Black Spring Page 22

Nathaniel took a different tack. When the second tentacle curled toward him, he grabbed it. And set it on fire.

“Hey, that’s my M.O.,” I said.

“I have learned by observation,” Nathaniel said. “This is your way of effectively ending a conflict.”

Flames sped up the appendage, making the monster roar and slap the burning tentacle on the ground. Chunks of oversized sea-monster flesh flew everywhere. I heard a woman scream, but I couldn’t see her. All I could see was teeth and flailing squid arms.

The fire had panicked the creature temporarily, but I noticed the flames were going out. That limb was charred and useless, but the monster still had six more. And now it was angrier than ever.

“Apparently you haven’t been watching me closely enough,” I said. “When you set something on fire, you have to really set it on fire.”

“At your pleasure, then,” Nathaniel said, indicating that it was my move.

I looked at the thrashing, howling monster and realized pretty quickly that there wasn’t a lot of point messing around with the tentacles. I reached inside me, where the heart of the sun burned, where Lucifer’s magic called. Then I held my hands before me and let the fire fly.

It arrowed straight into the kraken’s open mouth. Such was my connection to my magic now that I felt the flame descend deep into the cavity of its body, burning flesh, causing the creature unimaginable agony. For just a moment I felt its confusion, too. Alerian had created this thing to cause pain, not to receive it. It didn’t understand the burning inside.

I deliberately drew back from the spell, broke the connection. The magic was doing its work. The monster was dying. There was no need to feed the shadow inside me by relishing its death throes.

The fire spread from the inside out, smoke pouring from the creature’s mouth in thick black plumes. The stench was horrific. I covered my nose and took a few steps back, halting only when I bumped into the mailman. I’d half forgotten he was there.

He seemed unable to tear his gaze away from the spectacle of a giant octopus-squid-monster burning to death in the middle of a Chicago street.

I put my hand on his shoulder. He was so still I was afraid his mind was broken. “Hey, are you okay?”

My touch seemed to awaken him from his trance. He turned to look at me, blinking. “I guess you are that Madeline Black. The one with the vampires.”

“Yes, I am.” I felt I owed him the truth after what he’d just witnessed.

“This kind of thing happen around you a lot?” he asked. He seemed unnaturally calm.

“Unfortunately, yes,” I said.

“Uh-huh,” he said.

He walked away from me and toward his mail cart, which had fallen to one side when Alerian’s monster emerged from the street. The side of the cart was smeared with blackened squid flesh. He righted the cart, collected the spilled mail, and then looked at me.

“I’ll be asking for a different route,” he said.

I nodded. That was to be expected. It was what any sane person would do after spending five minutes in my company.

He nodded back and pushed the cart down the sidewalk toward the house next to mine, carefully maneuvering around the buckled cement and the large chunks of the street scattered everywhere.

The street was quiet. Every sensible individual had gone inside, where they were probably frantically trying to explain to the 911 dispatcher what had just happened.

Beezle landed on my shoulder, his claw covering his beak. “What have you done? I may never be able to eat fried calamari again after this.”

“Where have you been?” I asked.

“With Samiel, like you told me to,” Beezle said. “We were nearby and saw smoke so we figured it could only be you.”

Samiel appeared beside Nathaniel. He looked at the mess in the street and then at me. He appeared resigned.

“It wasn’t my fault,” I said, feeling defensive. “It just came out of the street there.”

“Uh-huh,” Beezle said, echoing the response of the mailman. “Well, the fire alarms have sounded so I would say that’s your cue to go inside and pretend this had nothing to do with you. If you’re standing on the lawn covered in squid guts, plausible deniability becomes a lot more difficult.”

“He is right,” Nathaniel said. “The proximity of your home to this event will already be a red flag for the authorities.”

“And others,” I said. “Jack Dabrowski will have a field day with this.”

“You should be less worried about Dabrowski and more worried about what this means for the mayor’s imprison-the-supernaturals plan,” Beezle said as we trudged into the house. “The giant burned carcass is going to end up on the afternoon news. And I’m sure lots of our panicked neighbors will say they saw the two of you fighting that thing. Heck, a lot of them probably filmed it with their smartphones.”

“We were defending our panicked neighbors from that thing,” I said. “I should think that would tip the scales in our favor. If we’re locked up, who will keep people safe from stuff like that?”

Beezle flew ahead of me as we entered the apartment and landed on the dining room table. He shook his head at me. “You’re not looking at this the right way. There’s already some anti-supernatural sentiment, and the mayor’s announcement will only stir up more. People will argue that the monster wouldn’t even be here if not for you.”

That gave me pause. I sat down heavily in one of the dining table chairs. “Well, they would be right. Alerian sent that thing for me and Nathaniel.”

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