Authors: James Hunter
Tags: #Men&apos, #s Adventure Fiction, #Fantasy Action and Adventure, #Dark Fantasy, #Paranormal and Urban Fantasy, #Thrillers and Suspense Supernatural Witches and Wizards, #Mystery Supernatural Witches and Wizards, #Mage, #Warlock
What the hell had he done to himself? Poor schmuck. I could spot a rotten deal when I saw one, and Randy had definitely bitten off more than he could chew. Shit, he’d probably bitten off more than a hot-dog-eating champion could chew.
“What’ve you done?” I asked, not really expecting an answer. “Shit, man, this is bad. You look terrible. Listen Randy, you’re in over your head, we’ve all been there … just let me help you. Turn yourself over, I’ll get you to the Guild, get someone to look at you. You’re sick, but it’s not too late,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say.
“Oh no, it’s far, far too late.” The voice from the mirror was hollow, distant, and creaked like old floorboards. “We are bound now, he is mine, and I his, our minds intertwined. And those fools in the Guild … you would turn us over to them?
. Spineless, imbecilic, self-righteous do-nothings. Couldn’t even recognize true talent, like ours, when it was right before their noses. It is, as it has always been. They don’t have the power to separate us—they tried to contain
for a time, but I found my way free.”
“Those are fair points.” And damned if they weren’t—spineless, imbecilic, self-righteous do-nothings—yeah that was damn close to the mark in my book. “I couldn’t agree more about the Guild, but running around, offing people? It’s got to stop.”
“We didn’t expect to see you here,” he said, ignoring me. “You almost ruined a good partnership for us. Old Man Winter was furious at your theft. Even still, your actions were not so damaging that the situation is beyond repair.” He paused. “Even without the crook, Old Man Winter is a powerful being. Still, you are making yourself quite a nuisance. So far, we have overlooked your involvement. But no longer. Too often you are ignored, disregarded—to the detriment of your enemies. We will not make the same mistake.”
I heard the warble of sirens. The cops? You gotta be kidding me. Kozlov lived all the way out in B.F.E. Wyoming—cattle land all around and not a neighbor for a friggin’ mile. I highly doubted Kozlov had managed to get a 911 call in, which meant someone else had done the deed.
“We hear them,” the mirror echoed, laughing. “Your doom draws nigh.” The image in the mirror blinked out, leaving behind a thin vertical slash of light for a moment, which faded until nothing of the illusion remained.
. I should’ve known not to indulge in witty banter with the villain. Baddies only ever do the whole monologue shtick for two reasons: One, they perceive their victory is imminent, and need you to know how much better, smarter, and generally more awesome than you they are. You might be thinking,
, but it’s a proven fact, folks. There’s a reason serial killers taunt the police or send letters to journalists—they need their work and brilliance to be validated. A good villainous plot is all the better when someone knows how clever it is.
And the second reason? Stall tactics. Dammit.
I slunk over to the bedroom window, carefully cracking the blinds and hazarding a peek out onto snow-covered plains stretching out into the distance. Couldn’t see much. Darkness wrapped the land like a thick blanket, but that only served to emphasize the alternating flashes of blue and red speckling the snowy driveway—just one car, but there’d be more I had no doubt.
Yep, there it was. Another patrol car pulled in behind the first, followed by an ambulance, its tires crunching over thick ice. A third car pulled in a handful of seconds later, this one an SUV that drove off the road and circled out of view. Probably to cover the back door. Ugh. Here I am, a wanted man, standing over a fresh murder victim, with
blood on my hands—that’s where they get that whole ‘caught red handed’ thing
from—and no way out. How? Had Randy, the evil villain, seriously called the fuzz? That was his nefarious game plan to eliminate me? It seemed somehow … I dunno … a bit of a letdown, I guess. Kinda pedestrian as evil villain plans go.
But it was also pretty smart. If he’d sent a giant, slathering doom-beast after me, I’d be able to do something. But I wasn’t going to hurt a bunch of cops just doing their jobs. Apparently Randy had done his homework and had my number. Stupid moral compass.
I ground my teeth and let the blinds snap back into place. Okay. Whatever. I could still finagle my way out of this downward-spiraling vortex of magical bullshit. Throw a little glamour down on all those cops, maybe? No, that probably wouldn’t work. There were a lot of ‘em, they were all running around on high alert, and there wasn’t anyone else out here. A glamour might work if they were chasing me down a heavily crowded street. But out here in the middle of nowhere without another soul in sight, save for the officers themselves? Stupid plan.
Think, dammit, think
I could push the glamour maybe, strengthen it almost to the point of compulsion. No … I wouldn’t do that. Maybe it would work. Maybe. But I’d enthralled that ice gnome just under a week ago and doing the same thing again, so soon … dangerous. That kind of power is too addictive. And if I slipped up and actually enthralled someone—a real, live person, complete with freewill? The Guild would actively start hunting me without batting an eyelash. There had to be something better than that.
An illusion? Yeah, I could do it. Just stand in the corner, shroud myself in darkness, wait for the good guys to secure the scene, and leave. That could take a good long while, and sure, it’d be uncomfortable, but I could manage it—thankfully I’d just taken a piss before I’d gotten here. Might be standing around for a while.
A car door slammed out front, followed by the bark of a German shepherd.
. More barking. A pair of German shepherds.
Illusions aren’t my strong suit to begin with, and creating a construct sophisticated enough to fool a German shepherd’s nose? Yeah, not gonna happen, at least not by me. This whole thing was coming apart at the damn seams, and I was right smack dab in the middle watching it unravel.
I could always try to pry open a doorway into the Hub … probably blow myself to pieces.
Maybe take out some of the cops in the process—absolutely unacceptable. Shit, even if I managed the thing, I’d probably just dump myself into the clutches of some unspeakable demonic horror from a Lovecraft tale. I thought back to my tussle with an Eldritch being called a Dara-Naric, big as a small moon with a forest of tentacles. Yeah, didn’t want to run into something like that if I could avoid it.
Some combination of illusion and glamour were my best bet. Definitely.
“We know you’re in there,” came a voice, thundering through a bullhorn. “We have the house surrounded, so just surrender and you will not be harmed.” I heard a sharp
—the splintering of a doorframe—followed by the pounding of foot-falls. I darted for the closet at the far end of the bedroom.
“Living room, clear,” someone shouted.
After a second, “Kitchen, clear,” someone else echoed.
I pulled open the sliding door, shoved aside a bunch of shirts and trousers hung with meticulous care, crammed myself into the back of the tight space, and slid the door shut behind me.
“Bathroom, clear.” More foot-falls, the slams of doors, the huffing of dogs tracking a scent.
I opened myself to the Vis—the power and energy underlying Creation—ready to throw up some quick and dirty constructs. Instead, my hands flared with a white-hot pain. Kozlov’s blood seemed to boil against my flesh like flaming oil. Sharp spasms shot along my arms and legs, muscles grew tight and tense, seizing and contracting in the throes of some neurological electric surge. My teeth chattered. My brain exploded with an ache so intense my vision narrowed at the edges while white pinpricks of light filled everything else.
I felt all of that, but not even the tiniest trickle of Vis. Not a friggin’ drop of power. It was still there—I could feel it, nearly taste it, even through the blinding pain and racking muscle seizures. But I couldn’t touch it. Like a sheet of immoveable and unyielding glass between us.
After a few seconds the pain subsided, leaving terrible fatigue in its wake. I shook my head clear and tried again, opening my mind and straining toward the power beyond.
Another trip on the merry-go-round, this one worse than the first. So bad it left me curled in a ball in the back of the closet. And still nothing. My power was gone, inaccessible.
The bedroom door banged open. I watched through the canted slats in the door as two men entered, a pair of flashlight beams bobbing and weaving across the room, cutting the darkness in swaths. They cleared behind the bedroom door and under the bed, their movements quick, efficient, and practiced.
The closet door slid open, and I found myself squinting against the bright beam of a flashlight, attached beneath the black staring eye of a shotgun barrel.
“Eyes on! Eyes on!” the man wielding the shotgun bellowed. There was a chorus of shouts, the bark of dogs, and suddenly I found two more weapons trained on me—one a Glock, the other an M-4.
“Drop your weapon,” Shotgun said. Oh right, despite my muscle cramps, I’d somehow managed to hang on to my gun. I raised my free hand high, palm out, while carefully placing my revolver on the floor in front of me, and then raised that hand, too. Officer Glock darted in, sweeping the gun away with his foot, before retreating to a safe distance.
“Carefully, slowly,” Shotgun said, “place your palms on the floor, and lay flat on your stomach. Do not attempt to resist.”
“No problem, guys.” I said, placing my hands out flat and crawling onto my belly. “Just a big misunderstanding, I swear.” Yeah right. If they bought that line, I had a nice piece of real estate on Jupiter to sell them.
My stomach connected with the carpet. Someone’s knee pressed into my shoulder, while someone else straddled me across the hips, pinning me to the floor. The guy straddling me wretched both arms back, sharp twangs of pain jolted through my shoulder blades. Cold metal snapped around each wrist with a ratcheting
. Handcuffs, and secured just a scooch too tight for comfort.
They hauled me up by the arms, manhandling me out of the room, out of the house, and into the tight confines of a police cruiser, all while reading me my Miranda rights. Son of a bitch—sure hadn’t seen this coming. Despite all the enemies I’d faced in the past, this one somehow seemed more dangerous by far. There are a number of federal agencies looking for me, and without my power … I didn’t have a clue how I was gonna pull my ass outta this fire.
I sat handcuffed in an interrogation room, harsh fluorescent overhead lighting illuminated stark tile walls—white and beige—a metal desk, and a chair that had made my ass fall asleep ages ago. As far as I could figure, I’d been here for damn near a solid day. Twenty-four hours, give or take, without talking to anyone, without seeing a lawyer, without food, sleep, coffee or an energy drink. At least they let me use the toilet. Needless to say I was a friggin’ mess—there are literally insane, gibbering, knife-wielding, sewer weasels more put together than I was just then.
Worst of all—worse than any of that other shit
—was the fact that I couldn’t even come close to getting a handhold of raw, delicious Vis. It wasn’t burn-out—at least I didn’t think so. I could still feel the power out there, like the warmth of sunlight on cold skin. But trying to get ahold of it? Like catching the wind. Couldn’t do it. I’d never realized how addictive that power was either, not until now. Not until it was gone. I was jonesing bad. The Vis made everything sharper, more clear. With the power in me I could’ve heard the filaments in the overhead light flickering. Could’ve smelled the BO and old coffee from the station beyond. It was like someone had stolen an extra sense I hadn’t even been aware of.
It hurt. And what if my power never came back? The thought sent gooseflesh running over my back and arms, a cool sweat breaking out on my brow. Never touch the Vis again? Never taste its sweet life and vitality? Shit, would that be a world worth living in? How long
I even live? It was handling the Vis that gave us mage-folk such long lives. If I couldn’t touch it anymore did that mean my clock was already used up? Even more worrisome—I had a metric-ass-ton of enemies, folks who would tap dance with glee at the thought of catching me without the ability to defend myself.
I’ve been in some tight spots before, but none of them had felt quite so dark, quite so hopeless.
The door opened, interrupting my train of thought, and a striking woman strode into the room like she owned the friggin’ place. Hell, she strode in like she owned the station, the town, the state, and everything in it. Including my ass. Tall, just shy of six foot, with medium-length black hair tied back into a tight ponytail. Strong features, Mediterranean complexion, brown eyes sharp as daggers, and enough athletic muscle to give me pause. I’ve done many different martial arts over the ambling course of my life—been in a shit ton of scrapes too—but without the Vis, I was pretty sure she could kick my ass up one side of the street and down the other.
Despite the Amazon princess demeanor with which she walked, she wasn’t covered with tattoos, ninja swords, or a small personal armory. She just wore a black suit—well made, but not flashy—with a practical white blouse, a holstered-Glock on one hip, and a golden FBI badge on the other. That was it, nothing over the top. Her confidence was all about attitude, and she had enough attitude to go around a couple of times over.
Agent Nicole Ferraro. We sorta went back a ways, and though I wasn’t shocked to see her, neither was I happy about it. She’d been dogging my trail for the better part of three years, so it kinda made sense that she’d be the one to get the call after the police had booked and fingerprinted me.
Once upon a time in Memphis, Agent Ferraro had me dead to rights on a murder charge—even managed to pin me inside of an abandoned warehouse. Of course the murder rap was bull, the thing I killed wasn’t close to human, and I’d done humanity at large a pretty damn big favor. Still, I slipped away before Ferraro could get me in a pair of sparkly new metal bracelets, and she’d never forgiven me. She’d been hunting me ever since. Woman was scary.