Magic Burns Chapter 9

I PACKED JULIE INTO MY BED, GAVE HER MY BLANKET, and unrolled an old army sleeping bag on the floor. The magic had reclaimed the city. I had dimmed the feylanterns already, and the only light in the apartment came from the outside, a silvery glow from the light of the new moon mixing with the weak radiance of the bars affected by the magic of the defensive spell.

Somewhere far away, a wolf howled. I could always tell a wolf from a stray dog - the lupine howl sent shivers down my spine. I thought of Curran. The scary thing was, I was kind of curious about seeing him tomorrow.

What was wrong with me? It had to be hormones. A purely biological problem. I had an overload of hormones that clouded my normally rational thinking, causing me to have fanciful notions about gray-eyed homicidal maniacs...

"I can sleep on the floor," Julie offered in a sleep-tangled voice.

I shrugged. "Thanks, but I'm used to it. When I was a kid, my dad made me sleep on the floor. He was afraid I'd have back problems like my mom." I unzipped the bag and laid it as flat as I could. The wards and bars made my apartment into a little fortress, but you never knew. Somebody could teleport in and fill me full of bolts while I untangled my legs from the sleeping bag.

"Is she nice?"


"Your mom?"

I stopped, an afghan in my hands. Like a little knife, twisted into my chest. "I don't know. She died when I was very young. My dad loved her so she must've been nice."

"So both your mom and your dad are gone? You have no family left?"


"Kind of like me," she said in a small voice.

Poor kid. I came over and sat on the corner of the bed. "I know my mom's dead, because my dad saw her die, and I know my dad's dead because I was there when we buried him on a hill behind my house. I visit his grave all the time. But we don't really know anything about your mom. I didn't see her body anywhere. Did you see her body?"

She shook her head and stuck her face into the pillow.

"Well, there you go. No body, no proof she died. Maybe she somehow got teleported to a strange part of the city by that Bran idiot and now she's walking home. Maybe she's there right now. We'll just have to keep looking."

Julie made a sad kittenlike noise.

What do I do now?

I scooped her up, blanket, pillow, and all, and scooted her close to me. She sniffled. "The People probably turned her into a vampire."

I petted her hair. "No, Julie. The People don't just grab women off the street and make them into vampires. That's illegal. If they started doing that, the cops and military would exterminate them in a blink. They have to account for each vampire and they only want specific people for it. Don't worry, your mom isn't a vampire."

"What if she is?"

Then I'll walk into the Casino and there will be hell to pay. "She isn't. If you want, I'll call the People tomorrow and check on it."

"What if they lie to you?"

Boy, this kid had a major hang-up on vampires. "Look, you have to remember that vampires are mindless, like cockroaches. They are just vehicles for the Masters of the Dead. If you see a bloodsucker and it's not ripping everyone to shreds, there's an actual human being riding that vamp's mind. That human being has a family, probably has kids, cute little Master of the Dead babies."

She swiped a tear and tried a weak smile.

"The People have dozens of vampires. The People don't need to kidnap anyone. They have an applicant list a mile long."

"Why would anybody want to be a vampire?"

"Money. Let's say you have an incurable disease. Vampirism is caused by a bacterial infection, which transforms the victim's body so much that a lot of those diseases become irrelevant to the final vampiric organism. In other words, it doesn't matter if you have colon cancer - your colon is going to shrink into twine after a month of undeath anyway. So you apply to become a vampire. If you're selected, you'll be offered a contract that authorizes the People to infect you with the Vampirus Immortuus. Basically, you let the People kill you and use your body after death. And in exchange, the People will pay your beneficiaries a fee. A lot of poor people think that it's a good way to leave their families with a little bit of money after they are gone. It takes a week and a stack of paperwork to make a vampire, and the whole thing is reported to the State Undeath Commission. Making a vamp against a person's will is illegal, and they won't do something that would land them in prison for just one vamp. Listen, why don't you tell me about your mom? It might make it easier for me to find her."

Julie hugged the pillow. "She's nice. She reads books to me sometimes. Just the booze makes her tired and I leave her alone. Go outside or something. She's not like an alcoholic or anything. She just misses my dad. She only drinks on weekends, when she doesn't have to work."

"Where does she work?"

"Carpenter Guild. She used to be a cook, but the place got closed down. She's a journeyman now. She says once she makes carpenter, we'll see real money. She said that about the coven too and now she's gone. She always worries about money. We've been poor for a long time now. Ever since Dad died."

She drew a little circle on the pillow with her hand - the circle of life. Something the shamans did when they mentioned the deceased. Picking up Red's habits.

"When Dad was alive, he used to take us to the coast. To Hilton Head. It's nice there. We went swimming and the water was really warm. My dad was a carpenter, too. A piece of the overpass fell on him. Just squished him. There was nothing left."

Sometimes life just kept punching you in the teeth, no matter how many times you got up. "The pain gets better with time," I told her. "It always hurts, but it gets better."

"People keep saying that." Julie did not look at me. "I must be unlucky or something."

One of the worst things for a child is to lose a parent. When my father died, it was as if my world had ripped open. Like a god dying. Part of me refused to believe it. I so desperately wanted to put things back the way they had been. I would've given anything for another day with my dad. And I was so mad at Greg for not being able to wave his hand and make it right somehow. Then little by little, it set in: my dad was gone. Forever. No turning back. No amount of magic would fix it. And just when I thought the pain had dulled, my mind would betray me and bring Dad back to life in my dreams. Sometimes I didn't realize that he was dead until I awoke and then it was like a punch in the stomach. And sometimes I knew in my dream that I was dreaming, and I woke up crying.

But back then, I still had Greg. Greg, who dedicated his life to making sure I would be fine. Greg, who took me in. I didn't have to live on the street. I didn't have to worry about money.

Julie and her mother didn't have that luxury. Qualified carpenters were paid well, because woodwork was magic-proof. The death of Julie's father must have destroyed their lives. It knocked them down and they just kept sliding lower and lower. It would've been easy to keep rolling until they hit rock bottom. I hugged Julie to me. Her mother must've loved her a great deal, because she picked herself up and she started climbing. She had fought her way into the Carpenter Guild, which couldn't have been easy with all the competition out there. She became a journeyman, which was a hard step up from apprentice. She was trying to keep her daughter off the street.

"You never told me your mother's name."

"Jessica," Julie said. "Her name's Jessica Olsen."

Hold on, Jessica. I'll find you. And I'll keep your baby safe. Nothing will happen to Julie.

As if sensing what I was thinking, Julie squirmed closer to me and we sat quietly, cloaked in the warm night.

"Tell me about the coven. Was your mom in long?"

"Not long. Couple of months. She said they were worshipping a great goddess and we'd all be rich soon."

I sighed. When we found Esmeralda, she and I would have a nice long talk. "You don't really get rich from worshipping. Especially not Morrigan."

"What kind of a goddess is she?"

"Celtic kind. Old Irish. There are a few versions of her, so I'll tell you what I think might be close to the truth. Morrigan is three goddesses rolled into one. She changes depending on what she wants to do. Kind of like putting on different outfits. It's called having divine aspects. Sometimes she is the goddess of fertility and prosperity and her name is Annan. I'm guessing that's the aspect your mom worshipped. Annan also guides dead people to their resting place in the Otherworld. That's the place where the Celtic dead live. The second aspect is Macha. She oversees kingship, governance, and horses. The third aspect is Badb, the great battle crow." I paused. In light of Julie's missing mom, mentioning that the Badb drank the blood of the fallen and reveled in the slaughter was not a good idea.

"I've forgotten what the first one is called." Julie's voice gained a slight sleepy thickness. Excellent. She needed sleep and so did I.

"It doesn't really matter. They're all Morrigan."

"Who did she battle?"

"Fomorians. That's the thing to remember about gods: they always have someone to fight. Greek gods fought Titans, Viking gods fought Frost Giants, and Irish gods fought Fomorians, the sea-demons. Morrigan kicked a lot of butt, and finally the Fomorians were driven into the sea." My Celtic mythology was a bit rusty. I'd have to brush up the first chance I got. Nobody could hope to remember all of the mythological heavyweights, so the trick wasn't to know everything. The trick was to know enough to figure out where to find the rest.

"So why can't you get rich worshipping her?" Julie yawned.

"Because Morrigan doesn't grant wishes. She makes deals. That means she always wants something in return." Only fools made bargains with deities.

She closed her eyes. Good. Sleep, Julie.



"How did your mom die?"

I opened my mouth to lie. The response was automatic: I hid my blood, I hid my magic, and I hid the truth of where I came from. But for some odd reason, the lie didn't come out. I wanted to tell her the real story. Or at least a part of it. I never spoke of it and now the words itched my tongue.

What's the harm? She was only a child. It would be like a twisted good-night story. She would forget it by morning.

"I was only a few weeks old. My father and mother were running away. A man was chasing them. He was very powerful and evil. My mother knew that of the two of them my dad was the stronger one. She was slowing him down."

My voice shook a little. I didn't expect the words to be so hard.

"So my mother gave me to my dad and told him to run. She would delay the evil man as long as she could. He didn't want to go but he realized it was the only way to save me. The evil man caught my mom and they fought. She stabbed him in the eye, but he was very powerful, and she couldn't kill him. And that's how my mother died."

I tucked the blanket around her.

"That's a sad story."

"It is." It's not finished, either. Not by a long shot.

She patted the afghan still on my lap. "Did you make this?"


"It's nice. Can I use it?"

I put it on her. She kicked the blanket off and wrapped herself in the afghan, like a little mouse nesting. "It's soft," she said and fell asleep.

A VOICE SPREAD THROUGH THE APARTMENT, PURE like a crystal bell, sweet like honey, soft like velvet. "Girl...Want girl."

I opened my eyes. The magic was up, setting the bars on the windows aglow with ethereal bluish light. I saw Julie slip into the hallway, a ghostly, silent shape in the darkness of the night-drenched apartment.

"Girl..." It was coming from the outside.

My fingers found Slayer's textured hilt. I took it, rose, and followed her.

"Need girl...Girl...Want girl..."

Outside the kitchen window, a pale shade floated an inch from the glass and my ward. Female, with a delicate, almost elven face and a heartbreaking body, she looked into my house with lavender eyes. Her skin glowed with a faint silver radiance. Improbably thick, long hair streamed from her head, coiling like tentacles. "Giiiirl," the creature sang, stretching her arms to the window. "Neeed...where, where?"

Hi. And what kind of screwed-up beastie would you be?

On my kitchen table, crouched atop a crumpled curtain, sat Julie. She had worked the window latch open and was trying to pry the mechanism securing the iron grate.

I put Slayer down and took Julie by her waist. She clutched at the bars.

The creature hissed. Her jaws unhinged with reptilian flexibility, baring rows of anglerfish teeth in a black mouth. A strand of her hair whipped at the window, aiming for the kid. The ward reacted with a pulse of angry carmine. The creature jerked in pain.

I pulled on Julie. "Julie. Let go."

Julie snarled something wordless and charged with fury. I dug my heels in and pulled harder, throwing all of my strength and weight into it. Julie's fingers slipped and I almost crashed to the floor. She kicked, struggling like a pissed-off cat. I dragged her off into the bathroom, dumped her into the tub, and slammed the door shut behind us. With a howl, Julie launched herself at me. Her nails raked my arm. I grasped her by the back of the neck, forcing her down into the tub, and opened the cold water tap. She writhed under my hand, spitting and biting. I dunked her under the stream and held her there.

Gradually her convulsions subsided. She whimpered and went limp.

I shut off the water to a trickle. Julie drew a long shuddering breath and sobbed. Slowly tension leaked from her muscles. "I'm okay," she gasped. "I'm okay."

I pulled her from the bathtub and put a towel on her head. She trembled and hugged herself.

I opened the door and glanced out. The lavender-eyed thing hovered by the kitchen window, her eyes fixed on the door. She saw me and hissed again.


Julie sank to the tile, squeezing into the narrow space between the toilet and the bathtub, chopstick legs sticking out. "She was in my head. She's trying to get back in right now."

"Try to shut her out. We're safe behind the wards."

"What if the magic falls?" Julie's eyes widened in pure panic.

"Then I'll cut her head off." Easier said than done. That hair would grab me like a noose. It's hard to cut hair unless it's held taut.


"Shut the hell up!"

Why Julie? Why now? Was that thing her mother, turned into something by the coven's magic?

"Julie, does that thing look like your mother?"

She shook her head, locked her arms over her knees and began to rock. She could only move an inch or two squeezed into that narrow space. "Gray. Muddy, sliding, shifting, nasty purple gray."


"Gray like the skeleton. Nasty..."

"Julie, what's gray?"

She looked at me with haunted eyes. "Her magic. Her magic's gray."

Oh God. "What color is a werewolf's magic?"


A sensate. A living m-scanner, who could see the magic, very rare, very valued. I had her with me the whole time. I knew there was something magic about her, but between metal dogs and infected boyfriends, I never got a chance to ask. "That thing, she's gray and purple? Did you say purple? Like a vampire?"

"Weaker. Pale purple."

Purple was the color of undeath. If the creature was indeed undead somehow, she had no consciousness. Someone had to control her, the way Masters of the Dead controlled the vampires.

"Julie, you have to come out. I can't protect you if you're here hugging the toilet. Get up."

"She'll get in. She'll kill me. I don't want to die."

"You will die if you stay here." I held out my hand. "Come on."

She sobbed.

"Come on, Julie! Show that bitch you have some backbone."

She bit her lip and took my hand. I pulled her up.

"I'm scared."

"Use it. It will keep you sharp. In the Honeycomb, why didn't the magic grab you?"

It took her a second to shift gears. "I blended. I made it think I was the same as it was."

"Blend with me, then." Mimicking a different type of magic would camouflage Julie's mind, forcing the creature to concentrate on the magic object instead. Like hiding a weak light in the flare of a strong one. That thing couldn't target her mind if it couldn't sense it.

She shook her head. "I can't. I've tried already. Your magic's too strange."

Shit. Another side effect of my screwed-up heritage. It wasn't enough that I had to burn my bloody bandages so nobody could identify me, but now I couldn't even shield a little kid. What did I have that she could blend with? There were a half dozen enchanted artifacts in Greg's collection but nothing that exuded enough magic to hide her.


"Stay here."

I dashed to the kitchen, swiped Slayer off the table, and sprinted back to the bathroom. Julie's face had gone blank. I thrust Slayer into her hands and barked, "Blend!"

Awareness snapped back into her eyes. I felt the magic creep to the blade. Julie's breath came out in ragged gasps.

A barely perceptible change took place within the magic field. She took a deep breath. "Okay," she said. "Okay."

The creature screeched in frustration.

I hugged Julie to me. Physical danger I could deal with, but having Julie turned into a zombie would've screwed things up beyond repair. As long as we could keep that bitch out of my kid's head, we had a chance. She clamped the sword with both hands, face pinched, concentrating on the blade.

I steered her to the doorway. "Let's go."

We stepped from the bathroom. The creature's lavender eyes focused on Julie. It licked the ward, burned its tongue on the crimson, and recoiled.

I tried the phone. Dead. Why me?

"Giiirl. Want, want, need..."

"You okay?"

She nodded.

The magic crashed. I took Slayer from Julie and tried the phone again. Still dead. Fuck me.

The creature's hair fell lifelessly about her. She clutched onto the bars to keep from falling. Yeah! Choke on tech, you piece of crap. No tentacle hair for you.

The creature thrust her legs against the wall and heaved. The bars bent with a long, tortured screech.

Julie darted into the bedroom. Now wasn't a good time to hide. First rule of bodyguard detail: know where your "body" is at all times.

The creature heaved again. The bars parted.

I stepped into the kitchen. First I'd deal with my lovely new window ornament and then I'd go and dig Julie out from under the bed.

Julie reappeared with her knife in her hand. Her fingers shook, making the point of the dagger dance. She planted herself behind me and bit her lip.

They would not get this girl. Not today. Not ever.


Something hit the door with a solid thump. Julie jumped.

"Steady. The door's solid. It'll hold." At least for a few minutes. I stepped deeper into the kitchen and moved a chair out of my way, giving myself space to work.

At the window, the creature tasted the air with her tongue like a snake and thrust her head into the gap.


I jumped onto the table and sliced her head off in a classic executioner stroke.

The head thudded on the table and rolled to the floor. The body froze halfway through the bars. Thick reddish slime slid from the stump of the neck in a slow gush. An oily stench of rotten fish and bitter, stale seawater spread through the room.

I picked up the head by the tangle of hair and stuck Slayer's point into the left cheek. The flesh sagged a little, liquefied by the saber's magic. Nothing as obvious as what the blade would do to a vampire, but Slayer's magic affected it. Thin tendrils of smoke rose from the saber's blade. Julie was right. Definitely an undead, but not as undead as a vampire. Perhaps, she was just mostly undead. Could you even be mostly undead?


The door splintered, vomiting chunks of wood onto the hallway carpet. I dropped the head, grabbed Julie by the shoulder, and shoved her to the left, behind the wall.

The last of the wood fell from the frame. A twin to the creature I had just shortened by a head stepped into my apartment, half-hidden by the black hair drooping to her ankles.

The magic surged back up, banishing technology. My spell flared shut, two seconds behind the monster. Life wasn't fair.

Pale silvery fire ran down the creature's hair. The glossy strands shivered, stretched...

I shifted my grip on Slayer.

Coils thrust, catching the door to the bathroom. Slowly the hair parted, revealing flesh that glowed like a beacon. Feeble radiance shimmered along the creature's skin, elusive yet hypnotic, like a swamp light, like a glimpse of a mermaid beneath the waves. She held out her hands. The glow rippled down her ankles and spread in a ghostly, gossamer semblance of a fish tail.

"Girl?" Her voice floated. "Girl?"

"No girl! Get out of my house, you crazy bitch."

The creature leaned forward, her arms ready for an embrace, her lavender eyes full of cold amethyst fire. Thin, flexible...Ten to one, I had pulled Bran's bolts out of her sister's skeleton.

A dirty stream of liquid wet the table under my feet. I chanced a glance at the body behind me. Only a puddle left. I've never seen that before. I knew my sword - it made vampiric flesh into goo, but not that quickly.

The creature spread her hands. Curved claws slid from her knuckles, dripping red slime. Claws that would make long gashes, just like the ones on Red's neck. He must've gotten a mere brush, because judging by the size of those claws, she could rip my heart out with one swipe. The hair grabbed, the claws shredded, and rows of needle teeth finished the job. She was a complete package.

The creature advanced, slowly, taking her time. Why not? I was cornered. Nowhere to go except outside to a three-story drop. I took a step back and bumped my elbow on the wall, near the fridge.

The hair snapped like a whip and caught my thigh. I sliced it, severing the strands, swiped the jug of kerosene off the top of the fridge, and sloshed it over her.

The creature hissed. I dropped the sword and brought my arms together. The hair clamped me and pulled, off the table, across the kitchen, closer and closer to the claws. She didn't notice the matches in my fingers until a whiff of sulfur announced a fire being born. The hair whipped in panic, lassoing me in crushing coils. I dropped the burning match into its depth.

It caught all at once. The fire surged, bright orange and hot. I tore myself free.

The creature screeched and flailed within the inferno. Something popped with the dry hiss of lard dripping into a fire. She stumbled back, crashed against the bathroom door, splintering the wood, and threw herself across the hallway into a mirror. She smashed into it again and again, breaking the glass into smaller and smaller pieces, until at last they showered from the frame.

I picked up Slayer. Stand still for a moment, and I'll cure all your problems.

The blaze belched a cloud of smoke, and the greasy stench of cooked fat filled the room. I gagged. The wealth of the creature's hair burned to ash, and gray flecks rained on the carpet and swirled around me, caught in the draft from the doorway. The creature convulsed, a lunatic sparkler about to go out.

Julie lunged from the kitchen, a knife in hand, and dived into the flames, burying her blade in the creature's stomach. Oblivious, the monster shook, gripped by a wave of spasms. Julie hacked, swinging wildly, carving chunks from the still burning body. All remnants of restraint fled from her eyes.

I grabbed her and pulled her to me, away from the fire. "Enough!"

Julie heaved, swallowing air in shuddering gasps.

The creature slammed one last time against a wall. Its back snapped like a broken twig. Rivulets of gray liquid burst under the charred husk of her corpse. The puddle spread and started shrinking. I ripped a drawer open, pulled a specimen vial from it, and scooped some filthy liquid. I corked the vial - about a third full and there were ash flakes floating in it. Probably contaminated worse than the city sewer. This was not my day.

I put my contaminated evidence on the table next to my saber and turned to Julie. "Let me see your hands. What were you thinking?"

I knew exactly what she was thinking: you or me. That creature had terrorized her. She didn't run. She didn't hide. She made a conscious decision to fight it. That was good. Except that Julie fighting a monster of this power was like trying to stop a trained Doberman with a flyswatter.

Julie's fingers had turned red where the fire had licked them. Probably minor burns. Could've been worse. "There is a tub of A&D ointment in the fridge. Put some on your hands..."

The magic blinked: gone for a second and up the next. I glanced at the doorway to check if anything came through. A tall figure stood behind my ward. Tall, slightly stooped, it wore a thin white habit. The deep hood hung over its face almost to its chest. Like a corpse, wrapped in white linen and ready for burial.

A male voice emanated from under the hood, cold, grating, dry like the sound of seashells crushed under a heavy foot. "Give me the child, human."

I had met and killed the puppets and the puppeteer decided to make an appearance. How flattering. I pointed Julie back to the left wall, out of his sight.

"What do you offer for the child?"


"Does that come with a possibility of parole?"

That threw him off track but only for a moment. "Surrender the child."

"Life, huh? That's not a very good offer. Shouldn't you at least throw in some riches and a pile of handsome men?"

"Give me the girl," the whispery voice commanded. "You're nothing, human. You're no threat. My reeves shall grate the meat from your bones."

So the hair ladies had a name. I bared my teeth. "Then why waste time talking. Take off that hoodie, and let's go."

He leaned back and thrust his arms up. Bulges rolled under the cloth, spiraling around his chest and sliding over his arms. A phantom wind stirred his habit. The cloth parted and within its depth I glimpsed an abomination of a face: a narrow fanged muzzle the color of old bruises, two huge round eyes, dead, cold, and alien like the eyes of a squid, and above them in the middle of the forehead, a soft pale green bump, palpitating like some grotesque heart. Twin streaks of gray ichor leaked from the bump, carving wet paths between the cruel eyes.

Tangles of green burst from the sleeves of the habit and split into tentacles that fastened above the door and raised Hood off the floor. He hung suspended in the tentacle net. The bump pulsated faster. His whisper flooded the apartment, so strong it soiled my skin. "Asssiiissssst..."

The magic burst from him in a cannon blast. The ward on my door tore like tissue paper and the blast smashed into me and out of the kitchen window. If the magic had substance, it would've shattered the walls. Shocked by the power, my mind took a second to comprehend that wards no longer shielded the door or the window behind my back.

A coil of black hair grabbed my waist and jerked me back with awesome force, pulling me to the broken window. I smashed into the twisted bars. Fiery pain raked my back and bit deep. I cried out.

A strand of black hair whipped my arm. Julie froze, her eyes wide in panic. The hair pulled me harder and harder, constraining my chest. I couldn't shift a muscle. A steel band crushed my lungs. I would pass out and it would get Julie.

"Kiill..." Hood rasped. Teeth bit into my shoulder and let go. The reeve screeched, burned by my blood.

She was undead. Pilot her like a vampire. I reached for her mind and hit a wall of Hood's defense. Impenetrable.

The hair squeezed. Out of options.

The pain slashed my back. I strained and let out a single word. "Amehe." Obey.

The power word tore from me in a flash of agony as if my insides were suddenly ripped from my stomach. The wall shielding the reeve's mind shattered. Hood howled in his tentacle net.

The gaping pit that was the reeve's mind opened before me. I took it into my fist and squeezed. The hair noose loosened. The hair still held me, but the crushing pressure had vanished.

I looked through the reeve's eyes and through my own. Through this strange double vision, I saw Julie curled on the floor in a tiny fetal ball. Hood stared at me. I sensed him waiting in the deep recesses of the reeve's mind. He brimmed with hate, not just for who I was but for what I was. He seethed, his rage barely contained, a malignant terrible creature who wished the end of humankind. Disgust swelled in me, an instinctual xenophobic response, so strong, it threatened to overwhelm all reason.

I forced the hair to unwind. It let me go slowly, hesitantly. Even with a power word, I wouldn't be able to hold the reeve for long. The moment I fumbled, Hood would seize control.

I stepped aside and pulled the reeve through the bars, through the window, into the kitchen.

Watch this, you sonovabitch.

Obeying my unspoken command, the reeve rammed the wall head-on.

Hit. The drywall crumbled, exposing the hard brick.

Hit. A red stain spread.

Hit. Her skull cracked like a dropped egg.

You won't get my kid, you hear me?

The reeve drew back for a final blow, red and gray slime spilling from her head. Hood's presence fled. A second later I sent her into motion and bailed too, before the dying mind could drag me under.


A flood of filthy liquid washed the wall.

My back burned as though molten glass was poured into the wound. The room wavered slightly. I clenched my teeth and raised my sword.

Hood waited in the doorway. The way was clear. No magic walls separated us.

I smiled slowly, showing him my teeth. "Three down. One to go. Come."

The tentacles contracted, drawing the net tighter. I leaned forward a little, light on my toes, ready to charge.

The tentacles detached, rolled into the sleeves and under the hem of the robe, and Hood fled, as if swept from the doorway by a gust of wind.

I looked down in time to see Julie's legs disappear under the table.

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