Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 09
My “friend,” as she put it, was Namid, the runemyste. And it was a measure of how much time Billie and I had been spending together that Namid would choose to wait for me here as opposed to at my home or office.
I walked the rest of the way up the path and halted in front of her. The sun shone in her eyes, making them gleam like gem-cut emeralds. I kissed her, drawing a reluctant grin.
“You should have told me you had a pet before we got involved.”
I laughed. “I don’t think Namid would like being called a pet any more than he likes being called a ghost.”
“Like I care. He should have thought of that before he started sitting like a statue in the middle of my dining room.”
“At least he doesn’t eat much.”
She smiled again, even as she shook her head. “Get inside, and get him out of my house.”
“That might take a while.”
“The sooner he’s gone, the sooner you have me to yourself.”
Well, there you go. That’s called motivation.
She pulled the screen door open and I stepped past her into the house. As she’d said, Namid was sitting cross-legged on the floor of her dining room, as still as ice.
Namid and his fellow runemystes were created by the Runeclave, an assembly of powerful sorcerers, centuries ago, in an act of sacrifice and self-abnegation so profound I can barely comprehend it. Namid and the others were weremystes, like me, but far more skilled. At the time, the magical community was split between those who believed runecrafting ought to serve the greater good, and those who saw in their talents a path to domination of the non-magical world. Thirty-nine weremystes were put to death and then brought back in spirit form to be eternal guardians against practitioners of dark sorcery.
Namid, who had been a Zuni shaman, was one of them. He had once been my dad’s mentor; now he was mine. On some level he believed he had failed my father, and that his failure had led to my dad’s early descent into insanity. That, it seemed to me, more than any inherent promise I possessed as a runecrafter, explained why Namid had taken such an interest in me.
He could be an exasperating teacher. He was terse to the point of rudeness, he expected me to master with ease spells that I knew were beyond my meager talents, and he was reluctant to answer questions that weren’t relevant to what we were doing at any given moment. But he was powerful and wise, and on more than one occasion he had saved my life.
He was also the most beautiful being I had ever seen. No doubt because he had been in life a member of the K’ya’na-Kwe clan, the water people, his spirit had taken a form appropriate to that ancestry. He stood as tall as a warrior, muscular and broad in the shoulders and chest. But he was composed entirely of faintly luminous waters. Often, as now, he appeared clear and placid, like a mountain lake at dawn; at other times his surface roughened, leaving him roiled, impenetrable, and steel gray, like the sea in a storm. Always, though, his eyes shone from his chiseled face, as bright and clear as winter stars.
He peered up at me now as I crossed into Billie’s dining room, his expression unfathomable. “You are late in getting here. Where have you been?”
Let me tell you, it was a little disconcerting having a centuries-old watery ghost talk to you like he was your mother.
Billie had followed me into the room and was watching me, expectant, also waiting for an answer.
“Kona called me,” I said, more to her than to the runemyste. “She needed me to swing by a crime scene over near the interstate.”
“Needed you. As in, someone used magic?”
“Yes. Two people were killed at a fast-food burger place. The restaurant wound up looking like a magical battlefield.”
I could tell she wanted to ask me more, but Namid cut in with his usual charm and social aplomb.
“These matters can wait. Ohanko needs to train.”
Ohanko was a name he had given me years ago. In his language it meant something akin to “reckless one.” I didn’t mind it; in his own way, I think Namid used it with affection. And I could hardly argue with what it said about me and my behavior over the years.
“Fine,” Billie said, turning her back on us and seeking sanctuary in her kitchen. “Train as much as you like. But try not to make a mess of my house this time.”
“Have we made a mess?” Namid asked, his liquid brow furrowing.
I pulled off my leather bomber jacket, and the shoulder holster I wore beneath it. “You have a tendency to throw things at me: books, silverware, CDs.” I took my Glock from my bomber pocket and secured it in the holster. Then I lowered myself to the floor opposite him.
“I am trying to teach you to defend yourself from a variety of assaults.”
“I know. But they’re Billie’s books and silverware and CDs, and this is Billie’s house.”
The runemyste stared after her, seeming to contemplate this. “I see. I will try to make my attacks less . . . disruptive.”
“I’m sure she’d appreciate that.”
“Clear yourself,” he said.
Clearing was a technique runecrafters used to focus their thoughts and enhance their spellcasting. In truth, the most skilled of my kind didn’t need to work on such things, and even I didn’t take the time to clear when I was out on the street, casting to save my life or to attack an enemy. But Namid tended to push me hard in our training sessions, and the act of clearing had become a ritual of sorts, one that allowed me to set aside possible distractions — Billie, my father, whatever work I was doing for clients, and, on days like this one, whatever investigations I had taken on at Kona’s request — and concentrate on my runecrafting.
I closed my eyes and summoned a memory from my childhood of a camping trip my parents and I took to the Superstition Wilderness. This was when I was no more than ten or eleven, before my dad’s phasings got so bad that his mind started to quit on him, and before my mother died in a scandal that poisoned my youth and left me essentially orphaned. It was the happiest I could remember being. One afternoon we hiked out to a high promontory, and while we were there, I spotted an eagle circling above the desert, the sunlight reflecting off the golden feathers on its neck, its wing tips splayed. Whenever I needed to clear myself, I focused on that image of the eagle until the rest of the world fell away.
This was what I did now, and when I felt ready to cast, I opened my eyes again, meeting the runemyste’s bright gaze.
“Defend yourself,” Namid said, his voice rumbling like distant floodwaters.
Namid had never been one to ease into a training session, and true to form, he started me off with a wicked attack spell. I flew off the floor and slammed into Billie’s ceiling, my arms and legs spread wide. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, and had no idea how to get down. It was as if he had strapped me to the ceiling with invisible steel cables, including one that constricted my chest.
Billie emerged from the kitchen holding a towel and damp bowl, no doubt drawn by the noise I’d made when I hit. Spotting me suspended above her dining room, she rolled her eyes and walked back into the other room.
I had learned that the images I called to mind when envisioning Namid’s attacks often held the secret to defeating them. I’d thought of myself being strapped to the ceiling with cables, and so that was how I conceived of my warding. Me, the steel ropes holding me in place, and a magical cable cutter to slice through them.
It was only when I felt the spell tickle my skin that I remembered one crucial detail. And before I could do anything about it, I was falling.
I landed on my stomach in front of Namid and let out a grunt and then a groan.
“Your predicament required a more nuanced solution,” the myste said, so calmly he might have been talking about the weather. “If you had been held one hundred feet above the street rather than nine feet above this floor, you would be dead now.”
“In my defense, I realized that right after I cast the spell.”
He lifted an eyebrow but offered no other response.
I sat up, my movements stiff and painful, not only from the fall, but also from my earlier battle with GQ and Vogue. But I repositioned myself so that I was facing the myste again, sitting cross-legged as he was, and I waited for his next assault.
For the next hour, Namid attacked me with an array of spells, some of them familiar, some of them new and terrifying, including one that ripped gashes in my wrists, so that abruptly blood was gushing onto Billie’s oak floors. I didn’t think that she would be any happier about massive bloodstains on the polished wood than she was about the scattering of her books across her living room, but I also didn’t think Namid would want me fixating on that while I bled out.