As the bright light faded, the first men entered the room, pistols drawn. They were dressed in black suits, none of them unusual, but seen all together, they were obviously the same design.
She didn’t see them for long.
A bolt of reddish tinged lightning surged forward from Giles Hardwick’s hands, and the men fell forward, unconscious, or dead.
“Careful with that,” Joe turned away from the dimensional gateway’s control panel to give Giles a look. “They’re not going anywhere if you short out the system.”
The next man stepped over the bodies, pistol in hand, and a web of red floating in front of him.
Amy remembered seeing that spell. It protected against lightning, a favorite of weather mages, and there was a counterspell. She didn’t know it, and for the first time in her life, she wished she did.
Next to her, William Harcourt mumbled a few words, raised his own pistol and fired. The bullet left a bloody trail in the air, flying straight through the floating web and stopping in the man’s chest. He fell backward, landing on the other two men.
Standing behind the podium next to his grandfather, Nick said, “It looks like we’ve made the connection to the target world.”
Joe pressed a few more buttons, and said, “Confirmed. Time to set up the power surge.”
After that they talked too softly for her to hear.
“Harcourt,” said a tenor voice from beyond the door. It reminded Amy of the palace guards, and that didn’t surprise her at all.
Harcourt frowned. “Sebastian? What do you want?”
“Something you’ll find easy to do. She’s a destabilizing influence. Give her to us, and we’ll let you go.”
Harcourt’s lips curled. “I’m loyal to the Empire, and I promised to take her away. I will keep that promise.”
Sebastian said, “Even if the Empire burns?”
Agnus Harcourt pulled something out of her jacket. It was a black knife much like Cassie carried. She held it by her side, hidden from direct view by her husband.
“Sebastian,” Agnus said, “you can’t speak to what the Empire will do. I’ve met both the Emperor and Empress, and you are neither.”
“I was tasked to do this by the Bloodlords Council. The princess is a danger as you well know.”
Agnus said, “A danger that we’re bringing to another universe where she’ll be unable to destabilize anything.”
William Harcourt, still holding his gun in the voice’s direction said, “Come out. Let’s talk about it some more.”
The man began to laugh, but it didn’t last long, ending in a wet noise, followed by a head rolling out of the doorway on to the floor. Cassie stepped out after it, giving it a small kick.
She walked with no difficulty, but her chest had four bullet holes, and her leg two. New pink skin showed through the holes in her clothing.
From the corner, Vaughn laughed. “Thought you were alive.”
Cassie smiled, looking like she was about to reply, but then she whipped her head toward the other side of the room, staring at metal staircase that went up to the third floor three quarters of the way across the room.
Four men were coming down, guns in their hands, and firing. Shots hit the podium. One hit Joe. He fell backwards on to the floor. Nick dove after him. Giles ran toward the podium and crouched behind it.
Somewhere among the rows of batteries, came the sound of a ricochet, and amid the gateway’s growing hum came a crackling sound Amy hadn’t heard at first.
Amy assumed Nick was helping his grandfather, but as much as she approved, she couldn’t help but notice that no one was manning the gateway.
At the same time William Harcourt turned around, pointing his gun toward the stairway and firing. The head of the lowest man on the stairway exploded in response.
Harcourt fired two more shots, cursed, and began to reload his revolver.
Joe said something Amy didn’t understand between the sound of gunshots, and Nick stood up, pushing buttons and pulling levers on the podium. The humming grew louder. Amy could feel the vibrations in her legs.
As a grayish cloud began to form around the cluster of men on the stairwell, one of them jumped off it, impossibly clearing a quarter of the room, and running toward the podium. Someone, probably Cassie, shouted, “Duck,” in time for Nick to duck and a bullet to hit the wall behind him.
The man was still running toward the podium, gun in his outstretched arm when Nick shouted, “Bye!”
Amy had been about to change regardless of the consequences, the voices telling her to do what she wanted to do anyway, when everything turned white and faded away.
Near Tampa, Florida: One Year Later
Amy stood on the front lawn of the house. It wasn’t as large as any of her family’s houses, but it was large for people here. Equally large houses stood on either side of their house, tall fences between them. She’d never talked to the people who lived in either one.
On the other side of the house lay the ocean. She wasn’t sure what she thought of that, or the ever present heat of this place.
Her mind went back to the reason she’d wanted to be alone. They wouldn’t let her in to the magic school she’d applied to, and she’d let her anger get the best of her. She’d gone there to ask why. Harcourt was still smoothing it over.
As much of a debacle as it had been, at least she’d learned something. They hated blood magic here. She didn’t know why, and she didn’t know what to do about it.
Well, not entirely. She’d caught a whiff of blood magic last week. Tonight she planned to find out what practitioners did here that made them so hated or to find out if the Bloodlords’ Guard had found them.