Summary: For Curran, getting involved in Atlanta's mess of supernatural politics is a responsibility. For Kate it's just inevitable.
A/N: Slightly AU-ish. Set several weeks after the conclusion of Magic Strikes, and operates under the assumption that Kate had never issued a naked-dinner invitation (this is the AU element).
Disclaimer: I am not, and never will be, Ilona Andrews.
Warnings: Spoilers for everything up to Magic Strikes.
It was not death, for I stood up,
And all the dead lie down;
It was not night, for all the bells
Put out their tongues, for noon.
She has waited years. Beaten, captured, caged like an animal. They mock her from the wrong side of iron bars.
Since you like the dead so much, they taunt, we can help you join them…forever. Their laughter grates against her ears, and she hates them with a fiery, burning passion. Her rage is as boundless as the skies, and as tumultuous as the sea. She understands Wrath. And she embraces it, bathes in it, pulls it to the darkest places of her heart. It sustains her, and she feeds it with the cruelty of her captors.
She promises herself vengeance. Perhaps she does have some knack for death, and what lies beyond, but she is not yet ready to join their ranks. They will get no satisfaction from her; she watches them with stony eyes and a blank face. She will not die until she sees these men screaming. She will not give in until they beg. And so she finds Pride knocking at her door, dressed misleadingly in the guise of Justice. She steps back to let it in.
When they cannot make her speak, they take away her food. Water follows quickly after, and suddenly the burning in her heart is overwhelmed by the burning in her throat. She clings desperately to the knowledge that they will feed her eventually, they cannot afford to let her die. Not yet. But despite this knowledge, she knows the truth. This is hell, and God has abandoned her. Acedia creeps into the corners of her mind, slowly diffusing inward. She lets it be.
She is jealous of their freedom. They have decided, when starvation yielded no results, to continue feeding her. They send someone new each day—she knows; she memorizes their faces. She turns her head away when they leave, because watching them walk away makes her heart ache. She checks the tips of her fingers and toes for any hint of green. Nothing. If she had a mirror she would look behind her ears. Envy makes a fine playmate for Wrath, who welcomes it like a lover. She lets the two frolic together; it would be cruel to separate them.
It was not frost, for on my flesh
I felt siroccos crawl,—
Nor fire, for just my marble feet
Could keep a chancel cool.
Something is happening to her, she realizes, as she traces the familiar lines of the prison wall. An unfamiliar power stirs just beneath her skin. And then one day, she knows. They are taunting her again, and have placed the tray with her food just out of reach. She tugs impatiently at the chains that bind her, and lies flat on her stomach. She stretches out her arm and can almost reach. Her fingertips brush steel. She sits back and takes a deep breath. The tray shoots toward her, and she is so surprised she hardly catches it. Magic. She smiles, and the motion strains muscles left dormant for too long. It is like a door is opened in her mind, and as she walks through, she bumps into Hope, who is stretching as if after a long sleep. This kindles a different spark in her belly. She has no difficulty recognizing Lust when it gives her a gruesome smile.
She does not delay. It seems she is more than what they imagined, and far greater than they had feared. She breaks the prison bars with only a thought, and spares not even that to kill the guards. They aren't the ones who have imprisoned her, she knows, but they are tainted with the same brush. No, those men will suffer before they die—and even then they will belong to her. When she kills the other inmates, she does not even try to rationalize. She needs no justification, she has the power, and who are they to refuse her? She is the Queen of the Dead, and she will take their lives for herself. Greed agrees, and she wonders when it got there. Then she dismisses the matter, and turns back to her killing.
When there is nothing left to bleed she takes her leave, and leaves in return only ashes. The flames that mesmerized her have now all burned out, but no matter. She carries their eternal reflection in her heart, their shape is imprinted on her soul. And then she does what they had nearly killed her for. She calls the dead. They come. It is not enough, and she calls again. The earth tears and shakes, echoing with the sounds of their footsteps. More. She can see nothing but their faces now. She does not deny Gluttony as it slips past her to join its sisters.
And yet it tasted like them all;
The figures I have seen
Set orderly, for burial,
Reminded me of mine
I was not in a particularly good mood.
It was twelve thirty on a Friday night—or was that Saturday morning?—and I was still working a job that didn't seem like it had any answers at all. The fifteen year old son of an up and coming politician had been kidnapped from his home just outside Atlanta. This was two days ago, and the police hadn't turned up any leads.
The real mystery, though, was why they thought hiring me would help solve their problem. Killing monsters and cutting their heads off was more my forte, and Ted knew it.
Probably he'd just gotten pressure from higher-ups to show some kind of support for the case, and he didn't want to waste any of his real knights' time. Bastard.
I sneezed and shifted, tilting the front seat of my car back as far as it would go. I hate stakeouts, but I'd followed the breadcrumbs, and they led me here.
Now what, exactly, the leader of the coven dedicated to the goddess Eris had to do with the kidnappings was beyond me. But the last place the kid had been seen was going to this house. So here I was.
The smell of incense wafted from the house, and a low chant went up. They were speaking in very precise, old-fashioned Greek. Not cutting any corners, but I hoped they weren't planning a summoning tonight. I wasn't in the mood to break any charmed circles, or banish an accidental demon.
The chanting grew louder, but I didn't feel the tug of magic against my skin. I was to be spared their foolishness tonight, at least.
Something rustled in the bushes not two feet away, and I whipped my head around to stare at it. A woman emerged, leaves tangled in her tousled blonde hair, her feet bare. She wore a white dress that swirled about her knees as she walked forward, face set into lines of unwavering determination.
I looked back at the house. This wasn't a summoning. It was a sacrifice.
Screw the case. If the boy was in there, I would pull him out myself. If he was involved…
He wasn't. He better not be.
The blonde woman tugged open the door to the house and stepped in. I dashed after her, catching the door before it closed and slipping inside. She was gone, but I caught a glimpse of blonde hair and white skirts disappearing around the corner at the end of the hall. I drew Slayer and crept after her.
I saw her again, one foot over the threshold leading to yet another room. The room where the ritual was being performed, if the bloody runes scratched into the doorposts were any indication.
"Wait," I told her.
Her back stiffened, and she turned her head to look at me. Ice blue eyes took my measure, slowly and precisely, and flicked away unsatisfied. "Your presence is not welcome here, shaman." And she stepped through the door.
I blinked, then followed. Ungrateful girl. I stepped into the room, and the scent of magic hit me like a sucker punch. My eyes watered. They must have had some heavy duty containment spells…yep, there in the four corners of the room, and the middle of the ceiling. No wonder I hadn't felt anything before.
There was a moderately sized cluster of people; maybe a dozen or so. Traditional ritual symbols and artifacts were strewn haphazardly across the floor, and everyone wore morbid black robes. All eyes were turned to the girl, who stood out like a beacon in her thin white dress. She stepped into the rough, chalk drawn pentagon, cautiously not smearing the lines. The smoking candles placed in a careful circle around the pentagon flared suddenly to life.
"Faithful," she said in a low voice, addressing the group. "The goddess is angry."
A low murmur went up, spreading like wildfire. She let them whisper for a few moments, eyes serene, until they fell silent.
"She is angry," she continued, "and I have been sent to do her work. You have called, and I have come."
A pulse of compelling magic went out from her. This was getting weird. Not the ceremony—these things were commonplace all over the city. But I hadn't felt anything with this level of power before. My skin itched, and I wondered if my blood could break the circle.
"Please," one of the people breathed, "show us your power, Goddess-sent."
I rolled my eyes. "Don't encourage her."
A large woman standing beside me, mouth open in wonder, smacked me without looking away from the object of her awe. I rubbed my shoulder and scooted out of reach. "You asked for it."
The blonde smiled beatifically and pointed at the one who spoke. "You doubt? I will provide incontrovertible proof."
The man she pointed at blinked. He sucked in a breath. Then one of the gilded candelabras resting on the makeshift altar behind him rose up and sped toward the man who had spoken. His eyes widened as it clubbed him on the head viciously, and he went down. It hit him again, and his skull cracked. Blood gushed from the wound, and the people closest to him backed away.
"By the goddess!" One of the older women nearby exclaimed, "These shoes were brand new! The blood will never come out."
Insane. All of them. And they had just killed a man in cold blood, in front of me. I shouldered my way through the crowd, reaching into my pocket to pull out my badge. The blonde in the circle narrowed her eyes as I approached. "You were warned, shaman."
"On behalf of the Order," I told her, "I'm taking you into custody. Your charge is as follows: murder without cause, resisting capture would be another. You have the right to remain silent and will be provided with an attorney if you cannot afford one."
Her face was stony. "You are a fool."
She gestured sharply, and spoke three words of power. I shuddered as the magic flashed. But it wasn't aimed at me. I raised an eyebrow at her. Then something cold and slick grabbed my ankle and tugged.
I went down, and found myself staring into the wide-open eyes of the dead man. He wasn't looking quite as dead as he had five minutes ago. He let go of my foot, face impassive, and reached for my neck. I'd replaced Slayer upon entering the room, but I pulled it out again now, and decapitated him with a swift stroke.
His hand kept coming. I scrambled to my feet. The crowd around me murmured.
"It is the truth!"
"She is the chosen!"
Fools. They were next, and they went willingly like sheep to the slaughter. I stabbed Slayer into the dead man's heart, and sliced downward. The two parts of his corpse separated, and fell. The body twitched, still wriggling in an attempt to grab me.
I raised my eyes to meet the eyes of the blonde.
She smiled, and her ice eyes shone. "Run."
Like hell. I bared my teeth at her in a grin, and raised my bloody blade. "Make me."
"With pleasure." She raised her voice and called out to the group of worshippers. "This woman comes into our sacred place and would sever our connection to the goddess."
Someone yelled in outrage, and the faces of those around me seemed to mimic the sentiment. She was inciting them, but the compulsion she was casting was supported by something else; another power. Someone in the room? I looked around. The necromancer turned her face toward me, slowly, dramatically.
I could taste the magic swirling around me as the crowd surged forward with a roar. Some of them held ceremonial daggers, the others looked ready to rip me apart with their bare hands. Time for plan B. I crouched and quickly smeared my fingers with the chalk they had used to draw their circle. Then I drew on the floor the runes for shielding, one to my left, and one directly in front of me.
They looked surprised when they hit the wall; of course, that was probably because they couldn't see it.
I straightened, Slayer smoking in my hands. The shield bumped my attackers out of the way as I punched through the middle of the crowd, until I passed through the doorway. I turned back to look at the necromancer one last time.
Soon, her eyes promised me.
Good. I wasn't finished with her yet, either. But if there was one thing I learned from my father, it was that there was no shame in making a strategic retreat. As long as you planned to disembowel your opponent at a later date.
(1) The goddess Eris is the Greek goddess of Chaos. We'll hear more about her later on. Some background info, for those who are interested in this sort of thing: she offers the apple of discord to Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite; the one that leads to the affair between Paris and Helen of Troy, that escalates into the famous battle, immortalized in a movie in which Brad Pitt stars.
(2) Yes, the necromancer called Kate a shaman. She is slightly confused as to what kind of magic Kate possesses; Kate does not call ghosts. She can, however, do things such as resurrecting dead heads for interrogation, which is a power the necromancer recognizes.
(3) The poetry in the prologue was Emily Dickenson. We'll see some more of that, too.