Authors: James Hunter
Tags: #Men&apos, #s Adventure Fiction, #Fantasy Action and Adventure, #Dark Fantasy, #Paranormal and Urban Fantasy, #Thrillers and Suspense Supernatural Witches and Wizards, #Mystery Supernatural Witches and Wizards, #Mage, #Warlock
I pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and held the pack out to Ferraro as a peace offering. She just shook her head no, so I shook a smoke free from the pack for myself. I leaned over and lit the smoke off the fire. “Enough of this bullshit,” I said, before taking a long drag. “You’re probably tired of hearing me bitch and whine. I’m sure tired of doing it.”
She didn’t say anything, but nodded as if to say she understood.
We ended up talking for another couple of hours despite the fact that we should’ve slept, but not about anything serious. Not about the Guild, or monsters, or my life. Still, though, we talked, and it was kinda fun, actually. It’d been a damn long time since I’d opened up to someone new. We talked Marine Corps—she’d been an officer, while I’d been enlisted—so we talked shit to each other about the brass and enlisted, respectively. We compared notes about tours of duty and joked about boot camp. We told stories about the worst meals we’d ever eaten: mine was the Ham and Lima Beans C-Rats, hers was the Omelet MRE.
After a long while she called it a night; I told her to hit the rack while I took the first watch.
After three hours or so, I woke her up and took my rest. She, in turn, woke me up three or four hours later as the sun was cresting the horizon, sending orange arms reaching across the desert. We ate a couple of granola bars—health food is worse than MREs, let me tell you—and then mounted our rides, her on the horse, me on the moped, and rode.
It took us five hours to reach the edge of the Salt Marsh—desert, sage, scraggly trees, and foothills gradually giving way to mucky ground, pools of stagnant, reeking water, tangles of moss-green water plants, and biting bugs of one variety or another. The road devolved, turning into little more than a footpath, but still I managed to scoot along on the moped—little suckers are more resilient than they look.
Another hour into the Marsh brought us to what could only be the Mists of Fate.
Mists of Fate
The mist came on slow at first, just a low clinging cloud of silver, maybe half a foot off the ground, rolling and dancing in some unfelt breeze. It was cool against my skin, sound seemed to dampen and distort as we rode in; the hum of my moped died to a low drone, the clopping footfalls of Ferraro’s horse faded to a whisper. On we rode, ‘cause what the hell else were we gonna do? But damn did this place give me the friggin’ heebie-jeebies.
Another few minutes and the mists became complete and all consuming, just an endless wall of gray in every direction. As sight faded away, so too did the world—things sorta
and somehow less substantial.
“You okay, Ferraro?” I called out, unable to see her in the gray soup around us.
“Yeah,” she said, her voice sounding far away and distorted, even though she was likely no more than a couple of feet from me. “I feel a little sick though. Woozy, lightheaded. I think I might vomit. Is … is this normal?”
I nodded my head, then felt like an idiot since there was no way she could she me. “Yeah. It’ll pass in a bit,” I hollered, knowing she would be having as tough a time hearing me as I was hearing her. “We’re tripping. I’ve been in the mists once before, on assignment with the Guild years back. Right now we’re stumbling our happy asses into a Time Lap, a shadow of the future. Once we breach, the sickness will pass.”
There was power in the fog, Vis, moving and flowing like a stream, blowing across my skin like a stiff breeze—damn, did it feel good. Being so close to all that energy—even if it was outside of me instead of inside me—was like getting a taste of a cigarette after a long dry spell. Secondhand smoke, but still divine. The power almost felt alive and purposeful, which I guess it was in one sense. To be honest, the construct swirling through the fog felt like a conjuration—and I had the funny notion that Ferraro and I were the ones being conjured. Being conjured into a different world by our unseen benefactor, Lady Fate. Kind of strange being on the other end of this equation.
Then, the power sifted, changed, boiled, and the thinness in the air stretched tighter still—everything began to blink and flicker: black, gray, black, gray, black-gray, black-gray, blackgray. Faster and faster as reality distorted and transformed into something else.
… The world stretched taut and became as thin as cheap toilet paper, sound faded and died away completely—I couldn’t hear the moped beneath me, couldn’t feel it vibrate and hum along the ground. Even my own breathing was a noiseless thing. Cool mist filled my chest with every silent breath, spreading out snaking tendrils of suffocation into the rest of my body. My hands and feet went first, pinpricks doing a boogaloo in my fingers and toes, creeping up my limbs, turning my body numb and dumb.
… I was floating along and for a second, I could’ve sworn I was nothing more than a thing of mist and spirit, a ghost detached from the world, just another wisp of fog. The sensation was sorta pleasant and peaceful, I guess. I couldn’t feel my body, but that also meant I couldn’t feel the aches and pains—the dull throb in my calf was gone. Being a thing of mist was easy, it was the loss of responsibility and care. Of desire, striving, or failing.
… And then the sensation was gone. Sound came back first, followed closely by the sense of feeling in my hands and feet, the vibration of the moped purring between my legs again. The sound of Ferraro’s horse: hooves clacking down on pavement instead of sparse, marshy ground. The mists receded around the edges, revealing buildings that jutted up along the skyline. Big skyscrapers of concrete and glass. Finally, into the real world again … well, sort of. A possible future, but a possible future on
, not in the Hub or the Hinterlands. A win’s a win, even if it’s only a small one.
The Space Needle reared up on spindly legs—its spire stabbing into the sky like a magnificent middle finger to the world—which told me this was Seattle. God it felt good to be back in some place relatively normal. And Seattle was mostly a great place to wind up.
I’ve never spent too much time out in Seattle, the scene’s always happening, but the friggin’ weather never really agrees with me. Soggy, dark, and rain slickers galore. Pass. But the scene? Yeah, lots of music, which is always up my alley, tons of good coffee shops to grab some joe—even if the coffee purists are a little hoity-toity for my liking—and beer. Lots of good beer. So once a year or so, usually around late July or August, I liked to get up that way for a week or two, bathe in all the glorious seventy-degree heat, full of nice bright days. Certainly could’ve been worse places to get dumped.
The mists peeled away at last—I glanced back and found an honest-to-goodness wall of fog, thick as soup, and maybe thirty or forty feet high, stretching into the sky. It also snaked off left and right for as far as I could see, curving just out of sight around the perimeter of the city. Surreal. Overhead, the sky was as gray and dreary as a shitty retirement home. Laid out before us was a massive multi-lane boulevard, edged by rough concrete dividers—a green-and-white hanging sign suspended across the road on iron beams, proclaimed that they we were on the I-5 North.
Ferraro had guided her horse off to the side of the road, and sat fiddling with her pack, searching through the contents before finally liberating the map Fortuna had given us back at the saloon. I pulled my moped over to her and killed the engine, waiting for her to finish her survey.
“You doing okay?” I asked.
“Fine,” she said, eyes still scanning the map. “You were right, the nausea passed with the fog. Still”—she gave a brief shake of her head—“that’s something I’d like to never, ever do again.”
“Hey, that pretty much sums up my whole life.” She didn’t laugh, didn’t crack a smile even—and that was good material. “You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m nervous.” She finally looked up, eyes scanning the highway. “This place feels wrong. There’s something bad here. It’s midday here, but there’s no traffic. There aren’t even abandoned cars. And it’s too quiet for a city.”
She was right. There were better odds of winning the lotto than finding a highway this size empty during midday. And there were no noises, absolutely
. No horns, engines, squawks from pedestrians, or thumping radios. Not even the chatter of birds. It was daytime here, but heavy gray overcast made the whole city look somehow sick and muted. This place was on its deathbed … or maybe the coroner had come and gone long since.
“Fortuna said this was a bad future,” I replied. “She said there were genetically altered zombies running around here and a cult leader named Cannibal Steve.
, for cryin’ out loud. There’s a reason Lady Fate wants to prevent this future from happening. It sucks balls. Let’s just do this thing, get the hell outta here, and then go kick Randy’s ass, huh?” I glanced around for a minute, not entirely sure which way to go. I’d glanced at the map when Fortuna had shown us back in the saloon, but I’ve always been sorta lousy with directions—and yes, I know that’s ironic, considering I’m a former Marine
I basically live out on the open road. Google all the way, baby. “So where to, master navigator?” I finally asked.
She looked down at the map again, chewing on her lip as she went over it. “I think we need to take the next exit into the city—should let out at James Street and 7
Avenue. Looks like we’re going to head past the city jail, and then head out toward the bay. From there, we’ll head over to the Four Seasons, if you can believe it.”
“The Four Seasons?” I asked. “Swanky. Apparently Cannibal Steve has pretty refined tastes.”
“What’s sick about liking the Four Seasons?” I asked.
“Maybe you should refrain from putting the word ‘cannibal’ and ‘refined tastes’ together in the same sentence. Just sick.”
“Oh, got it. Just a terrible misunderstanding … Hey, that sums up the rest of my life.”
That earned a small crack of her lips at least. “All right, let’s get this over with.”
She nudged her horse forward, I started the engine on my scooter, and we cruised for another quarter mile or so, before taking the next sloping exit ramp. Two hundred or so feet of steadily slanted roadway dropped us at an intersection with lifeless stoplights, James Street and 7
Everything looked stone cold dead and long abandoned by those with the ability to leave. Looked like a tomb for everyone else. Jeez, why can’t I ever be strong-armed into doing a job in a decent place? Just once, I’d like to be sent to the tropical island of beautiful women, where vicious monsters—composed entirely of southern-style barbeque ribs and frosty beer—are running amok. Why can’t that be my life, just once?
A few solitary cars rested on the street, a few more dotted a large parking lot, sprawling underneath the overpass. From the dust and debris littering those few lonely vehicles—cars, trucks, and SUVs—it was pretty damn clear they hadn’t been moved for a good long while. One car rested on its top, scattered glass lay around it like spilled blood, scorch marks revealed someone’s attempt to burn it.
Welcome to the bright and sunny world of tomorrow, kids. It only gets better from here.
Ferraro glanced down at the map. “This way,” she said, now more sure and confident. She guided her horse left, under the overpass, and I followed along trying to keep my head on a swivel—friggin’ place felt like the set of some Hollywood zombie flick. Had me all kinds of nervous.
On the other side of the underpass, a slew of bleak buildings lined either side of the roadway. Directly on the right was a rough concrete parking garage and to the left towered twenty or so stories of dirty tan stone, which absolutely had to be a jail.
You never see city jails painted in bright and happy colors, or decorated with subtle landscape paintings—I’ve never, not once, mistaken a jail for anything else. They’re always the most depressing-looking building on the block, like the kind of building you’d expect to find in George Orwell’s
. A large multistoried glass building a little further up on the right proved to be the Municipal Court of Seattle, confirming my suspicion that the neighboring building was in fact the clink.
The hair at the nape of my neck tried to stand up and salute. Someone was watching us—which sounds kinda paranoid, I know, but, as they say, it’s only paranoia if it’s not true. “I officially hate it here,” I declared in a whisper only loud enough for Ferraro’s ears.
She glanced back over her shoulder and nodded at me. “The eyes? Watching us?”
I nodded. “Hey, hold on a second.” I pointed over to the sidewalk running out in front of the glass-faced municipal court building. A series of blue, white, and red metal newspaper bins, running along the sidewalk, caught my eye. “I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that whatever shitstorm hit this place, it didn’t happen overnight. Bet the newspaper has something about it. Just hang on one sec.”
I steered the moped over to the news bin, killed the engine, and slid from the seat. The bin was coin operated, as was only fitting since I didn’t have any change, but thankfully my pistol grip was a universal opener for anything with a glass front. I whipped the screen with my pistol—the
of broken glass was so friggin’ loud. Like making a racket in an utterly still library, assuming, of course, that said library was filled with man-eating freaks.
Careful to avoid the jagged shards of glass that were still intact, I pulled out a crumpled copy of
—the very last copy too, lucky me. Thanks Fortuna. The front-page story showed a picture of dead bodies stacked up like cordwood out in front of some CDC quarantine area. The title read: “The Infection Spreads.” I flipped to 1A.
The Infection Spreads