Home > Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(9)

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(9)
Author: Ilona Andrews

“The lay of the land,” Nick said. “At least as of last week. Atlanta is less a city and more of a collection of territories claimed by different factions. There are three main roads, I-20 that runs east to west, I-85 that runs north to south, and the Peach Loop, which is a new road that circles the city.”

He pointed to the northeast where a grey icon depicted a stylized castle sitting in the middle of an area tinted with green. “The Keep, the headquarters of the Pack. Their territory extends almost to I-85.”

Nick tapped a white palace icon located in the northwest, in the loop between I-85 and I-20, colored with red. “The Casino. It used to belong to the People, except now our particular People call themselves the Eastern Institute of Necromancy, also known as EIN. They’re still the same People. They still pilot vampires with their minds, finance their research with gambling, and think they’re better than everyone else and therefore are entitled to special treatment.”

The People had been created by my grandfather. Thousands of years ago, Roland accidentally made the first vampire, and when he awoke in the modern age, he decided to make good use of them. Before his exile, he established the People, an organization of necromancers capable of piloting vampires with their minds. He gave them a modern name, because “navigator” sounded a lot less scary than necromancer, and sent them into the world. The People positioned themselves as part-corporation, part-research institute, and usually owned community-entertaining businesses. Casinos were their favorite.

Now that Grandfather was no longer in the picture, the People fractured into independent organizations. Atlanta’s EIN was more independent than most. During the final fight between Kate and Roland, the Atlanta’s People threw their lot in with Kate. A lot of other navigators viewed it as a betrayal.

Nick pointed to a grey section centered on a tower. “The Order’s territory. You are relatively safe here.”

He moved his finger to an area spreading north and south of I-20 stained with so many colors, it looked like an overenthusiastic toddler with finger paints had gone wild after a serious sugar rush.

“The Pagans. The Covens are here, the Neo-Vikings over there, then we have the Druids, the Greeks, the Volhvs, the Egyptians, the devotees of the traditional African religions…”

His hand flicked over the map to the southeast. “The representatives of the Cherokee, Apalachee, Muscogee Creek, and other tribes are here. Also, the major religions each have their own sphere of influence and center of power, dotted throughout the city, with the Christians being the most numerous. Apocalypse or not, we’re still in the Bible Belt.”

Nick stepped back and waved his hand, encompassing the map.

“It’s about as fun as it looks. Occasionally, something gets them all united, but most of the time, they can’t agree on where the sun will rise tomorrow. They are like rocks in a sack, grinding against each other. They all want to expand, but there is only so much city to go around, so they watch each other, waiting for an opportunity.”

“What about that smaller blue-green area in the southeast?”

Nick grimaced. “That’s the Lennart-Daniels gated community.”

Really? “Gated community?”

“Yes. It’s very exclusive.”

I bet it is. “Meaning?”

“Stay out of there. Lennart once led the Pack, and Daniels has claimed—her word, not mine—the entire city in the past. Now they spend most of their time up in Wilmington because their son attends a private school there, but they come back in the summer to visit family and friends. That family is complicated.”

You don’t say.

“They have issues with the Pack and EIN, and they are not receptive to outsiders. The entire neighborhood consists of shapeshifter families that left the Pack with them. Imagine three streets full of werebears and former Pack heavy hitters fanatically loyal to Lennart and Daniels. If you trespass, I may not be able to get you out.”

That was a lie. Nick visited my family on a regular basis. Kate considered him her stepbrother. Conlan called him “Uncle.” Sometimes, when Nick did something particularly boneheaded, Kate referred to him as “Uncle Stupidhead” and not always out of his earshot.

If one of Nick’s knights accidentally happened to wander into their neighborhood and made a mess of things, Kate and Curran would absolutely return the poor lost lamb to Nick. Besides, as the Knight-Protector, Nick could and would go anywhere in the city, and all the bigwigs whose territory he invaded would have to mind their manners when they politely asked him to leave.

“While you’re at it, keep clear of the Mercenary Guild. Lennart and Daniels don’t run it anymore, but they still own a chunk of it, so don’t go in there looking for your people.”

Well, my ploy to pose as one of Hannah Salazar’s private soldiers worked. He thought I was a mercenary, clearly a profession he wasn’t fond of. That and my barging in and taking one of his cases likely meant that if I did get in trouble, the Knight-Protector wouldn’t be in a rush to rescue me. Good thing I didn’t often require rescue.

“The murder of Pastor Nathan Haywood happened here.” Nick touched an area in the southeast, close to the Peach Loop. “In no man’s land. You have the Warren to the east. It’s an impoverished area, full of the homeless and street gangs. The PAD doesn’t make many trips to the Warren. Pastor Haywood deliberately chose this neighborhood. He was a true Christian. He lived simply, he was humble, and he worked miracles. This was a man who ministered to anyone in need, especially to the poor. He fed them, he healed them, and he spread the word of his god.”

“You knew him?”

“I saw him cure people. He wasn’t a fraud.”

Post-Shift, faith had power. If enough people believed in a god, the deity would grow in power and sometimes its priests gained magic abilities. Nobody quite knew if those powers were the result of the deity imbuing its chosen with magic or if the faith of the congregation empowered the clergy directly, but their new abilities were a fact.

“Pastor Haywood never took any money or credit for what he did. His magic was faith-based, so it only worked on those who shared his beliefs, but when it worked, it was extraordinary. He was a good man, who thought he had no magic of his own and saw himself as an instrument of a higher power. Do you know how this kind miracle worker died?”

“No.”

“Look in the file.”

I opened the file. A colored photograph stared back at me. A stump of a body sprawled in a puddle of blood on the floor. The head was missing, torn off, judging by the ragged shreds of skin around the neck. His chest was a gory mess. Something with vicious claws had ripped him open, breaking his ribs, and their shards jutted out of the red-smeared flesh. Thick, dark blood pooled inside the chest cavity where vital organs used to be.

“It took his heart,” I said.

“Yes.” Nick sat back in his chair. “It’s too early to say if the culprit is an ‘it.’ The force and the claws required to open a human being like that could indicate a shapeshifter or a vampire or half a dozen magical beasts seen recently within the city limits. Your guess is as good as mine.”

He sounded bored. Nick didn’t know how to be apathetic about his job. He never phoned anything in, but here was a holy man, a pastor he personally knew and clearly admired, murdered in a horrifying way and Nick was pretending not to care. He wasn’t giving me any details either.

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