Home > Magic Burns (Kate Daniels #2)(9)

Magic Burns (Kate Daniels #2)(9)
Author: Ilona Andrews

A shudder ran through the circle. The stones blinked into reality and I scrambled to my feet. Brilliant light rippled through the air above the broken ring, a silvery aurora borealis gone mad as the forces held captive in the ward flailed, unleashed. The glow flared and streamed to the ground in a torrent of pure white. The ward burst. The magic aftershock pulsed through the building and caught me in a dizzying whirlpool. My teeth chattered, my knees shook, and I clutched at Slayer’s hilt, trying to keep the saber from slipping from my trembling fingers. Julie cried out.

So much power…

Viscous drops slid from Slayer’s metal, evaporating in midfall. I felt it too, a fetid smear staining the building—the magic of undeath. There was enough of it to make a layman vomit. I turned to the circle. A dark hole gaped in the broken ring of the stones. I leaned over the edge and glanced into the black hole, grimacing at the reek of rotting flesh emanating from the moist earth.

Deep.

So deep I didn’t see the bottom.

The walls of the shaft were smooth and even, punctuated by roots severed cleanly at the edge. The hole stank of damp soil and moldering bodies. I picked up one of the stones and ran my thumb over its smooth surface. Rounded and pale, like a pebble from a river bed.

No mark, no glyph, no sign of a spell. Just a ring of white stones that no longer hid a bottomless hole in the earth. The Sisters must have let something into the world, something dark and evil and it claimed them for its own.

Julie sucked in her breath. A corona of dark spills appeared around the hole. With a faint buzz, a fly landed on the nearest stain, closely followed by another. Blood. Impossible to say how much—the ground had soaked up most of it. As I looked at the blood circle, I noticed three impressions in the ground, each a small, roughly square hole in the dirt. I connected them in my head and got an equilateral triangle with the pit smack in the middle. Three staffs arranged in a triangle to summon something? If so, where did they go?

The heap of crates behind the hole shivered, as if about to melt with Julie on top of it. With a faint magic tremor, a skeleton materialized right below the kid, nailed to the crates by four crossbow bolts.

“Freaky,” Julie said.

No kidding. For one, the skeleton had too many ribs, but only five pairs attached to the sternum. For another, not a shred of tissue remained on the yellowed bones. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve said it had weathered a year or two in the open somewhere. I leaned closer to examine the arms. Shallow bone sockets. I was no expert, but I’d guess this thing could have bent its elbows backward. At the same time, I’d probably dislocate its hips with one kick.

“Your mom ever mention anything like this?”

“No.”

The bolts anchoring the skeleton were red and fletched with black feathers. One punctured the skeleton through the left eye socket, two went through the ribs on the left, where the heart would be if it was human, and one between the legs. Precision shooting at its best. Just to make sure the odd humanoid aberration doesn’t get away, always pin it through the nuts.

I grabbed a crate from the pile, planted it in front of the skeleton, and climbed atop it to get a better look. Fewer of the neck vertebrae fused than normal, which provided for a greater flexibility of the neck, but made it fragile. No incisors, no canines, either. Instead I saw three rows of teeth, long, conical, sharp, used to puncture something struggling and keep it in the mouth.

The crate snapped under me with a loud pop. I dropped with all the grace of a potato sack, grabbing at the skeleton on the way down. My fingers passed through the bone and snagged a bolt. I landed on my ass in a pile of shards, the shaft in my hand and light powder on my fingers.

A hole gaped in the skeleton’s left side, between the third and fourth rib. It held for a second, grew, melting, and then the entire skeleton imploded into dust. The dust outline lingered in the air for a moment, taunting me, before melting into the breeze. “Shit!” There goes my evidence. Smooth, Kate, real smooth.

“Was this supposed to happen?” Julie asked.

“No,” I growled.

A round of enthusiastic applause echoed behind me. I jumped to my feet. A man stood leaning against the wall. He wore a leather jacket that wanted very much to be leather armor. The business end of a crossbow protruded over his left shoulder.

Hello, Mr. Bowman.

“Good form!” he said, clapping. “And a lovely landing!”

“Julie,” I said, keeping my voice level, “stay put.”

“No need to worry,” Bowman said. “I wouldn’t hurt the little lass. Not unless I had to. And maybe if I was really hungry and there was nothing else to eat. But then she’s so thin, I’d be picking out bones from between my teeth all day. Hardly worth the trouble.”

I couldn’t tell if he was kidding. “You want something?”

“Just came to see who troubled my bolts. And what do I find? A mouse.” He winked at Julie. “And a woman.”

He said “woman” in the same way I’d say “Mmmmm, yummy chocolate” after waking up from hunger pains and finding a Hershey bar in an empty refrigerator. I flicked my sword and backed away a bit so the hole would be to my right. If he knocked me into it, it would take me a long time to climb out.

The man approached. He stood tall, at least six three, maybe six four. Broad shoulders. Long legs in black pants. His black hair fell in a tangled mess on his shoulders. It looked like he might’ve cut it himself with a knife and then tied a leather cord across his forehead to keep it somewhat pinned. I looked at his face. Handsome bastard. Defined jaw, chiseled cheekbones, full lips. Eyes like black fire. The kind of eyes that jumped from a woman’s dreams right into her morning and made trouble in the marriage bed.

He gave me a feral grin. “Like what you see, dove?”

“Nope.” I hadn’t had sex in eighteen months. Pardon me while I struggle with my hormone overload.

Shave that jaw, brush the hair, tone down the crazy in the eyes, and he would have to fight women off with that crossbow. As it was he looked like he prowled in dark places where the wild things were and they all ran away when they smelled him coming. Any woman with a drop of sense would grab her knife and cross the street when she saw him.

“Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you,” he promised, circling me.

“I’m not worried.” I began to circle, too.

“You should be.”

“First you say I should, then you say I shouldn’t. Make up your mind.”

Drops of water slid down his jacket. Judging by the light stabbing through the holes in the roof, the sky was clear. No hint of moisture in the air. Suppose Derek’s intel was right. Suppose he did teleport. How would I keep him from disappearing?

The man spread his arms. I didn’t like the way he moved, either, light on his feet.

“What’s with the cute shoelace on your head?”

“What, this?” He flicked the end of the cord with his finger.

“Yeah. Rambo called, he wants his bandana back.”

“This Rambo, he a friend of yours?”

“Who’s Rambo?” Julie asked.

If a cultural reference flies over a man’s head, does it make a sound if nobody else gets it? I had never managed to watch the whole movie—magic always interfered, but I had read the book. Maybe after the flare cut out and tech reasserted its dominance for a few weeks, I’d dig the minidisc out and watch the darn thing from start to finish.

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