Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(21) by Ilona Andrews
I almost ground my teeth. They sprinkled cayenne pepper to keep Curran off the property, like he was a stray dog come sniffing.
“Apparently they don’t understand I could step over it.”
“I’ll talk to them.”
He shook his head again. “No. They’re scared because they don’t know me. I get them. I don’t get you. Why are you protecting them?”
“Because they can’t always protect themselves.”
Curran looked at me, his face hard. “In the Pack, everyone is of a kind. We all belong together. We are united. Everyone contributes, some more, some less. We work toward a common goal of living a safe life.”
“So do these people.”
Curran grimaced. “If I were beating you in the street, they wouldn’t lift a finger to help you.”
“If you were beating me in the middle of the Keep, would anyone lift a finger? Or would they all simply decide to look away because alphas are fighting and it’s none of their business?”
Curran growled. “Kate . . .”
“You have a prejudice against people who are not shapeshifters.” I leaned against him. He put his arm around me. “It’s not a baseless prejudice, because when people fear someone, they treat them with suspicion. To a lot of people, shapeshifters are monsters, and you were the king of the monsters. I understand. To the Pack, I was a monster and they treated me accordingly.”
“Not all of them.”
“No, not all of them. That’s exactly my point.”
I turned my head and kissed him. His lips were warm and the familiar taste dashed across my tongue.
“You’ve never lived among non-shapeshifters, Curran. I have. I’ve seen a man run into a burning building to save a dog. I’ve seen people sacrifice themselves for strangers. Not all of them are willing to do this, but enough to matter. That’s why I help them. Give them a chance. I think they might surprise you.”
He sighed and squeezed me closer to him.
“Are you seriously considering taking over the Guild?” I asked him. “It’s in shambles.”
He grinned at me. It was the happy smile of an amused predator. “I’ve got this.”
“They will never be another Pack. They’re too independent. And they don’t like authority.”
“I don’t need another Pack. The Pack has too many rules anyway. I have some ideas for these guys. They just don’t know it yet.”
“They’ll fight you every step of the way.”
“I hope so.” Curran laughed quietly. “I’d take them on one at a time or in batches. It would be fun.”
This unchained thing was making him scary. “That’s what I love about you, Your Furriness. Your humility and modesty.”
“Don’t forget my razor-sharp wit and boyish good looks.”
“The Guild has something the Pack doesn’t,” Curran said. “Variety. There are shooters, melee fighters, and magic users. It might be what we will need to . . .” He paused.
“What is it?”
“The wind changed.” Curran rose and walked down the sidewalk. I followed him. We passed a lamppost, another . . . Another twenty yards and I would have to turn back. We were getting too far away from the spider-scorpion’s corpse.
Curran stopped and crouched. A large pale scrape crossed the sidewalk. He inhaled deeply, wrinkling his face.
“What is it?”
His expression was grim. “Ghouls. Lots of ghouls.”
A long ululating shriek of magic-powered sirens rolled through the streets. The cavalry was coming.
BIOHAZARD ARRIVED IN style: two black SUVs and an armored semi carrying steel containers instead of a trailer. The SUVs vomited ten people in Biohazard contamination suits and one stocky, dark-haired man in a red hoodie. On the hoodie white letters spelled out WIZARD AT LARGE. Small world.
The wizard at large stabbed his finger at me. “You! The unclean one! Tell me everything.”
“Hi, Luther. I thought you worked for the PAD.”
He made a sour face. “Too much politics¸ too little magic. They have issues with my professional strategy. Also, their dental sucks.”
“So you got fired?”
“When I quit the Order, you told me I was besmirched.”
“That’s because you quit in a huff over some silliness like trying to save people’s lives. I quit to maximize my earning potential. Don’t you know being a hero is a losing bet? The pay is shit and people hate you for it.” Luther looked at Curran. “Who is the male specimen?”
Curran offered Luther his hand. “Lennart.”
Luther grabbed Curran’s hand and smelled it. “Shapeshifter, feline, probably a lion, but not the run-of-the-mill African Simba. You’ve got an odd scent about you.” He glanced at me. “Why do you always hang out with weirdos?”
“It’s her special talent,” Curran said. “She attracts us like bees to honey.”
Luther shook his head and turned to the corpse of the bug. The Biohazard artist was busily trying to sketch it, while the rest of the crew stood around it with acid and flamethrowers. “Tell me about the thing.”
I explained Mrs. Oswald’s story.
“It spoke?” Luther asked.
“Yes.” Normal apparitions weren’t sentient. They didn’t speak, and if they did, not with that much power. “There was a lot of magic in the voice. You could feel it on your skin.”
“I don’t like it,” Luther said.
I didn’t like it either. “Someone has a grudge against cats. I don’t know if it was Mrs. Oswald’s particular cats or any cats in general. But the cat hater is persistent. First he or she sent a tick. After Eduardo killed it, the Summoner followed it with the griffin, and when the griffin was too small to break through the bars, he or she must’ve sunk some magic into it to make it bigger. And then it turned into that.” I nodded at the corpse. “I don’t even know what the hell it is.”
“We got a bug guy back at HQ. I’ll give you a call when he sorts it out.” Luther pondered the corpse. “The cross-phylum metamorphosis bothers me.”
It bothered me, too.
The sketch artist waved his sketchbook. “Done.”
“Okay, mates,” Luther called. “Bag it, tag it, and chain it up.”
The crew began rolling out plastic.
“Hey, Luther,” I said. “You guys didn’t hire any new ghouls, did you?”
Luther spun to me, his eyes focused, like a shark sensing a drop of blood in the water. “You know something. Tell me.”
“The Pack scouts found a lot of dead ghouls on a road to the east,” Curran said. “We had breakfast with the Beast Lord and he mentioned it.”
Luther pondered him. “Sure, I’ll buy that. Oh wait, I have a brain. Sorry, completely forgot. The ghouls were found in pieces. Someone ripped them apart with claws and cut them to pieces with a sword. And here the two of you are, one has claws and the other has a sword.”
“We’re not the only people in the city with swords and claws,” Curran said.
Luther squinted at us. “What are you two up to?”
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