Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(18) by Ilona Andrews
Mac shook his head.
“They fine them. Ten grand. Poaching in another merc’s zone is another ten grand. That’s forty grand between the two of you. Guess what I’m going to do when I go back to the Guild?”
“Nobody knows you,” Mac squeezed out.
“You’re wrong. Everybody knows me. I have nine years in.”
Mac’s face went slack.
“So you have a choice, Mac. You can take your idiot cousin and you can leave this city. Or you can go back and face the Guild and work overtime for them for the next five years or so. But we’ll be around and I promise you, I’ll make your life as hard as I can.”
I let go of his arm. Curran casually tossed Leroy on the pavement. Leroy landed on his ass, jumped up, and rushed at Curran. Curran let him get close and backhanded him, almost as an afterthought, the way one would swat a fly. The blow landed on Leroy’s ear. The big merc spun, stumbling. Mac caught him.
“Our gear is in the truck,” Mac said.
“You can pick it up at the Guild,” I told him.
“You’re a fucking bitch, you know that?” Mac said.
“I’ll have to live with myself.”
“This isn’t over!” Leroy jabbed his finger at Curran. He probably meant it to look aggressive, but he was swaying on his feet.
“Yes, it is,” Curran told him. “Go before I change my mind.”
The corpse of the wolf griffin shivered. Flesh bulged in the middle of it, like a bloody red tumor, growing bigger and bigger.
“What the hell?” Curran snarled.
“I don’t know.” I pulled Sarrat free.
The tumor ruptured.
CURRAN AND I backed away. A three-foot-long orange-brown spike shot out of the griffin’s corpse, stabbing to the sky. The second spike pierced the corpse from within. The spikes bent, resting on the pavement, each bristling with six-inch-long rigid hair. The corpse shuddered, as if it were being sucked into something from the inside.
The spikes flexed and a huge insectoid head emerged, covered with bristles. Two pairs of dark brown mandibles jutted from it like two crab pincers the size of scimitars. Dark, nearly black serrated teeth lined the inside of each pincer.
The creature kept coming out of the griffin’s corpse: two fat chelicerae supporting the mandibles, a big round blob of a head with a bump in its center crowned with two black baseball-sized eyes, legs, more legs emerging segment by segment, thorax, a long segmented abdomen. The wolf griffin corpse shriveled, deflating, and vanished, pulled into the new creature. The giant insect landed in the driveway. Ten legs, the first pair huge and long, the others smaller, thrust from its ten-foot-long body, held about five feet off the ground. The damn thing was the size of the FJ Cruiser parked behind us.
The giant insect ground its mandible pincers. A grinding screech split the quiet. I winced.
“What the hell is that?” Curran growled, moving to the right.
“I don’t know.” I walked to the left. It looked like a scorpion and a really hairy spider had somehow mated and their offspring grew to fifty times its normal size. I’d never seen anything like it. Those mandible-pincers looked like they would slice through bone like it was butter. We couldn’t let it get into the house. It would rip the whole family apart.
The legs were all chitin. Trying to cut through them with Sarrat would just break the blade. Trying to claw at it wouldn’t do any good either. Its fat abdomen was softer, but getting to it would be a bitch.
A deep dry voice rolled through the street, so saturated with magic, it almost reverberated on my skin. “Die.”
Why me? “We don’t do requests. Try Iowa. I hear they’re more accommodating.” Hey, Dad, I found a lovely present for this coming Father’s Day. Enjoy.
The insect pointed a leg at me. “Die.”
Curran’s eyes went gold. His clothes tore, falling in shreds to the street, as the massive meld of human and lion spilled out. “Let’s see you try that shit on me.”
The insect lunged at Curran, shockingly fast. Curran jerked his arms up, catching the insect’s front pair of legs in his grip. His feet slid.
Holy crap. His feet slid.
I dashed to the side, trying to circle the creature from the left. A leg stabbed at me like a spear. I dodged and it scoured the concrete where I had stood a moment ago, gouging a chunk from it. The other leg swung at me. I saw it coming, but I could do nothing about it. It swept me off my feet. I flew across the grass. My back smashed against something solid, wood snapped with a dry crunch, and I crashed through the fence.
Ow. I rolled to my feet.
Curran stood in the middle of the street, his hands still locked on the insect’s front pair of legs. The spider-scorpion was lunging at him again and again, trying to grip him with its pincers. If those mandibles closed on Curran, they’d slice his arms off.
Oh no, you don’t.
I charged the spider. The legs stabbed at me. I dodged back and forth. How the hell could it even see me? A leg landed in front of me; I ducked left and saw one of the black eyeballs swivel, following me. It could look back and front at the same time.
I thrust into the opening between two legs. Sarrat sliced into the insect’s abdomen and I ripped the blade back, opening a cut. A leg cut at me, scraping against my back and side as I spun to avoid it. Pain lanced me. I jumped back. Clear ichor dripped from the cut, revealing clumps of translucent guts, like clusters of fish bladders. An acrid stench, sharp and fetid, like the odor of rotting fish, washed over me. The insect didn’t even notice.
“Kate,” Curran ground out. “Hit it with magic.”
“I can’t.” The legs sliced at me like a windmill of blades. “You’re holding it. You’ll be hit, too. Let go of it.”
“If I let go of it, it will tear me apart.”
He couldn’t throw it either. The insect’s center of mass was suspended too high above the ground. Curran didn’t have the leverage.
The only word that wouldn’t cause him direct harm would freeze the spider-scorpion for four seconds. I wouldn’t be able to do enough damage. The moment they both came to, the insect would cut Curran to pieces.
He couldn’t hold it forever.
The leg directly above me rose, aiming to pierce my chest from above. I dove under it, right under the abdomen pulsing with contractions, and stabbed straight up. Ichor drenched me. My eyes watered from the stench. I stabbed again and again, ripping the slippery fish-bladder innards. The guts spilled through the gashes, hanging like some gross fruit. I wasn’t doing enough damage.
Curran snarled. The abdomen moved up half a foot. The thing was gaining on him.
I thrust my left hand under my T-shirt, where the leg had cut me. My fingers came out bloody. I sat straight up and thrust my wet hand into the cut I’d made. The magic in my blood screamed, eager to be unleashed. I gave it a push. The blood streamed from my wound up my shoulder, up my arm, into the spider-insect, and turned solid. A dozen thin spikes pierced the creature from within.
The spider-scorpion screeched. Felt that, did you? Have some more.
The abdomen plunged at me. The insect had reared, trying to crush me. I thrust my arms up, crossing them to block. Suddenly the abdomen disappeared. I rolled right and jumped to my feet.
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