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Authors: j a cipriano

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BOOK: twice cursed mage 05 - claimed
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I hit the ground below hard, slamming into the sludge on my shoulders and tumbled for a couple feet before landing face first in the muck. Luckily, I managed to keep from braining myself or breaking something. Have I mentioned what a nice gal, Lady Luck is?

The smell of week old garbage was nearly overpowering, and let me just say, dry heaving with a torn open gut is not even slightly fun. Agony ripped through the core of my being, twisting up like a white-hot chain of fire around my torso as my abdomen struggled to push everything in my empty stomach out.

I wasn’t sure how long I lay there, alternating between vomiting and crying out in pain at having done so when I realized I could feel the gunk seeping through my scrubs and into my torn open abdomen. Fuck. If I survived this, I was going to need a hell of an antibiotic.

As I got slowly to my feet and tried to ignore the fact I was covered in sewage, I began plodding forward, mostly because it was the same as going backward as far as I was concerned. I had no doubt the assholes after me were going to be down here within minutes and I wanted to be gone when that happened. With any luck, I could find a nice dark alcove to hide and kill them from the shadows.

Still, I knew I wasn’t going to make it far. My Hellfire patch job might have held up until now, but it wouldn’t work much longer, especially since I could feel myself running low on magic. I needed to find a real doctor, get this bastard stitched up, and go lie in a hole with ten bags of Doritos for a few weeks. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure I had that kind of time.

As I stumbled along, I came to a fork and turned left, then right a little ways later. I kept my ears open but heard nothing save for my own labored breathing. The murky water grew deeper with each step, but I pressed on anyway, my chest heaving with effort.

After a few minutes that felt like hours, I’d seen a couple manholes above, but I still didn’t think I was far enough away to climb out and chance my way on the street. Even if I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb in my muck-covered scrubs, I had no way of knowing what was topside. Assuming I could even get a manhole cover open from beneath, I might pop my head up in front of a semi-truck, and while I was hardheaded, I was pretty sure the truck would win that one.

I just needed someone to help me, but I wasn’t sure who could help me. If I went to Sera’s place, I risked bringing down the full force of these bastards on her son, John. I couldn’t do that, especially not knowing how bad the council of seven Jenna had talked about was. I mean, I was just guessing the Texan and everyone else was part of that. It might not have been, but you know, the simplest answer is probably the correct one. I was going to assume it was correct until proven otherwise. Besides, if I had two groups of killers after me, things were going to get all sorts of dicey.

Fortunately, there was one person who could help me, and he was more than capable of punching a few tickets if someone came after him. I wasn’t sure if he’d help me, but I had no reason to think otherwise. Of course, the last time I’d shown up at his place, someone had thrown a tanker truck through his front door, so I didn’t know if he’d be around. It wasn’t like I knew where the old vampire lived. Still, it was a plan, and right now I was wandering around in a sewer bleeding to death. Man, any port in a storm was right.

The sound of boots splashing in the water behind me made me freeze in place. I held my breath, squeezing up against the concrete walls, and listened like I’d never listened before. Something was definitely moving closer. Fuck.

A shadow barely discernable from the darkness fell across the space in front of me and stopped. I couldn’t make out the figure, it was too dark for details, but as I watched him from my perch in the darkness, he turned his head toward me.

“Mac Brennan?” he asked, looking right at me. I caught the briefest flash of pink from his eyes as he took a step closer, palms up like he meant no harm.

Well, he clearly knew where I was, so my element of surprise was gone. I wasn’t sure who he was, but he hadn’t started our conversation by pointing a Colt in my face. Hey, and people say I have trouble trusting people.

“I’m Mac Brennan,” I wheezed, and my voice sounded like I’d smoked one too many cheap cigars.

“Sounds like you got rode hard and put away wet,” he chuckled, moving closer to me. “Names Ramon, and I’m here to help.”

“Are you with the government?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Not in the way you think,” he said, shaking his head as he stepped toward me and a small teacup toy yorkie was sticking its head out from the pocket of his overcoat. “Come, I can explain everything, but it’s not safe here.” He sniffed. “And your gut is infected. Let me help you. What have you got to lose?”

“My life? Why should I trust you?” I asked even though I had no better options, which pissed me off to no end. It would only be a matter of time before the thugs found me, and I was in no place to wax more asses. Still, the idea of relying on the kindness of strangers after what had just happened, didn’t exactly sit well with me.

“You know that saying about how you should always trust a man who is nice to his dog?” he asked, gesturing at the yorkie while reaching into another pocket and producing a small Chihuahua. “Well, I have two dogs.” He waved the Chihuahua’s paw at me. “Say hello, Cisco.”

I smirked. I couldn’t help it. “You know what. I’m going to trust you this one time, Ramon.”

“Very good.” He pocketed the dog and moved past me, clomping through the slime in a way that made me think he was used to doing so. “Hurry. Your pursuers are already in the sewer. They will be here in minutes. Fortunately, no one knows the sewers like I do.”

“Thanks,” I said, clutching my wounded stomach with one hand and following behind him. I could feel blood trickling between my fingers as I moved, and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how I hadn’t bled to death yet. Whatever the Hellfire had done, it’d helped me.

“Don’t thank me. Thank Ricky. She is the one who asked me to help you.” Ramon shrugged. “She thought you’d be more difficult about it though, but then again, I have a pretty trusting face.”

“Wait, Ricky’s okay?” I asked, my heart nearly bursting with relief. She hadn’t come herself, but she’d sent someone. Still, why hadn’t she come? I couldn’t think of what might be more important, but I was willing to bet the reason wasn’t thousand dollar scotch and huckleberry pie. Yeah, I liked that analogy too.

“Define okay,” he said, and the tone of his voice made my blood run cold with sudden fear. Something was definitely wrong in Ricky-town. “Because if by okay, you mean alive, then sure, she’s barely okay.”

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked, double-timing it to catch up with the guy as a surge of fear rippled through me. Ricky was in trouble. I wasn’t sure how or why, but I knew I had to save her. I couldn’t let anyone hurt her, not for any reason.

“She’s trapped in a gauntlet fighting until she dies.” He shrugged. “It’s a thing.”

“A thing?” I asked, trying to ignore the urge to grab the guy and force him to take me to her post haste. I didn’t because I knew it wouldn’t do any good. I mean, I could practically see my intestines, what was I going to do? Bleed on our enemies? Still, there had to be something. I couldn’t just let her face off against whatever was in that gauntlet alone.

He waved off my question. “The time for questions is not now.”

“Oh?” I asked because it damned well was time for questions.

“Yes. Now is time for silence.” He shrugged for the millionth time. “Unless you want our pursuers to find you. Personally, it doesn’t bother me. They’re not after me.”

 

Chapter 5

By the time we reached Ramon’s hideaway within the sewer, I was pretty sure I was dead. Only, being dead would have hurt less. Each step I took was like jamming a railroad spike into my gut, and I don’t think I’d have made it if Ramon hadn’t thrown one of my arms over his shoulder and dragged me along. He was surprisingly strong.

Thankfully, we hadn’t run into any pursuers, which was good. I wasn’t sure how good Ramon would have been in a fight and I was running on fumes.

“Welcome to my humble home,” Ramon said, shuffling us over to a threadbare red couch covered in a sheet of industrial plastic. He dropped me unceremoniously on top of it, and it made a sort of scratchy noise as I settled onto the well-flattened cushions. Still, I was glad to get off my feet and beggars can’t be choosers. “The doctor will be with you shortly.”

He shot me an apologetic look, his eyes lingering on my cursed arm for a moment before crossing the ten-foot room and ducking under a large sewer pipe. Well, that was certainly strange.

Part of me wondered how the hell he’d gotten a couch, loveseat, and a fridge down into this tiny sewer but most of me didn’t care. It didn’t smell and was pretty lacking in the dampness department which was good. A string of Christmas lights blinked on overhead, followed by a couple of those Home Depot shop lights, filling the room with a nearly obscene amount of light.

I lay there under the glare, shielding my eyes so I wouldn’t go blind as the sound of footsteps clomping through slime filled my ears.

“Hey, Mac,” Maya said, gesturing at me with a cheap bottle of Popov vodka as she stepped into the room wearing pink rain boots, a vinyl skirt, and a Beetlejuice T-shirt two sizes too small for her particularly busty frame. “Long time no see.”

“What are you doing here?” I asked, hoping she wasn’t here to chop me up and sell me for parts. That was the absolute last thing I needed.

“Someone called a doctor,” she said, sauntering over to me, fake breasts bouncing as she moved. “Good thing too, you’re in a bad way.” She leaned down over me and pulled up my shirt to reveal my torn abdomen. Then she cringed.

“You’re the doctor?” I asked, wondering if I should just chance it without her. The last time I’d met Maya, she’d helped me take out Baal, but I still hadn’t forgotten how she’d tried to carve me up like a Thanksgiving turkey. The idea of letting her operate on me seemed a tad bit insane.

“Yup. I completed med school a couple years ago,” she said before unceremoniously dumping the bottle of vodka over my abdomen. I screamed as everything inside me distilled down into sheer, unadulterated agony. “Residency wasn’t for me and let’s just say stitching up car accident survivors in the ER isn’t my idea of a fun weekend.”

By the time I could blink away the haze of pain clouding my vision and focus on her, she was looming over me with a needle and thread. To be fair, it looked medical grade, but I still wasn’t quite sure of letting her stitch me up. Then again, I had a gaping gut wound I’d barely sealed with Hellfire and that was leaking like a sieve. If something wasn’t done soon, I might as well make out my will.

“Normally, I’d offer you a painkiller or do this in my underwear, but I don’t like you that much.” She dropped down to her knees on the cement beside the couch as she put the needle to my rent stomach. “Try not to bite your tongue, and if you move too much, I will stab you.”

She jabbed me, and so began the longest period in my life. By the time she was done, my throat was raw from screaming, and I felt so weak, I could barely move. Hey, I’m a tough guy, but you try getting over thirty stitches in your stomach without anesthetic.

“Good as new.” Maya stood up and wiped her hands on a dirty dish towel before grabbing the vodka bottle. She took a long swig before dumping the rest of the bottle onto my stitched up abdomen.

“Fuck, Maya!” I cried, my hands clenching into white-knuckled fists as I tried to get up. I couldn’t, but if I could have, I might have slugged her.

“Sorry, our friendship definitely doesn’t have those kinds of benefits,” she said, putting the bottle on the chipped particleboard table next to the couch before fishing a rusty Altoids tin out of her sea green Coach purse. She popped the lid open, stuck two fingers in, and dug out some of the foul smelling black gunk. “Besides, I’m more of a top kind of girl, and I suspect you’re not a very good bottom.”

“What’s that?” I asked, ignoring her jab as she came closer and unceremoniously wiped the goop across my stitched up abdomen.

“Remember when we killed Baal, and I sold him for parts?” she asked, and as she spoke, the area where she’d rubbed the slime stopped hurting. In fact, I could actually feel my flesh stitching itself back together. It was crazy.

“Yeah?” I asked, reaching down to touch my stomach in disbelief. It was nearly as good as new, and better still, I felt healthier than I had in days. Whatever that stuff was, it was worth its weight in gold.

“I didn’t sell all of him.” She grinned at me and held the tin up. “Nothing heals quite like a demon nut sack salve.”

“Wait,” I said, pulling my hand back in horror. “Did you just wipe Baal’s balls on my open wound?”

“It healed you, didn’t it? Besides, it wasn’t an open wound. I stitched it up.” She grinned at me. “And now you’re wondering whether or not I needed to stitch you up first.”

“I feel like you’re fucking with me,” I said as she grabbed a pair of surgical scissors off the table and approached my wound. She began cutting away the stitches holding my completely healed abdomen together.

“Again. We’re not that good of friends, Mac,” she said, letting out a sigh. “Truth be told, I’m only helping you because I’ve got six hundred pounds of demon king to move out of the city and the jackasses looking for you have sealed the city with a magical barrier. Nothing can get in or out.” She smiled at me. “I need you to kill those motherfuckers so I can get my prize to Russia.”

“You wiped demon balls on me,” I said, glaring at her. “Why do you think I’d help you?”

“You can admit it, I know you like it. Everyone likes it.” She closed the tin and sucked the remaining goop off her fingers. “And you’ll help me because you were already going to kill those sons of bitches. Don’t act like you weren’t.”

“I still don’t understand how they’re here. The council of seven, I mean.” I sat up on my elbows, amazed that I could do it without a stab of pain. Even if she had wiped slimy demon nuts on my gaping wound, it seemed worth it. See, I’m open-minded. “I was gone for a day and it seems like everything has gone to shit.”

BOOK: twice cursed mage 05 - claimed
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