We killed a damn Cerberus. Kate would turn green with envy.
Then the magic wave drowned us, and we paused in unison as it penetrated our bodies, awakening the inner beasts.
A bright blue glow surged from the ground. It flashed and vanished—the ward, a strong magic barrier, going active. Approaching the house during magic would be problematic. We’d have to somehow break through the ward.
A ghostly white light ignited in the wall right in front of us. It struggled free of the house and approached us, moving in sharp jerks. Its fuzzy radiance halted just before reaching the boundary of the ward and solidified into a translucent older man with kind eyes and pale hair.
I jumped back and snapped my gun up on reflex. Not that it would do anything with magic up.
A grimace strained the ghost’s face, as if he were pulling a great weight. “Raphael,” he gasped. “Not safe . . .”
A spark of magic snapped from the house. It clutched the ghost and jerked him back into the wall. Raphael lunged at the ward. The defensive spell flashed with blue, twisting a snarl of pain from his lips. I grabbed him and pulled him back.
“Is that Doulos? Your mother’s mate?”
He nodded, fury boiling in his eyes. “We must get him out!”
An odd sucking sound rolled behind us. I looked over my shoulder. Inside the ball of flames, Cerberus’s skeleton rose upright. The fire flared once more and vanished, snuffed out like a candle. Flesh spiraled up the colossal bones. Oh shit.
“Run!” Raphael snarled. We dashed down the ravine.
We were halfway to the wall when the first growl announced the hellhound giving chase.
“And you’re sure Doulos was dead?” I drove like a maniac through Atlanta’s troubled streets. Next to me Raphael licked a burn on his arm.
“He was embalmed. Yeah, pretty sure.”
“Then what was that?”
“I don’t know. A shade? A soul on its way to Hades?”
“Is that even possible?”
“We’ve been almost eaten by a giant three-headed dog. There is not a hell of a lot that I consider not possible at this point. Watch out for that cart!”
I threw the wheel to the right and barely avoided a collision with a teamster, who flipped me off. “We need a bigger gun.”
“We need a shower,” Raphael said.
“Gun first. Shower later.”
Ten minutes later I walked into the Order’s office. A group of knights standing in the hallway turned at my approach: Mauro, the huge Samoan knight; Tobias, as usual dapper; and Gene, the seasoned former Georgia Bureau of Investigations detective. They looked at me. The conversation died.
My clothes were torn and bloody. Soot stained my skin. My hair stuck out in clumps caked with dirt and blood. The reek of a dead cat emanated from me in a foul cloud.
I walked past them into the armory, opened the glass case, took Boom Baby out, grabbed a box of Silver Hawk cartridges, and walked out.
Nobody said a thing.
Raphael waited for me in the Jeep, a spotted monster smeared with blood and dirt. A fly apparently had fallen in love with a spot on his round ear, and he kept twitching it. I put Boom Baby in the backseat and hopped into the driver’s seat. Raphael yawned, displaying a pink mouth bordered with thick conical fangs. “Big gun.”
“Where do you want me to drop you off?”
The hyena man licked his lips. “Your apartment.”
“Ha. Ha. Seriously, where?”
“Your face was exposed when we fought the dog and later when we spoke to Alex’s shade. The bloodsucker saw you, which means the navigator would’ve seen you through its eyes. It’s likely the navigator knows who you are. It’s equally likely he’s doing something he isn’t supposed to in that ravine. Last I checked, stealing corpses was illegal.”
Stealing corpses was very much illegal. With magic making new and interesting things possible, the lawmakers took theft of cadavers extremely seriously. In Texas, you got more time in a forced-labor camp for stealing a corpse than you got for armed robbery.
Considering the remote location and the electric fence, it was highly likely someone was up to no good. If it had been a legitimate operation of the People, we would’ve been approached by a human or vampiric sentry. Because of our law enforcement status, all navigators knew the knights of the Order by sight and recognized that we were an annoyingly persistent lot. The People would’ve made contact to convince me they weren’t involved in anything illegal and get me to go away.
Since they didn’t, either whatever was taking place in that house was too dirty for the People to admit their ownership of it, or it didn’t involve the People at all. The second possibility meant greater danger. For all of their nauseating qualities, the People were tightly regulated and mostly law-abiding. For now, anyway. They wouldn’t dare to attack a knight of the Order, knowing that the consequences would be public and painful. But a rogue navigator armed with a vampire had no such compunction.
Raphael’s thoughts ran along the same lines. “The navigator will want to silence you before you create a paper trail he can’t destroy. You might end up hosting a bloodsucking party tonight. So we go to your apartment, take what you need, and then go to my place. He didn’t see me except in bouda form.”
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.”
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.