Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 04

It was bad enough being trapped in the parking lot; I didn’t want to be trapped in the car as well. I opened the door and climbed out, my movements stiff, my chest still aching. For the moment, I left my Glock where it was. No sense giving my new friends something else to attack with their spells.

They got out as well. The driver was a man: tall, athletic, good-looking. At least I assumed he was; I couldn’t get a clear view of his face, because the smear of magic on his features was too strong. The suit he wore might well have been as expensive as the Beamer. His passenger was a woman who was about as tall as he, and dressed in business clothes: black skirt, white blouse, a beige linen jacket, and black high heels. Her dark hair was cut short and I could tell through the blur of power on her face that her eyes were pale blue. It was like the two of them had stepped off the pages of Vogue and GQ for the sole purpose of messing with me.

“I’m not sure you’re allowed to park there,” I said, nodding toward the Beamer.

“We won’t be here long,” the woman said, drawing my gaze. “We have a quick message for you from a mutual friend.”

“Saorla is no friend.”

Her smile was as thin as mist. “Who’s Saorla?”

“What’s your message?”

The woman darted a glance toward her companion, my only warning.

Their attacks charged the air, like the gathering power of a lightning strike. I did the one thing I could think of. The sheath of magic that materialized around me shimmered and undulated as if made of heat waves and aqua blue glass. Their spells rebounded off the warding. One of them knocked the man off his feet, so hard he landed on the pavement, the air forced from his lungs with a satisfying oof! The other casting slammed into the BMW, scorching away part of that lovely paint job in a frenzy of white flame.

“My turn,” I said.

I’d learned the hard way that dark conjurers were good at wardings. They almost always had protective magic in place that blocked even the most powerful of my attack spells. Which is why I had long since given up on direct magical assaults. They were figuring this out, of course. Each new team of weremancers sent after me was better prepared than the last for the quirky spells I threw at them, but I was adjusting as well. And I was nowhere near running out of ideas.

With GQ Guy knocked on his keister, he and Vogue Woman were too far from each other to share wardings, and that was fine with me. Under normal circumstances, I would never dream of committing any act of violence toward a woman. But for these dark sorcerers, I was more than happy to make an exception. I threw a spell at her first. Three elements: my hand, the heel of her shoe — the left one — and a good hard twist. I heard the heel snap off her shoe. Her ankle rolled and she lost her balance. As she went down I kicked out, catching her flush on the chin so that her head snapped back. She was out cold before she hit the ground.

I spun toward GQ, who had gotten to his feet.

Once again, my casting took advantage of the sartorial splendor of my opponent. His tie, my hand, and an abrupt yank. He stumbled forward, and couldn’t defend himself from the fist I dug into his gut. I hit him again, an uppercut that connected solidly with his jaw and should have put him down on the pavement. It didn’t. He staggered, fell back several steps, but then he righted himself. Blood trickled from his lip, and even as I saw it, I cast.

His blood, his face, and a magical fist to the jaw. This punch put him down, but not out. He tried to get up, but I closed the distance between us in two strides and kicked him in the side. He folded in on himself, deflating like a balloon. I hit him once more, a chopping blow high on his cheek. He collapsed to the ground and didn’t move again. My hand throbbed from the punches I’d thrown, and I was breathing hard, but they hadn’t hurt me. I’d been lucky. Again.

“Tell Saorla to leave me the hell alone,” I said. I didn’t know if either of them could hear me. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Saorla herself was nearby, unseen, watching and listening to all that had happened.

I fished in GQ’s pockets for the keys to the Beamer, and finding them, moved the car out of the way so that I could back out. That I happened to ram the front grill of the BMW into a dumpster was purely accidental, all three times.

As I walked back to the Z-ster, though, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a large dog padding in my direction.

Except it wasn’t a dog at all. Silver and black fur, golden yellow eyes, and paws as large as my hands. A wolf. A were, no doubt. I froze. The wolf slowed, bared its teeth, hackles rising. It continued in my direction, placing one paw in front of the other with the grace of a dancer.

Hurting weremancers was one thing. They were sorcerers, just like me, and they were fully capable of choosing for themselves which side they fought on in the magical war that had descended on the Phoenix area. Weres — werecats, werecoyotes, and, yes, werewolves — often didn’t have any choice. They were conscripts, controlled by Saorla and her allies. I didn’t want to hurt any of them, this one included. I held my hands at waist level, palms out.

“Good doggie,” I said, trying to keep my voice level.

The wolf growled deep in his throat. Belatedly, it occurred to me that it might not like being called a doggie.

I pointed at Vogue and GQ. “Those are the ones you should be angry with. They’re the ones controlling you.”

The wolf didn’t so much as glance at the unconscious weremystes. He remained fixed on me, and his expression hadn’t softened even a little. My, what big teeth he had.

I eased toward my car, my hands still open in front of me. And I made a point of not breaking eye contact with the were, of not doing anything that the creature might construe as submissive behavior. He tracked me with his eyes, growling again and padding after me, matching my movement.

As I neared my car, however, he took three quick steps, cutting in half the distance between us and snapping his massive jaws.

I cast: my hand, his snout, and the magical equivalent of a two-by-four. The wolf yelped and backed away.

I ran to the car. But before I could get in and close the door he recovered, lunging at me and forcing me back. I tried swatting him on the snout again, but it only made him angrier.

Vogue let out a low groan. I knew that if I didn’t find a way past Rin Tin Tin, and soon, I’d have her and her partner to deal with as well. I didn’t want to hurt the were, but I couldn’t allow him to delay me anymore.

“You can understand me. I know you can. I’ve faced weres before, and all of them retained some trace of their humanity, even after they turned.”

The wolf stared back at me, teeth bared, a snarl on its thinned lips.

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

Then do not. Defend yourself.

The voice echoing in my head was not my own, but rather the rumbling baritone of Namid’skemu, the runemyste responsible for my training. He was the reincarnated spirit of a shaman from the K’ya’na-Kwe clan of the A’shiwi or Zuni nation. The K’ya’na-Kwe, also known as the water people, were an extinct line, unless one counted Namid, who was, for lack of a better term, a ghost.

I am not a ghost!

He hadn’t actually spoken to me, but after training under his guidance for longer than I cared to remember, I could hear his voice in my sleep.

For the past two months he and I had worked on wardings and assault spells, ignoring other castings with which I also needed practice. Like transporting spells.

But this seemed as good a time as any to practice.

This was a more complicated casting, requiring seven elements. Me, the wolf, the weremancers, the pavement on which I stood, the distance between myself and the front seat of my car, the glass and metal of the car door, and the car seat itself, where I wanted to be. I held the elements in my mind, repeating them to myself six times as the power gathered inside me. On the seventh repetition, I released the spell.

Cold and darkness closed around me like a chilling fog, and for the span of several heartbeats I felt as though I was suffocating.

And then I was in the car, heat radiating off the black leather seats and steering wheel. I rolled up the window, dug in my pocket for the car keys, and started her up. The wolf threw himself against the car door.

“Stop that!” I yelled, though I knew it wouldn’t do any good. If I got home and found that he had put even the smallest dent in my door, I was going to drive back here and kick the crap out of him, weres and ethics be damned.