Down in Atlanta, tempers – and temperatures – are about to flare…
As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels has seen her share of occupational hazards. Normally, waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. Now Kate’s going to have to deal with problems on a much bigger scale: a divine one.
When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta’s paramilitary clan of shapeshifters, she quickly realizes much more at stake. During a flare, gods and goddesses can manifest – and battle for power. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug-of-war between two gods hoping for rebirth. And if Kate can’t stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive…
The phone rang in the middle of the night. The magic wave was in full swing, and the phone shouldn’t have worked, but it rang anyway, again and again, outraged over being ignored, until finally I reached over and picked it up.
“Rise and shine, Kate.” The smooth cultured voice on the line suggested a slender, elegant, handsome man, all things that Jim was not. At least not in his human shape.
I clawed my eyes open long enough to glance at the wind-up clock across the room. “Two in the morning. Some of us sleep during the night.”
“I’ve got a gig,” Jim said.
I sat up in the bed, wide awake. A gig was good – I needed the money. “Half.”
“Thirty five percent.” Jim’s voice hardened.
The phone went silent as my former Guild partner mulled it over. “Okay, forty.”READ MORE
I hung up. The bedroom lay quiet. My curtains were open and moonlight sifted into the room through the metal grate shielding the window. The moonlight acted as a catalyst and the metal bars glowed with weak bluish patina where the silver in the alloy interacted with the ward spell. Beyond the bars, the city slept like some hulking beast of legend, dark and deceptively peaceful. When the magic wave ended, as it inevitably would, the beast would awaken in an explosion of electric light and possibly gunfire.
My ward wouldn’t stop a bullet, but it kept the magic hazmat out of my bedroom, and that was good enough.
The phone rang. I let it ring twice before I picked it up.
“Fine.” Jim’s voice had a hint of a snarl in it. “Half.”
“Where are you?”
“In the parking lot under your window, Kate.”
Calling from a pay phone, which shouldn’t have worked either. I reached for my clothes, left by the bed for just such an occasion. “What’s the gig?”
“Some arsonist wacko.”
A fireball blossomed in the pitch-black depth of the underground garage. Huge, churning with violent red and yellow, it roared toward me. I jumped behind the concrete support, my throwing knife sweaty in my hands. Heat bathed me. For a moment I couldn’t breathe and then the fire hurtled past me to burst in an explosion of sparks against the wall.
A thin gleeful cackle emanated from the garage depths. I leaned and peeked from behind the support in the direction of the sound. Nothing but darkness. Where was the tech shift when you needed one?
Across from me at the next row of supports Jim raised his hand and touched his fingers to his thumb a few times, imitating an opening and closing beak. Negotiate. He wanted me to engage a lunatic who already turned four people into smoking meat. Okay. I could do that.
“Alright, Jeremy!” I yelled into the night. “Give me the salamander and I won’t cut your head off!”
Jim put his hand over his face and did some shaking. I thought he was laughing, but I couldn’t be sure. Unlike him I didn’t have the benefit of enhanced night vision.
Jeremy’s cackle reached a hysterical crescendo. “Stupid bitch!”
Jim peeled himself from the support and melted into darkness, tracking Jeremy’s voice. His vision worked better than mine in low light, but not in absolute darkness. He had to hunt by sound, which meant I had to keep Jeremy taking. While Jim stalked Jeremy’s melodious voice, Jeremy, in turn, stalked me.
Nothing to worry about, just a homicidal pyromaniac armed with a salamander in a sphere of enchanted glass and intent on setting what’s left of Atlanta on fire. The main thing was to keep the salamander’s sphere safe. If that thing broke, my name would be more famous than Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.
“Damn Jeremy, you need to work on your vocabulary. So many good words to call me and the best you could come up with is bitch? Give me the salamander before you hurt yourself.”
“Suck my dick… Whore!”
A tiny spark flared into existence to the left of me. It hung suspended in the darkness, illuminating the scaly outline of the salamander’s mouth and Jeremy’s hands clutching the glass sphere with white-knuckled need. The enchanted glass parted and belched the spark. The air hit the tiny packet of energy and the spark exploded into a fireball.
I ducked behind the support just as the fire smashed against concrete. Flames shot past on both sides of me. The acrid stench of sulfur stung my nostrils.
“That last fireball missed me by a mile. You shoot blanks with your other salamander too, Jeremy?”
“Eat shit and die!”
Jim had to be close to him by now. I stepped into the open. “Come on, you sniveling shit for brains! Can’t you do anything right?”
I saw flames, lunged to the side and hit the floor rolling. Above me the fire howled like an enraged animal. The handle of the knife burned my fingers. The air in my lungs turned to heat, my eyes watered, I pressed my face into the dusty concrete, praying it didn’t get any hotter, and then suddenly it was over.
Screw this. I jumped to my feet and charged in Jeremy’s direction. The salamander flared within the sphere. I caught a flash of Jeremy’s crooked smile above the glass. It wilted as Jim’s dark hands closed about Jeremy’s throat. The arsonist slumped, ragdoll-limp, the sphere rolled from his weakened fingers…
I dived for it, caught it three inches above the cement, and found myself face to face with the salamander. Ruby-red eyes regarded me with mild curiosity, black lips parted, and a long, spiderweb-thin filament of a tongue slithered from the salamander’s mouth and kissed the sphere’s glass in the reflection of my nose. Hi, I love you too.
Gingerly I got to my knees and then to my feet. The salamander’s presence tugged on my mind, eager to please and be appreciated like an overly enthusiastic kitten arching her back for a stroke. Visions of flames and heat wavered before me. Let’s burn something… I slammed my mental shutters closed, locking her out of my mind. Let’s not.
Jim relaxed his hold on Jeremy and the arsonist sagged to the ground like a wet blanket. The whites of his eyes stared at ceiling from a slack face, caught by death in a moment of utter surprise. No pulse check needed for this one. Shit. There goes the capture bonus.
“You said it was a live-preferred bounty,” I murmured. The living Jeremy was worth a lot more than his corpse. We’d still get paid, but we just waved a third of the money goodbye.
“It is.” Jim twisted the body on its side, exposing Jeremy’s back. A thin metal shaft, tipped with three black fathers protruded from between Jeremy’s shoulders blades. Before my mind had the time to digest its significance, I hit the deck, cradling the salamander. Jim somehow got there before me.
We stared into the gloom. Darkness and silence.
Someone took out our mark with a crossbow bolt. Could have taken us out as well. We had stood by the body for at least four seconds. More than enough time to squeeze off two shots. I touched Jim and touched my nose. He shook his head. With all the sulfur in the air he probably couldn’t smell a skunk if it sprayed him in the face. I lay very still and tried to breathe quietly. Listening was our best bet.
A minute dragged by, long, viscous, and silent. Very slowly Jim shifted into a crouch and nodded to the left. I had a vague feeling the door lay to the right, but in the darkness with some unknown crossbowman waiting, I would trust Jim’s senses over mine.
Jim grasped Jeremy’s corpse, slung it over his shoulder, and we took off, bending low, running fast, him ahead and me, half-blind in the gloom, slightly behind. Concrete supports flashed by, one, two, three, four. The tech hit, and before I could put down my raised foot, the magic drained from the world, leaving the battered technology in its wake. The fluorescent lamps in the ceiling blinked and snapped into life with a buzz, bathing the garage in a weak man-made glow. The black rectangle of the exit gaped ten feet before us. Jim dove into it. I lunged to the left, behind a concrete support. The salamander in the globe stopped glowing and went to sleep, looking like a harmless black lizard. My long range weapon was tuckered out.
I set it down on the floor and slid Slayer from its sheath. Salamanders are overrated anyway.
“He’s gone,” Jim said from the doorway and pointed behind me.
I turned. Far at the back wall the concrete wall had crumbled, revealing a narrow passageway probably leading up to the street. He was right. If the bowman wanted to take us out, he had plenty of time to do it.
“So he sniped our mark and left?”
“Looks that way.”
“I don’t get it.”
Jim shook his head. “Weird shit always happens around you.”
“This was your gig, not mine.”
A shower of sparks broke from above the door and a green EXIT sign burst into life.
Jim stared at it for a moment, his features twisted in a distinctly feline expression, disgust and fatalism rolled into one and shook his head again.
“Dibs on the bolt in his back!” I called.
“Be my guest.”
Jim’s pager went off. He checked it and a familiar neutral mask slid onto his face.
“Oh no, you don’t! I can’t carry him by myself.”
“Pack business.” He headed for the exit.
I killed the urge to throw something at the empty doorway. Served me right for taking a job with a guy who served on the Pack’s Council. It’s not that Jim was a bad friend. It’s just that for shapeshifters, on a scale from one to ten, Pack was eleven and everything else a one. Pack business always took precedence.
I stared at a very dead Jeremy laying like a sack of potatoes on the floor. Probably a hundred and fifty pounds, dead weight. There was no way I could carry him and the salamander at the same time. There was no way I could leave the salamander unattended either. Magic could hit any time, setting the little lizard ablaze. Plus, the sniper might be still around. I needed to get out of here and fast.
Jeremy and the salamander, each worth four grand. I no longer did a lot of work for the Guild, and gigs of this size didn’t come my way too often. Even split in a half with Jim, the bounty would cover my two mortgages for two months. The thought of leaving four grand on the floor made me physically ill.
I looked at Jeremy. I looked at the salamander. Choices, choices.COLLAPSE
“[Magic Burns] hooked me completely. With a fascinating, compelling plot, a witty, intelligent heroine, a demonic villain, and clever, wry humor throughout, this story has it all.”