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Magic Strikes

By:Ilona Andrews



I tapped the ladder with my hand. «See? It's very sturdy, Mrs. McSweeney. You can come down


Mrs. McSweeney looked at me from the top of the telephone pole, having obvious doubts about

the ladder's and my reliability. Thin, bird-boned, she had to be past seventy. The wind stirred the

nimbus of fine white hair around her head and blew open her nightgown, presenting me with sights

better left unseen.

«Mrs. McSweeney, I wish you would come down.»

She arched her back and sucked in a deep breath. Not again. I sat on the ground and clamped my

hands over my ears.

The wail cut through the stillness of the night, sharp like a knife. It hammered the windows of

the apartment buildings, wringing a high-pitched hum from the glass. Down the street, dogs yowled

as one, matching the cry with unnatural harmony. The lament built, swelling like an avalanche, until

I could hear nothing but its complex, layered chorus: the lonely howl of a wolf, the forlorn shriek of

a bird, the heart-wrenching cry of a child. She wailed and wailed, as if her heart were being torn out

of her chest, filling me with despair.

The magic wave ended. One moment it saturated the world, giving potency to Mrs.

McSweeney's cry, and the next it vanished without warning, gone like a line drawn in the sand just

before the surf licked it. The technology reasserted itself. The blue feylantern hanging from the top

of the pole went dark, as the magic-charged air lost its potency. Electric lights came on in the

apartment building.

It was called post-Shift resonance: magic drowned the world in a wave, snuffing out anything

complex and technological, smothering car engines, jamming automatic weapons, and eroding tall

buildings. Mages fired ice bolts, skyscrapers fell, and wards flared into life, keeping undesirables

from my house. And then, just like that, the magic would vanish, leaving monsters in its wake.

Nobody could predict when it would reappear and nobody could prevent it. All we could do was

cope with an insane tarantella of magic and technology. That was why I carried a sword. It always


The last echoes of the cry bounced from the brick walls and died.

Mrs. McSweeney stared at me with sad eyes. I picked myself off the ground and waved at her.

«I'll be right back.»

I trotted into the dark entrance to the apartment, where five members of the McSweeney family

crouched in the gloom. «Tell me again why you can't come out and help me?»

Robert McSweeney, a middle-aged, dark-eyed man with thinning brown hair, shook his head.

«Mom thinks we don't know she's a banshee. Look, Ms. Daniels, can you get her down or not?

You're the knight of the Order, for Christ's sake.»

First, I wasn't a knight; I just worked for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid. Second,

negotiation wasn't my forte. I killed things. Quickly and with much bloodshed. Getting elderly

banshees in denial off telephone poles wasn't something I did often.

«Can you think of anything that might help me?»

Robert's wife, Melinda, sighed. «I don't . . . I mean, she always kept it so under wraps. We've

heard her wail before but she was so discreet about it. This isn't normal for her.»

An elderly black woman in a mumu descended the staircase. «Has that girl gotten Margie down


«I'm working on it,» I told her.

«You tell her, she better not miss our bingo tomorrow night.»


I headed to the pole. Part of me sympathized with Mrs. McSweeney. The three law enforcement

agencies that regulated life in the United States post-Shift-the Military Supernatural Defense Unit,

or MSDU; the Paranormal Activity Division, or PAD; and my illustrious employer, the Order of

Knights of Merciful Aid-all certified banshees as harmless. Nobody had yet been able to link their

wails to any deaths or natural disasters. But folklore blamed banshees for all sorts of nefarious

things. They were rumored to drive people mad with their screams and kill children with a mere

look. Plenty of people would be nervous about living next to a banshee, and I could understand why

Mrs. McSweeney went to great lengths to hide who she was. She didn't want her friends to shun her

or her family.

Unfortunately, no matter how well you hide, sooner or later your big secret will bite you in the

behind, and you might find yourself standing on a telephone pole, not sure why or how you got

there, while the neighborhood pretends not to hear your piercing screeches.

Yeah. I was one to talk. When it came to hiding one's identity, I was an expert. I burned my

bloody bandages, so nobody could identify me by the magic in my blood. I hid my power. I tried

very hard not to make friends and mostly succeeded. Because when my secret came to life, I