Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(87) by Ilona Andrews
Thank you, boy wonder.
“If we survive this,” Bahir said, “and you need something, anything at all, call on me.”
“You may come to regret that offer.”
“Anything at all,” Bahir said.
The first vehicle tore through the greenery, a large black SUV with a metal grate shielding the radiator. I caught a glimpse of Martha, George’s mother, behind the wheel. She was a plump middle-aged African American woman with a wealth of curly hair. I had only spoken with her a few times. She usually knitted during Pack Council meetings, and if our gazes happened to cross, she smiled. She wasn’t smiling right now. She saw us on the roof, saw the gathering of shadhavar, and floored it. The SUV plowed into the herd. Some managed to dash aside, but at least three crashed to the ground. Martha threw the vehicle into reverse and rolled over the thrashing bodies.
Three more vehicles followed the first, bulldozing the herd down. Martha popped her door open and stepped out. A shadhavar tried to ram her. She grabbed its horn and slapped it upside the head. The shadavar moaned and collapsed, its feet jerking. On the other side George exited the vehicle, grabbed the nearest shadhavar by the head, twisted it off its feet, and stomped. Dear God.
The vehicles disgorged shapeshifters. It looked like George’s entire extended family had shown up.
“If it moves, kill it,” Martha called out. “I don’t want to hear anything but us breathing in this parking lot!”
I held my arm out to Derek. “Pinch me.”
He reached over.
“She’s the alpha of Clan Heavy,” he said. “Martha is really nice but only until someone tries to screw with her family.”
BY THE TIME Curran and Mahon arrived, together with six knights of the Order, and Luther, Patrice, and another Biohazard mage whose name I hadn’t caught, the parking lot was filled with shadhavar bodies. Clan Heavy sustained no casualties.
“You missed the slaughter,” I reported.
Curran grimaced. “You missed me carrying horses over the rubble.”
Curran and horses didn’t get along. He thought they were unpredictable and untrustworthy, and they thought he was a werelion.
I waited until Mahon was out of earshot. “Why didn’t you tell me Martha was a terminator in disguise?”
He smiled. “She was Aunt B’s best friend. I thought you’d figure it out sooner or later. Where is your ride?”
“He went into the hospital to scout.”
“Then we should follow.”
It took about thirty seconds to gather everyone. We went through the doors single file: Derek first, tracking Adib’s scent; Curran and me; then Bahir, leading Amal gently; the knights; the mages, protected from all sides because they squished easily; and finally Clan Heavy. George walked between her parents. She and Martha wore identical pinched expressions. Mahon was clearly in the doghouse.
We passed through the deserted hallway of the ER, then through the doorway, its doors lying on the floor. A light glowed ahead, in the gap of a crumbling wall. Derek moved toward it. We followed.
A vast garden unrolled before us. Lush flowers bloomed among the greenery. Ponds offered crystal-clear water, reflecting the delicate petals of pink, white, and lavender lotuses. Palms rustled overhead, over curving paths of golden sand.
I stepped through the gap. In the distance, reigning over the splendor, a palace rose. It wasn’t the glowing white perfection and slim minarets of the Taj Mahal, with its arched balconies or its golden cupolas. Instead, a forest of colossal columns stood among the greenery, their length painted a brilliant red. Each column terminated in a carved textured pedestal of vivid, almost turquoise, blue, upon which a golden animal statue snarled at the garden, its head and body supporting the sharp rectangular blue roof, decorated with a textured parapet of golden spikes. This was an ancient palace, conceived in the time when dyes were prized, height was awe-inspiring, and elegance and subtlety were faults rather than virtues. It meant to communicate true power—the power to make countless human beings toil all of their lives as slaves to raise those columns to their dizzying height. It hit your senses like a hammer. I hated it.
How much power must it have taken to create this out of nothing?
Next to me, Curran squared his shoulders. The palace was a challenge thrown at unseen opponents. Come and take it if you dare. Curran wrinkled his lip, his eyes gold. He dared.
I elbowed Curran. “Hey, when I said blue would be nice for the downstairs, I didn’t mean that kind of blue.”
“Maybe it’s his ace in a hole,” he said, his face dark. “Thirty seconds in that palace and we’ll go blind.”
“It has to be at least three miles wide,” Nick said next to me. “How the hell is he folding it into this building?
“The madman lies.” Adib emerged from the bushes and stopped midway in the pond.
“The flowers have no scent,” Derek said. “I smell dust and a few other things, but none of this.”
I crouched by the pond and scooped some water. I could see it in my hand, but I felt nothing. There was no substance.
“The knight-archivarius must’ve wished for this place,” Luther said. “But the djinn didn’t have enough power, so he gave her an illusion.”
Bahir reached into the scabbard on his waist and unsheathed a blade. It was a beautiful sword, almost straight, single-edged, with a portion of the blade near the tip, about ten inches long, curved for a vicious strike. Bahir cut his arm. Blood ran down his blade and burst into flame. He raised the flaming sword like a torch. His skin gained a darker golden hue. His eyes turned red like two glowing embers. The garden parted before him, melting. A path opened, about a foot across, the ground not some golden sand, but the typical dirt and rocks found in Atlanta.
“Lead the way,” Curran told him.
We followed Bahir toward the palace.
• • •
THE JOURNEY TO the palace should’ve taken only fifteen minutes, but it took twice as long. We went over the plan again. Curran had come up with the strategy, and his plans usually worked. Getting everyone to stick to it was another matter entirely. I had asked Nick if he’d brought any more of the Galahad warheads, to which he asked me just how many of the ten-thousand-dollar warheads I thought he was authorized for. I told him that brevity was a virtue and “no” would’ve been just fine as a response, and then Luther had to give us his “save the city and stop bickering” speech.
Gradually dirt became sand, flowers gained aroma, and moisture saturated the air. About ten feet from the red palace steps, the illusion evolved into reality. I stopped to draw some blood. I could’ve probably done it earlier, but I didn’t want to take chances with its potency. We passed between the colossal columns into a shadowed hall, our steps loud on the polished stone. A throne stood at the end of the hall, a massive carved chair of stone, painted with garish abandon. A woman of incredible beauty sat on the throne. Her dark hair, arranged in artful spiral waves, fell on her diaphanous gown of pale gold and blue. Gold chains wove through her hair, a necklace of blood-red rubies rested around her neck, and a single large earring, its simplicity jarring and out of place, decorated her left ear. A black panther sat by her throne, and the woman stroked the beast’s head with her long fingernails. Oh boy. I had walked into an old Sinbad movie. Too bad the monsters wouldn’t be Claymation.
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