Magic Burns Chapter 25

THE BUBBLE FILLED THE GAP. SOLID, TRANSLUCENT, streaked with hairline cracks, it betrayed the faces of monsters within. Snouts crushed, heavy lips squished, the Fomorians stood shoulder to shoulder, packed tight like Altoid mints.

We had ridden the buses to the Honeycomb and walked a trail to the bottom of the Gap. Curran had brought a hundred shapeshifters, all volunteers. A hundred could block the Gap long enough to give Bran a chance to close the cauldron. And if they failed, no number of shapeshifters would make things right. Curran didn't want to put more of his people in harm's way. Still, I would've taken more, but nobody asked for my opinion.

The trail took us along the Honeycomb Gap's edge. I saw the bloated trailers pulled up tight to encircle the lip of the Gap, where it touched the Honeycomb. Beyond the trailers waited the Honeycomb residents, armed with clubs, axes, and blades. I counted four dog handlers, holding their metallic charges on the arm-thick chains and two cheiroballistas beyond them before the path took me eastward. Should any demons make it up the trash-and spike-studded slope, they would regret it in a hurry.

The shapeshifters had cleared the floor of the Gap enough to make it serviceable. All the sharp trash had been thrown against the bubble. It would slow the Fomorians down.

We descended into the Gap. The Pack formed ranks about a hundred yards from the bubble. The shapeshifters stood apart, giving each other room to work. A group of women strode past me, led by a familiar witch: one of the Morrigan coven leaders. They wore leather and chain mail, carried bows and swords, and their faces were painted blue. With a look of grim determination, they elbowed their way to Curran. They spoke for a few minutes and the witches climbed up the walls, taking position among the refuse above the battle.

It was my turn. I walked up to Curran. "Fifteen seconds."

His eyes shone. "I remember. Try not to die."

"I'll survive just so I can kill you."

"See you in the morning, then."

I moved aside. Behind me Derek had a wide smile plastered on his face.

"Are you babysitting me for the fight?"

He nodded, his smile even wider.


A chunk of pale gray, like dirty ice, broke from the top of the bubble. With an eerie whistle, it plunged and bit deep into the bottom of the Gap, punching through the rusty garbage. The gray hissed and fizzled, evaporating into thin air. A hush fell upon the field. The shapeshifters trembled in anticipation.

Curran's voice carried over our heads. "We have a job to do. Today we avenge our own! They came here, onto our land. They tortured a child. They killed our Pack mates. Nobody hurts the Pack!"

"Nobody!" answered a ragged chorus.

He pointed at the bubble. "They are not men. There is no human flesh on their bones."

Where was he going with this?

"What happens here, stays here. Today there is no Code. Today you can let go."

They lived the Code. They followed it with fanatical discipline. Obey, perform, account for yourself. Ever diligent. Always in control. Never let go. Curran had promised them the one thing they could never have. One by one their eyes lit amber, then flared blood-red.

"Remember: it's not your job to die for your Pack! It's your job to make the other bastards die for theirs. Together we kill!"

"Kill!" breathed the field.



"Go home!"

"Go home!"

"Kill! Win! Go home!"

"Kill, win, go home! Kill, win, go home!" They chanted it over and over, their voices merging them into a unified avalanche of sound.

Another fraction of the dome tumbled to the grass. As one, the shapeshifters stripped off their clothes. Around me people gripped their weapons. I smelled sweat and sun-warmed metal.

With the ear-splitting roar of a crumbling ice flat, the gray dome fell apart revealing the sea of Fomorians. They shifted forward a few steps and stood silent, a chaotic mass dappled with green, turquoise, and orange, monstrous like an old painting of hell.

"Turn!" Curran roared.

Fur burst along the shapeshifter ranks like a fire running down the detonation cord. Beasts and monsters shrugged their shoulders and bit the air. Curran snarled and rose above his troops, an eight-foot-tall bestial nightmare.

Behind the Fomorian horde, Morfran stood on a small knoll of garbage. He thrust an enormous, double-edged axe to the sky.

The Fomorians bellowed.

A hundred roars answered them from thick furry throats: wolves snarled and howled, jackals yipped, hyenas laughed, cats growled, rats screeched, all at once, and through it all, unstoppable and overwhelming, came the lion roar.

The Fomorians hesitated, unsure.

Morfran thrust his axe straight up. He pretty much seemed to have one sign for everything: poke a hole in the sky.

The front ranks of the horde started forward, first slowly, trudging, then faster and faster. A stretch of trash-strewn ground as long as a football field separated them from us. The ground shook from the pounding of many feet.

"Hold!" Curran snarled.

A low chant of female voices rose behind us. The magic moved and shifted, obedient to the power within the voices. The ground quaked like a giant drum being struck from within. Vines burst before the Fomorian front ranks and slunk along the ground, twisting around their feet, tripping, binding. The demons halted, tearing themselves free.

A witch screamed. Guttural cries answered her. The sky came alive with glittering shapes. The Stymphalean birds took to the air and plunged at the demonic horde. Feathers whistled through the air and howls of pain echoed them as the razor-sharp metal sliced into flesh. Here and there the demonic forms went liquid. The cauldron would bring them back to life. I remembered what Bran screamed while watching the fight in the Oracle's turtle. He screamed, "Maim." If we could maim a large number of them, incapacitating them but not killing, it would work better than dispatching them only to be reborn. We needed to engage their attention, to occupy them and to thin their ranks to buy Bran safe passage.

The demons had untangled themselves from the vines and started forward again, a roiling mass of flesh and teeth and horns.

My cue. I ran forward, light on my feet, farther and farther away from the shapeshifter line. Ahead, the Fomorians swelled before me.

I dropped all the guards. All the leashes, all the chains, everything that ever restrained me through the discipline and fear of discovery, I let all of it go. No need to hide. Magic flowed through me, intoxicating, heady, seductive. It mixed with my bloodlust and I realized that's how my father must have felt when he led his armies into battle. I was raised by Roland's Warlord. I'd dropped my shackles and they would bow to me.

Magic sang through me. Drunk on its strength, I held nothing back and barked a word of power.

"Osanda!" Kneel.

The magic erupted from me like a tsunami. The ground shook as hundreds of knees hit it in unison. The Fomorian ranks collapsed to the ground in a spray of blood and crunch of broken leg bones, as if a giant had stomped an enormous bloody footprint in their midst. My pain was so slight, I barely noticed it. The pressure of magic within me finally eased.

Faced with its vanguard writhing on the ground in pain, the horde halted in horror. I saw Morfran across the field, his disgusting face distinct before me with preternatural clarity, his eyes shocked. I drank that shock in. I reveled in it and I laughed.

"Bring your army, little god! My sword is hungry!"

He jerked as if whipped, and I knew he'd heard me. The axe thrust, pointing at me. He screamed and the horde started forward again. I was still laughing, giddy with so much magic spent so quickly, when the shapeshifters swarmed past me onto the crippled demons.

A hand jerked my shoulder and Derek's face thrust into my view. "Kate! Snap out of it! Kate!"

I laughed at him and unsheathed my swords. Scabbards hit the ground and then I was running.

What happens here, stays here.

A roar arose as the opposing lines of fighters collided like two great ships ramming each other. The first demon swung a blue axe at me. I disemboweled him, almost in passing, and moved on to the next one.

I sliced and cut, my blades biting like two steel snakes with hungry mouths, and no matter how much Fomorian flesh they consumed, it failed to satiate their hunger. I saw nothing, I felt nothing. All melted into the scent and warmth of blood, the scorching heat of the sun, and the liquid lubrication of my own sweat.

They kept coming, enclosing me in a tight ring of flesh. I killed without comprehension, not knowing whom I had dispatched to the cauldron's depths. They were shapes, obstacles in my way to Morfran, and like a well-tuned machine, I mowed them down, unthinking, unrepentant. Every maneuver I tried worked. Every cut found its victim. A curious elation came over me - they were so many and I hoped they wouldn't end. This was what I was born for.

I could go on killing forever.

The ground grew slippery with the fluid of Fomorian death. Slowly a ring of carcasses began to grow around me: we had overloaded the cauldron of rebirth, slaughtering the Fomorians faster than it could regenerate them.

Suddenly the Fomorians broke and fled the gluttony of my swords. The field opened before me. The combatants crashed against each other, thrown back and forth, the lines between attackers and defenders no longer clear. Mad shapeshifters ripped into monsters, their eyes crimson with rage. Witches howled, loosing spells and arrows. The air steamed with blood. The clamor of swords, the pain-laced cries of the injured, the screams of shapeshifters, and groans of the dying melded together into an unbearable cacophony. Above it all the merciless sun blazed, bright enough to blister the skin. This was hell and I was its fury.

I raised my sword and killed again, with a smile on my face.

WHEN I SAW THE SUN AGAIN, IT HUNG ABOVE THE horizon, bleeding crimson onto the sky, puffy clouds soaking in red like bandages on an open wound. We had fought for nearly two hours.

A pair of vampires landed on the mound of corpses.

"Golf Tree, big mob two o'clock, kick lift?"

"Golf Too, Roger."

The vampire on the left grasped the undead on the right, spun and hurled it like a discus. The undead cleared twenty-five feet and landed atop a giant with a shark's head. Claws sliced and the Fomorian went down.

Vampires. That meant Bran had made it.

A body flew past me. I turned and saw him. Grotesque, enormous, he strode through the field, just yards away.

To the left a scaled Fomorian hurled a harpoon. It shot through the air, hit Bran square in the gut, and bounced off. The monster that was Bran grasped the harpoon with a shovel-sized hand and tugged the chain, jerking its owner off his feet. As the Fomorian flew through the air, Bran kicked him like a soccer ball. The blow caught the harpooner's gut and sent him flying.

The Fomorians fell on him four, five at once, and he scattered them like a flock of birds, swinging back and forth, lopping off heads and stomping the bodies like a toddler rampaging in a field of dandelions. As he chased after them, breaking backs and crushing skulls, his upper body began to glow red like a dying coal.

What was he doing? He wasn't suppose to spasm until he got to Morfran. I turned and saw Morfran, right there, practically next to me. In my spree, I had carved my way to him.

Morfran's hands moved, his lips whispering. His eyes tracked Bran. He was casting a spell.

No, you don't.

I charged up the knoll, screaming.

The attack came, sudden and vicious. Morfran chopped at me in a great overhead blow, moving with preternatural quickness, light on his feet. I leaped aside and launched a barrage of strikes, faster and faster, moving around, flashing my blades. Concentrate on me, you sonovabitch.

The axe whistled past me, once, twice. I kept dancing, too fast to catch, but too precise to ignore. I watched his eyes, I watched his feet, I struck at his face to keep him busy. He swatted my short blade aside and cleaved at my side. I saw the axe come in a great shiny arc, a bright star of reflecting sunlight riding its edge. He had expected me to jump back but I went forward, along with the shaft of the axe, to stab at his throat.

It was a cat-quick stab, but somehow I missed. Slayer's point sliced a red line along Morfran's neck, and then his boot rammed my stomach. The world swam in a watery, painful haze. I crashed into the dirt. He was on me in a second. The axe bit into the ground between my legs.

I rolled and lunged from a half crouch, thrusting both swords deep into his chest. My steel met no resistance. Morfran collapsed in a flurry of feathers. I slashed at them, spitting wordless growls like a dog. The feathers streamed between my feet, flowing into the clearing formed by the Fomorians. I chased them, but they were too fast.

In a blink Morfran re-formed. The axe gleamed in his hands. I charged and saw Bran rise behind Morfran. Bran's head glowed bright white. He bled from a dozen places, where huge gashes split his warped body. The heat emanating from him dried his blood into brown streaks on his skin.

"My tuuuurn!" The Bran thing whipped its arm and backhanded Morfran. The Great Crow slid across the trash. Bran chased after him, swinging and kicking in deranged fury, swinging a huge spear he must've taken from one of the demons.

Morfran's axe ripped through the air with an eerie whistle. The hit split Bran's spear shaft in half and plunged into his shoulder. Blood spurted. He wheeled, unnaturally quick, plucked the axe from Morfran's hands, and snapped the wooden shaft.

Morfran's body fell apart into a tempest of floating black feathers. The feathers sucked themselves upward in a reverse tornado and solidified into an enormous black crow. Cold magic flooded us. Devoid of life, it may as well have spilled from outer space through a crow-shaped hole in the atmosphere. Frost licked my skin.

The crow's claw gripped a huge bronze cauldron.

Bran scooped a handful of metal garbage and hurled it. Jagged metal trash bit into the crow, puncturing his neck and back with a hoarse whine. Dark blood rolled from the jet feathers in fist-sized globules. The spheres detached from Morfran's flesh and hung in the air, shimmering in the light of the dying sun.

Bran hurled the contents of his other hand. A single piece sparkled and bit deep into the crow's back - Morfran's own axehead.

The crow screamed.

Like a drop of molten metal, the cauldron fell from his claws. A wail of pure rage sliced across my mind.

Beneath the cauldron's feet the earth sighed, opened like a hungry mouth, and belched more Fomorians into the light. They swarmed Bran.

I hacked into them. Beside me the shapeshifters tore them to shreds, but there were too few of us and too many of them. I could not longer see Bran - he was buried beneath a heap of Fomorian bodies.

The heap of demons fell apart. Bloody and battered, Bran heaved an ornate lid free of the dirt. It looked so tiny in his giant hand, no bigger than a Frisbee. Enormous pressure clasped me. My chest constricted. My bones groaned. Around me the shapeshifters and the Fomorians fell screaming in pain.

Bran strained. Blood gushed from his wounds and with a terrible bellow he slammed the lid down onto the cauldron.

The pressure vanished. Bran grinned, pulled the lid open, and vanished in a puff of mist. The lid went with him. That's it, I realized. He has returned the lid to Morrigan and now he was done. But we, we still had a field of demons to clear.

"Kate!" The howl made me turn. Thirty yards away I saw Derek pointing a bloody clawed hand behind me. I spun and saw a familiar little figure on the cross, thrust into the ground only yards away. Julie.

I scrambled over bodies to get to her. A shadow fell over me. I looked up in time to see a huge beak the color of polished iron strike at me. Morfran, still a crow. Boxed in by the Fomorians, I had no place to go. I dropped to my knees, ready to plunge Slayer into Morfran's gut. The crow blotted out the sun and froze as huge clawed hands clasped its wings.

With a roar that shook the Fomorians, Curran ripped into the crow. "Go!" he screamed. "Go!"

I went, climbing over bodies, hacking, slashing, cutting, fixated on Julie. To the left, a clump of Fomorians broke from a vampire whose limbs they had torn and charged me.

"Kill the child!" The Shepherd's hiss pierced the clamor of the battle. The Fomorians reversed their course.

Twenty yards separated me from her. I wouldn't make it in time.

Bran materialized by Julie in a puff of mist. He was back in his human form. He hugged the cross and her with it. Mist puffed and all of it was gone. The Fomorians howled in fury.

Bran popped in front of me, his hands empty, grinned...

A swirl of green tentacles burst through his chest. His blood splashed me. His eyes opened wide. His mouth gaped.


He stumbled forward and fell on me, blood gushing from his mouth. Behind him the Shepherd hissed in triumph. I leaped over Bran, and slashed at the bastard's face. Fish eyes glared at me with hate and then the top of his head slid aside and rolled into the dirt. His body stumbled. I cut it again, and again, and the sea-demon fell in pieces to never get up again.

An unearthly cry rang through the field. Curran rose through the carnage, Morfran's huge crow head in his hand. Covered in blood, he thrust the head to the sky and screamed, "Kill them! Kill them all! They are mortal!"

The shapeshifters fell onto the Fomorians. I spun around and dropped to my knees by Bran.

No. No, no, no.

I flipped him over. He looked at me with his black eyes. "I saved the baby. I saved her. For you."

"Mist! Mist damn you."

"Too late," he whispered with bloody lips. "Can't heal the heart. Good-bye, dove."

"Don't die!"

He just looked at me and smiled. I felt a thin line of pain stretch inside me, strained to the breaking point. It hurt. It hurt so much I couldn't take another breath.

Bran gasped. His body went rigid in my hands and I felt the last of him fluttering away.


I clasped onto that last shiver of life. With all of my magic, with all of my power, with everything I was I held on to that tiny fragment of Bran and I would not let it go.

Magic churned around me. I sucked the power to me, driving it deeper into his body, holding on. It streamed through me in a flood of pain and melted into Bran's flesh.

I'm not letting go. He will live. I won't lose him.

"Foolish girl!" A voice filled my mind. "You can't fight death."

Watch me.

The spark of Bran's life slipped deeper. More magic. More...Wind howled, or maybe it was my own blood filling my ears. I no longer felt anything except pain and Bran.

I pulled harder. The spark stopped. Bran's eyelids trembled. His mouth opened. His eyes fixed on me. I couldn't hear what he was saying. His heart had stopped and it took all of me to keep him.

He looked at me with ghostly eyes. His whisper floated to my ears, each word weak but distinct. "Let me go."

"This is how undeath is made," the voice said.

And I felt deep within me that she was right.

I would not become what I loathed. I would not become the man who sired me.

"Let me go, dove," Bran whispered.

I severed the magic. The line of pain within me snapped like a broken string. It whipped back into me. I felt the spark of Bran's life melt into nothing. Magic flailed in me like a living beast, trapped and tearing me apart to break free.

In my arms Bran lay dead.

Tears burst from my eyes, and streamed down my cheeks to fall on the ground, carrying the magic with them. The soil soaked in my tears and something stirred beneath it, something full of life and magic, but it didn't matter. Bran was gone.

A Fomorian crept behind me, her blade ready to bite into my back.

I rose, moving on liquid joints, turned, and thrust in a single move. The tip of Slayer's blade punctured the Fomorian's chest. It cut her green skin and sliced smoothly through the tight sheet of muscle and membrane, scraping the cartilage of her breastbone, sinking deeper, driven by my hand until it found her heart. The hard, muscled organ resisted for a fraction of a moment, like a clenched fist, and then the blade pierced its wall and bathed in blood within. I jerked the sword up and to the side, ripping her heart to pieces.

Blood drenched my skin. I smelled it. I felt its sticky warmth on my hand. The Fomorian's eyes widened. Fear screeched at me from the depths of her cobalt eyes. This time there would be no rebirth. I had killed her. She was dead, and the realization of her own fate made her terribly, painfully afraid.

It was a moment that lasted an eternity. I knew I would remember it forever.

I would remember it forever because in that instant I knew that no matter how many I had killed and no matter how many I would kill before the day was over, none of it would bring Bran back. Not even for a moment.

I ripped the sword free. Grief saddled me and rode me into the foray. I raged across the field, killing all before me. They ran when they saw me coming, and I chased them down, and I killed them before they could take someone else's friend away from them.

THE NIGHT HAD FALLEN. THE FOMORIANS WERE dead. Their corpses littered the ground, mixed with human bodies of the fallen. In death, witch, shapeshifter, or regular Joe, they all looked the same. So many bodies. So many dead. This morning they spoke, they breathed, they kissed their loved ones good-bye. And now they lay dead. Gone forever. Like Bran.

I sat by Bran's body. His midnight eyes were closed. I was very tired. My body hurt in places I didn't know existed.

Someone had made a funeral pyre. It glowed orange in the oncoming darkness. Thick greasy smoke tainted the night.

I had taken Bran by the hand and dragged him back to humanity, back to free will and choice. And it, no, I, had gotten him killed. The fire had left his eyes. He'd never wink, he'd never call me dove again. I didn't love him, I barely knew him, but God, it hurt. Why was it that I killed everyone I touched? Why did they all die? I could have fixed almost everything else, but death defeated me every time. What good is all the magic if you can't hold back death? What good is it, if you don't know when to stop, if all you can do is kill and punish?

Someone approached and tugged on my sleeve. "Kate," a tiny voice said. "Kate, are you okay?"

I looked at the owner of the voice and recognized her face.

"Kate," she said pitifully. "Please say something."

I felt so hollow, I couldn't find my voice.

"Are you real?" I asked her.

Julie nodded.

"How did you get here?"

"Bran brought me," she said. "I awoke in a lake. There were bodies everywhere and a woman. He pulled me out and gave me a knife and he brought me over there." She pointed back to where we had originally formed our lines. "I fought." She showed me her bloody knife.

"Stupid girl," I said. I couldn't muster any anger and my voice was flat. "So many people died to save you, and you ran right back into the slaughter."

"I saw the reeves eating my mom's body. I had to." She sat next to me. "I had to, Kate."

I heard a faint jingle of chains. Then a crunch of metal under someone's feet. A tall figure came through the smoke.

Nude, except for a harness of leather belts and silver hooks, her hair falling around her in black dreads, she stood smeared with fresh blood. The dark red rivulets mixed with blue runes tattooed on her skin. Her presence slapped me: glacial, hard, cruel, terrifying like a wolf's howl heard at night on a lonely road.

"It's her," Julie whispered. "The woman by the lake."

Her eyes glowed, streaked with radiant sparks. The sparks erupted into amber irises, suddenly as big as a house, all consuming, overpowering...The black bottomless pupil loomed before me and I knew I could sink into it and be forever lost.

So that's what the eye of a goddess looks like.

She looked past us and raised her hand to point over my shoulder. Chains clanked. "Come!" I recognized the voice: I had heard her in my head.

Red peeled himself from the pile of trash. I had known he was there for a while. He had crept in when the fight was almost over, followed me, and waited there in the garbage, while I sat by Bran, numb. Probably biding his time for a good chance to stab me in the back.

Julie startled. "Red!"

I caught her by the shoulder and kept her put.

"You desire power..."

Red swallowed. "Yes."

"Serve me and I will give you all the power you want."

He trembled.

"Do you accept the bargain?"


"Red, what about me?" Julie broke free of my grip. I didn't hold her too hard. This was her last chance to be cured.

"I love you! Don't leave me."

He held his hand out, blocking her. "She has everything I want. You have nothing."

He stepped over Bran's legs and trotted to Morrigan's side like the dog he was. It had come full circle: from the ancestor who had broken free of Morrigan, through countless generations, to the descendant, who willingly put on her collar.

Bran's body had barely cooled. She showed no signs of grief.

I looked at her. "You recognize me."

Chains jingled in agreement.

"We meet again, and I'll kill him."

"Fuck off. She's too powerful for you. She'll protect me," Red said.

"The blood that flows through me was old when she was but a vague idea. Look into her eyes, if you don't believe me."

"We won't meet again," Morrigan promised.

Behind her, mist swirled in a solid wall. It slunk along the ground, licked at Morrigan's feet, wound about Red, and swallowed them whole.

The tech hit, crushing the magic under its foot. Julie stood alone in the field of dead bodies and iron, her face numb with shock.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies