UNMAKE (Spellhounds Book 2), page 2
I gave a quiet “aff” of agreement and trotted on.
The scent took us south. I trotted along for a few miles, and Eric kept pace, though his gait became slightly uneven after the first two miles. There was an old injury there. When I’d asked him, all he’d said was, ‘shot’. I hadn’t asked a second time.
But he didn’t complain as we wound further south, leaving the more populated roads, winding down into an area mostly comprised of scrubby green shoreline, broken up by piers, train tracks, and large swathes of open earth piled high with mounds of…rock?
The sun was dipping low, setting the whole world into a golden mist. At last, the scent led us down into one of these fields. From the driveway, I could see the long, flimsy building at one end, it’s side stacked high with huge shipping containers.
Heavy machinery hunched like disanimated steel monsters at the edge of a bus-sized pile of gravel. Along the edge of the field, there was a dock sized for, I guessed, one of those massive coal barges.
The gate was a long metal bar, hinged at one end and chained at the other. As we approached it, Eric stepped slightly ahead of me. The sight of a massive Irish wolfhound trotting onto one’s property without a leash didn’t usually inspire hospitality. He paused, face a rictus as he peered through the light of the setting sun toward the main building.
“Security’s not great around here, is it?” Eric said. “I don’t see any cameras. No guards. You’d think by now someone…”
I growled almost before I realized something was wrong. Eric took a few steps back from the gate and crouched just as the doors to the building flew open, ejecting a quartet of men.
One of them wore torn up cargo pants, an abused blue tee shirt, and a slash of fabric that might once have been a coat. There was a ranginess to him, a sort of desperate sag to the skin around his face and neck that told me he’d once been much healthier than he was now. My heart sank. He was obviously homeless.
The other three were just as skinny, but their leanness had a sinister look to it. Spidery, glittering with jewelry that would not look out of place at a Marilyn Manson concert. They reeked of Sanguimancy. Even at this distance, the stink of ozone and old iron clogged up my sinuses.
I’d never really noticed it before I left Miami. The scent had been so ubiquitous in my life that I didn’t associate it specifically with blood magic until I started training with Eric. I didn’t really even notice that magic itself has a scent, a sort of blend of lightning and lemon peel that is far more noticeable as a dog.
As we hunkered by the gate, concealed by overgrown shrubs, the three Sanguimancers wrestled the homeless man around the back of the shipping containers.
“Damn,” Eric said. “What are they doing that they need this many sacrifices.”
“Agreed,” he said. “Nothing good. You think there are more than three?”
I scented the air, but it was hard to tell. I definitely smelled the two whose trails I’d followed, but it was hard to pry apart the others. I raked my left paw on the ground, signaling I wasn’t sure.
“I guess we’ll have to look. Either way, we’ll need cavalry.” He picked up his phone and dialed a number. I heard a female voice answer. “Yeah,” Eric said. “We’ve got some mosquitos at my location. Three confirmed, possibly more. Yep. Closest you’ve got.”
He hung up and gestured for me to head under the gate.
We slunk around the perimeter in the opposite direction, using the scrub for cover where we could. The smells were growing stronger as we moved, and I was beginning to identify individuals. Even before we made the sprint to the main building, I was fairly certain there were only three of them.
Noises were starting up around the other side, near the shipping containers. The men were speaking. One of the voices was desperate, pleading. My heart clenched.
The sanguimancers had that man. They were planning to slit his throat, use the iron in his blood to amplify their power. I’d once been forced to help in just that sort of spell. This time, I was going to stop it. I was going to save him.
I wanted to do it now. I wanted to charge around that building, hurling spells before me, and tear into Sanguimancer throats. But if ten more boiled from this warehouse like angry wasps, it would be for nothing.
I stood guard while Eric peered into the window. “Clear,” he whispered. I gave him a canine nod. Together, we crept toward the corner of the building.
The homeless man was sobbing. “Please, I’ll do whatever you want! Oh, God. Please, help me. Lord, no…”
“Shut up, or we’ll make it slow,” growled a sanguimancer.
I peered around the corner. A stack of shipping containers rested against the building’s back wall. The three rogue sorcerers had dragged their prey inside the nearest of these. Two were busy trussing him up in nylon cord, while the third ran the dull edge of a Bowie knife back and forth along his palm. That one was was eager to start the bloodletting.
My hackles rose. I didn’t realize I was growling until Eric’s hand met my head. I quieted but stayed tense, every muscle ready to spring. I wanted to be out there now!
“Wait,” he whispered, as if knowing what I’d been thinking. He tugged me back from the corner. “They have to draw the mandala.”
I gave a breathy whine. If they were smart, they would have whatever mandala they wanted already drawn on the bottom of that shipping container. We couldn’t afford to assume they were stupid. I peered around at them again.
Or course, Eric was right. The moment the sorcerers finished tying up the now-insensible homeless man, they shoved him into the back wall and kicked a plastic hoop into the middle of the container’s floor.
I stared at it a moment. They obviously meant to use it as a template for the mandala’s outer circle, but I was pretty sure it was a hula hoop. It wasn't even one of the nice ones you see on the beaches and boardwalks in Miami, but a cheap one from a big box store. An attempt had been made to disguise its origin—someone had added a coat of black spray paint. Only it hadn't adhered very well. Smudges of blue were showing through.
“Tss,” Eric huffed. “Amateurs.”
I looked up at him. I certainly couldn't draw a perfect, meter-wide circle without either a template or a piece of string. But he wasn't looking at the hula hoop. I followed his gaze to where the final sanguimancer—not Bowie knife or Hula hoop—had pulled out a cell phone and was studying a picture of a spell circle.
I squinted, trying to make out the type of spell. The setting sun was just over the top of the crates, casting a glaring sheet of light across where the man was standing. I couldn't see any of the glyphs in that mandala.
The homeless man was struggling to sit up, his face shiny with tears. His prayers came out sloppy with panic.
Eric clicked the safety off his pistol. “Go around the other way,” he whispered. “Don’t make a move unless I start shooting.”
It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was action. I backpedaled a few paces, then slunk quietly around the front of the building. A low-pitched sound met my ears as I passed the driveway, possibly a distant car.
Hopefully that was our backup on the way.
I trotted quietly around the other side of the building, then around the stack of shipping containers. I peered around the last corner and caught sight of one sanguimancer. From here, I couldn’t see inside the open container, just the back of the dude with the Bowie knife. I could hear a faint murmur of conversation, smelled the fear of the homeless man mixed with the others’ excitement.
I dropped to my belly, paws under me, ready to spring up and run the instant Eric needed me.
That was when I saw the car. A pitch black Charger with Duluth Police emblazoned on the side rolled down the road toward us. A jolt spiked through me. Was that our backup, or had someone called the actual police?
I got my answer when the car’s lights flicked on, siren blaring.
I surged forward, muscles uncoiling and sending me shooting from behind the shipping container. I intercepted the first sanguimancer in a practiced canine tackle. He went down, but I didn’t stop to hold him. The second sanguimancer streaked past us and I was after him like a shot. A few rough, bounding leaps later, I was on his back.
He crashed to the ground, cell phone spinning out onto that huge pile of gravel. Then the shooting started.
I wheeled around at the first gunshot, instinct to take cover crawling up my back. Eric had his gun raised, and a pair of mandalas had blazed to sapphire life on either side of the first fallen sanguimancer.
I couldn’t see the third one—Bowie knife. Where was he?
A crash echoed from the front gate. Beneath my paws, the one of the sorcerer’s piercings flared orange. The image of a mandala flashed in my mind, and a shield exploded beneath me just as a molten splash of magic erupted from the sanguimancer’s etched jewelry.
He gave a shout of pain, but his own shields flared up an instant later, saving him from the majority of his own spell’s damage.
I growled, ducking down and clamping my jaws over the back of his neck.
Stay down! I thought. Part of me wanted to kill him. That was the only way to make sure he couldn’t fight back. But that was old instincts again, swarming up underneath the new training that Eric had given me.
I didn’t have to kill him. Just subdue him. The Guild would take care of the rest. He’d go to trial. It would be fair. Ethical. Right.
Eric swung his gun toward the shipping container, just as Bowie Knife appeared at the opening, the homeless man in front of him like a shield. That thick knife was pressed up under the poor homeless man’s throat, and his whole face was screwed up in fear. His lips moved in silent prayer.
“Let him go,” Eric said.
“Drop the gun,” Bowie knife countered. Eric actually rolled his eyes.
“Exactly how do you think this is going to go for you?”
Beneath me, the sanguimancer twisted, trying to shove me off his back. I clamped down harder on the back of his neck, but he seemed to be ignoring the pain. Skin broke, and still he shoved himself to all fours and whipped his arm back, grabbing at my back paw.
As we struggled, I heard runners approaching. A single glance revealed two officers.
To my shock, it wasn’t mundane police, but Officers Blue Eyes and Tattoo, mandala-etched guns raised and primed with magic.
They were are backup? Why the fuck had they turned on the sirens? They should have known it would startle the sanguimancers and blow our cover.
Blue Eyes surveyed the scene—the standoff between Eric and Bowie, the immobilized sanguimancer near the edge of the shipping containers, and me, struggling with the last of them. He lifted his gun, face grim, and fired it straight at my head.
I experienced an instant of dizzying fear.
Then a sapphire shield snapped into place before me, deflecting the bullet into the mound of gravel. Where it hit, the gravel went white with magic, then broke apart into powder. Then it started to slide.
I let go of the sanguimancer, ready to run. It would serve him right to be buried in rock. But that wasn’t how the Guild worked.
With a snarl of frustration, I snatched his arm and dragged him across the dirt, even as the standoff behind me erupted into chaos. The instant we were clear, I dropped the man’s arm and spun around, tense for further attack.
I was just in time to see Bowie knife cut the homeless guy’s throat.
Eric roared in anger and popped off a trio of shots, but it was too late. Bowie knife already had shields up, and they were only getting stronger as he drew power from the blood now pulsing from the poor man’s throat. The bullets cracked into them, blue mandalas exploding briefly into life before fizzling away against the greater magic. Blue Eyes shouted for Eric to hit the dirt.
Eric dove to the ground and rolled, just as Bowie sent a mandala arrowing into the ground where he’d been. My eyes registered the type, just as a geyser of flame whooshed into the air, a fountain of roaring flame, white with heat.
Blue Eyes and Tattoo started firing, but Bowie’s shield absorbed everything. Eric came up on his elbows, dropped the magazine from his gun, and wrenched a new one from his jacket pocket. I was glad to see the bullets already blazing blue—he must have primed it while I ran around the building.
Bowie didn’t wait for him to shove the magazine home. He shot off two more attacks in rapid succession, one toward Eric and one toward the two officers now shooting from behind the building.
Blue Eyes shot the spell.
I wasn’t sure I’d seen it right, but there was no other way to explain it. Bowie’s yellow mandala appeared, its center aimed at the two officers, and Blue Eyes lifted his gun and shot straight into it. An instant later, a pure white mandala flared over Bowie’s attack, and the pair of spell circles popped out like a blown lightbulb.
Eric took the blow full on his shield. I heard his shout of pain and frustration as it hit, driving the shield, and Eric with it, several feet across the ground. He rolled over on his back, bloodied and grimacing, fumbling the magazine into the gun.
Tattoo was firing now as Blue Eyes reloaded, but Bowie’s shields seemed barely perturbed by the onslaught.
We were going to lose.
Another hit like that, and Eric’s shield would shatter. He would die. And I would have to explain to the person who owned his matching wedding ring that I hadn’t done anything to save him. If I even made it out.
I couldn’t let that happen, but I could think of only one thing strong enough to break a shield powered by sanguimancy.
I spun around and found my victim lying on his back, half conscious and bleeding from the arm where I’d dragged him. I clamped my jaws back around his forearm and bit down until he cried out and I felt a fresh pulse of blood seep into my mouth.
I reached for the core of power inside me. Despite my strange canine vision, in my head, it still looked turquoise. The colors of magic never seemed to be affected by my form, even if the colors of the real world changed.
I sent a tendril of power into the sanguimancer’s blood. Instantly, it lit up, burning through the iron like fire on gasoline. That flame seared back up through my veins, reflecting, amplifying until my whole body seemed to burn like a beacon.
I looked up, and for just a moment, I met Blue Eyes’s glacial gaze.
I called up a perfect image of a mandala in my mind, and flooded it with magic. I pushed power into it, more and more, drawing from the blood pulsing against my tongue and the power in my own core, until the mandala trembled. Until it was about to shatter.
Then I aimed at the yellow shield, and fired.
The force of my spell blasted Bowie knife backwards into the shipping container. His shield splintered, magic whirling wildly out. Blue Eyes wasted no time pumping six shots through the opening. From inside the shipping container, I saw six white flashes, and the sanguimancer’s shield fizzed out of existence.
I dropped my victim’s arm. He was fully unconscious now, bleeding from the arm in a way that would have to be stanched if we wanted to bring him in alive.
The wave of exhaustion hit me then. With a soft whine, I sank to the blood-speckled dirt, trembling. My stomach growled, and hunger raked claws through my belly, up into my brain. Suddenly, I couldn’t lift my head.
Footsteps approached. I smelled Eric’s combination of masculine funk, magic ozone, and beard oil and rolled my head to look up at him.
“You idiot,” he murmured. I wanted to tell him that I’d done it to protect him. That there’d been no other way, and I couldn’t watch him die. But the only thing that came out was a low, throaty whine.
Eric got his arms around me and clasped his hands, lifting me up in that particular way people carry dogs. I leaned my head on his arm.
“Secure the scene,” Eric said as we approached where Blue
The two officers nodded, but neither of them were looking at Eric. Both of them were staring at me, a sort of horrified fascination in their expressions.
The last thing I saw before Eric carried me around the corner was Blue Eyes, his gaze darting toward the other Guild Enforcer, with the beginnings of a triumphant smile.
Sweet Jesus, this table is cold, I thought. My ass was not prepared.
It was my first thought upon boosting myself onto the examination bench. Like a moron, I’d worn jeans to my appointment, and because fashion dictates I must wear skinnies, there was no chance of rolling them up. Shockingly, orthopedic surgeons can’t conduct examinations through a layer of dark-wash denim, so they’d come off.
I hadn’t been able to find boxers that morning, so on the briefs had gone. Unfortunately, the office seemed to be on my laundry schedule. They were out of sheets. All that came between cold metal and my upper thighs was a filmy sheet of butcher’s paper.
They had managed to rustle up a hospital gown, so at least I didn’t have to sit there in a tee shirt and bright orange Calvin Kleins, looking like a complete jackass. But still. The table was fucking cold. Jibblies were sounding full retreat.
Up until that moment, I’d been wishing someone had come with me. Helena, Krista, or Eugene. Someone to keep my mind off the fact that today’s appointment would determine…kind of everything.
I extended my legs straight ahead of me and pointed my toes. The sight was so familiar—the shape made by my arches and the knuckles of my toes. It didn’t seem like ballet could be taken from me, especially now that the pain was mostly gone and my leg was regaining its conditioning.
I turned out my feet, and there was no twinge. I resisted the urge to slide off the table and do a couple of releves.
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