I paused in the doorway, arrested in midstep. I had inherited the office from Greg. It had been almost four months since his death. I should have gotten over it by now, but sometimes, like this morning, I just...had a hard time making myself enter. My memory insisted that if I stepped in, Greg would be there, standing with a book in his hand, his dark eyes reproachful but never unkind. Always ready to pull me out of whatever mess I had gotten myself into. But it was a lie. Greg was dead. First my mother, then my father, then Greg. Everyone I ever cared about died violently, in a great deal of pain. If I took a moment to let it sink in, I'd be howling like a Pack wolf during a full moon.

I closed my eyes, trying to clear the memories of the office and Greg within it. Mistake. The image of Greg only got more vivid.

I did a one eighty and walked down the hall to the armory. So I was a coward. Sue me.

Andrea sat on a bench cleaning a handgun. She was short, built with strength in mind, and had the kind of face that made people want to tell her their life stories in a checkout line. She knew the Order's Charter front to back and could rattle obscure regulations off the top of her head. Her radios never lost contact, her magic scanner never malfunctioned, and if you brought her a broken gadget, she would return it the next day fully operational and clean.

Andrea raised her blond head and gave me a little salute with her hand. I shrugged a little, feeling the reassuring weight of Slayer, my saber, in its sheath on my back and waved in reply. I could understand the metal addiction. After the little adventure that had landed me this job, I was loath to part with Slayer. A few minutes without my blade and I got edgy.

Andrea noticed me still looking at her. "You need something?"

"I need to ID a crossbow bolt."

She made a come-here motion with the fingers of her left hand. "Give."

I gave. Andrea removed the paper, took out the bolt, and whistled in appreciation.

"Nice."

Blood-red and fletched with three black feathers, the bolt looked about two feet in length. Three inch-long black lines marked the shaft just before the fletch: nine marks in all.

"This is a carbon shaft. It can't be bent. Very durable and expensive. Looks like a 2216, designed to bring down medium-sized game, deer, some bear..."

"Human." I leaned against the wall and sipped my coffee.

"Yeah." Andrea nodded. "Good power, good trajectory without any significant sacrifice in speed. It's a man-killer. Look at the head - small, three-blade, weighs about a hundred grains. Reminds me a lot of a Wasp Boss series. Some people go for mechanical broadheads, but with a good crossbow the acceleration is so sudden, it opens the blades in flight and there goes your accuracy down the drain. If I were to pick a broadhead, I'd pick something like this." She twisted the bolt, letting the light from the window play on the blades of the head. "Hand sharpened. Where did you get this?"

I told her.

She frowned. "The fact that you didn't hear the bow go off probably means it's a recurve. A compound crossbow 'twangs' at release. Can I fire it?" She nodded at a man-shaped paper target pinned to the far wall, which was sheathed in several layers of corkboard.

"Sure."

She put on gloves to keep the magic residue to a minimum, took a small crossbow off the bench, loaded, swung it up, and fired, too fast to have aimed. The bolt whistled through the air and bit into the center of the man's forehead. Bull's-eye. And here I was, unable to hit a cow at ten yards with a gun.

The feylanterns flickered and faded. On the wall, a dusty electric fixture flared with soft yellow light. The magic wave had drained and the world had shifted from magic back to tech. Andrea and I looked at each other. Nobody could predict the duration of the shifts: the magic came and went as it pleased. But the waves rarely lasted less than an hour. This one had been what, fifteen minutes?

"Is it me, or is it shifting more than usual?"

"It's not you." Andrea's face looked a bit troubled. She freed the bolt. "Want me to scan it for magic?"

"If it's not too much trouble." Magic had the annoying tendency of dissipating over time. The sooner you could scan your evidence, the better your chances of getting a power print.

"Trouble?" She leaned to me. "I've been off-line for two months. It's killing me. I have cobwebs growing on my brain." She pressed her finger below her right eye, pulling the lower eyelid down. "Look for yourself."

I laughed. Andrea worked for a Chapter out West and had run into some trouble with a pack of loups raiding the cattle farms. Loups, the insane cannibalistic shapeshifters who had lost the internal battle for their humanity, killed, raped, and raged their way from one atrocity to the next, until someone put the world out of their misery.

Unfortunately, loups were also contagious as hell. Andrea's partner knight became infected, went loup, and ended up with two dozen of Andrea's bullets in her brain. There was a limit to how much shapeshifters could heal, and Andrea was a crack shot. They relocated her to Atlanta, and although she didn't have any trace of Lycos Virus in her blood and wasn't in any danger of sprouting fur and claws, Ted kept her on the back burner.

Andrea took the bolt to the magic scanner, raised the glass hood, slid the bolt onto the ceramic tray, lowered the cube, and cranked the lever. The cube descended and the m-scanner whirled.

"Andrea?"

"Mmm?"

"The tech's up," I said, feeling stupid.

She grimaced. "Oh, Christ. Probably won't get anything. Well, you never know. Sometimes you can pull some residual magic imprints even during tech."

We looked at the cube. We both knew it was futile. You would have to scan something really saturated with magic to get a good m-scan during tech. Like a body part. The m-scanner analyzed the traces of residual magic left on an object by its owner and printed them in a variety of colors: blue for human, green for shapeshifter, purple for vampire. The tone and vividness of the colors denoted the different types of magic, and reading an m-scan correctly was practically an art form. The traces of magic on a bolt, probably held very briefly, were bound to be miniscule. I knew of only one man in the city who had an m-scanner high-speed enough to register such slight residual magic during tech. His name was Saiman. Trouble was, if I went to him, it would cost me an arm and a leg.

The printer chattered. Andrea pulled the print out and turned to me. Her face had gone a shade whiter. A wide slice of silvery blue cut across the paper. Human divine. That in itself was not remarkable. Anybody who drew their power from deity or religion registered as human divine: the Pope, Shaolin monks, even Greg, a knight-diviner, had registered silver-blue. The problem was, we shouldn't have been able to get an m-scan at all with the tech up.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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