Magic Graves Page 15

And we just drove off a cliff in a runaway buggy. "Are they magically adept?"


I leaned back. "So let me summarize: You're a target of magical kamikaze fanatics, you won't tell me who they are, why they're after you, or why you have been restrained?"

"Precisely. Could I trouble you for a sandwich? I'm famished."

Dear God, I had a crackpot for a client. "A sandwich?"

"Prosciutto and Gouda on sourdough bread, please. A tomato and red onion would be quite lovely as well."

"Sounds delicious."

"Feel free to have one."

"I tell you what, since you refuse to reveal anything that might make my job even a smidgeon easier, how about I make a delicious prosciutto sandwich and taunt you with it until you tell me what I want to know?"

Saiman laughed.

An eerie sound came from the living room - a light click, as if something with long sharp claws crawled across metal.

*** *** ***

I put my finger to my lips, freed my saber, and padded out into the living room.

The room lay empty. No intruders.

I stood very still, trying to fade into the black walls.

Moments dripped by.

A small noise came from the left. It was a hesitant, slow clicking, as if some creature slunk in the distance, slowly putting one foot before the other.

Click .

Definitely a claw.

Click .

I scrutinized the left side of the room. Nothing moved.

Click. Click, click .

Closer this time. Fear skittered down my spine. Fear was good. It would keep me sharp. I kept still. Where are you, you sonovabitch...

Click to the right, and almost immediately a quiet snort to the left. Now we had two invisible intruders. Because one wasn't hard enough.

An odd scent nipped at my nostrils, a thick, slightly bitter herbal odor. I'd smelled it once before but I had no clue where or when.

Claws scraped to the right and to the left of me now. More than two. A quiet snort to the right. Another in the corner. Come out to play. Come on, beastie.

Claws raked metal directly in front of me. There was nothing there but that huge window and sloping ceiling above it. I looked up. Glowing green eyes peered at me through the grate of the air duct in the ceiling.

Shivers sparked down my back.

The eyes stared at me, heated with madness.

The screws in the air duct cover turned to the left. Righty tighty, lefty loosey. Smart critter.

The grate fell onto the soft carpet. The creature leaned forward slowly, showing me a long conical head. The herbal scent grew stronger now, as if I'd taken a handful of absinthe wormwood and stuck it up my nose.

Long black claws clutched the edge of the air duct. The beast rocked, revealing its shoulders sheathed in shaggy, hunter green fur.

Bingo. An endar. Six legs, each armed with wicked black claws; preternaturally fast; equipped with an outstanding sense of smell and a big mouth, which hid a tongue lined with hundreds of serrated teeth. One lick, and it would scrape the flesh off my bones in a very literal way.

The endars were peaceful creatures. The green fur wasn't fur at all; it was moss that grew from their skin. They lived underneath old oaks, rooted to the big trees in a state of quiet hibernation, absorbing their nutrients and making rare excursions to the surface to lick the bark and feed on lichens. They stirred from their rest so rarely, that pagan slavs thought they fed on air.

Someone had poured blood under this endar's oak. The creature had absorbed it and the blood had driven it crazy. It had burrowed to the surface, where it swarmed with its fellows. Then the same someone, armed with a hell of a lot of magic, had herded this endar and its buddies to this highrise and released them into the ventilation system so they would find Saiman and rip him apart. They couldn't be frightened off. They couldn't be stopped. They would kill anything with a pulse to get to their target and when the target was dead, they would have to be eliminated. There was no coming back from endar madness.

Only a handful of people knew how to control endars.

Saiman had managed to piss off the Russians. It's never good to piss off the Russians. That was just basic common sense. My father was Russian, but I doubted they would cut me any slack just because I could understand their curses.

The endar gaped at me with its glowing eyes. Yep, mad as a hatter. I'd have to kill every last one of them.

"Well, come on. Bring it."

The endar's mouth gaped. It let out a piercing screech, like a circular saw biting into the wood, and charged.

I swung Slayer. The saber's blade sliced into flesh and the beast crashed to the floor. Thick green blood stained Saiman's white carpet.

The three other duct covers fell one by one. A stream of green bodies charged toward me. I swung my sword, cleaving the first body in two. It was going to be a long night.

*** *** ***

The last of the endars was on the smaller side. Little bigger than a cat. I grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and took it back into the bedroom.

Saiman smiled at my approach. "I take it everything went well?"

"I redecorated."

He arched his eyebrow again. Definitely mimicking me. "Oh?"

"Your new carpet is a lovely emerald color."

"I can assure you that carpet is the least of my worries."

"You're right." I brought the endar closer. The creature saw Saiman and jerked spasmodically. Six legs whipped the air, claws out, ready to rend and tear. The beast's mouth gaped, releasing a wide tongue studded with rows and rows of conical teeth.

"You provoked the volhvs." It was that or the Russian witches. I bet on the volhvs. The witches would've cursed us by now.


"The volhvs are bad news for a number of reasons. They serve pagan Slavic gods, and they have thousands of years of magic tradition to draw on. They're at least as powerful as Druids, but unlike Druids, who are afraid to sneeze the wrong way or someone might accuse them of bringing back human sacrifices, the volhvs don't give a damn. They won't stop either. They don't like using the endars, because the endars nourish the forest with their magic. Whatever you did really pissed them off."

Saiman pondered me as if I were some curious bug. "I wasn't aware that the Guild employed anyone with an education."

"I'll hear it. All of it."

"No." He shook his head. "I do admire your diligence and expertise. I don't want you to think it's gone unnoticed."

I dropped the endar onto his stomach. The beast clawed at the sheet. Saiman screamed. I grabbed the creature and jerked it up. The beast dragged the sheet with it, tearing it to shreds. Small red scratches marked Saiman's blob of a stomach.

"I'll ask again. What did you do to infuriate the Russians? Consider your answer carefully, because the next time I drop this guy, I'll be slower picking him back up."

Saiman's face quivered with rage. "You're my bodyguard."

"You can file a complaint, if you survive. You're putting both of us in danger by withholding information. See, if I walk, I just miss out on some money; you lose your life. I have no problem with leaving you here and the Guild can stick its thumb up its ass and twirl for all I care. The only thing that keeps me protecting you is professional pride. I hate bodyguard detail, but I'm good at it, and I don't like to lose a body. It's in your best interests to help me do my job. Now, I'll count to three. On three I drop Fluffy here and let it go to town on your gut. He really wants whatever you're hiding in there."

Saiman stared at me.

"One. Two. Th-"

"Very well."

I reached into my backpack and pulled out a piece of wire. Normally I used it for trip traps, but it would make a decent leash. Two minutes later the endar was secured to the dresser and I perched on the corner of Saiman's bed.

"Are you familiar with the legend of Booyan Island?"

I nodded. "It's a mythical island far in the Ocean, behind the Hvalynskii Sea. It's a place of deep magic where a number of legendary creatures and items are located: Alatyr, the father of all stones; the fiery pillar; the Drevo-Doob, the World Oak; the cave where the legendary sword Kladenets is hidden; the Raven prophet, and so on. It's the discount warehouse of Russian legends. Any time the folkloric heroes needed a magic object, they made a trip to it."

"Let's concentrate on the tree," Saiman said.

I knew Slavic mythology well enough, but I hadn't had to use it for a while and I was a bit rusty. "It's a symbol of nature. Creature of the earth at its roots, the serpent, the frog and so on. There is a raven with a prophet gift in the branches. Some myths say that there are iron chains wrapped around the tree's trunk. A black cat walks the chain, telling stories and fables..."

Saiman nodded.

Oh crap. "It's that damn cat, isn't it?"

"The oak produces an acorn once every seven years. Seven months, seven days, and seven hours after the acorn falls from the tree, it will crack and grow into the World Oak. In effect, the tree manifests at the location of the acorn for the period of seven minutes."

I frowned. "Let me guess, you stole the acorn from the Russians and swallowed it."

Saiman nodded.

"Why? Are you eager to hear a bedtime story?"

"The cat possesses infinite knowledge. Seven minutes is time enough to ask and hear an answer to one question. Only the owner of the acorn can ask the question."

I shook my head. "Saiman, nothing is free. You have to pay for everything, knowledge included. What will it cost you to ask a question?"

"The price is irrelevant if I get an answer." Saiman smiled.

I sighed. "Answer my question: Why do smart people tend to be stupid?"

"Because we think we know better. We think that our intellect affords us special privileges and lets us beat the odds. That's why talented mathematicians try to defraud casinos and young brilliant mages make bargains with forces beyond their control."

Well, he answered the question.

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