His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 39

The attack on Solana’s had convinced me that Amaya’s talk of a magical war had some basis in fact. But until now, I hadn’t understood fully how dangerous such a conflict might be.

Hacker had pulled his shirt back down and was watching me, wary, perhaps wondering if he had told me too much.

“You promised you wouldn’t tell no one about me.”

“I remember,” I said. “You don’t have to worry about that. The man who did this to you, have you seen him since?”

He didn’t answer right away. “Yeah. Like I said before, I don’t remember everythin’ from when I’m turned. But I remember him. Not every time, but enough that I know he’s still out there, still controllin’ me.”

I wanted to ask him for a description of the man, though I was pretty sure he’d tell me the myste had dark eyes, a trim beard, and a thatch of straight dark hair. Dimples.

But I didn’t get the chance to ask.

Hacker’s eyes went wide. “Aw, shit!”

“What is it?” I asked.

Even as the words crossed my lips, I felt it. Magic, as gentle as an exhaled breath, but unmistakable.

“Get out!” Hacker said. “Now!”

I had no intention of leaving. Instead I tried a warding, something big enough to protect both of us. The touch of the spell had reminded me of a soft breeze, and so I envisioned a glass dome dropping over the single-wide. The dome, the spell, the mobile home.

The flow of power didn’t slacken in the least. Either my spell didn’t work, or the other runecrafter was too powerful for me to oppose. Guess which one I was betting on.

I cast again: less ambitious this time. A sheath of power around the two of us. Nothing.

Hacker bellowed, his face contorted. He dropped to the floor, landing on all fours. An instant later, he reared back on his knees and tore off his t-shirt. Another roar of agony was ripped from his throat and he collapsed back down onto his elbows.

The skin on his back rippled. He was hairy to begin with and as I watched, the hair thickened, lightened in color. He cried out, more wail than roar this time. I heard bone snap. His fists clenched and his limbs bent at odd angles. My stomach gave a queasy lurch.

In a distant corner of my mind I thought that for all the nonsense that comes out of Hollywood, this — the turning of a were — they had about right. The mangling of the body, the rapid sprouting of hair, brightening of the eyes, and above all, the agony the transformation induced.

It took less than a minute for Hacker to shift into his coyote; I had no doubt it had seemed far longer to him. He was a good deal bigger than most coyotes I’d seen in the wild. It seemed to me that he had more in common with a Dire Wolf than with a coyote. But that could have been a function of proximity and closed space.

The animal shook itself loose of Hacker’s jeans and then rounded on me, ears flattened, lips drawn back in a fierce snarl. His human teeth might have been a wreck, but the coyote’s were just fine, thank you very much: white as bone, and sharp enough to make me back away. He padded closer, stalking me, yellow eyes locked on mine.

I reached for my Glock, but then thought better of it. I didn’t want to hurt Hacker any more than I had to. I had a feeling that his runecrafting masters would have been happy to see me kill him; it didn’t escape my notice that he hadn’t shifted until my questions began to touch on those who controlled him. So if they wanted him dead, I’d do what I could to keep him alive.

But that didn’t include allowing him to snack on me.

He growled, deep in his chest, his hackles standing on end. And then he leaped at me, teeth snapping. I lashed out, trying to bat him aside with my forearm. In theory it should have worked, but theory doesn’t amount to much while fighting a wild dog in a single-wide.

His jaws clamped down on my arm, vise-strong. If I hadn’t been wearing my bomber, he would have ripped through my flesh. As it was, his canines punctured the leather and stabbed into my skin.

I gritted my teeth against the pain. But while he had hold of my arm, I threw a punch, hitting him hard on the snout.

The coyote let go of me, backed away, snarling again, teeth still bared.

Before he could charge me a second time, I began to recite a spell in my mind. The coyote, me, and a stone wall between us. Simple, and effective. I hoped.

I watched the animal, waiting for the right moment, not wanting to cast too soon and thus tip off its masters, who, I assumed, were watching our fight somehow.

The coyote launched himself at me. And I released the spell.

He went for my neck. But before he reached me, he collided with something solid and completely invisible. The coyote dropped to the floor at my feet, dazed.

Before he could attack again, I tried to think of some other spell I could cast, one that would keep him from attacking again without hurting him. I considered using a transporting spell, a casting that would put him elsewhere, out of harm’s way and far from me. Most transporting spells were complicated craftings, requiring many elements and some forethought. I wasn’t sure I had time for either. More to the point, I didn’t know where to send the creature. I couldn’t send him very far; I didn’t know how. And if I put him somewhere else in the mobile home — say, in another room that happened to have a window — he could escape and hurt himself or others. I wanted him incapacitated, and perfectly safe.

The coyote growled again and got to its feet. I took another step back, and met a wall.

I thought once more of the spell I’d cast when training with Namid, of the imaginary hammer I’d used to shatter his binding. Again I was thinking too literally, not allowing my crafting to do all that it was capable of doing. Three elements: the coyote, the floor of the living room, and leather straps holding the animal down. I recited the elements in my head three times as quickly as I could, and let go of the spell just as the coyote sprang for me.

Magic charged the air in the room, and Hacker in his coyote form gave a fearsome yowl: rage, confusion, terror. But the were didn’t leap at me; he didn’t seem to be able to move at all.

I eased away from him, my heart racing, my hands shaking. The coyote snarled and bared his teeth, his feral gaze following my every move. But he remained where he was. I backed away and made a quick search of the single-wide. It didn’t take me long to find exactly what I was looking for: the bathroom had a small vent high on the back wall, but no window.

I returned to the living room, walking slowly. The were eyed me and growled, but my casting held. He didn’t move. I removed my bomber, and still moving with the stealth of a hunter, I approached the creature. His growls grew more urgent and he scrabbled at the carpeting with his back claws, trying to break free of the bonds I’d conjured, tearing the fabric. Reaching him, I threw my jacket over the coyote’s head and upper body. He yowled. I didn’t give him time to do more.

Gathering the jacket tightly around him, I lifted him. His back paws scraped my chest and arms, peeling away my skin. I hissed through my teeth, but held tight and strode back to the bathroom. There I managed to pull away my jacket and toss the coyote into the plastic, faux-tile bathtub, all in one less-than-smooth motion. The coyote clawed at the tub, desperate to gain purchase. I jumped back into the corridor and yanked the door shut as the animal made a dash for freedom. He crashed into the door and then threw himself at it again and again, shaking the entire single-wide. I held fast to the doorknob, unsure of whether the coyote could find a way to pull it open, unwilling to risk letting go, and without a clue as to what I should do next.