Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(58) by Ilona Andrews
“I don’t know. Can I talk to Mitchell?” I asked.
“You can try. I tried last night. I even brought very delicious carrion with me, but he wouldn’t come out of his burrow.”
“I’ll give it a shot.”
“Okay,” Luther said. “I’ll get the tranquilizer gun in case the magic fails.”
“Is this dangerous?” Julie asked.
“Yes,” I told her. “I’ll need you to stay with Luther. You can see everything from the balcony.”
“If you come with me, Mitchell might not come out.”
Her face fell. “Fine.”
Luther came out of the back room carrying an oversized rifle. “Shall we?”
We followed him out of the examination room, down the hallway, to a door leading to the outside. Luther pulled a key chain out of his pocket, flipped through the keys with one hand until he found the right one, and unlocked the door. We stepped out onto a private concrete balcony running along the side of the building for about fifty feet. In front of us a large lot stretched, secured by a twenty-foot stone wall topped with coils of razor wire. The wire had some silver in it and the light of the rising moon coated it in a bluish glow. Trees dotted the lot, some normal, some odd and twisted. On the left, black tar-like goo oozed from one of the trunks. On the right, a group of bushes with small red leaves sprouted two-foot-long bright orange thorns. Tiny blue spheres floated in the grass, moving in different directions. Magic pooled and coursed through it, twisting between the trees and leaking from the leaves and spiraling into the ground. Even the ground itself was changed. Sharp outcroppings of translucent citrine-colored crystal cut through the surface like the fins of mythical sea serpents swimming under water. Here and there small veins of pale white rock stretched to form knobby protrusions about a foot high and buttressed to the ground by thin roots.
“What is this?” Julie asked.
“The dumping ground. This is where we put things we want to study,” Luther said.
“This is where they put things when they have no idea what they are or what to do with them,” I told her. “Luther, don’t bullshit my kid.”
Luther rolled his eyes. “Yes. What she said.”
“What if they get out?” Julie asked.
He pointed up. Julie leaned out. I knew what he was pointing at, but I glanced over all the same. Massive catapults and guns lined the roof of the building, pointing at the dumping ground. Anything that tried to leave would be pounded to a bloody pulp.
I stripped off my jacket and pulled off my boots.
“So why do you keep a ghoul in there?” Julie asked.
“Because he used to be one of us,” Luther said. “Mitchell was a brilliant guy. He studied ghoulism and we all thought he would crack it. Turned out he was a point zero zero zero two percenter.”
“Oh.” Julie nodded. “That makes sense.”
Mitchell and I went way back. I knew him when he was still human. He was one of those health nuts who did things like running punishing marathons and then got upset if he wasn’t one of the first ten to cross the finish line. When his transformation hit and he disappeared, Biohazard hired me to find him and bring him back quietly, because they felt responsible for him. Every time a new case of ghoulism became public, people freaked out, which was why the PAD eliminated all new ghouls with extreme prejudice. Nobody at Biohazard wanted Mitchell to be hunted down and shot.
Only two people out of every ten thousand, 0.0002 percent, were susceptible to ghoulism, and evidence showed that they were probably related to each other. Statistically, a citizen of Atlanta had a higher probability of being mauled by a shapeshifter, but every new case of ghoulism invariably caused a panic, because for those two out of ten thousand there was no cure. Shapeshifters were still human. They lived in houses, held jobs, had kids, and led semi-normal lives. But ghouls hid in cemeteries and gorged themselves on corpses.
When I started looking for him, all that marathon running made no difference. Mitchell had done the exact same thing that most human and supernatural fugitives usually did—he ran a little ways and squatted down in the first hidey-hole he found, which just happened to be the South River Sewer tunnel. I found him and brought him in before the PAD managed to get hold of him.
I pulled off my turtleneck. “Mitchell likes it in the dumping ground. He feels safe, he is fed well and on schedule, and nobody bothers him. It’s probably the best place for him right now. He wouldn’t do well out in the wild on his own.”
My sword followed, then my belt, and my pants. A cold wind hit me. Argh.
“Damn, Daniels.” Luther shook his head.
I glanced down. Huge purple bruises covered my legs. I couldn’t remember how I got them. “Occupational hazard.”
Normally after being treated by Doolittle, everything would’ve been healed. He considered it a point of professional pride. My memory served up an image of Doolittle rolling out of the room. I’m tired . . . Healing my brain had drained him dry. He didn’t heal my bruises because he had nothing left.
I was an ungrateful asshole who took him for granted. Once this was over, I would have to take him out to lunch and tell him how much I appreciated his help.
I shivered. I was down to my sports bra, underwear, and socks.
“You’re not going out there like that,” Julie said.
“These are the rules,” I told her. “Mitchell gets scared easily. He likes to be reassured that I am not carrying any weapons.”
“That’s why Mitchell talks to her. Crazy, right?” Luther set the rifle down and turned a heavy crank on the side of the balcony. A foot-wide metal ramp slid from under the balcony, crossed the line of the fence, and stretched down, halting about five feet above the ground. “I won’t go in there naked, and I am a qualified mage. It’s not just what we put in there, it’s all of the things that spawn in there by themselves . . .”
“Not helping,” I growled.
Luther glanced at Julie and shut up.
I swung my legs over the concrete rail of the balcony and stepped onto the ramp. The cold metal burned my feet. Another gust of wind chilled me, and I felt it all the way down to the bone. How do I get myself into these things?
“Remember, try to keep him in plain view,” Luther said. “I can’t bind him if I can’t see him.”
I started down the ramp. Walking on slippery ice-cold metal thirty feet above hard ground, while a cold wind was trying to scour the skin off my body. If I fell, I’d end up right in the razor wire. Wheeee.
God, that wind was cold.
And how did you spend your Friday night, Ms. Daniels? Out on the town, having a lovely dinner and a dance like a normal person. Yeah, right. When I finally caught up with whoever was behind this mess, I would vent all of my frustration at once. I’d been beaten, cut, clawed, and thrown around like a rag doll; my magic had backfired and exploded in my brain; and I’d lost pieces of my memories. Memories I treasured and required to protect those I loved. I’d nearly lost my family. I had a hell of a lot of frustration built up. A bloody overabundance of it.
“Your second mom is a nice person,” Luther said quietly behind me. “There aren’t many people who care about whether they’re scaring a ghoul.”
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