Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(3) by Ilona Andrews
The ghoul rocked forward. His face touched the boundary and he pulled back and stared at me. He wasn’t 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 couldn’t 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.
I’d bet my arm these ghouls weren’t 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. That’s 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 more bladelike, with serrated edges. Got you.
The ghoul unhinged his jaw. A rough raspy voice came out. “Who are you?”
“Turn around now and you’ll live.”
He clamped his mouth shut. Apparently this wasn’t the answer he’d expected. Kate Daniels, master of surprises. Don’t worry, I’m just getting started.
“We’re a licensed cleanup crew,” the leader ghoul said.
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 didn’t 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.
Location of license and license number. He thought I was born yesterday.
“We’re a peaceful group,” the ghoul continued.
“Sure you are. You’re just running into the city to borrow a cup of sugar and invite people to your church.”
“You’re interfering with official municipal business. This is discrimination.”
The dark shadow emerged onto the road and started toward us. I’d 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 we’ve 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 Sarrat’s 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 didn’t like where this was going.
“Your claws aren’t 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. They’re 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 more seconds . . .
“Kill her,” another ghoul chimed in. “We have to hurry.”
“Kill her. He’s 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. You’ve been raiding the countryside and growing fat from gorging yourself on the people you’ve murdered. I gave you a chance to leave. Now it’s 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 will 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. “That’s the great thing about werelions. You don’t need an army. You just need one.”
The ghoul twisted his face. “You’re not a werelion, meat.”
“I’m not.” I nodded behind them. “He is.”
The leader ghoul spun around.
Two gold eyes stared at him from the darkness. The enormous lionlike 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-dropping 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 lion’s 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 more than anyone else I’d 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 didn’t 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 must’ve blunted its teeth, because it didn’t 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 would’ve broken their bones.
I swung my sword. Sarrat met a ghoul’s 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 Sarrat’s tip pierce the tight ball of its heart.
The lion’s body roiled, 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.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online