Magic Burns Chapter 14


"Right now Saiman has a thing for everyone, including you, from what I saw. He's drunk on magic and bored." I finished rebraiding my hair and guided my horse up Marietta Street toward the dense forest that used to be the twenty-one acres of Centennial Park. I really didn't feel like continuing this conversation.

The magic fell. It would reassert itself in a minute: the waves had been coming one after another, short and intense.

"It appeared you were definitely his preferred entertainment," Ghastek said.

Asshole. "It didn't matter who was up on that roof, he would've changed his shape until he found a perfect fit."

"In more ways than one." The vampire cut in front of the horses again.

"Thank you for your commentary. I noticed you didn't do anything to help."

"You seemed to have the matter well in hand." Ghastek sent his vamp galloping forward, ahead of us. When confronted, run away. My favorite strategy.

"Look," Derek said, "all I'm saying is it would've been helpful to have all relevant information before we walked in there."

"I didn't have all the relevant information. Had I known he would be on the roof dancing in the snow, I wouldn't have gone up there."

"I can't effectively help or protect you..." Derek said.

I turned in my saddle. "Derek, I didn't ask you to protect me. I didn't ask you to come with me. If I had realized that you would be imitating Curran the entire time, I would've thought twice about letting you tag along."

Derek clamped his mouth shut.

Ahead of us the vamp turned to the left, loping onto Centennial Drive.

That wasn't a good thing to say. I halted my horse. Derek stopped, too.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap."

"Who should I imitate, Kate?" he asked softly.

I didn't have an answer.

"Or are you going to give me a load of bullshit about being myself? Who would that be, Kate? A son of a loup and a murderer, who couldn't save his sisters from being raped and then eaten alive by their father. Why would I want to be that?"

I leaned back in my saddle, wishing I could exhale all of the weight that had settled on my shoulders. "I apologize. I was wrong."

He sat still for a long minute and nodded to me. The vamp halted in the street, waiting for us.

"I shouldn't have nagged," he said. "I get like that sometimes."

"It's okay." I sent my horse forward. I knew why he got like that. I've seen him meticulously fold his clothes. His shave was perfect, his hair cut short, his nails clean and trimmed. I bet his room didn't have a single item out of place. When you live in chaos as a child, you strive to impose order over the world. Unfortunately, the world refuses to comply, so you have to settle for trying to control yourself, your habitat, and your friends.

"I'm just worried about a lot of things," I said.

"Julie?" he guessed.


I wished I could have called in to check on them, but I had no clue where I could find a working phone line and with the preflare magic, the phone probably wouldn't work anyway. Andrea had promised to stay with her. Barred from the field or not, Andrea could shoot a squirrel in the eye from across the street.

"It's hard for you," Derek observed. "To rely on other people, I mean."

For a moment I wondered if he had developed telepathy, too. "What makes you say that?"

"You said you were worried about Julie and then your face looked like you had a hemorrhoid attack. Or a really hard..."

"Derek, you just don't say things like that to a woman. Keep going this way and you'll spend your life alone."

"Don't change the subject. Andrea is cool. And she smells nice. It will be okay."

Apparently I was supposed to sniff people to determine their competence. "How do you know?"

He shrugged. "You just have to trust her."

Considering that the two men I had most loved and admired spent my formative years drilling into me that I could rely on myself and myself alone, trusting other people was easier said than done. I worried about Julie. I worried about Julie's mom, too. Since I'd gotten the liaison position with the Order, I made it a point to hang out in the knight-questor's office, because I knew next to nothing about investigative work, and he, being an ex - Georgia Bureau of Investigations detective, knew pretty much everything. While there I had picked up a few vital crumbs of information, and I knew the first twenty-four hours of any investigation were crucial. The more time passed, the colder the trail grew. In a missing person case, that meant the chances of finding that missing person alive dropped by the hour.

The first twenty-four had come and gone. The first forty-eight were waving good-bye from the window of the "you suck at your job" train. None of the normal procedures applied in this case: canvassing the neighborhood, interrogating witnesses, trying to determine who wanted the person to be missing, none of it applied here. All the witnesses were missing with her.

I had no clue where Julie's mom had gone. I wished she was safe back at her house. I had left a note on her kitchen table, explaining that I had Julie, she was safe, and asking her to contact the Order. Until she showed, all I could do was to tug on the tail of the only lead I had - the cauldron and Morrigan - and hope there wasn't a woman-eating tiger on the other end.

We turned to the left onto Centennial Drive, following Ghastek's vampire. A solid wall of green towered along our left, blocking the view. Pre-Shift, the park was open and airy, a large lawn, sectioned off by paths and carefully planted trees into predefined areas. You could stand on the lookout at Belvedere and see the entire layout of the park, from the Children's Garden to the Fountain of Rings.

Now the park belonged to the covens of the city. The witches had planted fast-growing trees, and an impenetrable barrier of verdant green hid the mysteries of the park from prying eyes and sticky fingers. The park was larger, as well. A lot larger. It had swallowed several city blocks previously occupied by office buildings. All I saw was a wall of green. It must've quadrupled in size.

The fact that so many covens had banded together to purchase a park was always a puzzlement to me. If you piloted vampires, you belonged to the People, and if you didn't, they would quickly make a very persuasive financial argument in favor of your signing up with them. If you were a merc, you belonged to the Guild, because you wanted 50 percent off your dental, 30 percent off your medical, and access to a Guild lawyer. But if you were a witch, you belonged to your coven, which usually topped out at thirteen members. Witches had no hierarchy outside of their individual covens. I always wondered what different covens had in common. Now I knew: the Oracle.

It's a good thing Saiman was high on magic. God alone knew how much this information would've cost me under normal circumstances. Of course, under normal circumstances, all this mess wouldn't have happened.

The city gave the park some berth but not too much. Across the street the ruins had been cleared and a new timber building rose, proudly bearing a YardBird sign. Under it in big red letters was written "Fried Chicken! Wings!" And lower, "No Rat!"

The air smelled like fried chicken. My mouth filled with drool. The good thing about chicken is that it's hard to disguise dog meat as a chicken wing. Mmmm, chicken. Thanks to Doolittle's efforts, I still had the metabolism of a hummingbird on crack. The fried chicken aroma beckoned me. After the witches. Once we were out of Centennial Park, come hell or high water, I'd get myself some chicken.

The carpenters from the new construction going up ahead had much the same idea. They sat outside at small wooden tables, munched on wings, and watched the afternoon sun broil the streets. Laborers and craftsmen traveled up and down Centennial Drive, feeling the pavement through their worn shoes, staying on the other side of the street, away from the green. The sidewalk peddlers recommended their wares with hoarse voices. Up ahead at the intersection a fetish vendor, a short middle-aged man, danced about his cart, shaking colorful twine and cord charms.

A street sign announced we had reached Andrew Young Boulevard. Judging by the sign's location, the boulevard sliced off the southern chunk of the park, probably cutting straight through Centennial Plaza. Except no boulevard remained. The greenery grew wild, in full revolt against all things that pruned. Leafy branches hung over the path, their shoots lying on the pavement. Rose vines spread in thorn-studded tangles, binding the myrtles and evergreens into a solid mass that promised to leave no skin unbloodied. I'd need a chainsaw to get through there. A machete wouldn't do it. And I didn't even have a machete.

Witches: one. Kate and Co.: zero.

"We seem to be boulevardless," I said.

"I could've informed you of that, had you bothered to inquire." The vamp favored me with a ghastly attempt at a smile, sure to send any normal person to a therapist.

That's right - the Casino was built on the lot of the old World Congress Center. If it weren't for the fifty-foot trees blocking the view, the sky would be gleaming with its silvery minarets. The People and the witches were practically neighbors. Hell, they probably wandered over to borrow a cup of sugar from each other.

"There is an entrance up ahead." The vamp scuttled north, toward Baker Street. The sun chose that moment to strip off a small cloud, filling the world with golden sunshine and setting the vamp's wrinkled purple hide aglow.

"There is just something so wrong about this," I mumbled.

Derek answered with a light growl.

I trudged along the green wall. The air smelled of flowers. Birds chirped.

The greenery dipped. A narrow path burrowed into the green, twisting to the left, like a dim tunnel to the heart of the wood.

Derek raised his nose and inhaled deeply in the manner of the shapeshifters. "Water."

I strained to recall the layout of the park. Baker Street wasn't that far. "Must be the Water Gardens."

The tunnel lay waiting, like an open mouth. Ghastek's vamp edged closer to it. Derek and I dismounted and tied our horses to a twisted rhododendron. I looked into the tunnel. No time like the present.

"Any ideas on how to approach this?" I asked the vamp.

"None whatsoever," Ghastek said.

I sighed and ducked into the tunnel.

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