Home > Ride the Storm (Cassandra Palmer #8)(4)

Ride the Storm (Cassandra Palmer #8)(4)
Author: Karen Chance

And then I was looking at something else. Something that looked a lot like the Shadowland, a minor demon realm with dark streets and shuttered buildings and absolutely nothing to recommend it, except that it happened to be close to earth. But I wasn’t sure because I didn’t get much more than a glimpse.

Because the bed had started rolling this way.

“Get up! Get up! Get up! Get up!” Rosier was yelling and pulling, and I was stumbling and scrambling, and he was heaving hard enough that I thought my arm would break.

Instead, I ended up on top of the bed, after having been dragged over the metal footboard less than ceremoniously. But that nonetheless would have been an improvement—except that the bed was still rolling. Rosier, damn him, had landed us at the top of an incline.

A big one.

“Help me stop it!” I yelled as our ride picked up speed, shaking down the hill on its little casters fast enough to throw up sparks from the pavement.

Or maybe they were from something else.

“Never mind,” I said, and flattened out.

“What?” Rosier stared around. “Why?”

I jerked him down with me, just as a curved sword appeared, vibrating out of the footboard between us.

“That’s why,” I said.

Looked like some of the guys had tagged along.

Make that one guy, who must have been holding on to the bed when it flashed out, and was now running and then dragging behind us as we rattled down the street.

Fast.

But not fast enough to throw him off.

Because the council’s guards don’t get tired, or feel pain. They can’t. They’re spirits trapped inside golemlike bodies, only instead of clay, they’re made of an almost impervious metal that takes a beating and keeps on killing. As this one demonstrated by launching himself from a prone position onto the bed—

And then lost a head, when a sword flashed and struck it clean off.

It went bouncing across the street and I looked up to see Rosier holding the blade he’d ripped out of the footboard. And then screaming, I thought to let off excess emotion. But I realized there might be another reason when, instead of collapsing, the headless body started whaling on him.

It wasn’t doing a great job, not being able to see, but it was a small bed. And Rosier wasn’t doing a great job of evading, either. Maybe because he was still handcuffed in place.

“Do something!” he shrieked, and I was trying, but pulling didn’t work and shoving didn’t work and when I grabbed for the sword that had gotten knocked out of his hand, a metal fist closed on it first. And the next second, Rosier was dodging rapid-fire sword blows that were raining down on the footboard, sending sparks flying and almost cutting through in places.

Cutting through.

“The cuffs!” I yelled at Rosier.

“What?”

“Hold out your cuffs!”

He looked like he didn’t know what I was saying, but then I extended my arms and light dawned.

“Are you crazy?”

Then it didn’t matter anyway, because the metal body went flying in a cloud of flames, sailing off toward a nearby building like a headless Tony Stark. I looked behind us to see half a dozen war mages booking it down the hill with enhanced speed, leather coats flying out behind them like action movie stars. And a great big grin of relief spread over my face.

Which was still there when the second fireball launched.

A mass of flames came boiling through the air, which is exactly as scary as it sounds when it’s coming straight at you. I screamed, Rosier screamed, and the bed suddenly leapt up off the street and traveled maybe eight feet through the air before hitting down again. Because we’d just taken a turbo shot to the ass.

And then it burst into flames.

“What are they doing?” I screamed.

“Keeping us from escaping!”

Great.

Especially since we weren’t escaping now, not on top of a merrily burning bed. And these weren’t normal flames, and they were eating this way fast. And Rosier was still chained in place and the mages were still gaining and we were still tear-assing down the hill, until suddenly we weren’t.

We were tear-assing through an open-air market.

An open-air market on earth.

A row of Victorian-looking buildings flashed by on either side, with tables set up in front piled with wares, and people diving for cover. At least most people. A vendor nimbly danced out of the way, but his cart didn’t. And there was no way to avoid it with no steering and no brakes. And then it didn’t matter when we hit it head-on and were inundated with a wave of hot water filled with . . . pigs’ feet?

What had to be a couple dozen boiled pigs’ feet slapped us in the face as we barreled through the man’s big metal cauldron and kept right on going. Right at a bunch of kids who had been playing in the street, but who were now just standing there, mouths hanging open. Probably because they’d never seen a burning, speeding bed before.

I grabbed Rosier, who was trying to free himself by pulling the footboard apart, where it had been scored the deepest. “Shift! Shift!”

“Would you give me a minute?”

“No! Do it now!”

“We can’t do it now! We’re not clear yet!”

I didn’t ask clear of what, because there wasn’t time. I grabbed his head and forcibly jerked it up, pointing at the kids. “Now!”

Rosier’s eyes got big, maybe because we were close enough to see the whites of theirs, and he gave a little screech—

And the next second, we were back in the Shadowland.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

I’d never been so glad to be in hell before.

Until a virtual hail of swords clanged off the bed frame from in front, hard enough to dent it. And a bunch of fireballs lit up the sky from behind. And the only question was, which group was going to kill us first?

The answer was neither, because we abruptly shifted back to earth again, Rosier shrieking and the bed burning and now sword-riddled, and speeding more than ever because it had just gotten renewed life from its brief stint on the hill from hell.

A lot of life.

Like a Mach 2 amount of life, or maybe that was just the impression conveyed by all the shrieking. And the clackity, clackity, clackity of the cobblestones. And the neighing.

Neighing?

We burst out of the pedestrian-only street, which I guess had been closed off for the market, into one filled with horses and carriages and buses and—

And then our luck ran out. Or maybe it was the horse’s luck. I don’t know. I just know that I saw a flash of rearing horse belly and flailing hooves and the screaming white face of a cabbie. And then we were careening off course and heading straight for—

Well, crap, I thought, as the fetid stench of the Thames hit my nose, right before we broke through a barrier and took a flying leap—

Back into hell.

The bed hit down from maybe six feet up, hard enough to bounce me back up to the point where we’d flashed in, before I smacked down on top of Rosier.

Who dumped me onto the side of the street with a breathless snarl.

I just sat there for a minute, clinging to the now stationary bed. We’d passed down the hill and almost made it to the top of another, and the angle plus the bounce seemed to have absorbed our momentum. We weren’t moving.

We weren’t moving!

I stared around, half disbelieving. I was so dizzy that the street still felt like it was undulating beneath me. But it wasn’t, and that was good. And the lack of swords and fire and mayhem was even better.

It looked like the crazies had dispersed while we were gone, either following us back to earth or spreading out around the area. Because all I saw were dark, vaguely modernish buildings, like a back alley in a normal city. Because the Shadowland pulled images from your own mind to cover up whatever the heck it actually looked like.

But the illusion only went so far, because a very unearthly wail suddenly rent the air.

My head jerked around. “What was that?”

Rosier didn’t answer.

I looked up to see him frozen in place, dirty knees on the bed and the sword he’d pulled out of the footboard clutched in both hands. And staring in apparent dumbstruck horror at something down the street. I looked back around, but there was nothing there.

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