Home > Magic Mourns (Kate Daniels #3.5)(8)

Magic Mourns (Kate Daniels #3.5)(8)
Ilona Andrews

“Absolutely not.”

Raphael twitched his nose. “Are you so scared to stay with me that you’d actually prefer to be ripped apart by a couple of vampires?”

“I’m not scared of you.”

His lips stretched back in a nightmarish smile, exhibiting a wall of teeth capable of snapping a cow’s femur in half like a toothpick. “I promise to keep my hands, tongue, and other body parts to myself. You risk your life by staying home. It’s late and we’re both too wiped out to go climbing into the People’s lair tonight. What do you risk by coming with me?”

“A huge migraine from being in your company.” Try as I might, I couldn’t find any fault with his reasoning. It was logically sound. And I wanted to see his place. I practically itched with curiosity.

“I’ll share my aspirin,” he promised.

“And that’s all you will share. I mean it, Raphael. Touch any part of me with any part of you without permission and I’ll put bullets into you.”

“I understand.”

It took me almost ten minutes of chanting to start the Jeep. Equipped with an enchanted water engine in addition to its gasoline one, the Jeep managed to attain the speed of nearly forty miles per hour during the magic wave, which in itself was an enormous achievement of magic manipulation. Unfortunately, it suffered from the illness affecting every magic-capable vehicle: it made noise. Not the typical mechanical noise of an engine either. No, it snarled, coughed, roared, and belched thunder in its effort to attain sonic supremacy, so all conversation had to be carried out at a screaming level. I kept quiet and Raphael napped. When a tired shapeshifter wants his rest, you could fire cannons next to him. He won’t care.

A few minutes later we pulled up before my apartment. Raphael followed me up the stairs, dimly lit by the pale blue glow of feylanterns, and sauntered into my living room. I opened the side door leading to one of the two bedrooms, which I used for storage, and heard Raphael suck in the air through his nostrils.

I glanced up and saw the thing. He had left it in the living room, but I kept bumping into it and eventually moved it here, to a corner by the barred window. A six-foot-tall metal chandelier-like contraption made of thin brass wire, the thing stretched from the ceiling to the floor, rotating slowly. Branches of wire stuck out from it and on the branches little glass ornaments shimmered, suspended on golden chains. The ornaments contained thongs.

“You kept it,” he said softly.

I shrugged. I actually hadn’t taken into account the effect it might have on him. A miscalculation on my part. “It beats digging for my underwear in the drawer.”

His eyes widened. “Are you wearing one now?”

“Mind out of my pants!” I ordered. “One more infraction, and I’m staying home.”

He said nothing. I grabbed a blue duffel bag and went about the bedroom collecting equipment. My travel kit: spare toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, deodorant. Crossbow bolts in neat bundles, their broadheads safely wrapped in soft wool in a box. Sharpshooter IV, a nice light crossbow. I pulled open the dresser and plucked a few boxes of ammo from it. Silver point.

“You’re the only woman I know who keeps bullets in her dresser,” he said.

“I use this room for storage.”

“There are bullets in the other dresser, too,” he said.

I suppose it was inevitable. He was a man, a bouda, and he had access to my apartment. It would be impossible for him not to have examined the contents of my dresser. At least he didn’t write on it in a big red marker, RAPHAEL WAS HERE.

“I like to be prepared. I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night, empty my clip into some crazed shapeshifter sneaking about my apartment, and then have to run around looking for more ammo when he doesn’t stay down.”

Raphael winced.

If he knew I had lied about the thing, he wouldn’t be wincing. He’d be grinning ear to ear. I wasn’t sure myself why I had kept it, except that it must’ve taken him hours to assemble it all, and it would’ve required nearly godlike ninja skills to slip away from the strict security of the Midnight Games to set it up. He went through all that trouble for me. I couldn’t throw it away.

Having filled my duffel with weapons of destruction, I headed to my bedroom and shut the door in his face when he tried to follow. He didn’t need to see me pack my spare underwear.

I packed a change of clothes and paused. I was incredibly filthy. Incredibly disgustingly filthy. I had to take a shower either here, where I had my shampoo and my soap, or in Raphael’s apartment. I grabbed a change of clothes and a firearm and stepped out of the room. “I’m going to shower. Stay out of my bathroom.”

“Okay.”

I got into the bathroom, slid the tiny deadbolt closed, and heard him lean on the wall next to it. “I’ve seen you naked, you know,” he said. “Twice.”

“Near-death experiences don’t count,” I said, stripping off my clothes and trying not to think of Raphael holding me firmly and whispering soft encouragements in my ear, while Doolittle had cut silver out of my body. Some memories were too dangerous to carry around.

When I emerged, clean, dressed, and smelling mostly of coconut with only mere traces of dead cat, I found Raphael examining the photographs on my shelf. Short little me and my mother, a petite blonde, standing side by side.

“You’re about eight?” he guessed.

“Eleven. I was always small for my age. Weaker than everyone else.” I touched the photograph gently. “In the wild, hyena cubs are born with functioning eyes and teeth. They start fighting the moment they’re born, and the stronger female tries to kill her sisters. Sometimes the weaker girls get too scared to nurse and die of starvation. The adults try to stop it, but hyena cubs will dig tunnels, too small for adults to enter, so they’ll fight to death there.”

“Boudas don’t dig tunnels,” Raphael said softly.

“You’re right. They don’t have to hide their violence from adults either.” They just try to beat you to death in the open. They do it right in front of your mother because they know she can’t protect you.

I reached into the frame and pulled out a small photograph resting behind it. The man on it hunched over oddly, nude, yet still dappled with faint outlines of hyena spots. His arms were too thickly muscled, his face too heavy on the jaws, its skin darkening at the nose. His round eyes were solid black.

Lyc-V, the virus that created shapeshifters, infected humans and animals alike. Very rarely it produced an animal-were, a creature who started his life as an animal and gained the ability to turn human. Most didn’t survive the transformation. Of the rare few who did, the majority suffered from severe retardation. Mute and stupid, they were universally reviled. The human shapeshifters killed them on sight. But once in a while, an animal-were turned out to be intelligent, learned to speak, and could express his thoughts. And even more rarely, he could breed.

I was the product of a mating between a female bouda and a hyenawere. My father was an animal. The shapeshifters called people like me “beastkin.” And they killed us. No trial, no questions, nothing but immediate death. That’s why I hid my secret self deep inside and never let her out.

Raphael’s clawed, furry hand rested on my shoulder gently.

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