Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(34) by Ilona Andrews
“Did you find out anything?” Curran asked.
She shook her head. “Did you find him? Did you—”
“We know the ghouls took him,” I said. “He was alive when they got him. We don’t know why.”
Her face was a pale mask, her teeth clenched, her eyes feverish. “Ghouls? What?”
“Come inside,” I told her. “We’ll explain everything.”
CUDDLES CLOPPED DOWN the street at a jerky trot. She galloped like a champ and was comfortable to ride at a walk or a canter, but her trot was rattling teeth in my skull. I slowed her down a couple of times, but she felt like trotting this morning and once she got something into her head, no force on Earth could change her mind. I’d taken her because the magic waves had been coming in short bursts lately, and an enchanted engine took forever to warm up. Also because a couple of weeks ago Buckhead had experienced an invisible hailstorm. You didn’t see the hail, but you saw the impact. It didn’t cause that much damage—most of Buckhead was in ruins anyway—but it turned the roads into an obstacle course of potholes.
“You’re trying to kill me, is that it?” I shifted in the saddle, trying to find a spot where my back didn’t hurt.
Cuddles ignored me and kept trotting.
This morning when I woke up, my body let me know just how displeased it was that I wasn’t spending the day in bed. I dragged myself up, we made breakfast, and then I went one way and Curran and Julie went the other. Maybe I should have taken a car. I needed to make progress today and Saiman was my best bet.
Saiman made his lair in the posh luxury of a Champion Heights penthouse. The building was impossible to miss. It was just about the only high-rise still left standing in Buckhead. Its owners had sunk an obscene amount of power into its wards, tricking magic into thinking the building was a very large natural rock. During the magic waves parts of it looked like a granite crag, but right now it was a fifteen-floor building, shrouded in morning fog and backlit by the rays of the rising sun like some mystical spire of an evil overlord.
“I don’t like it either,” I told her. “But you’ll love their stable. It’s to die for.”
We passed a parking lot filled with slick, expensive vehicles and I steered Cuddles to the stable. Then the stable employee and I had a brief discussion about whether Cuddles actually qualified as a mount. However, I had twenty bucks and was willing to part with it, so I won by default. With Cuddles safely placed into a stall, I climbed the stairs to the front doors, where a security guard leveled an AK-47 at me. I gave him Saiman’s pass code and a few moments later the elevator spat me out on the fifteenth floor. They had replaced the hallway carpet since my last visit. The new one was midnight-blue, with ridiculously high pile. If I stepped into it, I’d probably sink in up to my ears. They should’ve equipped the elevator with a life vest just in case.
I walked to Saiman’s door and knocked.
He was home. Saiman was a creature of habit. Catching him at night was hit or miss, but no matter how adventurous he had gotten, he would return home in the morning.
I stood by the door and waited. He’d heard my knock. Once was enough. Eventually his curiosity would get the better of him and he would open the door.
A moment passed. Another crawled by.
Saiman and I had a long history. We met during a Guild job. He managed to piss off some volhves and I ended up bodyguarding him for one very long night. Saiman was a polymorph: he could assume any human shape, any gender, any age, and any size within human norm. During the night, he declared that if he assumed the right shape, any person would have sex with him and then he propositioned me. I told him that sex required more than physical attraction. Saiman didn’t like being turned down. He gave me a large discount on his services in an effort to keep me around so he could keep trying to prove his point. Then he tried to use me to get back at Curran for some injury to his pride, and my sweet and understanding fiancé broke into Saiman’s warehouse, ripped an engine out of one of the luxury cars stored there, and used it to demolish the rest of Saiman’s overpriced car fleet. Since then they had somewhat buried the hatchet—lots of money was involved—but there was no telling what sort of reception I would get.
The lock clicked as the deadbolt slid aside. The door swung open, revealing Saiman. He was wearing my father’s face.
He’d duplicated it perfectly, from the elegant jaw to the straight nose and the masterful sweep of sable-black eyebrows, but he couldn’t reproduce the eyes. Roland’s eyes shone with barely suppressed power. Hugh once told me that facing him was like looking into the eyes of the sun. I had done it, and the magic emanating from my father was like an avalanche. It caused me to back down for the first time in a very long time, not because I was afraid I would die but because I was afraid that everyone I loved would die with me. This “Roland” had Saiman’s eyes: sardonic, conceited, and resigned to coexisting with idiots who had a fraction of his intellect and weren’t worthy to share the air he breathed.
Saiman pondered me, clearly knocked off his stride. He must’ve planned to intimidate or unsettle me. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t have looked less like my father if he’d been an eighty-year-old woman.
I tried to look at him again, lost it, and laughed louder.
“Come inside,” he snapped.
“Yes, Dad.” I followed him in, snickering.
Saiman’s face acquired a lovely purple tint. “There is nothing humorous about this.”
“You’re going to have to do something about your new outfit. You keep cracking me up.”
Saiman’s face crawled. My stomach forgot it was inside me and tried to flee in horror. His bones moved, stretching the skin in a vomit-inducing, grotesque jig as if tennis balls were rolling under his skin. His hair disappeared, absorbed, his build slimmed down, and finally a new man stood in front of me. Bald, of medium build, his face neither ugly, nor handsome. A blank canvas of a face studded with sharp eyes. This was his neutral form, the one he wore most often.
“Much better,” I told him, trying to persuade my stomach to keep down breakfast.
Saiman invited me to sit down with a sweep of his hand. His apartment was an ultramodern oasis: curved futuristic lines, steel, glass, black walls, white plush furniture. It was a bit soulless.
I took a seat on the white couch. “For a man steeped in magic, you seem very fond of technology.”
“I like its civilizing influence.” Saiman sat across from me.
“And the fact that it’s getting more and more expensive to obtain has nothing to do with it?”
“That’s beside the point, Sharrim.”
Sharrim. Of the king. That was what Roland’s people called me. Saiman wasn’t just a magic expert. He was also an information broker. Secrets were his stock-in-trade and he was trying to rub my nose in mine. That was okay. Two could play this game.
“I think it’s perfectly relevant to this discussion, Aesir. Tell me, does Loki ever come to visit his grandson? What does he think of your crib?”
Saiman sat up straighter.
“Let me save you the trouble,” I said. “Let’s stop pretending that you hadn’t figured it out prior to me claiming the city. This is what you do. You saw the words on my skin, and you went with us to the Black Sea and wandered around Hugh d’Ambray’s castle. There is no denying that I look like my father. You figured it out and you chose not to do anything about it. You played dumb, because you wanted to know how it would all shake out. Now we know. You have to make a choice, Saiman. Would you rather talk to Sharrim or Kate Daniels? I can be either, but you have my guarantee you will like one much less than the other.”
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