Small Magics

By: Ilona Andrews

A QUESTIONABLE CLIENT



The problem with leucrocotta blood is that it stinks to high heaven. It’s also impossible to get off your boots, particularly if the leucrocotta condescended to void its anal glands on you right before you chopped its head off.

I sat on the bench in the Mercenary Guild locker room and pondered my noxious footwear. The boots were less than a year old. And I didn’t have money to buy a new pair.

“Tomato juice, Kate,” one of the mercs offered. “Will take it right out.”

Now he’d done it. I braced myself.

A woman in the corner shook her head. “That’s for skunks. Try baking soda.”

“You have to go scientific about it. Two parts hydrogen peroxide to four parts water.”

“A quart of water and a tablespoon of ammonia.”

“What you need to do is piss on it. . . .”

Every person in the locker room knew my boots were shot. 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. That’s why I carried a sword. It always worked.

Mark appeared in the doorway. Mark was the Guild’s equivalent of middle management, and he looked the part—his suit was perfectly clean and cost more than I made in three months, his dark hair was professionally trimmed, and his hands showed no calluses. In the crowd of working-class thugs, he stood out like a sore thumb and was proud of it, which earned him the rank and file’s undying hatred.

Mark’s expressionless stare fastened on me. “Daniels, the clerk has a gig ticket for you.”

Usually the words “gig ticket” made my eyes light up. 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. My territory was near Savannah, basically in the sparsely populated middle of nowhere, and good gigs didn’t come my way too often. 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. He’d cut me in on his gig.

Under normal circumstances I would’ve jumped on the chance to earn extra cash, but I had spent most of the last twenty-four hours awake and chasing hyena-sized creatures armed with badgerlike jaws full of extremely sharp teeth. And Jim bailed on me midway through it. Some sort of Pack business. That’s what I get for pairing with a werejaguar.

I was tired, dirty, and hungry, and my boots stank.

“I just finished a job.”

“It’s a blue gig.”

Blue gig meant double rate.

Mac, a huge hulk of a man, shook his head, presenting me with a view of his mangled left ear. “Hell, if she doesn’t want it, I’ll take it.”

“No, you won’t. She’s licensed for bodyguard detail and you aren’t.”

I bloody hated bodyguard detail. On regular jobs, I had to depend only on myself. But bodyguard detail was a couple’s kind of dance. You had to work with the body you guarded, and in my experience, bodies proved uncooperative.

“Why me?”

Mark shrugged. “Because I have no choice. I have Rodriguez and Castor there now, but they just canceled on me. If you don’t take the gig, I’ll have to track down someone who will. My pain, your gain.”

Canceled wasn’t good. Rodriguez was a decent mage, and Castor was tough in a fight. They wouldn’t bail from a well-paying job unless it went sour.

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