Magic Gifts Page 15

I stepped out and marched on the Guild, imagining there was an army at my back.

Eduardo cleared the iron gates, sucked in a lungful of air, and roared. "Make way for the Consort!"

Oh boy.

Eduardo stood to the side. I strode through the gates and the lobby. Eduardo fell in behind me.

Before the Shift, the hotel was a many-star establishment, complete with an on-the-premises restaurant, a coffee shop, and a happy hour area raised on a three-foot platform. Mercs filled the main floor now. The twin lines of the shapeshifters had sliced through the crowd and stopped, forming an empty corridor leading toward the platform, standing like statues, hands behind their backs, feet together. A lone table waited for me. Mark sat on the left, his face pale. On the right Bob Carver and Ivera gawked at me with owl eyes.

I walked to the platform with my head held high, my cloak flaring. The entirety of the Guild focused on me. Super.

At the platform Eduardo sped up, drawing even with me. He took a knee, locked his left fist on his right wrist, and offered me the makeshift step.

Do not fall, do not fall, do not fall...

Without breaking my stride, I stepped onto his arms and then onto the platform.

We'd practiced it at least two dozen times before we had left for the Guild.

The three shapeshifters, Derek, Eduardo, and Jezebel, turned, their backs to the platform and glowered at the crowd. Derek carried a large wooden box. The two lines of shapeshifters stepped to the left as one, snapping into a wider stance.

Someone gasped.


"I speak for the Pack," I said, putting all my power into my voice.. "We hold twenty percent of the Guild. The admin group holds forty. The veterans hold another forty."

You could hear a pin drop.

"You've had months to choose a leader. You have failed and asked the Pack to break this deadlock. This is my proposal to the Guild. Listen well, because there won't be another."

They were listening. Thank you, Universe, for small favors.

"Solomon Red envisioned this Guild as a place for independent men and women to earn their living in the way they see fit. We must continue the course he plotted for us."

It was bullshit. Solomon Red didn't have that grand of a vision but Curran suggested it, so I plowed on ahead.

"Point One. The Guild will appoint a Chief Administrative Officer to oversee day to day operations and financial security of the Guild. I nominate Mark for this post. Point Two. The Guild will appoint a Chief Personnel Officer to protect interests of its members, oversee zoning of scores, and the assignment of gigs. I nominate Bob Carver for this post. Point Three, the Guild will create the post of the Pack Liaison Officer who will represent Pack's interests in the Guild as its third largest shareholder. I will be taking over this post. Together the Chief Administration Officer, Chief Personnel Officer, and Pack Liaison Officer will form the Guild Committee, which will meet on the fifteenth of every month. All matters of policy concerning the Guild will be resolved by vote of the committee members."

I looked down. The shapeshifter at the end of the left line stepped forward and unfolded a small table. The shapeshifter from the end of the right line placed a tall stack of index cards and three pens on the table. Derek stepped forward and put his wooden box in the center of the table.

"The Guild will now vote," I announced. "Each of you will write your merc ID on the card, add one word: YES or NO, and drop it into this box. I give you this last chance to save the Guild and your jobs. Don't blow it."

Two hours later, the two hundred and forty-six mercs voted yes, thirty-two voted no, and sixty one dropped blank cards with their ID's into the box, abstaining. I made a show of congratulating Bob and Mark and got the hell out of there.

Chapter Nine

I went to see Immokalee, a Cherokee medicine woman, after leaving the Guild. She spent half an hour making supplies for me and another half-an-hour trying to convince me that going to see the draugr was a Bad Idea. I knew it was a Bad Idea. I just didn't see any way around it.

I got to the office just after noon. The Dude and a cart containing one very sedated deer waited for me in the parking lot. A female shapeshifter I didn't know sat on the cart with a sour expression on her face. It took me only a moment to figure out why. Next to the cart, hiding in the shade, crouched a vampire. It was thin, wiry, and covered in purple sunblock from head to toe, as if some giant bubble of grape bubblegum had exploded over it.

Jim had done it. I felt like jumping up and down. Instead I gave the vamp my flat stare.

"There are more inside," the female shapeshifter informed me.

I stepped into the office. Curran sat at my desk, drinking a Corona from my fridge. In front of him, four vampires sat in a neat row in the middle of the floor. Two matched the purple delight outside, one was Grinch green, and the last one blazed with orange.

"I get the sunblock," I said. "But why do you have to paint them like skittles?"

The orange vamp unhinged its jaws. "The bright color helps to make sure they're completely covered," an unfamiliar female voice explained. "It's easy to miss a spot. When they're young, they have a lot of wrinkles."

Ugh. "What the meaning of this?"

"Kate," the green vamp spoke with Ghastek's voice, "It has come to my attention, that you are planning to see a creature in the Viking territory with the purpose of finding a means to remove the necklace from the child. An undead creature. That explicitly violates the terms of our agreement to resolve this matter jointly."

I looked at Curran. He shrugged.

"And how did you know this?" I asked.

"I have my methods."

How in the world did Jim pull this off? I'd have to buy him all the clipboards in the world.

"Ghastek, this is not a fun trip," Curran said.

"You can't go," I added.

"Why ever not?"

"Because the undead will murder your vampire hit squad and I have no desire to get that bill," Curran said. "Do yourself a favor. Sit this one out."

Wow. He went there.

The vamp's red eyes bulged, struggling to mirror Ghastek's expression.

"Kate, perhaps you need to explain to your significant other that he is in no position to give me orders. Last time I checked, his title was Beast Lord, which is a gentle euphemism for a man who strips nude at night and runs around through the woods hunting small woodland creatures. I'm a premier Master of the Dead. I will go where I please."

*** *** ***

Once again I rode The Dude. Curran chose to drive the cart. We travelled side by side. Ghastek took point, while three of his journeymen flanked us. The fourth, the orange vampire, trotted next to me. It was piloted by Ghastek's top journeywoman. Her name was Tracy and as navigators went, she wasn't too bad.

Ghastek's vampire reached Gunnar's fork, marked by an old birch. Predictably, Gunnar lumbered out. "Come to see Ragnvald again?"

"Going to the glade." I nodded at the cart. The deer's moist dark eyes stared at the viking.

Gunnar's spine went rigid. "To see him?"

I nodded.

"Don't "go," he said.

"I have to."

He shook his head and stepped aside. "It's been nice knowing you."

I touched the reins and our small procession rolled on.

Ghastek dropped back, drawing even with The Dude. "Why the secrecy?"

"The vikings don't like to say Håkon's name. The glade isn't that far from here and he might hear."

"What is he?"

He and Curran had that in common. Wave a secret in front of them and they would foam at the mouth trying to learn it. "He's a draugr."

The vamp hopped on the cart and peered at me, its eyes only a couple of inches from my face. "A draugr? A mythical Norse undead that supposed to guard the treasure of its grave?"

"Get off my cart," Curran growled.

The undead hopped down. The vampire's grotesque face twisted into an odd expression: the corners of its cavernous mouth pinched up, while its lips gaped open, displaying its fangs. It stared at me with blood red eyes and bopped its head forward and back a few times.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm laughing at you."

Kicking the vampire in the face with my foot would be counterproductive at this point.

"When I was a journeyman, I spent eighteen months in Norway, looking for draugar. I've camped in the cemeteries in sub-zero temperatures, I've scoured the fjords, I've dived into sea caves in freezing water. It was the worst year and a half of my life. In those eighteen months I didn't find any credible evidence of draugar's existence. Trust me when I say this: they don't exist. Hence, my use of the word mythical. As in not real."

I briefly contemplated punching the vampire in the nose. It wouldn't hurt Ghastek any, but it would be immensely satisfying. "This draugr exists. Plenty of people have met him."

"Oh, I have no doubt that they had met something, but it wasn't a draugr. Don't you see the signs? The mysterious glade the path to which is guarded by a giant. The legendary undead with magical powers, whom you can only meet once and those who disobey that rule die a gruesome death." The vampire waved his front limbs, fingers spread. "Woo-ooo. Frightening."

"Do you have a point?"

"Those bearded horn-helmeted bandits are conning you, Kate."

"You've got to be kidding me."

"There is no need to feel bad about this. You're a capable fighter, proficient with a blade and you have intelligence and tenacity, but you don't work with the undead. You have very little familiarity with the basic principles of necromancy, beyond its most practical applications. You lack the tools to recognize the hoax."

The urge to grab the mind of the nearest vampire and use it to beat Ghastek's bloodsucker to a bloody pulp was overwhelming. Perhaps, that's why Voron insisted on steering me away from necromancy. He knew there would be times the temptation to show off would be too much.

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