Magic Strikes Chapter 22

THE WORLD CONSTRICTED. PRESSURE GRIPPED THE car, squeezing my body like a sponge. For a moment I felt like my atoms had edged together closer than the laws of physics would allow and then the ley line spat us out. The car rolled to a gentle stop, right past a dark-haired woman holding two black horses. I got out. Friesians. All about sixteen hands tall, huge, black, with flowing, wavy manes and long feathers of satiny midnight hair along their fetlocks. The knight horses. Powerful, beautiful, and impressive as hell. Thank you, Jim.

"Are those for us?"

The woman eyed me with open suspicion. "Name?"

"Kate Daniels."

"Then they're for you. This is Marcus and that over there is Bathsheba."

"I'll take the mare," Raphael said.

"Be careful with my babies."

"We're riding two miles down to the school and coming right back," I promised. "I'll have them back to you in an hour."


"In perfect health."

We mounted. The woman looked me over, studied Raphael, and snorted. "I should've brought a camera. A picture would've been a hell of a promotion."

Except it wouldn't have worked during magic, but I was too polite to point that out.

We trotted down to the path. Marcus proved ridiculously easy to handle, attuned to the most minute cues almost as if he was anticipating me. If I ever lost my mind and purchased a horse, I knew which one I would be getting.

In a few minutes we sighted the school. From horse-back, the complex resembled a fortress, an octagon enclosed by an eight-foot wall complete with an arched entrance and a portcullis.

A couple of guards patrolled the wall, and they didn't hesitate to level hunting bows at us. A sentry at the gates checked out my ID for a good twenty seconds - being dressed in black, riding black horses, and carrying black weapons had its drawbacks. Finally he nodded.

"We're expecting you. Your girl is at the far end of the yard, to the left." He waved us through.

I urged Marcus on and he obliged, building to a thunderous canter. We pounded around the main building, my cloak dramatically flaring. A group of about twenty children stood a respectable distance from the striped disks of archery targets propped up near the wall. Four aimed their bows at the targets, while the rest waited in somewhat orderly fashion around an enormous elm tree under the gaze of a large man in chain mail and a small dark woman.

Citlalli, the counselor. Perfect.

The kids sighted us and went very still. I scanned the crowd and saw a blond-haired girl, still too small and too thin for her thirteen years. There was my kiddo. Standing off by herself in the back.

We drew even with the group. Marcus danced under me, unhappy his run was brought short. I tried to look suitably lethal. Raphael glowered next to me. A hungry ruby sheen rolled over his eyes. The boys went pale. The girl-children valiantly tried to keep from swooning.

Julie finally woke up out of her stupor and elbowed her way to me.

I fixed her with my hard stare. She flinched.

"Knife," I ordered.

She reached into her clothes and produced one of my black throwing daggers. God damn it. I had counted them the other day and I could've sworn they were all there. I prayed for Marcus to stand still, took the dagger from her fingers, whipped about in the saddle, and threw it, all in a single quick motion. The dagger sliced into the elm's bark, sinking halfway in. Somebody gasped.

"You can have it back when you graduate."

Julie caught on. "Yes, ma'am."

She called me "ma'am." I waited for the sky to split and belch forth the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, but for some reason they failed to appear.

"It has come to my attention that you're talking."

"I'm sorry, ma'am."

"Do I have to remind you that you signed a nondisclosure agreement with the Order?"

Julie's face was the definition of remorse.

"It was your choice to attend this school. If I find out that you're divulging classified information again, I will pull you out and stick you into the Order's Academy faster than you can blink. Am I clear?"

"Yes, ma'am." Julie snapped to attention.

"You're coming with me."

"Should I get my things?"

"No, we have no time. The Pack requires immediate assistance." Derek required immediate assistance.

This was Raphael's cue to swing down from his saddle, which he accomplished with breathtaking grace. He came up to Julie and inclined his head in a nod that felt more like a shallow bow. "Julie. The Beast Lord inquires if you're well."

Julie favored him with a very polite bow. "I am. Please give His Lordship my thanks for his consideration."

"You can thank him yourself. He will be most pleased to see you."

Raphael leaned down, offering her his palm. Julie didn't miss a beat. She stepped onto his hand and let him hoist her up onto Marcus behind me. Her skinny arms locked around my waist.

Raphael took a short running start and leapt onto his horse, hands-free. We swung our mounts and took off. We cleared the gates, roared down the path and around the bend, out of sight of the walls, and slowed to a brisk walk.

"That was the coolest thing ever," Julie said breathlessly.

"It should up your street cred. But you're on your own from now on. I can't magically appear and overwhelm your classmates with toughness every time somebody is being a jerk. Now if somebody asks you about what happened, you very seriously tell them that you can't speak about it. People can't stand it when someone knows something they don't. It will drive them nuts."

She hugged me. "Thanks."

"I really do need your help."

"What's wrong?"

"Derek is in trouble."

"No," Julie whispered and hugged me tighter.

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