Shade Preview - Chapter 2
“Shade!” Flynn’s voice is loud, the car stopped, the engine off. I peer through the black mist as it recedes slowly away from me, back to the corners where it belongs. We are in front of Gary’s house. Several upstairs lights are on in the big white house. The front lawn sprawls, split with a driveway that curves around a gaudy fountain. When he’d won the lottery last time, the California Bureau of Credentials moved him here with a new identity and let him keep his winnings. I can’t imagine having all this, and feeling the need to win the lottery again. Had he blown through all his money already? You can’t fix stupid.
I look over at Flynn, my eyes wide, unsure if I can even move let alone get out of the car. Let alone go kill someone. All he did was win some money. No big deal. That’s no reason to kill him, right? Screw the Guild and the Bureau. Screw them all. This is insane.
“No,” Flynn says as if reading my thoughts, his face serious. “We have to do this. This is our job. This is what we do. I’ll do the heavy lifting, you just hang back and keep an eye out. I’ll take care of Gary.” I search his dark eyes that match mine, looking for some sort of escape route. Surely there’s a way out of this, some way we can let Gary live. Some way I won’t have to hurt someone else. But all I see is Flynn psyching himself up, getting himself prepared mentally to do our job basically without me.
Before the incident nine months ago I was always the one in charge; the one leading; the big sister. Since then I’ve become almost non-existent in the mage world. I let Flynn take the lead on our missions. I don’t want to hurt anyone else. Other than little practices here and there with illusions, I barely even use my magic anymore.
“I don’t know if I can do this Flynn,” I whisper, my voice scarcely making a sound.
“You don’t have to do anything,” he squeezes my hand lightly. “I’ve got this.”
My brother has been so supportive since that night, all through the trial, and through the probation that followed. He’s been there for me through it all, so I can’t allow myself to let him down now. I nod at him and give a slight smile I don’t feel, forcing myself to open the car door. Deep down I know he’s right, but I can’t shake the dread that lays heavy in the pit of my stomach. I glance around the neighborhood as we walk up the driveway, looking for nosy neighbors. Everything seems clear. The rest of the rich seem to be minding their own business. No witnesses at least.
“I can’t believe he’s still here,” I say quietly. “He’s got to know we’re coming. He knows the rules.” My unease grows as we approach the double front doors under the portico. The exterior lights are off, except for the rows of landscape lighting highlighting the architecture and grounds.
I catch a whiff of ozone and turn to see Flynn gathering his magic, readying himself for the upcoming confrontation. He starts pulling energy from the air around him, forming a ball of sparking electricity that pulses just above the palm of his hand. His face looks anxious in the strobing light of his arcane magic, and my heart seems to stutter for a moment.
“Get in the shadows,” Flynn orders, pointing to a corner of the entryway for me to hide in. His finger hovers over the doorbell as he waits for me to take my position. It takes me a second, but I obey and step into the shadows of the corner, stretching the darkness to reach around me; concealing me.
Once I’m in place, he nods in my direction, then presses the doorbell. I can’t help but hold my breath as Flynn moves into an offensive stance just to the side of the doors. I try to focus on remaining hidden, keeping an eye out to survey the surrounding area, but as I hear someone approach the door from the inside of the house, I freeze.
Everything seems to happen at once. The door opens, but the lights don’t come on. Whoever opened the door remains in shadow. Flynn says, “Gary?” to the person on the other side of the threshold, but I can’t see who it is from where I am in the corner. All of a sudden there’s a thundering crack as lightning flies from the doorway straight into Flynn, who barely has time to send his own magic into the house. He gets thrown back from the force of the voltage into one of the pillars holding up the portico and slumps to the ground. Smoke is rising from his chest where the bolt hit.
I quickly pull the darkness around me into the shape of a whip as I lunge from the corner into the doorway, my breath ragged. I lash the whip out in front of me, even though I can’t see anyone. The smell of ozone in the air is overwhelming now, making the hair stand up on my arms and back of my neck.
All of a sudden, the area just beyond the doorway starts to distort and warp, and I know that Gary is about to jump. Arcane mages can alter the atmosphere of an area and use it to transport themselves somewhere else. It’s called jumping, and if I don’t act fast, Gary is going to get away. Our mission a failure.
I quickly throw the shadow whip at the distorted doorway, stretch it out to cover the other side of the opening inside of the house, and pull the remaining darkness I can get a hold of to it, making a solid barrier of shadow between Gary and the portal. But I’m too late. The portal winks out. Gary had jumped well before I even moved to make the barrier. I’d been too slow. He’d gotten away.
I realize then how quiet it is. It had happened so fast; surely only a few seconds has passed. I turn and see Flynn on the ground a just few feet away - not moving. I rush over to him, but can’t see clearly in the blackness of the night. I draw what light I can from around me to make a makeshift torch above my palm, and I gasp as I see Flynn’s injuries. There is a hole in the front of his shirt, the edges now burned away, and the skin beneath is black and charred. It’s only now that I notice the smell of burning flesh.
“Flynn,” I cry out, shaking his shoulder. His eyes are closed, and I don’t feel a pulse in his neck. “Flynn, wake up. Wake up. We need to go now.”
He doesn’t move.
I tentatively put my ear to his scarred chest, trying to hear a heartbeat, but I can hear nothing.
“Little brother, I order you to wake up right now!” I yell, still shaking him, not caring who hears me. My voice echoes around the tiled portico. “Flynn!”
After a few more attempts for a response with no reply, I fumble to grab my phone, dialing the first person I can think of. My heart is pounding so loudly and so hard, it feels like it’s going to jump out of my chest. I hold my breath as the phone rings and rings. Finally, there’s an answer.
“This better be important Tiffany, it’s almost mid-”
“Mom? It’s Flynn. He’s hurt.”
“I’m on my way.”
Amy L. Boukair is a short story author, published novelist, and an occasional poet. Her first self-published novel - the time travel romance Indigo, was well received by readers and reviewers alike from around the world. She is currently working on a new urban fantasy novel Shade, which is planned for release in late 2017.