Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(24) by Ilona Andrews
My pulse slowed. The odd uncomfortable panic was still there, but it receded far enough that I could keep a lid on it. I squeezed his hand. “I’m good.”
He let me go and I pushed my way through, trying to speed up.
The tunnel narrowed. My shoulders brushed the dirt. Great. The anxiety hammered at me. I concentrated on my breathing, slow and deep.
A minute passed. Another.
Just keep moving. Keep moving. It will end.
It will end.
It felt like we’d been underground for eternity. It had to be at least thirty minutes.
It had to end . . .
How far did this damn tunnel go?
A hand rested on the small of my back and slid down.
“Did you just grab my butt?” I whispered.
“Yes?” I could hear controlled laughter in his voice.
Unbelievable. I sped up. “We’re tracking ghouls and you’re grabbing my butt.”
“I always make sure to pay attention to important things.”
“Sure you do.”
“Besides, if the tunnel collapses, I won’t get to do it again.”
“You won’t get to do it again anyway. I can’t even see Derek anymore. He probably heard about your butt-grabbing and decided to give us some space.”
“Maybe you just move too slow.”
“You should try making more noise as you walk, too.” Curran suggested. “Maybe the ghouls will mistake you for a small underground elephant and run off.”
“When we get out of here, I’ll kick you.”
The tunnel turned. A faint light illuminated Derek almost fifty yards ahead of me. He jumped down into the light. I double-timed it. A moment and I grabbed onto the edge of the tunnel’s opening. A large open cavern spread before me, its floor about seven feet below, illuminated by daylight streaming in through a hole in its ceiling. The ray of light fell onto a mangled vehicle sitting upright in the middle of the floor, its hood a crushed Coke can of a mess, its back up in the air. Derek was nowhere in sight.
A mangled black vehicle.
A sick feeling pulled at my stomach. I jumped down. The impact of hard ground punched the soles of my feet. The cavern stretched into a large tunnel to the left and to the right, too uniform not to be manmade. It just got better and better.
Curran landed next to me, silent like a ghost. It wasn’t fair that a man that large could move that quietly.
“MARTA,” I told him.
He frowned at me.
“Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. We just entered the Red Line.”
MARTA began in the 1970s and grew into a network of bus lines and heavy rail stations, some above ground, some under. In its heyday, over four hundred thousand people rode it daily, but the magic waves crushed it. The trains were the first to go. Not that many of them crashed, but magic spawned nightmarish creatures who enjoyed hiding in dark tunnels and grabbing tasty snacks conveniently aggregating on the platforms for them. People refused to go underground. The buses held out for a while, but finally the city threw in the towel. Now MARTA stations stood abandoned, their tunnels turned into lairs by things with sharp teeth.
“How far does it go?” Curran asked.
“I have no idea. They were expanding it when the Shift happened. There are probably miles of rail underground.” Tracking ghouls through miles of tunnels would be like hunting a rat in a maze with a dozen exits.
We moved together, quietly walking toward the vehicle. Where the hell had boy wonder gotten off to?
The SUV sat directly under the hole. I looked up. It was just large enough for a vehicle to pass through.
“Is it a Tahoe?”
Curran reached up, grabbed the transmission, and pulled. Metal groaned as the butt of the SUV tipped toward Curran. It’s good to be a werelion.
“Yep. It’s a Tahoe.”
Dread washed over me in a cold clammy wave. It had to be Eduardo’s car. The ghouls had killed him, left his body to rot, and pushed the car in here, where nobody would find it.
Curran lowered the SUV and let it fall the last two feet. Long gashes scoured the paint on the sides. Ghoul claws. The tinted windows of the vehicle had cracked but hadn’t fallen out. Dust sheathed the cracks. I couldn’t see anything. I reached for the driver’s-side door. In my head, Eduardo’s mangled corpse soaked in his own blood in the driver’s seat.
Don’t be dead . . . don’t be dead . . .
I pulled the door open. It swung with a screech, revealing the cab.
Oh phew. Phew.
Curran pulled the other door off. “I smell him. It’s his car.”
The interior of the Tahoe looked like it had been through a tornado made of knives.
“Does he smell dead?”
“No.” He inhaled. “It reeks of ghouls.”
“Our ghouls? The ones we killed?”
“No, a different group. These scents are older.”
So we had more than one group of ghouls running amok.
Derek walked out of the left tunnel. “The trail stops here.”
“What do you mean, stops?” I asked.
“I walked in both directions.” Derek leaned against the grimy wall. “The trail comes here and then simply stops. There are no fresh ghoul scent trails in either tunnel.”
“They didn’t just fly off,” I said.
“Could they grow wings?” Curran asked.
“I doubt it.” Ghouls with wings, that was all we needed. “If they could grow wings, they would’ve done it by now. It’s a great defensive adaptation and they are cowards.”
“Their scent says they got here and then they vanished,” Derek said.
I rubbed my face. “That would suggest teleportation.”
“D’Ambray teleports,” Curran said.
“Yes, but Hugh uses power words and special water that’s been messed with by Roland. That teleportation is my father’s exclusive trick. Besides, I would know if Hugh were in the city.”
“How?” Derek asked.
“I would feel him crossing the border into Atlanta.”
Curran leaned toward me. “There is a border?”
“Were you planning on sharing that with the class?” His voice was quiet.
“It didn’t come up.”
He didn’t look happy. When in trouble, change the subject. “The point is, teleportation is a difficult thing that takes a crap ton of magic.”
“Is ‘crapton’ a technical term?” Derek asked.
Smartass. “Yes,” I growled. “I examined a scene of teleportation during the Lighthouse Keeper mess. It was done by volhves.”
Volhves were Russian druids, and unlike the actual druids, who were struggling to overcome the historical stigma of human sacrifice, volhves didn’t give a damn.
“These were really powerful pagan priests, but they had to sacrifice a human being to get enough juice.”
“What’s your point?” Curran asked.
“Look around you. No signs of a ritual. Just dirt.”
The three of us surveyed the cavern.
“I have no idea what we are dealing with,” I said. “I really, really don’t like it.”
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