Unlawful Passage: Age Of Magic - A Kurtherian Gambit Series (The Rise of Magic Book 5), page 1
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Unlawful Passage (this book) is a work of fiction.
All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Sometimes both.
Copyright © 2017 CM Raymond, LE Barbant and Michael T. Anderle
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The Kurtherian Gambit (and what happens within / characters / situations / worlds) are copyright © 2017 by Michael T. Anderle.
From their altitude, the strip of land dividing the two massive bodies of water appeared the size of Hannah’s middle finger. She laughed as the wind whipped through her hair and Sal’s scales rubbed against her thighs as she gripped him for dear life.
Between Hannah and the foreign ground below, floated the airship, which looked like a child’s toy from their altitude. They had been flying east on the ship, which Parker had taken to calling the Unlawful, for days on end. Ezekiel, as curious and coy as ever, had asked her and her friends to join him on an epic quest to save the Oracle, Lilith, and with her, all of Irth.
You know, no big deal.
She didn’t know much about what was waiting for them at their destination, but so far, the epic world-saving quest had consisted mostly of watching Laurel and Karl bicker on the deck of the ship while Parker and Hadley sought to one-up each other.
Hannah had come to love their flying home, but as she and Sal soared through the spotless blue sky, she was happy to put some space between her and it—at least for a second.
Gripping harder with her legs, she reached back and pulled her hair into a ponytail, before shouting the command.
“Dive, you lazy wretch,” she screamed at the dragon, her voice hardly winning over the howling air around them.
Sal tilted his head back toward Hannah, and shot his tongue out of his mouth and back in before snapping his body up toward the sun and whipping it around back toward the world below.
“Shit!” Hannah yelled as they picked up speed, plummeting downward to the strange land.
Arcadia was hundreds, if not thousands of miles behind them. Despite the fact that she had lived there her whole life, the city felt like a dream from her past.
Adrien was dead, the injustices that plagued her and her friends defeated. Hannah had assumed that once she avenged her brother, she would get a chance to relax. Live a normal life. But if the dragon under her was any indication, she would never experience anything close to normal ever again.
On days like this, she was absolutely fine with it.
As they descended, the land looked less and less like a child’s drawing and more like the real world. She craned her neck as they passed the airship, but they were moving far too quickly to catch a glimpse of her friends watching them in awe from the deck.
The ground was coming fast, making her grip more tightly. With Sal’s speed, she swore they could crash straight through and onto the other side.
“Sal?” she screamed, but her words were sucked out of her mouth by the wind which threatened to pull her from the dragon’s back. “Sal!” she tried again.
The blur of the world beneath took on detail, and she could see the ruins of a city, a place that would have been a major point of human dwelling before the Age of Madness. She screamed again, but this time, only in her mind. She felt her creature’s muscles tense in response. They were tied together, and he knew exactly what she was thinking, but he still dove.
Ruins of a tower, not unlike the one she and Ezekiel called their own, rushed past. The windows blurred into dark lines as the ground rose up to meet them. Hannah fought the urge to close her eyes, and at the last second, Sal shifted his body—his wings grabbing at the hot air which surrounded them.
Just before the impact that would have made them both splotches of flesh and blood on the remains of the street, he pulled out of the dive and drifted lazily between the ruins of the ancient city.
Hannah’s heart pounded. “Yeehaw!” she shouted into the quiet oblivion that surrounded her.
Sal slowed his flight, circled over a clearing between what remained of four ancient buildings, and settled down with a thump. His wings folded onto his back, and he glanced back at his master, beady eyes blinking in her direction.
Hannah laughed and slammed his side with an open palm. “You are one bad ass son of a bitch.”
He laid his jaw on the ground, allowing her to throw her leg over his head and dismount. As her feet hit solid ground, it took a second for her head to stop swimming. Looking back at Sal, she said, “OK, enough showing off. I won’t call you lazy ever again.”
She surveyed his body. Once the dragon was a common newt on the streets of Arcadia, but now he had grown to the size of the biggest carts that were used to haul amphoralds into the city from the Heights. But as far as she could tell, he hadn’t grown for a while. Which was good, considering their accommodations aboard the ship that once belonged to Adrien, the tyrant of Arcadia.
Maybe he had reached his peak.
Despite their closeness, there was so much she didn’t know about the dragon. Zeke, the most experienced person Hannah had ever met, claimed to never have seen magic quite like it. It’s part of what made Hannah so s
She gave one more pat to Sal’s side before turning her attention to the ruins which surrounded her. The broken buildings loomed skyward on every side, and she felt strangely hedged in by them. She had never seen so many artifacts from the age before. Rubble was strewn out around her, but she could almost imagine the city, built by machines in a day long forgotten.
Now, little remained of the city. But it was the silence, more so than the buildings themselves, that made her feel uneasy. It smothered her like a thick fog.
“You smell anything, boy?” she asked, glancing back at the dragon. He had already closed his eyes—and she could hear his faint snoring. In a minute, it would be a rumble. “I’ll take that as a no,” she said.
She turned her head back toward the airship, wondering if Ezekiel knew they had taken to the ground. He had warned her to stay in the air. Their mission was far too important to risk the dangers of the world beneath their flying fortress. But the airship was too boring. She had lived all her life in one place. To not look around seemed like a waste.
Even so, she hoped the old man was ignorant of their entrance into the city.
Before she could think about her mentor any further, a scream cut through the silence of the ruins. She jerked her head in the direction of its source as the sound reverberated around her.
Sal was awake in an instant, fully alert and staring at his master.
“Let’s go,” she grunted as she took off down the city street, dodging the rubble in her path. Sal followed, hot on her heels.
The scream resounded again. This time, the words were clear. “Help!” a shrill, high voice exclaimed.
Hannah picked up the pace as the rhythm of her heart followed suit. She knew it was risky, but no way in hell was she going to ignore a cry for help. It wasn’t in her nature.
Reaching the end of the corridor, dwarfed by the ruins rising above her, she cut to the right, down a side street. As she turned the corner, she found a group of four men, taller than the tallest Arcadian, circled around a cloaked figured trembling on the ground.
Memories rushed back—of the Hunters who had nearly taken her life on the day she first felt her magic. Once again, her power boiled with her rage beneath her skin.
“Get away from the kid!” she screamed in their direction.
They turned, eyes wide, as they looked with curiosity at the strange girl standing before them. A smile cracked the lead man’s face when he realized they would have a grown woman to play with along with the child at their feet. But his smile melted as his eyes found Sal standing behind her.
“The hell is that?” he grunted, pointing a makeshift club at the dragon.
Hannah tilted her head and smiled. “Every girl needs a pet. Mine would just rather rip your balls off than shake hands.” Hannah glanced back at Sal, who was crouched ready for attack. The normally calm animal was a ball of rage.
She held up her palm in his direction but spoke to the goons. “I’ll give you one chance to get the hell out of here and never come back.”
The men laughed. Another with a bald head covered in body art grinned. “Honey, I ain’t afraid of no lizard. I’ve got balls of steel and a dick made of iron.” He stepped forward away from the others. Reaching down, he grabbed his crotch and gyrated his hips. “Maybe you’d like to shake hands?”
Hannah arced her arms across her chest, pulling two perfectly round fireballs into existence. “Sorry, doucher. I’m saving myself for a human.”
His mouth dropped open as she launched the fireballs, which landed square on his chest, knocking the man back into a sizzling pile of flesh.
A grin formed on Hannah’s face. “Who’s next?”
Without warning, the other three charged. Hannah cut to her right, toward the largest of the three. She dropped as he approached. Pulling her silver dagger from her belt, she rolled under his attack, slicing his hamstring on her way. The man screamed in rage and pain as he dropped to the ground. Spinning back toward him, she pulled the dagger across his throat, cutting his cries of agony short.
She looked up, just in time to see Sal pivot, knocking one of the remaining men with his spiked tail into the ruins with a crash just before he leapt onto the other, ripping at exposed flesh with his dagger-sharp teeth.
Getting up from the rubble, the other man shook off the dust and gritted his teeth. “Who the hell are you? Where are you from?”
“I’m Hannah, from Arcadia.”
“Arcadia? Never heard of it,” the man grimaced as he pulled a weapon from his hip. “You’re gonna wish you stayed there, bitch.”
Hannah held her knife out toward him. “Where I’m from, that’s no way to talk to a girl. Unless, of course, she’s the Queen Bitch.”
He held his weapon, which looked like a simple billy club, in front of him. With a grin, he pulled out a long double-edged blade. It was a handsome weapon, but there was no time for admiration. The man sprinted with a scream, swinging the sword as he approached.
Hannah held her ground.
The man swung the blade at her head, but just when it should have met its target, the weapon sliced through thin air.
He staggered forward, unable to understand the illusion her mental magic played on him.
“Never call a magician a bitch,” Hannah said as she reappeared behind him.
She drew the power of present anger and past rage through her body and allowed it to exit through her open palms.
The man didn’t have a chance to turn and face the one who ended his miserable life.
“Ho-lee-shite,” a small voice said from behind her.
She spun, ready for attack, but dropped her hands to her side as she looked into the big, blue eyes of the boy.
Parker leaned against the railing on the bow of the ship laughing as he watched Hannah and Sal sail past in a blur. “She’s going to kill her-damned-self one of these days,” he said, shaking his head as he watched his friend and her dragon get smaller and smaller until they blended into the ground beneath.
Sipping his tea, Hadley laughed. “What she’s been through? I imagine it’s going to take something stronger than a fall from a thousand feet to finish her off.”
The men grew quiet for a moment as they watched the landscape float lazily by. Parker had lost count of the days, and even weeks they had been airborne on Adrien’s flying machine—the ship that now belonged to him and his friends—but he knew it had been too long. Quarters were getting tight, and he and the rest of the crew were getting anxious to walk on solid ground. Everyone except Hadley, that is.
Parker tilted his head toward his friend. “You really don’t mind it up here, do you?”
“Mind? After all those weeks in the lowlands and cooped up in Arcadia and then that tower, I’m happy to have open air around me.” Hadley grinned, his eyes surveying billowing clouds on the horizon and the mountains rising up toward their ship. “Figure this is the closest thing I’m going to get to the Heights for some time.”
“Maybe ever,” Parker said, raising a brow.
“Like hell. I’ll get home eventually. It’s been good to be out of the mountains, stretch my legs a bit—meet some peculiar folk—but like any mystic on pilgrimage, the temple is where we belong.”
Parker let the quiet take over again. His friend had a point. When they weren’t below, everyone running into each other, things could be quite peaceful on the deck. The winter of the revolution was slipping into spring, and the world was coming alive once again. And he had a thousand-foot view of it all. Still, after all the running around it took to take down Adrien, the peace was downright boring.
He glanced back, looking down the length of the ship and off its stern. Arcadia was hundreds of miles behind him, and the revolution seemed like a lifetime ago. But the Founder had a new quest for them, and Hannah was committed to seeing it finished. Which meant Parker was committed as well.
Turning his head back over the bow’s railing, he asked, “You think the old man
“Ezekiel?” Hadley cocked his head like a dog in thought. “Sure. I mean most of the masters are. All that power coursing through them, it’s a wonder they can stand upright. Wouldn’t say it to her face, but Julianne got a crack or two with the crazy stick as well. Probably why it was her that was chosen to lead the mystics instead of me.”
“I’m sure talent—or in your case, lack thereof—had nothing to do with it.”
Hadley faced Parker as his eyes flashed white. The edges of his mouth turned up. “It’s OK, mate. You don’t need to be intimidated by me. Not everyone can have a mind like mine… But still, there’s no need for low blows.”
Parker laughed. “Get the hell out of my head, you freak.”
“Better yours than Hannah’s. All she thinks about is sex and justice.”
“Yeah, well, she—wait,” Parker said, suddenly standing straight up. “What’s that about sex?”
“Nevermind…” Hadley let the word trail behind him as he turned and left Parker alone on the bow of the ship.
He knew the mystic was screwing with him, at least he assumed so. From what he could tell, Hadley had little chance of getting into her head. Hannah grew stronger every day, and with each sunrise, his childhood friend was more and more capable of directing the tremendous power that flowed through her own blood—giving her greater and greater defense against the mystic’s tinkering.
But Parker still wondered if his handsome friend shared his desires for the young magician—and to what extent Hannah reciprocated them. Most of Hadley’s comments seemed in jest, but he knew none should underestimate the mind games of a mystic—friend or not.
Eyes darting, he scanned the sky looking for Hannah and Sal to return.
“Stay out of trouble, Hannah,” he whispered into the wind.