"Equal opportunity carnivores: any flesh is meat. They don't discriminate. There is more."

He followed me into the second room. Empty and dusty, it offered several straw sleeping mats tossed haphazardly into a corner. A mural stretched on the wall, painted on a long sheet of plain brown paper, pinned to the stones with tape. Bright with garish red and green and gold, the mural began with a hellish forge. A waterfall of molten metal fell into a wide basin in its center. Anvils stood by the walls, lightning bolts and twisted metal tools hung from the hooks in the ceiling, and dark smoke billowed, obscuring the edges of the picture and twisting to form a frame around the forge. A demonic man hefted a huge hammer, critically surveying a half-forged sword in his hand. Monstrously muscled, he wore a leather apron and nothing else. A dark beard protruded from his face, and his eyes glowed red.

The next panel of the mural showed a room strewn with pillows. A beautiful man reclined in the center, clad in gauzy robes and surrounded by nude women bearing fruit and garlands of flowers. The man's delicate face bore little resemblance to the dark inhabitant of the forge, but the dark beard gave him away. The metalsmith cleaned up rather nice.

The third part of the mural was unfinished. A pale gold wash had been applied through the faint pencil outline. The graceful man from the center of the mural had become a god: he had grown three additional heads and six arms. One face looked straight at me, two faces showed in profile, and an outline of the back of his head pointed to a fourth face turned away from me. North, east, south, and west.

Two enormous wings protruded from his shoulders, and between the wings shimmered a mirage of a city: a sea of elegant towers and domes guarded by a wall. The style of the mural didn't point to any mythology in particular; it reminded me more of a comic book than anything else. The poses were stylized, the man's musculature seemed greatly exaggerated, and all women came equipped with tiny asses, disproportionately long legs, and perfectly round, udder-sized breasts.

"Ring any bells?" I looked at Jim.

Jim shook his head.

"Yeah, me neither."

I pulled the mural off the wall and rolled it into a tube.

Jim took the corpse from the table, slung it over his shoulder, and took it outside.

I went back to the freezer. I would've liked to bury the human remains, but we had neither the time nor the means to do it. I pulled a leather pouch from my belt, untied the cord securing it, and sprinkled dark green dust over the meat, careful not to inhale or touch the powder.

"Spicing it up?" Jim asked from the doorway.

"Water hemlock. Also called cowbane." I put the pouch away. "Thirty minutes and then projectile vomiting, violent convulsions, and death or permanent nervous system damage. A little present from me for their table."

Jim stepped outside, grasped the four-armed freak, swung it onto his shoulders, and stared pointedly at the other three bodies sprawled on the grass. They were our evidence. I would have to carry one. A seven-foot-tall scaled monstrosity, a green creature covered in foot-long needles, or the guy missing most of his flesh from his ass and legs. Hmmm, let me think . . .

Chapter 20

CARRYING CORPSES IN PLAIN DAYLIGHT, ESPECIALLY corpses with four arms, pretty much takes the whole notion of "not drawing attention" out back and explodes it with fireworks. Especially since the people doing the carrying are covered in blood and look like they've been dragged through a hedge backward. Not to mention that one of them is a werejaguar in a warrior form and the other a woman hauling a human corpse with his ass cut off.

Fortunately, the outskirts of Unicorn were deserted. One would have to be some sort of special breed of idiot to approach that street in the first place. Apparently, Atlanta was experiencing a moron shortage, and today Jim and I were the only idiots of this caliber.

Even without his butt and thighs, Saiman's unfortunate victim weighed a ton. We passed out of the jungle into the city with no problems, but carrying him through Unicorn Lane and out to the vehicle proved to be near my limits. I had slid into a kind of fog where taking the next step was all that mattered. I dimly recalled reaching the spot where we had left the vehicle and finding a cart hitched to a pair of horses instead. The dingo must've come back with the horses once the magic wave had hit the city. Unfortunately, he didn't stick around.

I also remembered packing the corpses into the cart under some canvas and sliding into the seat to steer, because Jim, being the top man on Curran's Most-Wanted List, had to stay out of sight. Then there was the trek across the city, through the morning traffic. The glow of pain along my side and back nicely kept me awake. A layer of jungle dirt had mixed with Reaper blood on my skin, and the fall sun baked it into a crust over my face and hair. At least I had no trouble with traffic jams. The rival drivers took one look at my blood-encrusted persona and scrambled to get out of the way.

I drove and thought of Roland.

I had no mother. Instead I had Voron, whom I called my father. Tall, his dark blond hair cropped short, Voron had led me through my childhood with his quiet strength. Voron could kill anything. He could solve anything. He could fix anything. I would do anything for one of his rare smiles. He was my father, one of the two constants in my life.

Roland had been the other.

He entered my life as a fairy tale that Voron would tell me before bed. There once was a man who had lived through the ages. He had been a builder, an artisan, a healer, a priest, a prophet, a warrior, and a sorcerer. At times he had been a slave. At others he was a tyrant. Magic fell and technology reigned, and then magic rose again, and still he persevered, ancient like the sand itself, driven through the years by his obsession for a perfect world.

He had many names, although he called himself Roland now. He had been master to many men and lover to many women, but he had not loved anyone as much as he loved my mother.

She was kind and smart and generous and she filled Roland with life. My mother wanted a baby. It had been millennia since Roland had sired a child, because his child would inherit all the power of Roland's ancient blood and all of his ambition, and Roland had fought too many wars to kill children who had risen against him.

But he loved my mother too much and he decided to give her a child because it would make her happy. She was only two months along when he started to have second thoughts. He became obsessed that the child would oppose him, and he decided to kill the child in the womb.

But my mother loved the baby. The more obsessed Roland became, the farther she pulled away from him.

Roland had a Warlord. His name was Voron, which meant raven in Russian. They called him that because death followed him. And Voron loved my mother as well.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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