Okay. So that was probably a bad idea. I mean, making deals with Loki has a tendency to be hazardous to your health. Laufey’s son was quite possibly the single most terrifying person I’d ever met. More importantly, as far as I could tell, he was completely honest about his motivations. It appeared that he really was concerned only with his own amusement, in seeing interesting things.
Now, don’t get me wrong. That’s not the worst ambition in the world. I could appreciate that attitude, could even envy it. The problem was that it made him utterly untrustworthy. For example, the only other time I’d made a deal with him, he took advantage of a loophole in the wording of our bargain to set me up with a forged invitation, which got me thrown in prison. Not because he was incapable of arranging a real one, you understand. Just because he thought it was a hilarious prank.
The same thing might well happen here. If he thought it would be more amusing to, say, go tell Jon that I was getting loose in order to arrange a dramatic confrontation between us, he would. He had no particular reason not to, after all.
On the other hand, he would probably let me be for at least a little while. Unless he was playing a very subtle game, my efforts to fix my situation would make things more interesting. As long as I kept him amused, he’d leave me alone.
So I’d better get moving.
Actual escape was, of course, out of the question. Even if I’d had Loki undo my restraints, my chances of getting out were so small that you’d have to use scientific notation to estimate them. Up against Jon, any allies he had, and an unknown number of armed guards, I would most likely be caught and killed very quickly.
On the other hand, I didn’t really have to escape. I didn’t even really want to. I was in Jon’s inner sanctum, after all.
The same place I’d been working so hard just to find.
I didn’t want to leave, not until I’d dealt with the mage. I just had to get enough firepower into place to actually do so.
And, by some fortunate coincidence, the barriers preventing me from communicating with the outside world had been removed.
It took me a few minutes to get into the right headspace, but I’ve always been good at focusing under pressure. It wasn’t long before I slid inside the mind of a raven, watching the house from his perch in a nearby tree. At my urging he flew up and away, carving effortlessly through the air.
I hadn’t been kidding when I told Aiko that the things I can do with my magic are addictive, and flight is a serious contender for the top position. I’ve never done drugs, never seen much of a reason to, but I imagine that it’s a comparable rush. Humans have been dreaming of flying for ages now, probably since before their earliest ancestors started walking upright. In recent years we’ve figured it out somewhat, with airplanes and parachutes and wingsuits. But I think most people still secretly harbor a great longing for the idea of simply flying, without the accoutrements, nothing between you and the ground but your own strength and skill.
That was what I felt. The struggle of fighting gravity with nothing but our strength and determination. The immensely rewarding satisfaction of success. The lazy, confident relaxation afterward, gliding on a thermal.
It doesn’t matter how often I do it. Flying is still one of the most amazing things I’ve ever felt. Every time I experience it, I’m reminded of how easy it would be to just…let go. Just throw the door wide and let it all come rushing in. So easy to not be me anymore.
There are days when that’s an awfully tempting prospect. No more pain, no more fear. Never have to worry again. Never have to deal with problems again.
Maybe someday I’ll give in to that urge. Maybe someday I’ll let it all go and see what my magic can really do.
I had the raven circle overhead a few times, to orient myself. I discovered, to my moderate surprise, that I knew where I was. Jon had himself a house out in the countryside. Way out in the countryside, situated out in the woods not far from Cripple Creek. I’d spent some time hiking in the area, and I recognized some of the landmarks.
The building itself looked like some pretty nice digs. The house was about as big as Kyra’s, and looked to have at least a few undeveloped acres around it. Expensive place. It was a little unusual, though, in that there wasn’t a driveway leading to the house. There wasn’t even a clearly marked trail to the door. It isn’t common for even a remote house to be that isolated. There are only a handful of reasons why you’d build one that way, and none of them are good.
Given my current circumstances, that was not a pleasant thought.
Okay. Phase one, accomplished. I knew where I was. Now to tell someone who could actually do something about it. I prompted the raven some more. He complained, but was eventually mollified by the promise of plentiful food to come later.
He didn’t really believe me, of course. Ravens aren’t stupid. They are, in fact, quite intelligent, more so than a lot of mammals. But he was amused and intrigued by what was going on, and he was willing to play along.
Colorado Springs was at least sixty miles away by road. Thankfully, the road was winding and took a ridiculously long loop out of the way. I was probably only around twenty miles away as the crow flies. And, as it turns out, as the crow flies is a pretty fast way to travel.
The problem was that magic is limited in range. That was why, for example, Jon had come to confront me personally. He could have cast the same spell from a mile away, but his magic would have experienced such severe decay that only maybe one percent of the power he used would have actually reached me, while I would be acting with my full force. Under those conditions I could quite likely have stopped him in his tracks.
Better yet, it decays faster the further away you get, in an exponential way. (For those of you more inclined to mathematics, it can most simply be described as an inverse-cube relationship with respect to the distance involved, multiplied by a value proportional to the inverse of the power input squared. Realizing how much I hate math, you will perhaps see why higher level magic is my own personal, customized Hell. It’s like being told that the only way you can have sex with the woman you love is if you’re lying on a bed of nails.)
For most types of magic, my functional limit is about twenty yards. At that point almost a third percent of the effort I make is lost as seepage. I guess theoretically I could push it further, but why bother? The most I could generate with that steep of a penalty would be a mildly stiff breeze, whereas if I waited for the enemy to come close I could hit them with gale-force winds.
Mental magic with animals is different for a couple reasons. One, it’s what I’m good at, and that makes an enormous difference. Everyone’s got one thing that comes naturally when it comes to magic, and this was mine. Two, the actual power investment is relatively tiny. It helps that I don’t really have to do anything; compulsion, or a sleep spell like Jon had hit me with, takes a whole bunch more work than just lingering and occasionally whispering something.
On the other hand, I’d never tried to reach much further than two miles or so before. By my best guess, I was currently at least ten times that far away from help. I was not at all sure that I could do that.
I didn’t have any better ideas, though. So I hung around in the raven’s mind and, occasionally, murmured a course correction.
The first twenty minutes or so were easy. I was feeling the strain, granted, but it wasn’t a serious pressure. We traveled seven miles, give or take. Not bad, all things considered.
By the forty-minute mark, well, not so much. I wasn’t really seeing the ground below us at that point, wasn’t even feeling the strain in our muscles. I’d stopped even trying to give directions. I wasn’t even dimly aware of my own body by then—I couldn’t afford the distraction—but I knew that, if I were, I would be feeling the effort physically as well as mentally by this time. Maintaining the connection at this distance was a struggle, draining power faster than I could replace it. I could feel the bond between me and the raven straining, and it was taking more and more magic to keep it from breaking completely.
We hit the edge of the city at around an hour into the trip. It took me several minutes to realize that the bird was trying to get my attention. He was starting to get tired, he’d ceased to be amused some time before, and he wanted to know where to go next. Honestly, in retrospect, I’m surprised he bore with me that long.
Thinking through the fog was difficult. Dividing my concentration even by that much was enough to almost snap my connection to the raven, and I knew that if I lost it even for an instant at this point I’d never get it back.
Aiko. The kitsune was still my best bet. She was, as a matter of fact, my only bet. Where to find her, though?
My house. She might be at my house looking for me, or…something. If she wasn’t there then I’d…do something else. Yeah. That was a great idea.
The bird kept moving forward obediently. We blinked, and the next time I became aware of our surroundings was ten seconds later. I was nearing my limits. The torturer could have already started to work on me, back in Jon’s stronghold, and I wouldn’t even know it in this condition. A comforting thought, actually.
Circling over my house. There was a car out front. Nudge the raven to go closer. Circling, circling, tighter now. Black sedan. Not especially clean. Parked illegally.
Aiko’s car, my brain informed me from somewhere very far away. That was important for some reason. We circled lower. Landed. Pecked at the door.
Human. Dark hair. Thin face. Eyes were kind. Female. Knelt beside us. Confusion on her face. Her lips—how strange, not to have a beak—moved. Some part of me recognized the appearance of speech, but I couldn’t hear anything over the blood rushing through my head. Wait. I couldn’t really hear that, could I? How could I hear that?
Vision dissolved, plunging me into a very confused darkness.