Magic Burns Chapter 11

I WOKE UP BECAUSE SOMEONE WAS WATCHING ME. I opened my eyes and saw Julie's face an inch from mine. We looked at each other for a long minute.

"You're not going to die?" she asked me very softly.

"Not right this minute." And, of course, saying something like that usually resulted in immediate demise. I braced myself for a stray meteorite falling through the roof to crush my skull.

"That's good," she said in a voice that suggested anything but happiness.

She crawled on my bed, and curled up in a corner, hands fastened over her knees.

"I got scared. I get scared when Mom goes to work." She put her head on her hands. "And when Red leaves."

"That's a hard way to live."

"I can't help it."

I didn't know what to say. Kids don't usually understand death. They feel immortal and secure. Julie understood the full extent of death the way an adult would, and she couldn't deal with it. And I didn't know how to help her.

"There is something you said to Red that I wanted to ask you about." If I just could figure out the right way to do it. "You said you would give him what you had. What did you mean?"

She shrugged. "Sex. Red knows a ritual that would give him my powers if I do sex with him."

I stared at her, speechless. There were so many things wrong with what she said that my brain experienced a momentary shutdown.

"I don't need it. It's not a big thing. So I can see magic's colors, so what? If I give it to him, he'll be stronger and he can protect us both. I'd do it now, but he wants to wait. He says if we do it when I get fully grown, he'd get more power."

"Julie, do you trust me?"

The question caught her by surprise. "Yeah."

I took a deep breath. "There is no spell that transfers power from one person to another."


"Let me finish." I sat up and tried my best to adopt an even tone of voice. "There is a witch spell that lets you mimic someone's powers for a little while. And yes, it involves sex, and yes, you can do it in such a way as to make the other person think that their powers are gone, but they aren't. Not really. Your power is who you are. It's in your blood, it's in your bones; it's in every cell of your body. That's why people burn their bandages, because their magic lingers in their blood even after it's separated from their bodies." That's why if anybody ever got their hands on my bloody bandage, I'd have to kill them.

She opened her mouth.

"Let me tell you something about the spell. It's called mirror lock. You know how sex works?"

For a second she struggled between proving to me that I was full of shit and wanting to show off her adult knowledge. The need to impress won. "Yeah. The man puts his stuff..."


"...penis into the woman."

"And what happens at the end?"


"And what causes orgasm in a man?" Kate Daniels, the sex-ed specialist. Kill me, somebody.


"Sperm comes out. He ejaculates."

"That's how you get pregnant." She nodded.

"Now remember that blood has magic? Well, sperm has magic, also. It's the man's seed and it's very potent. Lots of magic. The way mirror lock works, the witch, a woman, has sex with the man. His seed is now in her body and it can stay alive in there for up to five days. As long as the seed lives, she can use this seed to mimic the man's powers. Those powers won't be that strong, but if she has done everything right, she will have them. Now at the same time while she and the man are having sex, she casts spells that numb the man's senses and make him very tired. He feels weak. He can try to do magic, but he doesn't feel his own power. And then the spells wear off and he's back to normal."

I've run across the mirror lock twice, and both times the victims had killed the witches responsible. It was a nasty spell, used almost always for the wrong reasons.

"Do you understand now why it only works when a woman is casting it? The woman's fluids simply don't enter the man's body in a large enough amount for the spell to work the other way."

I watched it sink in. I wished we could have stopped right there.

"Somebody, probably a witch, told Red about the spell. It's a dangerous spell, Julie. Many things can go wrong. Red knows enough about magic to figure out that it's risky and, if he stopped to think about it long enough, he would also figure out that it can only work one way. But he wants the power so much, he didn't even think about it. He jumped on that chance."

She got a hint of where I was headed. "Red loves me!"

"Red loves power more. What kind of boyfriend is he that he would try to rob you of your power? To use you this way? Sex is..." I struggled for words. "It's an intimate thing. A loving thing, or at least it should be, God damn it. You should do it because you want to make the other person and yourself happy."

She was blinking back tears. "If I gave him my power, it would make him happy and then I'd be happy!"

It's good that Red was hiding somewhere far away, because if I could get my hands on him right this second, I'd wring his little neck.

"You're a sensate. One in ten thousand. You and your mom always worry about money, right? Julie, with a little training, you could make three or four times as much as I do within a couple of years. People will bring you money in truckloads. They will pay for you to go to school, just so you could tell them what color of magic something is. But even if you had the most useless power in the world, even if all you could do was to make a fart sound with a flick of your fingers, I would still tell you the same thing. You shouldn't give up what you are to make somebody else happy."

"I decide what makes me happy!" She jumped off the bed and stomped off.

"If it feels wrong, it probably is."

She slammed the door. Well, I had managed to handle that one with my usual tact, finesse, and sense of perfect timing. I got up and went to dress and find something to eat.

YOUNG SHAPESHIFTERS DIDN'T HAVE A LOT OF TIME to find themselves. When puberty hit, they had two choices: go loup or go Code.

Going loup meant abandoning all control to blindly follow your body into hormone hell. Loups fed on human meat. They reveled in pain and sadistic perversion, sliding down from one elaborate torture to the next, until a gun, a sword, or claws cured all their ills, or until Lyc-V burned them out. Loups died young and didn't leave pretty corpses.

Going Code meant controlling your every move. Free People of the Code wanted to stay human and went to extraordinary lengths to keep their beast on a short leash. Code meant strict mental conditioning, discipline, accountability, hierarchy, and obedience. All of the things that pretty much drove me crazy.

The individuals emerging from this Code crucible acquired similar traits. They knew their boundaries. They avoided smoking, strong scents, liquor, and spices, as they dulled their senses. They rarely gave in to excess.

Except when it came to food. The shapeshifters ate like pigs. And I did my best to imitate them. I was ravenous and there was no telling when I would eat again.

I was alone in the kitchen - it was past breakfast except by the most lax standards. I had just taken my first bite when Derek walked in and sat across from me. He had an old-fashioned metal coffee can in his hands and a pair of heavy-duty cutters. He pulled a large iron nail from the can and some wire, and proceeded to cut a two-inch strip from the can. I watched him bend the nail into a gentle zigzag. He folded the metal strip into a roll like it was clay and pinched it onto the nail.

It's good to be a werewolf.

"You got a copy of the Almanac around here?"

Derek got up and brought me The Almanac of Mystical Creatures. "Thanks."

I thumbed through it while helping myself to some bacon. No Bolgor the Shepherd. No mention of the reeves. I scanned the entry about Morrigan. No mention of the bowman. Of course, if there was, I probably would've known it - I had read the Almanac from cover to cover several times. It rarely got all the details right, but it was a good general guide to things magically delicious.

Shortly after I started on my second plate, Julie appeared and sat sullenly by my side.

Derek added more strips to the nail, clamping them tight, and bound them with wire.

"Derek, if a boy wanted to take away a girl's power by having sex with her, what would you think about it?"

"I'd break something. His leg. Maybe his arm." He squeezed the wire tighter. "Probably wouldn't kill him unless he wanted to make an issue of it."

"What if the girl wanted to give her powers to the boy?" I asked.

"Then I'd think it would be a pretty stupid thing to do." He shrugged. "Can it be done?"


"Good for the girl. She might get smarter and find a different boy." He released his hold and handed Julie a metal rose. "For you. Kate, if you're done with your plate, Curran wants to see you. He's up on the roof."

I followed him to the staircase and climbed up onto the third floor, where a small foldout ladder led to the square piece of the sky. I conquered the ladder and emerged onto the flat roof of the building.

The roof was filled with assorted free weights. Curran lay on a massive weight bench with a reinforced steel frame. He was working the bench press, raising a bar loaded with weights above him and bringing it back to his chest in a slow controlled movement. He didn't cheat by letting the bar "bounce" off his chest.

I came closer. The bar was thicker than my wrist. Had to be custom made. I tried to count the weight disks on the bar. A normal bar weighed forty-five pounds, and normal disks weighed up to forty-five pounds, also. But these didn't look normal.

I stood to the side and watched the bar rise and fall. Curran wore an old, torn T-shirt, and I could see his muscles pump under the fabric.

"How much are you lifting?"

"Seven hundred."

Alrighty then. I will just stand over here, out of your way, and hope you don't remember my promise to kick your ass.

He grinned. "Wanna spot me?"

"No thanks. How about I just scream verbal encouragements at you?" I took a deep breath and barked. "No pain, no gain! That pain is just weakness leaving your body! Come on! Push! Push! Make that weight your bitch!"

He cracked up. The weight stopped, perilously close to his chest, while he shook with laughter. I stepped up and grabbed the bar. It put me into an incredibly compromising position, since his head was really close to my thighs and the area directly above them, but I didn't want to explain to a rabid Pack how I was responsible for the Beast Lord crushing his chest with a weight bar.

I put my back into it. There was no way in hell I could ever pull it up without him pushing.

The bar crept up very slowly.

"Curran, stop playing and lift."

I looked down and saw him looking straight at me. He had a smile on his face. The sight of me puffing and straining apparently amused him to no end.

He raised the bar up and slid it into the twin forks on the sides of the bench.

I beat a hasty retreat, putting a few feet between him and me. He sat, pulled his shirt off, and used it to wipe the sweat off his chest. Slowly. Flexing a bit for my benefit.

I turned around and looked at the scenery. Having a streak of drool hang from my mouth would seriously cramp my style. Besides, if he full-out flexed, I would probably faint. Or jump off the building.

I needed to get laid. Otherwise my hormones might go on strike and short-circuit my common sense.

Curran came to stand next to me. Before us the broken city grappled with an impending flare. In the distance husks of skyscrapers sagged to the ground. Between them and us stretched the twisted labyrinth of streets, punctured by greenery, where nature had reclaimed the ruins for its own.

Maybe I was imagining things. Maybe he was just wiping off his sweat because he didn't want to be sweaty, not because he was showing off for me. Once again, I was giving myself too much credit.

"What are you going to do with the child?" he asked.

"I'll take her to the Order. There is a vault below the Order's building. It has a two-foot-thick steel door, and it's blanketed in a ward the entire mage division of the Military Supernatural Defense Units can't bust. The safest place in the city right now."

The Order had to own other facilities too, but I didn't rate high enough to know their location or function. I wouldn't have known about the vault either if Ted thought he could hide it from me. If you put a door marked "Authorized Personnel ONLY" and me in the same building, sooner or later I'll try to jimmy its lock to discover what's so special about it.

"You can keep her here," Curran said. "We'll look after her."

"Thank you for the offer. I honestly appreciate it. But things are hunting her. She'll be safe in the vault and I don't want to be responsible for any deaths."

He sighed. "You do realize that you just insulted me, right?"

"How so?"

"You implied that I can't protect her or my people."

I looked at him. "That's not at all what I meant."

"Apologize and I'll let it go."

I kept my hands firmly on the iron rail before me. Grabbing the weight bar and walloping the Beast Lord upside the head wouldn't be the best diplomatic move.

"I'm sorry, Your Majesty." There. I was civil. It almost killed me.

"Apology accepted."

"Will there be anything else?" Your Arrogance.

"No." He picked up an enormous dumbbell and began to curl, working his biceps.

I turned to leave and stopped. He was in a good mood. Relaxed. He didn't wig out at me. Now was as good a time as any. "Myong..."

A low warning growl reverberated in his throat. "I said later."

Technically it was later. "I think she loves him very much."

He snarled. "You forget yourself! Drop it."

"She's very passive and she's terrified of you. It took a great deal of courage for her to come and see me."

He tossed the dumbbell aside. It went flying and hit with a loud thud, leaving a dent in the pavement of the roof. Curran strode toward me, eyes blazing. "If I let her go, I'll need a replacement. Want to volunteer for the job?"

He looked like he wouldn't be taking no for an answer. I swiped Slayer from its sheath and backed away from the edge of the roof. "And be girlfriend number twenty-three soon to be dumped in favor of girlfriend number twenty-four who has slightly bigger boobs? I don't think so."

He kept coming. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. You get these beautiful women, make them dependent on you, and then dump them. Well, this time a woman left you first, and your enormous ego can't deal with it. And to think that I hoped we could talk like reasonable adults. If we were the last two people on Earth, I'd find myself a moving island so I could get the hell away from you." I was almost to the drop door leading to the ladder.

He stopped suddenly and crossed his arms over his chest. "We'll see."

"Nothing to see. Thanks for the rescue and for the food. I'm taking my kid and leaving." I dropped into the hole, slid down the ladder, and backed away down the hall. He didn't follow me.

I was midway down to the first floor when it finally hit me: I had just told the alpha of all shapeshifters that hell would freeze over before I got into his bed. Not only had I just kissed any cooperation from the Pack good-bye, but I had also challenged him. Again. I stopped and hit my head a few times on the wall. Keep your mouth shut, stupid.

Derek appeared at the bottom of the stairway. "It went that well, huh?"

"Spare me."

"I take it you're leaving."

I stopped hitting my head and looked at him.

"Mind if I tag along?" he asked.


"I want the thief." Derek's face was grim. "He has a thing for you."

A werewolf who can outrun me, who can bend metal into roses with his fingers, and who could grab Julie in case of trouble and take off like a rocket never to be caught by freaky broads with deepwater teeth. Let me think...

"Sure. Be glad to have you."

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