Home > Magic Triumphs (Kate Daniels #10)(4)

Magic Triumphs (Kate Daniels #10)(4)
Author: Ilona Andrews

“Did you smell any foxes?” I asked.

“No,” Derek said.

Scratch that theory.

Ahead a road cut through a low hill to the right, ending in the parkway.

“Turn here,” Teddy Jo said.

I made the turn. The Jeep rolled over the old road, careening over the bumps. Ahead a huge building squatted, pale and windowless. A hole gaped in the roof.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Old Walmart distribution center.”

Derek jerked his door open and leaped out of the Jeep. I slammed on the brakes. He bent over the side of the road and retched.

“Are you okay?” I yelled.

“Stench,” he ground out, and retched again.

I shut off the Jeep. The sudden quiet was deafening. I didn’t smell anything out of the ordinary.

Quiet. Where the hell were the cicadas?

Derek came back to the Jeep. I tossed him a rag to wipe his mouth.

“This way.” Teddy Jo started up the road toward the warehouse.

We caught up with him. He pulled a small tub of VapoRub from his pocket and held it out to me.

“You’ll need it.”

I smeared some under my nose and gave it back. Teddy Jo offered it to Derek, who shook his head.

About twenty feet from the warehouse, the reek washed over me: oily, nasty, tinged with sulfur, the stench of something rotting and awful. It cut through the VapoRub like the ointment wasn’t even there. I almost clamped my hand over my mouth.

“Fuck.” Derek stopped to dry heave.

Teddy Jo’s face was made of stone.

We kept going. The stench was impossible now. Every breath I took was like inhaling poison.

We rounded the building. A glossy puddle spread in front of us, large enough to be a pond. Translucent, grayish beige, it flooded the entire back parking lot. Some sort of liquid . . . No, not liquid. Jellied like a layer of agar, and where the sun hit it just right, making it glow slightly, chunks of something solid darkened it.

I knelt by it.

What the hell was I looking at? Something long and stringy . . .

It hit me.

I spun around and ran. I made it five yards before the vomit tore out of me. At least I got far enough away to not contaminate the scene. I retched everything out and then dry heaved for another minute or two. Finally, the spasms died.

I turned. From this point I could still see it, a clump within the solid gel. Human scalp, the brown hair braided and tied with a pink scrunchie. The kind a child might wear.

The thin mask that made Teddy Jo human tore. Wings burst out of his shoulders, and when he opened his mouth, I glimpsed fangs. His voice made me want to curl into a ball. It was suffused with old magic and filled with raw, terrible grief.

“Somewhere in there is Alek Katsaros and Lisa Winley. His future wife. I can feel him, but he’s spread through the whole of it. I cannot bring him back to his family. He is lost. They are all lost in this mass grave.”

“I’m so sorry.”

He turned to me, his eyes completely black. “I can tell the cause of death at a glance. It is who I am. But I do not understand this. What is this?”

Derek’s face was terrible. “Is this vomit? Did something eat them all and regurgitate?”

I had a sick feeling I knew exactly what it was. I walked along the perimeter of the puddle. It looked about two feet deep at its center, settled into a pothole in the uneven parking lot that had sunk in due to rain and neglect. It took me four tries to circle the puddle, mostly because I had to stop and dry heave. I peered at the clumps of hair and loose gobs of flesh.

I’d witnessed plenty of violence and gore, but this was on another level. This was very high on the list of things I wished I had never seen. My chest hurt just from looking at it. I swallowed bile.

“What are you looking for?” Thanatos asked me in his arcane voice.

“It’s what I’m not finding. Bones.”

He stared at the gel. A muscle in his face jerked. He opened his mouth and screamed. It was not any sound a human could make, a cutting shriek, part eagle, part dying horse, part nothing I had ever heard.

Derek spun to me, a question on his face.

“It’s not the vomit of some monster,” I told him. “Someone boiled them.”

Derek recoiled.

I could barely speak. “They boiled them until their flesh fell off, extracted the bones, then dumped the broth here. And whatever they put into that liquid is either magic or poison. There are no flies and no maggots. There are no insects around it, period. I don’t hear a single cicada. All of those people and their children are in that.”

Derek squeezed his hands into fists. A ragged snarl tore out of him. “Who? Why?”

“That’s what we’ll have to find out.” And when I found them, they would wish they had been boiled instead.

CHAPTER

2

I DROVE BACK to the subdivision. The phone in the first house worked, and I dialed Biohazard’s number with Luther’s extension from memory. I could’ve just reported the whole thing to the front desk, but this was bad enough that I had to cut through the red tape.

The phone rang. And rang. And rang.

Come on, Luther.

The line clicked. “What?” Luther’s irritated voice said.

“It’s me.”

“Whatever it is, Unclean One, I don’t have time for it. I have important wizarding to do—”

“Someone boiled two hundred people and dumped the liquid and their remains near Serenbe at a Walmart distribution center.”

Silence.

“Did you say ‘boiled’?”

“I did.”

Luther swore.

“The mass grave is unsecured and magically potent. There are no bugs in it, Luther. No insect activity anywhere for approximately a quarter mile. I’ve got a basic chalk ward around it now, and Teddy Jo’s watching it. The sheriff’s department is coming today to process the scene, so if you want to get here before them, you have to hurry. It’s off South Fulton Parkway heading west. I’ll mark the turnoff for you.”

“I’m on my way. Do not leave that grave site, Kate. You do whatever you have to do to keep anything from spawning in there.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll sit on it.”

I hung up and dialed home. No answer. Figured. Curran was still out.

I called George. Conlan was down for a nap. He had eaten some cereal and successfully run away from her twice.

I hung up and dug through the kitchen of the dead house for salt. A big bag waited for me in the pantry. I carried it outside to the Jeep just in time to see Derek hefting four forty-pound bags like they weighed nothing.

“Where did you get this?”

“Found a communal hunters’ shed,” he said. “They must’ve used this for a deer salt lick. There is more.”

“We’ll need it.”

We headed toward the shed.

“Talk to me about scent trails,” I asked.

“Human,” he said. “But there’s something else with it. A screwed-up scent. When you smell a loup, it smells wrong. Toxic. You know there will be no talking. Either you kill it or it will kill you. These things stink like that. Loup but no loup.”

“Corrupted?” I guessed.

“Yeah. That’s a good word for it. They took the people out to the mouth of the subdivision.”

I waited but he didn’t say anything else.

“And then?”

“The scent stops,” he said. “It reappears by the puddle.”

“Stops like they teleported?”

“Pretty much.”

I’d run up against teleportation a couple of times. Teleporting a single human being took a staggering amount of power. The first time, a gathering of very powerful volhvs, Russian pagan priests, had done one, but it had taken a sacrifice to do it. The second time had been a djinn. Djinn were elder beings, extremely powerful and very rare. There simply wasn’t enough magic in the world to support the continuous existence of one. That particular djinn had been imprisoned inside a jewel. It was a sophisticated prison that sustained him between magic waves, when technology was at its highest. Even so, he’d required a human with a significant reservoir of magic whom he’d possessed in order to do his tricks, and then he’d hidden in Unicorn Lane, where some magic flowed even during the tech, for his final act.

   
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