Mircea was standing close enough to give the impression that he was still holding me. The pain had cleared my head like smelling salts, allowing me to understand why. Although he might be willing to release me, the Consul most certainly was not. I’d refused to become her puppet, had stolen valuable merchandise from her and had placed her chief negotiator under a dangerous spell. The fact that the latter, at least, had been inadvertent was irrelevant from her perspective. I wondered what she had planned for me if her mages couldn’t break the spell. Based on Mircea’s action, I could make a good guess. Few spells outlive the demise of the caster. And if I wasn’t going to be her pet Pythia, she had no vested interest in keeping me alive.
I met Mircea’s gaze. “I’ll find a way to break this,” I told him. I didn’t bother to whisper this time. “I promise.”
He smiled slightly, but his eyes were infinitely sad. “I am sorry,
The Consul said something, but I didn’t hear her. One minute, the chamber was quiet enough to hear a pin drop; the next, a howling arctic wind had filled the room, whipping my hair in stinging strands against my face. It paused for an instant, gathering strength near the high ceiling of the chamber, before exploding into the worst ice storm I’ve ever seen.
The slashing, brutal winds ignored me and a small space around me, and for a minute I thought my ward had finally decided to wake up, but there was no flood of golden light, no distinctive pentagram shape. Something else was protecting me, and for the moment I didn’t care what—just so long as it kept it up. Everywhere outside that small island of calm, chaos raged.
Mircea stepped away and I gasped in pain as the
realized that something had gone wrong. I would have grabbed him again, despite the consequences, but I couldn’t see him in the swirling white void. “Mircea!” I screamed, but my voice was lost in the deafening winds.
Not knowing what else to do, I leapt forward and threw myself over Tomas. Thankfully, the clear spot went with me. It didn’t cover him entirely, and his wounds were too extreme for me to stretch out on top of him, but frostbite on his lower legs was the least of my worries.
I fumbled for his restraints, but I couldn’t see them, couldn’t see anything next to the violent, thrashing world of white. Then something bounced on the table right beside me and I understood what the odd, thumping noise raining down all around us was. The wind carried hailstones the size of bowling balls, and since they were trapped between the four walls of the Senate chamber, they had nowhere to spend their fury except to ricochet off every available surface. It was like being caught in Hell’s pinball game. If I didn’t get Tomas loose soon, they’d crush his feet, and no way could I drag him anywhere.
I had to get us out of there and I had to find Myra, although how I was supposed to deal with her in my current state I had no idea. All I wanted was to curl into a little ball and wait for Mircea to find me—and if I stayed, I knew he would. Whatever strength had allowed him to pull away, the
was stronger. It wouldn’t be long now.
Something hit Tomas’ right leg, jarring his whole body. I stretched but couldn’t reach far enough to shield his lower limbs without leaving his head unprotected, and I couldn’t pull his legs up because they were strapped down. I tried to shift, but although I felt something this time, like a slight tug, I still couldn’t go anywhere.
, I thought desperately.
I finally figured out the release on Tomas’ hand restraints and had just clicked them open when the room suddenly became a lot more crowded. A tattoo parlor was sitting in the middle of it, so close to the main table that it was almost on top of us. Mac’s face, half obscured by snow even though it was only a few yards away, appeared in the main window under the flashing MAG INK sign. A second later, an arm covered in wriggling designs reached out the front door and grabbed Tomas by the leg, clicking off the right ankle restraint with practiced ease.
As soon as Mac hauled Tomas in the door, I scrambled across the table after them. The shop had landed on the impressive row of steps leading up to the dais on which the table sat, and was therefore tilted towards me. If I made it another few feet, my momentum should do the rest.
I had just managed to clasp the hand Pritkin held out when someone grabbed my ankle. My ward—damn it— didn’t flare, but Sheba suddenly got busy. She had ignored Mircea, either because of the null effect or because she didn’t view him as a threat. But whoever had grabbed me was another matter. I felt her flow down my body, then there was the sound of a snarling great cat and a surprised yelp from a dignified Senate leader. Sheba launched herself off my foot, and a second later the Consul let go of my leg.
“Come on!” Pritkin gave a heave and I almost flew the rest of the way across the slick tabletop. We tumbled in the door of the shop and suddenly I could see again. Neither Mac nor Tomas was in the front, but I didn’t have time to worry about it. At Pritkin’s yell of “We’re clear!” the whole building started to shake.
The next minute we were barreling through pure stone, on a crazy zigzag course into the middle of MAGIC’s foundations. We were making pretty good time, it seemed to me, although I was so busy holding on to Pritkin, who had a death grip on the counter, that it was hard to tell. I did see a dark blur, however, coming down the newly carved tunnel, and the next minute Kit Marlowe tumbled into the wildly lurching room.
He looked grim and determined, and there was an air of danger about him that I didn’t remember from our brief childhood meeting. Of course, that night he’d been enjoying Tony’s best hospitality, not bleeding from half a dozen wounds. “Oh, bugger it!” I heard Pritkin mutter. He pulled me off his back, pressed my hands around the edges of the desk and yelled, “Hold on,” loudly enough to threaten to rupture my eardrum. Then he let go and went flying across the room at Marlowe.
They grappled, but without magic it was down to old-fashioned dirty fighting and pure muscle, and they seemed about evenly matched. Marlowe was yelling something at me, but I couldn’t hear him over the racket our tunneling efforts were making. And I was too consumed by the waves of pain coursing through me from the
The farther I got from Mircea, the worse they became, to the point that I was barely aware of what was happening. Tears blinded me, spasms clenched my stomach and it was becoming increasingly hard to breathe. I remembered Casanova saying that people under the
had committed suicide rather than endure the pain of separation and I finally understood why.
Marlowe got Pritkin in a headlock and the two stumbled into the desk, almost causing me to lose my already tenuous grip. Then Pritkin stabbed a knife into the vamp’s chest and they broke apart. But the mage, looking dazed from the loss of air, didn’t follow up his advantage and for some reason neither did Marlowe. He was grimly pulling out the knife when, with no warning, the shop shuddered to a halt.
My knees knocked painfully against the side of the desk and I barely kept from sailing over it. But I couldn’t have cared less. The
was suddenly gone, cut off like a stereo when someone turns a switch. I gasped for air and found that I could breathe deeply again. My head swam with the influx of oxygen and with relief. But almost immediately I noticed another sensation: hunger.
It was only in the magnitude of its absence that I could tell the true strength of the bond. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Relief from the pain had also brought an end to the addictive, all-consuming pleasure. And the craving started immediately.
I staggered around the desk, feeling strangely hollow and empty inside. Then I looked out the front window and did a stunned double take. What I saw was enough to take my mind off even the
. In front of us wasn’t another sandstone corridor or even an empty stretch of desert. Instead, I saw a large meadow filled with long grasses that bent to the left in a gentle breeze. By the sun’s height I guessed it was midday, although the diffused light made it hard to tell for sure. In the distance lay a ridge of sharp blue mountains capped with snow, but the breeze that swept in through the shop’s front door was warm and smelled faintly of wildflowers. It was beautiful.
Mac stuck his head out from behind the curtain warily, then gave a whoop of pure joy. “All right! And they said it couldn’t be done! Bloody hell!” I noticed that his wards had stopped moving, frozen in place like normal tattoos, and light dawned. Mac, that crazy son of a bitch, had driven the tattoo parlor straight through the portal and into Faerie itself.
I left Mac and Pritkin to deal with Marlowe and ran into the back. Tomas was strapped down on the padded table Mac used for doing tattoos. He didn’t look comfortable, but at least he hadn’t been thrown around the room. I hadn’t had a chance to do more than glance at his wounds before, but now I tightened my lips to avoid saying something extremely rude about Jack. Then I decided to hell with it and said it anyway.
Tomas groaned and tried to sit up, but the straps wouldn’t let him. That was just as well, since something would have probably fallen out otherwise. Jack had split him open from nipples to navel, like an autopsy specimen or an animal he was about to gut. I stared at the wreck of what had once been a perfect body and grew cold. I really wished Augusta had finished him.
I swallowed and looked away, partly because I had to or risk being sick, and partly because I needed to locate something to use as a bandage. Vampires had amazing recuperative powers—horrific as his wounds were, Tomas could probably heal them in time. But it would help a lot if the edges of the wound were somehow held together, and for that I needed fabric—a lot of it. I started for the cot, which had a fitted sheet and blanket that might work, when I tripped over something. I landed on my knees next to a dark-haired man wearing a bright red shirt. I stared at him in surprise—how had we picked up another stowaway without my noticing? Then he turned his head and I realized that he’d been there all along, just not quite in this form.
“I gotta tell ya,” Billy said, sitting up and grabbing his head with both hands, “I haven’t felt this bad since I got into that drinking contest with those two Russian bastards.” He groaned and lay back down.
I cautiously reached over and poked him with a finger. He was as solid as I was. I lifted his wrist and felt for a pulse. It beat strong and firm under my fingers. I dropped his hand and scrambled back a couple of feet, only to encounter another impossible thing. I felt something solid against my back and looked down to see an orange-brown hand lying on the floor. It was connected to a similarly colored arm, which led to the naked torso of what my brain finally identified as Pritkin’s golem. Only, despite the color, he wasn’t clay any longer.
I didn’t need to check for a pulse—he was obviously breathing, his oddly colored but otherwise perfect chest rising and falling normally. Or what would have been normal for a human. Since he was supposed to be a big pile of clay animated by magic, it wasn’t normal for him. A glance that I swear was involuntary informed me that he was also anatomically correct, which he certainly hadn’t been before, and that whoever had handled the changeover had been generous. The next second his eyes—real ones this time—flew open to regard me with utter confusion. They were brown, I noticed irrelevantly, and he didn’t have any eyebrows or eyelashes. In fact, he didn’t appear to have any hair at all.
I looked back at Billy. He was pale and needed the shave he’d been putting off for a century and a half, but otherwise seemed fine. He quite simply had his body back, which was ridiculous because it had gone for fish food ages ago.
“What the hell?” I felt the floor move and looked around wildly. I did not need another of Mac’s crazy rides. Only we didn’t, I realized after a minute, appear to be going anywhere. The room was definitely shaking, though, and I spared a second to wonder whether Faerie had earthquakes when Billy sat up, wild-eyed and panic-stricken. He felt his chest, then let out a scream and began thumping himself in the head, stomach and legs, as if his body was some unfamiliar and horrifying bug that had crawled onto him.
He jumped up and started dancing around the room, shedding clothes and screeching. His antics and the room’s gyrations upset the golem, which had left behind confusion for fear. His eyes widened and his lips opened to emit a high-pitched squeal that was a lot harder on the ears than Billy’s screams. I stumbled across the room, avoiding both of them, and grabbed the sheet. After tearing it into strips, I bound up Tomas’ wounds as best I could while the golem and Billy ran around, bumping into things and each other, and managing only to work themselves up more.
I freed Tomas before one of them could careen into him and dragged him under the table. I crawled in after him and put my hands over my ears, which felt like they’d start to bleed any second. Let somebody else deal with the crisis for a change—I was through.
It became obvious that abdication wasn’t an option when half the roof was abruptly ripped off. For a second, only a patch of blue sky and a couple of yellow butterflies showed through, giving the impression that the tiny insects were responsible for the damage. Then a head the size of a small car poked in. It was green and covered in shiny, iridescent scales, with a snout big enough to eat a person without needing a second bite. No smoke came out of its nostrils, but I didn’t need that to know what it was. Its orange eyes had narrow red pupils that dilated on sight of me like a cat that had just encountered a new form of mouse.
It poured through the hole in the roof, its head suspended on an impossibly long neck and its huge jaws cracking to show off jagged, dark yellow teeth. I froze with its warm, acrid breath in my face, so close that it made my eyes start to water. Then the golem really lost it, running naked and screeching directly across the dragon’s line of sight, causing the orange eyes to focus on him instead. He plunged through the curtain and the dragon followed, its neck flowing past me in a river of scales, its talons trying to rip a large enough hole in the roof for its huge body.