Unlawful Passage, The Rise of Magic, Book 5
By CM Raymond, LE Barbant, and Michael Anderle
Chapter One (Continued)
Hannah picked up the pace as the rhythm of her heart followed suit. She knew it was risky, but no way in hell was she going to ignore a cry for help. It wasn’t in her nature.
Reaching the end of the corridor, dwarfed by the ruins rising above her, she cut to the right, down a side street. As she turned the corner, she found a group of four men, taller than the tallest Arcadian, circled around a cloaked figured trembling on the ground.
Memories rushed back — of the Hunters who had nearly taken her life on the day she first felt her magic. Once again, her power boiled with her rage beneath her skin.
“Get away from the kid!” she screamed in their direction.
They turned, eyes wide, as they looked with curiosity at the strange girl standing before them. A smile cracked the lead man’s face when he realized they would have a grown woman to play with along with the child at their feet. But his smile melted as his eyes found Sal standing behind her.
“The hell is that?” he grunted, pointing a makeshift club at the dragon.
Hannah tilted her head and smiled. “Every girl needs a pet. Mine would just rather rip your balls off than shake hands.” Hannah glanced back at Sal, who was crouched ready for attack. The normally calm animal was a ball of rage.
She held up her palm in his direction but spoke to the goons. “I’ll give you one chance to get the hell out of here and never come back.”
The men laughed. Another with a bald head covered in body art grinned. “Honey, I ain’t afraid of no lizard. I’ve got balls of steel and a dick made of iron.” He stepped forward away from the others. Reaching down, he grabbed his crotch and gyrated his hips. “Maybe you’d like to shake hands?”
Hannah arced her arms across her chest, pulling two perfectly round fireballs into existence. “Sorry, doucher. I’m saving myself for a human.”
His mouth dropped open as she launched the fireballs, which landed square on his chest, knocking the man back into a sizzling pile of flesh.
A grin formed on Hannah’s face. “Who’s next?”
Without warning, the other three charged. Hannah cut to her right, toward the largest of the three. She dropped as he approached. Pulling her silver dagger from her belt, she rolled under his attack, slicing his hamstring on her way. The man screamed in rage and pain as he dropped to the ground. Spinning back toward him, she pulled the dagger across his throat, cutting his cries of agony short.
She looked up, just in time to see Sal pivot, knocking one of the remaining men with his spiked tail into the ruins with a crash just before he leapt onto the other, ripping at exposed flesh with his dagger-sharp teeth.
Getting up from the rubble, the other man shook off the dust and gritted his teeth. “Who the hell are you? Where are you from?”
“It’s Hannah, from Arcadia.”
“Arcadia? Never heard of it,” the man grimaced as he pulled a weapon from his hip. “You’re gonna wish you stayed there, bitch.”
Hannah held her knife out toward him. “Where I’m from, that’s no way to talk to a girl. Unless, of course, she’s the Queen Bitch.”
He held his weapon, which looked like a simple billy club, in front of him. With a grin, he pulled out a long double-edged blade. It was a handsome weapon, but there was no time for admiration. The man sprinted with a scream, swinging the sword as he approached.
Hannah held her ground.
The man swung the blade at her head, but just when it should have met its target, the weapon sliced through thin air.
He staggered forward, unable to understand the illusion her mental magic played on him.
“Never call a magician a bitch,” Hannah said as she reappeared behind him.
She drew the power of present anger and past rage through her body and allowed it to exit through her open palms.
The man didn’t have a chance to turn and face the one who ended his miserable life.
“Ho-lee-shite,” a small voice said from behind her.
She spun, ready for attack, but dropped her hands to her side as she looked into the big, blue eyes of the boy.
Parker leaned against the railing on the bow of the ship laughing as he watched Hannah and Sal sail past in a blur. “She’s going to kill her-damned-self one of these days,” he said, shaking his head as he watched his friend and her dragon get smaller and smaller until they blended into the ground beneath.
Sipping his tea, Hadley laughed. “What she’s been through? I imagine it’s going to take something stronger than a fall from a thousand feet to finish her off.”
The men grew quiet for a moment as they watched the landscape float lazily by. Parker had lost count of the days, and even weeks they had been airborne on Adrien’s flying machine — the ship that now belonged to him and his friends — but he knew it had been too long. Quarters were getting tight, and he and the rest of the crew were getting anxious to walk on solid ground. Everyone except Hadley, that is.
Parker tilted his head toward his friend. “You really don’t mind it up here, do you?”
“Mind? After all those weeks in the lowlands and cooped up in Arcadia and then that tower, I’m happy to have open air around me.” Hadley grinned, his eyes surveying billowing clouds on the horizon and the mountains rising up toward their ship. “Figure this is the closest thing I’m going to get to the Heights for some time.”
“Maybe ever,” Parker said, raising a brow.
“Like hell. I’ll get home eventually. It’s been good to be out of the mountains, stretch my legs a bit — meet some peculiar folk — but like any mystic on pilgrimage, the temple is where we belong.”
Parker let the quiet take over again. His friend had a point. When they weren’t below, everyone running into each other, things could be quite peaceful on the deck. The winter of the revolution was slipping into spring, and the world was coming alive once again. And he had a thousand-foot view of it all. Still, after all the running around it took to take down Adrien, the peace was downright boring.
He glanced back, looking down the length of the ship and off its stern. Arcadia was hundreds of miles behind him, and the revolution seemed like a lifetime ago. But the Founder had a new quest for them, and Hannah was committed to seeing it finished. Which meant Parker was committed as well.
Turning his head back over the bow’s railing, he asked, “You think the old man is insane?”
“Ezekiel?” Hadley cocked his head like a dog in thought. “Sure. I mean most of the masters are. All that power coursing through them, it’s a wonder they can stand upright. Wouldn’t say it to her face, but Julianne got a crack or two with the crazy stick as well. Probably why it was her that was chosen to lead the mystics instead of me.”
“I’m sure talent — or in your case, lack thereof — had nothing to do with it.”
Hadley faced Parker as his eyes flashed white. The edges of his mouth turned up. “It’s OK, mate. You don’t need to be intimidated by me. Not everyone can have a mind like mine… But still, there’s no need for low blows.”
Parker laughed. “Get the hell out of my head, you freak.”
“Better yours than Hannah’s. All she thinks about is sex and justice.”
“Yeah, well, she — wait,” Parker said, suddenly standing straight up. “What’s that about sex?”
“Nevermind…” Hadley let the word trail behind him as he turned and left Parker alone on the bow of the ship.
He knew the mystic was screwing with him, at least he assumed so. From what he could tell, Hadley had little chance of getting into her head. Hannah grew stronger every day, and with each sunrise, his childhood friend was more and more capable of directing the tremendous power that flowed through her own blood — giving her greater and greater defense against the mystic’s tinkering.
But Parker still wondered if his handsome friend shared his desires for the young magician — m and to what extent Hannah reciprocated them. Most of Hadley’s comments seemed in jest, but he knew none should underestimate the mind games of a mystic — friend or not.
Eyes darting, he scanned the sky looking for Hannah and Sal to return.
“Stay out of trouble, Hannah,” he whispered into the wind.
The kid reached down and grabbed a rock, which barely fit in his palm.
Hannah raised her hands in response. “Easy, there, tiger. I just saved your ass. Seems a rock to the face isn’t any way to say thank you.” She smiled as Sal ambled up next to her, crouched at her side, and leaned his head against her leg. “What’s your name?”
The boy’s eyes cut to the dragon; he stared without blinking. “Seriously, what is that?”
Sal pawed at the ground, waiting for his master to respond. As far as Hannah could tell, the dragon understood the human tongue. If nothing else, he always responded appropriately.
Reaching down to scratch his chin, she said, “Not a that. Sal’s a he. Well, usually he acts like one. His name is Sal, and he’s my dragon.”
Sal looked up, tilted his head, and whipped his forked tongue out of his mouth and back in.
Hannah giggled. “And… I guess I better say that I’m his human, before I piss him off.” Hannah lowered her voice. “For seeming so badass, I think he has a bit of a self-esteem issue.”
The boy finally cracked a smile. “So, he’s safe then?”
“No way. Not safe in the least. But he’s mine, and… I’m his. So, as long as you drop that rock and behave yourself, he’ll be safe enough for you.” She watched the rock leave the kid’s hand and rattle to the ground. “Now, back to my question. You got a name?”
“Hasan,” he said with some hesitation. The boy glanced over his shoulder at the closest alleyway, which was littered by the rubble from the crumbling buildings that rose around it. He looked back at the dragon and then back to Hannah. “It means handsome, at least that’s what my ma tells me.”
Hannah’s face warmed, thinking of her own mother. She would have told Hannah and Will anything to make them feel prouder than they had the day before, so she could understand the boy’s blush. “Well, your mother is a keen woman. I’m sure you’ll be a lady killer somebody soon.” She winked as he grew a darker shade of red. Hannah motioned around her. “What is this place, Hasan?”
“This place? What do you mean?”
“You know, where the hell are we?”
His brow furrowed, and his nose scrunched as he tried to make sense of the question. “It’s where you are. How do you not know where it is?”
Hannah realized the boy’s world, like so many in Irth, was minute. She assumed he lacked the imagination able to conceive of places days away — let alone weeks. Before meeting Ezekiel, she wasn’t so different than him.
She pointed into the sky at the airship hovering overhead. From the distance, it looked like little more than a dot floating in place. “That’s my airship.”
“Dragons and airships… Kasar, what’s next?”
Hannah assumed that the foreign word was akin to the rearick’s ‘scheisse’, and she was correct. “There are many and stranger things out there, man. But, for now, that ship has brought me from a city a long way from here called Arcadia. This place, your place, is a land that I know nothing about.”
The boy snorted. “Not my place.” He nodded toward the bodies of the men Hannah had ended. “Guess it’s theirs more than anyone’s. I just come to scavenge. We, my ma and me, live beyond the ruins. But this place is Constantine’s.” He said it like she should know who Constantine was.
She didn’t. “Who’s Constantine?”
The boy giggled again, enjoying the ignorance shared between them. “Hell if I know, lady. I’m not even sure if there is a Constantine. It’s just what everybody calls this place. If there is a guy, I never met him.” Hasan pushed his sleeve across his forehead, wiping away a mix of sweat and dirt. He looked up and gauged the position of the sun. “I need to get going. My ma is going to freak if I don’t get back soon. She’s nervous, lost a lot.”
Hannah nodded and extended her hand. The boy took it and feigned a man’s grip. “My name’s Hannah. It is a pleasure to meet you, Hasan. Doubt our paths will cross again, but if they do…”
“I’ll be sure to save your ass next time,” he said with a smile. “And — thanks, Hannah.” He looked down at the dragon by her side. “You, too, Sal.”
The kid turned and ran for the alley closest to them, leaping over rocks and scurrying out of sight.
Hannah patted Sal on the side as she surveyed the bodies in the street. “Nice work, you lazy bag of scales.”
After collecting their weapons, she swung a leg over Sal’s spiked back and gave him a kick. He responded, wings flapping with intention as he pulled them toward the floating airship.
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