Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 35
Moments later, the helicopter set down on the road. The doors opened and four men clambered out, ran to the side of the road with their heads down and started up the hillside after us. Two of them — one with the rifle and another carrying a pistol — were big, broad as well as tall, with military-style buzz cuts. They wore navy windbreakers over powder blue dress shirts and dark slacks, reminding me of security men I had seen at the home of Regina Witcombe, a billionaire financier who also happened to be a weremancer and a friend of Saorla. Now that I thought about it, Witcombe was one of the few weremystes I knew of who could afford an MD helicopter.
A third man, who I assumed must be the pilot, since the helicopter stood empty, was smaller, wiry. Of the four, he seemed most comfortable blazing a trail across open desert.
The fourth man, as Emmy had anticipated, was our weremyste vampire, the man I had seen in my scrying at Burt Kendall’s pawn shop, and, I was sure, the man Gracie had escaped at the Burger Royale. He wore a tweed jacket, a dress shirt and tie, and black slacks. He also had on a fedora that matched the jacket, but I could see that his hair was silver. I thought he also had a neatly trimmed silver beard, but I couldn’t be certain. His face was little more than a flesh-colored smudge of magic. I hadn’t seen such power on a weremyste in years.
Fortunately, neither he nor the security guys seemed to have anticipated on off-road experience. They wore dress shoes and were having trouble keeping up with the pilot, who appeared more at ease in the wild.
We made good progress for the first five minutes or so, but then Zach started to slow down. Emmy wasn’t doing much better. Against my better judgment we stopped.
“I can’t carry both of them,” I said to Gracie, thinking that my voice was low enough to escape the kids’ notice. I was wrong.
“You don’t have to carry me,” Emmy said, glowering. I wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t seem to like me very much. “I can walk.”
“All right.” I turned to Zach, who was breathing hard, his cheeks flushed almost to glowing. “You want to get on my shoulders, kiddo?”
Emmy had taken her mother’s hand and was climbing again, but she glared back in my direction. “Don’t call him that.”
“Sorry.” She had already faced forward again, and I don’t think she heard me. At least now, though, I understood her hostility: She didn’t want me acting like I was their dad. “You want me to carry you?” I asked Zach again.
He nodded. I picked him up, swung him onto my shoulders, and resumed my climb. It was harder with the kid, but not much. He didn’t weigh a lot, and frankly having a weremyste vampire at my back was all the motivation I needed.
We were still some distance from the top when another ball of fire burst from the ground a couple of feet in front of Gracie and Emmy. The girl let out a scream, and Gracie halted, clutching her daughter to her.
“That’s far enough, I believe,” came a voice from behind us.
I stopped, my shoulders aching, sweat soaking my shirt. I wanted to urge Gracie on, but it seemed she had decided to face her pursuers here, and since I didn’t know them as well as she did, I followed her lead. At least for now.
The security guys and pilot had stopped as well. The only person moving was the older man, who stepped past his companions and halted maybe ten yards below us on the incline, one foot ahead of the other. He wasn’t breathing hard, nor did he appear to have broken a sweat.
Magic stirred the warm air. A few feet to my left, a stone about the size of a television lifted off the ground and flew toward the man. Several feet short of him, it exploded, as it pulverized by some unseen fist.
“I expected more from you, Gracie,” he said, his words shaded with that faint British accent I’d first heard in my scrying the day before. “That’s the name you prefer, isn’t it? Gracie, rather than Engracia. So very American. In any case, after your performance at the restaurant, naturally we warded ourselves against such a spell.”
I lifted Zach off my shoulders and set him on the ground, the motion drawing the gentleman’s gaze. Zach sidled closer, until he stood just behind me.
“Mister Fearsson, if I’m not mistaken.”
“That’s right. Who are you?”
He smiled, and even seeing him through the magic, I marveled at what it did to his features. Under any other circumstance, I would have thought him the friendliest man on the face of the earth. The crooked grin, the crinkling of the skin at the corners of his bright blue eyes, the hat and silver hair and beard. He looked charming.
“Lionel Fitzwater. Perhaps you know of me.”
“No, I can’t say that I do.”
If this disappointed or angered him, he gave no indication. He shrugged and said, “No matter. You need do nothing more than stay out of my way. I have no quarrel with you for the time being. We want Gracie and her children. Whether you live or die is entirely up to you.”
“Well, I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Because there’s no way in hell I’m letting you take Gracie or her kids.”
The smile faded. “Very well.”
That was all the warning I had. Something hit me in the chest with the force of a bullet, though neither of the security guys had fired a weapon. If I hadn’t been warded, I’m sure I would have died. As it was, I was thrown backwards. I landed on top of Zach, who let out a cry.
I felt magic again, but nothing touched me. I rolled off of Zach, my chest aching, and helped him up.
“You okay?” I asked, searching his eyes.
I stood, moving stiffly. The security boys and pilot were climbing to their feet as well. I assumed that Gracie had retaliated for the attack that hurt Zach, and I had the feeling that whatever spell she used had done nothing at all to Lionel.
Fitzwater smiled again, but this time it didn’t reach his eyes, and the effect was entirely different. “I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” he muttered. I’m not sure his companions heard him. But they certainly did when he said, “Michael would you come here please?”
One of the security guys — the one with the pistol — started up the hill.
“No,” Gracie whispered. Then, “Kids, run! Straight up the mountain!”
The kids did as they were told. Gracie turned to run as well.
I cast to give them time. The guard, his leg, and the rock in front of him. The rock hit his shin; he stumbled, fell.
That would buy us a few more seconds. I strode after Gracie and the kids.
Another spell brushed past me and hit Zach in the back. He fell with a little grunt. Gracie whirled at the sound. Before she could run back to him, I grabbed him around the waist, picked him up, and tucked him under my arm, barely even breaking stride.
“Get up here!” Fitzwater said, a snarl in the words.
We didn’t have much time, and I had no idea where we could go to escape what I knew was coming.
“Halt!” he shouted at our backs.
Gracie didn’t slow and neither did I.
“I prefer to take both of them, Gracie, but really it’s only the one we want. Her, and the item you took. As far as I’m concerned, the other child is expendable.”
At that, she did stop. Emmy took another step, yanking on her mother’s arm. But Gracie wouldn’t move. I saw her shoulders rise and fall with a deep breath. Then she turned.
I did the same. I set Zach on his feet once more, but then took hold of his tiny, sweaty hand.
My life, I knew, was forfeit. Gracie, Emmy, and the knife were the prizes. The item you took . . . If we survived this, Gracie and I were going to have a heart-to-heart. But that was for later.
Fitzwater had already made clear that he didn’t give a damn about me. And I had no doubt about Gracie’s priorities. She would help me, but only if she could do so without endangering the kids. She wouldn’t have stopped had Fitzwater threatened to kill me. To save Zach, though, she could gladly give her own life, much less mine.