A Prison of Worlds (The Chained Worlds Chronicles Book 1) (7 page)

BOOK: A Prison of Worlds (The Chained Worlds Chronicles Book 1)
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I
almost ran after the guy but stopped myself.  It wasn't like he was going to
call the police.  If I went running after him I may get him, but chances were
the residents here would call security on me.  Looking down at myself, I saw
that my right hand was covered in blood and I had several holes in my clothes where
the bullets bounced off me.  The tender bruises from the slugs were already
fading, but I didn't look very respectable.

Going
back inside the apartment, I looked around.  The boss in the bubble was pretty
obviously dead.  His aura was rapidly fading and would be undistinguishable
from the background in about an hour.  The same was true for the poor fellow I
had hit in the face.  It looked even worse without adrenaline surging though
me.  I grabbed an extra sheet from the closet, threw it over the corpse, and
instantly felt better.

The
still-living shifter was groaning.  Apparently that shifter healing was finally
kicking in.  Since he was sitting still, I took the opportunity to give his
brain a telekinetic poke to freeze his legs and arms.  It was actually very difficult
to do this, especially to a supernatural and not paralyze his speech centers,
but I managed it.

“Hrgph
you!”  He muttered while sprawled on the floor.  Maybe I did tag his verbal
control center a tiny bit.  It's harder than it sounds to get some and not
others, trust me.

I
leaned over the man and glowered evilly, cranking up my aura.  I winced as the
fridge in the kitchen sparked and shuddered to a halt.  “I am your worst
nightmare.”

“Are
you with that bitch?” he glowered angrily back.  Apparently he slept like a
baby at night.  Okay, time to play domination tactics.  If I could project
submissiveness into his emotion centers, I might be able to trigger his submission
instinct.  The trick is it's hard to project an emotion you don't feel.  I can
do happy, sad, anger, and normal ones, but our species doesn't do submissive
very well.  We even die angry.  Hmm, let's try peace and see if it's close
enough.

“Who
sent you?” I spat out, trying to appear dominant and intimidating.

“You
can bite me you little shit,” he sneered back.

So
peaceful vibes weren't working.  How about some suggestions with oomph? 
Bearing down on his mind, I pushed as hard as I could without damaging him.

“You
want to help me.  Only I can get you through this alive.”  Plan B, appeal to his
survival instinct and extend a helping hand.  The next step was to try to read
his surface thoughts, but that always gave me a headache.

“Oh
geez, you suck at this,” a female voice said from behind me.  Whirling around
in surprise, I caught a glimpse of a short, slim oriental girl, with very
athletic curves and an eye popping orange streak in her hair, sweep by me.  I
spun around again with a defensive retort on my tongue and an admonishing
finger pointing at her, when she continued past me, completely ignoring me.

“Come
on you punk,” she spat out as she moved over to the prone man and lifted him by
the neck with one hand, shaking him like a toy rattle.  It was odd to see a man
handled as if he weighed as much as a pillow by a tiny woman who couldn't have
been more half his mass.  Her hand reached behind her shoulder and suddenly a
katana which radiated huge amounts of magical energy was in her hand and
pressing firmly against the captive's throat.  “Please give me a reason to
remove your stinking head.”

“Mercy,”
whimpered the man.  Apparently she was far more intimidating than me, because
the man just caved.  His tense posture collapsed into itself, and if the man
hadn't been held up a foot off the ground and pressed up against the wall, I
think he may have pissed himself.  Never mind.  I am just glad it wasn't my
apartment.

“So
where is he,” she growled, while putting her formidable magic armament back over
her shoulder, where it promptly vanished once more.  It wasn't invisible; I see
that kind of thing.

“Um,
don't you want to know who sent them first?” I meekly asked.  Hey, I admit she
even impressed me.

“Shut
up,” she told me absently, not even glancing away from the man she was
holding.  “I know who is behind this.  All I want to know is where he is so I
can kill him.”  Can't argue with logic like that.

“He...
he sent us ahead,” the man shuddered as he talked.  He probably thought he was
as good as dead.  I looked at the small but vicious Asian cutie holding him
above the floor.  He may have been right.

“We
were going to set up his operation so he could do his summoning when he got
here.”  That perked up my attention.  Summoning magic definitely involved some
form of dimensional travel.  The wrong direction but very close.

“What
does the old freak plan to do this time,” she asked with a shake to enunciate
her question.

“Army
of demons...” was as far as he got when he screamed in agony, twisting in her
grip.  I was still exerting some concentration to see auras, and saw a flare-up
of magical energy.  It was coming from outside the room, and flooding into our
captive and to a lesser extent the corpses under the sheet and in my bubble. 
To my mundane vision, all I saw was smoke coming out of his mouth, ears and
eyes.  I winced, that was a nasty way to go.

“Excuse
me, but I think he's about to explode,” I muttered as I moved up next to her
and grabbed the expiring man around the neck.  It’s a very convenient
handhold.  She relaxed her grip enough to let me grasp it and I lifted the man
over my head and threw him at the window.  I turned around to run towards the
now smoking corpse under the sheet, and so I didn't really see the fiery
explosion blossom from the man I had thrown outside.  I felt it though.  I
think the whole building may have shivered and I definitely heard some of the
adjacent windows crack.  It's more impressive than it sounds when you consider
that they started using explosive resistant glass for window material, after
terrorism and high yield explosives became a larger scale problem about 20
years ago.

I
was more worried about the still-smoldering bodies so I dismissed my bubble and
picked them up and chucked them after the first poor SOB.  These must have been
on a slower fuse, because they had time to hit the roof of the building
opposite us before they went off.  This explosion was relatively small compared
to the first.  I suppose dead people don't explode as well as live people. 
I'll have to find a magic book that explains that one; I got nothing.

It
wasn't really the explosion on the roof across from us that gave me such a surprise;
it was the explosion that came from just down the hallway outside the apartment
door.  Spinning, I faced the door, which had been blown open and now had smoke
pouring through it. 

I
have a pretty high tolerances for surprises; it takes a lot to phase me, but I
admit I was looking around with my jaw agape trying to figure out what the hell
was happening.

“What
the hell blew up?” I shouted as if I was yelling over an explosion.  “I mean
other than those bodies we just threw out the window,” I continued in a quieter
voice.

“Um,
I guess the other three I killed on the way up to here,” the little Asian woman
said uncertainly.  I looked at her a moment.

“What
other three?” I deadpanned.

“There
were two waiting for me when I got out of the elevator and one ran by almost as
soon as I had downed the first two,” she said, shrugging.

I
looked at the smoke billowing into the apartment.  The fire sprinkler system
triggered, soaking us both in seconds.  “Well, I think I worked up an
appetite.  Dinner?”

The
woman I assumed to be Mei Ling glanced expressionless from the door blown off its
frame to the hole where the window once was.  “Let me get my travel bag.  I
think it’s time to check out.”

Chapter
5

 

We
slipped down the stairs along with the stream of people evacuating the
building.  There were a few police and firemen running up, huffing and puffing
and generally looking stressed out.  Considering they probably were worried
about further bombs, I suppose they had just cause.  I would have told them it
was merely exploding shifter wizard minions, but I doubted that would have soothed
them.

Once
we were out of the building, we simply walked past the fire barges floating in
the street and traveled a few blocks to a pub.  Slipping inside, we found a dark
cozy nook in the corner of the room and ordered a couple steaks.  She ordered a
beer and I had a root beer.  I think she gave me an odd look, but I ignored her
in favor of savoring the sarsaparilla flavoring.  When alcohol, stimulants, and
other drugs have no effect you take your pleasures where you can.

The
pub was made up in a style I recognized from Jeremy’s old movies as the 1930’s
era.  There was a tiny model train that slowly chugged around the wall that
didn’t seem like an authentic period decoration but all in all the décor was set
firmly in a simpler time period, long before cars flew and nanites melted
Australia.

Sighing
in bliss at the sweet carbonated goodness, I started the conversation.  “So
what's a cute werewolf like you doing in a dump like this?”  I think I heard a
line like that somewhere on our movie nights.

She
started and then chuckled, “Well you brought me here, so you'd know best. 
Besides, I am not.”

“You're
not what?” I asked having lost track of the conversation.  It was a bad sign
considering we had just started.

“I
am not a werewolf,” she stated calmly, examining me for a reaction.

“Oh. 
Er... panther?” I offered as a suggestion.

“No.”

“Tabby
cat?”  This merely garnered a look of mild disdain.

There
was a moment of silence.  I guess I didn't really need to know her sub-species,
but it boded ill to a possible partnership if she wasn't willing to share even
this much.  I hoped she wasn’t a were-elephant. It would really feel weird.

“What
were you doing in my apartment?”

“Trying
to interrogate the people I found there,” I offered.  “They didn't seem to
belong there.”

At
this point, the steaks arrived and we were distracted for a few minutes
eating.  Both hers and mine were extremely rare.  I mentally checked
were-elephant and were-whale off my mental list.  I suppose a were-killer-whale
was possible even though I had never heard of one.  Would they be called
were-orcas?  I finished first since I tend to gulp my food and started another
conversational gambit.

“You're
Mei Ling?” I asked.  It never hurts to be sure you actually are talking to the
right person.

“Yes.”
I waited for more.  “I’m Derek,” I offered to fill in the silence.

After
a few minutes of watching her eat, I figured I would start conversational
gambit number two.

“So
how is your quest going to kill that wizard guy?”

She
stopped her methodical eating and stared at me.  I think it was that domination
thing that animals do to one another, but wasn't really sure.

“Um...
does that mean not so good?” I offered, to fill in the silence.  Maybe I should
have asked Jeremy to join us.  He is good at this talking thing and he could
use a few good meals after getting shot.

“No,
not so good.  My best lead just blew up my apartment,” she spat sarcastically. 
I did my best to look wounded and innocent. 

“Hey,
the wizard obviously had the true names of his employees inscribed in a circle
of death and was keeping watch on them with a scrying spell.”  I shrugged. “I
refuse to take responsibility for the actions of evil wizards.  It's like the
weather and acts of God, even insurance people won't touch that.”

I
think I may have seen a hint of a smile, before something I said caught her
attention.  “You know what the wizard did?”

“Well,
it's an educated guess.  I know the generals of how magic works, but not how to
cast the specific spells,” I hedged.  “That would be one way to do it.  Rune
magic could theoretically do it too, but that is a lot more overkill.  Frankly,
if it was rune magic you'd probably already be dead.”

“Do
not be so sure,” she said with a faraway look in her eyes.  “He has had
opportunities to kill me many times and has not taken it.”  Her voice hardened
as she continued.  “I will not make that mistake if ever our roles are changed.”

“Hmm. 
So hopefully you kill him before he summons hordes of demons and does his ‘take
over the world’ stick,” I said while waving down a waitress to order some dessert. 
I ordered three, because well... I like sweet things and I don't have to worry
about getting fat.  My guess was actually a shot in the dark, but evil mages
usually want power.  Often its power that pure magic can’t give them.  The
taking over the world bit was a standard ploy though the ‘world’ could be
swapped with ‘country’, ‘city’, ‘town’ or even ‘sandbox’.  I was even less sure
about the demon part, but I had seen that often enough in my home town and it
meshed well with the henchman’s final words.  What can I say?  Demons are cheap
labor. They work for the opportunity for slaughter and an occasional soul.

“You
must be hungry,” she offered, her eyes slightly wide after hearing my desert
list.  She hadn’t even twitched at my suggestion.  Maybe I was off base on the
demon part.

“Not
really”, I muttered, thinking ahead to the food I was getting.

“Why
were you looking for me?”

“Well,
I am something of an occult researcher and...” I was about to give her the
entire spiel when she interrupted.

“You
cannot have the sword,” she stated flatly.  I think I still had my mouth open
at this time.

“Um. 
Okay, no sword.  Got it,” I answered, somewhat confused.  “Anyway, I heard you
were out to kill an evil wizard and I thought that, hey evil wizards have
occult books and second, dead evil wizards don't need their occult books
anymore.”

“So
you don't want my sword?” she asked, looking somewhat doubtful.

“No,
thanks, I already have a sword,” I haltingly said.  Perhaps she was mentally
slow.  A pity, she seemed nice when she wasn’t scaring the shit out of the
werewolves.  “I need books, not swords.”  I saw that she was about to protest
and continued.  “Not that your sword isn't nice.” I waved my hands at her
placating.  “It seems to be an artifact level rune sword and considering it's
in this dimension, that dates it way back at least 6,000 years ago by either a
rogue dwarf or a smith based god.” I paused in thought. “It could be more
recent if it came outside this dimension, but it's hard to tell since I only
saw it for a second.”

This
seemed to quiet her down for a moment.  “You seem fairly knowledgeable about
magic.”  She grudgingly admitted.

“It's
what I do these days.”

“So
how would you go about summoning a demon,” she asked. 

I
could see where this was going but at least we were past the one syllable
answers.  Awesome!  I had guessed right about the stereotypical magical cheap
labor.  I have to admit they are superior to werewolf thugs on the minion power
scale.

“Well,
that depends on if I was a verbal type caster or a circle user,” I paused to
let her fill in the blank.  She just stared at me so I sighed and continued.  “If
he's a circle user you're screwed.  Ritualistic magic isn't as flashy or flexible
as verbal magic.  It can take hours or days to cast and the ingredients are
expensive and rare... however it's also great for slowly gathering and focusing
huge amounts of energy.  It's perfect for summoning demons from Hell and
there's no real limit on the time or place.  Although they will make energy
gathering better or worse.”

“And
if he's a verbal caster?” she asked dryly.

“Then
he's going to have to scrimp and save for every jot of energy he can get,” I
said with a grin.  “That kind of magic is great for waving a hand and tossing a
fireball or zapping someone with lightning, but people that do that usually
don't have the deep resources that circles naturally build up throughout the
procedure and store during the ritual.”

“So
if he's limited, how is it going to work?” she asked looking intently into my
eyes.  I seemed to have captured her attention for the moment.

“Well,
he's going to have to do this where the walls between the worlds are weakest
and at the highest magic flux.”

“Which
would be...”

“At
the crossing of ley lines during the solstice or equinox,” I said confidently. 
I thought of something.  “Does he sacrifice people for energy?  If he's a blood
mage of some type he may be able to gather energy at a weaker node.”

“Node?”
she asked in a confused tone.

“When
ley lines cross, energy pools in the flows and you get nodes.  Various cultures
also call them other things but let’s just call them nodes.  The more lines
that cross, the more energy and the weaker the fabric of space.”

“Are
there any in the city?”

“A
few.  The biggest is in Minerva Memorial Public Park.  I doubt he'll be able to
use that one unless he can find a way to get a few days alone.”

“Any
others?”

“A
lot of smaller ones but he'd have to be pretty powerful to make use of them.”

“He
is pretty powerful,” she said quietly, almost talking to herself.

“If
you can give me an idea of his powers I probably can be more specific,” I
offered.

After
almost a minute of silence, during which the desserts arrived and I started
shoveling the food in my mouth, she began.  “He appears to be a caster.  I
never saw him use a circle or found one in his manor houses once he abandons
them.  He does do that flashy magic you mentioned.  Fire, lightning... wind.” 
Her voice became more contemplative. “I usually fight his minions, he has his
reasons for not confronting me.  Although lately it seems easier to track him. 
I have heard that he is a shapeshifter, but he doesn’t seem to be limited to
one animal form nor have I actually seen this.  He also usually stays in his
human form.  All I have is hearsay on that.”  That last part was disturbing. 
It automatically opened up the possibility that he wasn’t human and one of a
slew of greater supernatural beings.

“Okay. 
Start with his minions.  He blows them up so he must have some tricks.”  I was
personally wondering how you would blow a person up without a death circle.

“His
followers are all devoted to him, sometimes mindlessly so.  I have seen them
throw themselves into suicidal situations without a thought.  The exploding
upon death or capture is new.”  Now that she was talking, she seemed almost
happy to unburden herself.  “Most are shifters of some type and many have
supernatural powers.  He seems to have more werewolves than other kinds.”

“Powers? 
Like?” I prompted her.

“It's
odd,” she stated, almost unsure of herself.  “They seem unrelated.  Some are
unstoppable juggernauts, others are masters of elements, while others turn
invisible or hurl bolts of force.”

My
brow furrowed as I thought of what would bring such a wide range of
supernaturals under the power of one wizard.  “That’s quit an eclectic group
you have there.”

“Yes.”

“Given
that they can do all of that,” I paused thinking it through.  “Why did the shifters
we met in your suite have nothing?”  A couple of lightning bolts would have
made things more interesting.

“Jin
just recent arrived in the city.  I don’t know how he acquires new followers,
but they all start off as normal shifters.  I would bet that in a few weeks the
‘elite’ start showing up.”

That
didn’t sound familiar.  “Do these people have anything else in common?”

“They
have strange designs inscribed on their bodies.  These are the ones that can
use powers that they didn’t previously have.”

Well
damn.  That didn’t narrow it down too much.  Many demons and dragons can shape
shift.  My breed for one are exceptional shape shifters, which is why being
trapped in human form was very stressful for me, but any except the very
primitive breeds could do it.  Demons usually only have a handful of shapes
except the Rakshasa.  Those were accomplished shape shifters and very master-plan
oriented.  However as a demon they wouldn’t have much trouble summoning more. 
We would likely be up to our necks in minor demons if it was one of them.  The
good thing is they wouldn’t bring over greater demons for fear of being
overthrown.  It probably wasn’t a demon just based on that factor.  Unless it
was going to summon its master.  That would be a worst case scenario.

Assuming
he isn't a random supernatural entity such as a demigod, it was very possible
he was a dragon.  I would normally sense another of my kind, but that can
easily be shielded against.  I know I personally do so on an almost unconscious
level.  Rune magic is pretty much forbidden, there's no mystical commandment against
it, but people that pursue it tend to disappear.  However, there are other methods
of impressing permanent or temporary abilities onto subjects.  These range from
inking magical sigils onto a person's skin to alchemical potions that grant
temporary power or pacts with demons or elementals. 

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