Magic Strikes Chapter 16

I VISITED DEREK. I STAYED FOR HALF AN HOUR and then Doolittle came in, took a look at my face, and decided I needed another lovely glass of tea. I followed him into the kitchen. It smelled like food: a rich, savory aroma of gently spiced meat and fresh pastry. The scent grabbed me and I practically floated to the table, just in time to see Jim slide a golden-brown loaf onto the cutting board. He carefully sliced an inch-wide section from it, revealing a beautifully cooked medium-rare sirloin.

I nearly fainted. "Beef Wellington?"

Jim scowled. "Just because you never have any decent food in your refrigerator . . ."

"It's because you or Derek or Julie eat it all."

Brenna came in and got a bowl of salad out of the fridge.

"Plates are in the cabinet," Jim said.

I got out four plates, found silverware, and set the table. Doolittle put a glass of iced tea in front of me. I tasted it. It had so much sugar, if you put a spoon into it, it would stand up all by itself.

Jim placed a slice on my plate. When I made Beef Wellington, it looked good. His looked perfect.

Brenna sat next to me. "Sorry about the thigh."

It took me a second to connect the stinging bite on my leg to the quiet woman next to me. "No problem. Sorry about the needle."

The scar on her throat had faded, but a thin gray line was still there. "It's okay," she said.

"I've had silver in me before."

"Where is everybody else?" I asked.

Nobody answered. Chatty Cathys, the shapeshifters.

I cut into my Beef Wellington and put a small piece in my mouth. It tasted like heaven. Jim cut his meat with the precision of a surgeon.

"Curran called."

The three shapeshifters around me stopped breathing for a moment.

"I thought I'd mention it before you started eating. I didn't want you to choke."

"He say anything?" Jim asked.

"You have three days to turn yourself in." I imitated Curran's voice. "After that he'll have to find you. And he doesn't want to find you."

"Anything else?"

"He mostly cussed after that. I told him you and I were having a hot roll in the hay and he was interrupting."

Tea came out of Brenna's nose.

Jim struggled with it for a long moment. "I wish you hadn't done that."

"He didn't believe it." I left it at that. Mentioning my morning exercise and naked dinner promise was bound to give Jim apoplexy. "He can't find us here, can he?"

"Never underestimate our lord," Doolittle said.

"It's hard to say," Jim said. "Curran's persistent. He'll find us eventually. But not for a while."

I hoped he was right. If not, both of us would have some explaining to do.


Jim's black, fur-trimmed cloak flared behind him as he walked, revealing a black leather vest, black pants, and black steel-toed boots. His body was toned to the point of absurd: he looked like a prizefighter in his prime, his thick muscle crisply defined, his stride loose, his bearing broadcasting bad-ass. An ugly scowl sat on his face. He looked as if he wanted to punch somebody.

"You need a pair of shades," I told him. "Someone might mistake you for a yuppie."

"Never happen."

Saiman's sleek ride slid into the parking lot. He got out, dapper and urbane in his Thomas Durand persona, popped the trunk, and took out an oblong object bundled in canvas and wrapped with a cord. He swung it onto his shoulder, which proved to be a difficult feat - the thing was about four and a half feet long and two feet wide.

We headed to the door. Saiman caught up with us and passed the bundle to Jim. Jim showed no strain as he took the bundle. It might have been light as a feather, but by the way Saiman's stride eased, I could tell it had to be heavy.

"Your crew passes." Saiman handed me two yellow tickets and slowed down, putting some distance between us and himself.

We reached the doors and I presented the crew passes to the outside guards. They waved us on to Rene's welcoming arms. Recognition sparked in her eyes. She surveyed Jim and turned to me.

"Congratulations, love. You traded up. Does he treat you well?"

"He's a teddy bear," I said.

Teddy bear looked like he was suffering from murder withdrawal. Rene grinned. "He certainly is. First room on the right, get yourself logged in." Rene glanced at the doors, where Saiman was making his grand entrance. "Hurry now. Your ex is coming through. We don't want him getting hysterical again."

THE FIGHTER LEVEL WAS BASICALLY A LONG hallway forming a ring. Red Guards were thick in the hallway like flies on a dead horse. Big deadly flies, armed with Tasers, chains, and nets. No fights would break out there. Inside the ring lay a large exercise room located directly under the Pit. Outside the ring branched off fighter quarters: sets of rooms where the fighters waited for their bouts.

Jim leaned against the doorframe of our room, like some dark sentinel. The patrolmen gave him a wide berth.

I sat at a bench. I had inspected our quarters: the front room where we waited now was long and narrow, a bottleneck. No door separated us from the hallway. In case of trouble, a couple of Guards could easily contain a dozen people or more within the room.

On the left a door led to a narrow locker room with a bench and three showers and off it was a small bathroom with three toilets, separated by partitions. Behind me another door led to a large bedroom housing eight double bunks. The Order's files said the teams were sequestered once the tournament began and for three days they lived in their fighting quarters.

Above us the crowd roared, enthused by someone's death.

Guilt gnawed on me. It haunted and stalked me, just waiting to pounce when I had a dull moment. I should have kept Derek from being hurt. As they had beat him, in the parking lot, he had been utterly alone. He knew no help would be coming. That was his last memory: the molten silver being poured on his face.

My heart clenched. I tried to make some words come out, anything to keep thoughts out of my head. "My father would've approved of this place. Of all the arenas he took me to, this is the best equipped and best secured."

Jim's gaze was still firmly fixed on the hallway and the patrols. "What kind of father would take a kid to the slaughter?"

"The kind who wanted his daughter to get used to death. I guess you could say I turned out according to his plan."

"Yeah. He teach you to talk a lot of shit, too?"

"Nope. Picked it up from you."

We sat in silence.

"My dad hated killing," Jim said. "Couldn't do it, even when he had to."

"Not everybody grows up to be a monster."

Another thump. The noise of the spectators died down to a hum. I got out my throwing knives and began polishing them with a cloth.

"He was human," Jim said.

"The Pack never turned him?"


Jim was half. Could've fooled me by the way he treated outsiders. Usually mates of shapeshifters became shapeshifters themselves.

"How did it go over with the cat clan?"

Jim gave a barely perceptible shrug. "We're cats. We mind our own business. He was welcome, because he was a doctor. Not many physicians in the Pack. Doolittle and he were friends. Graduated together."

I remembered Saiman's words. He said Jim killed the man who had murdered his father while they were both incarcerated. "How did he end up in prison?"

"One of the lynx children went loup. A little girl. She was ten. The alpha was out and the parents brought her to him to be put down. Humane death and all that shit."

Once a shapeshifter went loup, there was no return.

"He couldn't do it," Jim said. "He gave her an injection and she went to sleep. He told the family he wanted the body to see if he could autopsy it and find out what caused loupism.

They believed him. He hid her in a cage in the basement. Took tissue samples to try and find the cure. She broke out and killed two people before we caught her and put her down. One of them was a pregnant woman. There was a trial. He got twenty-five to life."

Jim still wasn't looking at me. "His second day in prison a lowlife called David Stiles stabbed him in the liver. Later I found David, and I asked him why. He wasn't in the position to lie.

You know what he said?" Jim turned to me. "He said he felt like it. No reason."

I didn't know what to say.

"My father helped people. He treated a loup kid like she was normal. I treated a normal kid like he was loup and six years later sent him to have his face beaten off his head. Doolittle tells me he's fading. He doesn't have long. If my dad was alive, he'd spit in my face."

It was an old wound and he'd ripped the scab off and left it raw for me to see. I had no salve to put on it, but I could show him my own scar. "If my father knew that I deliberately put myself here, in this situation, for the sake of another person, he would consider himself a failure."

Jim looked at me. "Why?"

"Because ever since I could walk, he taught me to rely only on myself. To never build a relationship or to attach myself to a human being, even to him. He used to send me out to the woods for several days with nothing except a knife. When I was twelve, he dumped me in the Warren. I ran with the Breakers for a month. Was beaten several times, almost raped twice." I braided my fingers into the Breaker gang sign. "Still remember how."

Jim just stared at me.

"Friends are a dangerous thing," I told him. "You feel responsibility for them. You want to keep them safe. You want to help and they throw you off balance, and the next thing you know you're sitting there crying, because you didn't make it in time. They make you feel helpless. That's why my father wanted to make me into a sociopath. A sociopath has no empathy. She just focuses on her purpose."

"Didn't quite work out that way," Jim said quietly.

"No. His training had a fatal flaw: he cared. He asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner. He knew I liked green, and if he had a choice between a blue sweater and a green one, he'd buy the green one for me even if it cost more. I like swimming, and when we traveled, he made it a point to lay our route so it would go past a lake or a river. He let me speak my mind. My opinion mattered. I was a person to him and I was important. I saw him treat others as if they were important. For all of his supposed indifference, there is a town in Oklahoma that worships him and a little village in Guatemala that put a wooden statue of him at the gates to protect them from evil spirits. He helped people, when he thought it was right."

I shook my head. "I have this picture of what my dad wanted me to be, and I can never measure up. And I don't want to. I have my rules. I stick to them. That's hard enough as it is.

If that means my dad would spit in my face, so be it."

ALMOST TWO HOURS HAD PASSED BEFORE SAIMAN made it to the room. He strode briskly inside, his face flushed.

"The bug?"

Jim held out a small, flesh-colored disk the size of a quarter. "A transmitter," he said. "The deeper into the body you shove it, the better. Make him swallow it. We don't want it found."

Saiman accepted the transmitter and crossed the floor to the door in the opposite wall, swiping the bundle of canvas on the way. He entered and shut the door behind him.

Minutes stretched by. Behind the closed door something thumped.

"Think he can do it?" Jim asked.

"Nope. But we don't have a choice."

We sat some more. Above us something howled in the Pit, sending a dull hum of resonance through the ceiling.

"Cold," Jim said.

A moment later I felt it too, a dry, intense cold emanating from the door that hid Saiman. I rose. "I'll go check on him."

I knocked. The wood of the door burned my fingers with ice. "Saiman?"

No answer.

I pushed the door and it swung open, admitting me inside. The room curved to the right and I saw only a small section of it, illuminated by the bluish glow of the feylanterns: a shower stall, its curtain pulled aside. A long icicle dripped from the metal showerhead.

"Anybody home?"

A layer of frost slicked the floor under my feet. I turned to the right, moving slowly. My shoes slid a little. I caught myself on the wall and saw him.

He sat slumped on the bench, his enormous back knotted with hard clumps of muscle beneath skin so white and smooth, it seemed completely bloodless. Coarse hair fell down his back in a long blue-green mane. A fringe of hair trailed the vertebrae of his spine, disappearing into ragged pants of wolf fur. Sitting, he was taller than me, too huge to be a man.


The being turned his head. Piercing eyes stared at me, distant, pale blue, yet lit from within with power like two chunks of ice that somehow stole the fire of a diamond. He had the face of a fighter carved with exacting precision by a master sculptor: terrifying, forceful, arrogant, and touched with cruelty. His eyes sat sunken deep into their orbits, guarded by a thick ridge of blue eyebrows. His cheekbones were pronounced, his nose wide, and the line of his jaw so strong he could have bitten through bones with little effort. Gone was the philosopher, the urbane erudite, who pontificated on the meaning of luxury. Only a primitive remained, hard, cold, and ancient as the ice that hugged the bench on which he sat.

I wanted to raise my hands to shield myself from that gaze. Instead, I made myself walk to the bench and sit by him. He made no movement. Next to him, I looked like a toddler.

"This is the original form?" I said softly.

"This is the form of my birth." His voice was a deep, contained bellow.

"And the golden dancer on the roof?"

"He's what I could have been. What I should have been. There is enough of him in my blood to let me assume his shape with infinite ease, but I don't delude myself. This is the true me.

One can't deny blood."

On that we were in agreement.

Above us something thumped. The noise of the spectators swelled. Saiman raised his monstrous head to the ceiling. "I'm frightened. I find it richly ironic. What a ridiculous notion."

He raised his massive arm, the forearm sheathed in silver-blue hair. His fingers shook.

"It's natural," I said. "Only the insane aren't scared before the fight. They can't imagine dying."

"Do you feel fear, Kate?"


"Why do you do it, then?"

I sighed. "Fear is pain. It hurts. I sink into it and use it like a sharpening stone gliding against a sword. It makes me better, more aware. But I can't be scared for too long, or it will wear me out."

"How do you make it stop?"

"I kill."

The blue eyes regarded me with a strange look, half-terror, half-surprise. "That's it? No noble purpose?"

"There isn't always a noble purpose. There is usually a reason. The need to save someone or something. Your friend, your lover, an innocent who doesn't deserve to be hurt. Sometimes it's a purely selfish reason. One might fight for their body, their good name, or their sanity.

Sometimes it's just a job. But deciding to fight and doing it are two different things."

"How can you live like that? It seems unbearable."

I shrugged. "Like you, I harbor no illusions. I was conceived, born, raised, and trained with one purpose in mind: to become the best killer I could be. It's what I do." So eventually I can kill Roland, the most powerful man on Earth.

"It's time," Jim's voice said from beyond the door.

A long, deep sigh issued from Saiman. He rose. His head nearly brushed the ceiling. Eight and a half feet tall. Wow.

"Do you prefer the Aesir?"

The word hit me like a bolt of lightning. Pieces fell into place in my head: Saiman, golden and high on magic, dancing on the roof and celebrating "the time of the gods," his fluid changes of shape, his self-interest, his ego, and him now, an enormous monster, a giant of a man. I gaped at him. He wasn't supposed to exist.

"My other shape, Kate. Do you like it?"

"Yes," I said, managing to make my voice even. "So are you all god or did one of your divine relatives get fresh with a human?"

For the first time Saiman smiled, displaying white teeth that would've been at home in the mouth of a polar bear. "A quarter. It's enough. The rest is frost and human."

He scooped the canvas bundle off the floor. The fabric fluttered down, revealing a four-foot-long club studded with metal spikes thicker than my fingers. Saiman bent and stepped through the doorway. I heard a startled growl from Jim.

Saiman kept going, out of the room, into the hallway, each step like two of mine. Jim's teeth were bared in a snarl.

"Come on." I swiped Slayer and chased Saiman into the hallway. The Red Guards hugged the walls as he passed by.

Jim caught up with me. "What the fuck is he?"

"Vikings," I managed, breaking into an outright run.

"What about Vikings?"

"Vikings called their gods Aesir."

"That tells me nothing."

The Gold Gate loomed before us, and through its lit rectangle I saw the Pit and the sea of spectators. Saiman paused in the gloom, his club resting on his shoulder.

"He said he is a quarter Aesir, which probably means his grandmother was a Viking god. But there is only one Norse deity who can change shape the way he does and he wasn't Aesir. He was Loki, the trickster, a giant who became a god. Saiman is the grandson of two Norse deities, Jim."

Saiman swung the club off his shoulder with the ease of a child with a toy baseball bat and stepped through the gate into the light. The crowd fell silent. The silence stretched as the audience tried to come to terms with an eight-and-a-half-foot-tall humanoid. Saiman didn't wait for them. His club in hand, he strode to the Pit.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies