The Impossible Wizard: Chapter 17

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

 

Lin led Terra out of the cafe and toward their cars. She really was a remarkable woman, strong, smart and dedicated. If she worked for the police department he would have been delighted to have her for a partner.

Terra took a deep breath and stretched. “So what now?”

“I need to focus on finding the Skulls. I wish I could help you find your missing wizard, but the gang represents a direct threat to the city and so gets priority.”

Terra waved off his apology. “I understand. Finding Mercia is the Department’s responsibility anyway. What about Conryu? Chief Kane has him basically on lockdown, but that won’t last forever. At the very least he’ll have to leave his building to start school.”

“Knowing Conryu he won’t last seven weeks cooped up inside. The truth is, and I’m reluctant to say this after my earlier mistake, I doubt there’s an active effort being made to go after Conryu. As far as I can tell Mort acted alone and the incident at the carnival now looks more like an attack of opportunity.”

“That suggests if another opportunity should present itself he might still be in danger.”

Before Lin could respond his phone rang. “Excuse me.”

“Mort Call has been murdered at the hospital along with his guards,” the police secretary said.

“What? You’re sure?”

“What is it?” Terra asked.

He held up a finger.

“We’re sure. The attacker matches the description of one of your gang members. They have him surrounded. Since you’re the officer of record for the case they asked me to let you know.”

“I’m on my way.” Lin disconnected. “We’re in luck. One of the Skulls is trapped in Sentinel Central Hospital. The guys are moving in now to apprehend him.”

“I’ll come with you. If it’s the one with the Flame Fist Gauntlet you’ll need my help to subdue him.”

“Climb in, I’ll drive.”

They loaded up and Lin took off at full speed, siren blaring. It only took five minutes to reach the hospital. The smoke was visible after three minutes and the flames after four. Lin followed the smoke to the main entrance. Two police cars were burning. Beside the doors a man with a mohawk held a woman hostage. On his right hand he wore a glowing gauntlet.

The biker pointed the gauntlet at a third car. Terra lowered her window and began to chant in a hissing, sibilant language.

A ball of fire shot from the biker’s glove.

Terra snapped her fingers and pointed. The fireball fizzled out halfway to the car.

Lin swerved to a stop behind the two intact vehicles. Terra never took her eyes off the biker and never stopped the chanting. She climbed out of the car and marched straight toward him. One of the uniforms rushed to stop her.

“It’s okay.” Lin waved him off. “She’s a government wizard assisting in the investigation.”

Terra snapped and pointed again. Lin looked away from the patrolman as the last sparks of the fireball sputtered in the air ten feet from the cars. She took another step forward.

“Don’t go too close,” the patrolman said. “He’s holding a hostage.”

Terra stopped moving, but continued chanting in that strange language. A twenty-foot wall of flame roared to life in front of the biker. Even from a distance the heat made Lin flinch.

There was movement then a figure staggered, screaming, through the flames. It was the nurse and her uniform had caught on fire.

“Don’t shoot!” Lin shouted. “It’s the hostage. Keep your eyes open for the perp.”

Terra snapped her fingers a third time and the flames covering the woman vanished. She raised her voice and the cadence of the chant sped up. Terra threw her hands to the side and the wall of flame disappeared.

She blew out a breath and fell silent. Lin rushed to check on the nurse. No sign remained of the biker.

The nurse had first- and second-degree burns on her hands and face, but the damage wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it might have been if Terra hadn’t been there.

“Are you alright, miss?” Lin asked.

She nodded, tears streaming down her face. “I thought he was going to kill me.”

“You’re safe now—”

The rest of Lin’s words were drowned out by the roar of a motorcycle. He scanned the parking lot and spotted the bike thundering toward the exit.

Two patrol cars blocked the opening, but he raised his glove and twin blasts of fire streaked ahead of him, blowing the vehicles out of his way. The rumble of the motorcycle quickly faded.

An EMT arrived and Lin handed the burned girl over to him with a final pat on her unburned shoulder.

“We have to get after him,” Lin said. “This is too good an opportunity to let him slip through our fingers.”

“Don’t worry.” Terra joined him near the burned nurse. “That gauntlet is putting out enough magical energy that I’ll have no trouble tracking him. I’ll call Clair. We’re going to need all the help we can get.”

* * *

What a fucking rush! Iron Skull roared down the street, his gauntlet still hot and glowing from all the fire he hurled. He hadn’t had that much fun in years. At least until the wizard showed up. She made the fire do what she wanted instead of what he wanted. He hated her more for that than for spoiling his fun. He revved the engine and put on more speed. The people on the sidewalk stared at him and Skull gave them a one-finger salute.

He glanced over his shoulder. No cops. Too bad, Skull would have liked to blow up a few more of their cheap-ass cars. Despite the lack of pursuit, Skull knew he wasn’t in the clear yet. Mistress Raven had taught him enough about magic to know that the wizard from the hospital would have no trouble tracking him.

Well fuck her and the cops. Let ’em come. The boys had been itching for a fight since they got to the city last month. Today they were going to get it. Lucky they had plenty of treats stored up for just such an occasion. He turned down a side street toward the rough part of town where his gang had set up shop in an empty flophouse. Empty now anyway. They’d had to gut a handful of bums and pushers when they first arrived, but the locals quickly learned The Black Skulls were no one they wanted to fuck with.

Bloody Skull was standing watch on the front steps of the boarded-up two-story shack when Iron Skull parked in front of the building. He had his trademark blood-red bandana tied around his face and the grip of an automatic pistol poked out of the waistband of his oil-stained jeans. “All finished, boss?”

Iron Skull ignored the question. “Get the boys ready. We’re going to have company soon.”

“What kind of company?”

“The heavily armed, blue kind. Go on.”

Bloody Skull let out a war whoop and ran inside. Of all the gang Bloody was the only one that liked to fight more than Iron Skull. He’d get his fill today, no doubt.

Iron Skull drove around to the rear of the flophouse. Across the street was an empty garage beside a collapsed house. He pulled his bike inside next to the others. To keep the guys busy while they waited for Mistress Raven’s orders Iron Skull had them dig a tunnel connecting the basement of the flophouse to the garage. His mistress had been kind enough to use her magic to reinforce the tunnel for them so he wasn’t worried about it collapsing during the fight with the cops.

Iron Skull switched his bike off and closed the garage door as far as it would go. Hopefully the cops wouldn’t notice the bikes parked inside. He crossed the street and Grim opened the door for him. “We really gonna fight the cops, boss?”

Grim sounded like a five-year-old on Christmas morning, or as much like one as a six-and-a-half-foot-tall, three-hundred-and-fifty-pound bald man covered in tattoos could.

“Damn right. I want you upstairs on The Pig. How many ammo belts we got for it?”

“Ten, I think. That’s five thousand rounds, right?” Grim wasn’t quite as good at math as a five-year-old.

Iron Skull patted his leather-clad shoulder. “Close enough, Grim. Take Tough and a box of grenades with you.”

Grim smiled, revealing his three remaining teeth, and ran off to find Tough and the grenades.

Iron Skull went deeper into the house, ignoring the exposed framing and the stink of beer and piss. They’d stayed in worse places over the years. Not much worse, but a little.

“Boss.” Bone Skull emerged from a side door. He was dressed in all black, his long hair slicked back from his face and only one tattoo visible. Bone was the only member of the gang that, if he walked down the street, wouldn’t draw a second look. That made him useful, but his brain made him Iron Skull’s second in command. On the bed behind him, Iron Skull caught a glimpse of machine guns and boxes of ammunition. “What kind of opposition we looking at?”

“Every cop they can call in and at least one wizard. She’s good with fire magic so my glove won’t be much use until we take her out.”

“Easier said than done. Wizards are tricky to deal with, especially surrounded by cops.”

Iron Skull nodded. “We’ll just have to hope we get lucky and a stray bullet blows her brains out.”

“And if we don’t get lucky?”

Iron Skull lowered his voice. “That’s what the escape tunnel’s for. You and me’ll split while the others hold them off. You know once they get started the others will never run.”

“Bloody won’t, that’s for sure.”

Overhead, Grim stomped around, getting his machine gun set up. It wouldn’t be easy for Grim and Tough to make their way downstairs once the bullets started flying. Iron Skull blew out a snort. Who was he kidding? Once the fighting started it would be a wonder if he could pull himself away from the battle. He never felt more alive than when he was an inch from death.

* * *

Lin led a parade of cop cars and two heavily armored SWAT vehicles down the street. Speakers broadcast a warning to the people staring at the passing motorcade to stay inside and away from windows until the police gave the all clear.

In the seat beside him Terra stared straight ahead, the magical glasses perched on her nose. She’d been guiding them since they left the hospital ten minutes ago. The second Department wizard, Clair, sat on the back seat muttering in a deep, guttural language. Terra had said Clair was skilled in earth magic so that was probably the language she spoke. What the wizard hoped to accomplish he had no idea. The police wizard was busy with a surveillance job and according to the captain couldn’t join them.

“Turn left at the next intersection,” Terra said. “We’re getting close.”

A quick look at the neighborhood would have told Lin that even without Terra’s warning. He hadn’t expected the gang to set up shop in the money district so it was no surprise they’d moved into the roughest part of the city. It made the tenement they’d visited the other day look positively gentrified. This neighborhood would have looked right at home in a southern border town. The only thing missing was a pack of half-human heart hunters.

“Right there.” Terra pointed at a two-story house that was still standing only by a miracle of physics.

The roar of a machine gun filled the street. Lin flinched when bullets clattered off the windshield without penetrating. The armored trucks raced ahead, drawing fire and forming a barricade in front of the house. Men and women in body armor carrying machine guns piled out and returned fire.

Something came flying out of the second-story window.

“Grenade!” a SWAT officer shouted.

It exploded just short of the armored vehicle. Shrapnel clattered off the thick steel.

More bullets bounced off the windshield of Lin’s car as he maneuvered into the barricade. He slammed it into park as another fusillade of bullets tore through the air. Lin reached for the door handle, but Terra laid a restraining hand on his shoulder.

“Stay in here. Bullets can’t penetrate the car.”

“Why not?”

Terra nodded toward Clair who was still chanting in the strange language. “She’s created a barrier that stops anything made of earth from passing through. Since the bullets are lead…”

“And the grenades?” Lin asked.

“It’ll stop the shrapnel, but if one goes off too close it might cause the gas tank to explode.”

“Terrific. What now?”

“Depends. Do you want prisoners or do you just want me to stop them as fast as I can?”

Lin shook his head at the bizarre situation he found himself in. There was a firefight going on just feet away. Bullets were clattering off his car like raindrops. Yet here he was having a calm conversation just like nothing was happening.

Another grenade went off on the other side of the SWAT van.

“A quick decision would be good,” Terra said.

“I’m a cop.” Lin grasped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. “I arrest people. I don’t kill them unless I absolutely have to.”

Terra looked out the windshield and raised an eyebrow. “You don’t think this falls into the latter category?”

What could he say to that? It looked and sounded like a war out there. He should know, he’d fought in one. “Do what you have to.”

Terra nodded, her lips set in a grim line. She began to chant in what he now recognized as the language of fire. The words picked up pace and her tone grew louder.

The roof of the flophouse burst into flame. An explosion from the second floor sent a body flying out the window. It landed in the dirt that passed for a front lawn and didn’t move.

A second man stood in the now-missing window. SWAT concentrated their fire and he fell beside his companion, riddled with dozens of bullets.

Through it all Terra never stopped her spell. The flames spread from the second floor to the first. Smoke billowed out the windows. The stream of bullets had slowed to a trickle.

The front door slammed open and a man with a red bandana covering his face stumbled out, firing a pair of submachine guns. A dozen rifles spoke as one and he went down in a heap.

“Where’s the guy from the hospital?” Lin asked.

Terra stopped her spell. “He’s still in there. His gauntlet is holding back my flames. I’m not sure if he’s alone or not.”

“I’ll tell the SWAT team. We’re going to have to dig him out.”

“No! Tell them to keep their distance. He may be able to stop the flames, but in about a minute that house is going to collapse. We can dig his body out of the rubble.”

* * *

Lady Raven smiled as she watched her minions in the makeshift viewing mirror. One by one they fell to the police and her former comrades at the Department of Magic. It hardly seemed fair, two wizards supported by a small army of cops taking on five bikers with a flame gauntlet. It was a shame. The Black Skulls had been useful pawns, but they’d played their part and like all pawns, there came a time when a sacrifice was necessary. They were loose ends and they needed to be snipped.

It was an interesting, voyeuristic experience, listening to her servants’ thoughts as they came to realize they had no hope of winning. Lady Raven had always been closely attuned to dark magic and she fed on despair and negative emotions. She focused her will on Iron Skull and settled in to watch the show.

Iron Skull coughed and raised his gauntlet. He’d stopped the flames from reaching them, but not the smoke. The silence from upstairs announced the deaths of Grim and Tough. Beside him Bone had his sleeve over his face, trying to filter the fumes. By the front door Bloody was still blasting away between coughs.

The rafters crunched above them. “We gotta go, boss,” Bone said.

Iron Skull hated running, but he couldn’t deny his lieutenant’s grasp of the situation. “Bloody! Time to go.”

“Fuck that! I’m not running from these pigs.” Bloody roared and charged out the door, a gun in each hand.

The roar of gunfire quickly went silent. So much for Bloody. Iron Skull headed for the little closet that disguised their escape tunnel. He ripped the door off and threw it aside.

His concentration faltered and the flames rushed closer. Iron Skull snarled and mentally commanded them to retreat. The fire obeyed, but like a hungry lion swirled around at the edge of his control, eager to devour him at a moment’s notice.

“Go, Bone. I’m right behind you.”

That surprised Lady Raven. She’d figured Iron Skull would toss his man aside to get through the tunnel first. You found loyalty in the oddest places. Shame she hadn’t had more time to discover Iron Skull’s hidden depths.

The house shook and rumbled as a portion of the roof collapsed. Bone disappeared down the tunnel and Iron Skull leapt in behind him. The dirt walls still looked solid. Ahead of him Bone belly-crawled like mad toward the bikes.

A tremor ran through the walls and dirt clattered off Iron Skull’s head. His breathing sped up as he tried to reach Bone. He needed to stay calm. Mistress Raven’s magic wouldn’t fail them.

Lady Raven laughed out loud at Iron Skull’s faith in her magic. If the biker had any idea what she planned he would have taken his chances with the police. Of course, Lady Raven knew he wouldn’t. Psychopaths like Iron Skull weren’t capable of giving up as long as they thought they had another option. That’s why she’d agreed to help them with their stupid tunnel. It was an insurance policy.

One of the police outside knocked on the cheap motel door. “Everything okay, ma’am?”

Her guards must have heard her laughing. “Yeah, just watching a movie. Thanks.”

Bone had almost reached the exit when Lady Raven returned her attention to the image in the mirror. She spoke a single harsh word in Infernal, canceling the earth magic she’d used to reinforce the tunnel. It shuddered and collapsed, crushing her pawns and burying them all in one go. The police should thank her for sparing them the trouble of a funeral. Another short spell severed her link with the bikers and caused the small hidden tattoos on their necks to vanish, eliminating any trace of their connection to her. If all went according to plan the investigation should come to a dead end, freeing her to move on with the next phase of the plan.

* * *

The flophouse collapsed with a resounding crash. The moment it did Terra spoke a short phrase and the fire extinguished and the embers cooled. Behind her Clair fell silent. The fight had been fierce, but short. They had the bikers outnumbered and overwhelmed in terms of both magic and weapons. The confrontation ended the only way possible. It all seemed like such a waste. What had the thugs hoped to accomplish?

Lin climbed out and Terra and Clair joined him. He looked over his car and shook his head. “Not a scratch on it.”

Clair raised an eyebrow. “You sound disappointed.”

“Maybe a little. A few bullet holes would have been a good excuse to ask for a new car. This one’s on its last legs.”

“I’ll remember that the next time we’re in a firefight,” Clair said.

“I’m not complaining.” Lin waved his hands.

“Hey, Lin?” One of the SWAT team members jogged over. Judging from the bars on his arm he was the team commander. “If you feel the scene’s secure my guys are ready to go.”

Lin glanced at Terra. She closed her eyes and cast a simple light magic spell. There was nothing living in the rubble. “We’re good. It’s a recovery mission now.”

“You heard the lady.” Lin and the SWAT leader shook hands. “Thanks, John. You’re the best.”

John jumped into the back of the SWAT van and a moment later they rolled out. The side of the van was pocked with bullet holes and slashed from shrapnel, but none of it had gone through to the interior. They really built those things tough. Terra slipped her glasses on and found a faint magical aura around both vans. Magical reinforcement helped too.

“Are you two going to hang around?” Lin asked. “Cleaning this mess’ll take a while. We’ll need to bring the bomb squad down along with some heavy equipment.”

“I need to find the fire gauntlet and whatever they had hidden in that niche at the cafe. Until those items are secured a wizard needs to be on the scene.”

“I’ll head back to the office and inform Chief Kane,” Clair said.

Terra nodded and Lin said, “I’ll get an officer to take you.”

While Lin got one of the uniformed officers to take Clair back to the office, Terra walked over to the collapsed building and muttered, “Reveal.”

When nothing immediately popped out at her she slipped the glasses on to magnify the energy. There was a very weak lingering dark aura that matched the energy from the cafe. Those coffers must have been here either before or after they were taken to the hidden storage niche.

She also picked up a stronger fire aura, but not as strong as she would have expected if the gauntlet was buried under the rubble. Terra traced it to the edge of the ruined house where it vanished. Frowning, she walked all the way around the perimeter of the house and found no energy signature strong enough to be the gauntlet. Even under the rubble it should have glowed like a light bulb to her magical senses.

Terra returned to the last place she saw the magical energy. She stood facing the street. It was headed that way when it vanished. Did the biker from the hospital have some sort of suppressing container? There was no way to know without digging down to the body. She’d just have to be patient.

Lin joined her as the patrolmen began setting a perimeter with yellow tape. “I called in the cleanup crews. It’ll take days to sift the rubble and deal with any unexploded ordinance. I don’t suppose there’s any magic that could speed the process along?”

“Despite what some of the more arrogant wizards like to pretend, there are limits to what magic can do. I’m afraid you’ll have to sort this out the mundane way. I’d appreciate it if you started right there.” She pointed at the last place she sensed the gauntlet.

“Considering everything you’ve done for us since this investigation began I think we can accommodate your request.” Lin grinned. “After all, we have to start somewhere.”

 

I hope you enjoyed reading Chapter 17. Click here to read Chapter 18 

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