most recent one was discovered at eight this morning. So far, forensics indicate the victims were abducted, transported, and killed on location, near where they were left. Fingerprints at the scene turn up no records.”
“Which indicates what?”
“That the perpetrators have no criminal record, or had their records expunged.”
“Or they could be foreign nationals.”
I made a face. “In Minnesota?”
Eric darted a gaze at me from behind his sunglasses. “We have immigrants.”
“In the same way that you have summer. Compared to Miami, you have neither.”
“My last name is Herrera.”
I leaned over the center console. “And you’re from Pennsylvania.”
He shrugged. “I’m just saying we wouldn’t have the fingerprints of a foreign national on record, not unless they’re in a shared criminal directory. Still, you’re right. The first two are more likely.”
He drove for a few moments in silence. Then, unable to keep from arguing the point, he added, “Your boyfriend’s an immigrant.”
I stretched both hands up over my head, stroking the wind with my fingertips. “Yeah, and locals talk to him like he’s a unicorn.”
Eric shook his head. A few turns later, we were sliding along a long avenue packed with restaurants and people. He parked the Range Rover in front of an Indian restaurant.
“Is this to make a point?” I asked, jerking my chin at the India Mahal.
Eric smirked. “No. This is the most recent crime scene. I thought you might pick up the scent.”
I’d just started unbuckling my seatbelt, and looked up at him in surprise. “Literally, or you want me to-”
“Literally.” He held out his hand. “I’ll keep your piece, but you’ll be more useful on all fours for this one.”
I lifted from the seat enough to work my belt free of my holster. “Krista would have a field day with that phrasing,” I said, and handed over my gun with some reservation.
It’s not that I was super serious about having a gun—I had plenty of other ways to fight. But that Beretta had belonged to my dad, and though it now held the spelled bullets of a Guild Enforcer, it still felt wrong to hand it over to anyone else, especially a member of the Guild.
Eric tucked it into his jacket and beckoned me to follow him. “You’ll have more privacy back there.”
I fell into step beside him, eyeing his jacket with a shake of my head. It was summer. He should not have been able to wear a jacket without risking heat stroke.
As we approached, I spotted the caution tape around the side of the building, along with a pair of officers wearing Duluth Police Department uniforms.
“Ours,” Eric whispered. “They know we’re coming. Go on.”
I kept my head down and walked straight for the tape while Eric waved his badge at the restaurant’s owner, distracting him from my presence.
The two officers shifted as I came closer, straightening up, moving muscles in that way that said they were ready to fight if needed, and wanted you to know it. The one closest to me clasped his hands in front of him. I was surprised he didn’t crack his knuckles.
The bullet proof vests gave them some bulk, but up close, they clearly had the sinewy build of people who used magic all the time. Eric was possibly the only sorcerer I’d met who managed a healthy BMI. Then again, I’d seen the man eat; he could probably consume an entire cow in one sitting. I couldn’t physically fit enough food
The nearest officer had striking blue eyes, which he narrowed at me as I made my way toward the tape.
“Crime scene,” he said, stepping in front of me. I halted. I jerked my chin back toward Eric.
“I’m with him.”
“I didn’t ask.”
Well. That was interesting. I pointed to the ring on his left hand. To anyone not looking closely, it would appear to be a wedding band. A closer look had revealed a host of tiny, etched mandalas—the spell circles sorcerers used to channel their magic.
“You’re obviously Guild,” I said. “We were sent by Deepti Iyengar to check on the situation with-”
“I know who you are,” Officer Blue Eyes said. “And she didn’t send you. She sent him.”
I heard Eric walking up behind me. “And I’m with him,” I said.
My skin was starting to prickle with that odd mix of defensiveness and excitement. If they were going to start a fight, I wasn’t going to stop it. I’d built up plenty of frustrated energy over the last few months. It could use an outlet.
“What’s the problem?” Eric rumbled, his tone suggesting there had better not be one.
“No problem,” Officer Blue Eyes said. “Not with you. You can go in. She’s staying out here.”
Eric gave a single, soft laugh. “She comes with me.”
I realized I was clenching my jaw and loosened it. Eric outranked them, but I wasn’t sure how that worked from one county to another, or if he was powerless to tell them what to do on an official police level.
Actually, I wasn’t sure this was even happening on an official police level. It could have been all Guild.
The shorter officer—a man with tattoos peeking from his sleeves—gave Eric a cold once-over and crossed his arms. “Listen,” he said, and I could practically feel Eric’s mood sour. “Deepti Iyengar may think it’s acceptable to keep an abomination on a leash, but the rest of us aren’t so cool with the idea.”
“She’s a d’Argent.”
“She’s one of Gwydian’s monsters,” Officer Tattoo said. “She used Sanguimancy, and she got Isaac killed.”
All the anger drained from me, replaced by a cold cocktail of guilt. Isaac had been the Guild Enforcer assigned to either recruit me or bring me in for a quiet, purposeful execution. In the end, he’d helped me learn the spells I needed to defeat Gwydian. But my cousin, then under our ex-master’s control, had killed him. Slit his throat as he slept.
I hadn’t liked him very much, but then, I hadn’t realized quite how much he’d been trying to help me until it was all over.
The thing was, Officer Tattoo wasn’t really wrong. It was my fault Isaac—one of the Guild’s best Enforcers—was dead.
“Isaac knew the risk of the job,” Eric said, his voice a bearish sort of growl. “Gwydian got through his wards.”
“Her cousin got through them, you mean,” Officer Blue Eyes said. He cut me a glacial look. “And she’s still protecting him.”
My face went hot. “I don’t know where he is!” I snapped.
“Like hell,” Officer Tattoo said. “You don’t actually expect anyone to believe that.”
Eric seemed to swell in size. He stepped forward, looming close to Officer Blue Eyes, the bigger of the two policemen.
I clenched my fists. I was twitchy, half hoping for a fight and half hoping to avoid one. I didn’t want Eric to get any shit because of me, but damn. It would feel good to punch someone right now.
Eric didn’t say anything. He just reached around Officer Blue Eyes and lifted up the bright yellow caution tape.
I passed between the officers and ducked underneath the tape. Neither Sorcerer seemed willing to actually get into a fight with Eric. As he ducked under, however, Officer Blue Eyes called after us.
“Even without Isaac, sanguimancy is enough to put you down.”
Eric’s hand met my back. “Keep walking.”
I did, but my fists stayed clenched.
I was good at this job, but I was only good at it because for most of my life, I’d been the enemy. My skills all revolved around killing people. Hurting people. Now, even if I wanted to protect people, there was a niggling fear that the only way I’d be able to do that was by killing the people doing the hurting.
Did that actually make me better? I didn’t know. Still, I’d signed a contract, and I still had four and a half years to figure out the answer.
Right now, I had a couple of dead homeless guys to deal with.
From the crime scene description, I’d expected a mess of blood on the ground or a dark stain sliding down the side of the dumpster. What I saw was a slightly grubby expanse of cracked concrete between two peeling buildings, but no blood. My human nose scented vegetable rot, mixing with the spicy aromas of cooking meat and curry that emanated from the restaurant’s ventilation pipe.
Eric surveyed the cracked slab while I shook off the lingering agitation and stepped up to the dumpster. It was time to concentrate on the job. The only thing I could do to help things right now was be so good the Guild couldn’t afford to put me on trial.
The lid had been propped open, and I tipped up onto my toes to peer inside. It was nothing but rust, a slimy layer of old trash, and gummy moisture that could be blood, or any number of sticky substances.
“Anything?” Eric asked.
“Not that I can see,” I said. “The file said the victims were exsanguinated near the location, but I don’t smell any blood. If they cut the throat, there would be some level of spray, just from the pressure in the carotid arteries. It wouldn’t have to be much, but there’s a splatter to it. Was the victim in a tarp?”
Both of Eric’s eyebrows went up. “He was. You scare me a little, kid.”
I shrugged. Eric had meant that as a joke, but I couldn’t help the faces that popped into my mind. Men, women, a girl who looked like me. I’d cut their throats, sometimes on my master’s orders. Sometimes, with his magic forcing my hand. Blue Eyes hadn’t been completely wrong about me.
“I’d rather scare you than my boyfriend,” I said, reaching for any other topic of conversation.
“Yeah,” said Eric, peering into the dumpster too. “Not a great date-night conversation topic, is it?”
“Netflix and kill probably won’t catch on.”
He chuckled, stepped back from the dumpster, and looked around. “Okay. Do your thing.”
Eric lifted his phone and turned his back to me, faking a phone call. I stepped around the dumpster and began to pull off my clothes. There were broken bottles back here, half eaten pieces of bread, scummy bits of cardboard. I wasn’t shy of being naked—I’d spent all my teenage years transforming from human to hound and back again in front of all sorts of unsavory audiences. I had, however, gotten used to a certain level of cleanliness. You work with a veterinarian, you get taught clean technique and the power of antimicrobial soap.
Still, six months wasn’t enough to wash away eighteen years of experience. Once I was bare-skinned, standing on the black and white Chucks Jaesung had bought me, I took a deep breath and changed.
At first, it’s like folding. I double over. Legs shrink, organs shift, and suddenly my center of balance is swinging forward. I fall onto hands that aren’t really hands anymore. Then fur ripples over my skin in a full-body itch, growing thick and gray and tough. My eyes squeeze and all those little rods and cones reconfigure themselves into something else. Colors bleed out, replaced with a spectrum that holds no red or green. Smells explode into my brain, individual and all at once.
By the time my teeth were done shifting around in my elongated jaw, I had my clothes and shoes in my mouth. It didn’t matter anymore that the ground was sticky. The rough pads of my paws didn’t feel it.
I trotted out to Eric, who produced a plastic shopping bag and shoved my clothes inside. He was about to fasten a worn purple collar around my neck, but I was already turning away.
In less than a minute, my nose led me to a drainage grate around the back of the building next door. This was definitely where the deed had been done, and there was a suspicious ripple of viscous fluid through the iron latticework to prove it. It certainly smelled like a whole lot of blood.
Eric crouched, already snapping on a pair of gloves. “Right," he said, and dragged a finger overtop the grate. He pulled it away, revealing a smudge that looked yellowish to me, but which drew deep frown lines in his beard. “They weren’t neat, were they?”
I shook my head.
“Think you can track them?”
That was the question, wasn’t it? I put my head down, trying to filter through the scents for something that was clearly sorcerer. It took some time, and a few trips back and forth to the dumpster, but there was a set of consistent smells. Alongside the general human scents of sweat, hormones, and breath, there were others. The stale urine and mildew scents that must have been the homeless man’s clothes. Something heavy with garlic that was mostly around the back door of the restaurant, which must have been one of the chefs.
Then, at last, I caught the rusty iron of old blood. Days old, rather than hours. And under that, the almost lightning-like burn of magic.
I must have perked up somehow, because Eric said, “Got it?”
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