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.“I couldn’t get my hands on the coin, so you hired this guy to do the job instead.Pretty clever.”“No,” Ecko said, glowering as he figured it out.“No.You arranged this.You’re setting me up.”“Have some dignity,” Royce said.He seemed to get bigger as he moved closer, his form subtly shifting in the dimly lit warehouse.“And spare me the protestations.Now, neither of you gentlemen are under my court’s authority, so I can’t technically pass my formal judgment upon you.I think…we’ll just call this a double homicide.”“I’m afraid you’ve forgotten an important rule of magic,” Ecko said.He looked angry but not worried, and that worried me.Doubly when his lips curled into a smug smile.“Oh?” Royce asked.“What’s that?”Ecko swept the flat of his hand across the room as an orange, baleful light shone behind his eyes.“Never strike at a lord of the dead while you stand within his kingdom.”Wood splintered and tore like tissue paper as a leathery fist punched through one of the packing crates by the door.To my left, the lid of a second shipping box fell free, and a corpse wrapped in moldering bandages opened its eyes and pulled itself out.We closed ranks as wood broke and dust flew around us, the air filled with a cacophony of wheezing groans.That and the sound of Ecko’s mad laughter as the half-dissected body on his operating table sat up, baring its teeth in a rictus grin.I couldn’t count fast enough.There were fifteen, maybe twenty of the things, trailing ragged strips of linen as they shambled toward us from all sides.Nadine’s thugs pulled their guns and moved to defend their mistress, unloading on one of the mummies at point-blank range.The bullets hammered its chest, staggering it backward a step, each impact bursting with puffs of white dust.Then it grabbed one of the gunmen and tore his jaw off as easily as a child snapping a wishbone, leaving it dangling from raw, red sinew.As the mutilated man fell to the floor, screeching and clutching his face, Nadine clicked her tongue and snapped her fingers at his partner.“Fail.You.Do better.”He tried, right until a filthy linen-wrapped fist punched straight through his rib cage and tore out his heart.Caitlin jumped into the fray, flashing a feral grin as she charged one of the risen dead.She spun low, swept its leg out from under it, and stomped her bootheel down on its face with a brittle crunch.Royce was right beside her, ducking and weaving like a boxer as he met one of Ecko’s creatures punch for bone-snapping punch.One of the mummies stumbled into Margaux’s path, groping for her.I shouted a warning, but she just lashed her hand out and clamped her palm over the creature’s face.“Sit down!” she snapped.The mummy collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut, dead for good.Margaux’s hands blazed with hazy, violet-black energy, like a three-dimensional oil slick, as she turned and shot me a look.“Might have been his kingdom,” she said, “but it’s my house now.This is what I do.”“Can you do that to the whole room?”“Can if”—she paused, stumbling back, ducking as one of the creatures grabbed at her—“if you buy me some breathing room and herd all these things into one spot!”I looked over at the fallen mummy, lying still in its ragged, ancient linens, and got an idea.“On it.Cait, Royce, protect Margaux! Nadine, come help me.”While Caitlin and Royce fought through the crowd of animated corpses, getting Margaux between them, I ran over to one of the broken shipping crates.I grabbed the edge of a plank, put my shoe against the side of the crate, and heaved as hard as I could.Slowly, as rusty nails popped and the wood splintered, I wrenched a sturdy chunk free.The piece was fat and jagged, about as long as a baseball bat and nowhere near as streamlined, but it would have to do.“Keep ’em off me,” I told Nadine and got down on one knee next to the corpse Margaux had taken down.I grabbed the edge of a loose bandage and pulled, peeling it from around the mummy’s arm.The linen came away sticky and stiff, clotted with dirt, dead flies, and ancient herbal pastes that smelled like someone had sprinkled incense over a pile of rotting meat.I wrapped the linen around one end of the plank, tucking it in as best I could.Then, finding a heartbeat of serenity in the midst of madness, I conjured a single, stray spark of magic to my fingertips and flicked it through the air.The linens ignited like they’d been doused in gasoline, flaring up and leaving a blue spot in my vision as my chunk of wood became a makeshift torch.While Nadine wrestled with one of the mummies, her dress torn at the hem and a cut along one arm oozing black blood, I saw another one closing in behind her.I ran up, waving my torch in its face, and it fell back with a strangled gurgle.I advanced, relentless, and the mummy lost sight of anything but getting away from me.So did the next one I waved the torch at, slowly herding them toward the far corner of the warehouse.Every muscle in my body wanted to start hitting them with the torch, but I didn’t, for the same reason I didn’t try to light them up with my magic.In a room filled with old dry wood, linen, and shuffling corpses, the last thing I wanted was to start a full-fledged blaze with all of us trapped inside.Ecko’s creatures didn’t know that, though.All they had were animal instincts—and all animals were afraid of fire.Caitlin got the idea, and she tugged Royce’s sleeve [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]