Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(86) by Ilona Andrews
The ifrit hound turned, following the road. Years ago this place must’ve been beautifully landscaped, but now the trees and brush were in full revolt, filling the artificially curved lawns. A stone sign blinked by with some arrows on it, and Adib punched through the wall of green into the empty parking lot. The old hospital crouched in the gloom. At least three stories of it were still standing, and the lamps supporting feylanterns still glowed weakly, trying to combat the darkness of the parking lot. Adib halted in front of the emergency room entrance under a concrete roof. The ride was over. Thank you, Universe.
“We wait for the others,” I said, and slid off his back. My thighs were killing me.
We were alone. Curran and Derek must’ve fallen back.
Adib turned around, raised his head, and inhaled deeply. “I will scout ahead.”
“Wait . . .”
The ifrit hound dashed through the broken door of the hospital and vanished into the gloom. Damn it.
I sat on the ground. My body ached as if someone had worked me over with a sack of bricks.
Derek leaped through the greenery and ran to me.
“Where is Curran?” I asked.
“He had to double back. The vehicles and horses couldn’t get through the Unicorn, and the bears are slow.”
Yeah, I bet Mahon was just loving this race.
“He’s helping to lift . . .” Derek paused. “Something is coming.”
I reached for my sword.
The sound of hoofbeats echoed through the empty parking lot. A creature walked into our view on the left and halted under a lamppost. It stood six feet tall, the lines of its lean, almost fragile body reminiscent of a gazelle, but its neck and powerful chest was all horse. Pale sandy fur sheathed its flanks, striped with darker cinnamon-brown. A single foot-long horn protruded from its forehead, narrow and sharp like the blade of a saber. Long dark stains stretched across its face from its eyes, as if it had been crying. Crap.
The creature resumed its slow gait, heading for us, the lines of its body mesmerizing.
“Is that a unicorn?” Derek asked.
The creature passed under another lamp. A dark red stain marked its horn. Crap, crap, crap.
“No, it’s not.” I rose from the ground. “That’s a shadhavar. A Persian unicorn.”
“I take it they’re not nice.”
Derek stood up.
The trees and bushes rustled. More shadhavar emerged from the brush. A small foal on our right shouldered his way past his mother. He was carrying a severed human arm, still in the sleeve, in his teeth. One, two, three, seven, twelve . . . Too many.
“Are we fighting?” Derek asked.
“No, we’re going to be sensible and wait for backup.” We had much bigger fish to fry. Running into a herd of carnivorous unicorns would be very brave and ridiculously stupid. Why risk getting a horn through your side and being taken out of the fight when there were reinforcements around the corner?
A large shadhavar pawed the ground with his hoof.
Derek glanced at the concrete roof above our heads. “I’ll boost you.”
He grabbed me by the waist and hurled me up. I caught the edge of the roof and pulled myself up onto it. The shadhavar charged.
Derek leaped up, bounced off the building, and dropped by my side.
The shadhavar reared, baring long triangular teeth at us, yellow against their blood-red gums. That was a sight enough to give you nightmares.
“Yes, yes, keep smiling.” No worries. Our backup was coming.
The winged horse circled above us.
I glanced up. “When we’re fighting, keep an eye on him for me, please.”
“Sure,” Derek said. “Why?”
“Some people are natural killers. Curran is one. I am, as well. He isn’t. Bahir is what happens when you force murder on a decent, kind human being. He is fierce and he’ll kill if he has to, because he thinks it’s his duty, but he doesn’t have enough experience to make calculated decisions. He may try to sacrifice himself for our greater good.”
“Pot, kettle,” Derek said.
“I sacrificed myself after I’ve weighed all of our options and realized there is no other choice. He may not see all of the options. He has taken a life, and the guilt is gnawing at him. He may see his sacrifice as atonement. I want him to survive this, if we can make it happen. He and Eduardo deserve to have a conversation.”
The winged horse swooped low and Bahir jumped onto the roof. Amal beat her incredible wings, soared above us, and landed on the crumbling wall of the building.
“Do you need assistance?” Bahir asked.
“We’ll wait for the vehicles to get here,” I told him.
“Oh. In that case I will wait with you.”
He sat by me.
“Do you know my son well?”
“I know that he is honest and brave. He doesn’t hesitate to put himself between his friends and danger. He is devoted to George and he worked very long hours hoping to build a family with her. I’m proud to call him a friend.”
Bahir remained silent.
“Did you speak with George?” I asked.
“Yes. She said she saw him burning. Shakush is torturing my son.”
“We saw him burning during one of the ifrit’s attacks. I don’t know if it was real or another illusion.”
“Do you think my son is still alive?” he asked.
He was looking for reassurance. Sadly I had none.
“I saw him in a vision,” I said. “He was in a cage starving. He wasn’t in the best shape, but I think he’s alive because the ifrit is waiting for you.”
“He’s waiting to kill my son in front of me,” Bahir said.
Bahir sighed. “If you come into possession of the earring, you need to know what to expect. The ifrit will seduce you. The moment you touch his prison, he burrows into your soul, tears it open, and feeds on your greatest fear. If you are afraid of growing old, he will offer you youth. If you think yourself ugly, he will promise you beauty. He will move mountains and resurrect the dead, and if he lacks the power to do it, he will trick your mind into thinking he has done it. With every wish, you will surrender a part of your soul to him and he will lie and betray you until he possesses you completely.”
“So how do we fight that?” Derek asked.
“You must reject the djinn.”
“Easier said than done,” I said.
“Yes. But there are forces within our soul that are greater than he. Loyalty. Duty. Love. Honor. If you are not sure, it isn’t too late to turn back.”
I smiled. “I’ll stay, but thank you for the pep talk.”
“You have a life.”
“So do you and your son. Eduardo is my friend. I refuse to let him die in a cage.”
“Yes, but few people would risk certain death for a friend.”
“I’m doing it out of selfish reasons,” I told him. “If we fail to stop the ifrit, he’ll come after my family next. We frustrated him a few times and he’s an arrogant sonovabitch who hates losing.”
Bahir didn’t look entirely convinced.
A distant roar of enchanted water engines announced that the cavalry was coming.
“It’s what they do,” Derek said. “Don’t ask her why. Just take the help. You won’t get better.”
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