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 (4 page)

BOOK: Magic Bleeds

“Into the bar,” Vik said.

The guy thrust his chin into the air. “Fuck off.”

Vik sank a quick, hard punch into his gut. The man folded in half, and the bigger bouncer slung him over his shoulder and headed back into the Steel Horse.

Two minutes later one of the bouncers trotted out with a large sack of salt and fled back into the bar. I cut the corner of the bag and began drawing a three-inch-wide circle around the pole. Cash emerged from the hole in the tavern carrying some broken crates, followed by the dark-haired woman with a large box. The woman set the box down by the lumber. Filled with blue squares of pool chalk. Good. “Thank you.”

She caught a glimpse of Joshua on the pole. The blood drained from her face.

“Did you call Biohazard?” I asked.

“Phone’s out,” Cash said softly.

Can something go right for me today?

“Does that change things?” Cash asked.

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It changed a short-term fix into a long-term defense. “I’ll just have to work harder to keep it put.”

I finished the salt circle, dumped the bag, and began laying the wood into another circle around the pole.

The fire wouldn’t hold it indefinitely, but it would buy me some time.

The flesh-colored fuzz tested the salt and found it delicious. Figured. I didn’t feel any different, and I was closest to the body, so I’d be the first one to go. A comforting thought.

Cash had brought down some bottles, and I dumped their contents onto the crates, soaking the wood in hard liquor and kerosene. One flick of a match, and the wooden ring flared into flames.

“Is that it?” Cash asked.

“No. The fire will delay it, but not for long.”

The two of them looked as though they were at their own funeral.

“It will be okay.” Kate Daniels, agent of the Order. We take care of your magic problems, and when we can’t, we lie through our teeth. “It will all turn out. You two go inside now. Keep the peace and keep trying the phone.”

The woman brushed Cash’s sleeve with her fingers. He pivoted to her, patted her hand, and together they went back into the tavern.

The fuzz crawled halfway across the salt. I began to chant, going through the roster of purifying incantations. Magic built around me slowly, like cotton candy winding on the spire of my body and flowing outward, around the flame circle.

The fuzz reached the fire. The first flesh-colored tendrils licked the boards and melted into black goo with a weak hiss. The flames popped with the sickening stench of burning fat. That’s right, you bastard.

Stay the hell behind my fire. Now I just had to keep it still until I finished the first ward circle.

Chanting, I grabbed the pool chalk and drew the first glyph.


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“HOLY MOTHER OF GOD.” THE TALL, THIN SPIRE OF a woman that was Patrice Lane, Biohazard’s inhouse medmage, crossed her arms on her chest. She seemed even taller from where I sat, huddled on the slope under my cloak. The cold seeped through the fabric of my jeans and my butt had turned into a chunk of ice.

The telephone pole had become a mass of flesh-colored fur. Around it the entire parking lot was covered in my glyphs. I had used up all of Cash’s chalk.

The pole slowly rained skin-colored fuzz. The same crap spread in a circle around its base. The fire had died down to mere coals, and the fuzz had spilled over it in several places, pooling against the first ring of glyphs. I’d chopped off the wires going from the pole after completing the second circle of glyphs and threw them into the ward. The fuzz had swallowed them so completely, you’d never know they were there.

Medmages and medtechs swarmed the scene. Biohazard was technically part of PAD, but practically speaking, it had its own separate quarters and its own chain of command, and Patrice was pretty far up that chain.

Patrice raised her arm and I felt a faint pulse of magic. “I can’t feel a thing past the chalk,” she said, her breath escaping in a cloud of pale vapor.

“That’s the idea.”

“Smart-ass.” Patrice surveyed my handiwork and shook her head. “Look at it crawl. Persistent blight, isn’t he?”

That was why I’d made the second circle in case the first failed, and then it occurred to me that the telephone pole could take a dive. The wards of the first two circles extended only about eight feet up, and if the pole fell, the disease would land outside the barrier, so I drew the third ward circle. It had been a very wide circle, too, because the pole was painfully tall, about thirty feet. Four medtechs now walked along the outer circle’s perimeter, waving censers which trailed purifying smoke. I’d sunk everything I had into those wards. Right now a kitten could touch me with her paw and score a total knockout.

A young male medtech crouched by me and raised a small white flower in a pot to my lips. Five white petals streaked with thin green veins leading to a ring of fuzzy stalks, each tipped with a small yellow dot.

A bog star. The tech whispered an incantation and said in a practiced cadence, “Take a deep breath and exhale.”

I blew on the flower. The petals remained snow-white. If I had been infected, the bog star would’ve turned brown and withered.

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The tech checked the color of the petals against a paper card and chanted low under his breath. “One more time—deep breath and exhale.”

I obediently exhaled.

He took away the bog star. “Look into my eyes.”

I did. He peered deeply into my irises.

“Clear. You have beautiful eyes.”

“And she has a big, sharp sword.” Patrice snorted. “Be gone, creature.”

The medtech rose. “She’s clean,” he called in the direction of the tavern. “You can speak with her now.”

The dark-haired woman, who’d brought the chalk to me hours earlier, stepped out of the bar and carried a glass of whiskey. “I’m Maggie. Here.” She offered the glass to me. “Seagram’s Seven Crown.”

“Thank you, I don’t drink.”

“Since when?” Patrice raised her eyebrows.

Maggie held the whiskey to me. “You need it. We watched you crawl around on your hands and knees for hours. It must hurt and you’ve got to be frozen solid.”

The parking lot proved a bit rougher than anticipated. Crawling back and forth drawing glyphs had shredded my already worn-out jeans into nothing. I could see my skin through the holes in the fabric and it was bloody. Normally leaving traces of my blood at the scene would’ve sent me into panic. Once separated from the body, blood couldn’t be masked, and in my case, advertising the magic of my blood-line meant a death sentence. But I knew how tonight would end, and so I didn’t worry. What little blood I left on the asphalt would be obliterated very soon.

I took the whiskey and smiled at Maggie, which took some effort since my lips were frozen. “Did you finally get the phone working?”

She shook her head. “It’s still out.”

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“How did you contact Biohazard?”

Maggie pursed her narrow lips. “We didn’t.”

I turned to Patrice. The medmage frowned at the circle. “Pat, how did you know to come here?”

“An anonymous tipster called it in,” she murmured, her eyes fixed on the pole. “Something is happening .

. .”

With a loud crack, the utility pole snapped. The dark-haired woman gasped. The techs dashed back, waving their censers.

The pole spun in place, fuzz swirling around its top, teetered, and plunged. It smashed against the invisible wall of the first two ward circles, toppled over it, and slid down, dumping the flesh-colored shit onto the asphalt. The pole top rammed the third line of glyphs. Magic boomed through my skull. A cloud of fuzz exploded against the ward in an ugly burst and fluttered down harmlessly to settle at the chalk line as the pole rolled to a stop.

Patrice let out a breath.

“I made the third circle twelve feet high,” I told her. “It isn’t going anywhere, even if it really wants to.”

“That does it.” Patrice rolled up her sleeves. “Did you put anything into those wards that might fry me if I cross them?”

“Nope. It’s just a simple containment ward. Feel free to waltz right in.”

“Good.” She strode down the slope to the glyphs, waving her hand at the tech team fussing with some equipment on the side. “Never mind. It’s too aggressive. We’ll do a live probe, it’s faster.”

She tossed back her blond hair and stepped into the circle. The chalk glyphs ignited with a faint blue glow. The ward masked her magic, and I could feel nothing past it, but whatever Patrice was working up had to be heavyduty.

The fuzz shivered. Thin tendrils stretched toward Patrice.

I wondered who’d called Biohazard. Somebody called. Maybe it was just a good Samaritan passing by.

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And maybe I would sprout wings and fly.

Maggie leaned over to me. “How can she enter but the disease can’t leave?”

“Because of the way I made the ward. Wards both keep things in and keep them out. It’s basically a barrier and you can rig it several ways. This one has a high magic threshold. The disease that killed Joshua is very potent. It’s heavily saturated with magic, so it can’t cross. Patrice is a human, which makes her less magical by definition, and so she can go back and forth as she pleases.”

“So couldn’t we just wait it out until the magic wave falls and the disease dies?”

“Nobody knows what will happen to the disease once the magic falls. It might die or it might mutate and turn into a plague. Don’t worry. Patrice will nuke it.”

In the circle, Patrice raised her hands. “It is I, Patrice, who commands you, it is I who demands obedience. Show yourself to me!”

A dark shadow rolled over the fleshy fur, spreading into a mottled patina over the pole and the remnants of the body. Patrice stepped back out of the circle. The techs swarmed her with smoke and flowers.

“Syphilis,” I heard her say. “Lots and lots of magically delicious syphilis. It’s alive and hungry. We’re going to need napalm.”

Maggie glanced at the still untouched whiskey in my glass. I raised it to my lips and took a sip to make her happy. Fire rolled down my throat. A few seconds later, I could feel my fingertips again. Woo, back in business.

“Did they clear all of you?” I asked.

She nodded. “Nobody was infected. A few guys had broken bones, but that’s all. They let everyone go.”

Thank the Universe for small favors.

Maggie shuddered. “I don’t understand. Why us? What did we ever do to anybody?”

She was looking for comfort in the wrong place. I was numb and exhausted, and the stone in my chest
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Maggie shook her head. Her shoulders hunched.

“Sometimes there is no reason,” I said. “Just a bad roll of the dice.”

Her face was drained of all expression. I knew what she was thinking: broken furniture, busted wall, and a bad reputation. The Steel Horse would forever be known as the joint where the plague almost started.

“Look over there.”

She glanced in the direction of my nod. Inside the bar, Cash pulled apart a broken table.

“You’re alive. He’s alive. You’re together. Everything else can be fixed. It can always be worse. Much, much worse.”
Trust me on this.

“You’re right.”

For a while we sat in silence and then Maggie took a deep breath as if she was going to say something and clamped her mouth shut.

“What is it?”

“The thing in the cellar,” she said.

“Ah.” I pushed upright. I’d rested enough. “Let’s go take care of that.”

We went in through the hole in the wall. The techs had evaluated and released most of the patrons, who were only too happy to clear off. The tavern lay virtually empty. Most of the furniture hadn’t survived the brawl. An icy draft swept through the open doors and windows to blow out of the ruined wall. Despite the unplanned but vigorous ventilation, the place stank of vomit.

Cash leaned against the bar. Long shadows lined his haggard face. He looked worn out, like he’d aged a year overnight. Maggie paused by him. He took her hand into his. It must’ve twisted them into knots to sit there for hours, watching each other’s faces for the first signs of infection.

They were killing me. If I could’ve gotten a hold of Curran right now, I would have punched him in the
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face for making me think I could have that and then taking it away from me.

At the door, two Biohazard techs packed away an m-scanner. The m-scanner registered residual magic at the scene and spat it out in various colors: purple for vampire, blue for human, green for shapeshifter. It was imprecise and finicky, but it was the best tool for magic analysis we had. I stopped by the team and flashed my Order ID. “Anything?”

The female tech offered me a stack of printouts. “Patrice said for you to have a copy.”

“Thanks.” I flipped through them. Every single one showed a bright blue slice streaking across the paper like a lightning bolt, cutting across pale traces of green. The green were the shapeshifters, and judging by the watereddown color of the signatures, they had taken off at the beginning of the fight, leaving behind only weak residual magic. Not surprising. The Pack had a strict policy regarding unlawful behavior, and nothing good ever came from a drunken brawl in a border bar.

I studied the blue.
Human mundane
, basic human magic. Mages registered blue, healers, empaths . . . I registered blue. Unless you had a really good scanner.

“Maggie, how many people would you say were here when this happened?”

She shrugged at the bar. “About fifty.”

Fifty. But only one human magic signature.

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