Magic Bites Chapter 8

DAYLIGHT STREAMED THROUGH THE WINDOW tickling my face. I yawned and snuggled under the covers. I didn't want to wake up. Not yet. In retrospect driving out of the city close to midnight, and with an aching hip, wasn't the brightest idea, especially considering that the tech hit around four, leaving my truck marooned a mile away from the house, but I had gotten in just before the sunrise and now none of it mattered. I was home.

I stuck my face into the pillow, but daylight persisted and I stretched, sighing. My bare feet hit the sun-warmed floor and I happily padded to the kitchen to make coffee.

Outside the late morning was in full swing. The clear sky was luminescent with blue. No wind troubled the leaves on the myrtles. The kitchen window begged to be opened. I unlocked it and pushed the bottom half up to let the coastal, sea-spiced air into my house. Home. Finally.

In the yard, positioned so it could be noticed from either kitchen or porch, rose a stick. On the stick was a human head.

Long hair hung in blood-caked strands. Pale eyes bulged from their sockets. The mouth gaped open and green flies were breeding among the torn lips.

It was so out of place in my sunlit world that for a moment it didn't seem real. It couldn't be real.

An unmistakable stench of rot crept into my kitchen I sprinted to the bedroom, wincing at the pain, grabbed Slayer, and went to the front door. My wards were up. Cautiously I opened the front ward and stepped onto the porch.


No sound. No power.

Nothing except a rotting head in my front yard.

I approached the head and circled it slowly. It belonged to a young woman. She had died recently - the expression of horror was still frozen on her face.

A large nail pinned a folded piece of paper to the back of her head. I raised the paper with the tip of Slayer's blade. Uneven letters glared back at me.

Do you like my present? I made it special for you. When you see your half-breed friend, tell him I won't waste his head like this. I'll strip every shred of meat off his bones. I'll gorge myself on his carcass until I can't walk and let my children finish the rest, while I sleep it off with half-breed women. Half-breed meat tastes like shit but it has good texture. Olathe never did appreciate it. It's a shame about her dress. I was partial to it.

I walked inside and dialed Jim's number.


"You know some fucked up people," Jim said.

"Her name's probably Jennifer Ying," I said. "The hair has Mongoloid texture. She's one of the missing women whose names I found in Feldman's file. The head wasn't here when I came in, which was around four thirty this morning."

Jim sniffed at the head. "Fresh kill. A day, maybe a day and a half at most," he said. "You need to call Curran."

"He won't listen to me. He thinks I'm a glory hound."

Jim shrugged. We've worked together long enough to know that neither of us was interested in fame.

"You aggravate the hell out of him."

"There is more." I led him to the porch. A gathering of human bones lay arranged on canvas, spanning the entire porch.

"You rob a graveyard?"

"I wondered how he came so close to the house without setting my wards off, so I went looking and found these. He arranged them in a circle around the property in the tree line. It's a form of a ward. Very old."

"How old?"

"Neolithic. Primitive hunters would lay out the bones of their prey around their settlements. The idea is to form a chain of Rock, Bone, and Wood. You use Rock and Wood to obtain the Bone, binding all three, so if you return the Bone to the Rock and Wood after you're done with it, it will afford you protection. He created himself a safe passage so he could wander around my yard whenever he wanted. It's an easy spell to break. All you have to do is to remove the bones, and that's why nobody uses it anymore. Unfortunately, you can't detect it unless you stumble over it."

I picked up a skull and handed it to him. Jim took it and recoiled, hissing. His eyes flooded with green.

Folklore correctly stated that in death a shapechanger's body would revert to the form it had at birth, be it human or animal, but Lyc-V did some permanent things to bone structure, which remained in life or in death. Several long glossy strips of Lyc-V-created bone marked the skull in telltale places above the jaw and along the cheekbones.

"A wererat," Jim said, handing me the skull as if it was hot.

"Guess how many I found?"


"And at least three vampires. The skeletons are not complete. Some bones are missing, but there are eight pelvises and nine skulls, three of which have bloodsucker fangs."

Jim glared at the bones. "You have to put the vamps separate."


"Put the bloodsucker bones separate," he repeated. He was agitated and low snarls crept into his voice.

"Why don't you get off your ass and help me?"

"I'm not touching them."

I sighed. "Jim, I'm not a criminalist. Without a bloody loup and an m-scanner, I don't know which bones are vamp. You, on the other hand, can tell by the scent."

He glared at me, his eyes a little wild. "You look through it and if you have trouble, you let me know."

He marched into the yard. I sighed and went about sorting the bones.

I SAT ON THE PORCH BETWEEN TWO PILES OF bones, watching the werejaguar in my yard make small circles around the stick supporting the rotting head of a young woman. I had failed her. I had looked at the evidence. I had drawn the wrong conclusions. But I was still here, sitting on my porch, while she had paid for my stupidity. And my arrogance.

Jim kept walking, placing each foot softly in front of the other, stalking an invisible prey around a circle. Yellow flooded his eyes and his upper lip quivered once in a while, showing his fangs. Unless the cat was yawning in your face, you wouldn't see his fangs until he was ready to sink them into you. Jim was ready to sink them into someone. He would have to wait in line.

"Stop it. You're wearing a hole in my yard."

Jim stopped pacing to glare at me.

A dark van pulled into the driveway. It was magic and water powered like Karmelion and it made enough noise to match my horror of a truck. Four stone-faced shapechangers stepped out and approached me, carrying several canvas bags. I got up and stood aside, giving them access to the bones. They began packing the fractured skeletons of their dead into the bags, sorting as they went along, handling the bones with the same care a china dealer employs when touching his best merchandize.

Doolittle stepped out of the van, wearing denim overalls and carrying a portable m-scanner. He paused to murmur a few words to Jim and proceeded to the head.

Jim approached the porch. "Curran wants you in the city."

I shook my head. "I can't go. After you're done, I'll have to call the cops. You got your bones back. The Ying family deserves to receive their daughter's."

"What the fuck do I tell Curran?"

Doolittle plucked the note from the nail, flipped it over. "Looks like he wrote on the back of some sort of magazine page."

I took the note from his fingers. The page was from Volshebstva e Kolduni, the "Spells and Warlocks" rag-sheet whose credibility Saiman had so easily dismissed.

"Kate?" Jim asked.

I wanted to cry. How could I have been so stupid? I brought the Almanac out to them and handed the upir article Bono had given me to Doolittle. He read a few words. "It says here this creature feeds on dead human flesh. It will mate with animals and produce half-breed sons, neither animal nor human. Where did you get this?"

"One of Ghastek's journeymen gave it to me."

"Ghastek knew," Jim snarled. "He knew the whole time. I'll rip his heart out!"

" 'Driven by the need to produce an heir, the upir will mate with women of power, for only a woman of power can carry a true upir to term...'" Doolittle looked at me. "You cannot stay here, Kate. You must come to the keep." I opened my mouth but he silenced me with a wave of his hand. "There are seven of us and one of you. We'll carry you if we have to."

THE PACK COUNCIL SAT IN PADDED CHAIRS around a table. In the middle of the table sat the head of Jennifer Ying brought in as evidence by Doolittle and placed under a glass hood laced with preserving spells. She bore silent witness to all that was said. Next to her a speaker phone relayed Saiman's cool voice.

"All upiri are male. The history of their breed is quite old: it's likely they were an integral part of the fertility cults in early agrarian societies of the Bronze Age. During the rites young women, embodying the Goddess, were brought to the upir so he could play out his role of her son-consort by copulating with them. Of course, often the copulation resulted in the woman's death, in which case, the upir would complete the rite full circle, devouring her body.

"The arrival of the Iron Age with its patriarchal gods-heroes signaled the end of the Goddess cult and the upiri gradually migrated to the remote regions, finding the vast Russian forests particularly suitable. Although they are driven by the urge to procreate, the upiri are interested only in producing a powerful male, another upir. All female children are born dead. Once a son is produced, the upir feeds the mother to the child and casts him out, driving him out of his territory. It must be noted that only a woman of significant magic power is able to sustain enough magic to produce a baby upir."

"What about the animal children?" Curran demanded.

"The upir will mate with any animal he can anatomically penetrate. The resulting offspring, although viable, is usually sterile. A single upir may have scores of these servant-creatures. Also, since an agrarian cult of fertility centers on regeneration, the upir is likely to have vast recuperative powers. My source lists him as immune to metal, wood, tooth, and claw. He is virtually impossible to kill."

Curran nodded at Mahon. The Bear spoke, "The Pack thanks you for your information."

"I appreciate the gratitude of the Pack. You will receive my bill within three days."

Mahon turned off the phone.

"It has to be Crest," Curran said.

Startled, I asked, "How do you know his name?"

"I know more about you than you do. Do you really think I would deal with you without following your every step?"

"You had Derek spy on me. You promised me he would do no such thing."

"Actually I put a scout in the apartment above you," Jim said. "Greg's place isn't soundproof."

I shut up, stunned by the betrayal. I should've known better - the Pack always came first. They were professionally paranoid.

"How did you and Crest meet?" the alpha-wolf asked.

I didn't answer.

Jim reached over and touched my hand. "Kate, this is one of those times when silence isn't golden."

There was nothing left to do. No way out. If Crest was an upir, I couldn't take him on my own. "I went to the morgue to examine a deceased vamp found at the knight-piner murder scene. I was looking for the brand and he walked in on me. He stated that he was a cosmetic surgeon performing what he called 'charity duty' at the morgue. He wore scrubs and the stripes of a unit supervisor. He asked me to join him for lunch. I refused."

"How did he react?" said a heavyset woman. She was middle-aged and plump. Her graying hair perched in a bun atop her head. The others called her Aunt B, for what reason I didn't know. She looked like every child's favorite grandmother. She was also the alpha female of the twelve hyenas the Pack counted among its members.

"He appeared surprised."

Light murmur rippled through the Council.

"He has access to the morgue," Jennifer said. "A lot of corpses."

"And being a plastic surgeon, he would meet many pretty women," added the alpha-rat through a mouth full of potato chips. The rotting head did nothing to dull his appetite.

"Why didn't he mate with Olathe?" Jennifer wondered. "It's obvious they were working together. He would help her take over the People and in return, he'd get all the vampire flesh he wanted. Plus fresh corpses."

"She was barren," Jim said. "Roland probably had her fixed before he fucked her."

"Did you go to lunch?" Aunt B wanted to know.

"Yes. It was a normal lunch. The next time I saw him was after Derek and I encountered that vampire. Crest was asleep on the stairs when I brought Derek home."

"Did you sleep with him, dear?" asked Aunt B. "We need to be clear."

I tried to keep from gritting my teeth. "No."

"Then you haven't seen him in an uncontrolled environment." Aunt B shook her head. "He could've been cloaking the entire time."

"His cloak would have to be exceptional," I said. "I felt no magic. Nothing at all."

Curran, who had been leaning against the wall, crossed his arms over his chest. "To sum up, he's never appeared at the same time as the upir. He seems to pop up in her life whenever she makes any headway. She's never seen his place or met any of his friends."

"He's familiar with tech." I finally thought of something smart to say. "He owns a car."

"Anything else?" Mahon asked.

"He's fascinated with Lyc-V."

"I like him for it," Jim said. "And the kid thinks he's an asshole."

Thank you, Derek.

Curran pushed himself from the wall. "Either he's the upir or he's not. How would we find out?"

Doolittle stirred. "The only way to know for sure, m'lord, is to scan a blood sample. Blood can't hide the magic when separated from the body. Time is of the essence in this matter. The less time the blood has to degrade, the better. I suggest we take a portable scanner."

"If he is what we think he is," the alpha-wolf said softly, "we'll have to go in force."

"And I doubt he would volunteer the sample." Mahon said.

"We can't compel him," the alpha-wolf said.

To compel a person to give a blood sample with the purpose of scanning it was illegal. It was a violation of privacy and the courts have been adamantly enforcing it. If Crest proved to be human, he could make enough of a stink to keep the Pack in hot water for years.

"Not to mention that he'll know who all of you are," I said.

They mulled it over.

"It doesn't matter," Curran said. "We solve this now."

"DOESN'T FEEL SO GOOD, DOES IT?" JENNIFER SAID to me as we left the black van that ferried us to Crest's apartment.


"It'll be okay," she said and we both knew she lied.

The tight pack of shapechangers cleared the stairs to the lobby. A clerk was on duty, a thin, red-headed man, who started to rise at our approach. Curran nodded to him as if they had known each other for years and the man sank back into his seat.

The six of us took the stairs at a run, Curran in the lead, followed by Jim, Jennifer, Doolittle, and me. Aunt B's oldest son brought up the rear. He chose to carry a shotgun.

We reached the door to Crest's apartment. Behind me Aunt B's son blocked the stairs. I wondered if the shotgun was for me, in case I developed second thoughts.

My stomach tightened. It felt wrong. I should've come alone. I shouldn't have let them pull me along. I will not put myself into this situation again.

Curran knocked on the door. Crest's voice said, "Hello?"

Curran looked at me.

"This is Kate," I said. "I'm not alone and I need to talk to you."

A silence issued as he digested it and the door swung open. Crest looked slightly disheveled. He gazed at the stone-faced gathering outside his doorstep and stepped back. "Come in."

We did. The shapechangers spread through the house, and Crest found himself enclosed in a ring. They maintained their distance, a few feet between them and the human in the middle. Just enough room to gain momentum for a leap without getting in each other's way.

"Mind telling me what this is about?" Crest said. His gaze flickered to Curran.

"These people are shapechangers," I said. "Several of their pack mates are dead. I'm involved in the investigation and the murderer has developed an unhealthy fascination with me. He left a rotting head in my yard with a love note."

Crest's face lost its expression. "I see," he said. "You think that I'm the guy."

Doolittle stepped forward. "If you'd be so good as to volunteer a blood sample, the matter can be cleared up within minutes."

Crest was looking at the kid with the shotgun. Wrong. Excluding himself, the kid was the least dangerous of those present. "And if I don't volunteer?"

"You should," Curran said flatly.

Crest looked at me. "Kate? You believe that I'm the killer?"

"No. But I have to know for sure."

A mix of emotions twisted his face. He thought that I had betrayed him. So did I.

"You said you wanted to be part of what I do," I said softly. "Now you are. Please give us the blood, Dr. Crest." I don't want to see you hurt.

Crest clenched his teeth. Around me the shapechangers tensed. His gaze fastened on my face, Crest rolled up the sleeve of his shirt and held out his arm. "Might just as well get it over with."

Doolittle tied his biceps with a strip of rubber. A long needle pierced the skin and the dark blood squirted into the clear tube.

"So tell me," Crest said. "What exactly am I supposed to be? I assume since Kate's involved, I'm not an ordinary human. What am I guilty of?"

"She thinks you feed on the dead," Jim said.


"Yeah. You hunt them. In the night. Human, vampire, Pack, doesn't matter. You hunt them, you kill them, and then you eat the corpses."

"Lovely." Crest's gaze didn't waver. Doolittle carried the sample to the scanner.

"Oh, it gets better, Doc." Jim was on a roll. Sonovabitch. "You also kidnap young women. You fuck them, then eat them. You mate with animals and make kids. Hordes of little misshapen Crests that roam the city in search of human meat."

"How nice."

The scanner chattered, printing out the signature. Jim shut up and leaned forward, his eyes fixed on his prey. The shapechangers hovered on the verge of shedding their humanity, ready to rip into the warm meat. They breathed deep, their muscles taut with concealed motion, their eyes hungry and unblinking. And their prey, the human in the middle of the room, stood surrounded and alone, looking at me like a lost child. I slid Slayer from its sheath and held it ready.

"Human," Doolittle said. "He's clean."

"You sure?" Curran said.

"Not a scintilla of doubt."

A shiver passed through the group as if someone turned off an invisible switch. I put away Slayer. Curran looked at me. His face was calm, that particular calm that contained a storm. "Do me a favor," he said. "Next time you get a hunch, don't tell me."

He turned to Crest. "On behalf of the Pack, I offer you a formal apology and our friendship. A suitable compensation will be rendered for the offense to your person. You would honor us by accepting it."

Crest made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Don't worry about it."

Curran strode past me and the shapechangers filed out of the room one by one, until only Crest and I were left.

"You really thought I was a monster." Crest's voice held quiet wonder. "Tell me, how long did you suspect me? Did you go to dinner with me thinking that I rape and kill women so I can feed on their corpses?"


"No? Why should I believe you?"

"If I suspected you then, I would've tried to kill you then."

"As opposed to being ready to kill me now?" He paced, suddenly breaking into motion as if standing still had become too great of an effort. "I saw your eyes. If that printout had said anything but what it said, you would've run me through with that sword. And it wouldn't have bothered you!"

"It would've bothered me a great deal."

He spun about. "You know, I really thought we had something there. Something nice. But I was wrong."

No reply would have been a good answer to that, so I kept my mouth shut. Crest's face had gone pale with bitterness, his mouth a narrow straight slash. "Worst of all, I think you would've preferred it to be the other way. You wanted me to be that thing."

I shook my head.

"No, you did. What was it, Kate? Did you just have to be right or was I too much of a departure from your world? Do I have to be a monster for you to fuck me?"

Coming from him the expletive gained an edge, like a knife. "I'm sorry."

He shook his hands in front of him, trying to grasp the air. "Sorry doesn't begin to cover it!" He glared at me and exhaled forcefully. "I'm through with this conversation and I'm through with you. Go. Just go away."

I left. He closed the door behind me. I wished he would've slammed it, but he closed it very carefully.

Nobody waited for me on the stairs. I got down to the lobby and walked up to the clerk. "Is there a back door out of here?"

He pointed down the hall. I took it, walked out of the building, and kept walking. The shapechangers could find me by scent. If they really wanted to track me down, there wasn't a thing I could do to stop them. But I had a feeling Curran was too disgusted with me to care one way or the other. I hailed a horse buggy and paid the driver fifty bucks to take me to the ley point.

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