Magic Burns Chapter 8

BRYCE AND CO. HAD DECIDED AGAINST THE REMATCH, and we left the Honeycomb unmolested, carrying Esmeralda's books. Custer had wisely chosen to make himself scarce. From Trailer twenty-three to the chain link gates, we didn't see another living thing.

It took a good hour to cut around the Honeycomb through the Warren to where Ninny still patiently waited for me by a pile of mule poop. I loaded Julie onto the molly. White Street was only fifteen minutes away, but she looked tuckered out.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Home. What's your address?"

Julie clamped her lips shut and stared at the front of Ninny's saddle.


"There is nobody there," she said. "Mom's gone. She's all I have."

Oh boy. Could I turn a momless, hungry, tired, filthy kid loose on a street with night approaching? Let me think..."We'll swing by your house and see if your mom made it home. If not, you can bed with me tonight."

Mom wasn't there. They had a tiny house, tucked in a corner of a shallow subdivision branching from White Street. The home was old, but very clean, all except the kitchen sink full of dirty plates. Originally it must've been a two bedroom, but somebody, probably Julie's mom, had built a wooden partition, sectioning off a part of the living room to make a tiny third room. In that room sat an old sewing machine, a couple of filing cabinets, and a small table. On the table rested a half-finished dress, light blue, in Julie's size. I touched the dress gently. Whatever faults Julie's mother may have had, she loved her daughter very much.

Julie brought her picture from their bedroom: a tired woman with loose blond hair looked back at me from the photo with brown eyes, just like her daughter's. Her face was pale. She looked sickly, exhausted, and a decade older than thirty-five.

I made Julie help me with the dishes. Under the plates I found a bottle of Wild Irish Rose. White label. It stank like rubbing alcohol. It was also famous for sending the drinker into wild rages.

"Does your mom ever scream at you or hit you when she drinks?"

Julie stared at me in outrage. "My mom is nice!"

I threw the bottle away.

Two hours later we dropped Ninny off at the Order's stable. The magic, after holding off for a good few hours, resumed hammering Atlanta in short bursts. The afternoon bled into the evening. I was tired and hungry. We headed north through the tangle of streets, to the small apartment that used to belong to Greg and was now my home when I stayed in the city.

I CLIMBED THE NARROW STAIRWELL TO THE THIRD floor, Julie in tow. The magic happened to be up, and the ward clutched my hand as I touched the door and opened it in a flash of blue. I let Julie into the apartment, bolted the door shut behind us, and pulled off my shoes.

Julie wandered past me. "This is nice. And there are bars on the windows."

"Keeps the bad guys out." The lack of sleep finally caught up to me. I was so freaking tired. Worn out. "Take your shoes off."

She did. I rummaged through the closet and came up with an old box of my clothes Greg had kept since the time I had stayed with him after my father died. Fifteen-year-old me was a lot bigger than thirteen-year-old Julie, but the clothes would have to do.

I tossed the sweatpants and a T-shirt at her. "Shower."

"I don't do showers."

"Do you do food? No shower, no food."

She stuck out her lower lip. "You suck, you know that?"

I crossed my arms on my chest. "My house, my rules. You don't like it, the door's over there."

"Fine!" She headed for the door.

Good riddance. I clamped my teeth, hoping I didn't say it out loud, and went into the kitchen. I washed my hands with soap at the sink and searched the fridge for vittles. The only thing I had was a big bowl of cold low country boil. Me, I'd eat it cold: corn on the cob and shrimp were good cold anyway, and I was hungry enough to stomach the cold potatoes and sausage. Julie, on the other hand, might want it warm, preferably with butter.

To warm up or not to warm up? That was the question.

The sounds of rushing water announced a shower starting. She'd decided to stick around. I put a big pot of water on the gas burner. Magic did screwy things to all sorts of ordinary objects, but thankfully, the natural gas still burned. If all else failed, I had a small picnic heater on top of the fridge, together with a jug of kerosene for it.

I had almost finished picking out all of the shrimp, when a very thin, angelic-looking child walked into my kitchen. She had fly-away caramel hair and large brown eyes on a sharp face. It took me a full minute to recognize her and then I collapsed, laughing.

"What?" The little elf-baby looked taken aback.

"You're very clean."

Julie pulled my sweatpants up before they slid off her butt. "I'm hungry. We had a deal."

"Watch the water for me. When it starts boiling, put everything in except the shrimp. Don't eat the shrimp, it's better warm, and don't let the water boil over and drown the gas while I take a shower."

I gathered a heap of clothes and crawled into the shower. There was nothing better than a nice hot shower after a long day. Well, maybe a hot shower followed by hot sex, but my memory in that department was getting a bit fuzzy.

It took a while to get all the dirt out of my hair, and when I popped into the kitchen, the water was boiling. I hooked a piece of corn on the cob with a giant fork. Steaming hot. Good enough. I dropped the shrimp into the pot, let it boil for a quarter of a minute or so, turned the gas off, and dumped the whole thing into the strainer.

The magic fell. On, off, on, off, make up your mind already. "Ever had a low country boil?"

Julie shook her head.

I put the colander in the center of the table and put salt and a stick of butter next to it. "Shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob, and potatoes. Try it. The sausage is turkey and deer meat. I was there when it was made. It doesn't have dog or rat in it."

Julie snagged a piece of sausage, tasted it, and attacked it like starving wolves were snapping at her food. "Thish ish good!" she announced through a mouthful of food.

I barely had a chance to finish the first cob, when a knock echoed through the door. I looked through the peephole. Red.

I opened the door. He glanced at me, eyes narrowed into tiny slits. "Food?"

Kate Daniels, deadly swordswoman and rescuer of hungry orphans. "Come in. Wash your hands."

Julie burst from the kitchen and threw her arms around him. Red stiffened and put one arm around her.

Her face over his shoulder took on a sweet dreamy look. Her mother's disappearance had to have hit her hard, but losing Red would crush her.

"I missed you!" she said softly.

"Yeah," he said, his face flat. "Me, too."

Twenty minutes later I had two full kids and no boil. That meant I'd have to cook something tomorrow. Oi.

"Let's talk." I pinned Red to his chair with my stare. I did deranged quite well, when the occasion required. Strangely, most of my opponents didn't faint and crash to the ground from my stare, but Red was young and used to being bullied. He froze. I didn't like to intimidate adolescent street urchins, but I had a feeling he would bolt at the slightest opportunity if I played it nice. "Tell me what you know about the coven."


"You took Julie to their gathering place. How did you know where it was?"

"I didn't spill, I swear." Julie paled a little.

Red kept his gaze locked on me. "Same as I found this place. Got some of her mom's hair off a brush at her house. Made a charm, spilled some blood, and let it lead me."

Julie's mom had to be alive at the time he cast his spell. Shamanistic spells were life-tied; to sense a dead body required a much more complicated ritual and the kind of power Red probably didn't have. Not yet anyway.

"You went there by yourself first." It was a guess, but I saw the confirmation in his eyes. "What did you see there, Red?"

His fingers twitched. He turned slightly to the right, hiding the side of his face from me.

"Let me see the right side of your neck."

He swallowed.


Red turned. Three long gashes marked his neck from the earlobe all the way down to the collar of his rags. A thin line of yellow pus gathered under the puffy red edges of the wounds.

Not so good. I reached over and touched his head. He jerked back.

"Sit still, knucklehead."

He felt feverish. I reached into the fridge and took out a jar of Rmd3 from the middle shelf. Red's eyes flickered to the brownish paste and back to me.

"What's in there?" Julie asked.

"Rmd3. Better known as Remedy."

"It's the stuff the People carry. I don't need it." Red shifted in his seat.

I looked at his face and saw the decisive thrust of the adolescent jaw. No intelligent life there. I turned to Julie. "It's an herbal treatment for the infection he has brewing on his neck. This is the South-Pacific variety, the best one there is. It can cure the necrosis you get from the undead and takes care of all sorts of nasty infections." I set the jar on the table. Real kava root, and pine-leaf geebung, and a half dozen other things. Expensive, but well worth it.

"I don't need it," he repeated.

"Shamans who topple over in the middle of the street from fever don't live to grow up."

"Take the Remedy, Red." Julie moved the jar to him.

He stared at it as if it were a snake, reached in, and slathered some on his neck. The paste touched the wounds and he winced.

"What clawed you?"

"Creatures," he said. "Odd life. Didn't feel right. Very powerful."

He pronounced "powerful" with respect, almost reverence, tinted with longing. The way an alcoholic ordered his favorite poison after a long dry streak, tasting the name on his tongue.

"Lust for power is a dangerous thing," I said.

He bared his teeth at me. A little feral light danced in his eyes. "You only say that because you have some. People who have power never want anybody else to get it."

Julie tugged on his sleeve. "But you have power. You're a shaman."

He whirled to her. "What good is it? The gangs still knock out my teeth and take my food. So what if I can make them piss blood the day after? Next time, they'll just kill me and be done with it. I want real power. Strength. So nobody fucks with me."

"I can give you what I have," Julie said in a small voice.

"Not yet," he said. "Let it grow bigger."

What was going on between the two of them? The way they looked at each other gave me the creeps.

"Tell me about the creatures that hurt you."

"They were fast, with long hair. The hair grabbed me like it was alive. They were afraid of the bowman."

"Tell me about the cauldron."

Red twitched as if shocked with a live wire, burst from his seat, and ran out the door. Julie was sitting closest to the door, and she beat me to the stairs by a quarter of a second. She dashed down, and I forced myself to stop.

They were kids.

Life had beaten them until they had nearly turned wild. They had no refuge, they trusted nobody except each other, and I would be damned if I were going to go down there and threaten Red with a beating to scare the truth out of him. Enough was enough. If they came back, they came back. In the meantime, I'd figure it out my own way.

I went back into the kitchen and ate a piece of sausage off my plate. Through the window I could see Red and Julie on the street. They stood close together, his dark head against her blond. As I watched, the tech hit. The electric lamp came on in the living room, bathing the apartment in a comfortable muted glow. Down on the street, the lone surviving lamp shone from the top of the post, illuminating the kids. They moved to the left, just beyond its light. The faces of the new world: a street shaman and his girlfriend. Starved, feral, magic.

They talked while I finished my plate and drank my water. Finally Red pulled something from his pocket and put it around Julie's neck. Probably a charm.

Julie hugged him. He sort of stood there, very rigid, while her arms were locked around his neck. He probably didn't want to look weak in public. Dread crept up on me. Why was it that watching these two gave me a bad feeling?

Kind of like imagining me with Max Crest.

If Greg had still been alive, I wouldn't have given Max a second glance. Greg's death had hit me harder than I thought it would; I was lonely, scared, and desperate for a warm, loving guy to come home to. For someone to lean on. Max just happened to be at precisely the wrong place at the wrong time. Our relationship had been doomed from the start, because it was based on grief, and unlike love, grief eventually passed. Now that time had filed off the sharp edges, I felt no jealousy toward Myong, nor did I feel any longing for Max. I didn't miss him. Yet every time his name came to mind, I felt a vague unpleasant sensation, not guilt exactly, but something akin to embarrassment.

Ugh. I wanted to take the whole thing, wrap it up, stick it in a box, and drop the box off a pier. If I had never run across Max Crest again, I would've been perfectly happy. But now I had to arrange his wedding. How the hell did I get myself into these things?

Speaking of the wedding. I tried the phone, got a dial tone, and called the number Derek had given me.

"Southeast office," a female voice answered.

Either I had gotten the wrong number or boy wonder was moving up in the world. "Derek, please."

The phone clicked and Derek's voice came on the line. "Yes?"

"You have a secretary?"

He laughed. "No, it's just Mila. She screens the calls. What can I do for you?"

"I have the packet."

"Awesome!" He checked himself and continued in a more even tone. "When can I pick it up?"

"I'll drop it by tomorrow."

"Did you beat the shit out of him?"

Ha! Derek was still in there, under the Mr. Cool Pack Wolf veneer. "Sort of. You're right, he disappears. He also regenerates while he's gone."

Julie came back into the apartment. She was wearing a small monisto: a necklace of coins and tiny metal charms. She paused in the hallway, testing the waters, decided I wasn't going to explode, slid back into her chair, and checked the bowl for more boil. Only potatoes were left. She took a handful and ate them, licking her fingers.

"I have a favor to ask." I moved the butter and salt closer to her.

"Anything I can do," Derek said.

Julie was watching me covertly, probably trying to gauge if any fussing was forthcoming.

"I need an audience with his furry Highness." I can't believe I'm saying this.

"I can't believe you're saying this, after all the bitc - yelling you did when I called you for the Spring Meet. I distinctly remember 'never see that arrogant asshole again' and 'over my dead body.'"

"Spring Meet was optional." After working with the Pack to dispatch the Red Point Stalker, I was granted the Friend of the Pack status, which apparently came with such benefits as being invited to ceremonies. Hell, if I transgressed in their territory, the shapeshifters might hesitate a couple of seconds before they shredded me into Kate sushi.

"Myong?" Derek's voice gained a slightly disapproving edge.

"Derek, yes or no?"

"Yes, of course," he said smoothly. "I'll let you know the time and place."

We made parting noises and I hung up.

"Who was that?" Julie asked.

"My teenage werewolf sidekick. We're going to see him tomorrow."

"You know people in the Pack?"

"Yep. There is a spare toothbrush in the vanity..."

"What's the vanity?"

"Vanity is taking too much pride in your appearance. It's also the cabinet in the bathroom which has a sink and a drawer. Where the toothbrush is."

Her face grew long. "Do I have to?"

"You bet."

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