Read Magic Bleeds Online

Authors: Ilona Andrews

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fantasy fiction, #Fiction, #General, #Fiction - Fantasy, #Science Fiction And Fantasy, #Occult fiction, #Contemporary, #Fantasy - Contemporary

Magic Bleeds (32 page)

BOOK: Magic Bleeds
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“Dali, there is a turn.”

The turn rushed at us.

“Dali . . .”

The Prowler sped up, straight as an arrow.

“Turn! Turn left!”

The wooden rail loomed before us. The Prowler veered left, turning so sharply it almost careened. I held my breath. For a second we were weightless, and then all four wheels landed on solid ground.

“I saw it.” Dali pushed her Coke-bottle glasses up the bridge of her nose. “I’m not blind, you know.

Hold on to your seat, there is another turn coming up.”

If I survived this, I’d kill Jim with my bare hands.

The car squealed and missed the rail by a hair.

Dali’s happy face swung into my view. “I know your kryptonite.”

“What?”

“Kryptonite. It’s the rock that could take down Superman?”

I stared at her.

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Dali grinned. “You’re scared of my driving.”

It wasn’t driving. It was suicide by car. “I need to tell you about Erra.” I clenched my fists as the car fishtailed.

“So you can tell Jim.”

Dali made a face. “Why do I get the privilege?”

“Because you’re a Pack expert with a proven record and you can back up what I say with your own research. He’ll listen to you and I don’t have time to explain things to him myself right this second.”

She looked at me. “Kate? Is this something really, really bad? Because you have that clenched-teeth look . . .”

“Watch the road!”

She swerved, avoiding an overturned wreck of a truck. “I have it under control.”

“What do you know about Babylon?”

“Not much. My expertise is in the Asian region. It was a Mesopotamian city-state that sprung up around the third millennium BCE and eventually grew into an empire. Sargon of Akkad claimed to have built it.

Mesopotamia is considered to be the cradle of civilization and Babylon is mostly famous for the Code of Hammurabi, which was the first written code of laws, and the Hanging Gardens, which was the first time a man had to restructure the city to get laid. I think the name means ‘Gateway of the Gods,’ although nobody quite knows why.”

Her definition of “not much” needed work. “It was called Gateway because it was the first city built after Eden.”

She turned back to the windshield. “Babylon dates back to three thousand years before the Common Era. It’s too recent.”

“That’s the new Babylon. The old Babylon was almost completely built with magic, and when the tech came, it crumbled to the ground, just like that.” I pointed at Downtown’s architectural graveyard through the window.

“The old Babylon was over twelve thousand years old when the Common Era rolled around.”

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“How do you know this?”

“Not important. Have you ever read the poem of Erra?”

“No.”

“It’s a poem that acts as an amulet against diseases in general and a god called Erra in particular. It was found chiseled on stone tablets all over Babylon. More copies of it exist than there are copies of the Gilgamesh epic.”

Dali whistled. “Gilgamesh was their big daddy.”

“Yes, but they weren’t that scared of him. They were very scared of Erra, so scared, they cut the poem into every available stone surface. According to the story, Erra was the god of plagues, fear, and madness. He had seven warriors at his disposal: Torch, Tremor, Deluge, Gale, Beast, Venom, and Darkness. The first four had elemental powers.”

“Fire, Earth, Water, and Wind.” Dali nodded.

“Beast was a monster. Venom is self-explanatory.”

“And Darkness?”

I shook my head. “Nobody knows.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Don’t you just love when that happens?”

“The poem goes on about how Erra and his advisor called Ishum came to Babylon and destroyed it. The poem is also wrong. Erra wasn’t the one in charge, Ishum was. The Babylonians were so terrified of Erra, they put him in charge just to be on the safe side. They also made him male.”

“Wait, Erra was a girl?”

“Yes. Erra is a woman and Ishum is Roland.”

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Dali said nothing. She clenched the wheel tighter—her knuckles turned white.

I kept going. “About 6200 BC, Roland and Erra were running around and conquering Mesopotamia.

They were young and this was their first big war. They came across Babylon, which was ruled by Marduk, who was unimaginably ancient by this point. He used to be monstrously powerful, but he had grown old and senile. The world moved on. Marduk didn’t and he knew it. He was content to rule Babylon, his last city, the gem of the ancient world. It was a large thriving metropolis, built almost entirely with deep magic, and he was very proud of it.

I knew this story very well. Voron had told it to me long ago, except in his version Erra was a man. Even Roland’s War-lords didn’t know everything about him.

“Roland decided they didn’t have the troops to hold the city. Marduk was greatly revered, so they’d have to put up with a lot of native resistance and the infrastructure was too complex to easily take it over.

Roland makes war to acquire, not to subjugate. He wants to take cities with minimal damage, install his own government, and build them up to make them better. He moved on. But Erra dug her heels in.

Something about Marduk must’ve rubbed her the wrong way.

“Erra took a chunk of Roland’s army, and along with her seven, they invaded Babylon. She took the city and ran Marduk out, but the Babylonians refused to bend over and take it. Erra decided to break Babylon. She bombarded them with plagues and let the seven run amok in the city. Halved the population, wrecked the holy places, engaged in unbelievable atrocities. It was hell on earth. When there was nothing left to hold, she left. Marduk later came back to the city and rebuilt it, but it took centuries for it to rise to prominence again. What we know now as Babylon from archaeological records is a pale imitation of what once was.” I looked at Dali to make sure she understood. “They had magic defenses that we can’t even dream of. And Erra crushed them and walked away laughing. I need you to tell this story to Jim.”

Dali swallowed. “Why?”

“Because Erra is here. Curran killed Deluge and I just took out Tremor.”

“Is she after us?”

“I think so. She has her seven warriors with her. They are undead. She pilots them like vampires.”

Dali shrugged her shoulders, as if shaking off dread. “How sure are you of this?”

“I’m very sure. Erra makes plagues. In ancient times, she walked before Roland’s army. She’d pass through the place and the next morning there would be nothing but corpses. A few days later, once the land aired out, Roland’s troops would roll in. We know that Roland wants to do away with the Pack.

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Erra is the perfect person to do that. She has the power to panic animals and it works on shapeshifters.”

“You’re joking.”

I quoted, “ ‘I devastate the land and shatter it to dust, I crush the cities and turn them into waste, I crumble mountains and panic their wild beasts.’ She drives shapeshifters mad, Dali. She makes you go wild. You’ve heard about the witnesses to the fight at the Steel Horse. All of them went wild. You can’t fight her. Explain this to Jim. I don’t know if it’s her personal power or if she’s using one of the warriors to do it, but she has the Old Magic, the kind that the Pack can’t counter. You can’t engage her, because she will make all of you insane.”

The car skidded to a halt and I realized we had reached my apartment. I jerked the door open and jumped out. Grendel followed.

“Kate?” Dali’s eyes were huge on her face. “How do we fight her?”

“I don’t know. You can’t fight her directly and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you don’t have to.”

I slammed the door closed and ran into my building.

CHAPTER 21

I CHARGED UP MY APARTMENT STAIRS, SLAYER in hand and my sweatered demon spawn in tow.

My apartment door. In one piece. No sign of a break-in.

I forced myself to slow down, slid the key into the lock, and swung the door open. The poodle trotted in. I followed softly on my toes.

Kitchen. Clear.

I nudged the bathroom door with my fingertips. Clear.

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My living room. Clear.

Library/Julie’s room. Clear.

Clear. The apartment was clear.

I had to hide Julie.

I scanned the apartment. Too much. I could throw away the pictures, but signs of her were all over my place. Clothes, teddy bear with vampire teeth, half-painted black bedroom with a big KEEP OUT

stenciled on the wall

. . . Sooner or later Erra would make it into my apartment, and she would find something I’d missed.

She would look for Julie, and if she found her, she would kill my kid and she’d do it slowly to torture me with it.

Think. Think, think, think . . .

I grabbed scissors, marched into Julie’s closet, and pulled out her favorite Goth dress. Two snips, and I had two pieces of black ribbon. I snatched glue out of the utility drawer and fixed black ribbon over the corner of two photo frames.

Funeral pictures. That was what Voron did when Larissa died. She was a wererat, who traveled with us for a while, and when she died, he fixed the ribbons on her photo. I had a kid, but she died and I kept her funeral pictures in plain sight.

I pulled the paper drawer open, took the folder with Julie’s school papers, and pushed the books off the woodstove. A bit of kerosene, some crumpling, and two minutes later Julie’s school records went up in flames.

Okay. I had the phone number of the school memorized. There was no record of it. And if Erra thought Julie was dead, she wouldn’t look for her. I grabbed the phone and dialed the school’s number. In ten seconds I was patched through to security and gave detailed instructions: Julie was not to leave the grounds. She was not to contact me until I contacted her.

I ended the call, dialed the Order, and hung up. If Erra knew how to use redial, it wouldn’t lead her to Julie either.

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The papers burned to ash. I sat on the floor and stared at the flames.

I beat her. If she broke in now, Julie would be safe.

Grendel wandered over to me and whined softly.

“Give me a minute,” I told him.

All my life had been focused on avoiding this moment. My family had found me. Even if I killed her, which was a huge “if,” it wouldn’t exactly go unnoticed.

I had to go. I had to grab my shit and take off into the wilderness, where she couldn’t track me. I knew where to hide. Voron and I had planned out several escape routes years ago.

What about Julie? She was safe at the school but she wouldn’t understand. She would think I’d abandoned her. Taking her with me was out of the question. Julie wasn’t me. I could take a knife, melt into the forest, and come out on the other side weeks later, leaner, but no worse for wear. Julie wouldn’t be able to handle it. The responsible thing would be to leave her where she was.

She’d run away and go looking for me. She’d run away in a heartbeat.

All I could do would be to send a message to the school and tell them that I had to go and she had to stay and trust them to keep her there.

No good choices. When you care about people, they tie you down.

Suppose I did take off and Erra lost my trail. The Pack would be her next target. She would demolish the shapeshifters. Once she was done with them, she’d have the city to play with. If she really did what she was famous for, Atlanta would become the land of diseased corpses.

Erra was made out of my childhood nightmares. For the first time since I reached adulthood, I wanted my dad to be alive, in the way a child wants his parent to come into a dark bedroom and turn on the light.

Except Voron was dead. Besides, I knew what his response would be: Run. Run as fast and as far as you can. I had a window of opportunity now, before she found me again. Once I let it slip, my avenue of escape was gone forever. Show over.

I picked Slayer off the floor and dragged my fingers across the blade, feeling magic nip at my skin. The need to run gripped me. The walls closed in, as if my apartment had shrunk.

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This wasn’t me. I didn’t panic. I needed to be sharp for this.

I closed my eyes and let it all go. I pictured the worst possible scenario. Julie dead, her little face bloody.

Curran dead, his body broken, gray eyes staring into nothing, all of the gold gone. Jim, Andrea, Raphael, Derek, dead, their bodies torn apart.

My hands turned ice-cold. My pulse raced. My heartbeat thudded in my ears, too loud.

Atlanta dead. Corpses on the streets. Vultures that circled but wouldn’t land because the corpses were poison.

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