Magic Graves Page 14

The elevator spat me out into a hallway lined with a luxurious green carpet. I plodded through it past the door marked 158 to the end of the hallway to the door under the EXIT sign and opened it. Stairs. Unfortunately in good repair. The door opened from the inside of the hallway, but it didn't lock. No way to jam it.

The hallway was T shaped with only one exit, which meant that potential attackers could come either through the elevator shaft or up the stairs.

I went up to 158 and knocked.

The door shot open. Gina Castor's dark eyes glared at me. An AK-47 hung off her shoulder. She held a black duffel in one hand and her sword in the other. "What took you so long?"

"Hello to you, too."

She pushed past me, the thin slightly stooped Rodriguez following her. "He's all yours."

I caught the door before it clicked shut. "Where is the client?"

"Chained to the bed." They headed to the elevator.


Castor flashed her teeth at me. "You'll figure it out."

The elevator's door slid open, they ducked in, and a moment later I was alone in the hallway, holding the door open like an idiot. Peachy.

*** *** ***

I stepped inside and shut the door. A faint spark of magic shot through the metal box of the card-reader lock. I touched it. The lock was a sham. The door was protected by a ward. I pushed harder. My magic crashed against the invisible wall of the spell and ground to a halt. An expensive ward, too. Good. Made my job a hair easier.

I slid the dead bolt shut and turned. I stood in a huge living room, big enough to contain most of my house. A marble counter ran along the wall on my left, sheltering a bar with glass shelves offering everything from Bombay Sapphire to French wines. A large steel fridge sat behind the bar. White, criminally plush carpet, black walls, steel and glass furniture, and beyond it all an enormous floor to ceiling window, presenting the vista of the ruined city, a deep darkness, lit here and there by the pale blue of fey lanterns.

I stayed away from the window and trailed the wall, punctuated by three doors. The first opened into a laboratory: flame-retardant table and counters supporting row upon row of equipment. I recognized a magic scanner, a computer, and a spectrograph, but the rest was beyond me. No client.

I tried the second door and found a large room. Gloom pooled in the corners. A huge platform bed occupied most of the hardwood floor. Something lay on the bed, hidden under black sheets.


No answer.

Why me?

The wall to the left of the bed was all glass, and beyond the glass, very far below, stretched a very hard parking lot, bathed in the glow of feylanterns.

God, fifteen floors was high.

I pulled my saber from the back sheath and padded across the floor to the bed.

The body under the sheets didn't move.


Another step.

In my head, the creature hiding under the sheets lunged at me, knocking me through the window in an explosion of glass shards to plunge far below... Fatigue was messing with my head.

Another step.

I nudged the sheet with my sword, peeling it back gently.

A man rested on the black pillow. He was bald. His head was lightly tanned, his face neither handsome nor ugly, his features well-shaped and pleasant. Perfectly average. His shoulders were nude - he was probably down to his underwear or naked under the sheet.

"Saiman?" I asked softly.

The man's eyelids trembled. Dark eyes stared at me, luminescent with harsh predatory intelligence. A warning siren went off in my head. I took a small step back and saw the outline of several chains under the sheet. You've got to be kidding me. They didn't just chain him to the bed, they wrapped him up like a Christmas present. He couldn't even twitch.

"Good evening," the man said, his voice quiet and cultured.

"Good evening."

"You're my new bodyguard, I presume."

I nodded. "Call me Kate."

"Kate. What a lovely name. Please forgive me. Normally I would rise to greet a beautiful woman, but I'm afraid I'm indisposed at the moment."

I pulled back a little more of the sheet revealing an industrial-size steel chain. "I can see that."

"Perhaps I could impose on you to do me the great favor of removing my bonds?"

"Why did Rodriguez and Castor chain you?" And where the hell did they find a chain of this size?

A slight smile touched his lips. "I'd prefer not to answer that question."

"Then we're in trouble. Clients get restrained when they interfere with the bodyguards' ability to keep them safe. Since you won't tell me why the previous team decided to chain you, I can't let you go."

The smile grew wider. "I see your point."

"Does this mean you're ready to enlighten me?"

"I'm afraid not."

I nodded. "I see. Well then, I'll clear the rest of the apartment, and then I'll come back and we'll talk some more."

"Do you prefer brunets or blonds?"


The sheet shivered.

"Quickly, Kate. Brunettes or blonds? Pick one."

Odd bulges strained the sheet. I grabbed the covers and jerked them back.

Saiman lay naked, his body pinned to the bed by the chain. His stomach distended between two loops, huge and bloated. Flesh bulged and crawled under his skin, as if his body were full of writhing worms.

"Blond, I'd say," Saiman said.

He groaned, his back digging into the sheets. The muscles under his skin boiled. Bones stretched. Ligaments twisted, contorting his limbs. Acid squirted into my throat. I gagged, trying not to vomit.

His body stretched, twisted, and snapped into a new shape: lean, with crisp definition. His jaw widened, his eyes grew larger, his nose gained a sharp cut. Cornsilk blond hair sprouted on his head and reached down to his shoulders. Indigo flooded his irises. A new man looked at me, younger by about five years, taller, leaner, with a face that was heartbreakingly perfect. Above his waist, he was Adonis. Below his ribs, his body degenerated into a bloated stomach. He looked pregnant.

"You wouldn't tell me what you preferred," he said mournfully, his pitch low and husky. "I had to improvise."

*** *** ***

"What are you?" I kept my sword between me and him.

"Does it really matter?"

"Yes, it does." When people said shapeshifter, they usually meant a person afflicted with Lyc-V, the virus that gave its victim the ability to shift into an animal. I'd never seen one who could freely change its human form.

Saiman made a valiant effort to shrug. Hard to shrug with several pounds of chains on your shoulders, but he managed to look nonchalant doing it.

"I am me."

Oh boy. "Stay here."

"Where would I go?"

I left the bedroom and checked the rest of the apartment. The only remaining room contained a large shower stall and a giant bathtub. No kitchen. Perhaps he had food delivered.

Fifteenth floor. At least one guard downstairs, bullet-resistant glass, metal grates. The place was a fortress. Yet he hired bodyguards at exorbitant prices. He expected his castle to be breached.

I headed to the bar grabbed a glass from under the counter, filled it with water, and took it to Saiman. Changing shape took energy. If he was anything like other shapeshifters, he was dying of thirst and hunger right about now.

Saiman's gaze fastened on the glass. "Delightful."

I let him drink. He drained the glass in long, thirsty swallows.

"How many guards are on duty downstairs?"


"Are they employed by the building owners directly?"

Saiman smiled. "Yes. They're experienced and well paid and they won't hesitate to kill."

So far so good. "When you change shape, do you reproduce internal organs as well?"

"Only if I plan to have intercourse."

Oh goodie. "Are you pregnant?"

Saiman laughed softly.

"I need to know if you're going to go into labor." Because that would just be a cherry on the cake of this job.

"You're a most peculiar woman. No, I'm most definitely not pregnant. I'm male, and while I may construct a vaginal canal and a uterus on occasion, I've never had cause to recreate ovaries. And If I did, I suspect they would be sterile. Unlike the male of the species, women produce all of their gametes during gestation, meaning that when a female infant is born, she will have in her ovaries all of the partially developed eggs she will ever have. The ovaries cannot facilitate production of new eggs, only the maturation of existing ones. The magic is simply not deep enough for me to overcome this hurdle. Not yet."

Thank Universe for small favors. "Who am I protecting you from and why?"

"I'm afraid I have to keep that information to myself as well."

Why did I take this job again? Ah yes, a pile of money. "Withholding this information diminishes my ability to guard you."

He tilted his head, looking me over. "I'm willing to take that chance."

"I'm not. It also puts my life at a greater risk."

"You're well compensated for that risk."

I repressed the urge to brain him with something heavy. Too bad there was no kitchen - a cast-iron frying pan would do the job.

"I see why the first team bailed."

"Oh, it was the woman," Saiman said helpfully. "She had difficulty with my metamorphosis. I believe she referred to me as 'abomination'."

I rubbed the bridge of my nose. "Let's try simple questions. Do you expect us to be attacked tonight?"


I figured as much. "With magic or brute force?"


"Is it a hit for hire?"

Saiman shook his head. "No."

Well, at least something went my way: amateurs were easier to deal with than contract killers.

"It's personal. I can tell you this much: the attackers are part of a religious sect. They will do everything in their power to kill me, including sacrificing their own lives."

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