Magic Burns Chapter 2

I LANDED AT MY DESK. A FLARE WAS COMING. IF normal shifts were magic waves, a flare was a magic tsunami. It started as a series of shallow magic fluctuations, quickly falling and rising, but never leaving the world. During those short waves, the magic didn't completely fall, coming back stronger and stronger until it finally drowned us in an enormous surge.

Theory said that magic and tech used to coexist in a balance. Like the pendulum of a grandfather clock that barely moved, if at all. But then came the Age of Man, and men are made of progress. They overdeveloped magic, pushing the pendulum farther and farther to one side until it came crashing down and started swinging back and forth, bringing with it tech waves. And then in turn, technology oversaturated the world, helped once again by pesky Man, and the pendulum swung again, to the side of magic this time. The previous Shift from magic to tech took place somewhere around the start of the Iron Age. The current Shift officially dawned almost thirty years ago. It began with a flare, and with each subsequent flare, more of our world succumbed to magic.

Weird shit happened during the flares. The magic surge only lasted two to three days, but those days were killer. For a moment I wished I was still just a merc. I could go home and wait all the craziness out.

A woman appeared in the doorway - my petitioner. Slender and elegant in that willowy way of tall and naturally slim people, she wasn't simply attractive, she was gorgeous: beautifully cut Asian eyes, perfect skin, full mouth, and blue-black hair that spilled over her shoulders in a glossy straight wave. Her dress was black and clingy. Her shoes made my calves ache.

And she looked familiar, but for the life of me I couldn't recall where I had seen her before.

"Kate Daniels?"

That's me. "Yes?"

"My name is Myong Williams."

We shook hands awkwardly. "Please, sit down."

She sat in the client's chair and crossed one lean leg over the other in a whisper of fabric.

"To what do I owe the pleasure?"

She hesitated, unconsciously repositioning her legs to better show them off. "I've come to ask you for a favor."

"Of what nature?"


She fell silent. We'd reached a standstill.

Something clicked in my brain. "I remember where I've seen you before. You're Curran's..." - lover, mistress, honey-bunny - "significant other." Dear God, what could the Beast Lord's concubine possibly want from me?

"We're no longer together," Myong said.

Her problem wasn't connected to Curran. Good. Great. Fantastic. The more distance that lay between me and the Beast Lord, the better it was for everybody involved. We had worked together during the Red Point Stalker case and almost killed each other.

Myong shifted in her chair, adjusted the hem of her dress with a casual swipe of her fingers, and furrowed her meticulously waxed eyebrows. "You and Maximillian..."

The mention of Max's name brought a bit of unease. I had thought I was over him. We had met during the investigation of Greg's death. He was handsome, smart, occasionally kind, and very interested in me. I had wanted...I was not sure what the hell I had wanted. Intimacy. Sex. Someone to come home to. It didn't end well. In fact, he probably hated me. "Max and I are also no longer together."

Myong nodded. "I know. We're engaged."

I didn't quite catch that. "Who?"

"Maximillian Crest and me. We're engaged to be married."

The world had just stood on its ears. "So let me get this straight. You and my - " Ex-boyfriend would be inaccurate since technically we were never a couple. "Could have been" boyfriend was plain stupid. "You and Max are an item?"


Awkward, to say the least. I felt no jealousy, but talking to her made me uncomfortable and I couldn't pinpoint why. I forced my lips into a smile and leaned back. "Congratulations. What do you want from me?"

Myong looked uncomfortable. "It's customary to ask Curran's permission."

"You mean he has to approve your marriage to Crest? Even though you and Curran are no longer together?"

"Yes. I'm a member of the Pack."

That explained things. Curran ruled the shapeshifter Pack with an iron fist. Every shapeshifter in the Southeast called him lord. Unless that shapeshifter was a loup, in which case he usually didn't have a chance to call Curran anything before the Beast Lord ripped him to pieces. I looked her over and arched my eyebrows. "Fox?"

She sighed. "Everybody thinks that. I turn into a mink."

I tried to imagine a weremink and failed. It would appeal to Crest, though. "You still haven't told me why you're here."

"I asked Curran," she said.

"And he said no?"

"No. He didn't say anything. It's been two months." Myong leaned forward, hands folded together. "My alpha refuses to broach the question to Curran. I was hoping you could ask my lord for me."


"You have a certain amount of influence with him. You saved his life."

You want me to ask your ex-lover/homicidal shapeshifter who scares me shitless to let you marry my "ex - could have been" boyfriend? You've got to be kidding. "I think you overestimate his opinion of me."

"Please." Myong bit her lip. The fingers of her left hand gripped and twisted the fingers of her right, exposing the small jagged white line of a scar on her wrist. Left-handed. She had slit her own wrist, probably with a silver blade - a dramatic gesture and completely futile. It took more than a three-inch cut to bleed a shapeshifter dry. She was looking at me, seemingly unaware of what her hands were doing. "Max said you would understand."

Oh, hell. He didn't come himself, though, did he?

I glanced at her. She looked off-balance, almost as if someone had knocked her legs out from under her, but she hadn't hit the ground yet. I had seen precisely the same look on her face before, three months ago. It had happened right after the Red Point Stalker called the Pack Keep. Curran and I had finally figured out who he was, and he wasn't happy about the situation. The Stalker had held a phone to a woman's mouth so Curran wouldn't miss a single whimper and tore her to pieces until she died. The woman had been one of Curran's former lovers. I had sat in on the call and as I was walking back to my room, trying not to cry, I saw Myong through an open doorway, hugging herself, that very look of utter helplessness contorting her face.

With this recollection, a feeling flooded me, a feeling of being too dumb to see what was under my nose, of being scared, hounded, and alone, dashing about the besieged city, blundering from one mistake to another while all around me people died. It grabbed me by the throat. My pulse raced and I swallowed, reminding myself that it was over. Back then, when I was drowning, Crest offered me a straw, and I almost dragged him under with me. He deserved to be happy. Without me.

"I'll ask," I said.

She exhaled. "Thank you."

"I don't know if I can convince Curran. Your lord and I have a tendency to infuriate each other." And every time we met, something of mine got broken. My ribs, my roof, my hammer...

She didn't hear the last part. "I know we can. Thank you so much. We're so grateful."

"Incoming," Maxine's voice warned in my mind.

A familiar lanky figure appeared in the doorway of my office. About five ten, he wore pale jeans and a light T-shirt. His brownish hair was cropped very short. He had a fresh, clean-cut face and velvet brown eyes framed in embarrassingly long eyelashes. If it wasn't for the promise of a masculine square jaw, he would be bordering on "pretty." On the plus side, if he ever had to fight through a room full of adolescent girls, he only needed to blink a couple of times, and they would all faint.

But his prettiness and smoky eyes were misleading. Derek was a killer. He'd seen more suffering in his eighteen years than some people packed into half a century and it had sharpened him to a razor's edge. I hadn't seen him since Red Point, when my big mouth managed to get him sworn to protect me with a blood oath. Curran had since released him from his oath, but a pledge sealed in blood didn't just go away. Its aftereffects lingered. That had been the first and last time I would ever screw with the Pack's hierarchy.

"Kate, hello." Derek said mildly. "Myong? What are you doing here?"

Myong jumped off her chair and cringed. Her shoulders hunched, as though she were expecting a punch, her head drooped, and her knees bent. She looked down on the floor. Had she been in her animal form, I'm pretty sure she would have peed herself.

Alrighty then, I guess we knew who stood higher in the Pack's chain of command.

"You don't have to answer him," I said. "Information disclosed to a representative of the Order is confidential unless subpoenaed by a court of law."

She just stood there, watching the floor. It was too much for me.

"You may go," I said.

She fled the office. A second later the door leading to the landing clicked closed behind her. I bet she was running down the stairs to the outside. Hopefully, she wouldn't break her legs in those stilettos. Her bones might take a whole two weeks to heal.

"May I come in?" Derek asked.

I pointed to one of the two client chairs. "Why is Myong scared of you?"

He sat and shrugged. "I can only guess."


"I work for Curran directly now. She's probably afraid I'll snitch, because I think I know why she was here."

"Will you?"

He shrugged again. "It's her own affair. Unless she starts plotting some harm to the Pack, I'm not interested. Coming here wasn't her idea anyway. She's very passive."


He nodded. "That asshole made her do it. I always said he was a slimebag."

"Your opinion is duly noted." Thank you, boy wonder, for the editorial on my "almost could have been" boyfriend. What would I do without the moral compass of a teenage werewolf?

"Why didn't he come himself? Shouldn't he be here saying, 'Hey, I know it didn't work out between us, but I need your help?' His ego's so big, he sent his fiancee to beg his former girlfriend to arrange his wedding. How weak is that?"

Pretty weak. "Not another word."

Derek sat up a little straighter. Yellow rolled across his eyes and vanished. That wasn't normal.

I pulled Slayer from its sheath and ran my finger along its length. The opaque, almost white metal of the saber nipped at me with faint magic teeth. Definitely a flare. Shapeshifters had trouble controlling their emotions during the flare. Great, just great. Perhaps Curran could be emotionally detached about this wedding problem? Ha! Who was I kidding?

"You look good," I told Derek.


"You never come to visit me, though. Are you in trouble?"

"No. Is the room secure?"

"You're in a Chapter house of the Order. You can't get more secure."

He reached behind him and pushed the door closed. "I've come to extend a petition from the Pack."

I don't want to work with Curran, I don't want to work with Curran, I don't want to work with Curran. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear that right. I thought you said the Pack wanted my help?"

"Yes." Little tiny sparks danced in his eyes. "We were screwed and he didn't even kiss us first."

"How tacky of him. And this 'he' would be?"

"We aren't sure," Derek said carefully. "But you have his bolt on your desk."

I leaned forward. "Do tell."

"Let's just say that this morning one of our teams was jumped by a man using this specific type of bolt. He has stolen Pack property and we want it back."

"Aha. Why me?" The last time I checked, the Pack preferred to take care of their own problems. Hell, they didn't even admit to having problems most of the time.

"Because you have contacts we don't." Derek permitted himself a small smile. "And because if we start turning the city inside out looking for this person, certain parties will wonder why and the rather embarrassing facts of the theft might come to light. We don't want to air our dirty laundry in public. The Order always helped us without undue publicity."

Great. The battle was lost. Greg was the only person within the Order who had earned the Pack's trust. Now since he was dead and I had earned Friend of the Pack status, that trust naturally extended to me. The Order wanted to keep an eye on the Pack, I knew that much. Something told me the knights would view this petition as a wonderful opportunity to do just that.

"What did the crossbowman take?"

Derek hesitated.

"Derek, I'm not going to hunt I don't know whom to retrieve I don't know what. What did he take?"

"He jumped a survey team and took the maps."

I almost whistled, except that my Russian father would have risen from his grave and smacked me for whistling indoors. The Pack maps, legendary in quality, precise, up-to-date, with all the new neighborhoods and power zones clearly marked, every alley explored, every place of interest indicated. I knew at least a half a dozen people who'd give their left nut for a chance to photocopy the bloody things.

"He must have balls," I said.

"He did look male."


"Very fast."

"That's it? That's all you got?"

"Very good shot."

I sighed. "Who did he shoot?"


Oh shit. "Is he okay?"

"He was shot four times in less than two seconds. He isn't very happy about it. A bit tender in places. But generally he'll be okay."

My brain put the pieces together. "After our mark went down, Jim got a call from the survey team. The crossbowman tailed Jim, jumped him, incapacitated the survey team, and stole the maps."

Derek's face radiated all the joy of a man biting into a lime.

One hell of a trick, tailing my former partner. "Just out of curiosity, how many people are in a survey team?"


Five with Jim. "And you let him get away?"

"He just disappeared."

"I guess the shapeshifters' sense of smell isn't what it used to be."

"No, Kate, you don't understand. He vanished. He was there one moment and then he was gone."

I couldn't resist. "Like a ninja. In a puff of smoke."


"So you want me to track down a supernaturally fast sniper who can disappear into thin air, retrieve your maps, and do it so nobody finds out what I'm doing or why?"


I sighed. "I'll get the paperwork."

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