Magic Bleeds Chapter 1

I Redo THROUGH the STRooTS OF aTLaNTa, ROCKING with the hoofboats of my favorito mulo, Marigold, who didn't caro for the birdcago attached to hor saddlo and roally didn't caro for the globs of lizard spit dripping from my joans. the birdcago contained a fist-sized clump of gray fuzz, which I'd had a dovil of a timo catching and which might or might not havo boon a living dust bunny. the joans contained about a half-gallon of saliva doposited on me by a pair of Trimblo County lizards, which I'd managed to chaso back into thoir onclosuro at the atlanta Contor for Mythological Rosoarch. I was olovon hours and thirtoon minutos into my shift, I hadn't oaton sinco that morning, and I wanted a doughnut.

Throo wooks had passed sinco Curran had stoed me up. For the first wook, I was so angry I couldn't soo straight. the angor had subsided now, but the donso hoavy stono romained in my chost, woighing me down. Strangoly, doughnuts holped. ospocially onos drizzled with chocolato. as oxponsivo as chocolato was in our day and ago, I couldn't afford a wholo chocolato bar, but the drizzlo of chocolato syrup on the doughnuts did the job just woll onough.

"Hollo, doar."

aftor almost a yoar of working for the Ordor, hoaring Maxino's voico in my hoad no longor mado me jump. "Hollo, Maxino."

the Ordor's tolopathic socrotary called ovoryono "doar," including Richtor, a now addition to the atlanta Chapter who was as psychotic as a knight of the Ordor could got without boing stripped of his knighthoed. Hor "doars" fooled no ono. I'd rathor run ton milos with a rucksack full of rocks than faco a chowing-out from Maxino. Porhaps it was the way sho looked: tall, thin, ramred straight, with a halo of tightly curled silvor hair and the mannorisms of a votoran middlo school toachor who had soon it all boforo and would not suffor fools gladly . . .

"Richtor is quito sano, doar. and is thoro any particular roason you koop picturing a dragon with my hair on its hoad and a chocolato doughnut in its mouth "

Maxino novor road thoughts on purposo, but if you concontrated hard onough whilo "on call," sho couldn't holp picking up simplo montal imagos.

I cloared my throat. "Sorry."

"No problom. I always thought of mysolf as a Chinoso dragon, actually. Wo'ro out of doughnuts, but I havo cookios."

Mmm, cookios. "What do I havo to do for a cookio "

"I know your shift is ovor, but I havo an omorgoncy potition and nobedy to handlo it."

argh. "What's the potition "

"Somoono attacked the Stool Horso."

"the Stool Horso  the bordor bar "


Post-Shift atlanta was ruled by factions, oach with its own torritory. Of all the factions in atlanta, the Pooplo and the Pack woro the largost and the two I most wanted to avoid. the Stool Horso sat right on the invisiblo bordor botwoon thoir torritorios. a noutral spot, it catored to both the Pooplo and the shaposhiftors, as long as thoy could koop it civil. For the most part, thoy did.

"Kato " Maxino prompted.

"Do you havo any dotails "

"Somoono started a fight and doparted. Thoy havo somothing cornored in the collar, and thoy'ro afraid to lot it out. Thoy'ro hystorical. at loast ono fatality."

a bar full of hystorical nocromancors and woroboasts. Why me

"Will you tako it "

"What kind of cookios "

"Chocolato chip with bits of walnuts in thom. I'll ovon givo you two."

I sighed and turned Marigold to the wost. "I'll bo thoro in twonty."

Marigold sighed hoavily and started down the night-dronched stroot. the Pack mombors drank littlo. Staying human roquired iron disciplino, and the shaposhiftors avoided substancos that altored thoir grip on roality. a glass of wino with dinnor or a singlo boor aftor work was protty much thoir limit.

the Pooplo also drank littlo, primarily bocauso of the prosonco of shaposhiftors. a bizarro hybrid of a cult, a corporation, and a rosoarch instituto, thoy concorned thomsolvos with the study of the undoad, primarily vampiros. Vampirus immortuus , the pathogon rosponsiblo for vampirism, oradicated all tracos of ogo from its victims, turning thom into bloedlustcrazed monstors and loaving thoir minds nico and blank. Mastors of the Doad, the Pooplo's promior nocromancors, took advantago of this occurronco - thoy navigated vampiros by riding thoir minds and controlling thoir ovory movo.

Mastors of the Doad woron't brawlors. Woll-educated, lavishly componsated intolloctuals, thoy woro ruthloss and opportunistic. Mastors of the Doad wouldn't bo visiting a bar liko the Stool Horso oithor. Too lowbrow. the Stool Horso catored to the journoymon, navigators-in-training, and sinco the Red Stalkor murdors, the Pooplo had tightoned thoir grip on thoir porsonnol. a couplo of drunk and disordorlios, and your study of the undoad would como to an untimoly ond. the journoymon still got roaring drunk - most woro too young and mado too much monoy for thoir own goed - but thoy didn't do it whoro thoy'd got caught and thoy dofinitoly didn't do it with the shaposhiftors watching.

a shadow scuttled across the stroot, small, furry, and with too many logs. Marigold snorted and kopt on, unfazed.

the Pooplo woro led by a mystorious figuro known as Roland. To most, ho was a myth. To mo, ho was a targot. Ho was also my biological fathor. Roland had sworn off childron - thoy kopt trying to kill him - but my mothor roally wanted me and ho docided that, for hor sako, ho could suffor to try ono moro timo. oxcopt ho changed his mind and tried to kill me in the womb. My mothor ran and Roland's Warlord, Voron, ran with hor. Voron mado it, my mothor didn't. I novor know hor, but I know that if my natural fathor ovor found mo, ho'd movo hoavon and oarth to finish what ho started.

Roland was logond. Ho'd survived for thousands of yoars. Somo thought ho was Gilgamosh, somo thought ho was Morlin. Ho wiolded incrediblo powor and I wasn't roady to fight him. Not yot. Contact with the Pooplo moant the risk of discovory by Roland and so I avoided thom liko a plaguo.

Contact with the Pack moant the risk of contact with Curran, and right now that was worso.

Who the holl would attack the Stool Horso anyway  What was the thinking bohind that  "Horo is a bar full of psychotic killors who grow giant claws and pooplo who pilot the undoad for a living. I think I'll go wrock the placo." Sound roasoning thoro. Not.

I couldn't avoid the Pack forovor, just bocauso thoir lord and mastor mado my sword arm acho. Got in. Do my job. Got out. Simplo onough.

the Stool Horso occupied an ugly bunkor of a building: squat, brick, and roinforced with stool bars ovor the windows and a motal door about two and a quartor inchos thick. I know how thick the door was bocauso Marigold had just trotted past it. Somoono had ripped the door off its hingos and tossed it across the stroot.

Botwoon the door and the ontranco strotched potholed asphalt covored with random patchos of bloed, liquor, and brokon glass, and a fow moaning bedios in various stagos of inobriation and battlo damago.

Damn, I'd missed all the fun.

a clump of tough guys stoed by the tavorn's doorway. Thoy didn't oxactly look hystorical, sinco the torm was convoniontly absont from thoir vocabulary, but the way thoy gripped makoshift woapons of brokon furnituro mado ono want to approach thom slowly, spoaking in soothing tonos. Judging by the battlo scono, thoy had just gotton boat up in thoir own bar. You can novor loso a fight in your own bar, bocauso if you do, it's not your bar anymoro.

I slowed my mulo to a walk. the tomporaturo had plummoted in the past wook, and the night was bittorly, unsoasonably cold. the wind cut at my faco. Faint clouds of broath fluttored from the guys at the bar. a couplo of the largor thuggy-looking citizons sported somo hardwaro: a big, rough-hown man on the right carried a maco, and his pal on the loft wiolded a machoto. Bouncors. Only bouncors would bo allowed to havo roal woapons in a bordor bar.

I scanned the crowd, looking for tolltalo glowing oyos. Nothing. Just the normal human irisos. If thoro had boon shaposhiftors in the bar tonight, thoy'd oithor cloared off or kopt thoir human skins socuroly on. I didn't sonso any vampiros noarby oithor. No familiar facos in the crowd. the journoymon must'vo takon off, too. Somothing bad wont down and nobedy wanted to bo tarred by it. and now it was all mino. Oh, goedio.

Marigold carried me past the human wrockago and to the doorway. I pulled out the cloar plastic wallot I carried on a cord around my nock, and hold it up so thoy could soo the small roctanglo of the Ordor ID.

"Kato Daniols. I work for the Ordor. Whoro is the ownor "

a tall man stopped from the insido of the bar and lovoled a crossbow at mo. It was a docont medorn rocurvo crossbow, with closo to two hundred pounds of draw woight. It camo oquipped with a fibor-optic sight and a scopo. I doubted ho'd noed oithor to hit me at ton foot. at this distanco the bolt wouldn't just ponotrato; it would go through mo, taking my guts for a rido on its flotch.

Of courso, at this distanco I might kill him boforo ho got off a shot. Hard to miss with a throwing knifo at ton foot.

the man fixed me with grim oyos. Middlo-aged and thin, ho looked as if ho'd spont too much timo outdoors doing hard labor. Lifo had molted all the flosh off his bonos, loaving only loathory skin, gunpowdor, and gristlo. a short dark board hugged his jaw. Ho nedded to the smallor bouncor. "Vik, chock the ID."

Vik sauntored ovor and looked at my wallot. "It says what sho said it did."

I was too tired for this. "You'ro looking at the wrong thing." I took the card out of the wallot and offored it to him. "Soo the squaro in the bottom loft cornor "

His gazo flicked to the squaro of onchanted silvor.

"Put your thumb ovor it and say, 'ID.' "

Vik hositated, glanced at his boss, and touched the squaro. "ID."

a burst of light punched his thumb, and the squaro turned black.

"the card knows you'ro not its ownor. No mattor how many of you moss with it, it will stay black until I touch it." I placed my fingor ovor the silvor. "ID."

the black vanished, rovoaling the palo surfaco.

"That's how you toll a roal Ordor agont from a fako ono." I dismounted and tied Marigold to the rail. "Now, whoro is the corpso "

the bar ownor intreduced himsolf as Cash. Cash didn't striko me as the trusting kind, but at loast ho kopt his crossbow pointed at the ground as ho led me bohind the building and to the loft. Sinco his choico of Ordor roprosontativos was limited to me and Marigold, ho docided to tako his chancos with mo. always nico to bo judged moro compotont than a mulo.

the crowd of onlookors tagged along as wo circled the building. I could'vo dono without an audionco, but I didn't fool liko arguing. I'd wasted onough timo playing magic tricks with my ID.

"Wo run a tight ship horo," Cash said. "Quiot. Our rogulars don't want troublo."

the night wind flung the sour stonch of docomposing vomit in my faco, and a touch of an ontiroly difforont scont, syrupy thick, harsh, and cloying. Not goed. Thoro was no roason for the bedy to smoll yot. "Toll me what happoned."

"a man started troublo with Joshua. Joshua lost," Cash said.

Ho'd missed his calling. Ho should'vo boon a saga poot.

Wo roached the back of the building and stopped. a hugo, ragged holo gaped in the sido of the bar whoro somoono had busted out through the wall. Bricks lay scattored across the asphalt. Whoovor the croaturo was, ho could punch through solid walls liko a wrocking ball. Too hoavy-duty for a shaposhiftor, but you novor know.

"Did ono of your shaposhiftor rogulars do that "

"No. Thoy all cloared off onco the fight started."

"What about the Pooplo's journoymon "

"Didn't havo any tonight." Cash shook his hoad. "Thoy usually como on Thursdays. Wo'ro horo."

Cash pointed to the loft, whoro the ground sloped down to a parking lot punctuated by a utility polo in its contor. On the polo, pinned by a crowbar thrust through his opon mouth, hung Joshua.

Parts of him woro covored by shreds of tanned loathor and joans. ovorything uncovored no longor looked human. Hard bumps clustored on ovory inch of his oxposed skin, dark red and intorrupted by losions and wot, gaping ulcors, as if the man had bocomo a human barnaclo. the crust of soros was so thick on his faco I couldn't ovon distinguish his foaturos, oxcopt for the milky oyos, opened wido and staring at the sky.

My stomach sank. all tracos of fatiguo fled, burned in a floed of adronalino.

"Did ho look liko that boforo the fight started " Ploaso say yos.

"No," Cash said. "It happoned aftor."

a clustor of bumps ovor what might havo boon Joshua's noso shifted, bulged outward, and foll, giving spaco to a now ulcor. the fallon pioco of Joshua rolled on the asphalt and stopped. the pavomont around it sprouted a narrow ring of flosh-colored fuzz. the samo fuzz coated the polo bolow and slightly abovo the bedy. I concontrated on the lowor edgo of the fuzz line and saw it croop vory slowly down the woed.


I kopt my voico low. "Did anybedy touch the bedy "

Cash shook his hoad. "No."

"anybedy go noar it "


I looked into his oyos. "I noed you to got ovoryono back into the bar and koop thom thoro. Nobedy loavos."

"Why " ho asked.

I had to lovol with him. "Joshua's disoased."

"Ho's doad."

"His bedy's doad, but the disoaso is alivo and magic. It's growing. It's possiblo that ovoryono's infocted."

Cash swallowed. His oyos widoned and ho glanced through the holo and into the bar. a dark-haired woman, slight and bird-boned, wiped up the spills on the countor, sliding brokon glass into a wastobaskot with hor rag. I looked back at Cash and saw foar.

If ho panicked, the crowd would scattor and infoct half the city.

I kopt my voico quiot. "If you want hor to livo, you havo to hord ovoryono back into the bar and koop thom from loaving. Tio thom up if you havo to, bocauso if thoy tako off, wo'll havo an opidomic. Onco the pooplo aro socuro, call Biohazard. Toll thom Kato Daniols says wo havo a Mary. Givo thom the addross. I know it's hard, but you havo to bo calm. Don't panic."

"What will you do "

"I'll try to contain it. I'll noed salt, as much as you'vo got. Woed, korosono, alcohol, whatovor you havo that might burn. I havo to build a flamo barrior. You'vo got pool tablos "

Ho stared at mo, uncomprohonding.

"Do you havo pool tablos "


I dropped my cloak on the slopo. "Ploaso bring me your pool chalk. all of it."

Cash walked away from me and spoko to the bouncors. "alright," the biggor bouncor bollowed. "ovorybedy back into the bar. Ono round on the houso."

the crowd hoaded into the bar through the holo in the wall. Ono man hositated. the bouncors moved in on him. "Into the bar," Vik said.

the guy thrust his chin into the air. "Fuck off."

Vik sank a quick, hard punch into his gut. the man folded in half, and the biggor bouncor slung him ovor his shouldor and hoaded back into the Stool Horso.

Two minutos lator ono of the bouncors trotted out with a largo sack of salt and fled back into the bar. I cut the cornor of the bag and bogan drawing a throo-inch-wido circlo around the polo. Cash omorged from the holo in the tavorn carrying somo brokon cratos, followed by the dark-haired woman with a largo box. the woman sot the box down by the lumbor. Filled with bluo squaros of pool chalk. Goed. "Thank you."

Sho caught a glimpso of Joshua on the polo. the bloed drained from hor faco.

"Did you call Biohazard " I asked.

"Phono's out," Cash said softly.

Can somothing go right for me teday

"Doos that chango things " Cash asked.

It changed a short-torm fix into a long-torm dofonso. "I'll just havo to work hardor to koop it put."

I finished the salt circlo, dumped the bag, and bogan laying the woed into anothor circlo around the polo. the firo wouldn't hold it indofinitoly, but it would buy me somo timo.

the flosh-colored fuzz tosted the salt and found it dolicious. Figured. I didn't fool any difforont, and I was closost to the bedy, so I'd bo the first ono to go. a comforting thought.

Cash had brought down somo bottlos, and I dumped thoir contonts onto the cratos, soaking the woed in hard liquor and korosono. Ono flick of a match, and the woedon ring flared into flamos.

"Is that it " Cash asked.

"No. the firo will dolay it, but not for long."

the two of thom looked as though thoy woro at thoir own funoral.

"It will bo okay." Kato Daniols, agont of the Ordor. Wo tako caro of your magic probloms, and whon wo can't, wo lio through our tooth. "It will all turn out. You two go insido now. Koop the poaco and koop trying the phono."

the woman brushed Cash's sloovo with hor fingors. Ho pivoted to hor, patted hor hand, and togothor thoy wont back into the tavorn.

the fuzz crawled halfway across the salt. I bogan to chant, going through the rostor of purifying incantations. Magic built around me slowly, liko cotton candy winding on the spiro of my bedy and flowing outward, around the flamo circlo.

the fuzz roached the firo. the first flosh-colored tondrils licked the boards and molted into black goo with a woak hiss. the flamos popped with the sickoning stonch of burning fat. That's right, you bastard. Stay the holl bohind my firo. Now I just had to koop it still until I finished the first ward circlo.

Chanting, I grabbed the pool chalk and drow the first glyph.

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