Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 06
The Interstate was already filling up with end-of-work traffic, but I made decent time through the city. The burger place wasn’t too far from where I lived in Chandler. I felt a little like a yo-yo, driving up and down I-10.
Even before I left the freeway, I saw the crime scene. There must have been a dozen police cruisers in the restaurant parking lot, all of them with their lights flashing. I exited and crawled through the crowded roadways until I reached the lot. One of the cops there tried to stop me from pulling in. I took out my wallet and opened it to my PI license. But once the cop got a good look at my face, he waved me in without bothering to check the license.
Fame had its perks.
Since late spring, when I killed Etienne de Cahors, the reanimated spirit of a medieval druid from Gaul, who had been responsible for the infamous Blind Angel Killings, I had been something of a celebrity here in Phoenix. My role in solving a second set of murders this summer only served to cement that status. A part of me wondered if at this point I could have gotten myself reinstated as a detective in Homicide. But the problems that first convinced the higher-ups in the PPD to fire me — the phasings, and the fact that I lose my mind for three days out of every month — hadn’t gone away. I was still a weremyste, and thus still subject to the moon’s influence on my mind and my magic. Plus, I had come to enjoy my work as a PI, despite its many drawbacks. Mostly I liked being my own boss, and with wealthy clients like Helen Barr now seeking me out, I was starting to make decent money.
I parked and soon spotted Kona and her new partner, Kevin Glass, standing by the doors to the restaurant. Kona raised a hand in greeting and then beckoned me over with a waggle of her fingers.
No matter where she was, Kona stood out in a crowd. She was tall and thin, with skin the color of roast coffee, the cheekbones of a fashion model, and tightly curled black hair that she wore short. With her thousand watt smile and her tasteful fashion sense, she might well have been the most beautiful woman I had ever met. Predictably, though, she wasn’t smiling now. Neither was Kevin, who was also African-American and attractive. Together, they were every bit as stunning as the weremancers who had attacked me earlier.
I passed a body as I walked to where they waited for me. It was covered with a white sheet, and a pair of uniformed officers were keeping people at a distance. I slowed as I walked by. A woman’s hand, with nails painted bright pink, peeked out from beneath the sheet. I continued to where Kona and Kevin were waiting.
“Thanks for coming, partner,” she said, her expression grim, her voice flat. “I’m sorry if I pulled you away from something important.”
“I can’t even begin to tell you how you didn’t. Hey, Kevin.” I held out my hand and Kevin gripped it.
“Good to see you, Jay.”
I glanced around the parking lot and then tried to see inside past the reflective glare of the restaurant’s glass doors. “What have you got?”
“Two dead, three more wounded, one of them critically, and a whole lot of frightened people who can’t make up their minds as to what it is they saw.”
“What do you mean?”
Kona scanned the lot before tipping her head toward the door. “Come inside and we’ll talk.”
“You don’t want me to take a look at the body over there?”
“Oh, you will. But I want you to see the one in here first.”
That didn’t sound good at all.
I followed Kona and Kevin inside, and halted, taking in the damage. The place was a mess, the floor littered with half-eaten burgers and torn ketchup packets, french fries and plastic utensils, paper wrappers and brightly colored cardboard, all of them soaking in spilled sodas and shakes. I took a step and heard something crunch beneath my shoe.
“Careful,” Kona said. “There’s glass everywhere.”
I examined the windows, frowning. None was broken. “From what?”
She pointed at the ceiling.
Craning my neck, I saw that the recessed light bulbs above us had been blown out. All of them.
“Geez,” I whispered.
“No kidding. Any idea what might do that?”
I shook my head. “None.”
“I was afraid of that. Follow me. There’s something else I want you to see.”
We walked around a condiment station and a trash can, placing our feet with care. I was wearing tennis shoes, and didn’t much care that I was walking through a shallow lake of cola, lemonade, and root beer. But I could tell that this was killing Kona, whose love of nice shoes was exceeded only by her love of bright, dangly earrings.
She led me to a table that was as much a wreck as the floor. A body lay beside the table and its fixed chairs, the sheet covering it soaking up the spilled drinks.
“They wanted to move him,” Kona said, reaching down to pull the sheet away and wrinkling her nose. “But I insisted they keep him as he was until you could see.”
“Thanks, I think.”
I squatted to examine the corpse more closely. He was a big man, tall and broad, with nondescript features. His eyes remained open, and his teeth were bared. Forced to guess, I’d have said he died in pain. He might have been a runecrafter in life, but I couldn’t be sure. The blurring effect that I could see in the faces of weremystes died with the sorcerer.
I could tell, though, that magic had killed him.
The front of his shirt was blackened and there was a hole in the cloth where the spell had hit him. The skin beneath was scorched as well. And a sheen of glowing magic clung to his shirt and blistered flesh, warm reddish brown, like the color of the full moon as it creeps above the desert horizon.
All spells left a residue of magic that manifested itself in this way, allowing a trained weremyste like me to do a bit of magical forensic work. Every sorcerer’s power expressed itself in a different color, and faded at a different rate. The more powerful the runecrafter the richer the magic and the faster it vanished. The russet I saw on this corpse was a powerful hue; having not seen the spell when it was first cast, I couldn’t determine how much it had faded, but I was guessing that it had been a good deal brighter an hour ago.
“Well?” Kona asked, watching me.
“Yeah, he was killed with magic.” I pointed to his chest. “It hit him there.”
“I could have told you that,” Kevin said.
“I don’t know what kind of spell it was.”
“People described it as bolts of lightning,” Kona said. “They say it flew from her hands, like in the movies. That’s what one guy told the uniforms who took his statement. ‘It looked like something out of the movies.'” She chuckled, dry and humorless, and shook her head. “That’s not all, either. When she attacked them –”
“Yeah,” Kona said. “John Doe here had a partner. The second guy was hit by the same magic, but somehow he survived, at least so far. The EMTs couldn’t say why. He was in bad shape when they took him; they said the odds of him recovering were no better than fifty-fifty.”
I nodded. “Okay. You were going to tell me something else — something that happened when he was attacked?”
“Right,” Kona said. “That was when the lights blew. They flickered and then popped. People said there were sparks everywhere.”
I eyed the broken light bulbs again. I’d never heard of magic drawing upon electricity, but there was a first for everything, right? “Tell me about the woman.”