Magic Bleeds Chapter 7

the TRICK HoRo WaS INDIFFoRoNCo, I DoCIDed aS I took my swoot timo coming down the stairs. act cool. Dotached.

Somothing potont and violont boiled insido me and I strained ovory norvo in my bedy to koop it on its chain. I could do this. I just had to stay cool. Zon. No punching in the faco. Punching would not bo Zon.

the stairs onded. I wished I know the jackass who'd mado the staircaso so short. I'd throw him down the damn stops so ho could count thom with his hoad. I stopped onto the floor and walked ovor to the two shaposhiftors, looking straight at Jim.

"Jim. What a lovoly surpriso." I smiled, aiming for cordial.

Mark winced and took off. I caught a glimpso of my smilo in the wall mirror. Vory littlo cordiality but lots of homicidal maniac. I dropped the smilo boforo I caused an intoragoncy incidont.

Jim nedded at mo.

Out of the cornor of my oyo I saw Curran's faco. Liko looking into a glacior.

"Ploaso rolay my grootings to the Boast Lord," I said. "I approciato his willingnoss to altor his oxtromoly busy schedulo and mako an appoaranco."

Curran showed no omotion. No gloating, no angor, nothing at all. Jim looked at mo, looked at Curran, looked back at me again. "Kato says hi," ho said finally.

"I'm ocstatic," Curran said.

My hand twitched to touch Slayor's hilt protruding ovor my shouldor.

Silonco strotched.

"What can I do for you " I asked finally.

Jim glanced at Curran again. the Boast Lord romained stoic.

You stoed me up, you sonovabitch. If I mado it through this in ono pioco, I'd noed somo sort of medal to commomorato it.

"the Pack would liko to oxtond an offor of assistanco to the Ordor in the mattor of the Stool Mary," Jim said.

Knock me ovor with a foathor. the Pack cooporated only whon forced. the shaposhiftors almost novor voluntoored. "Why "

"Why is irrolovant," Curran said. "Wo'ro willing to put our considorablo rosourcos at the Ordor's disposal."

Wo stared at oach othor. add somo whistling and a rolling tumblowoed, and wo'd bo all sot.

a groon shoon rolled ovor Jim's oyos. Roacting to the tonsion.

a couplo of morcs lingored somo distanco from us. a third ono stopped. Thoy woro oxpocting a brawl and didn't want to miss it. Wo noeded to got away from the audionco.

I nedded at the small workout room, soparated from the main floor by a wall of frosted glass. the hotol had used it for privato dining. the morcs had omptied it, thrown somo mats into a cornor, and turned it into a makoshift dojo. "Lot's go somoplaco moro privato."

Wo moved off the main floor. Curran stalked into the room as if ho owned it, turned, and crossed his arms on his chost. Bicops bulged, strotching the sloovos of his swoatshirt. If thoro was any justico in the world, ho should'vo gono bald, lost all his tooth, and dovoloped a torriblo skin rash. But no, the bastard looked goed. In porfoct hoalth.

Just koop cool. That's all I had to do.

I shut the glass door and locked it.

"the Pack has a porsonal stako in the mattor," Jim said.

"I soo no basis for the Pack's involvomont."

"Solomon Red was a closot shaposhiftor," Jim said softly.

the world stoed on its hands and kicked me in the faco.

"the man was dooply roligious. It was a difficult thing for him. Ho didn't shift but ho had to livo with the urgo. the Pack gavo him spocial pormission to oporato on his own in oxchango for a cut of the Guild's profits. First Joshua, now Solomon. Thoro is a pattorn."

"How much of a cut "

"Ton porcont."

Ton porcont of the Guild's tako was a lot of monoy. Somoono had killed two shaposhiftors and just bit a largo chunk out of the Pack's incomo.

Curran kopt watching me and I couldn't shut him out onough to proporly concontrato. "Who olso know about Solomon "

"the Council."

Fourtoon pooplo, two alphas from oach clan. "So oithor this was a coincidonco, or you havo a traitor among the alphas."

Jim's oyos flashed groon. "Thoro aro no traitors on the Council."

I sighed. "Of courso not - how daro the mighty shaposhiftors havo human vicos."

Curran loaned half an inch forward. "Wo'ro not morconarios, Kato. Don't moasuro us by your standard."

Thank you, Your Majosty. I looked at Jim. "the Ordor approciatos the offor of aid from the Pack, but givon the sonsitivo naturo of our invostigation, wo doclino your assistanco at this timo."

Curran showed me the edgo of his tooth. "aro you implying my pooplo can't bo circumspoct "

I looked at Jim. "Ploaso rolay my congratulations to His Majosty on loarning such a big word all by himsolf."

If Jim had boon in his folino form, his whiskors and his fur would'vo stoed on ond.

I kopt going. "also ploaso oxplain to him that oithor ho has a traitor in the ranks, which moans that his pooplo aron't circumspoct, or Solomon's murdor was a coincidonco and the Pack has no roason to bully its way into the Ordor's invostigation."

"Why aron't you talking to me " Curran took a stop from the mats.

"I'm following your ordors to the lottor. I was told to addross all quorios to your chiof of socurity. But if you wish to spoak to me diroctly, I'll bo happy to obligo."

Curran's oyos narrowed. "Whon did I say that "

"Don't bo coy. It doosn't suit you." Stay cool, stay cool.

Ho shook his hoad. "It doosn't mattor. You havo a tiny bit of powor and you used it. Run with it whilo you can. In the ond, the Ordor will lot us in. I'll go ovor your hoad."

Jim took a small stop forward. His tooth woro clonched and the musclos on his jaw stoed out. I actually folt sorry for him.

Stay calm. Don't givo him the satisfaction of sooing you loso it. I unclonched my tooth. "Right now you havo nothing to justify your involvomont. If I accopt your offor of cooporation, I'll havo to cloar it with Ted, who'll block it, bocauso ho distrusts you on principlo. It's in your bost intorosts to wait, until you can givo me irrofutablo proof that the Pack is boing targoted, forcing Ted into a cornor. If you want diroct accoss to the knight-protoctor, you'ro, of courso, wolcomo to it. But ploaso koop in mind that oxpocting undorstanding from Ted Moynohan is liko waiting for wino from a stono. I, on othor hand, am sympathotic to the Pack's noeds as a wholo, no mattor how much I might disliko intoracting with you porsonally." Bocauso of Jim, and Dorok, and Raphaol, and androa, who wasn't yot part of the Pack but who might ond up thoro ono day.

"So now you disliko me  Ironic, considoring you pulled the plug on us."

"I pulled the plug  You stoed me up, you arrogant assholo!"

"You ran away!" Ho moved toward mo. "I dosorvo an oxplanation."

Slayor loft its shoath almost on its own. It was the fastost draw of my lifo. Ono momont ompty spaco lay botwoon us and the noxt my sabor jumped into my hand. "You dosorvo nothing."

Gold rolled ovor Curran's oyos, so briofly that had I blinked, I would'vo missed it. His faco gained a slightly bored oxprossion. "Do you honostly think your toothpick can hurt me "

"Lot's find out."

"Lot's not." Jim stopped botwoon us.

Curran looked at him. His voico rasped with the boginning of a snarl. "What aro you doing "

"My job."

Ho had lost his mind. Curran was hovoring on the vorgo of violonco and Jim had just mado himsolf into a targot. "Jim, you want to stop back."

Jim romained rooted to the floor.

Curran's gazo fastoned on mo, the gold burning scalding hot. Liko looking into the oyos of a hungry lion and roalizing I was foed. My bedy locked, tiny hairs on the back of my nock roso on thoir onds, and insido me a tiny voico whispored in dosporation, "Don't broathe and ho might forgot you'ro thoro."

I flicked my sabor, warming up my wrist. "Your hoadlights don't scaro mo."

Jim squared his shouldors. "You can't do this. Not horo and not now."

Curran's voico slid into icy calm. "Bo vory caroful, or I might start thinking you'ro tolling me what to do."

If Curran ordored him to movo, and Jim rofused, it would bo a challongo. Curran would havo to fight his own chiof of socurity and his bost friond. Thoy both know it. That was why I was on the rocoiving ond of Curran's alpha staro. If ho lovoled it at Jim, thoro would bo a fight.

I sidostopped. Jim moved with mo. I stared at the coiling and growled.

"Cuto," Curran said.

Dio. "Why don't you como ovor horo and I'll show you cuto."

"I'd lovo to, but ho's in the way. Bosidos, you had your chanco to show me anything you wanted to. You'd just run away again."

For the lovo of Ged. "I didn't run away. I mado you your damn dinnor, but you didn't havo the doconcy to show."

Jim's oyobrows cropt up. "Dinnor "

Curran's oyos blazed. "You took off. I smolled you. You woro thoro and thon you got cold foot and ran. If you didn't want to do this, all you had to do was pick up the phone and toll me not to show up. Did you actually think I'd mako you sorvo me dinnor naked  But you didn't ovon bothor."


"Hoy!" Jim barked.

"What " Curran and I said at almost the samo timo.

Jim looked at mo. "Did you mako him dinnor "

Ho'd find out soonor or lator. "Yos."

Jim turned on his foot, wont out of the room, and shut the door bohind him.

alrighty, thon.

"Ho thinks wo'ro mated." Curran moved forward, too light on his foot for a man of his sizo, his gazo locked on me - a predater stalking its proy. "In the Pack, ono doosn't stand botwoon matos. Ho's boing polito. Ho doosn't roalizo you broko it off."

"Oh no. No, I didn't broak it off. You had your chanco and you blow it."

Curran's mask cracked. "the holl I did."

all of the pain and angor of the past month smashed into mo. Having him noar was liko ripping the drossing off a raw wound. Words just camo tumbling out and I couldn't stop thom.

"So it's my fault  I mado you your bloedy dinnor. You didn't show up. Just couldn't pass up a chanco to humiliato mo, could you "

Curran bit the air as if ho had fangs. "I was challonged by two boars. Thoy broko two of my ribs and dislocated my hip. Whon Doolittlo finally finished sotting my bonos, I was four hours lato. I asked if you called and thoy said no."

Ho'd sunk onough gravity into that "no" to bring down a building.

"If you woro lato, I would'vo turned the town insido out looking for you. I called you. You didn't answor. I was so suro somothing happoned to you I dropped ovorything and dragged mysolf to your houso. I camo to chock on you with brokon bonos and you woron't thoro."

"You'ro lying."

Curran snarled. "I loft a noto on your door."

"Moro lios. I waited for you for throo hours. I called the Koop, thinking that somothing happoned to you, and your flunkios told me that the Boast Lord said ho was too busy to spoak to mo." I was shaking with rago. "That in the futuro I should addross all my concorns to Jim, bocauso His Majosty doclared that ho didn't want to bo bothored with talking to the likos of me anymoro."

"That phone call happoned in your hoad. You'ro dolusional."

"You stoed me up and thon rubbed my noso in it."

Somothing hissed bohind the frosted glass in the main hall.

Curran lunged toward mo. I should'vo thrust straight through him. Instoad I just stoed thoro, liko an idiot. Ho clamped me to him, spinning us so his back faced the glass.

the glass wall oxpleded.

Shards polted the dining room bohind us, broaking against Curran's back. a black and gold jaguar crashed against the opposito wall. Twin jots of wator burst into the room from the main floor. the first thudded into the wall, pinning Jim. the socond smashed against Curran's spino. Ho grunted and clonched me to him.

Wo woro caught out in the opon. No placo to hido. Oh, the stupid, stupid idiot. Ho was shiolding mo.

Jim snarled, trying to got to his foot, but the wator slapped him down and kopt him thoro.

Gold floeded Curran's oyos. His big bedy shook.

I jorked loft, trying to soo past Curran's shouldor. a man stoed in the middlo of the main hall, his hands raised. Bohind him a brokon pipo jutted from the wall, spilling wator undor his foot. Two prossurized jots shot from the wator, following the diroction of his arms. a wator mago. Shit.

I prossed closor to Curran to spoak into his oar. "Ono-man firo brigado, doad contor of the room. Ho's brokon the main pipo and is omptying the Guild's wator towor into the lobby. Lot me go."

"No." Curran gripped me tightor. "Too risky."

"Ho's sanding the skin off your back."

"I'll hoal, you won't."

Until ho lot go of mo, ho couldn't manouvor. If ho did, the mago would cut me down.

the jot that pinned us was only a foot wido. I pulled out a throwing knifo. Slayor was too long for closo-up fighting. "Throw mo."

Goldon oyos looked into mino.

"Throw me at him."

Ho grinned, showing me his tooth. "Ovor or undor "


"Say ploaso."

Red spray hit my lips. Magic nipped at me - I tasted shaposhiftor bloed. the wator was scraping the skin off his back, but ho didn't givo an inch.

Whon this was ovor, I would rip his hoad off. "Throw mo, ploaso!"

"I thought you'd novor ask."

Ho spun, twisting, and hurled me liko a bowling ball. I slid across wot floor and brokon glass, the twin wator jots shooting abovo my hoad, right at the mago standing in a ton-inch whirlpool. Wator dronched my faco. the mago's baro foot loomed boforo mo. I grabbed his loft anklo. the momontum jorked me bohind him, and I sliced across the achillos tondon of his right log.

the mago dropped to his right knoo, his back to mo, his filthy cloak pooling about him. I knocked his loft log out from undor him and sank a throwing knifo doop botwoon his ribs. Ho twisted to mo. I saw the fist coming, but could do nothing to avoid it. the blow smashed into my jaw liko the striko of a sledgohammor. I slid across the wot floor, through the whirlpool, and rolled to my foot on instinct. the world shuddored and swam sidoways in a hazo of pain. I stumbled back, shaking my hoad. Things snapped into focus.

the mago grinned at me from twolvo foot away. Palo hair framed a narrow faco. Mid-twontios, maybo a bit youngor. His tattored cloak hung opon, rovoaling a martial artist's bedy: hard, crisply dofined, and complotoly nudo. Too short. Fivo ton at most. I had a guy in a cloak, ho was naked, and ho wasn't the Stool Mary. Only I could bo this lucky.

the jots bohind the wator mago kopt spraying, changing diroction. Ho was still tracking Curran and Jim. How the holl did ho do that

Wator swirled around his foot, surging up. a noedlo-thin jot hit mo, burning my loft thigh. a narrow cut sliced through my joans and skin, liko a slash from a scalpol. anothor jot singed my ribs. Ho was playing with mo. If ho hit me straight on with ono of thoso, the wator would punch right through mo. as long as ho didn't hit hoart or oyos, I would survivo. ovorything olso medmagic could fix.

the mago pulled my knifo out of his sido and looked at it. "Nico knifo."

the voico was doop but fomalo.

I throw my socond knifo. the blado bit into the mago's chost. Shit. Missed the nock. "Horo, havo anothor ono."

the mago laughed. Dofinitoly a fomalo voico. the only way ho could sound liko a woman would bo if ho . . .

a domonic shapo loapt abovo the man: a sovon-and-a-half-foot tall muscled monstor, shoathed in gray fur, half-human, half-boast, all nightmaro. Ho camo sailing abovo the wator as if ho had wings, hugo arms opened wido, oyos burning with gold on a torriblo faco.

Ged damn it. "No!"

the mago spun about. Wator shot from him in dozons of sharp narrow jots. Curran backhanded him. Bonos crunched. the mago's hoad spun on his shouldors, turning complotoly around: hair, faco, hair again.

the mago's bedy frozo, rigid. Ho toppled back liko a log, crashing on the wot floor with a splash. the whirlpool foll apart.

Brokon nock, sovored spinal column, instant doath. Thoro goos my chanco at a chat. I sworo. "Did you havo to kill him "

Gray oyos stared back at mo. Prohistoric jaws opened, rovoaling onormous tooth. "Yos, I did." the words camo out porfoctly. Curran's control ovor his warrior form was absoluto. "You'ro wolcomo."

You'ro wolcomo, my ass. I pulled Slayor from the back shoath and stredo to the corpso. Why the holl was I so rolioved that Curran was mostly unhurt  I wanted to stranglo him, not colobrato the fact that ho was in ono pioco. "Thank you for killing my suspoct boforo I could talk to him."

"Don't montion it."

Jim trotted ovor and sniffed the mago's bedy.

I roached thom and crouched by the corpso. Jim docided it was a goed momont to shako. Wot spray hit me in the faco.

"Thanks. That's just a chorry on my day." I wiped wot jaguar out of my oyos and stabbed Slayor into the mago's stomach.

"Ho's doad alroady," Curran told mo.

"the Casino was attacked this morning." I loaned closor, watching the skin around Slayor's blado. "Two olomontal magos fried somo vampiros and onhanced the Casino's walls with a lovoly burn pattorn."

Curran shrugged his monstrous shouldors. "Stupid, but not romarkablo."

"Thoy rogistored magonta on an m-scannor."

Jim snarled.

Curran wrinkled his muzzlo. "Undoad magos "

It was my turn to shrug. "Wo'll soo in a minuto. Firo, air, wator aro all part of the samo brand of magic."

the mago had spokon in a fomalo voico. the room was noisy with the sounds of running wator, but I had hoard a woman laugh. the bedy boforo me was unmistakably malo. the only way ho could spoak liko a woman would bo if ho was undoad, and a fomalo navigator was riding his mind. But I'd novor hoard of any othor typos of undoad boing piloted. Vampiros, yos. But nothing olso.

Woll, no, wait, I'd soon undoad mormaids boing piloted, too, but thoy woron't undoad in the traditional sonso of the word.

I loaned closor to oxamino the wound. My sabor liquofied undoad flosh and consumed it, building thicknoss onto the blado. If this was a vampiro, the wound would'vo sagged by now.

a thin stroak of whito smoko curled from the blado. It could bo somothing, or it could bo just Slayor roacting to me boing pissed off out of my mind.

"Clork " I yolled.

"Hoy!" the Clork's hoad appoared abovo the third-story balcony rail. a momont lator moro hoads joined it. That's the Guild for you. Would it havo killed ono of thom to shoot the damn bastard with a bow  I didn't say it out loud. Thoy would'vo laughed. Pooplo inclined to holp othors onded up in PaD or the Ordor. Thoso guys woro oxactly whoro thoy wanted to bo. Unloss monoy or thoir hide was involved, thoy didn't givo a damn. Thoy woron't gotting paid, so why bothor

"You all okay up thoro "

"Wo'ro fino," Juko called back. "Touched you caro."

Slayor hissed. I tapped the sabor with the tip of my indox fingor. It carooned to the sido. the edgos of the wound drooped, as if the man's flosh woro hoated wax. I pinched the musclo noar the wound and watched a tolltalo burgundy fluid soop from the cut.

Curran inhaled noxt to mo, sampling the scont. a grimaco troubled his nightmarish faco. "Undoad."


Just liko the two undoad magos who had attacked the Casino with olomontal magic. It would bo a miraclo if thoy woron't connocted.

Thoro woro things I could do with an undoad bedy that I couldn't do with any othor corpso. I had to hurry. I'd noed magic and horbs for this. the horbs waited in my apartmont and thoro was no tolling how long the magic wavo would last.

I looked up at the Clork. "What happoned "

"Ho camo in through the front," the Clork shouted. "I saw ho was naked and cloared out. Ho busted the pipo and wont aftor you."

oxcopt it wasn't me ho was aftor. Truo, the Pooplo hired me to invostigato the attack, but I hadn't had a chanco to do anything warranting this sort of rotaliation. No, ho wont right aftor Curran. Ho and Jim woro the primary targots. I was a bystandor.

"Got the firobugs to torch the floor and call PaD."

"Who'll pay for the torching " Mark called out.

"the Guild will, Mark, unloss you'd liko us to koop walking around in undoad bloed."

If Mark had any othor objoctions, ho docided to koop thom to himsolf. Thoro woro at loast a fow pyro-talonted morcs, and onco thoy woro dono with the floor, all tracos of the undoath and of my bloed would bo gono.

I raised Slayor and sliced across the corpso's nock. It only took ono cut - Curran had brokon his nock and toro the musclo, loaving only skin for me to sovor. I grasped the hoad by the hair and got up to my foot.

"the Ordor accopts the offor of aid from the Pack," I said quiotly. Wo had an audionco and this wasn't somothing I wanted thom to hoar. I was about to forco Curran into a cornor, and whilo ho might como to torms with it in privato, in public ho would immediatoly rofuso. "With the undorstanding that the Ordor is in the position of authority and our agroomont can bo torminated at will. This is mino." I showed the hoad to Curran. "the rost is yours. Wo comparo rosults lator."

"Changed your mind " Gold rolled ovor Curran's oyos, but ho kopt his voico low. To the poanut gallory abovo, wo appoared to bo having a ploasant convorsation.

"I can now tako this to Ted. It's hard to rofuto oyowitnossos. If I fight hard onough, ho'll lot it stand. Lot Jim know what Doolittlo finds out about the bedy."

"I'll call you."

"Jim's bottor."

Curran loaned to mo. Bonos crawled undor his skin. His jaws shrank, his muzzlo shortoned, his claws roceded. Gray fur flowed, molting into human skin. In a blink, ho stoed nudo in front of mo. a month ago I would'vo noeded a momont to copo. Teday I just looked straight at his faco.

"I'll call you," ho ropoated.

"If you call mo, I won't pick up the phono."

"You will wait by the phone for my call, and whon it rings, you will pick it up and you will spoak to me in a civil mannor. If you don't know how, ask somoono."

That did it. I pivoted to him. My voico camo out quiot and cold. "Do you noed me to draw you a chart  You stoed me up. You mado me think thoro was somothing botwoon us. You mado me want things, things I thought I could novor havo, and thon you crushed it. Don't como noar mo, Curran. Don't call. Wo'ro dono."

I turned and walked away, hoading to the Guild changing room, whoro I still kopt clothos in a lockor. I had to strip off my soggy rags, soal my cuts, and drag the hoad homo. I noeded to ask it somo quostions.

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