Magic Gifts Page 3

I gripped Slayer's hilt, feeling the familiar comforting texture. Bloodsuckers reacted to sudden movement, bright lights, loud noises, anything that telegraphed prey. Whatever I did had to be fast and flashy. The blood alone wouldn't do it, not when every table was filled with raw meat.

The window exploded in a cascade of gleaming shards. The vampires sailed through, like they had wings. The left bloodsucker landed on the table, the remnant of the chain hanging from its neck. The right skidded on the slick parquet floor and bumped into another table, scattering the chairs.

I screamed and dashed to the left, pulling Slayer as I sprinted. Curran snarled and leaped, covering half the distance to the right bloodsucker in a single powerful jump.

My vamp glared at me. I looked into its eyes.


Like staring into an ancient abyss. Behind the eyes, its mind seethed, free of the chain. I wanted to reach out and crush it, like a bug between my fingernails. But doing that would give me away. I might as well give the People a sample of my blood with a pretty bow on it.

"Here!" I flicked my wrist, making the reflection of feylanterns dance along Slayer's surface. Look. Shiny.

The bloodsucker's gaze locked on the blade. The vamp ducked down, like a dog before the strike, front limbs wide, yellow claws digging into the table. The wood groaned. The chain slipped along the table's edge, clinking.

No way for a neck cut. The chain loop would block the blade.

A high-pitched female scream slashed my eardrums. The vamp hissed, jerking in the direction of the sound.

I jumped on the chair next to the table and thrust sideways and up. Slayer's blade slid between the vamp ribs. The tip met a tight resistance and sliced through it. Hit the heart. Banzai.

The bloodsucker screeched. I let go of the saber. The vamp reared, the Slayer up to the hilt in its rib cage, staggered as if drunk, pitched over, and crashed to the floor, flopping like a fish on dry land.

To the left, Curran thrust his claws through the flesh under his vamp's chin. The bloody tips of the claws emerged from the back of the bloodsucker's neck. The vamp clawed at him. Curran thrust his monstrous hand deeper, gripped the vamp's neck and tore its head off the body.


He tossed the head aside and glanced at me, checking if I was okay. The whole thing took about five seconds and felt like an eternity. We were both in one piece. I exhaled.

The restaurant fell silent, except for the male necromancer sobbing on the floor and the hoarse hissing from the vampire, convulsing as my saber liquefied its innards, absorbing the nutrients into the blade.

In the far corner a man swiped his toddler from the high chair, grabbed his wife's hand, and ran out. As one, the patrons jumped. Chairs fell, feet pounded, someone gasped. They rushed out of both doors. In a blink the place was empty.

I grasped Slayer and pulled. It slid from the body with ease. The edges of the wound sagged and dark brown blood spilled from the cut. I swung and beheaded the vamp with a single sharp stroke. You should always finish what you started.

Curran's arms shrank, streamlining, grey fur melting into his skin. A normal shapeshifter would've needed a nap after changing shape twice in short time, but Curran didn't exactly play by the regular shapeshfiter rules. He walked over to the male necromancer, pulled him upright, and shook him once, an expression of deep contempt on his face. I could almost hear the guy's teeth rattle in his skull.

"Look at me. Focus."

The necromancer stared at him, shocked eyes wide, his mouth slack.

I knelt by the female navigator and touched her wrist, keeping away from the neck and the gold band on it. No pulse. The necklace clamped her throat like a golden noose, its color a dark vivid yellow, almost orange. The skin around it was bright red and quickly turning purple.

I picked up her purse, pulled out a wallet and snapped it open. A People ID. Amanda Sunny, journeyman, Second Tier. Twenty years old and now dead.

Curran peered into the journeyman's face. "What happened? What did you do?"

The man sucked in a deep breath and dissolved into tears.

Curran dropped him in disgust. His eyes were pure gold - he was pissed off.

I went to the hostess desk and found the phone. Please work... Dial tone. Yes!

I punched in the office number. Chances were, Andrea was still there.

"Cutting Edge," Andrea's voice said.

"I'm in Arirang. Two navigators were having dinner. The man gave the woman a gold necklace and it strangled her to death. I'm looking at two dead vampires and one human corpse."

"Sit tight. I'll be there in thirty minutes."

I hung up and dialed the Casino.

"Kate Daniels, for Ghastek. Urgent."

"Please wait," female voice said. The phone went silent. I hummed to myself and looked at the ID. I didn't know which of the Masters of the Dead Amanda answered to, but I knew Ghastek was the best of the seven currently in the city. He was also power-hungry and he was making his bid for taking over Atlanta's People office. He was very much in the limelight at the moment and I could count on a rapid response.

A moment passed. Another.

"What is it, Kate?" Ghastek's voice said into the phone. He must've been doing something, because he failed to keep exasperation from his voice. "Please keep this quick, I'm in the middle of something."

"I have one dead journeywoman, one hysterical journeyman, two dead vampires, one pissed off Beast Lord with bloody hands, and a half a dozen terrified restaurant staff." Quick enough for you?

Ghastek's voice snapped into brisk tone. "Where are you?"

"Arirang on Greenpine. Bring a decontamination unit and body bags."

I hung up. Our waiter edged out of the doors and approached our table, looking green. The rest of the staff were probably huddled together in the back room, terrified, not knowing if the danger had passed.

"Is it over?"

Curran turned to him. "Yes, it's over. The People are on their way to clean up the mess. You can bring everyone out, if it will make them feel better. We guarantee your safety."

The waiter took off. Someone shouted. A moment later the doors opened and people poured out: an older Korean man, the older woman who had greeted us, a woman who looked like she could be their daughter and several men and women in waiter and chef garb. The younger woman carried a boy. He couldn't have been more than five.

The owners piled up into the booths around us. The boy stared at the two vampires with dark eyes, big like two cherries.

I sat into the chair next to Curran. He reached over and pulled me close. "I'm sorry about the dinner."

"That's okay." I stared at the dead woman. Twenty years old. She barely had a chance to live. I'd seen a lot of death, but for some reason the sight of Amanda laying there on the floor, her boyfriend weeping uncontrollably by her body, chilled me to the bone. I leaned against Curran, feeling the heat of his body seep through my T-shirt. I was so cold and I really needed his warmth.

Chapter Two

A caravan of black SUV's descended onto the parking lot, their enchanted water engines belching noise. Magic-powered cars didn't move very fast and sounded like a rock avalanche hitting a speeding train, but it was better than nothing.

We watched the SUVs through the broken window, as they parked at the far end, killed the noise, and vomited people, vampires, and body bags. Ghastek emerged from the lead vehicle, ridiculously out of place in a black turtleneck and tailored dark pants. He came through the door, surveyed the scene for a second, and headed to us.

Curran's eyes darkened. "I bet you a dollar he's running over to assure me that we're in no danger."

"That's a sucker's bet."

The Pack and the People existed in a very fragile state of peace. None of us wanted to do anything to jeopardize that.

The People were efficient, I gave them that. One crew went for the vampires, the other headed for the woman's body, the third for the despondent journeyman. Two women and a man in business suits made a beeline for the booth where the owners sat.

Ghastek came close enough to be heard. "I want it to be clear: this was not an attempt to kill either of you. The journeymen weren't supposed to be here and the guilty party will be harshly reprimanded."

Curran shrugged. "Don't worry, Ghastek. If this was an attempt, I know you'd bring more than two vampires."

"What happened?" Ghastek asked.

"They were having dinner," I told him. "They seemed happy together. The boy handed her a necklace and it choked her to death."

"Just so I understand, Lawrence himself wasn't personally injured."

"No," Curran said. "He was in shock from watching his girlfriend die in front of him."

Ghastek looked over the scene again, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here. "Once again, we're dreadfully sorry for the inconvenience."

"We'll live," Curran said.

One of the People stepped away from Amanda's body. "The necklace adhered to her skin. There doesn't appear to be any locking mechanism. It's a solid band of gold."

"Leave it," Ghastek said. "We'll remove it later."

If I were them, I'd cut it off during tech and stick it into a hazmat container.

A middle-aged man shouldered his way inside the restaurant, followed by a young woman and a boy who looked about seven. I glanced at the woman and had to click my mouth shut. She was in her late teens, right on the cusp between a girl and a woman. Her body, full in the bust and hips, slimmed to a narrow waist. Her long slender legs carried her with a natural grace. Her hair streamed from her head in a shimmering cascade so precisely matching the color of gold, I would've sworn it was gold if I didn't know better. Her face, a pale oval, was angelic. She glanced at me in passing. Her irises were an intense deep blue and her eyes were decades older than her face.

She was beautiful.

She was also not human. Or she had bargained with something not human for that body.

Curran was watching her. His nostrils flared a little as he inhaled, sampling the scents and I felt a punch of jealousy right in the gut. Well, this was a new and unwelcome development.

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