I scrutinized the left side of the room. Nothing moved. Click, click. Closer this time. Fear skittered down my spine. Fear was good.
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Part 0. I sat on the bench in the Mercenary Guild locker room and pondered my noxious footwear. The boots were less than a year old. I braced myself. A woman in the corner shook her head.
Try baking soda. Two parts hydrogen peroxide to four parts water. Unfortunately, stain removal methods was one of those troublesome subjects somewhere between relationship issues and mysterious car noises. Everybody was an expert, everybody had a cure, and they all fell over themselves to offer their advice. The electric bulbs blinked and faded. Magic flooded the world in a silent rush, smothering technology.
Twisted tubes of feylanterns ignited with pale blue on the walls as the charged air inside them interacted with magic. A nauseating stench, reminiscent of a couple of pounds of shrimp left in the sun for a week, erupted from my boots.
There were collective grunts of "Ugh" and "Oh God," and then everybody decided to give me lots of personal space. We lived in a post-Shift world. One moment magic dominated, fueling spells and giving power to monsters and the next it vanished as abruptly as it appeared. Cars started, electricity flowed, and mages became easy prey to a punk with a gun. Nobody could predict when magic waves would come or how long they would last.
It always worked. Mark appeared in the doorway. I needed money. I always needed money. The Guild zoned the jobs, meaning that each merc had his own territory.
If a job fell in your territory, it was legitimately yours. The only reason I ended up in Atlanta this time was that my part-time partner in crime, Jim, needed help clearing a pack of grave-digging leucrocottas from Westview Cemetery. And Jim bailed on me midway through it. Some sort of Pack business. I was tired, dirty, and hungry, and my boots stank. Mac, a huge hulk of a man, shook his head, presenting me with a view of his mangled left ear.
On regular jobs, I had to depend only on myself. You had to work with the body you guarded, and in my experience, bodies proved uncooperative.
I have Rodriguez and Castor there now, but they just canceled on me. My pain, your gain. Rodriguez was a decent mage and Castor was tough in a fight. In or out, Daniels? Three grand for a night of work. I had paid a lot for them and they should have lasted for another year at least, but if I put them into my locker, it would smell forever.
Sadly the boots were ruined. I tossed them into the trash, pulled on my old spare pair, grabbed my sword, and headed out of the locker room to get the gig ticket from the clerk. With magic wave in full swing, my gasoline-guzzling car was about as mobile as a car-size rock, but since I was technically doing the Guild a favor, the clerk provided me with a spare mount. Her muzzle had gone grey, her tail and mane had thinned to stringy tendrils, and she moved with ponderous slowness.
According to the directions, Champion Heights was only a couple miles away. Around me a broken city struggled to shrug off winter, fighting the assault of another cold February night. Husks of once mighty skyscrapers stabbed through the melting snowdrifts encrusted with dark ice.
Magic loved to feed on anything technologically complex, but tall office towers proved particularly susceptible to magic-induced erosion. Within a couple of years of the first magic wave they shuddered, crumbled, and fell one by one, like giants on sand legs, spilling mountains of broken glass and twisted guts of metal framework onto the streets.
The city grew around the high-tech corpses. Stalls and small shops took the place of swanky coffee joints and boutiques. Wood and brick houses, built by hand and no taller than four floors high, replaced the high rises. Busy streets, once filled with cars and busses, now channeled a flood of horses, mules, and camels.
During rush hour the stench alone put hair on your chest. But now, with the last of the sunset dying slowly above the horizon, the city lay empty. Anyone with a crumb of sense hurried home. The night belonged to monsters, and monsters were always hungry.
The wind picked up, driving dark clouds across the sky and turning my bones into icicles. It would storm soon. The night worried me little. I looked too poor and too mean to provide easy pickings and nobody in their right mind would try to steal Peggy. Unless a gang of soap-making bandits lurked about, we were safe enough. I checked the address again. Smack in the middle of Buckhead. I turned the corner and stopped.
A high rise towered over the ruins. At least fifteen floors, maybe more. Pale tendrils of haze clung to it. It was so tall that the top floor of it still ref lected the sunset, while the rest of the city lay steeped in shadow.
I petted her grey muzzle. We need a closer look. No indication if it was his last or first name. Perhaps he was like Batman, one of a kind. Contrary to popular opinion, people who have money refuse to part with it, unless they absolutely have to do it. Grey Volvo, black Cadillac, even a sleek gunmetal Lamborghini. Most vehicles sported a bloated hood - built to accommodate a charged water engine. The water-engine cars functioned during magic waves by using magic-infused water instead of gasoline.
Unfortunately, they took a good fifteen minutes of hard chanting to start and when they did spring into action, they attained a maximum speed of forty-five miles per hour while growling, snarling, and thundering loud enough to force a deaf man to file a noise complaint.
A large white sign waited past the cars. A black arrow pointed to the right. Above the arrow in black letters was written "Please stable your mounts. As I looked, the brick wall of the highrise swam out of focus, shimmered, and turned into a granite crag. I squinted at the wall and saw the faint outline of bricks within the granite. The stairs brought me to the glass-and-steel front of the building.
The same haze that cloaked the building clouded the glass, but not enough to obscure a thick metal grate barring the vestibule. Beyond the grate, a guard sat behind a round counter, between an Uzi and a crossbow. The Uzi looked well maintained. The crossbow bore the Hawkeye logo on its stock - a round bird-of-prey eye with a golden iris - which meant its prong was steel and not cheap aluminum.
Probably upward of two hundred pounds of draw weight. At this distance, it would take out a rhino, let alone me. The guard gave me an evil eye. I leaned to the narrow metal grille and tried to broadcast "trustworthy. What code? A long minute passed. Finally he emerged, looking sour, and pushed a button. The metal grate slid aside. I walked in.
The floor and walls were polished red granite. The air smelled of expensive perfume. I walked up to the elevator and pushed the Up button. The metal doors slid open. I got in and selected the fifteenth floor, the elevator closed and a moment later faint purring announced the cabin rising.
Most people on either side cannot go across a border, so the edgers are generally left alone. But the few people that can cross borders cause trouble Innkeepers have a symbiotic relationship with their Inn; a living, semi-sentient and probably alien lifeform. They are powerful within Inn grounds and can use their "magic" to control every part of the Inn and grounds - including creating additional customized rooms for guests just by a thought and opening portals to other worlds their Inn has forged a connection to. The inside of an Inn bends physics to extreme lengths.
A Questionable Client Kate Daniels, 0. Ever wonder how Kate first met Saiman? Well, this little shorty is the answer to that question! This one takes place before Magic Bites, while Kate was still working for the Mercenary Guild, and trying to keep a low profile. There is a passing mention of Jim as her sometimes partner, the introduction of the Russians, and this neat picture of what Atlanta looks like Free to read HERE.
A Questionable Client
Mezill If a woman picks up the arrow, she and the shooter are fated to be together. Kate Daniels 10 books. We go in in an hour. Andrewz to Read Currently Reading Read.
A Questionable Client (2000)