Home > Magic Mourns (Kate Daniels #3.5)(6)

Magic Mourns (Kate Daniels #3.5)(6)
Ilona Andrews

I sighed. “Which would be?”

Raphael shook his head. “You really don’t know?”

“No, I don’t.”

He trotted off to the side and dived into a ravine. I waited for a couple of minutes, and he emerged, carrying two dark objects, and tossed one of them to me. Reflexively I caught it even as the reek lashed my nostrils. A dead, half-decomposed cat.

“Are you out of your mind?”

“Some people roll in it.” He grabbed the dog carcass and ripped it in a half. Maggots spilled. He shook them out. “I prefer to tear them and tie pieces on myself. But if you would prefer to rub it all over your skin, you can do that, too.”

All my fantasies of touching him evaporated into thin air with a small pop.

“Hunting one-oh-one,” he said. “Didn’t your pack ever do the hunts in Texas?”

“No. I wasn’t in that kind of pack.” And I had fought my way out of shapeshifter society before it was too late.

My face must’ve showed my memories, because he paused. “That bad?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Raphael reached to the backseat and pulled a roll of cord we kept there. He uncoiled a foot-long piece and tore the tough hemp rope like it was a hair. “You don’t have to do it,” he said. “I keep forgetting you’re not—”

Not what? Not normal? Not like him?

“—properly trained. I’ll be back shortly.”

He wasn’t better than me. Whatever he could handle, I could deal with as well.

I picked up the roll of twine. If I had been straight bouda, like my mother, I would’ve enjoyed all of the enhancements Lyc-V brought, but even though I wasn’t as strong as a regular shapeshifter, I could handle the damn rope. I tore a piece, sighed, and pulled the cat apart.

“It’s a good thing I’m part hyena,” I murmured, moving along the bottom of the ravine. Bits of the cat corpse dangled from me, strategically positioned on my limbs and suspended from a cord off my neck. To a human nose, all decomposition odors were similar, but in reality each corpse gave off its own specific scent just as it did in life. And this particular carcass reeked of something nauseatingly sour. “If I were a cat, I’d probably die of the stink and the sheer indignity.”

“You know who can’t handle it?” Raphael scrambled up the slope like a gecko. “Doolittle.”

“The Pack’s doctor?” Even carrying my Weatherby, I made it out of the ravine faster than he did. What I couldn’t match in strength, I made up in agility and speed.

“Yeah. Badgers are very clean. In the wild, foxes sometimes steal badger burrows by sneaking into them and crapping all over the place. The badger is so prissy, he’d rather dig a new burrow than clean his old one up. Doolittle will do open-heart surgery if he has to, but hand him a chunk of a putrid cadaver and he’ll run for the hills.”

An echo of a growl washed over us. He clamped his mouth shut. We’d reached the dog’s hearing range.

A few minutes later we went aground on the edge. Several ravines converged here, forming a gap almost wide enough to enclose a football field. The house sat in the center of the gap. Two stories high, with a row of white columns supporting a triangular roof, it looked at us with twin rows of windows blocked by dark shutters. Its black front door stood closed and so did the doors of the cellar on the left side. A ten-foot-tall fence topped with coils of barbed wire guarded the house.

As we watched, Cerberus trotted out of the ravine. He whined softly, spit dripping in burning clumps of foam from between his fangs, and inched toward the fence. The left head stretched on his shaggy neck and sniffed at the mesh. A blue spark jumped from the metal to his nose. Cerberus yelped, clawed the ground in frustration, and trotted off.

Electrified fencing. Peculiar. No wires stretched to the house, so the power must have come from inside. I strained and heard the faint hum of a generator.

The doors to the cellar rose slowly. Something squirmed beneath them, something pale. The right half of the cellar door fell open and a creature leapt into the open. Its gaunt, vaguely humanoid body had lost every iota of its hair and fat long ego. Thick, bloodless skin sheathed the dry cords of its muscles, every rib distinct beneath its leathery hide. Its stomach was hard and ridged. Huge yellow claws tipped the fingers of its hands and its long toes.

A vampire. And where there was a vampire, there had to be a navigator. I raised the binoculars to my eyes.

The vampire’s face was horrible, a death mask sculpted with human features devoid of emotion, intellect, and self-awareness. The creature paused, perched on the edge of the cellar entrance. It unhinged its maw, displaying twin sickles of yellow fangs, leapt straight up, and clutched on to the wall of the house like a fly. The vamp scuttled up the wall, ran along the dark roof to the white stub of the chimney, and hopped in like some nightmarish Santa.

We could possibly deal with the electric fence. But a vampire would prove problematic. We had no way of knowing how many of them were in that house. Two would present a challenge. Three would be suicide. Especially if magic hit.

“Andrea?” Raphael’s voice was a soft cloud of warmth in my ear.

I glanced at him. What?

“Did you like the thing I left for you?”

The thing? Oh. The thing. Shapeshifters had an odd way of courtship. Mostly it involved proving to your prospective mate what a stealthy and sleek operator you were by prancing in and out of her territory. Because all of the land belonged to the Pack overall, “territory” came to be defined as the potential mate’s house. Most shapeshifters broke in and left presents, but boudas had an odd sense of humor. They broke into the houses of their intended and played practical jokes.

Raphael’s father glued Aunt B’s furniture to the ceiling. Raphael’s uncle lock picked his way into Raphael’s aunt’s house, flipped all the doors around, and hung them back on their hinges so the handles were inside. In fine bouda tradition, Raphael somehow snuck away during the Midnight Games, broke into my apartment, and left me the thing.

“You want to know that now?” I hissed in a fierce whisper.

“Just tell me yes or no?”

“Do you really think this is the best time?”

His eyes flashed with red. “There might not be any other time left.”

I turned and saw Cerberus crouching in the ravine behind us. He stood there absolutely still, the three pairs of his eyes fixed on us with baleful fury.

I turned very slowly to Raphael.

“Did you like the thing?” he asked with quiet desperation.

“Yes. It was funny.”

He grinned, his face made unbearably handsome by the flash of his smile.

With a deafening growl, Cerberus charged us. Fur sheathed the monstrous bloom of Raphael’s jaws. I flipped on my back.

Cerberus’s center head dove at me, his black maw gaping, ready to swallow me whole.

I fired.

The first shot punched the back of the dog’s mouth. It yelped and I sank two more in the same spot. Flesh exploded and I saw sky through the hole where the back of the beast’s throat used to be. The head drooped down. I rolled clear just as an enormous paw clawed the spot where I had dropped. The smallest claw grazed my side and leg, ripping the clothes in a hot flash of pain.

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