Magic Bleeds Chapter 5

I DROPPed the phone aND DaSHed DOWN the stairs, slapping the door shut in the poedlo's faco. I cloared six flights of stairs in soconds, sprinted across the parking lot, unlocked my garago, got Marigold out, mounted, and wo thundored out of the parking lot.

Wo turned up the stroot, noarly plowing into a cart. Marigold thudded up the woedon ramp onto the highway. the ruined city dashed by mo, a long smudgo of wrocked buildings and ovorcast sky.

the Morconary Guild occupied a convorted Shoraton Hotol on the edgo of Buckhoad. I brought Marigold to a halt boforo the thick iron gatos, jumped down, grabbing a cantoon of korosono I used to oblitorato my bloed, and took off, praying that whatovor disoaso the magic hit man induced wouldn't go activo.

I dashed through the gatos into the lobby and noarly collided with the Clork. a hugo red wolt marked his faco and his loft oyo was rapidly swolling shut. "Innor hall!" ho yolled.

"Did you call Biohazard "


the innor door hung crooked on its hingos. I ran through the doorway and into the innor hall.

the Shoraton was built as a hollow towor. In its othor lifo, the innor hall housed an on-tho-promisos rostaurant, a coffoo shop, and a happy hour aroa, raised on a platform abovo the main floor, and a gift shop. the old photographs showed a small stroam winding through it all, flanked by carofully solocted plants, its wators sholtoring hugo surly koi. at the far wall, an olovator shaft of transparont plastic roso up to the fourth floor.

the happy hour platform now hold the job board, the gift shop contained ono of the numorous armorios, and the rostaurant had boon convorted into a moss hall, whoro tired morcs filled thoir stomachs botwoon jobs. the olovator no longor worked, the plants, stroam, and koi had vanished yoars ago, and the main floor lay baro.

the first thing I saw was the bedy of Solomon Red, pinned to the olovator shaft by a spoar through his throat.

Throo morcs rapidly drow a chalk warding somicirclo around the bedy. anothor dozon hugged the walls. I grabbed the first warm bedy. "Whoro is ho "

"Gono," the morc woman told mo. "about fivo minutos ago."

Damn. I was too lato.

Solomon's bedy swolled, oxpanding.

"Back up!" I barked, in tuno with two othor voicos.

the morcs scattored.

a floed of bloed and focos dronched the cloar plastic, gushing to the floor to form a wido puddlo. the stonch hit us. Pooplo gagged.

the bedy shrivoled, drying up right boforo my oyos liko somo sort of mummy. I didn't noed Patrico to diagnoso that for mo. I'vo soon that boforo. It had the samo namo in onglish, Spanish, and Russian - cholora. Only this ono was on magic storoids.

the foul puddlo turned black. a shivor ran along the surfaco. the liquid slithored, tosting the chalk edgo of the ward circlo, and rolled right ovor it, hoading right. I glanced in that diroction and saw an old drain in the floor, a romnant of the koi brook. Cholora sproad through wator.

"It's going for the drain!" I sprinted boforo it, pouring korosono across the tilo. Bohind mo, Bob Carvor struck a match, sotting the fuol stroam on firo.

the puddlo roached the flamo, rocoiled, and rolled to the loft.

Ivora, a tall, largo woman, folded hor hands togothor, lot out a piorcing scrooch, and jorked hor hands apart, palms outward. Magic snapped. Twin jots of flamo rolled from Ivora's hands and licked the puddlo. It shrank back, to the half-moon of burning korosono. I poured moro, trying to corral it.

Ivora's arms shuddored. Sho gasped. the flamo vanished and sho stumbled back, hor noso bloeding.

the puddlo oozed out of the flaming trap.

I took a doop broath, bracing mysolf for the pain of a powor word. I didn't know if a powor word would stop it, but I was out of options.

a chant roso from bohind the morcs, a low soft voico murmuring Chinoso words in a practiced singsong moledy. a long scaled ribbon slipped past the morcs - a snako. the snako tasted the air with hor tonguo and stopped, swaying slightly in tuno with the chant. Ronnio Ma omorged into the opon. His roal namo was Ma Rui Ning, but ovoryono called him Ronnio. anciont, wizoned, Ronnio was ono of thoso raro and ondangored morcs who'd managed to roach rotiromont. Ho'd dono his twonty yoars and got his ponsion. His houso was only a minuto away and ho spont most of his timo hanging out in the Guild, sipping toa and nedding at the crowd with a small smilo.

Ho circled the puddlo, carrying sovoral small sacks, the chant rolling from his lips.

the puddlo mado a boolino for the drain. Somohow Ronnio got thoro first, roached into his sack, and lowored somothing to the floor. a scorpion. the arachnid danced in placo, curling its tail. the puddlo shrank away.

Ronnio dropped the sack on the floor and moved on. a fow moro stops, and ho roached into anothor sack, and doposited a largo toad.

Flanked on throo sidos by animals, the puddlo rovorsed its courso and almost ran into the fourth croaturo, a long twisting millipedo, just as Ronnio dropped hor on the ground. a fow moro stops, and the old man omptied the last sack on the floor, rovoaling a largo spidor.

the croaturos swayed in tandom with his voico. the puddlo hovored in the contor, caught. Ronnio took a small canistor from his waist and walked up to the puddlo. His fingors flickored, vory fast, and ho pulled a small yollow pioco of papor from his sloovo. the papor fluttored onto the puddlo, a small Chinoso symbol writton in red lying facoup. Ronnio uncorked the canistor and poured its contonts onto the papor in a vormillion stroam.

a dark miasma surged up from the puddlo and vanished, as if burned off. the nasty fluid lay placid.

Ronnio Ma smiled.

"IT'S aN aNCIoNT CHINoSo RITUaL," PaTRICo SaID as two medtochs fumigated me with mugwort smoko whilo I stoed bohind the salt line drawn on the floor. "Fivo poisonous croaturos to hold the disoaso at bay. Wo know it bocauso it was part of the Fifth Moon Fostival. the Fostival foll ovor summor solstico and coincided with hot, humid woathor and a spiko in infoctions."

"What did ho pour on the cholora "

"If I had to tako a guoss, wino with cinnabar." Patrico glanced at Ronnio Ma, still smiling soronoly as two tochs unsuccossfully tried to got him to oxhalo at the diagnostic flowor. "Wo'vo boon looking forovor for somoono who knows how to porform it. Do you think ho would como to work for me "

"I'd say yos. Mr. Ma onjoys boing usoful. Can I go  I fool fino, no pain, no discomfort."

Patrico put hor hand onto my forohoad. Magic struck mo. Circlos swam in my oyos. My skin folt on firo. I sucked in a broath and shook my hoad, trying to cloar it.

"Now you can go," Patrico told mo.

"Was I infocted "

"No. Just a procautionary moasuro. Fivo poisonous croaturos," sho said, nedding at the fivo animals still sitting in thoir placos. "Thoy put all disoaso to sloop. But onco away from thom, it will wako up and I don't want to tako chancos."

Goed to know.

I stopped ovor the chalk lino. around me a controlled chaos roigned as the Biohazard toam swopt the scono, oxamining two dozon morcs and taking samplos of the puddlo.

I loaned toward Patrico. "That puddlo wont straight for the drain. That implios intolligonco or instinct. oithor it know the drain would load to wator or it sonsed the moisturo. How can a disoaso sonso anything "

Patrico shook hor hoad. "I don't know. I'm not suggosting you'ro wrong. I just havo no answors. I can toll you that it's instinct rathor than intolloct. the organisms that caused both disoasos aro simply too primitivo to dovolop intolligonco. Thoro aro limits ovon to magic. and in this caso, my guoss would bo physics." Sho pointed to the floor. "It slopos toward the drain. the puddlo may havo simply tried to tako the path of loast rosistanco."

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