Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(60) by Ilona Andrews
A surge of light and fire, as if someone had slit reality open and cosmic flames spilled out.
A face within the fire. Rough, heavy-jawed, muscled face, with bright black tattoos marking the cheeks and the brow. So humanlike, yet so alien . . . Long pointed ears bearing golden hoops, one after another. A collar of gold inset with bright green jewels. A mane of straight black hair, each hair shaft glowing with a golden core like an ember barely covered with soot. Wings rising . . .
Eyes of fire, filled with arrogance and insanity.
A voice rocked through my mind. “You’re weak. You will die. The betrayer will die. Your city will kneel before me.”
“This city doesn’t kneel, asshole. I’m coming for you. Start praying.”
The vision tore apart and reality took me back into its cold embrace. I blinked and saw Mitchell’s feet as he dove into the burrow.
“Wait . . .”
I felt someone’s gaze on my back. The stare stabbed me right between the shoulder blades. I held still, crouched, one knee to the ground.
A second crawled by, painfully slow.
Make your move. Let’s see how well you dance.
Something exploded out of the bushes. I pivoted and saw a ghoul in midleap, curved claws raised.
There was no place to go.
I rolled onto my back, matching its momentum, and kicked with both feet. My heels smashed into the ghoul’s belly, driving it forward over my head. It landed hard, its back slapping the ground. I flipped and lunged at the ghoul just as it managed to turn on its stomach. My knees came down on its back, hard. The ghoul tried to rise and I grasped the sides of its head, shoved it down toward its spine, locking the vertebrae, and twisted. Its neck broke with a dry crunch like a twig.
The ghoul gurgled, shaking. In a moment it would regenerate the neck.
“Clear shot!” Luther screamed. “Give me a clear shot!”
I grabbed the rock I used to call Mitchell and smashed it into the ghoul’s skull. Tiny drops of blood flew. I pummeled its head with the rock as fast and hard as my arm would move. The skull cracked like an eggshell, the bone fragments caved in, and I crushed the soft brain underneath with my rock.
The ghoul went limp. I jumped to my feet. Silver eyes glared at me from the darkness. One, two, three . . . Too many.
I sprinted to the fence, flying across the rocky ground. Behind me the undergrowth rustled. The sound of claws and labored breathing chased me.
On the balcony Luther thrust his hands straight up, his arms vibrating with tension, turned his palms out, his fingers rigid, and forced his arms down, straining, as if he were swimming. An eerie green glow swirled around him, a glowing nimbus. Julie grabbed the crank of the metal bridge.
Luther jerked his left hand up, fingers curved like claws. Dark roots burst out of the ground in an explosion of dirt clumps and surged upward, sprouting foot-long green thorns. The ghoul to the left of me screeched. Out of the corner of my eye I saw it flailing in a clump of the vines. Luther thrust his other hand in the air. Another ghoul screamed.
I was almost to the ramp. Ten feet and I would be there.
A ghoul dodged the roots, sprinting forward on all fours, and lunged at me from the side. I grabbed its right forearm with my left hand, pulling the arm straight and jerking him down and forward, and slid my right arm over the back of its neck and all the way under its armpit. My forearm pressed on the back of its neck and I dropped down to one knee, bringing all of the force of my body onto my elbow, ripping the soft tissue and crushing the vertebrae. The whole thing took half a second. I released the convulsing ghoul and ran to the ramp.
Three feet from it I jumped. My fingers caught the cold metal, and I pulled myself up and dashed across the bridge. Julie spun the crank, retracting it as I ran. I leaped over the last five feet, landing next to her, and turned around. Seven ghouls howled in impotent fury by the fence, their eyes glowing, their teeth bared.
The smallest of them turned to run. Roots shot out of the ground, forming a crescent barrier about thirty yards in diameter. The ghouls whirled, realizing they were trapped.
Luther smiled. “Oh no, my pretties. This is my domain and you’ve trespassed. There is a price to pay for that.”
Luther took a deep breath, his arms rising as if he were about to take flight. Magic shuddered in front of him, like elastic rope wound too tight. The muscles of his back flexed and he snapped his arms to the side and down, palms up.
The ground under the ghouls moved as if the Earth had suddenly became liquid. They sank down, feverishly trying to free their limbs, but the soil held them fast. A green bubble formed in the center of the clearing, grew to the size of a basketball, and exploded. Bright emerald dust shot out, glowing. Spores, I realized. Millions of spores. The green spores washed over the ghouls. Their movements grew less frantic, then slow, slower still, until they were struggling in slow motion as if their very flesh had gradually petrified. The spores sprouted. A dense carpet of moss in a dozen varieties grew, sheathing the ghoul bodies like a velvet blanket. Delicate pink stalks formed over the barely recognizable bodies. Tiny white flowers opened at the ends of the stalks, releasing tiny dots glowing with gold. The air smelled sweet, like a forest just after a morning rain.
Luther inhaled and smiled.
“Very pretty,” Julie said.
“Well, we don’t just sit on our butts filling out paperwork,” Luther said. “We work for our living.”
I pulled my pants on. My feet were beat to hell from running on rocky ground. My middle left toe was probably broken.
“I thought you promised Curran nothing violent.” Julie handed me my turtleneck.
“No, I promised him I wouldn’t fight a giant.”
“So you obey the letter of the law and not the spirit,” she said.
“Yes.” My teeth finally stopped chattering. I loved my turtleneck. I loved my jacket. I loved my boots. Mmm, wonderful warm boots.
“How come when I do that, you chew me out?”
“Because you don’t do it well enough to get away with it.”
Julie blinked. “What kind of move was that, at the end?”
“It’s from Escrima, a Filipino martial art. I’ll show you when we get a minute, but you will have to practice, because it has to be done really fast for it to work.”
“Did you get anything from Mitchell?” Luther asked.
“Yes. It’s an ifrit, a very powerful one. Coal-black and red in color and very fond of fire.” If it had been a marid, folklore said it would’ve been blue, and we had to go by folklore until real life disproved it. “He has a hell of a lot of power, and for some reason he’s keeping Eduardo in a cage.”
I had seen a bowl of water in Eduardo’s cage, but no food. His shoulders had been sticking out of his T-shirt and his face was gaunt, so he was likely starving. An average human could survive roughly twenty days without food. A shapeshifter had to consume two to three times as many calories as a human of the same size. Their regeneration slowed down the starvation somewhat but not enough. If we didn’t get Eduardo out of that cage in the next three days or so, we wouldn’t need to bother looking.
A piercing shriek tore through the silence. It came from inside the building.
LUTHER JERKED THE door open and sprinted down the hall. Julie and I chased him.
“What the hell is that?” I yelled over the shrieks.
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