Read Hard Magic Online

Authors: Larry Correia

Tags: #Fantasy

Hard Magic (5 page)

She must have used her own Power, as she slammed into the floor hard enough to shatter the tiles in a six-foot circle, but immediately rose, unharmed but angry, dusting off her dress. She’d lost the fur stole and the fancy hat was stuck in the ceiling. Delilah picked at the shredded red dress in disgust. “You know how much I paid for this thing? It’s
French
!”

Sullivan was still on the floor. “I hate France,” he said as he drew his Colt .45 from his belt.

“That’s because last time you were there you were running alongside a tank,” Delilah said, slowly raising her hands. “It isn’t polite to shoot a lady.”

He snorted. “You’re no lady, and you’re mostly bulletproof, but this place is surrounded by thirty bulls with choppers, and you ain’t
that
bulletproof.” He swiped the thumb safety off and aimed at Delilah’s chest. He could feel his Power scattered. It was going to take a moment to gather enough to use it again. Good thing he always packed a heater. “So I guess you’re coming with me.”

She tried to look innocent, and failed miserably. “Come on, Jake, let me go, for old time’s sake. I’ll make it worth your trouble.”

“Tempting, but I’ve got the law outside. It’s over.”
For both of us.

“Yes, it is over,” the German stranger said, materializing as he placed the muzzle of a pistol against the back of Sullivan’s head. “The policemen will not be a problem. My crew made sure of that. Don’t try anything stupid, Heavy. Magic is always slower than a bullet.”

The Spiker calmly raised his big .45, put the safety back on, and let it dangle from his trigger finger. “I never did like you guys that could walk through walls. That don’t hardly seem fair.”

“Life isn’t fair, friend,” the stranger said. A wooden nightstick slammed brutally into Jake’s skull, hard enough to knock any normal man senseless, and he flopped to the floor.

“Hit him again. He’s got a real thick head,” Delilah suggested. The stranger complied. The last thing Sullivan saw was a torn red dress towering over him and a finger shaking disapprovingly.

Chapter 2

 

 

The learned gentlemen from the university have asked me if I relied on Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity or if I used the simpler rules of Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation on the evening in question when I accidentally took Sheriff Johnson’s life . Shit. I don’t know. I just got angry and squished the fucker. But I’ve gotten better at running things and I promise not to do it no more.

—Jake Sullivan,

Parole Hearing, Rockville State Penitentiary,
1928

 

 

El Nido, California

 

The old Portuguese farmer
sighed in frustration, ankle-deep in cow shit, as a panicked Holstein ran past, flinging shit in every direction, with his adopted girl on top trying to ride the animal like a horse.

“Off the cow!” he bellowed, but it didn’t matter anyway, because people rode horses instead of cows for a reason, and a thousand pounds of beef slipped and landed on its side in a great grunting heap. The girl Traveled at the last second to avoid getting hurt. She appeared next to him, still in forward motion, and her rubber boots slid through the muck until she stopped.

She was taller than he was now, so he had to stand on his tiptoes. He smacked her hard on the back of the head as he shouted in English. “Mean to cows? You don’t be mean to cows!”

“Sorry,” Faye said sheepishly. “I wanted to see what would happen . . .”

The farmer just shook his head. He’d tried that himself once a long time ago, with similar results, but she didn’t need to know that. “You upset the cows. Upset cows don’t give so much milk. No milk, no eat.” Times were hard, and they were paid by the hundred weight. There was a 1,000 gallon tank in the barn, and if it wasn’t full when the milk truck came, then that meant less money from the creamery, and they would be eating cows to stay alive instead of milking them.

The cow got up and trotted away, shaking her head and snorting. Its ear tag told him it was Number 155, and she was a pain in the ass anyway. In the barn, she was a kicker, so it served her right. His hand still hurt from the evening milking when that cow had kicked him again.

“Sorry, Grandpa,” Faye said again. “I was done putting grain out for the night and she was just looking at me like she was
daring
me to mess with her.” Everybody who worked in the barn had gotten a hoof to the hand by that particular boss cow at some point. 155 was particularly good at pissing on her own tail and then hitting you in the face with it when you were just squatting down to put the milking machine on her. She was an
angry
cow. “155’s a bitch.”

He thumped her on the back of the head again. “Ladies don’t cuss.” He wanted to smile, but had to stay stern. “So you Traveled and landed on her back?”

The girl shrugged. She had really grown the last few years. She didn’t really fit in with the rest of the family, being so much taller, paler, skinnier, with hair that was always long, tangled, and the color of damp straw. Her Portuguese had gotten better than his English, she got dragged to a proper Catholic mass most Sundays, and she worked hard for a girl. So it was almost like she wasn’t a damn Okie anymore, but she would certainly never pass for an Azorean
Festa
princess.

“Never told you not to. Told you to be careful,” he chided her. He had taught her everything he knew about magic. He’d taught her to Travel only to things that were in her line of sight, and how to use her instincts to avoid getting hurt by stray objects. He hated to admit it, but she was already better at it than he had ever been. She could go further, had a better feel for it, and could store more Power than any other grey eye he’d met, but she was still young, and therefore dumb.

“What if the cow moved and you got your foot stuck in it? I’d have a kid with one leg. You can’t milk with one leg!”

“Sure I could. I’d get a stool with wheels.”

“But who’d want a cow with a foot growing out it?”

Faye thought about that problem for a second. “The circus!”

He groaned. The girl’s head just didn’t work in the same direction as most folks. “People like us got to be careful. One mistake . . .” he made a gagging noise and crossed his eyes. She giggled. She still giggled a lot.

She hadn’t really talked much for the first few months. Faye had always been a strange one, reacting to things only she could see, with lots of strange looks and scowls, and when she talked she didn't make much sense, usually the first thing that popped into her head. The farmer never found out much about her life before, and frankly he didn’t care to, but he knew it must have been lousy, even by miserable Okie standards.

His wife, Maria, may God rest her soul, had taken to the little Okie girl, and doted on her. When Maria had passed on that winter, Faye had watched the family mourn, and he thought that it was probably then that she had figured out she was one of them now. Once Faye decided she finally fit in, she’d been nothing but smiles and mischief ever since. She really brightened the farm up, and though the old farmer missed his wife every single day, the skinny little Okie girl had given him something to live for.

Faye was the best ten bucks he’d ever spent.

“Come on, girl. Let’s feed the calves, then we can turn in,” he said, and the two of them climbed over the corral pipes and dropped down to the hard dirt of the yard. His knees were killing him but there was always more work to do on a dairy farm. She hopped down with the effortless grace of a young woman instead of a clumsy kid. He hated to admit that she was growing up. Even some of the local Portuguese boys from the other families had started sniffing around, but so far he’d kept them at bay with a stern glance and his reputation.

“Grandpa, can I tell you something?” After the first year she had started calling him Grandpa instead of Mr. Vierra. He’d never minded.

“What, girl? You gonna fess up to scaring more cows?”

She didn’t giggle for once. That got his attention, because she was hardly ever serious. There were always random thoughts spinning in that girl’s head, but it was rare when she shared. “It’s about my magic. Something don’t make sense to me.” He waited for it. None of it really made sense to him. He’d just learned to control it by instinct. Most of the others like them weren’t so lucky. “You taught me to
feel
ahead before I Travel . . .”

“And you always do, right?”

“Of course,” she said defensively. “But lately, it’s been more than feeling. If I try real hard, it’s like, I don’t know, like I can
see
the space before I get there. I don’t know. I don’t have the words to explain it good. It only happens if I try real hard.”

The old farmer nodded thoughtfully. According to everything he had learned over decades of practice, that was impossible. You didn’t see until your eyes actually got there. A Traveler could get a sense of
wrongness
if he was about to jump into a bad place, and that could save your life, but you couldn’t actually see anything until you arrived. “I don’t know how magic works, just that it does. I teach you what I know, don’t mean you can’t learn more than me.”

Faye seemed perplexed by that. “Why is it that some of us can do some kinds of magic, but only some of us, and we can only do one kind? If we got one magic, why can’t we get more?”

He knew that she was wrong. There was at least one person out there with more than one Power, but she was too young to have to know about
him
. “That’s how God wants it, I guess.”

“What if magic was something that could be learned, and we’re not just born with? What if regular people could learn it, like from books or a school or something?”

This train of thought made him uncomfortable. Faye assumed what most people did, that there was only one kind of magic, but he knew that there was the other kind. The
old
kind, the
bad
kind. He grunted. “Less talk, more work. Come on. Calves are hungry.”

Faye sighed. “They’re always hungry.”

 

 

Springfield, Illinois

 

“Sullivan! Are you okay?”

He blinked against the brilliant light. His head was throbbing, pulsing like somebody was running a blacksmith’s forge inside his brain. “Ohhh . . . that Fade cooled me good,” he muttered, pulling himself up. Cowley was kneeling at his side, blood leaking from his nose. Sullivan wasn’t the only one the Fade had worked over.

The Spiker mashed one big hand against the side of his head, and it came away stained red. He’d really gotten belted. Sullivan knew that he should have been out for a lot longer, but he’d spent a lot of time using his Powers to toughen his body. It wasnlike there was much else to do inside an eight-by-ten windowless cell all day. “Which way did they go?” He picked his fedora up and tugged it down tight on his head.

Cowley pointed up.

The blimp.
Sullivan got to his feet. “How’s Purvis?”

“I’ll live,” the senior agent grumbled from off to the side, his left arm hanging at a very unnatural angle. “Everybody’s alive, but they’re hurt bad. I don’t know where the locals are. They should have come running when they heard shooting. They’ve got a gang of Actives, Sullivan. There are more of them that went up there. A Mover bounced the boys I left on the door. There was another girl, who knows what she does?”

Sullivan stood. His head hurt, but everything seemed to be attached. No bones were sticking out, and he wasn’t
squirting
blood, so he’d been worse. He checked his Power. It had automatically returned and he could feel the weight in his chest. He had about half of what he’d started the night with. There was a sudden clank as the docking clamps were retracted from the dirigible. “Take care of your men, Melvin. I’m going after them.”

“There are at least three Actives,” Purvis warned.

“That’s suicide,” Cowley said, grimacing as he picked up his tommy gun. “I’m coming with you.”

That kind of bravery would probably get the agent killed someday, but Sullivan could respect it. “Fine, let’s go.” His .45 was on the ground and he returned it to the leather holster on his belt.

“The car won’t come down from the top. They probably wrecked the controls,” Cowley said. “And the door to the next stairwell landing is steel, and it’s been sorta . . . twisted. It’s stuck. I already tried— Wait, Jake, what are you doing?”

Sullivan stepped into the elevator shaft. There was no ladder and the interior of the shaft was made up of a grating that would be extremely difficult to climb. The Spiker paused long enough to pull a pair of leather gloves from his coat and put them on before grabbing the swaying cable in the center. It was extremely greasy and he looked with distaste at the mess it was making to his best shirt. Money was tight. “
Don’t
try to keep up.”

He reached inside and used some Power. It always took less energy to affect his own body than others. Perhaps it was just a question of range, but either way, it didn’t take much Power to make gravity shrink away to nothingness around his person. Sullivan reached high and pulled, launching himself up the cable, hand over hand, almost flying up the whipping strand. Within seconds he had left the first floor behind.

“Wow . . . and I get a lighter,” Cowley muttered from below.

Why am I doing this?
Sullivan wondered, but he already knew his answer. He had a few certain principles, and one of those was that when he started something, he finished it.

The bottom of the elevator car was black with grime and collected petroleum sludge. Sullivan almost collided into the soft mass, so great was the speed of his ascent. He held onto the cable with one hand and dangled, looking for the trapdoor. He found it, but had magically deprived himself of the weight to push it open. He concentrated on the trap’s iron hinges. It took a great deal of effort to channel his Power in two separate directions at once, to make himself lighter, but to make the door heavier than its hinges could bear.

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