Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 34

“I was a boy once, too.”

Gracie and I both rolled down our windows so that we could listen for the chopper. I glanced up at the sky, but didn’t spot it.

“It’s behind us still,” Gracie said. “Coming in fast.”

At the end of the campground loop, I hesitated, wondering which way to go. The monument roads were scenic, windy, and slow; if we took one of them, we risked getting stuck behind a camper. But the only other road was the state road leading north, back toward Ajo, or south toward the Mexican border. It was straight as a string, with few turnoffs.

“Ideas?” I asked.

“The mountain drive is rough,” Gracie said. “Lots of up and down. There aren’t many places where a helicopter can set down.”

“Sounds good to me.”

I followed signs to the drive, which was little more than a dirt road barely wide enough for two-way traffic. We hadn’t been on it for two minutes before we found ourselves stuck behind a camper. Fortunately, the driver noticed us and used a turnout to let us pass.

I sped up, and though the road was rough, I was able to cut across an open basin filled with saguaros and organ pipes, making pretty good time. On the far side of the basin, the road split into a one-way loop and began to climb into some rocky hills.

“They’re right over us,” Gracie said, pulling out her Ruger.

“Don’t shoot unless you have to. I’d bet every penny I have that they’re warded.”

She frowned, but didn’t raise the weapon.

The drive was growing rougher by the minute, and the kids were bouncing around the cab like rubber balls. I didn’t think my dad would be pleased with what I was doing to his struts and shocks.

Something streaked downward into the road only a few feet in front of us, and when it hit, flames erupted from the pavement. I jammed on the brakes. Gracie’s left arm shot out, pinning the kids to the seat like one of those metal bars on an amusement park ride.

A second impact behind us shook the truck. I checked the rearview mirror. Fire blocked our way back as well.

“I don’t think we’re driving any farther,” I said over the pounding of the helicopter rotors, which were growing louder by the minute.

Magic brushed my skin. I glanced at Gracie and then at the blaze in front of us. The flames wavered but didn’t go out. She tried the spell — whatever it was — a second time. Again, the fire guttered, like a candle in a hard wind. But still it burned, perhaps even a bit brighter than before.

“Damn it!” she muttered.

Emmy shook her head like a disapproving parent. “You owe us a quarter, Mommy. Each!”

Zach actually laughed. I was starting to like these kids.

“Yes, I do,” Gracie said. But she was watching me.

I recited a warding spell in my head, the most comprehensive I could think of. I visualized it as a set of domes, one for each of us. Clear, flexible, stretching from head to toe, impermeable to magic and bullets and anything else those guys in the chopper might throw down at us. I held tight to the magic, allowing it to build, until at last I released the spell and felt my shield cover my body. This time both Emmy and Gracie stared at me.

“What was that?” Emmy asked.

“A spell to keep you safe, to keep all of us safe.”

A moment later a second spell draped over me.

Gracie eyed me, daring me to complain. “If you think I’m going to put all my trust in another person’s warding, you’re nuts.”

“I’ve been called worse.”

One corner of her mouth quirked upward.

“We’re going to get out of the truck,” I told the kids. “Stick close to your mom, all right?”

I hesitated, but then pulled my Glock from its holster. In my opinion, firearms and children don’t mix; I don’t like having my weapon out where kids can even see it. But in this case, I wasn’t willing to leave the car unarmed.

“Cool!” Zach said. “Can I see?”

I held it up, well beyond his reach.

“I mean –”

“I know what you meant. This isn’t the time or place.”

He scowled.

“This way out, kiddo,” his mom said.

She pushed open her door. I did the same.

Once again, as soon as my boots hit the pavement, I felt the moon, its pressure on my mind about as light as an anvil.

The helicopter, shiny and black, unmarked as far as I could see, hovered above us. Five blades, a rear horizontal stabilizer with a vertical two bladed rear rotor, and a smallish pod that might have held four people. I was guessing this was an MD 500, or maybe a 530, given the terrain. Small, fast, agile, and maneuverable enough to track us no matter where we might go.

I couldn’t tell from this angle how many people were inside, but at least one guy had his door open and held what appeared to be a high-powered rifle. Even directly overhead, he was too far away for a clear view, but I thought I saw a blur of magic on his face.

We struck out into the desert. There was no trailhead here, but the terrain was open enough that we could scramble over rock and dirt anyway. Unfortunately this also meant that they could see us.

“I think the one with the weapon is a weremyste.”

“They all are,” Gracie said, speaking with such certainty that I didn’t dare question her.

A sharp, flat sound drew my eyes skyward once more. The gunman had Gracie sighted, but he didn’t look at all pleased.

“That was a good warding,” she said.

“He shot at us?”

“At me. He missed.”

“That didn’t sound like a –”

“I don’t think it’s a regular rifle.”

Of course. “Probably a trank.”

“What’s a trank?” Zach asked.

“It’s a kind of bullet that would have put me to sleep,” Gracie said.

That was a better answer than I would have given. At least we knew they didn’t want her dead. Me, on the other hand, they probably didn’t care about one way or another.

The helicopter banked away from us, flew a tight circle, and hovered over the road. After a moment it began to descend. It would be a tight fit, but apparently the pilot believed he could land the thing on that dirt track.

“Up there,” I said, pointing toward the nearest of the rocky peaks surrounding us.

Gracie’s brow furrowed. “It’ll be slow going.” Her gaze flicked in Zach’s direction. “He’s just five.”

“I can carry him if I have to. But they’re going to be on foot, and I want the higher ground.”

She faltered, nodded.

“Hey, Zach,” I said. “Think you can climb this mountain?”

He stopped to gaze at the summit, an open hand shading his eyes, his disappointment at not getting to hold my pistol seemingly forgotten. “You mean to the top?”

“The very tippity top.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Emmy, how about you?”

“If he can, I can,” she said. But she was staring back at the copter, fear in her dark eyes. “Mommy?”

Something in the girl’s tone stopped Gracie in her tracks. “What is it, sweetie?”

“He’s here. The old man.”

Even I understood. The silver-haired gentleman. Fitzwater.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

Gracie grabbed both kids by the hand and led them up the hillside. “She’s always sure.”