The Impossible Wizard: Chapter 19
If you ended up here before reading the earlier chapters, you can return to Chapter 1 here
Lady Raven booted up her laptop and logged in to the secure forum using a proxy server. After a few days the tiny motel room had grown confining. It would be a relief when the police finally completed their work and let her go.
She’d sent the zealots all the information they needed to infiltrate the building and kill the boy the day before yesterday. It hadn’t been difficult to determine when Shizuku Kane would be out of the city and the rest was simply understanding how the building’s wards functioned—child’s play for a wizard of her skill.
The question was did the cultists have the courage of their convictions, or were they nothing but talk? Hopefully the death of their compatriot would properly motivate them. If that didn’t do it she didn’t know what would.
There was a single private message waiting for Black Bird. She smiled and clicked on it. The cultists were attacking today a little before noon. She checked the time. Quarter after eleven. She had to hurry.
She tossed the laptop on the bed and stood up. The only mirror in her piddling little room was in the bathroom. Not ideal, but it would work. She stepped into the cramped bathroom and locked the door behind her. She doubted the cops outside would barge in on her, but why risk it?
A wind spell linked the mirror to a minor spirit and sent it soaring out over the city. What it saw appeared on the mirror. After a number of scouting runs she knew exactly where Conryu’s building lay and how to get there. Her will guided the spirit and soon the roof of the building came into view. A young man stood there with a small device in his hand. That had to be the cell scrambler she told them to bring.
Excellent, the attack was either already underway or soon would be. She commanded the spirit to remain in place and chanted another spell. Though Lady Raven preferred to use shadow beasts for jobs like this, the bright daylight rendered that impossible.
Fortunately, sunlight didn’t bother actual demons in the least and she knew the true names of two that would like nothing better than to have a chance to rend the flesh from a foolish mortal. Not that the other demons she’d dealt with over the years didn’t enjoy a bit of rending. It seemed to be one of the prime pastimes in Hell.
With the wind spirit serving as a focus Lady Raven opened a small portal above the building and called the names of her hunters. The black-winged demons hurtled through the gate, eager to answer her call.
They plummeted toward the cultist on the roof. Their bloodlust washed over her through the spell that connected them. Her face flushed and her fingers curled like claws. Nothing would have pleased her more in that moment than to feel the man’s blood oozing through her talons.
She clenched her fists. “No.”
Lady Raven refused to let the demons overwhelm her.
The hunters continued their descent. They’d reach the cultist in moments. If they damaged the signal disrupter her true prey might call for help.
The demons pulled up short and soared away. Their rage at being denied prey flooded through the link. She forced the feelings away. The demons obeyed her, not the other way around. If she didn’t maintain control of herself and of them it would lead to a bloodbath. No bad thing in and of itself, but not what she desired at the moment.
She formed an image of Conryu in her mind and thrust it into the demons’ brains through their link, along with an unspoken threat that if they let him escape it would be the end of them. The hunters shrieked their anger to the heavens, but it did nothing to affect her will.
She commanded. They obeyed. Period.
* * *
“Dude, what’s going on?”
A heavy blow struck the door before he could answer Jonny’s question. A second blow struck and the tip of a crowbar appeared through the wood.
“That door won’t hold them long.” Conryu turned to the trembling professor. “Do you know those guys?”
“We rode up on the elevator together. I didn’t notice the weapons.”
Another crash rattled the door.
Jonny and Maria were both on their feet and looking more than a little worried. Conryu didn’t blame them. How many times did someone have to try and kill you before it became routine?
Maria whipped her phone out and dialed. She shook her head. “No signal.”
“Try the landline. Jonny, help me push the couch against the door.”
The boys ran behind the couch and shoved it until the far end hit the door frame.
“No dial tone!” Maria slammed the receiver back down.
“What should I do?” the professor asked.
“Stay out of the way.” Conryu brushed past him and went to Maria. “I didn’t think you could bring weapons into this building.”
A resounding crash blasted one of the panels out of the door.
A face appeared in the opening. It was a man in his late thirties with a full beard and wild, crazy eyes. “Give us the abomination and the rest of you will be spared.”
“Eat shit!” Jonny shouted.
The man snarled and withdrew. A moment later the pounding resumed.
“We’ve got a minute, maybe two.” Conryu looked around, but the only weapons were kitchen knives. Hardly ideal. “We’ll have to take the fire escape.”
“You’re not supposed to leave the building,” Maria said.
“Inside’s looking as lot less safe than it did yesterday.” Conryu led the way to his parents’ bedroom where the fire escape attached to the building.
Maria dragged on his arm. “The wizard might have sent them in to flush you out. Who knows what kind of monster might be waiting outside.”
Conryu went straight to the window and pulled it open. “I’ll take my chances with potential monsters over sure-thing murderers.” He motioned her through, then the professor and Jonny. Conryu climbed out last and slammed the window shut. It wouldn’t even slow a crowbar, but maybe one of those assholes would cut himself.
A hideous shriek was followed by a…something, slamming into an invisible wall inches from the railing. It had black wings like a crow; long, thin limbs that ended in curved talons; and a fang-filled mouth that took up half its face.
Jonny scrambled away from the creature and pressed his back against the building. “What the hell is that?”
“A demon!” Maria and the professor shouted.
A second creature almost identical to the first slammed into the barrier. Three-inch claws scrabbled against thin air as it tried to reach them. Maria shot him her patented I told you so look.
“Up or down?” Conryu shouted over the screams of the demons.
“Down,” Maria answered without a moment’s thought.
“Go, Jonny. I’ll bring up the rear.”
Conryu didn’t have to tell his friend twice. Jonny’s sneakers clanged on the metal steps as he ran down them. The professor followed at a slower, but still hurried pace. Maria looked back at him, her eyes wide. He squeezed her shoulder and gave her a little nudge toward the steps.
She’d barely moved when the sledgehammer crashed through the window, missing Conryu by inches. He snapped a kick that caught the guy’s wrist as it swung past. He didn’t connect cleanly, but he knocked the attacker off balance so he fell halfway out the window and lost his grip on his weapon.
When hands grabbed the attacker’s belt to help pull him out of the way Conryu ran for it. Maria had cleared the first landing, giving him a clear path. He bounded down the steps four at a time, catching up with the others in seconds.
“What do we do when we hit the ground?” Conryu asked when he reached Maria. A few feet away the demons soared back and forth, just waiting for them to leave the protection of Mrs. Kane’s wards.
“Hug the wall. It looks like Mom’s wards extend about three feet from the wall. As long as we stay in that safe zone the demons can’t reach us.”
“You hear that, Jonny?”
“Loud and clear, bro.”
Conryu started to ask the professor, but the old man was busy gagging and tossing his lunch over the railing. The demons lunged for him, but Conryu managed to jerk him back to safety.
“Careful. You don’t want to die before you can prove your theory, do you?”
The professor coughed and wiped his mouth. “I’m not used to this much exercise. Even in my youth I preferred the vicarious thrills of a good book.”
The heavy tread of boots on metal announced the pending arrival of their unwelcome guests.
“Suck it up, Professor. We need to move.” Conryu gave him a gentle shove towards Jonny who’d stopped and looked back. “Keep him moving.”
Jonny nodded and grabbed Angus by the wrist, half encouraging and half dragging him along. Conryu and Maria followed as closely as they dared.
Conryu glanced up. There were only two guys behind them. The others must have gone around to cut them off. Only three more floors and they’d reach the pavement. Should he stand and fight when their numbers were divided? It would be tricky fighting armed men given the space limitations.
They reached the final landing and Conryu still didn’t know what to do. “Any thoughts?”
“We just need to hold out a little while longer,” Maria said. “Mom would have sensed it the moment those demons struck her barrier. She’ll call Dad and he’ll send help.”
She shook her head. “Maybe ten minutes.”
“Shit!” Ten minutes surrounded by demons and lunatics might as well be ten hours.
Ahead of them Jonny had the professor smushed up flat against the wall. “Dude, which way?”
Behind them a broad-shouldered guy in his thirties carrying a crowbar started down the ladder to the ground. The nut with the sledgehammer stood on the platform above. Conryu stepped back, set himself, and lashed out with a side kick that struck between the ladder rungs.
The force of the blow sent Crowbar Man flying out into the alley between his building and the one next door. He landed with a dull thud. When the demons didn’t immediately fly down and rip him to pieces it confirmed what Maria had guessed. The killers and the demons were working together.
“Head for the garage,” Maria said. “At least we’ll be safe from the demons.”
* * *
At least they’ll be safe from the demons. For some reason, as they ran through the almost-empty garage, that thought kept running through Conryu’s head. He had the professor by one arm, Jonny had the other and between them they almost carried him. It would be hours before anyone returned home from work. Ninety percent of the residents worked for the government and came and went on the same schedule as his mother.
The professor stumbled and fell to the concrete. “I can’t take another step.” He held his head between his knees and gasped for breath.
Conryu looked around, but there was nowhere to hide. They’d intentionally run away from the elevator on the assumption that the other killers would be around there somewhere. They’d gotten a small lead on the two that followed them down the fire escape and lost them when they ducked into the garage.
He’d explored the building with Maria when they were kids, but his brain had frozen. There had to be somewhere to hide until the cavalry arrived. He shot Maria a pleading look. She shook her head.
“What now, dude?”
Why did Jonny keep asking that? Conryu had no idea what to do next. Running for their lives was the best he could come up with upstairs and he hadn’t thought up anything better yet. Unfortunately the professor was blown and running was no longer an option, unless they were willing to leave the helpless old man to the tender mercies of a group of deranged killers. Conryu didn’t especially like the professor, but he couldn’t leave him to die.
“Conryu.” Maria’s voice held a hint of hope and when he looked where she pointed he grinned.
“I love you, you know that?”
He’d completely overlooked the fire hose hanging behind a glass door on the wall. That thing shot water with enough force to strip the paint off a car. He’d seen it used when a rusty, piece of crap hatchback had caught fire his junior year.
Conryu crouched down in front of the professor. “Climb aboard.”
With Jonny’s help he maneuvered the professor onto his back and carried him piggyback out of the way. He lowered Angus to the ground and leaned him against the wall. Maria crouched beside him and nodded that she’d look after him.
Jonny smashed the glass out and yanked the hose free. The tread of heavy boots and shouts echoing through the garage hastened them along.
“You want to aim or work the valve?” Conryu asked.
“Aim. I owe these bitches a bath.”
Conryu grinned and handed his friend the brass nozzle. They bumped fists and Conryu went back to the round valve. He gave the valve a test twist and found it free and ready to go.
And not a moment too soon. All four guys rounded the corner, spotted them, and charged.
Conryu spun the valve all the way open and a moment later a gusher blasted out, hitting the nearest man in the chest and sending him sprawling. Jonny wrestled the powerful flow into the big guy with the hammer, knocking him to the ground as well.
The bucking hose was giving Jonny all he could handle so Conryu grabbed it a few feet behind his friend to stabilize his aim. Between the two of them they washed the killers down the garage until they were out of range.
The four men scrambled to their feet and looked intent on charging straight into the stream a second time. Conryu hoped they were that stupid.
One of them wasn’t. The man with the beard that wanted Conryu to turn himself over grabbed the others and held them back. He pulled out a walkie-talkie and spoke into it. Conryu tensed, ready for whatever they planned next. And where was the backup Maria had assured him would be on the way?
What he wasn’t ready for was the water flow to come to a sudden stop. He glanced back, but the mechanism looked fine. Something must have happened somewhere else. Conryu had no idea where the main shutoff was, but apparently someone had found it.
The bearded man brandished a chef’s knife and the killers stalked forward. “No more of your tricks, monster. God has decreed that you must die, just like every magic using abomination in this corrupt world. If you don’t resist I promise you a quick end.”
Conryu bared his teeth. If this prick thought he’d just stand by and let his throat be cut he didn’t know who he was talking to. “Let go of the nozzle and move back. I need some room,” he whispered.
Jonny looked at the heavy brass nozzle then back at Conryu with a knowing smile. “Fuck ’em up.” He moved back beside Maria and the professor, giving Conryu a good fifteen feet of clear space, plenty for what he had planned.
Apparently the boss killer misunderstood. “Your friend has abandoned you, just as God has. You are alone in the world. Kill him.”
A middle-aged man with a baseball bat sauntered toward him, looking far more confident than he had any right to. Conryu waited until he was about twenty feet away then he set the hose to spinning. He built up momentum until the killer closed to within ten feet then he let it fly.
The brass nozzle hit the idiot square in the face with the force of a cannonball. Teeth and blood flew everywhere. His nose crushed flat and the front of his face caved in. The bat clattered to the floor followed in short order by the man that had been holding it.
Conryu snapped the nozzle back and set it spinning again. The three killers still conscious and on their feet shared a considerably less confident look. The older man with the crowbar didn’t worry Conryu. The long chunk of iron looked far too heavy for him to handle in a fight. The big guy with the sledgehammer was another matter. He held his weapon easily, like someone with long familiarity.
“Come on, boys,” Conryu said. “Say a prayer and step right up. See if God is inclined to turn aside my weapon.”
The leader looked at the big guy who looked right back, clearly in no hurry to have his face smashed in. Conryu almost wished they’d charge. He couldn’t keep the nozzle spinning forever.
The leader pulled his walkie-talkie out again. Conryu felt pressure building in the hose and had just time enough to toss it aside before it went berserk, spraying water every which way and thrashing like a beheaded snake. Looked like the boss had more brains than Conryu had first thought.
The three killers charged. Conryu did the last thing he figured they’d expect: he ran right toward the big guy with the hammer.
The hammerhead came right at his skull. Conryu slid under the attack. His opponent used too much power and lost his balance. Conryu gave him an uppercut to the groin. He didn’t care how big the guy was, that would put him out of commission for a while.
Hammer Man’s pained, high-pitched squeal was music to Conryu’s ears. Even sweeter was the sound of the sledgehammer hitting the concrete floor.
He snatched up the weapon, whirled, and hurled it at the cultist with the crowbar as hard as he could.
The heavy steel hammerhead crashed into the unfortunate killer’s left thigh. His leg bent at an impossible angle as his femur shattered from the impact. Conryu turned his cool regard on the leader. He narrowed his eyes and locked gazes with the man like his father had taught him.
Conryu strode forward, ignoring the moans and groans of the injured men. “You’re all alone now. Unless you expect God to show up and save you. Me? I wouldn’t count on it.”
“You won’t shake my faith, abomination. Even if I fall here, I do so secure in the knowledge that I served my God until the end.” The leader laid the chef’s knife along his forearm and beckoned Conryu forward.
Looked like this one knew how to use a blade at least. Conryu took a step.
“Watch out, bro!”
Conryu ducked in time to see Jonny come flying past. The bat he’d picked up from the unconscious killer crashed into the leader’s head and sent him to the ground.
Jonny raised the bat for another stroke, but Conryu caught his wrist. “Fight’s over. Thanks.”
Jonny’s breath rasped and the muscles in his jaw bunched. It looked like a huge effort for him to lower the bat. Conryu gently took it out of his hands before he let go of his friend’s wrist.
Conryu kicked the knife away from the unconscious leader. The fight was over, he reminded himself. They were safe for the moment. He didn’t know about the next moment, but for now Conryu would take what he could get.