"Too heavy," I murmured.

"And brittle," he said softly. "I broke four."

"Why didn't you have one when you and Bono fought over Derek?"

His eyes flashed. "I did," he said. "It shattered in my coat when he kicked me."

I ran my finger along the blades. Considering how little time he had, they were amazingly well made.

"I won't get anywhere near him with this one." I put the large blade down and picked up the smaller one. With this one I'd have to get close to the upir. Very close.

"You get one shot," Nick said.

I nodded and tucked it into my knife sheath.

"You still have the sphere?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Still planning to use it?"

My hand twitched to check the comforting weight of the metal in my pocket. Somewhere deep down I knew I wouldn't use it. I would fight to the end, fight until he would be forced to cut me to pieces. I would make him kill me if I had to. After all I was only human. It wouldn't take much.

I glanced at Nick and realized he knew exactly what I was thinking. "Only if I have no choice," I said.

I RODE ONE OF THE PACK'S HORSES, A SOLID, THICK-MUSCLED creature of undeterminable shade somewhere halfway between mud and soot. He pounded the ground with his hooves as if suspecting that the thin layer of soil masked a nest of wriggling snakes and he could get at them if he just stomped hard enough.

"Wind," the surly werewolf had told me after presenting me with the reins. Given that I had smothered his face with wolfsbane less than twenty-four hours ago, I wasn't high on his list of favorite people. "His name's Wind."

I had thought of asking him what possessed someone to give this illegitimate offspring of a knight's war stallion and an oversized plow horse a star-of-the-racetrack name but had decided against it. Now Wind was merrily pounding his way through the darkened city at the velocity of a tired speed walker. Curran's howling jeep wasn't even getting a workout and Nick I couldn't see. His red gelding had taken off at the first snarl of the magic-powered engine and insisted on maintaining the distance.

I patted the charger's neck. "At least you're not skittish."

Might just as well have screamed into a tornado. The bloody jeep drowned any sound in its tortured battle for sonic supremacy.

The magic was thick and growing thicker, flooding the sleepy city with untapped power. It mixed with the light of the old moon, swirling in the alleys, churning among the ruined carcasses of gutted buildings, feeding on concrete and plastic. As we rode through the derelict industrial district, heading toward Conyers and the ley point, we watched the crumbling wrecks of once proud structures disintegrate slowly into nothing while all things magic triumphed. It was impossible not to find significance in the situation. A superstitious person would've viewed it as an omen, a gloomy forecast of things to come. I scowled at the cemetery for human ambition and kept riding. Tonight I would have given ten years of my life to have the tech reassert itself for a few hours. As it was, I probably didn't have ten years to give.

The ley point shimmered ahead, a short, controlled jerk of reality pricked by a magic needle. We reached it at the same time, the snarls of Curran's jeep sending Nick's gelding into near panic.

"Would you shut that thing off!" I screamed over the noise.

"No! Takes too long to warm up!" Curran roared back.

"Why won't you ride a horse!"

"What?"

"A horse! Horse!"

Curran's gesture plainly told me what I could do with the horse in question.

An animal scuttled forward and paused before us, poised until it was sure we noticed it. It resembled a bobcat but only vaguely. It was too large, close to sixty pounds, its spine and legs too long and disproportionately narrow, like those of an adolescent cat. The top part of its face was unmistakably feline, while the bottom half boasted an almost perfect human jaw with a small, pink-lipped mouth. The effect was too disturbing for me.

At least now I had a good idea who had left those hairs at Greg's murder scene.

Convinced that we'd seen it, the nightmarish bobcat took off down the highway with unexpected speed. Nick chased it and so did Curran in his Jeep. After a few moments of prompting, Wind realized that I wanted him to move and happily obliged.

We followed the bobcat out of the city and along the highway for the better part of an hour. The horses began to tire, but the beast showed no signs of slowing down. Finally it darted off onto a side road, under a canopy of tall pines. The pavement had crumbled, splitting under the pressure of the roots. It would slow the horses down and stop the car flat.

Nick pursued the cat, while I lingered long enough to see Curran park his Jeep on the side of the highway and shut it off. He pulled himself out of the cab, showing every intention of running after us. I squeezed Wind's sides with my knees - he didn't seem to understand subtle clues - and my faithful mount pounded after Nick.

I caught up with the Crusader at the end of the road, where the trees parted, bordering a large clearing. A massive, forbidding structure of red brick and concrete stood before us. An eight-foot-tall concrete wall secured the building and only the three upper stories were visible. I looked around. Overgrown and unkempt, the clearing showed signs of past landscaping, and a straight streak of pavement, half-choked by weeds, led to the gap in the wall, where heavy metal gates stood partially ajar, offering a glimpse of the inner yard. The bobcat thing bounded up the walkway and dove between the gates.

There was something familiar about the building. It was simple, almost crude in construction, just a blocky box of about four stories with narrow windows blocked by metal grates, yet the sight of it filled me with dread.

Curran came around the bend in the road, running at an easy pace. No sweat marked his face.

"Red Point," he said grimly, stopping beside me. "It had to be Red Point."

Nick looked at me.

"A local prison," I told him. "The left wing inmates kept complaining that ghosts were trying to kill them. Nobody paid attention until the walls came to life during a strong magic fluctuation and swallowed the prisoners. They found partially entombed bodies."

"Prisoners half-buried in brick," Curran said darkly. "Most were still alive and screaming."

I shifted in the saddle. What I took to be a pile of debris to the left of the main building now took on a definite shape of a decrepit guard tower. How the hell did the trees grow so fast? They looked decades old.

"I thought MSDU leveled this place years ago," I muttered.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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