Home > Magic Burns (Kate Daniels #2)(12)

Magic Burns (Kate Daniels #2)(12)
Author: Ilona Andrews

"Are you leaving now?" Julie asked from the crates.

Hell no. Nothing that involved several women missing, a bottomless pit ringed in blood, and an inhuman skeleton could possibly amount to something benign. And Mr. Grab-ass apparently wanted to keep me as far away from it as possible. I wondered why.

"You want to find your mom?"

"Yeah."

"Do you want my help?"

"Sure."

"You know who was the head witch in the coven?"

"Esmeralda."

Esmeralda. Oh boy. "Where does she live?"

"The Honeycomb."

This just got better and better. "Climb down. We're going to pay her a visit."

Chapter 5

WE CLIMBED UP THE SCRAP-METAL EVEREST, WITH me leading the way and Julie slightly behind. Her breath was coming in ragged gasps. Too little food. Julie wasn't much stronger than a mosquito. In fact, if a big one rammed her, she might fall over. She didn't complain, though.

About halfway up the slope she finally gave in. "How far?"

"Keep climbing."

"I just want to know how far!"

"Don't make me turn this car around, missy."

"What does that even mean?" She mumbled something else under her breath but kept moving.

The edge of the Gap crept closer. The rhythmic whoom, whoom, whoom grew louder. Had to be a beacon of some sort. I climbed onto the narrow ledge and reached for Julie. "Give me your hand."

She stretched a matchstick arm. I grabbed her wrist and raised her over the jagged remains of the refrigerator onto the ledge next to me. She weighed next to nothing. "We'll take a little break."

"I can keep going."

"I'm sure you can. But Honeycomb isn't a nice place. By now someone probably knows we're here and they have a welcoming committee prepared."

"Oh boy! They'll throw us a party!" She sat in the dirt.

Heh. I sat next to her. "You're not from there, by any chance?"

She shook her head. "No. I'm from White Street."

White Street got its name during the snowfall of '14, which refused to melt for three and a half years. When a street can hold three inches of powder despite the hundred degree heat, you know it's packing some serious magic. Anybody who could afford to move did.

"How old are you?"

"Thirteen. I'm only two years behind Red."

Looking at her, I would've guessed eleven tops. "How old is your mother? What does she look like?"

"She is thirty-five and she looks like me only grown up. I have a picture at home."

"So what do you know about the coven? Who did they worship? What sort of rituals did they do?"

Julie shrugged. In front of us the gorge stretched into the distance, bristling with spikes and rusty iron. Thin tendrils of mist clung to the steep slope. A deep threatening growl echoed from the walls, too far to be a threat. The Stymphalean birds answered it with their screeches.

"Did you know the birds are metal?" Julie said.

I nodded. "They're Greek. You know who Hercules was?"

"Yeah. The strongest man."

"When he was young, he had to go through twelve challenges..."

"Why?"

"His dad's wife made him temporarily insane. He killed his family and had to atone by serving a king. The king very much wanted to kill him so he kept thinking up more and more difficult challenges for Hercules. Anyway, the Stymphalean birds were one of the challenges. He had to drive them away from a certain lake. Their feathers are like arrows and their beaks are supposed to pierce the strongest armor."

She looked at me. "How did he do it?"

"The gods made him some loud clapper things. He wrapped himself in the skin of an invulnerable lion and made noise until the birds flew away."

"Why is it in those stories that the gods always pull your butt out of trouble?"

I got up. "It helps if the king of the gods is your dad. Come on. We've got to climb and I'm pretty sure your dad isn't a god, is he?"

"He died," she said.

"I'm sorry. My dad is dead, too. Now climb, young grasshopper, so your kung fu won't be weak."

She braved a crumpled barrel. "You are so weird."

You have no idea.

TWENTY FEET BELOW THE LIP OF THE GAP, I FELT THE Honeycomb. Above us magic twisted and streamed, boiling in a chaotic frenzy, its intensity spiking hot enough to scald. The magic field felt me and spilled over the edge, sending thin currents toward me like invisible lassos. They licked me and fell short. That's right. No touching.

The magic waited, almost as if it were aware. Up top, where it boiled, I would create one hell of a resonance and that was never a good thing. The Honeycomb couldn't touch me, but it didn't like me and it would keep trying. The sooner I got out of there, the better.

I climbed over a water heater, twisted and crushed like an aluminum can, and pulled myself over the edge. Before me the bloated trailers, contorted and rippling with strange metallic bumps, clung to one another. Some had merged into hives, some three trailers high, and a couple joined ones looked identical, like two cells caught in the middle of mitosis. A few sat on top of each other, hanging at precarious angles yet apparently steady. Long clotheslines ran between the trailers and freshly washed garments flapped in the breeze.

I pulled Julie up. She winced as the magic smashed against her body. The currents wound about her...and calmed. It was as if she suddenly wasn't there. Interesting kid.

"You been here before?"

She shook her head. "Not this deep."

"Walk where I walk. Stay away from the walls. Especially if you see them get fuzzy."

We started through the labyrinth of trailers. A long time ago the Honeycomb was a mobile park retirement community called Happy Trails or some such. It sat just under the Brown Mills Golf Course, across the Jonesboro Road. At first it had survived the magic waves pretty well, and when the cheap project apartments east of it crumbled and split, a slow but steady trickle of homeless refugees filled the mobile park. They pitched tents on the manicured lawns, bathed in the communal pool, and cooked on the outdoor grills. The cops chased out the squatters, but they just kept coming.

Then one night the magic hit especially hard, and the manufactured homes warped. Some expanded like glass bubbles, some twisted, others stuck together merging into hives. More yet divided and grew additions, and when the dust finally settled, a fifth of the inhabitants had vanished into the walls. To the Outside. Nobody could ever figure out what the Outside was, but it was definitely not anywhere in the normal world. The retirees fled, but the refugees had nowhere to go. They moved into the trailers and stayed put. Once in a while somebody would disappear, as each new magic tide twisted the Honeycomb a little more. A fun place to live if you were into that sort of thing.

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