Home > Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(4)

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(4)
Author: Ilona Andrews

The first magic wave had stabbed Atlanta in the heart, leaving a ragged, gaping wound that cut through Midtown. The wound bled magic even during the strongest tech, and its current had warped this area beyond all recognition. The locals called it Unicorn Lane. Nothing was what it seemed here, and everything tried to kill you. Even the biggest magical heavyweights steered clear of it. To enter Unicorn Lane, you had to be desperate or crazy. Good thing I was both.

In front of me, a small space had been cleared free of rubble. A ten-foot-tall stele thrust from its center, a narrow stone slab with four equal sides. A pack of small russet-furred beasts somewhere on the crossroads of squirrels and mongoose dashed down a narrow path and around it. The thing that chased them had no name. About the size of a large rottweiler, it scrambled over the refuse on six legs. Its fur was a forest of hair-thin black needles. It looked like a sea urchin, except for its head with long jaws and dinosaur teeth. The beast dashed after the pseudo-squirrels, slipped, and slammed into an abandoned car wrapped in orange moss.

The moss turned bright red from the impact. The beast staggered away, swayed, and collapsed, its side awash with scarlet. The needles drooped, liquifying. A thick puddle of brown blood spread from the creature. Dozens of critters no bigger than a rat streamed out of the ruins like a blue-grey tide to drink it.

Tulip neighed at me for the third time.

“Fine.” I got off the rock and untacked her. “Don’t go deep.”

Tulip tossed her head and took off down the street, a splash of white.

“Is that wise?” a familiar female voice asked.

I turned. Sienna stood by the stele. She wore a long dark cloak, and her hood was down, revealing her face and strawberry blond hair shorn in a new short bob. Her skin was pale, her features delicate and gentle, and her eyes distant. Before the Shift, people used to draw fae like her. Nobody would ever draw a delicate fae again.

“Tulip will be fine. What happened to the hair?”

She smiled. “Needed power for a spell.”

Sienna was an oracle who saw into the future. I had focused on her prophecies so much over the last four years, sometimes I forgot that she was a witch.

I walked over, and we hugged. She used to be sickly, almost skeletal, and sometimes she still forgot to eat, because she lived with one foot in another time. She felt solid now. Good.

“Why here?” I asked, nodding at the stele.

“I have my reasons.”

Sienna looked at the monument and the single name chiseled on it. SAIMAN.

“I always wondered why nothing else was written here,” she said.

“That’s the way he wanted it.”

I remembered the day we buried him. It rained so hard, all of us looked like we were crying. I wasn’t sure if anyone actually had. He’d stabbed too many of his pallbearers in the back.

A grandson of a frost giant, Saiman had been an expert on magic. He’d also been a polymorph. He could turn himself into anyone he wanted, any age, any gender, any shape within human limits, and he’d used that gift to live a thoroughly selfish life, using people, manipulating them, trampling over them in a hedonistic pursuit of wealth and pleasure. Then the city had had to come together to face a terrible threat, and Saiman had one brief, shining chance to cast aside his cowardice and step up to the plate. He took it, and it killed him.

I hadn’t mourned him, I’d never trusted him, but I was sorry he had died. A lot of people, better people, had also died in that battle.

Sienna looked at the stele, or rather through it, at something only she could see. I waited.

She’d called me yesterday. This is your last chance to stop it. Meet me by Saiman’s grave before sunrise. Then she’d hung up.

Rushing her and asking questions would accomplish nothing. She weighed and measured each word a hundred times before she said it. And even so, most of what she said made no sense until it was too late. I just had to be patient and hope I figured it out in time.

Last chance. The very last one.

Four years ago, she’d called me in the middle of the night. Sienna had foreseen disasters before, wars, plagues, dragons. Nothing rattled her, but that night her voice shook. She told me that an elder god had been reborn as an avatar in Arizona. Moloch, the Child Eater, the deity of the Canaanites condemned in the Old Testament, who took his sustenance from infants burned alive in the fires of his forges and metal bulls. For nearly three decades he had been building up his domain, preparing to expand, and that night Sienna had seen his first target.

Moloch would kill Kate. The woman who raised me as her daughter.

Kate was so much more than my mother. She was the nexus, a point of connection for many people who would otherwise slit each other’s throats. The Pack, who suspected all outsiders; the Masters of the Dead, who piloted vampires with their minds as if they were drones; the Witch Covens that guarded their precious knowledge with beasts and curses; the Neo-Pagans with a persecution chip on their shoulder; the Order of Merciful Aid, who maintained that their way was the only right way—all of them owed favors to Kate. She was respected by all, loved by some, feared by others, but none of them would treat her lightly. Kate was the only person capable of forging the factions of Atlanta into a unified force.

Eight years ago, she had done just that, and Atlanta stood as one against a danger that should have ended it. The city survived against all odds. Now Kate had moved on, to the coast near Wilmington, coming to Atlanta only for the summer, and without her the city had fractured again. But these fractures could still be repaired.

If Moloch killed Kate, Atlanta would collapse upon itself and fall to his power. Everyone I cared about on the East Coast would die trying to avenge her. The conflicts between the factions of the city would flare into war. On the West Coast, Erra, Kate’s aunt and the woman I called my grandmother, was trying to resurrect the ancient kingdom she left behind thousands of years ago. My grandmother once lost herself to vengeance and became an abomination to protect her people. Kate’s death would catapult her down the path of retribution once again, and this time she would not survive.

Sienna told me that I was the wild card. It was up to me to stop the prophecy from coming true.

That night four years ago I’d gotten off the phone with Sienna, and in the morning Erra and I were off to Moloch’s fortress. He thought he was secure in his citadel. I’d gotten myself captured, killed his guards, cut my way to his workshop, and severed his spine. He tore out my eye. My grandfather had told me that Moloch’s power was in his eyes, so I carved one of his out of his skull as he lay by my feet and put it into my head. Then I cut his body into pieces and threw him into his own forge. And then I set his hell fortress on fire.

Within two years Moloch regenerated, as my grandfather had warned me he would. I had bought us some time, but the future remained unchanged. Kate still died. From the moment I felt Moloch’s eye root into my head, everything I had done was to prevent the prophecy from happening. I clashed with Moloch again and again, but no matter how hard I struggled, I couldn’t alter Sienna’s visions. If Kate met Moloch, she died. If I went home, she died. If I warned her, she died.

“Moloch spoke to me again,” Sienna said.

Hearing the name said out loud was like being shocked with a live wire. I pushed the rage down. “What did he say?”

She glanced at me. “He taunted me. He can’t see what I see. He worries.”

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