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Authors: Diana Pharaoh Francis

Tags: #Fantasy

Edge of Dreams (6 page)

BOOK: Edge of Dreams
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Leo does this thing when he’s mad where he sucks it all in and turns into something like volcanic ice. I could feel his rage vibrating off him in frigid waves.

“So how did she get knifed?” he asked in a calm, conversational voice. Anybody who knew anything about him would know he was about to come unglued.

“She ducked us and went to the Bottoms by herself,” Dalton said, and he looked like he’d eaten a porcupine. He probably didn’t like confessing that I’d given him the slip.

“Ah,” Leo said, nodding his head. “So what you’re saying is you’re not particularly competent at your job.”

Unexpectedly, I found myself wanting to defend Dalton. After all, I’m pretty damned good at my job, and mine included being sneaky. It was possible he wasn’t incompetent, but I was just that good. I didn’t say anything. The healing sensation was making my stomach churn dangerously. Keeping my mouth shut meant that Lauren stood a better chance of not wearing my last meal.

Dalton’s cheeks flushed brick red, and his mouth compressed into a white line. “It doesn’t help that your sister refuses to cooperate in her protection.”

I couldn’t let that one go. “Excuse me, but I don’t know who the hell you are or who hired you. As far as I know, you’re just trying to lull me into a situation where I calmly walk into your spider web, Mr. Black Widow. No fucking thanks.”

I sucked down some coffee to force my rising breakfast back down. Right about then, the heat of the heal-all intensified, and I started considering stripping naked to cool off. Suddenly it shut off, and the heat began to dissipate. I lifted my arm and rotated my shoulder a little. All that remained was a slight ache and tightness where the cut had been.

“Looks like I’m good to go,” I said. I started to slip the heal-all back over my head to give it back. It wasn’t used up yet.

“Keep it,” Dalton said. “Knowing you, you’ll need it.”

“Like you know the first thing about me,” I snapped back.

His nostrils flared, and his lip curled. “More than you know, Princess.”

Princess?
Princess
? What the hell was that supposed to mean?

Leo snorted. “Princess, my ass. Or no! I’d say you are Princess Pain In the Ass.” He grinned. “You need a crown, your highness.”

“You need a kick in the balls,” I returned, then looked at Dalton. “Call me ‘princess’ again and I’ll make you regret it.”

He didn’t look cowed in the least. That’s okay. He’d learn different when the time came. If I had to, I’d pay a tinker to make sure he couldn’t get a hard-on for a month. Maybe I’d have them turn his balls blue, too, just for fun.

Lauren had sat through all of this without saying a word. Now she cleared her throat, reminding all of us that we had work to do.

I sobered. Business. Lives were at stake.

I took one last sip of my coffee and nudged Leo to get up. “Let’s go.”

“Where?” Dalton asked.

“Let’s start at Vine and Reeder where Lauren last saw him. I’ll pick up Trevor’s trace there,” I said. “We’ll follow it in.”

He scowled. “We could easily be walking into trouble.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that these kids need help and we’re all they’ve got. But by all means, if you want to sit this one out, do.” I sounded nonchalant, but I have to admit, even not fully trusting him, in the tunnels I’d rather have him at my back than not.

Dalton said nothing, but stood and headed toward the door. Lauren followed, collecting her coat, hat, and gloves. Leo did the same. I ducked into the back to slide on my spare snow pants and grabbed my coat. I drew on gloves, a hat, and a scarf before returning to the others.

Outside, Dalton had a pair of charcoal-gray Hummers waiting. I was surprised. The dealership must’ve been out of black models on car-shopping day. Both were outfitted with studded off-road tires. He motioned for me to get into the first one with Leo and Lauren, while his four-member team climbed into the other.

I slid into the front seat. I didn’t buckle. I figured I’d rather be able to jump out if necessary. Dalton started the engine and touched his fingers to the dashboard. Instantly magic enclosed the vehicle.

“What was that?”

He looked at me. “What was what?”

I almost backpedaled. If he didn’t know I could sense magic, then maybe it should stay that way. Then again, he wasn’t stupid, and he’d figure it out soon anyhow. “The magic you just activated.”

He looked away, scowling. “Shielding. It’ll keep us safe from magic attacks and it also nulls us out.”

“Nice,” Leo said.

“Expensive,” I said.

“The trucks are reinforced against bullets and explosives,” he added. “You are safe inside.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. I could shred the magic shields if I wanted. At least I was pretty sure I could. After escaping a powerful null cage a month ago when I was exhausted, breathing tear gas, and bleeding, I felt pretty good about being able to take down the Hummer shields after having just benefited from a heal-all. If I could do it, chances are others could too, even if they had to work together to do it.

I opened myself to the trace of the shield. A shimmering sheath of pale blue encompassed the truck. It reminded me of light reflecting off a swimming pool. I couldn’t touch it without rolling down the window or putting my hand into the trace dimension. I wasn’t going to try either in front of an audience. Instead I let my eyes unfocus, trying to get a sense of the spell’s nature. It was binder magic, for sure. Not a surprise. Most shields were. Binder spells could deflect attacks, and occasionally absorb them. Not a lot of people could make magic-absorbing spells. I was the only one I knew who could, though I’d seen evidence of other magic workers who could do it. The few absorbing spells I’d seen were at Tyet fortresses.

Just looking at this spell, I couldn’t tell what it could do. I blinked and closed off from the trace. I settled into my seat and turned to look out the window. Snow lay thick over everything. Dirty mountains of it filled alleyways and formed ranges on sidewalks. On roofs, it lay in tall slabs, glittering like diamonds in the sunshine. Luckily, most people reinforced their roofs with magic, otherwise the buildings might have collapsed under the weight.

We drove through the center of Downtown. The high-rises loomed over us. The streets were pretty drivable down here. Money’s got to get made, after all. We crossed the river, where a long line of dump trucks dropped snow into the fast-running water. You’d think that someone would figure out a magical solution to clearing snow, but there wasn’t a good one. Melting it would only cause floods, and you couldn’t make it move itself.

Dalton turned off onto a side street. The Hummer’s engine roared as it bounced over ruts and trenches in the snow. I had a feeling we were going to have to start slogging on foot soon. Sure enough, he pulled over into an empty parking lot and shut the truck off and disabled the shields. He hopped out, and we all followed, as the other Hummer pulled in beside us.

I retreated to the back, where Dalton unloaded snowshoes and backpacks. He handed them out. I buckled the aluminum frames over my boots. Magic tingled in my fingers as I did. My guess was that the snowshoes would repel snow a bit, keeping them from getting weighed down, and also lend a little lift to my strides. I put on my backpack and fastened it around my waist. I didn’t bother to ask what was inside. I was pretty sure we had the basics—lights, food, water, rope, first aid, nulls, possibly weapons, and some sort of emergency beacon. The latter wouldn’t do much good in the mines if we got ourselves lost unless the searchers got close, but it was better than nothing.

Dalton passed out walking poles next. I extended mine and tightened the nut to keep the length where I wanted it. Leo had just finished getting ready and turned to help Lauren get her gear sorted out.

“Walking isn’t that tough in these,” he assured her. “Lift your foot and turn your toes out. Use your poles for balance. I’ll warn you, though, you’re going to feel it in your butt and hamstrings later.”

“I’ll be fine,” Lauren said, putting her hands through the pole straps. “Let’s get going.”

“The carabiners hanging on the front of your packs are shield nulls. Activate them now,” Dalton ordered.

We all grasped them in our hands and ordered the nulls to activate. A voice command or strong mental command was all it took. Then Dalton gave quick orders to his team, and the two women swung into place just ahead and two men flanked us. Dalton fell in to the left of me, and Lauren and Leo came behind. All five bodyguards carried automatic weapons dangling from shoulder slings.

The sun had turned orange in the western sky by the time we got to Vine and Reeder. We kept to a slower pace, as Lauren quickly wore out. Snowshoeing is hard work. Good for your ass, but hard work. I glanced back at her periodically to ask if she wanted to rest, but she remained dogged.

“I’ll be fine,” she said each time. “Don’t need to waste any more time.”

When we got to the convenience store on the corner where the missing kids liked to hang out, I didn’t bother going in. The snow gave the place an air of quaint cottagey beauty, but I knew that underneath the paint was peeling and the cement walls were eroding way, and the place was infested with rats and vermin. I’d been inside once years ago, and I refused to ever return. If I went in, I’d probably come out with a case of lice.

I searched for Trevor’s trace outside. I found it within a few minutes. As I expected, it headed east toward the escarpment. Then I quickly picked up trace from his companions. One was a plum-black, another gray with streaks of red, the next was faded brown, and the last was a rosy apricot. It was a relief to see that all the kids were alive.

I considered reaching into the trace dimension to touch their trace. That would tell me more about their states of mind and give a better sense of when exactly they’d passed by, but I wasn’t about to do it in front of witnesses. Not too many people knew I could do that, and I wasn’t ready to broadcast the secret.

The good news for us was that their trail didn’t meander around before it entered the tunnels.

The entrance they’d used was to an old mine shaft. It was a little over a mile from the store up Reeder Street, which dead-ended into the easement that ran along the length of the escarpment. Train tracks, sidewalks, and roads ribboned out in both directions. A few shacks and piles of snow-mantled slag filled in between.

They’d had to dig out the entrance to the old mine shaft. It was little more than a hobbit hole along the base of the escarpment. A square, rusted steel door covered the entrance. I didn’t sense any magic from it. By law, all mine entrances had to be magically and physically sealed. The teens had broken the chains that ran through steel loops fastened into the rock. My guess was that the magic lock had long since dissolved. That sort of thing happened a lot. A powerful magical vortex fed by multiple ley lines swirled deep under the mountains. It tended to eat away at other magics if they weren’t reinforced regularly. Most of the in-city mining claims had been abandoned because of increasing regulations, which meant the mine entrances were no longer tended. The city claimed not to have enough resources. Getting inside the mountain these days took almost no work at all.

Getting out, now that was a whole other story. Odds were in favor of you dying, either by running into Tyet operations, by starvation or thirst, or by Mother Nature giving you a stone spanking.

As Dalton pulled open the door with an ominous creak, I felt my insides tie into macramé knots. I swallowed. He bent and removed his snowshoes, setting them aside behind a pile of rocks and snow. He returned to the entrance and leaned down to look inside and then in a bonelessly graceful move for such a big man, he disappeared into the darkness. A moment later his hand appeared, his fingers curling to indicate it was safe to follow.

One of the women from the team removed her snow shoes and squatted down to crab-walk inside. Now there were two people guarding our entry. I should have been next, but I hung back. Lauren went instead. Leo frowned at me.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“No,” I said, mechanically unbuckling my own snowshoes and setting them with the others.

“Better to stay out if you’re going to become a liability inside.”

“Can
you
find the kids?” I retorted, my heart battering at the inside of my ribcage. I was starting to feel light-headed.

“About as well as you if you decide to faint,” he said.

“I’m not going to faint.”

“Mind telling that to the rest of you? You’re about as white as a ghost and you’re shaking like an aspen leaf.”

“I’m white? Me? A redhead? In the dead of winter? Well, hell. I suppose I’d better get to a tanning bed as fast as humanly possible.”

“Riley,” he said in that big-brother warning tone of his.

I rolled my eyes. “I’ll be fine.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “Then get going already.”

With a silent sigh, I forced myself to the entrance. As I crawled inside, I couldn’t help feeling like I was walking out in front of a firing squad. I told myself not to be an idiot. After all, not only was my stepmother expecting me for dinner a week from Saturday, but I had a date with Price. There’d be hell to pay if I let either of them down. Neither was going to accept dying as an excuse.

BOOK: Edge of Dreams
6.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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