Magic Shifts

  • 343 pages
  • Anglais
  • Format Kindle
Magic Shifts

ᙃ Types of text Magic Shifts ᛒ Kindle By Ilona Andrews 짍 Chapter OneI rode through the night drenched streets of Atlanta on a mammoth donkey The donkeys name was Cuddles She was ten feet tall, including the ears, and her black and white hide suggested she might have held up a Holstein cow in some dark alley and was now wearing her clothes My own blood spattered outfit suggested Id had an interesting night Most horses wouldve been nervous about letting a woman covered with that much blood on their back, but Cuddles didnt seem to mind Either it didnt bother her or she was a pragmatist who knew where her carrots were coming from.The city lay in front of me, deserted, quiet, and steeped in magic, unfurling its streets to the starlight like a moonlight flower Magic ran deep through Atlanta tonight, like a current of some phantom river, slipping into the shadowy places and waking hungry things with needle long teeth and glowing eyes Anyone with a drop of common sense hid behind reinforced doors and barred windows after dark Unfortunately for me, common sense was never among my virtues As Cuddles quietly clopped her way down the streets, the sounds of her hoof beats unnaturally loud, the night shadows watched us and I watched them back Lets play who can be a better killer My sword and I love this game.None of the monsters took the bait It might have been because of me, but most likely it was because one of them was moving parallel to my route They smelled him, and they hid and hoped he would pass them by.It was almost midnight Id had a long day My back ached, my clothes smelled of fetid blood, and a hot shower sounded heavenly I had made two apple pies last night, and I was pretty sure that at least one piece would be left for me I could have it tonight with my tea before I went to bedAn annoying spark of magic ignited in my mind A vampire Oh goody The spark buzzed in my brain like an angry mosquito and moved closer The Immortuus pathogen, the disease responsible for vampirism, killed the minds of its victims, leaving behind an empty shell driven by an all consuming bloodlust Left to its own devices, a vampire would hunt and slaughter, and when it ran out of things to kill, it would starve to death This particular bloodsucker wasnt free to rampage, because its blank mind was held in a telepathic grip by a necromancer The necromancer, or navigator as they were called, sat in a room far away, directing the vampire with his will as if it were a remote controlled car The navigator heard what the vampire heard, saw what the vampire saw, and if the vampire opened its mouth, the navigators words would come out of it.Meeting a bloodsucker this far south meant it belonged to the People, an odd hybrid of a corporation and a research facility, whose personnel dedicated themselves to the study of the undead and making money on the side The People avoided me like the plague Two months ago they had figured out that the man behind their organization, the nearly immortal wizard with godlike powers and legendary magic, happened to be my father They had some difficulty with that development So the vampire wasnt for me.StillI knew most of the Peoples patrol routes and this undead was definitely off course Where the hell was it going No Not my circus, not my undead monkeys.I felt the vampire make a ninety degree turn, heading straight for me Home, shower, apple pie Maybe if I said it like a prayer, it would work The distance between us shrank Home, showerAn undead leaped off the roof of the nearest two story house and landed on the road next to me, gaunt, each shallow muscle visible under the thick hide, as if someone had crafted a human anatomy model out of steel wire and poured a paper thin layer of rubber over it.Damn it.The undead unhinged its mouth and Ghastek s dry voice came out Youre difficult to find, Kate.Well, well The new head of the Peoples Atlanta office had come to see me personally Id curtsy but I was too tired to get off my donkey and the sword on my back would get in the way I live in the suburbs and come home almost every night My business phone number is in the book.The vampire tilted its head, mimicking Ghastek s movements Youre still riding that monstrosity Feel free to stomp him, I told Cuddles Ill back you up.Cuddles ignored me and the vampire, defiantly clopping past it The bloodsucker turned smoothly and fell into step next to me Where is yoursignificant other Hes around He was never too far Why, are you worried hell find out about this romantic rendezvous The vampire froze for a second What Youre meeting me in secret on a lonely street in the middle of the nightGhastek s voice was so sharp, if it were a knife, I wouldve been sliced to ribbons I find your attempts at humor greatly distressing.Hee hee.I assure you, this is strictly business Sure it is, sweet cheeks.The vampires eyes went wide In an ard room deep in the bowels of the Peoples Casino, Ghastek was probably having a heart attack from the outrage.What are you doing out in my neck of the woods Technically, the entire city is your neck of the woods, Ghastek said True.Two months ago my father had decided to dramatically claim Atlanta as his own domain I tried to stop him in an equally dramatic fashion He knew what he was doing, I didnt, and I ended up accidentally claiming the city in his stead I was still fuzzy on how exactly the claiming worked, but apparently it meant that I had assumed guardianship of the city and the safety of Atlanta was now my responsibility In theory, the magic of the city was supposed to nourish me and make my job easier, but I had no idea how exactly that worked So far I didnt feel any different.But still, I heard you were promoted Dont you have flunkies to do your bidding The vampire twisted his face into a hair raising leer Ghastek mustve grimaced.I thought you would be happy, I said You wanted to be the head honcho.Yes, but now I have to deal with you He spoke to me, personally.He said he with the kind of reverence that could only mean Roland, my father.He believes that you may hesitate to kill me because of our shared experiences, Ghastek continued Which makes me uniquely qualified to lead the People in your territory.Showing how freaked out I was about having a territory would severely tarnish my City Guardian cred Aha.Im supposed to cooperate with you So, in the spirit of cooperation, Im informing you that our patrols have sighted a large group of ghouls moving toward the city.Ghouls were bad news They followed the same general pattern of infection, incubation, and transformation as vampires and shapeshifters, but so far nobody had managed to figure out what actually turned them into ghouls They were smart, supernaturally fast, and vicious, and they fed on human carrion Unlike vampires, whom they somewhat resembled, ghouls retained some of their former personality and ability to reason, and they quickly figured out that the best way to get human carrion was to butcher a few people and leave the corpses to rot until they decomposed enough to be consumed They traveled around in packs of three to five members and attacked isolated small settlements.How large is the group Thirty plus, Ghastek said.That wasnt a group That was a damn horde I had never heard of a ghoul pack that large.Which way are they coming The old Lawrenceville Highway You have about half an hour before they enter Northlake Best of luck.The vampire took off into the night.A few decades ago, Northlake would have been only a few minutes away Now a labyrinth of ruins lay between me and that part of the city Our world suffered from magic waves They began without warning a few decades ago in a magic induced apocalypse called the Shift When magic flooded our world, it took no prisoners It smothered electricity, dropped planes out of the sky, and toppled tall buildings It eroded asphalt off the roads and birthed monsters Then, without warning, the magic would vanish again and all of our gadgets and guns once again worked.The city had shrunk post Shift, after the first magic wave caused catastrophic destruction People sought safety in numbers, and most of the suburbs along the old Lawrenceville Highway stood abandoned There were some isolated communities in Tucker, but people settling there knew what to expect from the magic fueled wilderness and it would be difficult for a pack of ghouls to take them down Why bother, when less than five miles down the road Northlake marked the outer edge of the city It was a densely populated area, filled with suburban houses and bordered by a few watchtowers along a ten foot fence topped with razor wire The guards could handle a few ghouls, but with thirty coming in fast, they would be overrun The ghouls would scale the fence in seconds, slaughter the tower guards, and turn the place into a bloodbath.There would be no assistance from the authorities By the time I found a working phone and convinced the Paranormal Activity Division that a pack of ghouls six times the typical size was moving toward Atlanta, Northlake would be an all you can devour ghoul buffet.Above me a huge dark shape dashed along the rooftops and leaped, clearing the gap between two buildings The starlight caught it for a heart stopping second, illuminating the powerfully muscled torso, four massive legs, and the dark gray mane The hair on the back of my neck stood up It was as if the night itself had opened its jaws and spat out a prehistoric creature, something born of human fear and hungry animal growls echoing in the dark I only saw him for a moment, but the image imprinted itself in my mind as if chiseled in stone My body instantly recognized that he was predator and I was prey Id known him for three years now, and the instinctual response still hit every single time.The beast landed, turned north, and vanished into the night, heading toward Northlake.Instead of running away as fast as I could like any sane person would do, I nudged Cuddles, hurrying her until she broke into a gallop One doesnt let her fianc fight a horde of ghouls by himself Some things were just not done. The empty expanse of the Lawrenceville Highway spread before me The road cut through a shallow hill here, and stone walls held back the slope on both sides I parked myself at the mouth of the hill, just before it melted into a vast, completely flat field As good a place as any to make a stand.I stretched my neck slowly, one side, then the other Id left Cuddles tethered to a tree half a mile back Ghouls normally would have no interest in her, but she smelled like me and one of them might try to rip her neck open just out of spite.The moon rolled out of the clouds, illuminating the fields The night sky was impossibly high, the stars like diamonds in its icy depth A cold breeze came, tugging at my clothes and my braid It was the beginning of March, and the onset of spring was sudden and warm, but at night winter still bared its fangs.The last time I was this far from the city, I had been the Consort of the Pack, the largest shapeshifter organization in the South That was behind me now Thirty ghouls would be rough without backup Lucky for me, I had the best backup in the city.When I had claimed Atlanta, the claiming had created a boundary I felt it fifty feet in front of me, an invisible line of demarcation I shouldve gone to inspect the boundary sooner, but Id been busy trying to separate myself from the Pack and setting up the new house and working my ass off, because eventually our savings would run outBut pretending that the claiming hadnt happened did me no favors.Something moved in the distance I focused on it The movement continued, the horizon rippling slightly A few breaths and the shiver broke into individual shapes running in an odd loping gait, leaning on their arms like gorillas but never fully shifting into a quadrupedal run.Wow, thats a lot of ghouls.Showtime I reached for the sword on my back and pulled Sarrat out of its sheath The opaque, almost white blade caught the weak moonlight Single handed, with a razor sharp edge, the blade was a cross between a straight sword and a traditional saber, with a slight curve that made it excellent for both slashing and thrusting Sarrat was fast, light, and flexible, and it was about to get a hell of a workout.The distorted shapes kept coming Knowing there were thirty ghouls was one thing Seeing them gallop toward you was completely different A spark of instinctual fear shot through me, turning the world sharper, and melted into calm awareness.Thin tendrils of vapor rose from Sarrats surface in response I turned the saber, warming up my wrist.The ghoul horde drew closer How the hell did I get myself into these things I walked toward them, sword in my hand, point down I had few social skills, but intimidation I did well.The ghouls saw me The front ranks slowed, but the back rows were still running at full speed The mass of ghouls compacted like a wave breaking against a rock and finally screeched to a halt just before the boundary We stopped, them on one side of the invisible magic divide, me on the other.They were lean and muscular, with disproportionately powerful arms and long, spadelike hands, each finger tipped by a short curved claw Bony protrusions, like short knobby horns, thrust through their skin at random spots on their back and shoulders The horns were a defensive mechanism If someone tried to pull the ghoul out of its burrow, the horns would wedge against dirt A werewolf armed with superhuman strength would have a difficult time plucking a ghoul out of the ground Id seen the horns grow as long as four inches, but most of the ones decorating this crowd barely reached half an inch Their skin was dark gray on the chest, neck, and faces, the kind of gray that was most often found on military urban camouflage.Small splotches of muddy brown dotted their backs and their shoulders If not for the watery yellow glow of their irises, they wouldve blended into the road completely.None of them were lame, starved, or weak The odds werent in my favor I had to think of a strategy and fast.The ghouls peered at me with oddly slanted eyes, the inner corners dipping much lower than the outer ones.I waited The moment you start speaking, you become less scary, and I had no intention of being less scary The ghouls were sentient, which meant they could feel fear, and I needed every bit of advantage I could scrounge up.A large ghoul shouldered its way to the front of the pack Well fed, with a defined powerful body, he crouched in front of me If he stood upright, he would be close to seven feet tall At least two hundred pounds, all of it hard muscle and sharp claws The brown pattern on his back was almost nonexistent Instead, long alternating stripes of paler and darker gray slid down his flanks.The ghoul rocked forward His face touched the boundary and he pulled back and stared at me He wasnt sure what he was sensing, but he knew that the boundary and I were somehow connected.Some ghouls were scavengers They were harmless and sometimes even gainfully employed We lived in an unsafe world Too often bodies couldnt be recovered because they were under debris or the scene was too grisly for the next of kin to identify the remains Putting the bodies into a mass grave was a recipe for disaster Human bodies emanated magic even after death and there was no telling what the next magic wave would do to that mass grave Most often the remains were cremated, but occasionally the authorities would bring in ghouls to clean the site It was cheaper and faster.Id bet my arm these ghouls werent licensed scavenge workers, but I had to be absolutely sure.The ghoul stared at me I gave him my best psychotic smile.The ghoul blinked his yellowish eyes, tensed like a dog about to charge, and opened his mouth, stretching his lips in a slow deliberate grin Thats right, show me your big teeth, pretty boy.A row of thick sharp teeth decorated the front of his jaw Toward the back, the teeth thinned out, becoming bladelike, with serrated edges Got you.The ghoul unhinged his jaw A rough raspy voice came out Who are you Turn around now and youll live.He clamped his mouth shut Apparently this wasnt the answer hed expected Kate Daniels, master of surprises Dont worry, Im just getting started.Were a licensed cleanup crew, the leader ghoul said No.Half a mile behind the ghouls, a dark shape moved through the field, so silent, for a second I thought I was seeing things My mind refused to accept that a creature that large could be so quiet Hi, honey.The ghouls didnt notice him They were conditioned to pay attention to human flesh and I was standing right in front of them, providing a nice convenient target.The leader ghoul turned, displaying a tattoo on his left shoulder. Columbia, SC 014Location of license and license number He thought I was born yesterday.Were a peaceful group, the ghoul continued.Sure you are Youre just running into the city to borrow a cup of sugar and invite people to your church.Youre interfering with official municipal business This is discrimination.The dark shadow emerged onto the road and started toward us Id need to buy him some time to get within striking range.I looked at the ghoul Do you know what is so special about ghouls You have an unrivaled adaptability Your bodies change to match their environment faster than ninety nine percent of anything weve seen in nature.My favorite monster crept closer on huge paws.I raised my saber and rested the opaque blade on my shoulder Faint tendrils of vapor escaped from Sarrats surface The sword sensed trouble and was eager for it.Let me tell you what I see Your color has changed from brown to gray, because you no longer have to blend in with the dirt Your stripes tell me you spend a lot of time moving through the forest Your horns are short, because you no longer hide in your burrows.The ghouls shifted closer Their eyes glowed brighter They didnt like where this was going.Your claws arent long and straight to help you dig They are curved and sharp to rend flesh.The ghouls bared their teeth at me They were a hair away from violence I had to keep talking.Your pretty teeth have changed, too Theyre no longer narrow and serrated They are thick, strong, and sharp The kind of teeth you get when you need to hold struggling prey in your mouth And your fancy tattoo is two years out of date All ghouls licenses in Columbia now have the year tattooed under the license number.The ghouls had gone completely silent, their eyes like dozens of tiny shiny moons all focused on me Just a few secondsKill her, another ghoul chimed in We have to hurry.Kill her Hes waiting, a third voice chimed in.Kill her Kill her.They seemed awfully desperate Something weird was going on Who is waiting I asked.Shut up the leading ghoul snarled.I leaned forward and gave the leader ghoul my hard stare You look plump Youve been raiding the countryside and growing fat from gorging yourself on the people youve murdered I gave you a chance to leave Now its too late Pay attention to this moment Look at the stars Breathe in the cold air This is your last night These are the last breaths you take I will kill every one of you.The leader ghoul snarled, dropping all pretense You and what army I began pulling magic to me This would hurt This always hurt Thats the great thing about werelions You dont need an army You just need one The ghoul twisted his face Youre not a werelion, meat.Im not I nodded behind them He is.The leader ghoul spun around.Two gold eyes stared at him from the darkness The enormous lion like beast opened his mouth and roared Until I met him, I had never heard an actual lion roar It sounded like thunder Deafening, ravenous heart stopping thunder that severed some vital link between logic and control of your body deep inside your brain It was a blast of sound so powerful, I had seen hundreds of shapeshifters cringe when they heard it A wolf howl heard in the middle of the night raised the hair on the back of your neck, but a lions roar punched through all of your training and reason straight to the secret place hidden deep inside that screamed at you to freeze.The ghouls stopped, motionless.I opened my mouth and spat a power word Osanda Kneel.Power words came from a long forgotten age, so ancient that they commanded raw magic Few people knew about them and even fewer could use them, because to learn a power word, you had to own it You made it yours or it killed you I knew a handful of power words, far than anyone else Id met, but using even one came with a heavy price tag For my father, the power words were a language, one he spoke fluidly and without repercussions They didnt hurt him, but I always paid a price.The magic ripped out of me I braced for the familiar twist of agony The backlash bit at me, tearing through my insides, but this time something mustve blunted its teeth, because it didnt hurt nearly as much as I remembered.The magic smashed into the petrified ghouls Their knees and elbows crunched in unison and they crashed to the asphalt It would buy me at least ten seconds If the magic wave had been stronger, I wouldve broken their bones.I swung my sword Sarrat met a ghouls bony neck and sliced through cartilage and thick hide like butter Before its dead body fell to the ground, I thrust my blade into the chest of the second ghoul and felt Sarrats tip pierce the tight ball of its heart.The lions body boiled, snapping upright Bones thrust upward powerful muscle spiraled up the new skeleton A blink and a new monster lunged forward, a nightmarish mix of man and lion, seven and a half feet tall, with steel hard muscle sheathed in gray fur and curved, terrible claws A ghoul leaped at him He grabbed the creature by its throat and shook it, as if he were snapping a wet towel A sickening snap echoed through the night and the ghoul went limp.I carved the third ghoul into two separate pieces and sliced the fourth ones throat.The ghouls woke up They swarmed us The leonine beast swung his claws and disemboweled a ghoul with a precise swipe Intestines rained onto the road The bitter stench of ghoul blood mixed with the unmistakable sour reek of a gut wound singed my nostrils.Claws ripped through my clothes, drawing agonizing scalding hot lines across my back You want to play Fine I needed a workout anyway.My saber became a razor sharp wall It cut, sliced, and pierced, ripping flesh and hissing as the ghoul blood that washed it boiled from its magic I moved fast, sidestepping claws and blocking teeth Another fiery gash stung my back A ghoul clamped onto my boot and I ripped my leg free and stomped his skull into the pavement A welcome heat spread through me, turning my muscles flexible and pliant The world turned crystal clear Time stretched, helping me The ghouls lunged, but I was faster They raked at me with their claws, but my blade found them first I savored it all, every second of the fight, every drop of blood flying past me, every moment of resistance when Sarrat caught my target on its edge.This was what I was raised and trained for For better or worse, I was a killer This was my calling, and I made no excuses for it.A ghoul loomed before me I sliced it down in a classic overhand stroke It fell Nobody took its place I pivoted on my toes, looking for a fight To the left the werelion tossed a broken body to the ground and turned to me A single ghoul hugged the ground, caught between us.Alive, the werelion snarled.Way ahead of you Lets find out who the mysterious he is I started toward the ghoul, sword in hand.It shivered, looked right, then left, looked at the werelion, then at me.Thats right Youre trapped and not going anywhere If it ran, we would chase it down.The ghoul reared, jerked its clawed hands to its throat, and sliced it open Blood gushed The ghoul gurgled and collapsed on the ground The light went out of its eyes.Well, that was a hell of a thing.The lion monster opened his mouth and a human voice came out, his diction perfect Hey, baby.Hey, honey I pulled a piece of cloth out of my pocket and carefully wiped down Sarrats blade.Curran stepped over to me and put his arm around my shoulders, pulling me close I leaned against him, feeling the hard muscle of his torso against my side We surveyed the road strewn with broken bodies.The adrenaline faded slowly The colors turned less vivid One by one the cuts and gashes made themselves known my back burned, my left hip hurt too, and my left shoulder ached Id probably wake up with a spectacular bruise tomorrow.Wed survived another one Wed get to go home and keep on living What the hell was all this about Curran asked me.I have no idea They dont typically gather into large packs The biggest marauder pack ever sighted had seven ghouls, and that was considered a fluke They are solitary and territorial They only band together for protection, but clearly someone was waiting for them Do you think Ghastek is connected to this Curran grimaced Its not like him Ghastek only moves when he has something to gain Having us kill ghouls doesnt help him in any way He knows what we can do He had to realize wed go through them.Curran was right Ghastek had to know wed dispatch the ghouls He wouldnt have used us to do his dirty work either For all of his faults, Ghastek was a premier navigator, a Master of the Dead, and he loved his job If he wanted the ghouls dead, he wouldve sliced this group to pieces with a couple of vampires or he wouldve used this opportunity as a training exercise for his journeymen.This isnt making any sense to me, I said, pulling traces of my blood toward me It slid and rolled in tiny drops, forming a small puddle on the pavement I pushed it to the side, solidified it, and stomped on it It shattered under my foot into inert powder Blood retained its magic even when separated from the body For as long as I could remember, I had to guard my blood because if it were examined, it would point to my father like an arrow There was a time where I had to set any trace of my blood on fire, but now it obeyed me I couldnt decide if it made me a better fighter or just a worse abomination They seemed desperate Driven, almost, as if they had some sort of goal to get to.Well figure it out, Curran told me Its almost midnight I say we go home, get cleaned up, and climb into bed.Sounds like a plan.Hey, is there any of that apple pie left Curran asked.I think so.Oh good Lets go home, baby.Our home It still hit me like a punch, even after months of us being togetherhe was right there, waiting for me If something attacked me, hed kill it If I needed help, he would help me He loved me and I loved him back I was no longer alone.We were walking to my donkey when he said, Sweet cheeks I couldnt help it Ghastek s got a stick up his ass the size of a railroad track Did you see the look on the vampires face He looked constipated.Curran laughed We found Cuddles and went home.Chapter 2 Our house sat on a short street in one of the newer subdivisions In a previous life, the subdivision was part of Victoria Estates, an upper middle class neighborhood, a quiet place with narrow streets and old towering trees It was as close to living in the forest as one could get and still stay in the suburbs Then the magic came, and the trees of Hahn Forest to the south and W D Thomson Park revolted The same strange power of magic that gnawed skyscrapers to mere nubs nourished the trees, and they grew at unnatural speed, invading neighborhoods and swallowing them whole Victoria Estates fell prey to the encroaching woods without a whimper of resistance Most people moved.About four years ago an enterprising developer decided to reclaim the space and cut a new kidney bean shape out of the forest, building post Shift houses with thick walls, barred windows, sturdy doors, and generous yards Our street lay on the inside of the bean, closest to the woods, while two other roads spun out of it to the north and west in widening arches Ours was a short street, only seven houses on the other side and five on ours, with our home in the middle.As we turned onto our road, I stretched my neck to see the house It was a big three story beast, sitting on roughly five acres, all fenced in, with a stable and a pasture in the back I loved every brick and board of that house It belonged to me and Curran It was our family home Id lived in an apartment before Id lived in some hellholes Id even lived in a fortress, but this was the first house in a long time where I felt completely at home Every time I left it, I had a terrible suspicion that when I came back, it would disappear, collapse, or be burned to the ground When I somehow managed to obtain something nice, the Universe usually taunted me with it just long enough for me to care and then smashed it to pieces.I couldnt see our home yetthe bend of the street was in the way I resisted making Cuddles clop faster She had had a tiring night.Curran reached over and covered my hand with his clawed furry one One month left.Two months ago, on January 1, Curran and I officially stepped down as the Beast Lord and Consort of the Pack One day we were in charge of a thousand and half shapeshifters and the next we werent Technically we had stepped down a few days prior, but the official date was January 1, for convenience sake We had ninety days to formally separate our finances and business interests from the Pack If anyone decided they wanted to leave the Pack as part of our staff, they had to do it before that time ran out.Today was March 1 Thirty days and we would be completely free Formally, we remained part of the Pack, but we werent subject to their chain of command We could no longer participate in governing the Pack in any capacity For these ninety days, we couldnt even visit the Keep, the huge fortress Curran had built during his reign as the Beast Lord that served as the Packs HQ, because our presence would undermine the authority of the new alpha couple as they tried to get established After the separation period was over, we wouldnt be turned away from the Keep, but it was understood wed limit our time Just the way I liked it.Guilt bit at me The Pack was Currans life Hed ruled it since he had hammered it together from isolated shapeshifter packs when he was only fifteen He was thirty three now Hed walked away from eighteen years of his life, because he loved me.Last December, after my father and I had our little spat over Atlanta, he gave me a choice Either I stepped down from my position of power in the Pack or he would attack the city Tens of thousands of lives on one side, being the Consort on the other I chose to walk away We werent ready to fight Roland People would die because of me, and in the end we would lose.I couldnt take the guilt, so I left the Pack to buy us time Curran chose to be with me The Pack wasnt happy with his decision, but he didnt care.Do you miss it I asked What, the Keep Funny how he knew right away what I was asking Yes Being the BeastLord.Not really, Curran said I like this Getting the job done and then going home There is a finality to it I can look back and say Ive accomplished this much today I like knowing nobody will knock on our door and drag me off to do some stupid shit No committees, no petty rivalries, and no weddings.The big maple in front of our house swung into view It was intact Maybe the house had survived as well.I dont miss the Pack I do miss making it work, Curran said What do you mean Its like a complicated machine All of the clans and alphas and their problems I miss adjusting it and seeing it work better But I dont miss the pressure He grinned, threatening the moon with his scary teeth You know what I like about not being the Beast Lord You mean besides us being able to eat when we want, sleep when we want, and have sex uninterrupted in glorious privacy Yes, besides that I like that I can do whatever the hell I want If I want to go and kill some ghouls, I go and do it I dont have to sit through a three hour Pack Council meeting and debate the merits of ghoul killing and its effects on the Packs welfare and each goddamn individual clan in particular I laughed softly The Pack had seven clans, segregated by the nature of their beasts, and each clan had two alphas Dealing with alphas had to be one of the circles of hell.Curran shrugged his muscled shoulders Laugh all you want When I was fifteen and Mahon pushed me to reach for power, I did it because I was young and stupid I thought it was a crown I didnt realize it was a ball and chain instead Im off my chain now I like it.I pretended to shiver Considering the way he said I like it, I didnt have to pretend very hard Off your chain So dangerous, Your Majesty.He glanced at me.You might be too scary to let into the house I dont know if I can risk falling asleep next to you, Unchained One Who knows what would happen Who said anything about sleeping I opened my mouth to taunt him and clamped it shut I couldnt see the house, but I could see the section of the front lawn painted in a yellow electric glow It was past midnight Julie, my ward, shouldve been in bed long ago There was no reason for the lights to be on.Curran broke into a run I urged Cuddles forward Cuddles balked Apparently she didnt feel like running Come on, donkey I growled.She backed up.Screw it I jumped off her back and ran to the house The door handle turned in my hand I jerked the door open and dashed inside.A soft electric light bathed our kitchen Curran stood to the side Julie sat at the table, wrapped in a blanket, her blond hair a mess She saw me and yawned I slowed down just enough not to ram into the kitchen table and burst into the kitchen A one armed woman with a mane of dark curly hair sat at the table across from Julie, a cup of coffee in front of her George Mahons daughter and the Packs clerk of court.She turned to me, her face haggard I need help. Julie yawned again Bye Im going to bed Thank you for staying up with me, George said.No problem Julie gathered her blanket and went up the staircase Something thudded.Im okay she called out I fell up, but Im okay.She thumped up the stairs, and then the sound of a door closing announced she had reached her bedroom.I pulled up a chair and sat Curran leaned against the wall He was still in his beast shape Most shapeshifters could only change form once in a twenty four hour span Shifting twice in a short period of time pretty much guaranteed that theyd pass out for a few hours and wake up ravenous Curran had higher capacity than most, but wed had a long night and the change still tired him He probably wanted to be sharp for this conversation After Currans family was slaughtered, Mahon found him and took him in Curran had grown up with George Her real name was Georgettaand she threatened to pull your arms out if you used itand she was as close to a sister as he had.What happened Curran asked.George took a deep breath Her face was pale, her features sharp, as if her skin were stretched too tight on her face Eduardo is missing.I frowned Clan Heavy mostly consisted of werebears, but a few of their members turned into other large animals, like boars Eduardo Ortego was a werebuffalo He was huge in either shape In a fight, he didnt battle, he bulldozed his opponents down and they didnt get up once he rolled over them I liked Eduardo He was honest, direct, and brave, and he would put himself between danger and a friend in a heartbeat He was also unintentionally hilarious, but that was neither here nor there.Have you spoken to your dad Curran asked.Yes George looked into her cup He wasnt unhappy about it.Why would Mahon be happy that Eduardo had disappeared The werebuffalo was one of the best fighters Clan Heavy had When we left for the Black Sea to procure medicine for the Pack, Clan Heavy had three spots on our crew George volunteered for the first, Mahon took the second, and he chose Eduardo for the third.George, Curran said Start at the beginning Eduardo and I are together, George said.Like together together I thought Eduardo liked Jims sister She nodded.Knock me over with a feather I had seen them both in the Keep probably a hundred times since then and I wouldve never guessed they had a thing I mustve been blind or something.Now that I thought of it, they did spend a lot of time together on the voyage back .How long Curran asked.Since we came back from getting the panacea, George said I love him He loves me He rented a house for us We want to get married.Wow.Mahon is a problem Curran guessed.George grimaced Ed isnt a bear Nobody but a Kodiak would do If not a Kodiak, then at least some sort of a bear Thats why we were so careful I tried talking to Dad seven weeks ago It went badly I asked him what would happen if I got serious with another shapeshifter who wasnt a bear.She looked into her cup again.What did he say Curran asked, his voice gentle.George looked up Her eyes flashed and for a moment my mind shot back to an enormous bear bursting into a room, roaring George was a Kodiak like her father Underestimating her was deadly I thought she was dejected, but now I finally identified the emotion that sharpened her face George was pissed off and she was using every ounce of her will to keep from exploding.She spoke, her voice shaking with rage He told me he would disown me.That sounds like him, Curran said.She shot out of the chair and began to pace the kitchen, circling around the island like a caged animal He said that I had a duty to the clan That I had to pass on my genes and make werebear children with a proper werebear man.Did you tell him that if he likes werebear men so much, maybe he should marry one I said I would pay money to see Mahons face when he heard it.She kept pacing Of all the archaic idiotic thingsHis brain mustve crusted over Maybe hes gone senile.You know he says shit like this, Curran began.She spun to him Dont you dare tell me he doesnt mean it.No, he means it, Curran said That man believes in his heart that bears are superior He means every word when he says it, but he doesnt follow through on it In the seventeen years I ran the Pack, Ive had about two dozen complaints about him, always about things he says and never about things he does He has firm ideas about conduct unbecoming an alpha and a bear Taking out Eduardo would be out of character for him.You werent there George kept pacing You didnt hear him.If I gave them a chance, theyd talk about Mahon all night What happened after you spoke with your father George shook her head You know what this bullshit about passing on genes means It means that if Eduardo and I had children, my father would think they are deficient You dont understand, Kate Im his daughter Of course, I dont, I said I never had problems with my father.George opened her mouth and stopped When it came to Daddy issues, I won to infinity.What happened after Mahon and you had a chat I asked.Eduardo and I talked about it Eduardo was doing odd jobs for Clan Heavy and also helping me with the legal filings That would all disappear Jim needs my dad to maintain his power base I dont have a shred of doubt that if my dad made a stink, my job with the Pack would evaporate, too.Your mom would kill him, Curran said.Yes, she would, George said But it would be after the fact, and the argument would be that its already done and Jim couldnt rehire me because it would make him look weak and indecisive So I began to quietly cash out my investments, and Eduardo rented a house in the city and registered with the Guild.The Mercenary Guild was the largest for profit magic cleanup agency in Atlanta When people encountered some dangerous magic beast or problem, they called the Paranormal Activity Division first, but cops in post Shift Atlanta were overworked and stretched too thin In some cases people called the Order of Merciful Aid next, but dealing with the knights meant giving them complete authority When the cops couldnt come out and the matter was either too minor or too shady for the Order of Merciful Aid, you called the Guild They did bodyguard details, they did magic hazmat cleanup, they did search and destroythey werent picky as long as money was involved Id been a member of the Guild for nine years now It used to be a good place to earn money, but since the death of its founder, the Guild had gone to hell in a handbasket.How did he do at the Guild I asked.He did well, George said He said some people gave him trouble, but it wasnt anything he couldnt handle.Eduardo would do well at the Guild He fit the type When people called the Guild, they wanted to be reassured, and a six foot four man muscled like an Olympic medalist wrestler provided a lot of reassurance Some of the regulars would screw with him because they didnt like competition, but the Guild zoned the gigs Each merc was assigned a territory within the city and if a job fell into that territory, they automatically got it, so while the rest of the mercs could run their mouths and hassle Eduardo, there wasnt much they could do to keep him from earning money.I think Dad figured us out, George said Last week Patrick came to talk to Eduardo.I mentally riffled through the roster of Clan Heavy shapeshifters for Patrick He was Mahons nephew, a carbon copy of his uncle with a matching attitude and size.He told Eduardo that what he was doing was wrong and that if he cared about me, hed leave me alone and not tear me away from the family.Curran grimaced.Would Patrick do something like that on his own I asked him Curran shook his head No When Patrick opens his mouth, Mahon speaks Patrick is an enforcer, not a thinker Thats why Mahon hasnt been grooming him for the alpha spot.Eduardo told him he had no idea what he was talking about Patrick left On Monday, Eduardo didnt come back to his house I waited all night I grabbed a notepad and a pen from the built in shelves When was the last time you saw or spoke with Eduardo Monday morning at seven thirty He asked what I wanted for dinner that night.Today was Wednesday, just barely, since we were just past midnight Eduardo had been gone about forty hours.He didnt call me at lunch, George said He usually does I thought maybe he got held up I went to his house Monday evening He never showed He didnt call and didnt leave a note I know there are some bullshit rules about how long a person has to be missing, but Im telling you, this isnt like him He doesnt just leave me hanging Something bad happened.Did you talk to the Guild I asked.I went there this morning and asked about him Nobody told me anything.That wasnt surprising Mercs were cagey.Georges voice trembled with barely contained rage When I came out, my car was gone.Curran leaned forward His voice was iced over They stole your car She nodded.That was scummy even for the Guild They thought she was an easy target, I said Young woman, alone, one armed, doesnt look like a fighter They didnt realize that she could turn into a thousand pound bear in a blink.I got up, walked over to the phone, and dialed the Guild If Eduardo took a job, the Clerk would know When someone called the Guild with a problem, the Clerk figured out which zone it fell into and called that merc If the merc was busy or couldnt handle the job, the Clerk would then call the next person in the chain until he found someone to take the job If he failed to find anybody, hed pin the gig ticket to a board, which meant anybody could grab it Some jobs went to select people because they required special qualifications, but the majority of gigs followed this pattern The gig distribution ran like a well oiled machine and the Clerk had been there for so long, nobody remembered his name He was just Clerk with a the in front of it, the guy who made sure you had a job and would get paid If Eduardo had taken a gig on Monday, the Clerk would know when and where.The phone rang.Yeah a gruff male voice said.This is Daniels Let me talk to the Clerk.Hes out.Odd, the Clerk usually worked the night shift during the first week of the month.What about Lori Lori was the Clerk s standby.Shes out.When will either of them be in How the hell should I know Disconnect signal.What the devil was going on at the Guild I turned back to George Well go by there first thing in the morning Even if the Clerk wasnt there now, he or one of his subs would be there in the morning I know this is a hard question, but is there any way Eduardo couldve gotten scared off and left George didnt hesitate No He loves me And if he left, he wouldnt have abandoned Max.Max I asked.His pug, she said Hes had him for five years He takes his dog everywhere with him When I came there on Monday, Max was in the office with just enough water and food to last through the day.Eduardo had a pug For some reason, that didnt surprise me Whats Jim doing about this I asked.Nothing, George said I reported Eduardo missing to him in private He told me that he would look into it, and then two hours later he said that Dad was aware Eduardo hadnt checked in.I glanced at Curran.Mahon pulled the clan card, Curran said Eduardos disappearance is a Clan Heavy matter Unless the shapeshifter is an employee of the Pack overall or the clan requests Jims assistance, he cant do much He can tell his people to be on the lookout for Eduardo but wont actively search for him.Cant or wont I asked.Both, Curran said An active search would involve questioning members of Clan Heavy, which would infringe on Mahons authority as an alpha There are strict guidelines that protect the autonomy of each clan within the Pack, and this would cross the line George is right Jim needs Mahon to keep his power base together He wont do anything to intentionally aggravate him In a year or two when Jims well established, it might be different, but for now Jim knows hes walking a tightrope If he actively searches for Eduardo, Mahon can spin it as Jim insulting him and abusing his position as the Beast Lord The moment Mahon publicly confronts Jim, it will be seen as a vote of no confidence in Jims ability to lead, and the rest of the clans will scream that Jim is a dictator who is infringing on their rights If that happens, Jim cant win If he doesnt do anything, hell look weak, and if he challenges Mahon, hell look like a dictator Its a bad place to be, and Jim is too smart to go there.Curran was right about Mahon It was unlikely that the Bear, as Mahon was known, had made Eduardo disappear It wouldnt fit with his ethical code But if Eduardo had managed to disappear on his own, Mahon could take advantage of the situation He simply wouldnt have to search for him that hard George had a huge family on her side She had grown up in Atlanta and if she vanished, the entirety of Clan Heavy would look for her But Eduardo was an outsider Hed arrived in Atlanta roughly three years ago and as far as I knew, he had no family in the state.I dont even know if hes dead or alive Georges composure broke Tears wet her eyes Her voice turned into a ragged snarl He could be dead in a ditch somewhere and nobody is looking for him I keep seeing it in my head, him cold and dead somewhere, covered in dirt I might never see him again How does this even happen How can someone you love be there one second and then gone the next Curran pushed away from the wall and put his monster arms around her gently It will be okay, he said quietly Kate will find him.I didnt know if I should be happy he had complete confidence in me or mad because he was making a promise I wasnt sure I could keep I decided on happy, because I could see a mine buried in our path and I had to tell them about it.George cried soundlessly, worry and anger leaking out from her eyes She had watched my back during the trip to the Black Sea Shed fought for the Pack and shed sacrificed her arm to save a pregnant woman from being murdered She was the one who was always upbeat, always confident and comfortable in her own skin She laughed easily and she said what she thought, because she had no trouble defending her opinion And now she was crying and frantic, and it made me angry, as if something had gone really wrong with the world Life was unfair, but this was pushing it I had to fix this.George stepped away from Curran and rubbed her face with her hand, trying to erase the tears.We have a problem, I said Once we start pulling on this string, the other end might lead back to Clan Heavy Even if George officially hires us and Cutting Edge to look for Eduardo, Jim can still block it Its in our contract When the Pack authorized seed money for Cutting Edge, they put in a clause that in the event a member of the Pack is implicated in any crime, the investigation has to be cleared by the Beast Lord Jim has the power of veto.Who put that in George growled I nodded at Curran He did.It seemed like a good idea at the time, he said So how do we get around this I asked.Curran looked at George I am going to ask you a question and I need you to think about it very carefully before you answer Have you ever heard Eduardo Ortego express an intention to leave the Pack as part of my separation staff Nice If Eduardo left the Pack with Curran, then Curran would have both the authority and the duty to protect him.George drew herself to her full height Yes I had a feeling she had just lied.I also intend to leave the Pack with you, she said Oh boy.Think it over, Curran said This means youll be severing ties with your clan Your parents wont be thrilled either If it turns out that your father had nothing to do with Eduardos disappearance, you might regret it.Give me the contract, George said Curran didnt move.Curran, give me the paper.He walked over to the shelf, took a binder from the top, and opened it to a blank separation contract Once you sign it, you have to completely separate yourself from the Pack within thirty days.George took the pen and signed her name on the line Thats not a problem I can leave tonight.No, you cant, I said You have to go back.Why Because we cant walk into the Keep and start an investigation, Curran said Were blocked by Pack law You know this Its a trade off we dont attempt to influence people into leaving with us, and Jim cant interfere if they do Were no longer part of the Pack, but you still are.You have to go back, do your job, and listen, I said Youre well liked and respected Eduardo was well liked, too You might hear something If someone from Clan Heavy did make Eduardo disappear, your being there will be a constant reminder of that The guilt will eat at them and they might feel bad and come clean, or at least point you in the right direction.I can fight, George growled Just because I have one arm .I know it doesnt slow you down, Curran said But I need you inside the Pack Talk to Patrick On your worst day you can run circles around him.Compliment him for looking out for you See what he knows It might help us find Eduardo.She thought about it Okay.I pulled the writing pad closer to me Now, I need you to tell me about Eduardo Where he lives, what his family is like, what he likes to do Tell me everything.Thirty minutes later we were done.I should go home, George said.We have than enough bedrooms, I said Why dont you spend the night She shook her head No, I want to be home in case he calls You will find him, Kate George was looking at me with a familiar anxious hope in her eyes I had seen it before in the faces of people driven to their breaking point Sometimes you love someone so much that when something bad happens to them, youll do anything to keep them safe If I promised to make Eduardo magically appear if George stabbed herself in the heart, she would do it She was drowning and she was begging me for some straw to grasp.I opened my mouth to lie and couldnt The last time I promised to find someone, I found her chewed up corpse That was how Julie came to live with me I promise you that we will do everything we can Well keep looking and we wont stop until we find something or you ask us to walk away.The relief was plain in her eyes She hadnt heard a thing I said except well find something Thank you.George left I headed upstairs while Curran lingered downstairs to check the doors It was our nightly ritual He checked the doors downstairs and I checked the windows on the second floor, while Julie checked the third I climbed to the second floor and stopped Julie sat on the landing, wrapped in her blanket She was holding a stuffed owl.I remembered the look on Julies face when she told me shed seen the torn up body of her mother It was seared into my memory After Julies father died, her mother drank too much and didnt pay as much attention to Julies existence as she used to, but she loved her daughter deeply and Julie loved her back with the single minded devotion of a child A piece of Julies childhood died that day, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never bring it back I had wished so badly that I could have found Jessica Olsen alive, but she died before I had even started looking.Julie didnt talk about it She never said her mothers name One day we were walking down the street past a yard sale and Julie stopped without saying a word She walked over to the box of toys and pulled out a big stuffed owl toy, just a ball of brown velvet with two dorky white eyes, a yellow triangle of a beak, and two flappy wings She hugged it and I saw a heartbreaking desperation in her eyes I bought the owl on the spot and she took it home Later she told me she used to have one like it when she was a toddler That owl was a secret treasured memory of being happy and being loved, sheltered and protected by two people who adored her, never suspecting that the world would one day smash it all to pieces It had been a year since we found it and she still hugged it when she went to sleep.I gave her the rest of the apple pie, Julie said I hope you dont mind Shes a bear and they like sweets It made her feel better.I dont mind, I said.Youre going to find him, right Im going to try.Ill help you, Julie said Tell me if you need anything.I will.She gathered up her owl and her blanket and stood up I like Eduardo and George Theyre always nice to me She hesitated I dont want her to feel what its like.My heart tried to flip over in my chest It hurt I know Julie nodded and went to the third floor.I would find Eduardo I would find him because he was my friend, because George had suffered enough and deserved a chance to be happy, and because I knew what it was like to have someone you love ripped away from you.Praise for Ilona Andrews and the 1 New York Times Bestselling Kate Daniels NovelsIlona Andrews s books are guaranteed good reads.Patricia Briggs, 1 New York Times bestselling authorKate is a great kick ass heroine LocusOne of the brightest voices in urban fantasyIlona Andrews delivers only the best.Jeaniene Frost, New York Times bestselling authorOne of the best urban fantasy series ever written RT Book ReviewsAndrews s edgy series stands apart Library Journal Urban fantasy absolutely does not get much better than this.SF SignalI cant think of another series so consistent, so well written, so full of wit and action and drama that always manages to give me exactly what Im needing.Fiction Vixen MAGIC SHIFTS ILONA ANDREWS Part of the Kate Daniels series The city lay in front me, deserted, quiet, and steeped magic, unfurling its streets to starlight like a Magic Shifts I didn t realize that we announce this, but has title MAGIC Here is how came be chosen Me Dear Anne, Please bol Magic ebook , Ilona Andrews coming going waves post Shift Atlanta each crest leaves danger wake this gripping novel New York Times Rakuten Kobo Read by with Kobo Rakuten Shifts, Boeken bol paperback eighth from bestselling author who defines urban fantasy Fresh Fiction read online free by your Pc or Mobile Fantasy Andrews on FREE shipping qualifying offers Booktopia A Novel Booktopia Buy discounted Paperback Australia s leading bookstore The Untold Story Leap, World Most Virtual reality posed become fundamental technology, outfits Leap have an opportunity some largest companies ever Triumphs Book Fantasy, Urban genres Bestseller, USA Today Bestseller Release Date Aggregate Algorithms Algorithms There are lots people places create collect algorithms all types here few WWW sites Unfortunately, Reality Shifts Cynthia Sue Larson helps restore sense majesty wonder our everyday world If you think science explained away magic existence, square Wikipedia third order was known Chinese mathematicians as early BCE, explicitly given first century common era Crystals Ocean Jasper calming soothing energetically, allowing observe cause affect emotional state make shifts Chaos Nutshell Peter J Carroll In Chaos treat Belief Tool Magic, rather than end itself Hassan Sabbah Nothing True Everything Permitted World Convention Narcotics Anonymous WCNA 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