Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(23) by Ilona Andrews
“Can you track them?” Curran asked.
“Sure.” Derek smiled.
“Let’s go ask them,” Curran said.
“I’ll get the car,” I said. I would only slow them down on foot.
Fifteen minutes later I chased them in a Jeep. I’d have to send someone back later to pick up George’s car.
Lions weren’t known for their marathon racing abilities, but Curran was a werelion and by human standards he was a superb runner. He and Derek flew down the street at thirty miles per hour, which for them was probably a refreshing pace.
Ghouls came from the Arabic mythos. One of the earliest known references to them occurred in One Thousand and One Nights. The wolf griffins were rumored to have been native to North Africa and were familiar to Berbers. Muslims conquered North Africa around the seventh century BC, so technically there was some tenuous geographical connection between the griffin and the ghouls. And that’s where it all stopped making sense. Ghouls didn’t answer to any higher authority. They weren’t undead, they retained their free will, and all attempts to control them by outside forces usually ended badly. They were cowardly solitary scavengers or predators of opportunity, who dug deep burrows and hid from people and sunlight. I had no idea how the spider-scorpion thing or the cats fit into it.
Maybe whoever was behind the creatures attacking Mrs. Oswald got really annoyed at Eduardo’s interference and had the ghouls kidnap or kill him? But that would imply that this whoever could control an army of ghouls. Or maybe knew someone who could and that someone owed him a favor. If you’re powerful enough to control ghouls, why would you even care about some cats?
I blew the air out of my mouth. All this wild speculation was just that—speculation. Until we found some evidence, all my outlandish theories were worthless.
Ahead Curran and Derek turned left on Valley View Road. I followed. Small residential houses lined the street, couched in trees and brush. It looked like a relatively quiet neighborhood. No neighborhood was completely safe in post-Shift Atlanta, but this was one of the more stable ones. And as far as I knew, Eduardo had no connection to it besides the random job he’d taken at the Guild.
This mess was getting more and more convoluted. Convoluted wasn’t my favorite. I remembered George thrusting herself in front of a blade to protect a pregnant Desandra. My mind helpfully brought up a recollection of Eduardo knocked out cold and covered in his blood. He’d tried to keep a monster from attacking Doolittle and Jim’s sister and nearly died. George and Eduardo had suffered enough. They’d earned their happiness. I wanted to put them back together and see them happy. I wanted them to marry and have cute babies.
Where the hell are you, Eduardo? What have you gotten yourself into?
We turned left onto Ashford Dunwoody Road. The remnants of a Walmart came into view on the left. Curran and Derek veered toward it. The three hundred yards between me and the Walmart looked like someone had taken a blender to a warehouse: sharp chunks of concrete littered the ground, bound together by twisted metal rebar and broken wooden beams. Broken glass, dull with dirt, glittered here and there, catching a random ray of the sun. Great. If I followed them, I might as well just jump out and slice my tires now.
Derek slowed and made small circles among the debris. The ghouls must’ve lingered there.
Curran tensed, his whole body compressing like a tight spring, and leaped onto a six-foot-high concrete boulder. He landed light and straightened, his gaze fixed on the crumbling corpse of the big-box store. His broad shoulders and the line of his back curved slightly. The wind pulled on his sweats, revealing a glimpse of his hard body, muscles ready to launch him at some unseen threat in an instant. That potential power was like a magnet. If I didn’t know him and I was driving by, I would’ve stopped to get a second look, trying to figure out who that scary hot bastard was.
I would go home with him tonight. Go me.
Okay. There was something seriously wrong with me. First, I was staring at him like some sort of love-struck idiot. Second, I was doing it while sitting in the middle of the street with the motor running. If another vehicle came barreling down the road, I’d get to experience the fun and excitement of a head-on collision. I pulled the car to the curb. It was a consequence of the blood loss. Sure. That was it.
Derek did a one-eighty and ran past me down the road. Curran leaped off the boulder and caught up with him. Here we go again. I eased off the brake. Meadow Lane Road . . . A ruined parking garage loomed on our left, half-hidden behind pines. Curran and Derek ducked into it. I parked the Jeep and went down the slope after them.
The parking garage stretched before me. I stood for a moment, letting my eyes adjust to the gloom. Bare vines, still reeling from winter, blanketed the right and left sides of the garage, growing denser toward the back, where the ceiling of the structure had caved in. Three cars, pinned in place by the crushing weight of concrete, rusted quietly in the far left corner. Next to them Curran waited. Derek crouched by him. In front of them a fissure split the concrete wall. From here it looked solid black, at least eight feet tall and three feet wide.
Of course. Why wouldn’t it be a terrible dark pit? Just once I would like it to be a breezy path through some garden with roses and sunshine.
I jogged to them. Derek pivoted on his feet toward me. “The trail leads in there.”
No, it doesn’t. “Okay.”
Derek ducked into the gap. I looked after him. The concrete ended after about five feet, merging into a tunnel dug in soil, angling down. A cold, dank odor washed over me.
I felt Curran behind me and straightened. My back brushed against his chest. I didn’t want to go down into that hole. I would do almost anything else. I just didn’t want to go down there.
“Baby?” Curran asked.
Right now Eduardo could be down there, waiting for help. I stepped into the gap and started moving. I just had to put one foot in front of the other and not think about thousands of pounds of soil and rock that would bury me alive if it collapsed.
“You okay?” he asked quietly.
“I’m great.” I could barely see Derek in the darkness moving ahead of me. My imagination painted an avalanche of loose dirt dropping into the tunnel in front of me, burying me, getting sucked into my lungs . . . I tasted adrenaline on my tongue. Tunnels were never on my favorite list of things, but today my body was going into overdrive.
“Your pulse is speeding up.”
I just had to pick a shapeshifter. “Apparently dark narrow tunnels leading deep underground don’t agree with me.”
He wrapped his arms around me. I stopped. My heart was hammering against my ribs. What the hell was wrong with me?
Curran kissed my hair. His voice was a quiet warm whisper in my ear. “This isn’t Mishmar.”
Memories cascaded through my mind like a bucket of cold water dumped over my head. Being trapped in a tunnel filled with water, clinging to the metal grate, holding Ghastek’s head so he wouldn’t drown, running through the dark passageways while hundreds of undead chased us . . .
Curran’s voice cut through it, calm and reassuring. “We aren’t trapped. It’s just a hole in the dirt.”
I inhaled deeply, leaning on him. Breathing from the bottom of your lungs short-circuited anxiety, and so I breathed slowly, trying to get my exhales to last longer than my inhales, and stood wrapped in him.
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