Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(2) by Ilona Andrews
“How large is the group?”
“Thirty plus,” Ghastek said.
That wasn’t 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. I’d 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 doesn’t let her fiancé 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. I’d 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 should’ve gone to inspect the boundary sooner, but I’d 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 out . . . But pretending that the claiming hadn’t happened had done me no favors.
Something moved in the distance. I focused on it. The movement continued, the horizon rippling slightly. A few breaths and the ripples 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, that’s 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- edged and razor sharp, 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 Sarrat’s 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 backs and shoulders. The horns were a defensive mechanism. If someone tried to pull a 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. I’d 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 face, 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 would’ve blended into the road completely.
None of them were lame, starved, or weak. The odds weren’t 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.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online