Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(82) by Ilona Andrews
“Then I wouldn’t have been an ifrit.” Bahir smiled. “Eventually I met some of my clansmen. They had the visions as well and they were frightened. I was trying to find some answers. I found only legends cobbled together from fragments of visions and dreams. A long time ago a powerful ifrit ruled a kingdom of djinn. We don’t know his name. One of my clansmen called him Shakush, the Hammer, because his dreams gave him a pounding headache as if his skull were being struck by a hammer. Shakush had many warriors and princes under his command. One day a holy man who trespassed in his territory was brought to him. The ifrit king mocked the holy man and ordered him beheaded. As the holy man’s head rolled off his shoulders onto the floor, his mouth opened and he cursed the ifrit to madness.”
So far this was a paint-by-numbers folkloric cautionary story. Don’t be mean to random strangers and those in need.
“Eventually the ifrit king went mad, but his magic was too potent and even the combined might of his warriors couldn’t overcome it. They failed to kill him. Sometimes, when the power of your enemy is too great, the only thing you can do is contain it. Shakush’s warriors confined his essence to an amulet. Nobody knows what they did with it, but when it surfaced in my dreams, it was an earring on the earlobe of an old woman. The period of technology had weakened the seal on it and magic woke the mad ifrit. At first he was weak, his power a mere whisper. It took him years to corrupt the owners of the earring, but with every victim he grew a little stronger.
“One of my clansmen had the gift of prophecy. He could reach further into his dreams than I could. He told me that Shakush was driven by vengeance. Three ifrit warriors had performed the containment ritual and now Shakush was hunting their descendants, killing them one by one. After he was done, he would turn on the rest of the clan that had betrayed him. That meant that eventually he would make his way to me. I have seen my ancestor’s face in my dreams. He was the one who fitted the lid onto the amulet.”
If the ifrits were as vindictive as my father claimed, there would be no escape and no place to hide. Shakush would find him.
“Did your people offer to help you?” Curran asked.
“They were not warriors. Within our society there are castes. Only those with greater magic and a violent nature enter battle. My clansmen are artists, teachers, and tradesmen. One is a lawyer, another is a pediatric nurse. The woman who stabbed me is an elementary school teacher. They had drawn straws to see who would perform the test and she pulled a short one. She was terrified out of her wits, but Shakush scared her more. In a fight with Shakush, they would simply become victims. He would devour their magic. They were so happy when they found me. They thought I would protect them from the mad creature Shakush had become.”
That must’ve been so terrible. To think that you had finally found the answers and help you needed, only to realize everyone was counting on you to save them. “What did you do?”
Bahir leaned back. “I had to protect myself. I had to protect my son, so I began training. I tried dojos and martial arts clubs, but it wasn’t the right kind of training. So I asked my clansmen and they finally found a man who would teach me. He was a killer, and the things I learned from him turned my stomach.”
“But they felt right,” Nick said.
Bahir nodded. “Yes. There were no points and no submission holds.”
“And your wife?” George asked.
“I kept most of it from her. I didn’t want her to have to carry the weight of knowing that an unseen terrible creature was searching for her husband and her son. It was my burden. My clansmen couldn’t help me fight, but they helped in other ways. One of them was a smith. He made my weapons. The rest did research. We dug through folklore and historical accounts, what little there were. Finally through a combination of many hours of study and prophetic dreams, we came on the design for a box.”
He nodded at the box on the table.
“It should contain the ifrit, sealing him in once again.”
“Should?” Mahon asked.
“Should is as certain as we can be. A box of this design was used once by a holy man to contain an enraged desert marid. If it can hold a sandstorm, it should hold Shakush.”
“And your wife?” George asked. “I’m just trying to understand why you were never in Eduardo’s life.”
“It wasn’t by choice. The breaking point came when a husband of one of the teachers at the college where I taught at the time brought a gun into the building. He was a disturbed man. She had left him and he was trying to hunt her down. I took his life. It happened very quickly. I saw the gun. He fired at her. I reacted.”
His voice sounded flat. “It was almost as if the dagger had taken me over and driven itself into his body. I could’ve disarmed him. I knew how. But I didn’t.”
Being trained as an efficient killer wasn’t enough. You also had to learn to control your stress and your fear, becoming so used to violence that you could detach yourself from the trauma of it and assess the level of violence necessary to respond. When the fight-or-flight response kicked in, Mother Nature shut off our brains. It was a biological survival mechanism. By the time our minds processed the full impact of a predator’s presence, we would already be running for the nearest tree.
Bahir wasn’t a natural predator. Given a moment to think, he probably wouldn’t have killed the man, but in the pressure cooker of the moment, his body simply reacted and his training took over.
“I had committed a great sin,” Bahir said.
“Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption in the land—it is as if he had slain mankind entirely,” Luther said quietly.
“Yes.” Bahir nodded.
The Qur’an had many different verses, some pointing to war, some pointing to peace, but the fifth chapter of it was clear on the subject of murder. Human life was precious.
“I went to the man who taught me and asked him why this had happened. He said I was too old. I started too late. I realized that my son had to be a better fighter than me. Eduardo was six at the time, so I took him to be trained. When Rima found out, she was furious with me. She wanted an explanation, so I told her everything. I had planned out how to tell her, and it sounded reasonable in my head, but when it came to the actual explanation, everything went wrong. It was a jumbled mess. I must’ve sounded like a man deep in the throes of a psychotic break, raving about murder, holy men, and vengeful ifrits. I had begun to build the box by then, so I brought it out. It was plain steel then.”
Nitish had said the inside of it was bone. “What is under the steel?” I asked.
“My father’s skull.”
“The lid is made of my mother’s bones.” Shame twisted his face. “I desecrated their graves to make it. They both carried ifrit blood. I tested their bones for it and the magic in them will help contain him.”
Yeah, if I were his wife and he had unloaded all of this on me at once, I would be less than thrilled.
“Rima was horrified. She asked me to check myself into a hospital. I refused. She asked me to stop exposing our son to violence. I told her that violence would find him one way or another. At least we could prepare him. She thought I was mentally ill.”
He sighed. “My wife is a gentle soft-spoken woman, but when it concerns our son, she is fierce. The next day I went to work and when I came home, she was gone. I found her two weeks later. She had traveled to Oklahoma and joined a werebuffalo community. I tried to reason with her. I stayed as long as I could, but it became clear to me that she wouldn’t change her mind.”
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