“It all makes sense! The SWAT teams. The subway…they’re leading us on.” Justin felt fear in his chest. “We’ve made the future—one they’ve planned for.”
Amber had stopped moving her hands over Buncombe’s wound while Justin was speaking, but the blue light continued to flow as Iridess worked through her companion. “Buncombe…what if he’s right? The SWAT team didn’t seem to be shooting to kill. They seemed to be trying to force me to the subway.”
Buncombe ran his fingers over his moustache, thinking. Then he snapped his fingers. Then he winced as the flesh over his bullet wound closed. “Thanks.” Then, “You’re missing two things, Justin. First, there’s Tobias. Why would be risk himself? He’s their Prophet! And his companion is their Warrior! If this was a trap, why didn’t he just send in his police cronies? No, chaps, we’re on to something.”
“The subway,” Justin cried. “What about the subway we’re sitting in right now!”
“Standing in,” Buncombe corrected. “And here’s how I know. I’m the one who called this subway in. I have a contact in the transportation bureau. This is our ticket into whatever Connor is trying to protect. At the last station we’ll find something. The thing Daldion sensed.”
Connor turned the cellphone off. He had many—and the he had just finished speaking on only had one number in its directory. The current Mayor of New York City.
A convenient blackmail job, conducted by the ex-Prophet Tobias Tory, had brought the rather greedy man under Connor’s control. Of course the mayor thought it was a man higher up in the state hierarchy who as controlling him, but Connor never saw fit to dispel that illusion.
It was he who had arranged the SWAT teams, the clearing of the subway stations…and the maintenance order for a certain subway car.
Returning his gaze to the screen he watched the lone subway car pull into the empty station, open its door, close them, and leave. No one exited. Perfect.
The last station was just ahead—where his team waited. Where Connor’s secret was kept. And beyond that…the empty unused side tunnel heading under the bay to nowhere but a dead end.
Connor turned another of his several cellphones on. “Hiram, Sarai. They are coming your way. Your team ready?”
The audio crackled—subways were no known for good connections. But the affirmative was given. It was nearly time. It had been too long since he had hunted his enemies…
The man leaned back in his chair. Soon…
The doors of the subway car opened.
And the air ignited with the power of the Thin Places.
The wolves took form, blue light cocooning them, wrapping them in energy. The eight members of the Pack stepped from the car. But it didn’t leave—it remained at its place, at the near end of the line.
Ruler, Prophet, Watcher, Judge, Healer, Seeker, Warrior, Teacher.
Facing them were Sarai and Hiram. They looked calm. As if they hadn’t even recognized that mere minutes before Tobias had been killed.
But the wolves beside them were ready to fight. They too were constructs of blue light, only able to exist in the Thin Places without their human counterparts.
A voice echoed from the station’s PA system. “You always underestimated, Buncombe. You always were too confident in your judgment, your abilities.” Connor’s disembodied voice paused. “In a way, you are insane.”
“All the best men are,” Buncombe retorted, his hands curling into fists. “Show yourself! This ends here!”
In reply there was a sudden boom, the shattering sound reverberating down the subway tunnel they had come from. The tunnel had been blown.
“For you, perhaps,” said Connor, his tone low.
Justin, standing beside the form of Daldion, blinked as images flashed in his mind.
Fire. Water. War. Death.
Death follows war.
He backed up a step unconsciously, looking down to Daldion. The Prophet nodded. “The even foreseen is being fulfilled now. It is up to us how it will play out. Death follows war. We must back down.”
Buncombe trembled. “Connor…”
But the man’s voice was heard no more. The Thin Places shivered as Sarai and Hiram retreated, moving back up the station, back up the steps, away from the full Pack that stood arrayed before them.
Then, at the top of the steps, a form appeared. A man, not tall, but sharp. Connor Halling. He was smiling.
A collective roar came from the mouths of the wolves. Teeth were bared. The whole pack was caught in the power of it—ready to charge.
“Death follows war!” Justin yelled. The roar was cut off—as if it had been sliced in two. All head turned to Justin.
Buncombe’s eyes were fiery. Rage seemed to permeate his being. “His death, Justin. Not ours. Not today!”
“He’s had his death. Tobias is dead. Now…now it’s our turn. We have to back down! Fight another day.”
There was no murmur of agreement.
Justin was desperate. “I am the Ruler! I’m supposed to be in charge! I say we leave! We don’t know what he’s planned. He’s manipulated everything!”
He knew he had played the wrong card. Rigel and Zerihun turned away from him, and Francisco only checked his pistol.
Buncombe stared at him with something like pity. “Then run, Ruler. If it has to be this way…farewell.”
Then, Francisco and their companions beside them, they ran towards Connor.
Amber stayed, as did Iridess and Daldion.
And the fire began. The station began to tear itself apart. Hidden explosives tore through concrete and steel, even into the blue light of the Thin Places. The attackers dodged and weaved through the wreckage, but they had chance of getting through.
Justin hit the ground as a shockwave knocked him off his feet. He hit the ground with a thud—the breath leaving him.
A pair of hands grabbed him, dragged him back into the subway car. The explosions seemed endless, ripping the room into smaller and smaller pieces. Glass shattered as the windows of the car were blown out.
From the smoke came buncombe and Francisco. One was helping hold the other up—Francisco holding Buncombe.
They had almost reached the subway car, almost made it into the protective light of the Thin Places exuded by Amber and Justin, then there were two shots.
Connor, standing far across the station and out of range of the explosions, was an excellent shot.
Francisco collapsed, his eyes dim before he hit the ground. Buncombe fell—the piece of steel embedded in his side pushed deeper by his fall. He screamed in pain, falling just short of the doors.
Justin reached out, clasping Buncombe’s hand, pulling him through the closing doors as a final explosion tore the waiting area apart, denting the side of the car.
A piece of stone exploded through the side of the car as it accelerated. It clipped Justin on the cheek as he tried to help Buncombe to his feet. Tearing through his skin, it sent him spinning, knocking him from the speeding car—out of the smashed window.
The car was going fast, far too fast that was safe. And up ahead was a dead end.
Amber turned desperately to Buncombe. The metal was too deeply embedded—they both knew that.
The older man nodded to her, a slight smile touching his face, then turned away, reaching for an object on the seat above him.
Amber handed Buncombe his top hat, a tear sliding from her eye. He said something, them weakly pushed her away.
She nodded, braced herself, and jumped through the window Justin had fell from, her body smashing against the side of the tunnel. More than one bone broke.
Buncombe managed to pull himself up to a seat, where he lay, gasping. The light flickered as the car went faster and faster, accelerating to a blur. Then it reached the end of the maintenance tunnel, and exploded.
Justin, lying half-conscious, bleeding from more places than he could count, in more pain that he had ever felt, felt the Thin Places shudder as Buncombe died, as Francisco, back on the station, breathed his last.
It was like an explosion—the old man didn’t go quietly. And then Justin understood. With his dramatic parting, Buncombe tried to win one final victory over Connor.
He hoped to make him believe Justin was dead.
And, Justin thought with the last of his energy as a pair of hands began to drag him painfully towards a door in the tunnel wall, Amber too.
End of Part 1
Well, to those who may have been reading this, what do you think so far? How’d you like this twist? I had a hard time writing it, but there you go.