Magic Gifts Page 18

The forest turned into a blurry smudge of green. I flew, jumping over the roots. Weeds slapped me.

The harsh stench of rot filled my mouth. Around me the trees groaned, as if pulled upright by an invisible hand. My throat burned.

I could almost see the road through the shrubs.

The path turned left and I leapt straight down, praying the old injury to my left knee would flare up. The brush snapped under my weight and I tore down the slope, squeezing every last drop of speed out of my body.

A deep roar shook the ground.

No way to dodge, no direction to take but down.

A shadow fell over me. I threw myself forward. I rolled once, twice, catching a glimpse of a colossal clawed hand raking the forest behind me, flipped to my feet, and burst onto the road.

The pillar loomed to my right. I sprinted to it.

The air whistled. Something large crashed on the road ahead of me, bounced, and sprung to its feet. Ghastek's vampire. Deep gashes scoured its flanks, oozing thick undead blood onto the sunblock. It looked like it had gone through a shredder.

The trees creaked behind me. The draugr had made it onto the road.

I ran like I've never ran before in my life.

The vampire froze for a fraction of an instant and galloped to the pillars.

My feet barely touched the ground. In my head my bad leg snapped like a toothpick.

The draugr's magic whipped at me, slashing at my back. I went airborne, rolled, and hit the ground hard. My head swam. I rolled to my feet

Taller than the trees, the enormous undead towered above me, his eyes spilling icy green mist. Ragged chainmail hung from his torso. Colossal iron pauldrons guarded his shoulders. Huge chunks of his flesh were missing, and bone glared through the holes.

Holy shit.

The draugr raised a foot the size of a car. His magic swirled about him in a stormy cloud.

Curran in a warrior form shot out of the tree top, flying through the air like a grey blur.

I stood still, presenting a clear target for Håkon.

The draugr stomped forward.

Curran smashed into the back of the undead's neck. Bone crunched. The draugr spun, and I saw Curran ripping into the space between the neck vertebrae with his claws. Undead gristle flew.

The draugr roared, trying to swat at the Beast Lord. His head began to droop.

Two ribbons of green magic snapped backward from the draugr, aiming for Curran.

Oh no, you don't. I opened my mouth and barked a power word.

"Ossanda." Kneel, you undead sonovabitch.

The magic burst from me. It felt like someone had sunk claws into my stomach and tore out the muscle and my innards. The world went black for a tiny moment. I'd sank a lot of magic into it.

A horrible creak of bone snapping rolled through the air. The draugr's bony knees hit the road. The forest quaked.

I took a running start and sprinted at him.

The dazed undead raised its huge hands, trying to grab me. I veered left, avoiding the gnarled bone fingers, and scrambled up the giant's body, climbing the chain mail.

Above me Curran snarled.

The draugr slapped his chest, missing me by a couple of inches.

I pulled myself onto his shoulder and ran down the iron plate to his neck. Curran was ripping into the gristle. The undead flesh tore under his claws, and snapped back, regenerating.

I pulled Slayer and chopped at the gap he'd made. My saber smoked from the contact with undead flesh. The gap widened.

Curran grasped the edge of the two vertebra and forced them apart. I cut into the cleft, slicing through the connective tissue.

Cut. Cut. Cut.

Cartilage crunched.

Magic stung me, weaving about me in green strands.

"Wait!" Curran growled.

I stopped my sword in mid-strike. Curran jumped into the gap, his clawed feet on the edge of one vertebra, his hands on the other. He strained, pushing them apart. Steel-hard muscle bulged on his frame, shaking with effort.

The draugr howled.

Curran snarled, a vicious, short sound born of strain.

With a sickening screech, the draugr's head fell and rolled off his body. The colossal torso toppled. I jumped and landed on the road, my sword in my hand. Curran dropped down next to me.

We ran. We sprinted to the pillars.

Behind us an eerie, unnatural noise announced the draugr reassembling himself.

The green vampire that had fallen on the road picked itself up and chased after us.

We were almost to the pillars.

A shadow fell over us.

Curran spun. His head melted, reshaping into a lion's head. The Beast Lord roared.

The sound was like thunder. Deep, primeval, arresting, it froze the marrow in my bones. My instincts screamed and tried to drop me to the ground in a small quivering ball.

The draugr screeched to a halt.

We dashed forward.

The pillars flashed by our sides. I ran to a stop and turned around, my ribs hurting.

The undead giant strode toward us.

The pillars flashed with deep amber.

The draugr smashed into an invisible wall. Streaks of orange lightning clutched at his flesh. A deafening wail slapped my ears.

"I will kill you! I will gnaw the flesh off your bones! I will pick my teeth with your femurs!"

I vomited onto the ground.

Next to me Curran patted my back, his breath coming in ragged gasps.

The vampire next to me collapsed. The gashes on its body knitted together. A new pale skin slid over the cuts and began to smoke.

"You owe me vampire blood," I told him.

"Yes, yes." Ghastek sounded sour. "Do hand me that canvas before he burns to death."

I jerked the canvas off the cart and held it up. "I just want to hear you say it."

The vamp squirmed.

I shook the canvas a bit.

"Fine. The draugar do exist."

"And I was right."

"You were right. The canvas, Kate."

I draped it over the vampire and looked at Curran. "Did you hear that?"

"I heard that." Together we picked up the vampire and heaved the bloodsucker into the cart. "I still don't believe it, but I heard it."

Two vampires dashed past the raging draugr, one purple, one orange. The remains of Ghastek's super-squad.

"Over here," I waved. "Run to safety!"

"Could the two of you gloat a little more?" Ghastek said.

"Oh I could," I said. "I definitely could."

The vampire pulled the canvas back and peeked out, staring in the direction of the glade. "Double or nothing."


"Double or nothing, Kate. I can take him."

Ghastek was a gambler. Knock me over with a feather. I sat on the cart.

"Knock yourself out," Curran told him. "We'll wait right here."

"Don't take too long," I told him. "We have a child to save."

Chapter Ten

I knew that something was wrong by the look on the face of the werewolf who had opened the door to the Pack's safe house. The Pack owned several properties in the city, and after we were done clapping and cheering at the sight of Ghastek's complete an utter failure, Curran and I had made a beeline for the nearest one to wash the undead nastiness off. The magic had fallen and the technology once again reasserted its grip on the world, and Curran was eager to trade the cart for a Pack Jeep.

A male werewolf had opened the door and his eyes had that particular look to them that meant some catastrophe had happened.

"What is it?" Curran growled.

The werewolf licked his lips.

"Out with it," Curran said.

"Andrea Nash has been seen in the city, interviewing business owners."

"She is frequently in the city," I said. "And interviewing is her job. She is investigating some murders for the Pack." Which I would look into as soon as we got Roderick out of that damned necklace.

The werewolf took a small step back. "She's doing it in her beastkin shape."

"Come again?"

"She's walking around in her beastkin shape. And some clothes."

All unaffiliated shapeshifters within the Pack's borders were required to present themselves to the Pack within three days. Until now, the Pack was able to successfully ignore the fact that Andrea was a shapeshifter, mostly because Curran made a very public point of ignoring it and nobody cared to bring it up.

Well, he couldn't ignore it any longer. Andrea pretty much made sure of that.

It made no sense. Andrea almost never used her beastkin shape. In fact, she pretended to be human most of the time. Going out in her fur and claws for her would be equivalent to me taking off my clothes and parading through the city naked.

Something had happened. Something really bad.

I looked at Curran. "I guess we better go back to the office."

*** *** ***

I walked through the office doors carrying a vampire's head smeared in green sunblock. I had picked it up after the draugr had punted it out of the ward zone. It was beginning to smell and needed to be buried in ice ASAP.

Andrea sat at her desk. She was wearing her beastkin shape, a perfect meld of human and hyena. It was the shape that could get her killed. Andrea's father was a hyenawere, an animal who turned into a human. That made her beastkin and many older shapeshifters would want to murder her on sight.

Want would be the operative ward. Andrea could take care of herself, I would help her, and Curran has made it plain that this was a prejudice he would not tolerate. He was waiting outside now in a parking lot a block away. I had asked him to give us a few minutes.

Andrea's feet were on the table. Her T-shirt was torn, her pants were in tatters, and a mess of blood and tissue stained both. She wiggled her clawed toes at me.


"Hey!" Andrea raised her hand. There was a bottle in it. She was drinking.

I went into the kitchen, got a ceramic dish from under the sink, and deposited my vampire head. Then I came back, shrugged out of my sword sheath, and sat in the chair.

"What are you drinking?"

"Georgia Peach Iced Tea. Want some?" Andrea shook the bottle at me.

"Sure." I sipped it. FIRE. "What the hell is in this?"

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