Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(59) by Ilona Andrews
I expected Julie to tell him I wasn’t her mom. She didn’t say anything.
I reached the end of the ramp. It terminated right over a rocky outcropping. Perfect. Just perfect. I crouched, sat, and slid down gently. My feet hit the hard stone. My teeth chattered. I wanted to hug myself, but there were things watching me from the darkness. Looking like a victim encouraged predators. I squared my shoulders and picked my way across the rocky ground.
Something shivered in the tall black-leafed bushes to the left. A pair of silvery elongated eyes ignited. The hair on the back of my neck rose. Adrenaline coursed through me, the instinctual fear hot and sharp.
I stared at the eyes. “Piss off.”
The eyes narrowed to slits. The bushes rustled as their owner retreated. That’s right. Keep going.
I skirted a pool of slimy orange goo and came into a small clearing, exactly thirty feet wide. I knew the size because Luther had it mowed once every few weeks. It took five people to do it. One drove an armored lawn mower and the other four guarded the driver.
A large white rock jutted out of the center of the clearing. Next to it a hole gaped in the ground, so dark it looked like it was filled with liquid blackness.
I chose a spot about ten feet from the rock, picked up a stone the size of a grapefruit, crouched, and knocked on a rocky outcropping.
Mitchell required patience. I knocked again, hitting the rock against the stone in a steady measured rhythm. My back was to the brush. I presented an awesome target, crouched and nearly naked.
Knock . . . knock . . . knock . . . Come on, Mitchell. Come talk to me.
Knock . . . knock . . .
Something stirred within the darkness of the ghoul burrow.
I put the rock down and waited.
A long spadelike hand armed with straight, narrow claws emerged, followed by a thin arm, a grotesque head, and then shoulders. A moment and Mitchell squeezed himself out of the burrow and crouched in the open. Moonlight slid over his dirt-colored skin mottled with patches of gray and deeper brown, and set his eyes aglow with eerie silver. His horns, the curved spikelike protrusions on his back and shoulders, were almost six inches long, a full three inches longer than the last time I saw him. Something had terrified Mitchell and his body had responded. A long chain wrapped around his left ankle and a rough band of thick scar tissue encircled his leg right above it. He had clawed at his own flesh trying to get the chain off. If Luther had put him on a chain, he and I would have words once I was done.
Mitchell didn’t move. Neither did I. We crouched, barely three feet between us. Some picture we must’ve made, a naked ghoul and a nearly naked human shivering in the cold, sitting nose to nose.
Mitchell turned his head and looked at the moon, his eyes glowing.
“Tell me about the chain,” I said.
“I found it.” His voice was rough, as if he were grinding gravel with his teeth. “The thing chained to it was dead, so I took the chain.”
So he had put himself on the chain? “Why?”
“Do you not hear it? The call?” Mitchell looked at the moon again. “He’s calling. It’s like a weight. It grinds on you, it pushes and pushes, and it hurts.” He looked back at me, his face contorted. “It hurts.” He touched his forehead. “In here.” His clawed hands slid lower to his neck. “And here.” Lower still to his chest. “Here. And here. In the stomach. It squeezes me. It hurts.”
Sudden rage flooded me. Mitchell had suffered enough. He had lost his humanity and his family. He was a scared, quiet creature who had never hurt anyone. All he wanted to do was to live in his burrow and be safe. And now some supernatural asshole was torturing him.
“Who is calling you?”
“I don’t know. But I feel it. I can see him in my mind. I don’t want to go.” Mitchell looked at the chain. “I don’t want to go. I will die if I go, but the pain is getting stronger. One day I will gnaw through my leg and go.”
“Can you tell me where the call is coming from?”
“Why?” Mitchell’s voice dripped with despair.
“So I can go there and make him stop.”
“You can’t. You’re not strong enough. Not strong enough for his magic.”
“I can and I will. I’ve never failed you before. I won’t now.”
Mitchell didn’t answer.
“Let me help you,” I whispered. “Let me make it stop hurting.”
Mitchell’s face trembled. His whole body shuddered. As I watched, the patina of spots on his skin shifted, turning darker. His horns grew another quarter inch. Holy crap. That was crazy even for a ghoul. He was scared out of his mind.
“He will know,” Mitchell whispered. “He will know if I tell.”
“He’s sent others to get me, but I burrowed deep and they got scared before they could dig to me. They watch me.”
Damn it. “When was this?”
“The day I fed.”
So on Tuesday. “How did they get through the fence?”
Mitchell leaned even closer and whispered. “They dug a hole. They are waiting in there even now, watching us.”
They dug a tunnel. Of course. Once we finished here, Luther and I would have to find it. “If you tell me, I promise I will kill them and then I’ll find him and kill him, too.”
Mitchell’s skin turned almost black. “No. He has others. Some like me and some like I was meant to be. He has others. He has a man in a cage.”
Eduardo. This was my only chance.
“You will die and then he will send others for me.”
“I have never lied to you.” I scratched the back of my left arm with my nails. A tiny drop of blood swelled. “I will stop him.”
I stretched my arm to him. His nostrils flared. He focused on the blood, his eyes glowing.
“Taste it,” I whispered.
Slowly, Mitchell rested one clawed hand on the ground, leaned forward, and dipped his head. A thick tongue slid from between his teeth and scraped the trace of blood off my skin. Light burst in his mouth, a beautiful fire, as if he had swallowed a tiny yellow star. The veins in his neck ignited with fiery radiance. It dashed down his blood vessels to his heart, through his body, to his limbs.
Mitchell surged upright, glowing, his body larger, stronger, more muscular. Fire swirled around him, caressing his form but never touching. His face snapped into a long muzzle that might have belonged to a dragon or a demonic dog. Horns of fire spiraled out of his head. His eyes flared with bright orange, as if an inferno burned inside him. A foreign intelligence regarded me with cool detachment.
Mitchell cried out. I felt the magic explode inside him and dove to the ground. A blast of heat tore through the clearing, snapping branches. Mitchell shuddered and collapsed back into his old form.
It was so fast, I thought I’d imagined it. Maybe I did . . .
“Holy shit!” Luther barked.
Nope, I didn’t.
Mitchell raised his head. His eyes were still on fire.
“Take it!” he whispered.
The fiery eyes burned into my mind. Magic stretched between us, woven with power and heat. It touched my mind and exploded into fire in my head. Images swirled. A cavern . . . No, the inside of a half-collapsed building. The floors had fallen down and only the outer walls remained. Pale beams of moonlight shining down through the holes in the roof. A human-sized cage suspended from the ceiling. A man in the cage, thin, his clothes torn and bloody. Eduardo. Ghouls. Dozens of ghouls below, blanketing the floor with their bodies . . .
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