Magic Strikes Chapter 23

JULIE CRIED. SHE KNELT BY DEREK 'S MANGLED body and cried, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. I waited next to her. She needed to cry it out. It hurt to look at him and she had to get through it, or she wouldn't be able to help.

After about five minutes Julie stirred and swiped the back of her hand under her nose. I handed her a handkerchief. She wiped her eyes, blew her nose, and nodded. "Okay."

Jim and Doolittle approached from the doorway. I sensed others in the gloom, watching, Raphael being one of them. I had explained to him that aiding and abetting my sorry butt would land him into scalding water, but he'd just grinned and followed me and Julie all the way to the house. He and Jim had spoken for a couple of minutes and then he'd been allowed inside.

Jim crouched next to Julie and opened a small cookie tin. Two pale yellow shards lay inside on white gauze, one from the four-armed corpse which Dali had stumbled on, and the other from Saiman's victim. Doolittle had found the second shard during the autopsy, stuck in the Reaper's arm. He and Jim tried to explain to me what the body reverted to after they took it out, but I couldn't quite wrap my mind around it. Apparently, neither could they, because they stuck it into a body bag, locked it in some room in the basement, and strongly discouraged me from going to see it.

Julie picked up the shard and concentrated, her gaze fixed on the sharp sliver of yellow stone.

She looked at it for a long moment, dropped it into the tin, and looked at the body.

"Here." Her slender finger pointed at Derek's mangled thigh.

A scalpel flashed in Doolittle's dark fingers. He made a neat incision, pulled it open with his fingers, and dipped artery forceps into the cut. I held my breath.

He pulled the forceps free. A bloody shard gleamed under the harsh light of the lamp.

"Thank you, Jesus." Doolittle dropped the shard into the tin.

It's over. Finally.

"Here." Julie pointed to Derek's left side.

Doolittle hesitated.

"Cut here." The pale finger touched Derek's ribs.

The doctor cut again. Another shard joined the first.

"Here." The finger pointed to the center of Derek's chest, where the black burn scar crossed his pectorals.

Fuck, how many of those things did they stick into him?

Doolittle cut. "Nothing."

"Deeper," Julie said.

Dark blood gushed from the cut.

I flinched.

An eternity later Doolittle said, "Here it is." I heard the quiet sound of the shard falling into the tin.

"Are there more?" Doolittle asked.

"No," Julie answered.

I looked up. Nothing had changed. Derek lay unmoving. "What now?"

"Now we wait," Doolittle said.

I SAT IN DARKNESS, IN A LOW CHAIR, WATCHING Derek's body. It had been three hours since Doolittle had removed the shards. Derek hadn't moved. His body showed no change.

In the room across the hallway Doolittle slept in a La-Z-Boy, his face haggard and worn-out even in his sleep. He'd stayed awake for two days straight, trying to keep Derek alive, but it was feeling helpless that finally did him in. For the first hour after Julie had found the shards, we waited on the edges of our seats. Then hope slowly turned into depression. I watched it take its toll on Doolittle until finally he abandoned his vigil and retreated into the room. I had checked on him on the way to the bathroom: he was slumped in his chair, sunken deep into a dream.

Julie appeared in the doorway, carrying two mugs. She approached, handed one cup to me, and sat by my feet. I sipped from the mug. Hot tea, with lemon. I had taught her how to make it properly. Apparently, it stuck.

"Why the cage?" she said, pointing to the hole in the floor, where the silver and steel bars glinted weakly. "I almost walked into it."

"It's a loup cage. Every shapeshifter safe house has one, just in case." If Derek went loup, Jim and Doolittle wanted to contain him quickly. It wasn't a thought I cared to contemplate. And certainly not a thought I cared to discuss with Julie.

"How did you meet?" she asked softly.


"Derek and you. How did you meet?"

I didn't really want to talk about it. Still, it was better than wallowing in my despair. "I was looking for Greg's killer. The Order had given me the last file my guardian was working on, and I had retraced his steps, trying to find out why he was killed. The file led me to the Pack. I didn't realize this at the time, but Greg had worked very closely with the Pack. There was a feeling of mutual trust between him and the shapeshifters. But they didn't know anything about me and I didn't know anything about them. I only knew that Greg had been torn to pieces by somebody's claws."

I took a swallow of my tea. "I had access to Jim - we had worked together in the Guild - and Jim told Curran about my investigation. Curran decided to find out what I knew and had Jim arrange to meet me. In Unicorn Lane of all places. It didn't go well."

Julie snorted quietly. "Big surprise."

"Yeah. Now when I look back at it, I realize it was a test. His Furry Majesty was trying to gauge what I was made of and I showed him." I shrugged. "Live and learn." So many problems could've been avoided if I hadn't crouched down in the darkness and called out,

"Here, kitty, kitty, kitty."

"What happened next?"

"Eventually the Pack invited me to one of their gatherings to discuss things in greater detail.

You've seen how they treat outsiders. Bite first, apologize later. They brought me to their Keep in the middle of the night and led me underground to this huge room. I stepped inside and found half a thousand shapeshifters and they weren't happy to see me."

"Were you scared?"

"I was scared I'd blow it. I realized by this point that if I couldn't get the Pack to work with me, I'd make things a lot harder for myself. I had gone from a no-name merc to making arrangements with the head of the People and the Beast Lord, and I was seriously outclassed.

I wasn't used to that."

"I know what you mean," Julie murmured. "You try your best and only make yourself feel stupid. Everybody seems to know some sort of secret that you don't and that makes them better than you."

I reached over and petted her wispy hair. "The school's that bad, huh?"

"Sometimes. It's okay usually. But there are mean people and they do nasty things, and if you call them on it, they make it seem like you just don't get it." She squeezed her hands into tight fists and said through clenched teeth, "They make me so mad. If we were on the street, I'd punch them. But if I do punch them, that will just mean I can't win by their dumb rules."

"Well, then you know exactly how I felt." I could do the punching. Punching was easy. It was the clever banter and dealing in convoluted half-truths and almost-lies that made me want to jump out of my skin.

"So what did you do?"

"I made my way down through the room, and this group of young shapeshifters barred my way and started making lots of noise. I knew Curran had put them up to it to see what I would do. One of them reached out and touched me, and I took him over with a power word and made him guard me against the rest."

"Derek," Julie guessed.

"Yep. And then it turned into this huge complicated deal, because Curran thought I was challenging him by taking his wolf . . ." I waved my hand. "In the end, Derek swore a blood oath to protect me so Curran wouldn't have to kill him. He's released from the oath now, but you remember how he is. He decided he's responsible for me and I feel responsible for his ass

- "

With a hoarse scream, Derek jerked upright and ripped the IV tubes from his arms.

"Get Doolittle!" I lunged to the tank.

Gnarled hands gripped me. Deranged eyes flared white from the mangled face. He clawed at me, crushing my arms, agonizing screams ripping from him.

"Safe," I yelled into his ear. "It's okay, it's okay . . ."

His skin bulged, ready to rip. The dark slash of his mouth gaped open. "Hurrrts! Hurts, it hurts!"

And then Doolittle was there with a syringe and Raphael's long fingers clenched Derek's wrists, pushing pressure points to make him let go, but Derek hung on to me with desperate ferocity. The pull of his arms jerked me off my feet and dragged me into the vat. He clung to my shoulders, gouging my skin.


"Get her out!" Doolittle sank the needle into Derek's arm with no effect. "The pain's too much! He's going loup!"

Raphael wrestled Derek's arms, trying to separate him from me, but Derek just held on tighter. Doolittle dropped the syringe and grabbed Derek's left wrist. Fangs cut through Derek's disfigured lips.

"Get her out!" Doolittle screamed.

Someone thrust a piece of bloody meat into Derek's mouth. He released me and clutched on to the meat, shredding it. Bloody juice and flesh flew everywhere. I got the hell out of the vat.

On the other side of the tank, Jim dangled another raw rib eye before Derek. Derek snapped it from his fingers and ripped into it in a frenzy.

Jim's melodious voice was sweet like a lullaby. "Eat, wolf. Eat. Safe now. That's it. Eat.

Leave the madness behind."

The terrible battered thing that was Derek snarled and stabbed the meat into its mouth. The eerie, juicy sounds of a predator feeding filled the room. I shook the green crap off my arms and caught sight of Julie in the doorway, pale like a wraith, eyes fixed on Derek.

Jim pushed her out of the way, stepped out of the room, and carried in a trough filled with hamburger meat. He set the trough on the floor. Derek went down on all fours. His broken legs gave out and he crashed face-first into the meat. I marched to the door and took Julie by the shoulder.

She tugged my hand off. "No."

"We don't need to see this."

In the corner Doolittle swung a heavy leather case onto the table and popped it open. Metal blades gleamed in a neat row.

"But . . ."


I pushed her out of the room. Raphael closed the door behind us and helped me carry screaming Julie away.

THE KITCHEN CABINETS CONTAINED WOODEN jars identified by handwritten adhesive labels. The jar labeled SUGAR had flour in it. The jar labeled FLOUR held an enormous amount of chili powder, which made me sneeze. The jar labeled CHILI PEPPER

contained a Smith & Wesson M&P 45. I growled. I had fallen asleep next to Julie on the couch and woken up five hours later, unable to form rational thoughts because my head pounded.

"Looking for something?" Dali came up from the hallway.

"No, I'm dancing the can-can." Ask a dumb question . . .

Dali blinked at me. "Would you mind making coffee while you're dancing? I smell it on the bottom shelf, either first or second jar on the left."

I opened the first jar and looked inside. Coffee. The label said BORAX.

"What's up with the labels?"

Dali shrugged. "You're in the house of a cat whose job is to spy. He thinks he's clever. I'd be careful with the silverware drawer. There might be a bomb in it."

I extracted a small pot and set about boiling coffee.

"How's Derek?"

"I don't know. The door's still closed. They've been in there for hours."

The coffee foamed up. I held it away from the fire, put it back, and let it foam a second time.

Dali got the cups. "I found out more about the jewel."

I poured coffee into her mug. Dali watched me do it. "I always spill half of it," she said.

"Mine always runs down the side of the pot."

Manual dexterity - just about the only thing I was good at. "So what about the jewel?"

"A couple of old texts say that Rudra Mani has the power to calm beasts and take away the suffering of man."

A deeper meaning hidden in the description: the power to suppress a shapeshifter's animal nature and keep him locked in his humanity. "Does it? Take the suffering away, I mean?"

Dali looked into her coffee. "Having a shard in you is like having part of you cut off. It's a terrible feeling. I would prefer to be killed."

So would I in the same situation. It was akin to surrendering my magic. I hated the man who'd given it to me. Aspects of it repulsed me and I refused them. But it was a part of me.

With it, I felt whole for better or for worse. Using magic made me the person I was born to be.

Keeping people from being themselves drove them insane.

"Rudra is a one of Shiva's names," Dali said. "It means 'strict' or 'uncompromising.' "

How fitting. That was what the shapeshifters were, a compromise between beast and man.

The gem forced them to become one or the other. I had been thinking about this on the way to the house, while riding the ley line. By then I had grown too numb to worry about Derek - I had described his condition for Julie and it had been like opening an old wound. At first there'd been the sharp slash of pain of a scab being ripped off, and then I'd bled, and the wound had gone numb.

I thought about the Order instead. About Ted and his true believer's inability to compromise.

Ted wanted humans to remain human no matter the cost.

A dark storm gathered on the horizon of my mind, with Rudra Mani firmly in its center.

"Does the name 'Sultan of Death' sound familiar to you?" I asked.

Dali paused, considering, and shook her head. "I have no clue who that is."

That reminded me - I still hadn't checked on the analyses of the molten silver the rakshasas had poured onto Derek's face. The magic had fallen while I was asleep. I pulled the phone to me. Dial tone. Finally. The phone was one of those erratic devices that sometimes worked during magic. Most people had no idea how it worked. To them, it was almost magic, and sometimes magic waves shared that view.

I punched in Andrea's home number. She answered on the second ring. "Hey."


"I've got your results right here," she said. Not a hint of humor in her voice. "It's not silver.

It's electrum."

Electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold with a pinch of copper thrown in, was incredibly potent magically. It was also extremely toxic to shapeshifters.

"You don't rank high enough to know the rest, so they won't tell you," Andrea said, "but I do.

This particular alloy is very old and very poisonous to shapeshifters. You know how high my silver tolerance is. I can't even hold it, Kate. Do you remember the agreement we made during the flare?"

"Yes." We had agreed that I would never reveal to the Order that she was a beastkin and she would never reveal that I knew enough specific information about Roland to induce a collective seizure in the entire Order.

"There is only one person who has access to this alloy in a large quantity. The composition is very specific. It's - "

"About fifty-five percent gold, forty-five percent silver, three percent copper, and the rest is random crap."


Samos electrum, from the coins struck on a small Greek island in the North Aegean Sea in 600 BC. My heart dropped. Logic had lost and my unreasonable paranoia had triumphed.

"I guess you know what that means, then," she said.

"Yes. Thank you," I said.

"Be careful."

I hung up.

Roland. Only he had a large supply of the ancient Samos electrum. No doubt he meant for it to be used sparingly, perhaps as bullets or stakes, but instead the rakshasas had melted the lot of it just so they could pour it on Derek's face. Dumb.

Roland was the Sultan of Death. If I continued to oppose the rakshasas, I would come into a confrontation with his agents. I would be discovered.

"Are you alright?" Dali asked.

"Never better," I said.

A hot anger swept through me. If I was discovered, I would fight him to the end with everything I had, just like my mother had. I was fucking tired of paranoia and panic. It was an irrational, totally idiotic thought, and I reveled in it.

Jim came up the stairs. "He's up and talking."

I rushed down, abandoning my coffee.

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