Authors: Rob Cornell
Unturned – Book One
This one’s for Karen Sprague (a.k.a. Bonus Mom). A lifelong mystery finally solved. A new relationship finally formed. I’m so glad we finally met.
I chased the vampire all the way from MacArthur Bridge to the William Scott Fountain on Belle Isle and my lungs burned. I’m okay with a foot chase as long as it doesn’t go on too long. I’m more of a sprinter.
The vamp had already taken three hits from my fire bolts, but he kept running. His name was Darius Strong, and he lived up to his last name just fine. His leather coat was half melted to his flesh, and I had singed off most of his hair so that he kind of looked like Darth Vader without his helmet.
Yet the bastard kept running, and he was fast.
Blue and red lights illuminated the white stone lions perched on the fountain, the colors in observance of Independence Day. The vamp headed straight for it. I had no idea where he thought he was going. Maybe he planned on jumping into the fountain to put out my flames.
I drew on the heat in the damp Michigan air with a simple act of will. My right hand grew warm and then burst into flame. I focused my magical energy into the flame then threw it.
A good fifty yards stood between myself and Darius, but I managed to hit him square in the back.
The force of the bolt sent him flying off of his feet. He soared like a flaming comet straight into the fountain’s basin with a wild splash. The water put the flames out immediately with a steamy hiss.
Darius flailed in the water and then came up and spun to face me.
His lips peeled back a good two inches from his gums, exposing two-inch fangs. His mortal glamour had fallen away after the first time I had burned him. He glared at me with his red eyes. The skin on his wrinkled, gray face looked like it might slough off in a strong breeze. Pus oozed from pockmarks in his cheeks.
I jogged to the edge of the bricked area surrounding the fountain, puffing and huffing like an old man. I really needed to work on my endurance. I have a six-pack and some nice looking bulges in all the right places, but absolutely zero stamina.
I don’t usually need it.
“All right,” I said. “Might as well take it like a vamp.” I raised my right hand and clenched my fist. Again, my hand ignited.
I started to push my will into the flames, preparing to toss the bolt at him, when he was hit with another kind of bolt all together.
I heard the zip of the shot an instant before I saw the arrow slam into the vamp’s chest, inches from his undead heart.
The vamp’s eyes went wild. He threw back his head, and the screech that came from his throat made my ear drums quiver.
I released the magical energy powering the flame around my hand and the flame went out. I glanced back to try to spot the source of the arrow. The midnight shadows made a lot of cover for anyone to hide in.
But I had a pretty damn good idea where that arrow had come from.
“Oh, hell no,” I said and shifted my focus from the balmy heat in the air to the nature of the air itself. These kinds of shifts came easy to me. Not all sorcerers could manipulate the elements as easily. I was that good.
I turned the air around the vamp into a solid wall, forming a protective dome around him like a tipped over glass bowl.
I no sooner worked the spell than another arrow whizzed through the air. It shattered against my invisible shield.
The vamp flinched, then growled. It’s gaze fell on me. He looked like he wanted to chew through my guts and play jump rope with my entrails.
“Hey, that wasn’t me,” I said.
The vamp moved toward me and slammed up against the inside of my dome. It would have been funny the way his face collided with the hardened air if not for that damn screech he emitted again.
Another arrow cut the air about four inches from my head. That shot didn’t go anywhere near the vampire. It was a warning shot, meant for me.
If I was right about the shooter’s identity, then I didn’t need to worry about taking a arrow through the throat. She wouldn’t—couldn’t—shoot me without serious repercussions.
Another arrow hit my shield around the vampire and snapped to pieces on impact.
I scanned the darkness in the general direction from where the arrows were coming from.
“Anda,” I shouted. “Come out.”
Silence answered. The humidity had made my cotton t-shirt stick to my chest. Sweat greased my neck and arms. I wanted a shower. I wanted a cold beer. I wanted a good Lawrence Block novel.
Most of all, I wanted to burn this vampire and collect my damn bounty.
Bounties paid for beer and paperbacks better than any other kind of money I’d earned in my thirty-two years.
“Come on,” I said. “I know it’s you, and you might as well come out because you aren’t getting this one. He’s mine.”
One of a hundred shadows moved. Out of the darkness, Anda emerged. She had a dark red smirk on her pale, angular face. She wore a pleated skirt with red and black stripped tights and a leather bomber jacket a couple sizes too big for her petite frame. Her dark eyebrows were drawn together above her exotic black eyes.
She held a crossbow down at her side as casual as a handbag.
“You son of a bitch,” she said. “I’ve been tracking him for three days.”
I snorted, shook my head. “I just got the ticket last night. What took you so long?”
“Some of us have to actually use our brains instead of just conjuring up solutions.”
“You know a large part of being a sorcerer has to do with mental strength.”
She laughed. “So you aren’t a very good example of your species.”
Species? Cute. Sorcerers were born—typically—but we weren’t any different than a regular mortal, in any other way. It was more like a genetic difference than anything. Like blue eyes instead of brown.
“You might as well scoot,” I said. “I’ve got this.”
Her jaw bulged as she clenched her teeth. I could see the fire burning in her eyes almost as clear as the actual red glow in the vamp’s.
She shook her head. “I need this one, Light.”
“What? You expect me to just give him over to you?”
She puffed through her nose, nostrils flaring. “Seriously, what is your problem? You hog every bounty in Detroit. You can wipe these freaks out barely breaking a sweat.”
“Au contraire.” I pulled at the collar of my sweat-soaked shirt. “I’m sweating plenty.”
“Sebastian.” She took a couple steps toward me. Her thick soled boots clocked on the bricks. “A girl needs to eat. When have you ever wanted for something?”
“Don’t give me that. You eat just fine. And you don’t seem to have any trouble shopping at Hot Topic.”
“My clothes come second-hand, you prick. Thrift shop stuff.”
“But that’s in now, right?”
I had to admit, I was giving her a harder time than necessary. I had no idea what her actual financial situation was like. But frankly, I didn’t care. She had no right to expect me to hand over bounties for the sake of her grocery bill.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’ll dust this vamp, then buy dinner.”
She curled her lip. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in public with you.”
“That’s sweet. Way to appeal to my softer side.”
She raised her cross bow and aimed it at me. “Enough shit, Light. Back off or I’ll start with you before I get to this guy.” She nodded at Darius, still snarling and splashing in the fountain, hemmed in by my shield.
“You can’t shoot me.”
“I can shoot you just fine,” she said. “I’ll have to deal with the fallout. But, really, I think I’ll get thanked before anyone bothers punishing me.”
I rolled my eyes. “Even if you pulled the trigger, you know damn well the arrow would never reach me. I’d either turn it to ash halfway here, or spin it around and have it land right in your smart ass.”
She lowered the crossbow and spat on the ground between us.
“Someday,” she said. “You’re going to get in shit so deep, your fancy magic tricks won’t be able to get you out.”
“You think so? You’ve never even seen the good stuff.”
She spun around, her little skirt flaring away from her thin hips, and marched back out into the darkness.
The shadows slipped around her as if welcoming her presence. She disappeared from sight, becoming one with the night.
I turned my attention back to my fangy captive. “Hi there,” I said and smirked. “You ready to get this over with?”
He snarled and punched at my shield. Sounded like he broke some fingers in the process.
“Do you have any last words for the Ministry before you become dust?” I asked, as was required for every demon slay under the laws. You actually had to treat these creatures like regular people. Which I never understood, but whatever. I just collected the checks.
“Tell the Ministry it has reached the end of its days.”
“Seriously? What a cliché.”
“The time is coming.” He pointed at me with one of his long, yellow nails. “Your time is coming.”
“Yeah, right.” I raised my hand, fingers splayed as if reaching for something. Then I quickly made a fist, using my will to draw the hardened air around the vampire in with immediate force.
The vampire imploded with a crunch of bones and squish of pulverized organs.
His remains left a tremendous mess in the Scott fountain. No big deal. The nature of such creatures took its course. The blood, bone, and sinew disintegrated to dust and ash, which slowly dissipated in the fountain water, leaving little more than a murky cloud.
“Shit,” I said, realizing my mistake. I needed to collect that dust for this contract.
With a sigh, I moved to the fountain’s edge and began working my magic to draw the dust out of the water and into the leather pouch I had brought with me.
It’s good to be a sorcerer.
Sly’s Smoke Shop is a head shop on John R Road in Hazel Park. But it’s more than that, and it was my destination on that humid morning following my run in with Anda and her crossbow.
Sly is an old friend, and when the bell dinged announcing my entrance, he looked up and smiled big, showing off his tobacco-yellowed teeth. “Brother Sebastian,” he said. He calls everyone brother or sister as if he were a member of some old school religious sect. He kept his gray hair in a tiny ponytail at the nape of his neck and had a diamond stud in one ear. Today he wore stonewash jeans pegged at the cuffs and a pair of Nike Air from over three decades ago, yet they were shiny white as if he’d pulled them off the shelf that morning.
In other words, he looked like he made frequent shopping trips to the 80s.
He came out from behind the glass counter that held all manner of “tobacco” smoking products. Lots of fancy glass bongs and some hash pipes. A shelf behind the counter held a multicolor plethora of rolling papers. Why anybody needed so many different kinds of paper to roll a joint was beyond me. I didn’t get into drugs. Unlike with druids, they blunted my magic.
I had only made it three steps into the shop when Sly reached me and wrapped his arms around me and gave a big squeeze.
I would have hugged him back if he hadn’t had my arms pinned to my sides. He smelled like mint and marijuana, pretty much his regular odor.
He waggled his eyebrows when he pulled back from his embrace. “Have you got the stuff?”
“Got it last night. Is your part ready?”
“Ready and waiting in the lab.” He turned around and called out, “Green!” A big boned kid in his early twenties shambled out of the backroom, eyes bloodshot, mouth hanging open as if his chin was too heavy. He covered most of his bulk with an over-sized Red Wings jersey.
“Mind the store will ya?”
Green shrugged. “Yep.” He trudged over to the stool behind the cash register and took a seat. The wooden stool groaned under his weight.
I raised an eyebrow at Sly. “New guy?”
Sly rolled his eyes. “Nephew. Trying to do my sis a favor. He’s a pot head that barely made it out of high school with a pair of brain cells. Sis says, what better future for him than working at a head shop?”