The Vancouver gate had been located in a tiny terraced park nestled between office buildings, set into the freestanding triple arch that dominated the park. The air was was fresh and clean, and large trees grew at both ends of the park. The mirrored windows of the neighboring office buildings had provided hasty exit opportunities, but they were rarely used.
Had. They’d stepped through the portal into the late evening and as soon as Jehane’s feet had touched concrete, there was a rumble and a pop and a wash of heat behind her. The rumble grew into an unbelievably loud noise as Linc pushed her to the ground, culminating in a chorus of skysplitting cracks.
Even after the roaring, wailing nightmare of noise had faded, strange shadow music played on. A song played in glass wavered up and down, alien and frightening, and there were other songs, too. One of them was sickeningly familiar.
Jehane lifted her head from where Linc had pushed it down. The windows of all the buildings she could see were crazed with spiderweb cracks, although very few of them had actually shattered. A few feet away, Seth and Natalie had also hit the pavement, each with a hand over the other’s head.
Linc rose into a crouch. “Thank God for shatter-proof glass,” he muttered. Then he leaned forward, peering down the stairs to the bottom of the park.
Off to one side, in the shadow of a large tree, stood two figures. One was human, the other huge and lion-like, with a flattened face and a scorpion’s tail. “Now?” said a crackling voice.
“Not yet,” said the man, quietly. Malachi moved out from the shadow, holding his weapon. The flame-shaped blade curved organically, the hilt wrapping around his hand like a lover’s grip. He sprang halfway up the stairs. “Are you here to fight me?”
Seth and Natalie, back on their feet, peeled apart and took up positions on both sides of Linc and Jehane. The shadow music twanged and Jehane said, “He’s—”
An ugly laugh interrupted her and another figure bounced around the corner, followed by a dark low-slung shape. “We’re not here to fight, kid,” said the newcomer.
The lion-like Cambion purred, “Tainter.”
Linc’s breath hissed between his teeth, and his gun appeared in his hand. “We’re too exposed here. Down the other side of the hill. Find cover.” Then, without further ado, his gun roared.
Jehane let Seth yank her away, down the hill. She stumbled after him, utterly disoriented by both the shadow music and the mundane noise. One moment they’d been walking through a portal and the next everything was falling apart.
Seth pushed Jehane behind a dumpster beside a building. She pressed against the wall and put her hands over her ears, trying to sort out the new information she was picking up. A moment later, Linc joined them, panting. “Malachi blocked my shot with his sword. What the hell? But he didn’t follow me. I don’t know who the other fellow was. Can we open a gate back?”
“There’s a mirrored window down there that looks big enough,” said Seth, pointing down the street.
“People are coming to see what happened,” said Natalie, looking the other direction. “But not very many.”
“Then let’s move fast,” said Linc. And they did, hustling Jehane down the street so fast she would have tripped without their hands on each of her arms. At the bit of unbroken window, Seth angled until he could see his reflection then touched the latchkey to the glass.
It shattered into large shards. An Awakened bulled through the remaining splinters, right onto the edge of Natalie’s sword. As it splashed, Natalie said, “It’s an empowered Awakened. We have to get back to cover.” This time, they ran back to the dumpster.
“There are two,” Jehane whispered. “Two Echthros. Echthroi. Malachi and the other one. Their music is… broken. And I think two Cambions, but there’s so much noise!”
Linc said, “That’s good information. We need that information. All right, you two. We need to get Jehane back to the Tower. That’s now our first priority. Seth, you take Jehane and find a mirror. Natalie and I will distract them.”
“What do they want?” asked Jehane.
Linc hesitated. “I don’t know. When my partner fell, it was because of a murdered child. She… changed. After, she found the murderer and killed him. She tried to kill me, too. When we finally tracked her down again, she was setting her Cambion and the Awakened to driving people mad. Then she was killing them. We didn’t have you, then, Jehane. Just me.” He clenched a fist and looked at it. “The team who spotted Malachi earlier retreated. I’d guess he’s been waiting for us since then, with plenty of time to set up this trap. But I don’t know why.”
Seth said, “It sounded like Malachi wanted to fight.”
A few yards away, at the front of the building, the Echthros with the ugly laugh and the twangy shadow music said, “Yoohoo!”
Linc pushed Jehane at Seth. “Go! Be quiet, find a crowd somewhere.”
“Here come the authorities, Mr. Gunman. Come and see.”
Linc and Natalie stepped out from behind the dumpster, Natalie waving behind her back for Seth and Jehane to make a break for it in the other direction.
Instead, they watched. A patrol car pulled up outside the building where the Echthros loitered. For a long moment, the occupants within were still. When the doors opened and they emerged, the two cops moved slowly, as if stiff and tired.
The Echthros walked up to them. He wasn’t a very large man, and he looked like an accountant who’d stayed overnight at the office, not a monster in human skin. The Guardians hung back, because it never did to demonstrate their nature to the authorities, not when it was avoidable. It was a deeply-ingrained restriction.
It was a mistake.
He said something to the cops, and laughed. They looked at him with the stoic suspicion of policemen on a call. One of them said something. The Echthros laughed again. Then a weapon appeared in his hand, a short, dirty blade that barely qualified as a sword. It shimmered with light, somewhere between a Stage 2 and a Stage 3.
“No,” cried Natalie, springing forward. But she was too far and too late. The Echthroi thrust his sword, once, twice. Blood sprayed the wall as both cops fell against the vehicle.
“Time to go,” said Seth, and pulled Jehane away by the hand. They ran, leaving Natalie and Linc behind to face a psychopath.