Down The Mountain
I slowed my Jeep down just enough to make the sharp turn onto the paved road, then gunned the engine, shifting into fourth gear. My massive mud-crawler tires roared, and my 4.0L inline six roared louder as I pushed their combined capabilities. Speed wasn’t exactly my Jeep’s forte.
The good news was, the road back down to Payson was a nice, windy road where top-speed didn’t matter much. The soft suspension might lean like crazy in the corners but I knew how hard I could push. Driving was taking most of my focus, but I needed to work out what to do next.
“They have reached their vehicles.” Ulfvaldr reported. “I believe you created sufficient mayhem to delay their pursuit a few minutes.”
“Well, that’s some good news.” I answered. “There’s no chance Carolina or one of them might be free to help me out, is there?”
“Unfortunately no.” Ulfvaldr growled. “I am afraid things are not going as well for them.”
“Well, damn.” I muttered. “They’re ok, though, right?”
“So far, they have escaped any serious harm.” Ulfvaldr answered stoically.
“Ok. We’re all still alive and fighting. Let’s call that good news. Unfortunately, with Carolina, Victor, and Saul all tied down, I don’t have a lot of resources here. Saw’s in Vegas, and the Kid’s got no combat skills.”
“Carolina’s home would provide some magical protection, if you could get there.”
I had to brake hard as I came around a sharp corner to find a slow-moving truck pulling a camper. “Is it safe to pass this guy?” I asked.
“I will check.” Ulfvaldr answered calmly, disappearing from my Jeep’s passenger seat.
While he was checking, I took a moment to check my cellphone. I still didn’t have a signal.
“You can safely pass.” Ulfvaldr stated as he appeared back in the passenger seat of my Jeep.
I gunned my engine and crossed the double-yellow line to pass the camper. The truck’s driver flipped me off. I wondered how he’d feel in a couple minutes when a half dozen vehicles came bearing down on him. That actually brought up an important question.
“Hey, how are the guys chasing me going to deal with people who come between them and me?”
Ulfvaldr considered the question for a moment. “The enchantment overrides any ethical considerations outside accomplishing their goal. They will seek to kill you no matter the consequence or cost. The higher-functioning individuals — those who would already be willing to take a life for their master — may seek to use other humans to accomplish their purpose. The others will see other humans as nothing more than obstacles.”
“So anyone who gets drawn into this, including that guy in the truck back there, could get killed.” I restated to be clear.
“That is a valid assessment.”
I couldn’t think of a swearword sufficient for how I felt. I wasn’t thrilled about the fact that there were a dozen or so guys trying to kill me. Now I had to worry about anyone else who might accidentally get caught up in this thing.
“I’m not sure I can make it to Carolina’s place. There’s way too many people between here and there. I’m going to have to find a way to stop these guys before I get to town.”
“How do you propose accomplishing that?” Ulfvaldr asked.
I navigated another sharp curve before answering. “I do have one person I can call. I’m not thrilled about it, but she may actually be my only option.”
“Who is this person?”
“She’s a cop.” I answered. “I really can’t stand her personally, but I’m willing to bet she’ll move heaven and earth if I ask her for help.”
“I see.” Ulfvaldr mused. “You will need to call her on your cellular phone?”
“Yeah.” I answered. I was coming up on a family sedan. They were going the posted 30 MPH.
“There are two approaching vehicles. I advise waiting until they are clear before passing this car.” Ulfvaldr advised. “I may be able to help with your phone. I can amplify the power of the radio signal, allowing you to call earlier than you could otherwise. I will let you know as soon as there is a strong enough signal.”
“Great!” I replied as one of the two oncoming vehicles passed. “That’ll help a lot.”
“Now would be a good time to pass.” Ulvaldr said as soon as the second vehicle was clear. I down-shifted and blasted past the sedan. They were about as pleased with my behavior as the last driver. I just hoped they weren’t going to die for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I feel it would be wise to check on the pursuit. I will return momentarily” Ulvaldr said before vanishing from the passenger seat.
I kept racing down the road as fast as I could make my Jeep go without rolling it over or melting the tires. I thought about my plan, and wasn’t super happy about it. I was 99% sure I could count on Sara to help me; I was also 99% sure I wouldn’t like the cost of that help. It was better than dying, though.
“There are four vehicles pursuing you each with a driver and two or three passengers. The sedan and truck you drove over were left behind. The vehicles are moving faster than you, but it did take them several minutes to get out of the parking lot.”
“If you can boost a radio signal, can you screw with a car’s electronics? All of those cars are new enough that they’ll stop if you kill the computer.”
Ulfvaldr was silent for a moment. “I do not think I can do that. Radio waves are energy, and as such exist much more on the same plane I do.”
“So what about a mini EMP? Just fry everything.”
“What is a ‘mini EMP’?” Ulfvaldr asked.
“Electromagnetic pulse. The massive surge of electromagnetic energy when a nuke goes off, or a massive solar flare. Heck, what about a bolt of lightning through their electrical system? Just something that would cook all the electronics they’ve got.”
“I do not believe so, not in my present state.” Ufvalr said after a moment of thought. “I could influence the path of a natural lightning bolt, and perhaps direct more energy through it. That energy would already have to be present in the physical realm for me to work with it. Mana is a more refined form of energy that transcends the boundary between the physical and magical realms.”
“You keep talking about your state as if it were a temporary thing. Can you explain that some more?”
Ulfvaldr laughed softly. “You are perceptive. I am a daemon — a nature spirit — and exist as a magical being in the magical realm, one of the many layers I was showing you in your dream. The sense of magic you have been training yourself to perceive gives you awareness of that realm. Living beings reside in both realms; they are both physical and magical in nature. In order for me to interact with the physical realm, I need an anchor point in the physical world.”
“Like a body?” I asked.
“Yes, in a manner of speaking. More specifically, I need a bond with a living thing. I hope to form that bond with you.”
“Um…” I mused. “I kinda want to hear more about that before I commit to anything.”
“Of course you do.” Ulfvaldr replied simply “It would be best to discuss this with Carolina. She is bound to my mate, Skaldulf. She will be better able to help you understand what I am asking. I would have waited to even mention this, but I felt it important to answer your question completely and honestly.”
“Thanks.” I said, slamming on the brakes and downshifting to slow down for one of the hairpin curves.
“I believe you should be able to make a phone call after you get around the next corner.” Ulfvaldr mentioned.
I hit the accelerator as we came out of the corner and my Jeep lurched forward. I shifted gears and straightened out. I had a couple seconds to grab my phone from the console and unlock the screen. I tapped recent calls, and there was Sara’s name at the top of my list. I set the phone down for a moment so I could deal with the next corner. I had responded to too many distracted driving accidents to dare let the phone take my attention from the road.
After the corner, I checked my cell signal. It only showed one bar. I hoped that would be enough and tapped the redial button and speakerphone. I dropped the phone back in my console and focused on driving as Sara’s phone rang.
“James?” Sara’s voice sounded delighted.
“Hey Sara.” I shouted. “I need your help.”
“Whatever you want.” Sara was all kinds of cheerful.
“There are a dozen or so guys trying to kill me.”
“I don’t know.” I wasn’t about to try explaining magic to her right now. “I was out hiking in the national forest and these guys just started shooting at me with hunting rifles and chasing me.”
“God, are you ok?”
“For now.” I answered. “I got to my Jeep and I’m headed for Payson as fast as I can go. They’re following me in four vehicles.”
Sara didn’t say anything for a moment. “How far out are you?” she finally asked.
“I just passed Payson Lakes. It’ll take me about twenty minutes for me to get to town.”
“We’ll be waiting for you at the water tanks.” Sara said and hung up.
“That’s a bit of good news.” I said to Ulfvaldr. “Now we just have to make it to the water tanks.”
“The lead vehicle is a mile behind you.” Ulfvaldr answered “They are encountering some difficulty with traffic slowing them down.”
“I’m fine with that, as long as they don’t kill whoever’s holding them up.” I grumbled.
There wasn’t much more to say. Ulfvaldr provided occasional updates on my pursuit, and I drove as fast as I dared. The road got even more windy as we entered the canyon, so I needed to focus.
My enemies were closing. On one of the switchbacks, they even fired off a few shots at me as we passed. The final distance was a relatively straight, narrow downhill. With how close the vehicles behind were getting, I wasn’t entirely confident I’d make it to the water tanks.
Ulfvaldr disappeared as I pushed my Jeep’s speed capabilities. A moment later he reappeared. “I think you just might make it.”
I could see the white of the truck behind me in my mirrors. A gunshot cracked and my windshield spiderwebbed on the passenger side. Another shot hit the back of my Jeep.
Ahead, I could see the police blockade. They had parked their vehicles across the road, leaving a ten-foot wide gap in the middle. I could see several other vehicles behind them, and a lot of black body armor huddling behind.
A stray bullet shattered the tempered glass rear window of one of the police cruisers. More bullets were coming from behind, taking out one of my mirrors, impacting the back of my Jeep, and occasionally flying past to hit the cars in the roadblock.
“James, don’t slow down.” I heard Sara’s voice call over a loudspeaker. “Get through the gap.”
I did as she instructed. I was going about seventy — faster than I’d ever pushed my Jeep before — as I shot between the parked police cruisers. As I passed, I heard gunfire erupt behind me. The unmistakable sound of metal tearing and glass shattering caught up to me.
A couple county sheriff’s deputies waved for me to stop and pull off the road. I slowed down and pulled over as I heard more carnage behind me. By the time I was stopped, the two deputies had their guns pointed at me and were coming at me in a tactical L. I shut off my engine and put my hands high in the air.
“Police! Keep your hands where I can see them and get out slowly!” one of the deputies shouted.
I wasn’t about to argue. “I’ve got a loaded concealed gun in the small of my back. I have a license.” I called out as I carefully climbed out.
“Interlace your fingers over your head and walk slowly to the front of the vehicle.”
I did as I was told.
“Now kneel down slowly.”
I followed his instructions as he shouted them out.
“Very slowly, put your hands on the ground in front of you. Now slide backwards until you are resting on your stomach. Turn your head away from me. Don’t move. Do you understand?”
He came in and grabbed my wrist, twisting my arm and pulling it towards my back. I felt the cold hard steel of a handcuff slap around my wrist. He pulled my gun out of my waistband and put it in his pocket.
“You have any other weapons?” He asked.
“Not unless you count my multi-tools on my right hip.” I answered.
He reached around my right side and pulled the tools out of their canvas holsters. “I am holding onto these for my protection. You’ll get them back when you’re released from custody. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” I answered.
“Bring your right arm back slowly, right here.” He tapped the small of my back.
I brought my hand around, and I felt him grab it. He was using aikido joint-locking techniques, but he wasn’t particularly good at them. I could have broken free fairly easily, but I didn’t feel like pointing it out right then. He slapped the cuff onto my other wrist.
“Roll onto your left hip and sit up.” He instructed. I obeyed. He had me stand up and take a wide, unbalanced stance while he searched me for weapons.
“Mr. Hammersmith, I have been instructed to take you into custody for your protection. You are not being charged with a crime at this time, but I do require your cooperation.”
“Fine.” I answered.
He guided me over to a Sheriff’s SUV and put me in the back seat. Just as I sat down, Sara appeared. She was holding an AR-15 and wearing body armor. Somehow, even the bulky body armor managed to emphasize her bosom.
“James!” She ran over and pushed the Sheriff’s deputy out of the way. “You’re ok?”
I grinned. “I’m alive, thanks to you. I’ll call that a win.”
She leaned in and placed a big wet kiss on my lips. I opted against fighting it, as much as I wanted to.
“We’re taking you to the station until we get this all figured out.” She climbed in the back with me, while the deputies climbed in front. They drove with lights and sirens, screeching to a stop outside the Payson police station. I was escorted into an interview room with a big glass one-way window along one wall.
“We’ll be right outside.” The deputies said, taking up posts outside the door.
Sara sat me down in a steel chair and undid my cuffs. “Sorry for the rough treatment. They were acting on their training.”
“It’s fine.” I said maintaining a calm exterior. I was fairly sure Sara and the two deputies weren’t under any murderous enchantments, but I wasn’t certain if they’d stay that way, or who else might be. I definitely wasn’t feeling much safer.
Sara took off her body armor. Underneath, she was wearing a tight black v-neck tank-top. A push-up bra helped exaggerate her already large breasts. I couldn’t help but wonder if she used her fake boobs to distract from other parts of her body she didn’t think were as attractive. The rest of her body was so gaunt and fragile-looking, I wondered if she was anorexic.
“They’re going to have to interview you.” Sara said as she sat down across from me. “A couple of officers got hurt when one of those vehicles chasing you smashed into the roadblock. I’m betting they were all hopped up on meth or something. Several are dead. This is going to be all over the news.”
“Ok.” I said. “What’s going to happen with me?”
Sara shrugged. “That depends on how the investigation goes. I’ll use what influence I have, but it’s really out of my hands. I got the county and state involved, so they’re really running the show.”
“I really appreciate you doing this for me.” I said. “I’m happy to be alive, no matter how this turns out.”
“As long as you didn’t instigate all this, you should be fine.” Sara smiled. “I need to get back out there and check in. I’ll be back.”
Sara stood up and walked out of the room.
As soon as the door closed, Ulfvaldr appeared beside me.
“This isn’t good, James.” He muttered.
“Being locked up here? I agree.” I answered.
“More than that. Who is that woman?”
“Sara?” I asked, confused. “She’s the cop I told you about. She’s got a thing for me, but something feels a little off about her. I’ve never really felt comfortable around her.”
“I should expect not. Do not trust her. She is not who she claims to be, and she is most certainly not your friend.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, suddenly even more uncomfortable.
“She is an enemy. We know her as the Ice Queen.”
“Aw, hell.” I answered.
“Carolina needs to know. I will return soon. Do not reveal your knowledge of magic to her, or your connection to me, Carolina, or anyone else. You cannot trust her.”
“Sure.” I answered, dumbfounded.