Home > Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(7)

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(7)
Author: Ilona Andrews

Her family became my family. Andrea Medrano, her best friend, became Aunt Andy. Kate’s aunt, Erra, the City Eater, the ancient princess awakened into our age, became my grandmother. Kate’s father, the immortal megalomaniac, decided to be my grandfather. Curran, Kate’s husband and the former Beast Lord, took care of me like I was his own child, and when Conlan was born, I never once thought of him as anything but my brother.

We never used words like “mother” and “daughter” even after the adoption went through. She called me Julie and I called her Kate. She married Curran, and I called him Curran.

I slipped up only once. Eight years ago, I left Atlanta with Erra. I wanted to find my own way, and I had my reasons. Within two weeks homesickness had set in and gnawed on me, until I could stand it no longer. Three months from setting out, I’d called the house. Kate picked up. I’d meant to say hi, but what came out was “Mom?” She had said, “Yes, kiddo?” And then we talked like nothing had happened. Neither of us ever mentioned it again. She never blamed me for leaving. She had done the same thing when she was my age. She didn’t have to tell me I was welcome back anytime. It was a given.

Kate, Curran, and Conlan, they were my home. My safe place, my shelter, secure, stable, and warm, where I was loved. It was my turn to guard them from danger, and my first step was to take custody of the Haywood case and keep Moloch’s priests away from it.

 

 

3

 

 

The Order of Merciful Aid occupied a compound at the intersection of Centennial Park Drive and Andorf’s Avenue. The five-story building, half fort, half bunker, had all the bells and whistles that came with post-Shift construction: narrow windows protected by metal grates with silver in the bars, foot-thick stone walls, and a flat roof, guarded by ballistae and M240 medium machine guns. A nine-foot-tall wall topped with razor wire and sporting guard towers wrapped around it all. Magic or tech, the knights would pulverize it.

I rode straight to the front gate and stopped before a squat guardhouse with reinforced walls and tinted windows secured by metal grates. The gate in the stone wall past the guardhouse stood wide open, and through them I could see stables and an exercise yard. The Order had upgraded. You could fit four of their old headquarters into this new place.

A dark-skinned knight about my age with a scar on his neck and black hair cut short came out. He carried a tactical sword on his hip.

“Name?”

“Aurelia Ryder.”

“Purpose of visit?”

“I’m here to see Knight-Protector Nikolas Feldman.”

The knight eyed me. “Is he expecting you?”

“No. But he will see me.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“I hold the Tower.”

The knight’s expression didn’t change. “Is that supposed to mean something?”

No, I’m a crazy person who came to spout random nonsense at your citadel of armed fanatics. “Why don’t you call it in and find out?”

“Wait here.”

He went back to the guardhouse.

I waited.

The Order originated in the chaos immediately following the Shift, right after that first wave of magic that dropped planes out of the sky and sapped all the energy out of the power grid. That wave raged for three days, birthing monsters and awakening powers at random. The apocalypse had come and shattered our technological civilization with one blow, like a cosmic hammer. During that wave, Jared Stone, a former Army Ranger, banded with a few of his neighbors to protect their houses from the magic nightmares ravaging their neighborhood, and the Order was born.

Stone patterned his creation after the medieval knight orders, emphasizing strict discipline, education, and, above all, competency, and gave it a simple mission—protect mankind from all things magic. The knights helped anyone who asked. Rich, poor, it didn’t matter. If you ran into a magic problem you couldn’t handle, the Order would accept your petition and solve your dilemma. On their terms.

Over the years, the Order grew. As the reach of the federal government weakened and the States gained power, law enforcement came to rely on the knights more and more. They had chapters in all the major cities; they were experts in disposing of magic hazmat, and they were deadly.

Unfortunately, the Order took its mission literally, and the knights’ definition of human was rather narrow. Occasionally they would show their true colors, and society recoiled. The knights would adjust their policies, weather the storm of public opinion, and sooner or later the authorities would come knocking on their door, and all would be as it was. At least until the next massacre.

A skinny kid with tan and sandy hair, about sixteen or so, trotted out of the stables inside the walled perimeter. We nodded to each other.

The knight stepped back out of the guardhouse. “You may go in. Peyton will take your horse.”

I dismounted and handed the reins to Peyton. He smiled at me and looked at Tulip. The mare sighed.

“Behave,” I told her.

“Beautiful color,” Peyton told me.

“Thank you.” I headed to the building.

“Ma’am,” Peyton called out.

“Yes?”

“Your horse has blood on her chin.”

I turned around, pulled a rag out of my pocket, and wiped the bloody smear off Tulip’s face. “There you go. All good.”

Peyton gave me a suspicious look, and he and Tulip walked off.

I loved my horse, but she always was a messy eater.

 

 

A young female knight met me at the gates of the Order. She was taller than me by six inches, brown-skinned, with a lean athletic build, light hazel eyes, and an intense, unblinking stare. Her dark brown hair, braided in cornrows, fell on her shoulders in four thick plaits. She walked me through the front hall and a long hallway to Nick’s office and pointed to the chair in front of his desk. “Sit. Stay. Wait.”

I sat and held my fists in front of me like paws. “Woof!”

“Perfect.” She turned, walked out of the office, and parked herself in the hallway by the open door.

The Order of Merciful Aid, the very soul of courtesy in this savage age.

I sat in the chair and studied the office. Plain desk, plain chairs; a row of bookshelves against one wall filled with an assortment of volumes, everything from forensic science volumes to bestiaries; a weapons rack against the opposite wall, holding three blades, a spear, a mace, a rifle, and a shotgun. A spartan, functional office for a spartan, functional man.

Nick Feldman and my family had a complicated history. He had a code of morals, to which he fanatically adhered. He was also deeply paranoid, resolute, and, once he decided that you were a threat, prone to sudden violence. This conversation would have to be done very carefully.

Steps echoed down the hallway. Nick Feldman entered and walked to his desk, and I almost fell out of my chair.

Nick had gone grey.

The last time I saw him he’d had brown hair he kept cropped. It was longer now, long enough to be brushed, but it was steel-grey. He had aged.

Oh wow.

Nick Feldman gave me a cold stare. His eyes were very pale, stark against the backdrop of his tan skin, and being on the receiving end of that look was like gazing into the barrel of a gun. I was probably expected to collapse to my knees and beg for mercy, but I was still grappling with the hair and the lines around his eyes, so I just stared back, my face blank.

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