2017 Polaris, New York
I need to talk to you.
I sent the text off into the digital world and awaited Sam’s reply.
“B-R-T?” Had his thumb slipped? Was this an acronym for something?
I waited. If I followed up with another message asking for clarity, I would get scolded about using the phone too much now that he’d caught the Alliance snooping around on his network. Not worth the risk. I eyed the tablet from the across the apartment. How had he made a call with that thing again?
I sat on the sofa and researched the topic, but I seemed to be using the wrong search terms. I groaned; twenty minutes had passed already. I contemplated texting again, but what would my message say that would keep us safe from the Alliance?
Twenty minutes became forty. I revisited message boards about Saint Mary’s, checking my phone for any missed messages. After an hour, I huffed and resolved to call him.
Someone knocked at my door. I peered through the peephole and greeted my guest.
“Hey. Can I…?” He held up a plastic bag of takeout and nodded at the kitchen.
“Yes, of course.” Once he shut the door behind him, I asked, “You could have told me you were coming.”
“I did.” He unpacked the bag at the island.
“You did?” I checked my phone. No additional messages. “When?”
He snickered. “That’s totally my fault. B-R-T means ‘be right there.’”
I should’ve gotten that. “What do you have?”
“What I brought last time. Same place too. Best place in the city, no lie.”
I gasped in excitement. “Did you get the one with the tiny corn?”
“Uh, hang on…” He slid a container across the island. “There. And holy crap, that’s really cracked.” He ran his finger along the wound in the granite. “That’s going to be expensive.”
“I told you. Do you have noodles too?” I loved the noodles, perhaps even more than the tiny corn.
“What am I, some kind of monster?” He set a container of noodles on the counter, then turned the bag upside down and emptied it of sauce packets, napkins, and utensils. “Hm, no cookies?” He shook the bag. Fortune cookies fell out. “There we go.” He broke into the first container and grabbed a stool. “So, what do you wanna talk to me about?”
I dragged the other stool across from him. “Saint Mary’s.”
“Saint Mary’s? What’s that? The church you’re working at?”
“No, that’s Our Lady of Sorrows.”
“That’s a tragic name.”
“This one’s a hospital. Now abandoned.”
“This the same place you asked me about?”
“You think it’s haunted or something?”
“I think a Daemon is there.”
He paused midchew and uttered an inquisitive grunt.
“A Daemon.” I retrieved my tablet, its browser still open on a message board at a paranormal website. I pushed aside some sauce packets and lay it on the table. “Look. The accounts all match. Strange glowing, cold spots. And magickal burn marks.”
He swallowed and gave me an incredulous look. “Burn marks? Got any photos of those on this site?”
“Well, I saw those in person.”
He grinned. “Ah, the coworker you’re sweet on?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it that, considering the ethics of me having to lie to her about who I am.”
“Is that why you like having Jemier around?”
My face warmed. “Sam, I really don’t want to talk about this.”
“Look, if you’re spending time with people you like, that’s fine. But you said it yourself; there’s a whole ethics problem here. Not that I’m trying to push you toward some guy who just comes and goes as he pleases, but…” He snatched a packet of sauce from the table.
“But what? Don’t tell me you’re one of those closed-minded humans.”
He made a disgusted face and shook his head. “Oh, I’m definitely not. I’m just concerned that this is your new life, and it’s probably going to be for forever, and you have this guy from another planet just deciding when he invades your time. Everything you two do will revolve around him. What’s going to happen when he becomes king?”
“He’ll reverse my sentence.”
“Do you even know that, though?”
“Sam, these are valid points, but he and I already had this conversation.”
“Right at the beginning, actually. And I’m fine with it.”
“But you like him, right?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. It seems like you don’t.”
“I don’t have an opinion on the guy. I barely know him. I only met him a handful of times. Seriously.”
“Sounds like you have quite a strong opinion, actually.”
“Let’s forget him for a second. What about Brida? You actually know you like her, right?”
“Maybe you should at least consider how to be honest with her. Give her the choice of knowing or not knowing.”
“I don’t get what you mean.” I dug around my current container, pushing aside vegetable after vegetable until I hit the saucy bottom. “Sam.”
“There’s no tiny corn anywhere in here.”
His eyes narrowed in doubt. “You’re kidding.”
“I’m not kidding.” I passed him the container.
“Well, crap. Sorry about that. Drunk You really liked those things.”
“Sober Me would’ve enjoyed them too.”
We shared a sigh of disappointment.
“Anyway.” He switched to rice. “What I mean is you flat-out tell her that you’ve got a bit of a past that she might not like too much. And you ask her if she wants to know before you take your friendship into a different place.”
I hemmed, tapping the end of my plastic fork against the edge of the island. “That’s a good idea actually.”
“I could ask Armand too.”
“I’m sorry. Armand?”
“He’s the sexy barista at the café I go to.”
“Not just any barista.”
“Correct. A sexy barista.”
“And he likes you too?”
I gazed dreamily at the island, imagining the interior of Star Café. “Sometimes I think the counter is the only thing stopping us from…well.”
He snickered. “So, the so-called evil bastard is actually a romantic.” He shook his head. “Just make sure they’re okay with all of this. Most people default to monogamy around these parts.”
“I’m not an asshole, Sam. I do normally ask, but I don’t intend on pursuing multiple lovers right now.”
“Hey, I just wanted to be sure you were aware of the customs.”
“And I just wanted to talk to you about Saint Mary’s. Yet here we are, talking about my love life instead.”
“You just told me you went on a date with Brida.”
“It wasn’t a date.”
“Two people crushing on each other visit a haunted hospital? Uh-huh, sure.”
“Fine.” I told him about our ill-conceived visit to Saint Mary’s. About the abundance of overgrowth. About the tire swing. About the scorch marks. About the authorities and how we’d gotten away.
Sam straightened his posture and chewed on some noodles. “Yeah, that sounds like a date.” I rolled my eyes. “You were really just waiting underneath a car after you dressed Brida up like a runway model?”
“That’s what you took away from the story?”
“I’m just imagining you practically naked underneath a car.”
“I wasn’t naked. I had on an undershirt.”
“Hm, less funny that way.” He offered me the last bite of noodles from the container.
He shrugged and snatched them with chopsticks. “So, we going there tonight, or what?”
Good. He finally got the point of this conversation. “If you think it would be safe.”
“Oh, it’s not gonna be safe. But at least you’ll only have to avoid, what, one, maybe two security guards? And they probably do a round every hour or so. Not like we’ll have the demo crew poking their noses around after hours.”
“But you agree it sounds like a Daemon could be there?”
“Yeah. You hoping to hitch a ride home, maybe break the curse?”
“From what I knew of the Daemons at Shadowfall, I think they could do it. If they knew what kind of curse they were working with.”
“How often did you work alongside the wardens?”
“The Daemons and Fae?” He shrugged. “I dunno. Not much.”
“You haven’t unlocked my tragic backstory yet.” I didn’t follow. He caught the face I made at him. “Like in video games. You have to build rapport with the characters to unlock their backstory and progress to the next level.”
“I don’t recall that in your bubble game.”
“That’s because BubbleCute is a puzzle game.” He checked the time on the tablet. “We’ve still got a few hours ’til it gets dark. Whaddya wanna do?”
“I want you to know that I’m ready to hear your tragic backstory when you’re ready to tell it.”
“See? That’s what you need to do with Brida and Armand. Be open about it.”
“You are such a hypocrite.”
“The difference is I’m not trying to sleep with you.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Sam.” I grinned wickedly. “You wouldn’t have to try very hard.”
“I’m starting to think you have a dirtier sense of humor than I do.”
“I do take joy in making you blush.”
“I’m not blushing.” He felt his face. “Okay, I’m blushing a little. I’ll get you back for that, I promise.”
I hopped off the stool. “I doubt that.” He took the tablet. “What are you looking for?”
“A show on Saint Mary’s. Some bumbling ghost hunters must have done one there, and we’ve got time to kill.”
“You really don’t have anything else to do?”
“Nope.” He scrolled along a page. “Ah. Got it.” He held it up for me to read the description. “This looks like a disaster. I can’t wait.”
I grabbed two wineglasses. “Queue it up. I’ll get us drinks.”
“You got it.”
“See?” Sam pointed at a black SUV with reflective imagery painted on the doors. It was parked close to the front entrance of the hospital. “Just the one patrol. This will be cake.”
The hospital looked even more intimidating in the dark. “You and I have different senses of cake.”
He examined me top to bottom. “You should pull back your hair better than that. Maybe braid it. It might snag on something.”
I scoffed and pulled out the tie in my hair. “Speaking of snags, don’t tear that shirt please.” I’d loaned him one of my fitted sweaters to wear over his T-shirt, given the cold night.
“It’ll be fine. I’m just surprised it fits.”
“I tore my shirt the last time I was here, and I like to think I’m careful too.” I pulled my hair through the band once, then twirled it around before securing it into a messy bun, Brida-style. “Better?”
He nodded in approval. “You can rock a man-bun pretty good.”
“It’s the same way Brida wears her hair. Does she rock a man-bun too?”
“Yeah, okay. I hear the sexism now. We going in there or not?”
We wrapped around the fence until we made it to the indentation Brida and I had tried before. I didn’t have high hopes for this entrance, given that the new wardens of the property had discovered it, but it was the only way in that didn’t involve crossing the eyeline of the guard or the barbed wire.
“Looks like they zip-tied this shut,” Sam said, examining the stitched hole with the flashlight on his phone. “Hold this.” He pulled something palm-sized and metal out of his pocket while I held the light steady on the plastic fasteners. With an unfolding motion, a blade appeared.
“You carry a knife with you?”
“Yep.” He sawed away at the plastic. “I’ve had this since college.” The first of several ties broke.
“Who knew human colleges were so dangerous.”
“I had this girlfriend.” Another tie bit the dust. “Valerie.”
“No. Perfect. We didn’t work as a couple, but we’re still friends. Anyway, perfect. Smart as hell too. We met in a computer science class.”
“That you needed a knife for?” If I had my magick, I could have snapped these ties with a thought. Cutting them one by one took too long.
“No, just wanted to give you some…ooh, one more to go.” The tie fell to the ground. “Some backstory. She used to get harassed a lot, so I started carrying a knife.”
“Ever need to use it?”
“Would you have been able to? You don’t strike me as the violent type.”
“I don’t know, but these guys sure as hell would’ve deserved it.” Snap. “There.” He picked up the bits of plastic from the ground and shoved them into his pocket along with his closed blade.
“Allow me,” I said, peeling back the fence. We made it in without damaging any shirts.
“Might be closed,” I said. I explained about the brick. “Window?”
“I like it.”
We found an accessible window a few rooms down from the back door to the kitchen, which was in fact sealed shut. I boosted Sam onto the sill, and in a minute, he returned with an old chair that he handed down to me to use as a step. It wobbled beneath my feet, but I made it inside safely. We’d chosen what looked like an administrative office. An overturned desk blocked the door, and file cabinets, stripped of contents, stood along opposite walls. Paint peeled from the corners, and brown spots dappled the broken ceiling tiles above.
“We’re on a timer now,” Sam said. “Guard spots that chair and they’ll come looking for us.”
“So let’s move then.”
“Show me these burn marks first.” He coughed. “Actually, we should’ve brought masks or something. We’re gonna inhale so much black mold that mushrooms are gonna burst from our chests.”
“I don’t have anything to use.”
“I do. Here.” He put me on flashlight duty again, then pulled off the sweater. He folded it and draped it over my shoulders; it smelled of clary sage and cinnamon. “Try not to swoon.” He pulled off his T-shirt next, revealing a bare chest dusted with short, dark hair and a small, fleshy crater in his stomach. He held his shirt in his teeth.
“You’re going to ruin your clothes for this?”
“Isha T-shirt,” he said, voice garbled by the shirt’s fabric.
“I’m not sure that’s good enough for mold.”
“Better than nothing,” he said, according to my interpretation of his intonation.
He wrangled his knife from his pocket, then held up the other end of the T-shirt to me and grunted. I grabbed it, pulling it taut enough to create a cutable surface. Sam popped the blade through the center of the T-shirt tent, then carefully cut through both layers at once, dragging the knife toward my hand before stopping and grunting again. I let go. He spit the shirt out and tore it the rest of the way, cutting at obstinate hem lines when needed. He put the knife away, then draped both halves of the shirt over my other shoulder.
“Should have one sleeve each. Maybe we can loop the end through the sleeve hole and tie it around our faces like that. I can cut more strips if that doesn’t work or make ear holes.” He grabbed my sweater from my shoulder and unfolded it. “Okay, now we’re even. We’ve officially seen each other half-naked.” He grinned and pulled my sweater over his head, covering the scar on his torso.
“Sam,” I said as he grabbed his new mask. “That scar. What’s it from?”
His grin faded. “What do you think?”
“A bullet from a mercenary’s gun.”
“Smart cookie.” He tied his mask around his head and reclaimed his phone. “Can we do this already?”
“Yes, fine.” I tied my mask as tight as I could. The sleeve hole thing didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, but I didn’t want to bother Sam further. Wordlessly, I led him in the direction of the atrium. Strange bangs emanated throughout the building as the cool autumn air contracted the hospital’s skeleton. Clary sage and cinnamon clung to the mask, overpowering the musty air. I replayed the image of Sam’s scar in my mind. He was here to help me, and in the process had made himself more vulnerable than he needed to. The scar served as a reminder that we could never be friends, no matter how much we enjoyed our time together.
We arrived at the atrium, which had lost its beauty in the dark. The carvings appeared more sinister, the ivy more constrictive, the fountain more abysmal. Disoriented by the darkness, I swept my light left and right until I found the magickal scorch marks.
I tapped Sam’s arm. “Here.”
We approached the distinctive markings. The building moaned and groaned around us, but we remained undisturbed in our work.
“Hm.” Sam ran his light up and down the markings, then got close and smudged one with his fingers. “Hm.”
“What are you thinking?”
He lowered his phone and began tapping away on its screen.
“I see. You’re not speaking to me.”
He flashed his eyes to mine before settling back on his phone.
“I shouldn’t have asked about the scar. I’m sorry.”
He examined the ivy again.
“I have scars like that too. Ones I can’t talk about. I should’ve known better. I’m sorry, Sam.”
The building croaked and drew our attention.
I swept my light along the floor. A broken leg from a chair. That would do. “Stay here.” I picked up the bar.
Sam gave me a hard stare followed by an agitated shrug.
I scoffed and ventured away from the nexus in the atrium toward the source of the sound. This hallway housed more webs and discarded furniture. I brushed my weapon against my leg to better clean it of dirt and give me a better grip. There. This felt more familiar, like the weapons I had wielded on the battlefields of Cydrithenna.
I crept along the decrepit hallway, Sam’s silence weighing heavily upon me. Now I replayed the memory of the night I left him behind. We’d barely begun our already-reluctant friendship, but the reason I had for leaving him wounded on a rooftop just wasn’t good enough.
A juncture in the hall. I stilled, listening for danger or a Daemon.
I gathered my breath and returned to the atrium, only to find Sam sitting on the edge of the fountain.
“Look,” he said, palming his phone. “I know you didn’t fire that gun, and I know you did your best to fend them off.”
I dusted off the ledge beside him. “But?”
“But what kind of person stares a guy who’s bleeding to death in the eye and just leaves?”
“I’ll tell you.”
I took a deep breath. How to explain myself without trying to excuse my actions? Sam raised his brows impatiently, and I nodded lightly. “Before we met that night, I’d been with a friend of mine. My partner in…well, my attempt to reach out to your kind and invite them to join the Federation.”
Sam shrugged with one shoulder and an upturned palm. “Why bother with us in the first place though? Why did any of that matter?”
“Because when my brother was alive, he absolutely destroyed centuries of diplomatic work done with factions outside of the Federation. And…it was difficult to bring those relationships back to where they were.”
“Really, Solin? You left me there because you were mad your brother pissed some allies off?”
I shook my head. “No. I’m trying to answer your question about why I bothered.”
He huffed and made a gesture to continue.
“I was talking to factions my people hadn’t talked to in generations. Finding ways to unify more and more of our system. And if I could be the one to bring our cousins into the fold? Offer them what they should’ve been offered long ago for saving our ancestral line?” I set my phone on the ground, light facing up to provide us some guidance in the darkness. “Anyway, that’s why I was here, but not what happened. My partner. His name was Dorais, and he was…” My throat tightened. “I met him through those previous efforts, and he was murdered. Here. Because I was too ambitious and he believed in me. Killed right in front of me by our other partner only moments before you contacted me that night.”
“I’m sorry about that. About your friend.”
“It’s not your fault, and it’s not an excuse. I’m just telling you I was out of my mind with vengeance.” I hesitated and wondered if I’d ever said that out loud before. “Robert, remember? You knew all along he would betray me, and I didn’t listen. And by that time, I’d endured so much betrayal in my life that I just sort of…lost myself.”
“You stole my phone, Solin. How the hell was I supposed to call for help?”
“I was wrong. I shouldn’t have taken your phone. I thought it would help me find Robert.”
“Did you ever find him?”
I glanced at him and caught his eyes. The blue light from my phone gave his skin a phantasmal glow. “Yes.”
“What did you do?”
“Do you want to know the answer?” I cautioned.
“Are you worried I’ll think less of you?”
“Than you already do?” I asked. He shook his head. “Yes, I’m worried.”
“Are we talking some kind of ruthless and barbaric magick here?”
“No. I didn’t use magick.”
“But you killed him.”
“I shot him like he shot Dorais.” My hands shook. “What a terrible weapon to hold. In one instant, I removed his essence from this universe.”
“And how is that any different from magick?” His face pursed in disgust. “Seriously. I watched you fight those guys up there. No contest. You straight-up melted bullets in midair.”
“And yet you’re here trying to help me regain that power. Is that really what you want, given who I am?”
“You were left behind by your people, Solin. You might’ve done that to me, but I’m not going to do that to you. Besides, any toddler could pick up a gun and kill someone. I’m guessing it’s not the same with magick.”
I laughed softly. “Not remotely, though you aren’t wrong about its power.” I surveyed what little I could see of the room and the scorch marks in the dim light. “We don’t have to do this, Sam.”
“Well, I hate to break it to you, buddy, but I did some digging online when you went off with your metal club there. We wouldn’t find anything here anyway.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I checked the news, not the paranormal forums. Some kids set a patch of dead ivy on fire here a few weeks ago and were smart enough to actually call it in. They had most of it put out before the fire department got here because they ripped it down before it spread and stomped on it. Look. This isn’t all burn marks. Some of this is soot, but some of this is just that crap that is left behind when you pull out ivy. Here.” He swept his light up to the ceiling. “That’s where the ivy took root in the damaged walls. Plus, look down here.” He pointed his light at the floor. “I think those are singed ivy leaves, and the sticks are dead vines.”
I sank. The incident was probably why the authorities were so responsive when Brida and I had come here. “You’re right.”
“These aren’t magickal. Sorry. I’ve been around a mage or two in my life, and this just isn’t what—”
We directed our lights at each other.
Where? he mouthed.
I held up a finger and listened. I tilted my head back and to the right.
Sam pointed down the hallway we came from. This way.
I cupped my phone to narrow the scope of the light. Sam did the same. We speed-walked down the hallway, ducking at the fork where we turned to get back to that office with the open window.
Sam gave me a look. What the hell was that?
I’d set my makeshift weapon down back at the fountain. Damn it. I motioned to him to continue down to the office while I sneaked back to the fork toward the atrium.
A pulsating blue glow reflected off the walls.
I peeked my head around the corner, breathing as shallow as I could.
A man stood in the atrium, dressed shoulder to toe in leather armor, a dagger and sword sheathed at his belt. Beside him glowed a frost boar, a magickal being bred many millennia ago by the first Drakons. Savage for domesticated creatures, capable of freezing a living creature solid. Cold followed them like a shadow.
Captain Lufan had an elite squad of troops who’d trained with frost boars. Specifically to utilize their noses and find criminals. Or, perhaps, in this case, a prince they’d always had locked in their sights because they’d mistakenly believed that he killed his brother. This man bore the markings of Lufan’s elite troop, a collection of blue diamonds emblazoned on the cuffs of his gloves, boots, and the sheath of his sword.
Given his status, he could probably shift too.
Instinct kicked in and I attempted a mask. No good. Damn it! I could not fail Sam, and I couldn’t let whomever’s job it was to patrol this place get killed by a powerful Drakon. Why set up here? An easy base to watch me?
I took a deep breath and headed back to Sam, checking over my shoulder periodically for an increase in the blue glow. I neared the office and glanced once again. The entire hallway behind me glowed bright blue. Damn it!
I spun around and flew into Sam. He stumbled backward; I reached out and caught him.
“Why hello, stranger,” he whispered.
I disregarded the playful remark. “The story of the glowing I showed you earlier. When was that dated?”
“Um, I dunno, a few weeks ago? Why?”
Brida had said the frozen room story happened at around the same time. I motioned behind me. “We need to get the hell out of here, now.”
“Why is that glowing blue?”
“It’s not a Daemon, Sam.”
“No shit that’s not a Daemon.” He gripped my arms so tight that I was certain to have bruises tomorrow. If we survived. “That’s a god damn glowing pig. Holy shit.”
“Run. Run now.”
The boar’s master uttered a command in Drakon, and a ripple of spiked ice coursed down the hallway. I threw Sam against the wall, and we barely dodged it. I grabbed him again, and we bolted toward the office.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“You’re hurting me, but it’s the good kind of hurt. The kind that says you want to get the hell out of here.”
Another burst of sharp ice pierced the hall behind us. “I’m so sorry I dragged you into this.”
“I’m just glad you’re dragging me out of this.”
We made it to the office. I clutched Sam and twirled him within. He hit a solid wall of ice.
“Motherfucker,” he uttered.
“Damn it, he’s a mage too,” I whispered.
“Why the hell is he attacking us?”
We hurtled down the hall. Behind us, the frost boar charged, whining and grunting in fury at the commands of the Drakon who pursed us.
“You Gaians will not get away from me so easily!” our pursuer said.
“Sam,” I said as quietly as I could while we ran. “Did you ever learn Drakon with the Alliance?”
“Not a word.”
“He doesn’t know who I am.”
“Because of my T-shirt trick. You’re welcome.”
We leapt an overturned gurney in unison and skidded across the floor.
“Light,” he said of an upcoming room emitting a dull-orange color. “You know what that means?”
We dashed into the room, this time making it before a sheet of ice blocked our path. Instead it sealed us within our room, this one another office.
“Shit!” Sam banged on a board covering the window. What little light we saw had filtered in through a rotten chunk that had broken off. The hole wouldn’t let a child through, let alone two grown men. “Do you see anything we can use as a lever?”
I shoved my hand into my sleeve and pressed my covered palm against the ice. Thick, but not so cold that my sweater stuck to it. Mages adept with frost could not always remove the ice they created. This could hold.
I scanned the room. A desk jammed into the corner had the same metal legs as everything else around here.
“The desk,” I said.
Wordlessly, we flipped the desk over and ran our fingers along the joints. Sam pulled out his knife and used the blade like a screwdriver while I held the leg steady. Blue light filtered in through the ice. I pried the leg free and handed it to him. He handed me the knife. I worked on the next leg while he shoved the other one into the rotted hole to lever the wood panel away.
“Who the hell nails wood right into the wall like this?” he complained.
The second leg wouldn’t budge, despite me having unscrewed it. I folded Sam’s knife and put it into my pocket as I stood. With one foot on the overturned desk and one on the ground, I gripped the leg and put all my strength into breaking it free.
The frost boar thumped against the ice. Sam and I exchanged looks.
“At least we know it can’t undo its own spell,” I said.
“Yeah, and that its tusks can probably break through five inches of solid ice.”
Thud, thud, thud.
“Sam, you need to call the Alliance.”
Sam pumped the makeshift lever with increasing fervor. A chunk of rotten wood broke off, but the massive board didn’t acquiesce. “Oh no. I am not calling them.”
“You have to.”
The frost boar’s tusks scraped along the ice. The wall beside me cracked. I jumped back, then gripped the obstinate leg again, attempting to break it free.
“Call the damn Alliance, Sam!”
“Fine!” He tossed me the other leg. I caught it and held it like a sword. He dialed. “I don’t know how fast they can get here. It’s not like they have portal tech or anything.”
“I’m calling!” His phone lit up his face. “You know they’re going to use this as an opportunity to bargain their way into the Federation. That’s all they want.”
The crack in the wall grew. Chunks of the ceiling snowed down around us. I grounded my feet on the floor.
“Hey, Flore,” Sam said into the phone. “So, listen, you know how I like to just go out and do my own thing, and sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, hey. This hospital is haunted, but it sounds like something magickal is happening there,’ and so I go and investigate it?” He paused. “What? I do so do that.”
I stomped my foot at him.
A crack spiderwebbed white across the icy door.
Sam spoke faster. “Anyway, there’s this glowing pig and wacked-out mage at this place down in Polaris, and I’m pretty sure he’s gonna kill me and maybe the security guards. Send a team. Now.”
The wall broke. The Drakon appeared on the other side, pulling and punching at the building’s innards with his hands. We locked eyes.
I focused on the ground beneath my feet and listened. I’d pulled magickal power from others for my own use before, but I needed direct contact. I reached into the air and every surface with my mind. Before the curse, I’d perfected my telekinetic powers to detect resistance in the environment, feeling my way through the unseen as though I had sonar. I could do everything from upending a hidden enemy to picking locks. I sensed nothing.
“Why do you stand there, Gaian? You wish me to kill you faster?”
Sam hung up the phone. I tossed him the leg.
“That’s not a good idea,” he said.
“Get out of here, now.”
“What will you fight with?”
An arm reached through the wall. I backed up to avoid its reach.
I pulled off my T-shirt mask. The Drakon cackled.
“Just the murderer I was looking for,” he said in Drakon.
He powered through the wall. I shielded my neck with my arms and ducked beneath him, giving me the advantage to throw him against the ice. I checked on Sam. He’d given up on prying the board free and instead decided to break it apart, piece by piece.
The Drakon got to his feet and lunged for me. I held out my hand and grabbed his jaw, the only exposed piece of skin.
“You’re so weak, Solin,” he said, words partially mangled by my grip on his face. “Just like your brother always said.”
“A loyalist.” I clenched his jaw tighter. He held my arms and pushed hard. He could break my bones if he wanted to. I focused on his power, but again sensed nothing. I was going to die here, but I couldn’t show weakness. “I’ve killed your kind before. When will you learn?”
“Varin’s spirit won’t rest until you’re dead.”
Pain shot through my body as he dislocated my shoulder. I dangled from his grip and fell to the floor.
“Solin!” Sam dropped the desk leg and ran to my side.
“Sam, get out of here!”
The Drakon grabbed Sam by his collar and stared at me. “Varin was right. You are an abomination.” He flung Sam aside.
Down an arm, I kicked up at my attacker. He stumbled backward into the hole he’d created, buying Sam and I precious time. I checked on Sam. He scrambled to his feet. No visible blood. Good.
The ice shattered, and the frost boar stormed in, tusks aimed at my chest. I reached out with my only useful arm and snatched a tusk. Power surged into my hand. The boar squealed as I channeled its energy. The Drakon regained his stance and pressed through the crumbling hole in the wall.
“Sam. Close your eyes.”
“Close your damn eyes!”
The Drakon clenched his fist around my wrist and pulled. My grip on the boar’s tusk loosened. All that I’d gathered began to drain from me.
I closed my eyes. Redirected my focus. Pulled magick from one place to the next. A telekinetic bomb ignited near the window. The Drakon ripped me free from his companion, severing my connection to its power. I clamored one-handed for his body, trying desperately to grasp anything to pull him down. I tugged at his belt in a poor attempt to use his body as a shield from the frost boar’s tusks.
I checked on Sam as best as I could. The board had merely cracked; I thought I’d sent enough power for it to shatter. Good enough. Sam’s weapon coaxed the wood free.
“Go, damn it!” I grabbed the hilt of the Drakon’s dagger.
“Hell no,” Sam said.
“Then don’t look.”
I freed the dagger from its sheath and plunged it into the Drakon’s side. The leather only prevented the blade from reaching a fatal depth. The Drakon cried out and fell back on the frost boar, disorienting it. It squealed and bolted out the door, scattering pebbles of ice as it fled and filling the room with a chilling fog.
The Drakon writhed, clutching the dagger in his side. I could steal another burst of magick from him again and end this. I focused, seething through the pain in my shoulder.
“Come on, we’re going.” Sam wrapped himself around me and lifted. The Drakon roared, and his face paled.
“He’s shifting,” I uttered.
Sam and I leapt from the window, tumbling onto the gravelly grass and skinning every limb that hit earth. A pitch-black SUV zoomed into the parking lot.
“They’re here,” Sam said. He pulled me up. I let out a gasp of pain. My stomach rose, threatening to make known its dismay at my injuries. “We’ve got this, Solin. Come on.”
Frost-blue filled the room we’d just exited.
We bolted, and we didn’t stop until we’d cleared the tree line, and Sam had torn my sweater on a sharp edge of the broken fence.