The Impossible Wizard: Chapter 10

If you ended up here before reading the earlier chapters, you can return to Chapter 1 here

 

Conryu spotted Jonny trying in vain to keep Rin from tearing a chunk out of his funnel cake. The pair of them were standing beside a picnic table ten feet from the concession stands. They both had on jeans, though Jonny’s were torn and Rin’s a size too small.

Rin reached for another piece and Jonny tried to stop her without spilling a half-gallon soda. Conryu glanced at Maria and they both started laughing.

When he caught his breath Conryu said, “Do we know our friends or what?”

Maria managed to nod between giggles.

“Hey!” Jonny waved them over and in the process moved his snack out of Rin’s reach.

They all sat around the table. Conryu snatched a chunk of funnel cake and ate it before Jonny could complain. “What’s wrong, Jonny, didn’t they have full gallon cups?”

“Give me a break, I’m splurging. Saw you on the news last night. You really laid that dude out.”

Conryu shrugged. “He almost kept me from coming today. Mom was pretty freaked out. Detective Chang stopped by this morning, he pulled the case. Looks like I’m in the clear for now.”

“So what’s the plan?” Maria asked. “The usual? Too much food, ride the rides, waste some money on games, head home and sleep it off?”

“Works for me.” Jonny took a huge bite of cake and almost choked.

“They have a new ride this year,” Rin said. “It’s called the Haunted Cavern. Sort of a mixture of haunted house and roller coaster. Looks like fun.”

“It must be popular,” Jonny said when he’d caught his breath. “Damn thing takes up a quarter of the grounds. Bet it took a week to set up and they did it right in the center of the park.”

“That’s not far from here,” Maria said. “Let’s check it out.”

“I thought it was going to be food then rides,” Jonny said.

“You’re always hungry.” Conryu grinned. “A pound of funnel cake ought to hold you for one ride. It probably only takes five minutes.”

“You always take Maria’s side.”

“That’s because I’m always right.” Maria flipped her hair over her shoulder.

“She’s got you there, Jonny,” Rin said.

“Okay, okay, I know when I’m beat.” Jonny inhaled his food and stood up. “Let’s do this.”

The four of them walked toward the center of the carnival, Jonny and Rin in the front, Conryu and Maria bringing up the rear. The darkness increased with every step.

Conryu shivered. He knew he wasn’t imagining it, the grounds had never gotten this dark before.

Maria grabbed his hand and held it in a death grip. “Do you feel it? Something’s wrong.”

“You mean the chill? I think it’s just because so much sun is being blocked.”

“It’s not a physical chill. It feels like someone walked over my grave.”

“What does that mean?” Conryu’s gaze darted around, trying to spot whatever was making Maria nervous. In the shadow he couldn’t see more than fifteen feet in any direction. The only real light came from the flashing bulbs above a concession stand selling hotdogs and all they did was make the shadows dance.

They’d slowed to a crawl, letting Jonny and Rin pull well ahead.

Jonny glanced back. “What’s the matter, you two chickening out?”

“Come on, Maria. This ride looks really cool.” Rin waved at them to hurry up.

Maria huddled against Conryu’s chest, her whole body trembling. “We need to go, now.”

“Alright.” Conryu motioned Jonny and Rin to go on ahead. “Maria’s not feeling well. I think I’d better take her home.”

Rin rushed back. “What’s wrong? You haven’t eaten anything yet so it can’t be the food.”

A deep snarl filled the air and red spots of light appeared behind Jonny and Rin.

“It’s too late,” Maria murmured.

The shadows swirled around the crimson lights, getting darker and more solid by the second. Half a minute later two hounds as black as a moonless night stood in the middle of the carnival grounds, their eyes glowing like molten lava.

“Cool special effects,” Jonny said.

“They aren’t special effects.” Maria tugged Conryu back the way they’d come. “Those are shadow hounds. Run!”

Conryu and Maria ran back toward the gate, Rin and Jonny right on their tails. They dodged annoyed visitors when they could and shoved them aside when they couldn’t.

Shouts turned to screams when the shadow hounds let out a roar that was half bark and half snarl.

“They’ve fully entered our plane of existence,” Maria said.

“Plain English for those of us whose mother isn’t a wizard,” Conryu said between gasps.

He glanced over his shoulder. The hounds were pounding after them, ignoring all the other patrons. Rin had fallen three paces behind Jonny.

The hounds were only ten feet from her.

“Can I hurt them?” Conryu asked.

“No. They have no substance. They kill by draining the life from you. Only magic can destroy them.”

The hounds leapt over Rin and kept on coming.

Just as he feared. They were after him.

“Jonny, break right, circle around, and help Rin. Get her out of here.”

“What about those things?”

“They want me. I’ll draw them off. Help Rin and get out of here.”

“No way, bro. I’m not letting you face those things on your own.”

“I’m not going to face them, I’m going to run like hell for my bike. Now go.”

Jonny scowled, nodded and broke off. The hounds ignored him the same way they did Rin. If Conryu had had any doubts about his theory, that settled it. He turned to Maria.

“Don’t even say it.” She glared at him.

He grinned despite the danger. That was exactly the reaction he’d expected. “I was going to say, is there any way we can stop them?”

“Not without magic.”

Conryu snagged a ketchup bottle off the counter of a food stand, spun, and flung it at the hound behind them. It passed through the monster without slowing it.

Wait, weren’t there two hounds?

He turned back just as the second hound emerged from the shadow of a dart game and leapt at them.

Conryu tugged Maria aside. The hound missed them by inches. The chill of its passing froze Conryu to the bone.

He staggered as suddenly cold muscles started to cramp. “How much further?”

“I can see the fence. We’re almost there. What are those people doing?”

Conryu looked up. Hundreds of people were milling around in front of the fence.

“Shit!” Maria said.

“What?” Maria never swore. Whatever she saw must be bad.

“There’s a barrier. No way we can escape that way.”

They couldn’t lead the hounds to all those people. It would be a slaughter.

“What do we do?”

“I don’t know.” Maria sounded on the verge of tears.

Conryu knew. He just hoped Maria didn’t hate him, assuming he somehow survived.

He worked his hand free of her grip and lunged left between a pair of stalls. If he could draw the hounds away she’d have a chance of escaping.

“Conryu!” Maria screamed after him.

He ignored her pained shout. Conryu needed an open space, somewhere they couldn’t sneak up on him He had to keep the things busy long enough for everyone to escape.

Straight ahead was the petting zoo. The panicked animals had smashed the fence and fled, leaving a round opening. He doubted he’d find anything better.

A chill on his back was the only warning he got. Conryu leapt to the right, rolled, and sprang back to his feet.

The two shadow hounds stood facing him, wisps of darkness rising off them like steam, jagged black fangs filling their mouths.

They circled right and Conryu went left, trying to keep the monsters in front of him. He wished he knew more about them. Unlike Maria, this was all new to him.

The hounds rushed him.

One leapt high for his throat and the other lunged low for his legs. Conryu jumped and twisted, going over one and under the other. Passing so close between them left him shaking with cold.

All at once it grew brighter. The hounds whined and some of the warmth returned to Conryu’s shaking body.

The whines turned to snarls as the hounds gathered themselves to leap again.

Lances of white light shot out, piercing their sides and driving the monsters to the ground. More beams, these orange as flames, came from another direction, engulfing the hounds and burning them to nothing.

“Conryu!” Mrs. Kane waved at him, her hands still crackling with white light.

Conryu slumped to his knees. It was over, for now anyway. He’d survived, though he doubted his mother would ever let him out of the apartment again.

* * *

Maria hit him with a flying tackle, wrapping her arms around his neck and crying at the same time. “You scared me to death! I ought to slug you for ditching me like that. What were you thinking?”

“Let him breathe, dear.” Mrs. Kane placed her hand on his back and warmth and energy flowed into him.

Conryu had never been healed by a wizard before, but if it felt like this he wouldn’t mind doing it again. Maria shifted, settling onto his lap. “Thanks, Mrs. Kane. If you hadn’t gotten here when you did I’m not sure I could have dodged those things again.”

“It’s a wonder you dodged them once,” another voice said.

Conryu moved Maria a bit to the side so he could see who was speaking. It was the blond wizard from the Department, Terra. She must have shot the fire blast.

“Thanks for the help. Where’d those things come from?”

“That’s what we’re here to determine,” Terra said.

“We?” Maria looked at her mother.

Mrs. Kane nodded. “Your father asked me to lend a hand. Since it’s a weekend I didn’t have any client meetings so I agreed. We would have been here sooner, but we didn’t expect the barrier.”

Maria frowned. “How did you know we needed your help in the first place?”

“Conryu’s ring. It does more than provide protection. I can also monitor his surroundings through it. I sensed the dark energy the moment you entered the grounds. We rushed here as fast as we could.”

“Shizuku,” Terra said.

The tone in her voice grabbed Conryu’s attention. He craned his neck and looked around Maria’s head. Three bodies were shambling toward them in bloodstained clothes. Their eyes were nothing but black pits and faint, echoing moans filled the air around them. He and Maria scrambled to their feet.

“First shadow hounds and now zombies.” Mrs. Kane raised her hands and chanted a spell. A stream of fire shot out toward the undead. The fire struck a barrier of darkness and sputtered to nothing.

The zombies kept coming.

The Department wizard cast a fire spell of her own, stronger than the one Maria’s mother used judging by the amount of heat coming off it. After just a second a sheen of sweat covered Conryu’s chest.

Despite the extra heat the zombies kept coming. The Department wizard jogged over to them and the group backed away, putting more space between them and the undead.

“Magic’s not going to do it, Terra,” Mrs. Kane said. “Their darkness aura’s too strong.”

“We could bury them with earth magic,” Terra said.

“They’d just dig themselves out. We need to force our magic through their barrier.”

“Force it through how?” Maria asked.

“Direct physical contact.” Terra ground her teeth as the zombies continued to advance.

“I can do it,” Conryu said.

“That’s crazy.” Maria grabbed his arm. “You’ll get yourself killed.”

“She’s right.” Mrs. Kane shook her head. “I can’t let you take that kind of a risk.”

“What risk? Those things are so slow I could run circles around them. They’re getting closer and we’re running out of time.”

“He’s got a point, Shizuku,” Terra said. “One spell per fist ought to do it.”

“There are three of them,” Maria said.

“Put one on my right foot.” Conryu clenched his fists and held them out.

The two wizards exchanged looks, raised their hands, and began to cast.

“Mom, no!”

Mrs. Kane ignored Maria and kept chanting. It felt like his hands were in an open oven, hot, but not painful. Terra finished first and began again, this time pointing her hands at his right foot.

When both wizards had finished their spells Terra said, “Make solid contact to the head or chest. The spell will detonate with a one-second delay so in and out fast. Got it?”

“No sweat.”

Conryu rushed the leftmost zombie. It had on greasy overalls and tools dangled half in and half out of its pockets. It moaned louder and shambled toward Conryu.

He darted in, punched it right between the eyes, and leapt back. The zombie exploded into flames. The others ignored their burning comrade and shuffled toward him.

Conryu leapt between them, punching one in the head and kicking the second in the chest as he flew by. They both burst into flames.

He rolled to his feet and spun, ready for another round. He needn’t have bothered. The first zombie was nothing but ash and the others weren’t far behind.

Maria ran over and hugged him. Jonny and Rin had caught up at some point and they joined the group.

“We need some marshmallows,” Jonny said.

“Or chestnuts,” Rin added.

“Chestnuts roasting on an open zombie.” Conryu grinned. “Got a nice ring to it.”

“Are you all crazy?” Maria looked up at him. “You could have been killed. Twice.”

“But I wasn’t. So what now?”

“Now you kids go home and let us handle the rest,” Terra said. Sirens wailed in the distance. “The cavalry will arrive soon. If there are any more zombies the police can shoot them for us.”

* * *

Conryu worked himself free of Maria after a minute or two. It wasn’t that he didn’t like having her wrapped around him, but it made it hard to breathe when she squeezed him so tight. Out near the fence the police had set up a cordon and were getting the people out in a semi-orderly fashion. There really didn’t seem to be much for them to do at the moment.

“We need to find the source of that spell,” Terra said.

Mrs. Kane turned to him and Maria. “I trust you two can make your way back to the apartment on your own? I’ve strengthened the wards so you’ll have nothing to fear there.”

“Sure, Mom, no problem,” Maria said.

“We have a great deal to discuss,” Mrs. Kane said. “Perhaps we should all have dinner together tonight. I’m sure your parents would appreciate an explanation, Conryu.”

“I expect they would, and they aren’t the only ones.”

Mrs. Kane nodded. “Our apartment then, as long as Sho and Connie don’t mind.”

“I’ll tell them. Thanks again.” Conryu led Maria off toward the parking lot with Jonny and Rin tagging along behind. “Think we can get out of here before the press arrives?”

“I don’t think so.” Maria pointed at a pair of satellite dishes rising in the distance.

“Damn them all! Am I going to have to dodge those vultures for the rest of my life?”

“Nope. No press allowed at the academy. Only teachers and students.”

Conryu grinned. “Finally something to look forward to. How did you know what those things were? Your mom teach you?”

“About the shadow hounds, yes. A lot of what I know comes from The Basics of Wizardry. All the girls have to take it junior year. It’s a national requirement. Thanks to you, I bet the boys have to take it starting next year.”

“They’re not going to let you come back to the carnival next year, dude,” Jonny said.

Conryu barked a humorless laugh. “I ought to sue. I’ve heard about the danger of carnival rides, but this is ridiculous.”

When the little group reached the exit a mob of reporters had gathered behind a line of yellow tape. A dozen cops attempted to keep them under control. Detective Chang was talking with the woman in the clown outfit and jotting down notes. He noticed Conryu, ended his interview, and headed their way.

“You okay, Conryu?”

“Sure. No ongoing threat, huh?”

Detective Chang looked away then back. “What I should have said was, no ongoing threat from the True Face of God cult. This was clearly something else.”

“How can you be sure?” Conryu asked.

“Because they used magic,” Maria answered for the detective. “The cultists hate all magic and would never have anything to do with it.”

“What she said. I’m still investigating the guy from yesterday. Since you were attacked again I got the call in case it was related.”

“Is it related?” Conryu asked.

“Way too soon to say, but if I was you I’d lie low. You guys want an escort home?”

Conryu shook his head. Regular cops wouldn’t be much use against magical attacks. “I’ll take an escort through the reporters.”

“No problem.” Detective Chang whistled to draw his men’s attention. “Let’s make these kids a path.”

Six officers made a circle around Conryu and his friends then proceeded to push their way through the gathered throng. All manner of questions were shouted, most of which he didn’t know the answer to and wouldn’t have answered if he did.

When they reached the edge of the throng the officers made a gap for Conryu and the others then shifted to block the reporters from following.

“Later, bro.” Jonny broke off to head for his bike, a piece of crap import that Conryu had helped him fix up.

“I’ll be going too.” Rin hugged Maria and trotted off to her little car.

“Just you and me,” Conryu said.

Maria took his hand and the pair continued on to where he’d parked his bike. They arrived to find Kat Gabel dressed pretty as you please in black slacks and a crisp white blouse leaning on his handlebars. Conryu frowned, both because she was there in the first place and had the nerve to touch his bike without permission.

“You can’t take a hint, can you?” Conryu asked.

Kat shrugged. “I wouldn’t be much good at my job if I took no for an answer. What happened in there?”

“How should I know?” He grabbed Maria’s helmet and handed it to her. When he reached for his the reporter snatched it first and held it above her head. “Are you kidding me?”

She danced away. “Answer my questions and I’ll give it back.”

A deep spring of anger welled up in Conryu. After everything that had happened over the last three days he didn’t have the patience to deal with this. It was a game to her, nothing but another story. She didn’t care what happened to him, she just wanted a scoop.

He darted forward, leapt, and kicked the helmet out of her hands and straight up into the air. When he landed Conryu immediately gathered himself and jumped again, snatching the helmet out of the air. He turned a flip and landed behind her.

The reporter stared at him, mouth hanging partway open.

“Here’s all I have to say. If you’d pass it along to your colleagues I’d appreciate it. No. Fucking. Comment.”

He jammed the helmet over his head and climbed on in front of Maria. They thundered out of the parking lot, leaving the still-staring reporter in a cloud of dust.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading Chapter 10. Click here to read Chapter 11

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