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SHADOWS OF FALLING NIGHT

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>


 

CHAPTER SIX: Santa Fe, New Mexico

 

"Weasel! I'm a weaaaasel!" the boy shouted as he dove over the chamiso bush in an explosion of powdery snow.

"Woof! Woof! I'm a wolfie and I'll eat you up!" his sister caroled as she raced after him, eight-year-old arms pumping.

"Come back here, you little par de esquintles!" Eusebia Cortines yelled.

Eric Salvador listened and grinned, cradling the shotgun in his arms and keeping his eyes moving over the field of view. You couldn't keep kids in all the time, and this pair were more active than most.

He was a stocky, muscular thirty-one years old, and his upper lip was very slightly lighter than the weathered dark-olive of the rest of his face, where a mustache had been until recently. A scar ran down from his cheek to the corner of his mouth, giving it a bit of a quirk. Black hair was cropped close to the sides and top of his head, showing with the hood of his jacket thrown back.

He looked like an ex-Marine NCO from here in northern New Mexico. One who'd pulled a tour in the sandpit, Iraq, and one and a quarter on the rockpile—which was what you called Afghanistan, if you were in the Suck and hence among the connoisseurs of bad neighborhoods. And then spent years being a cop, after he healed up from the IED.

All that was exactly what he was. The indios among his ancestors had been around here since the last glacial period; the rest was seventeenth-century Spanish and a little Irish several generations back. He'd started to grow love-handles while he was a homicide roach and especially after the divorce—irregular hours and junk food—but they were gone again now.

Because now I'm a Brotherhood soldier, I suppose, sorta-kinda and without most of the regular training yet. Mierda, back in the Suck only with less air support. Hell, I'm the mouj now, running scared because the other side has all the cool toys. Like, they can make your blood boil... literally.

Eusebia—Cheba to her friends—managed to grab Leila and Leon Brézé before they vanished into the darkening juniper and pinion-clad hillside, and escorted them back with a hand under each arm.

"It is late," she said firmly; she believed children should obey adult caretakers promptly, and didn't give a damn who their parents were. "It is nearly time for dinner."

The word dinner got the twins' attention; they were both chowhounds and loved Mexican. Their near-identical triangular faces turned up towards her under mops of raven hair.

"Did you cook dinner, Cheba?" the boy asked.

"Yes, I did, mi rey."

"OK, we're ready!" his sister said.

"Show me your hands, mi reyna. I thought so. Go and wash," she said, giving them a little shove towards the front doors.

Her English was much more fluent now, but still a little slow, and had been developing a tendency to a bookish, Worf-like lack of contractions. Eric gave the surroundings a long last look. The house that Adrian Brézé had built northeast of Santa Fe was long and low, built of fieldstone covered with stucco for the most part. The surroundings turned imperceptibly from a xeroscape garden of native plants into shaggy, rocky hills. The sky was turning dark purple to the east, with the first stars just starting to glitter in the high-desert air. The west was still an implausible striation of clouds turning to cream and hot gold and molten copper, fading to teal green and blue above; the snow on the peaks of the Sangre de Christo mountains westward was blush-pink for a moment.

He'd grown up around here, albeit in far more modest circumstances, and he'd never tired of looking at it. Why leave the best part of it all for the tourists? Outsiders thought the paintings of Santa Fe sunsets were garish kitsch; you had to live here a while to realize that no paint palette could rival the real thing, or the clarity of the air. You had to go away and come back to really appreciate it if you'd been born here.

They went through the big copper-plated doors; the copper had silver sheathing within and the walls had silver thread. The central block of the house was open-plan with eighteen-foot ceilings of exposed viga beams; the southeast-facing wall was mostly tall windows, a narrow tile-paved terrace and planters outside it dropping off several thousand feet in a jagged steepness of cliff and arroyo. The view was spectacular, and there was nothing human in it except the lights of a tiny hamlet twinkling in the middle distance and a freight-train drawing away. Off to the left was a large kitchen full of European equipment separated by a stone island from a dining area centered on a massive cast-glass table. It was a big house, not a mansion that couldn't function without a huge staff of servants, though it was also certainly not like anything he'd lived in before.

"ĦDios! ĦHuele 're sabroso, niña!" he said, sniffing with appreciation at the cooking odors. "God, that smells good!"

He cleared the chambers of the double-barrel as he did and hung it and the bandolier on a wall rack. It still seemed odd to carry a weapon so primitive, but even the five moving parts in this relic needed to be protected with glyphs if they were to function at all when an adept was around and trying to screw things up. They made his palms buzz a little. He'd always had a nose for danger, which was why he hadn't come back from the rockpile in a plastic bag—it had been close even so.

The Albermann test the Brotherhood used said that he was just barely capable of doing simple Wreaking, though it still seemed a lot like magic to him. The down-side of that capacity was that without training it made you even more vulnerable to Shadowspawn thinkery-fuckery than ordinary people. He was absorbing the techniques as fast as he could.

"ĦInglés!" Cheba said. "I need the practice. And this country is freezing. Freezing, dry, rocky. Why did anyone from Mexico ever come here?"

He carefully didn't say: You're beautiful when you're angry, though it was true. Though you spend a lot of time being angry. Understandable, I suppose.

She was a dime and some younger than him, with more indio and less Spanish, plus a dash of African, originally from a little corn-and-beans ejido called Coetzala in the hills of upcountry Veracruz, a place so backward every third inhabitant still spoke Nahuatl. She had a full-lipped heart-shaped face, curly black hair, skin the color of cinnamon and a figure closer to the hourglass type than was common where she came from. She had very little formal education, but he'd come to respect her almost fanatical pursuit of self-improvement and focus on the main chance.

Instead of the compliment that sprang to mind he answered the question:

"Why come here? Chasing rumors of gold. Back then a Spaniard would crawl naked over cactus for that. And later because this was where you sent relatives who embarrassed you, cousin Diego who couldn't keep it in his pants with the alcalde's daughter—"

She gave a snort of laughter as she wielded a spoon in a dish of something bubbling and brown.

"—the backside of nowhere with Apaches behind every rock, knives in their teeth. There was one caravan from Sonora or Chihuahua every year, sometimes every two years. My people here used to hunt buffalo with lances, and trade the hides to the wild Commanche for guns they got from the French, that was how poor they were."

He helped her set the table as he spoke. He was pretty sure she thought that was a bit odd; she'd probably have considered him something of a sissy if she hadn't seen him in action when they'd busted her out of Rancho Sangre and got Adrian's kids. That was the estate of the California branch of the Brézé family.

There was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait in the Suck, and you could spend only so much time pumping iron. He'd had a fair amount of time to read, and it gave him the vocabulary to describe that little bit of quiet, picturesque isn't-this-pretty New Urbanist hell on earth.

First it's like Norman Rockwell. Then you realize it's more like Stephen King.

"Then why did the gringos want this country?"

"Because it was between Texas and California and too big to jump over even with a running start."

She laughed again. He thought she also thought it a bit odd he hadn't hit on her to speak of. She'd ended up in Rancho Sangre as part of a job-lot of illegals Adrienne Brézé had bought from a coyote, a people-smuggler, quite literally as snacks for a party. Except that Shadowspawn liked to play with their food. He'd been a cop in the Southwest for years; he knew what was likely to happen to a girl in the pipeline for illegals, and then she'd caught Adrienne's eye as a blood-donor-cum-toy, which was worse because an adept could seriously fuck with your head. Though that was better than what had happened to her companions.

Eric was surprised she was as together as she was, and at how fast she'd bounced back; they made them tough down there.

"And the people are all soft, like mozitas," she grumbled as she set out bowls of a rich menudo.

"You were a little girl once," he pointed out.

"Not like that."

"Like Peter?" he said.

"No," Cheba said. "He's a man, that one, even if he looks like a girl. I got to know him at the hacienda."

Actually Peter Boase wasn't particularly girly-looking, just blond, fine-featured and small; he'd escaped and gone cold turkey from the feeding addiction, all alone in a little rundown motel room in southern Arizona. Cheba had done it with experienced Brotherhood medics to help, and it had still hurt like hell, like coming off mainlining black tar. She gave the tribute grudgingly, though.

"Let's eat, then," he said instead.

Dinner was menudo thick with the hominy used south of the border. The tortillas to sop up the rich broth and tripe with chiles and tomatoes were made fresh from the hominy as well. Café con leche warmed little bodies that had chilled in the suddenly falling night.

And when I said kids shouldn't have coffee, she just looked at me like I was crazy, told me that La Doña had had no objection and her people always had it before sleeping, for cena, mostly with sweet breads or cookies.

The children shoveled it all away with gusto and apparently with four hollow legs between them, though their table manners were excellent and they were slender-fit. Then they settled down to watch the third installment of the Hobbit trilogy on a 3D screen that scrolled down over the big picture window while doing some serious damage to bowls of mint chocolate ice cream from the Aztec Café downtown. Eric pulled two beers out of the refrigerator and started to chuckle.

"What?" Cheba said.

"This," he said, turning it so she could see the label. "It's called Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale."

When she looked puzzled, he translated it:

"Mas o menos, El Cabron mas Presumido."

He had to hunt for the equivalent of Bastard because the dialect of ladino Spanish he'd grown up with as his second language had a lot of English loanwords in it including that one as well as being archaic even by Mexican standards.

And bastard is too common a condition south of the border to be an insult the way it is in the north, and arrogant? They're all arrogant under the right circumstances.

"That is... what's the English word... " Cheba said, flashing a smile. "Like him? The right word, the...

"Appropriate?"

"Si, the a-prro-priate word for the man who owns this house."

"Adrian's not a bad guy."

"He has good manners and he is a man of honor. He has balls, too. He is also, yes, a stone arrogant bastard. Like a cat, you know? Or a Don in the old days."

"Yeah, but he's our stone arrogant bastard. He killed... well, he and Ellen killed... that Shadowspawn bitch who murdered my partner and his girlfriend. Right over there where the kids are now, after I pumped the whole magazine from a Glock into her and she laughed at me and told me I looked delicious. I owe him."

"Me also too. And I don't like owing things to people. I pay the debt as soon as I can, so I guard his children." She sipped, and looked around. "Good beer. And someday I will have a house like this."

He'd grown up on Bud from cans, and at first this stuff hadn't tasted like beer at all. It was caramel and coffee and chocolate and a smooth richness with a kick like a ball-peen hammer upside the head, and he'd come to like it. He'd been a little surprised by Adrian Brézé's house and everything in it; it was simpler than he'd expected, certainly a lot plainer than the Casa Grande the bad branch of the Brézés had in that creepy place in California. Then he'd realized it was the simplicity of someone who did exactly what he wanted and didn't give a damn for either expense or what anyone else thought of his choices.

"I could get used to all this," he said. "It's not exactly what I'd have if I could have whatever I wanted, but it's fun. And honest."

"So, your family, what did they do? Mine were campesinos, farmers. From always, and then when my father died my mother and I sold baskets to tourists in Tlacotalpan."

He leaned back in the chair and looked out at the moon-washed mountainscape, tilting the beer back again. The conversation required a little backing and filling and dropping in and out of Spanish and English:

"My grandfathers both had little ranchos and a few sheep, sometimes my mother's father worked in the mines and my father's father on the railroads, and they were soldiers in the time of Vietnam. My grandmothers worked in the gardens and around the house, the chickens, that sort of thing."

Cheba nodded; it was all obviously fairly familiar to her, the outline if not the details.

"My father had a garage... fixed cars, did fancy work on them sometimes, restored old cars, classics, for rich people. Before then he was in the Suck, the Marine Corps, in the first war in Iraq. He died years ago, cancer, when I was still young."

"You were a soldier too, no? Before you were a policeman?"

"Soldier, hell. Marine! I enlisted out of High School and stayed in until I made sergeant and got a correspondence degree from UNM in Criminal Justice, then came back here. My sister is married to a dentist named Anderson—pretty decent guy but we don't have much in common."

"Because he is a gringo?"

"Nah, because he's a civilian who thinks the world is a nice place; sort of like a big Labrador retriever puppy with glasses, you don't get to think that way if you're in a war. Or working as a cop, sometimes that's harder 'cause you don't expect it to end. But he's good to Alvara and the kids and I get a cut on my dental work. The police work was why Julia... my wife... took off. Said she couldn't stand being married to my job."

"No children?" she said.

It was a bit of an interrogation, but he found he didn't mind. "Nah, Julia said she wanted to wait."

They sat in silence for a while the movie murmured from the arched entrance to the living room. Both of them watched the cold moonlight move on the slopes. He grinned, then laughed like a coyote, the furry kind.

"What is funny? I would like to hear something funny."

"New Mexico looks a lot like Afghanistan, the parts I was mostly in. Other sections are more like Arizona, but this is a dead ringer for some places along the Paki border. Dry, scrubby, rocky, cold in winter, like you said. Even the houses look a lot alike, at least like the old ones. Even the people, except for the clothes and stuff. More like me than you."

He blinked, blinked again, his hand tightening on the fading coolness of the beer bottle.

Helicopter blades beat through the night in his mind, thupthupthupthup.

Puffs of white dust over the ridge just before the Apaches topped it and banked against the full moon and slid down smooth and hard and low, their black skins tight as sharks with malign intent. Rockets trailing incandescent light and smoke like dirty cotton candy from the pods under their stub wings. Lines of fire snapping down and broken adobe flying back up in black gouts with red blinks in their centers.

Whatever-it-was creeping under his body armor stopped driving him crazy as everything turned to crystal ice and he pushed himself up a little on his elbows. He reached up with one hand and snapped down his PVS-9 and the world went from dark night to pale green overcast day with blooms of light where fire billowed as he snuggled the butt into his shoulder. Noise in the dry rustling corn across the irrigation ditch as the explosions died away, feet pounding the hard clay. Stalks waving like banners despite no wind. Baylor's voice rasping in his earbud from the other wing of the L-shaped ambush, that burring Louisiana coonass accent:

"Top, we got movement on your twelve! Mouj, mouj!"

Figures, glowing a little through the cornstalks as the thermal sensors in the goggles caught them against the colder background. Dozens, maybe thirty. Running fast away from the tunnels and spider holes in the village, no idea at all they'd been drone-tracked for days and were being herded into the killing ground, just trying to get out from the lash of the rockets and the chain-guns that swiveled under the gunships' bellies like the stingers of great malignant wasps sparkling the night with muzzle-flashes.

"Smoke 'em, bitches!" he snapped through the throat mike.

And brought the M-4 up and brought the laser on target and started to squeeze off crisp three-round bursts, the bullets were hitting the baggy tunics, dust flying up as the men danced like jointed puppets on strings and the shattered cornstalks fell on their bodies, choonk... choonk as one of his squad cut loose with his grenade launcher, the mouj screaming Allahu Akbar and spraying the night with AK rounds, or just screaming in fear and pain, everything would be darkness and chaos and strobing lights to them, green tracer going wild far overhead, swap out the magazine...

"Eric!"

Cheba was staring at him, concern on her face. He brought his mind and the expression on his face back from a place many years and thousands of miles away.

"Ah, sorry," he said, and went back to the kitchen; he washed out the bottles and set them to drain and got two more before he returned to the darkened table. "Thinking too hard."

"You liked Afghanistan, because it was like your home?"

"No, that made me hate it even more. And now I'm back home, and goddamn if I'm not feeling the same way I did when we were doing night patrol. Except there's beer."

He raised the bottle towards his lips, then set it down on the table, his eyes going wide.

Fuck me, he thought. It feels exactly like that. Like bugs are crawling over me.

Leon came through the arched opening from the living room, just after the sound of the screen rolling up.

"A bad man is coming," he said solemnly, eyes a little wide with controlled fright. "Leila says so too."

"Go!" Eric shouted at Cheba.

She came out of the chair as if she was on springs, snatched a machete with a silvered blade out of its sheath where it lay on the polished granite countertop between the kitchen and dining room, then dashed through grabbing Leon as she did. Eric passed her as if she were standing still, stopped by running into the wall, whipped the shotgun from the rack, broke it open and jammed in the shells.

"Down, down, down!" he shouted as he snapped the action back.

This house was built like a fort, except for the windows over a sheer cliff. There was a lever he could hit to drop grills over the windows, but he couldn't reach it without crossing the room. So—

Something flitted through the night, swelling towards him. Cheba dropped the machete, set her foot on it and went down with the children squealing beneath her. A rock the size of his head slammed into the glass of the great window at interstate speed and shattered it. Eric ducked his head for an instant to shield his eyes.

The forty-pound eagle came through just as fast in the wake of the stone it had released thousands of feet up, talons like four-inch curved daggers outstretched to grab his face and rip it off in passing. The moa-eater, the human-killing pouakai of Maori legend.

"Eat this, motherfucker!"

He let go with both barrels. A cloud of silvered double-ought buck exploded at the onrushing bird. It had started to twist violently even before his finger tightened on the trigger—fighting precognition just wasn't fair. It slammed into the arch over the dining room entrance, pinwheeled—

—Sparkled—

—and was a naked man, brown and muscular, blood streaming from his face and chest, leaping at him with a snarl—

And Cheba was between them, shrieking and swinging roundhouse at his throat with the machete—

—and the man went under the swipe of the blade with a smooth duck and hit her backhanded under the ribs with the edge of his palm. In the same instant he shouted something in a language that made the hairs on Eric's forearms crinkle and slammed his other hand forward in a crook-fingered gesture. The shotgun slipped out of Eric's hands and blood burst out of his nose and his eyes were like spikes of dry pain as the amulet around his neck turned hot—

—and Leon and Leila were standing between him and the man. They stood with their arms around each other's shoulders, the other hands pointing at the attacker, their faces stark and huge-eyed.

The man who'd been an eagle seemed to ram into an invisible wall in the air. Cheba came up again, bent over and gasping where she held her left hand to her side, but the blade wavering in her right as she wound up for a cut at the back of his leg. The Shadowspawn turned with another snarl and dove out through the broken window into the night and the long drop to the ground below. A whump came from the darkness, as if giant wings had struck the air.

"Go!" Eric wheezed again.

He ignored the shotgun; the action had broken open and the barrels were out of alignment with the breech, some freak crystallization of the metal making it snap. There were plenty of weapons where he was headed, anyway. Cheba hobbled quickly through the door into Adrian Brézé's bedroom. The door of what looked like a big walk-in closet hissed open, sliding sideways to reveal its thickness. They all tumbled in to a small square room that was utterly featureless except for its lining of brown-and-orange cocobolo wood.

"Down!" Eric snarled.

The elevator dropped, fast; it was a special type, one that didn't use cables. He didn't really need to say anything, the Wreakings and control circuits just sensed his intention and identified him as someone on the list of permitted guests, but it helped to focus. Something went thud up above, felt through the floor and Cheba looked up at him from her corner.

"Blocking doors across the shaft," he said. "Glyphs and silver and really thick steel and all that good... stuff."

He wiped at the blood on his mouth with the back of his hand, grimacing at the taste. The children were looking at him with sudden interest, then politely glanced away.

God, they can be creepy at times, he thought. They're not bad kids, but they're odd. Sometimes they're playing like my nieces and nephews, and sometimes they're not fucking human at all.

The elevator halted and the door slid silently open a thousand feet below the surface. Beyond was a corridor, with white walls that had a strip of Redondo tile along the bottom and above a high groin-arched ceiling carved from the native rock and smoothly plastered. The floor was pale marble, with a strip of sisal carpet down the center dyed in vivid geometric shapes. Indirect LED lighting gave it a pleasant brightness; the arrival of the elevator turned it on the system throughout the underground refuge.

He'd had the tour within; there were bedrooms, kitchens, library, armory and workshops, a video room the size of a small movie theater, data servers, supplies enough to keep you in pickled artichoke hearts and foie gras for years, and an industrial-strength fuel-cell power system fed by a trickle of natural gas from far below. There was even a swimming pool and a gym with sunlamps, everything but a monologing bad guy with a Nehru jacket and a cat. The place could shelter dozens and survive anything up to and including a low-end apocalypse or a near miss with a fusion bomb. You probably wouldn't even go crazy.

Not at first.

Eric helped Cheba hobble with him to the infirmary. As they treated each other's injuries and he checked that she didn't have a popped rib or internal hemorrhage she glanced up at him

"They cannot walk through the walls?"

"Nope. Too thick, they'd be like a man swimming underwater for too long. And it's low-grade silver ore all around us."

"Plata?" she said, and then bit her lip and gasped as he probed.

Just a bad bruise, he thought with relief. Must not have had the leverage to hit her really hard. You can lose a kidney from that one if it hits just right. Must hurt like a bitch, though. Still, she didn't lose dinner.

He went on aloud to distract her as he stripped the plastic off a hypo of local anaesthetic.

"Si, that's why Mr. Stone Arrogant Bastard bought this land. It would be like walking through boiling water to them. We're safe... until we try to get out."

The children ran off; they loved the place, the way they would a tree-house.

"Should we try and escape?" she said levelly.

There were also money, clothes, and documents including a wide assortment of passports, and hidden tunnels... and contingency plans for this.

"Oh, hell, yes. I'm not going to sit tight and wait for them to come to me. Adrian left a couple of alternate ways to get out of here if it got too hot."

 

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You... idiot. Adrienne's mental voice was like a lash of chilled steel, even with the low bandwidth imposed by long-distance telepathy. You... moron. Izidingidwane! Baka tare! Èrbǎiwǔ! I... am... surrounded... by... morons!

The exchange became wordless for a moment, like a chorus of shrill hissing snarls, before she changed the thought-stream to words again. Dale Shadowblade could feel the background around her, gilt and pale stone and minds like walking razors.

I... told... you... to... wait... and... watch... not... endanger... my... children, she thought.

Back... off, Dale replied. I... saw/felt/sensed... a... nexus... and... went... for... it... to... bust... them... out.

Of... course... but... my... children... are... so... high... on... the... Albermann... scale... even... still... latent... they... distort... the... world... lines! There... was... no... way... to... tell... if... it... was... black-path... for... us... or not! Their... future... a... thousand... years... from... now... could... be... bleeding... backward... to... assure... itself!

I'm... here... you... ain't... so... get... off... my... case... bossbitch.

There was a long pause. Then: Watch... and... keep... me... informed... we... don't... need... additional... random... factors... before... Tbilisi.

I... grovel... and... obey... so... fucking... much.

He opened his eyes and snarled as the pain hit. Three of the shot had struck despite his dodge, and while the actual damage didn't transfer across when you returned to the body, the hurting sure as shit did. Something deep down believed that it was your flesh arm and shoulder and face that had stopped the high-velocity metal. If they were silvered. Going impalpable was an elementary trick, you could just let ordinary lead pass through the aetheric form, but silver plowed right in. Hurt you the way ordinary stuff would your meat-body.

It was one reason silver jewelry was popular around here. They'd known about Big Owl and Rock Monster Eagle and that the skinwalkers were among them back before the white-eyes came with their versions. Sometimes he wished the Brézés and the Council hadn't taught his great-grandparents about genes and let their descendants become more than common-or-garden 'áńt'įįzhį, getting by on low-level curses and a little friendly incest and catching the occasional tourist out in the badlands and skinning them alive... but it was like anything else, you had to move with the times.

Kai was waiting when he sat upright. He lunged his mouth against her throat and fed, and the pain and weakness receded, beaten back by the wind within. The thin pale-skinned girl with the spiked black hair crawled away to the fire when he finished, whimpering, and brought him a bowl. He squatted by low coals and spooned up the deer-and-corn stew and ate chunks of the frybread while she drank Gatorade. He could do the fancy restaurant thing, but there were times you wanted to eat the way you were raised.

"Good," he said. "Keep your electrolytes up."

She grinned nervously at him as he tossed her the bowl.

"Eat. We'll be moving out unless the Mex decides to hide. And that's not how I read him. The bosslady is sending Dmitri to give me a hand."

He'd picked her up at a music festival years ago, and hadn't killed her because she had enough of the Power to be useful with a little training, but not enough to be a threat even if she weren't his whipped bitch. Hadn't killed her in the flesh; it was somewhere around forty times inside, soul-carrying. He'd also never met anyone who liked dying as much.

"We going somewhere, Dale?"

"Yeah. We're following bossbitch's brats and that roach her brother's got shepherding them."

Kai grimaced. "I don't like her. Why are you looking out for her kids?"

"Nobody likes her except her," Dale grinned; he was feeling better. "But she really loves her. We need her until Tbilisi goes down and then the plague. Your real beef is that she thinks you're low rent. She wouldn't drink your blood if you were both alone in the middle of the Sahara Desert."

"Yeah, Madame Brézé likes blonds with big ta-tas and elegant eurotrash guys with monogram cufflinks and they all gotta be intellectual giants... I mean, she's gonna fuck 'em and bleed 'em and then do them and they have to have degrees and talk about art?" Kai grumbled.

"Her lucies thought you should be scraped off a shoe too."

"I wouldn't touch her twat with a taser. Or theirs." Something flickered in her eyes and aura. "Maybe with some pliers, yeah, or a lit cigarette."

Dale laughed and rolled one, lighting it with a twig. Then he closed his eyes for a moment and slipped into a semi-trance, seeing the world without past or present, as a web of potential.

"Yup, I can see what she meant," he said dreamily, coming back to the moment. "Looks like we're going to be traveling if we can't clear this up here soon. There are gaps in the lines, too much Power sloshing around and something... something odd and spooky. But I see... Europe. It's coming together like rocks rolling downhill."

"Cool!" Kai said. "Like, Paris and shit?"

"Maybe we'll do some Eurotrash dudes and blonds ourselves."

"Damn, sounds like fun. Can I link while you bleed them and feed? Fuck, that's the best. Wish I could do it myself."

"Don't," he said, and took her jaw in his hand. "I'd have killed you by now if you could. And no soul-carrying either, you'd be dangerous inside my head that way."

Then he threw her down on the rocky ground beside the fire, looming over her like Death.

 

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