SWORD OF THE KING
Volume One: The Guardsman
The huntress’s lungs pumped, striving to capture as much of the cool St. Louis night air as they could grab, struggling to satisfy her body’s demand for oxygen. No matter how fit she was, she had been running full tilt for more than ten minutes. She had no breath for words, so she gave her thanks in silence.
She sent her gratitude to whichever god she owed for clearing away the earlier rains and granting her cloudless moonlight to help her evade the frequent puddles and occasional vehicles. She ran her course through this alien city with ease, navigating turns and dodging hazards while flying down the streets at speeds no local would consider humanly possible.
But this clear spring weather seemed to be the only grace that Heaven would spare her on this hunt. Her quarry possessed this world’s transportion, an automobile. Such vehicles could outrun even a huntress using flux arts to enhance her already fleet legs. But she had known the slaver’s destination in advance and started out far closer to it, so she still had a good chance to win this footrace. She simply hadn’t planned on a race in the first place. That part was another stroke of ill fortune.
At her destination lay the criminal’s path between worlds, and at its other end, her hunting partner waited. Their quarry was at that moment spiriting yet another stolen Earther girl through the night. An obscure warehouse in an industrial district held the entrance to the slaver’s secret path, and she intended for him to pass through it ahead of her. If he dodged their ambush, their backup plan required her to catch him herself on this side.
The law enforcement radio from her contact on this world had alerted her to his latest abduction, but it also brought an unwanted surprise. In prior abductions the slaver smuggled his catch through the town at leisure, seemingly invisible to the local watch, but this time they had spotted him and commenced their own pursuit. A high-speed chase now threatened to undo all of the plans she and Rogan had laid.
She would welcome help from the guardsmen if they had any chance to put up a fight against the culprit. They were, after all, her colleagues. They were fellow guardians of the innocent, although they knew nothing about her presence. But, everything she knew about her quarry indicated he was a fellow flux artist, with advantages over the locals as lethal as her own. Their pursuit only meant he would arrive much sooner than she had anticipated. It had forced this unplanned run, and it added Earther hounds on his heels for whom she would now have to take pains not to harm.
Nam turned the last corner and let the form controlling her limbs relax as she neared her goal, slowing herself down to a natural human velocity. Within moments, she had skipped to a halt at her preplanned hiding spot, a nook between aging brick buildings just down the street from the warehouse.
She crouched there, moonlight glistening on damp cinnamon skin, her small chest still pumping with effort to recover, but keeping her forms at ready to race again. Her nose was drowning in the odors of this place. Wet concrete, industrial odors, burnt hydrocarbons, all mixed with the natural smells after a storm, all of them things she would normally deaden her sense against when in an urban environment but which she had to tolerate now, because her nose might become needed.
After her breath began to settle, she retrieved her most employed unen, a white feather she kept in her hair. Through her Geden, the great tufted hawk tattooed across her chest, she focused energies upon the feather and awoke the spirit within it. The ghost of a gray dove materialized around the totem and hardened into the living specter she employed most often.
“Scout, Ooe,” she commanded. It took to the air to watch for the approaching slaver’s car.
In response to another mental command, a tiny flux pattern buried deep within her mind jumped to life from its passive state and reached out to find the Paeth Giraan, her people’s mighty communication network.
<Benjamin is nearing the path, but he’s on the run>, she whispered to her partner across it. <The locals have flushed him out. This might be our only chance at him. Get ready.>