The flesh-colored fuzz tested the salt and found it delicious. Figured. I didn’t feel any different, and I was closest to the body, so I’d be the first one to go. A comforting thought.

Cash had brought down some bottles, and I dumped their contents onto the crates, soaking the wood in hard liquor and kerosene. One flick of a match, and the wooden ring flared into flames.

“Is that it?” Cash asked.

“No. The fire will delay it, but not for long.”

The two of them looked as though they were at their own funeral.

“It will be okay.” Kate Daniels, agent of the Order. We take care of your magic problems, and when we can’t, we lie through our teeth. “It will all turn out. You two go inside now. Keep the peace and keep trying the phone.”

The woman brushed Cash’s sleeve with her fingers. He pivoted to her, patted her hand, and together they went back into the tavern.

The fuzz crawled halfway across the salt. I began to chant, going through the roster of purifying incantations. Magic built around me slowly, like cotton candy winding on the spire of my body and flowing outward, around the flame circle.

The fuzz reached the fire. The first flesh-colored tendrils licked the boards and melted into black goo with a weak hiss. The flames popped with the sickening stench of burning fat. That’s right, you bastard. Stay the hell behind my fire. Now I just had to keep it still until I finished the first ward circle.

Chanting, I grabbed the pool chalk and drew the first glyph.

CHAPTER 2

“HOLY MOTHER OF GOD.” THE TALL, THIN SPIRE OF a woman that was Patrice Lane, Biohazard’s inhouse medmage, crossed her arms on her chest. She seemed even taller from where I sat, huddled on the slope under my cloak. The cold seeped through the fabric of my jeans and my butt had turned into a chunk of ice.

The telephone pole had become a mass of flesh-colored fur. Around it the entire parking lot was covered in my glyphs. I had used up all of Cash’s chalk.

The pole slowly rained skin-colored fuzz. The same crap spread in a circle around its base. The fire had died down to mere coals, and the fuzz had spilled over it in several places, pooling against the first ring of glyphs. I’d chopped off the wires going from the pole after completing the second circle of glyphs and threw them into the ward. The fuzz had swallowed them so completely, you’d never know they were there.

Medmages and medtechs swarmed the scene. Biohazard was technically part of PAD, but practically speaking, it had its own separate quarters and its own chain of command, and Patrice was pretty far up that chain.

Patrice raised her arm and I felt a faint pulse of magic. “I can’t feel a thing past the chalk,” she said, her breath escaping in a cloud of pale vapor.

“That’s the idea.”

“Smart-ass.” Patrice surveyed my handiwork and shook her head. “Look at it crawl. Persistent blight, isn’t he?”

That was why I’d made the second circle in case the first failed, and then it occurred to me that the telephone pole could take a dive. The wards of the first two circles extended only about eight feet up, and if the pole fell, the disease would land outside the barrier, so I drew the third ward circle. It had been a very wide circle, too, because the pole was painfully tall, about thirty feet. Four medtechs now walked along the outer circle’s perimeter, waving censers which trailed purifying smoke. I’d sunk everything I had into those wards. Right now a kitten could touch me with her paw and score a total knockout.

A young male medtech crouched by me and raised a small white flower in a pot to my lips. Five white petals streaked with thin green veins leading to a ring of fuzzy stalks, each tipped with a small yellow dot. A bog star. The tech whispered an incantation and said in a practiced cadence, “Take a deep breath and exhale.”

I blew on the flower. The petals remained snow-white. If I had been infected, the bog star would’ve turned brown and withered.

The tech checked the color of the petals against a paper card and chanted low under his breath. “One more time—deep breath and exhale.”

I obediently exhaled.

He took away the bog star. “Look into my eyes.”

I did. He peered deeply into my irises.

“Clear. You have beautiful eyes.”

“And she has a big, sharp sword.” Patrice snorted. “Be gone, creature.”

The medtech rose. “She’s clean,” he called in the direction of the tavern. “You can speak with her now.”

The dark-haired woman, who’d brought the chalk to me hours earlier, stepped out of the bar and carried a glass of whiskey. “I’m Maggie. Here.” She offered the glass to me. “Seagram’s Seven Crown.”

“Thank you, I don’t drink.”

“Since when?” Patrice raised her eyebrows.

Maggie held the whiskey to me. “You need it. We watched you crawl around on your hands and knees for hours. It must hurt and you’ve got to be frozen solid.”

The parking lot proved a bit rougher than anticipated. Crawling back and forth drawing glyphs had shredded my already worn-out jeans into nothing. I could see my skin through the holes in the fabric and it was bloody. Normally leaving traces of my blood at the scene would’ve sent me into panic. Once separated from the body, blood couldn’t be masked, and in my case, advertising the magic of my blood-line meant a death sentence. But I knew how tonight would end, and so I didn’t worry. What little blood I left on the asphalt would be obliterated very soon.

I took the whiskey and smiled at Maggie, which took some effort since my lips were frozen. “Did you finally get the phone working?”

She shook her head. “It’s still out.”

“How did you contact Biohazard?”

Maggie pursed her narrow lips. “We didn’t.”

I turned to Patrice. The medmage frowned at the circle. “Pat, how did you know to come here?”

“An anonymous tipster called it in,” she murmured, her eyes fixed on the pole. “Something is happening . . .”

With a loud crack, the utility pole snapped. The dark-haired woman gasped. The techs dashed back, waving their censers.

The pole spun in place, fuzz swirling around its top, teetered, and plunged. It smashed against the invisible wall of the first two ward circles, toppled over it, and slid down, dumping the flesh-colored shit onto the asphalt. The pole top rammed the third line of glyphs. Magic boomed through my skull. A cloud of fuzz exploded against the ward in an ugly burst and fluttered down harmlessly to settle at the chalk line as the pole rolled to a stop.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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