Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 23
I planted my hands again and pushed myself up, every movement deliberate, slow. I got to my feet and faced her. She wore jeans and a white tank top that revealed toned brown arms. Her hair was a good deal shorter than it had been in the photograph her parents showed me, barely reaching her neck. It was a good look for her. Magic obscured her features, but I could make out an oval face, and large dark eyes.
I had no trouble at all seeing the silver and black Ruger SR9 she had trained on my heart. She held it with both hands, a standard grip. I had a feeling she knew her way around a pistol and was probably a good shot.
“You shouldn’t have come after me. My parents are . . . they don’t understand.”
A drop of blood fell from my chin. I ran my tongue over my split lip, tasting blood and wincing at how much it stung.
“They’re worried about you,” I said. “And about your children. Where and when did you first see the silver-haired man?”
“I told you, I don’t remember. And even if I did, it wouldn’t matter.”
“You don’t know that. Anything you can tell me might matter.”
“I don’t know who he is. That’s the bottom line. The rest –” She shook her head. “What was that name you mentioned earlier?”
“Right. Who is that?”
I licked my lip again. “Do you know what a runemyste is?”
“She’s like a runemyste only not. The runemyste I know calls her and her kind necromancers. Their power is similar to that of the runemystes, but they use dark magic, blood spells and the like. She’s powerful and she’s ruthless and she hates me a lot. I think she knows about you. Right after Amaya hired me, she warned me not to interfere.”
“You should have listened to her.”
“Well, I didn’t, and I’m here now. So instead of trying to drive me away, maybe you should accept that I’m here to help you, and even consider that having an ally might be a good thing.”
I cast the spell without hesitation, without bothering to repeat the elements three times. The transporting spell again. Her weapon, her hand, my hand.
Magic electrified the air, and an instant later, I held the Ruger. I didn’t aim it at her; I kept it lowered at my side. But I warded myself from attack spells, and cast a second warding to keep her from taking her pistol back.
The glare she threw my way could have flayed the skin from my bones, but she didn’t try to cast.
“Not bad,” she said, her tone grudging. “I should have been ready for it.”
“Yeah, you should have. Just like I should have been ready for the attack that knocked me down.”
I walked toward her and held out the Ruger for her to take.
She frowned, but took it. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m not here to hurt you, and right now I’m not even interested in taking you back to Phoenix. I meant what I said. I came here to help. You’ve got some powerful mystes after you. I think you could use an ally.”
The frown lingered, but she hadn’t yet pointed the pistol at me again, which I took as a small victory.
“I’ll think about it,” she said after some time. She started away from me, back toward her campsite. “For now, keep your distance.”
I watched her walk away before making my way to the nearest of the campground restrooms to clean up my lip. Once the blood was gone, it didn’t look too bad. It was going to be swollen for a couple of days, but that was the price I paid for turning my back on another weremyste without warding myself.
I retreated to my site, and then, because there was nothing else to do, I pulled out my tent and set it up on a wide expanse of fine dirt and gravel some distance from the road. A hummingbird buzzed around the brush and trees as I worked, its purple throat glistening in the twilight sun. When I finished I walked to the station at the head of the campground loop to pay for my site. I took the long way around when I went, but on the way back I passed by Gracie’s campsite.
This time, she and both children were out of the tent. They had a small camp stove set up on the picnic table and appeared to be making some kind of flavored rice dish. Gracie glanced my way as I approached the site, but she said nothing to me. The boy held a smart phone in his stubby fingers and wore ear buds. He seemed completely absorbed by whatever was on the screen.
The girl, though, watched me, as she had earlier when I drove in. I tried smiling at her again, but she didn’t smile back. Something occurred to me then — I should have thought of it before, when I was lying on the ground, but my mind had been focused on other things. I considered stopping to ask Gracie more questions, but she had told me to stay away, and I wasn’t going to win her trust if I ignored her wishes.
I dug into the food I’d brought and made myself a sandwich of avocado, tomato, and cheese, which was something of a camping tradition for my dad and me.
The sky darkened. The moon climbed higher, bright white against deep indigo. A few stars began to emerge in the velvet, and nearby a great-horned owl hooted, low and resonant. Airplanes passed high overhead, blinking like fireflies, the muted drone of their engines trailing behind them.
I heard Gracie talking to the kids, although I couldn’t make out a word of what she said. At one point the boy squealed with laughter, bringing a smile to my face. Soon after, they grew quiet. I thought they must have gone to sleep, but a short time later magic hummed in the ground and the air. Before I knew it, I was on my feet, striding toward their site, my Glock in hand, my pulse racing. I stopped near their site. I didn’t see any new cars, or, for that matter, anything else to indicate that they were in trouble. I had heard no voices since the boy laughed, but now I could make out the rustling of sleeping bags.
I scanned the nearby campsites, but they were still empty.
Now that I thought about it, the magic I’d felt could have been a warding. With only a tent over their heads, Gracie would want to have magical shelter as well. My heartbeat slowing, I made my way back to my site. I would probably be smart to ward my tent before I went to sleep, too.
I sat on top of my picnic table and stared up at the sky again. The moon was too bright for the stars to be truly spectacular, the way they can be sometimes in the middle of the desert, but still it was as beautiful a night sky as I had seen in some time. I needed to get out of the city more.
I heard the high metallic whine of a tent zipper, and a moment later the scrape of approaching footsteps.
Gracie had put on a fleece jacket, and she had put away her weapon, though I assumed she had it on her. I would have in her position. She stopped in front of my site, but remained on the road, her hands buried in her jacket pockets.
“May I?” she asked
She hesitated, then took a step, seeming to think that something would happen when she crossed the boundary of my site. When nothing did, she stepped to the table and sat as far from me as possible.
“I heard you a couple of minutes ago,” she said. “You came to our site.”
“Yes. I felt magic, and thought you might be in trouble.”
“It was a warding. And it’s a good thing you didn’t come closer. It would have burned you to a crisp.”
I let out a harsh laugh. “Thanks for the warning.”
She stared back at me.
“Don’t you think it would have been a good idea to tell me that before you cast the spell? What if I had come closer?”
“I told you before to keep your distance. That’s all the warning you should have needed. Either you really are here to help, in which case you would have done as I said, or you’re lying to me, in which case you would have deserved what you got.”
It was my turn to stare. “Boy, you are a piece of work, aren’t you?”
“Do you have kids?” she asked, her tone hard, the words reminding me of her husband.
“No, I don’t.”
“Then you can’t possibly understand. I’ll do anything to keep them safe. Anything at all. And I make no apologies for that.”
I nodded. I might not have kids, but I had Billie and my dad and Kona, and I knew the lengths to which I’d go to keep them safe. “I understand more than you think I do.”
She considered me, her expression unreadable in the pale moonlight. I thought I saw some of the tension drain from her shoulders.
We sat in silence for what felt like a long time. Finally she stood. “Well, I guess I should get back. Zach doesn’t sleep well when I’m not there.” She started to turn away.
“Your daughter is already showing signs of possessing magic, isn’t she?”
Gracie went still, like an animal unsure of whether it should bolt or attack.
“When you threw that spell at me today, you did it without seeing my face, and without having seen me drive in. After I was on the ground, you told me specifically that if you felt a spell, you’d shoot. She saw the magic on me, didn’t she? She told you I was a weremyste.”
She jerked into motion, walking swiftly back to her site. “Leave us alone,” she said over her shoulder. “If you come near us again, I’ll kill you.”