Raven felt the change in the catalyst the moment the pouch left the girl’s hand, so sharply that he feared she’d died. She’d put so much of herself into it, her sudden absence from the song/scent that drifted along the magical currents of this world was shocking . . . but it wasn’t death he sensed. She still existed, the medicine bag existed, but she was no longer part of it.
What was happening?
If he’d had enough energy to change, he’d have hurtled himself into the wind and raced to see what was going on. But fighting off that last attack had drained him completely. All he could do was to open himself, trying to feel every change in the catalyst’s signature.
If he hadn’t known the medicine pouch before it had bonded to her, he couldn’t have found it at all—so at least his enemies probably couldn’t find it either.
Because he was so focused, so rawly open to the contents of that small pouch, he felt the moment when another’s hand closed over it. A human, not one of his kind. That much he could tell even from this distance. But this human’s signature was different from the girl’s, dull and dense, with none of the bright connectedness that had drawn him to her.
This one might be difficult. This one might be impossible. Most humans were. But he had to try.
If he quit now, this world would not survive.
Jase sat in the small park near the border station’s pedestrian gate, wondering if his father’s client would let him speed on the way back to Anchorage.
Driving the most ’treme car ever made, he’d found there were three kinds of clients. The sane ones, who were dying to see what a vintage Tesla could do. The stodgy ones, who wanted to creep along observing all the traffic laws. And the liars, who happily urged Jase to make good time and then ratted him out to his father afterward.
Jase could usually tell the sane from the stodgy, but liars were harder. He was contemplating his dismal record at spotting them when the first shots sounded. And until the screaming started, Jase didn’t even recognize the rattling bangs as gunfire.
He jumped to his feet, staring in astonishment as people ran from the line of cars parked on the Canadian side of the checkpoint. The people who’d been loitering in the park on that side of the steel-ribbed fence scrambled to shelter behind planters, or tried to cram themselves behind the big "Welcome to Alaska" sign.
The sign on Jase’s side said "Welcome to Canada." Should he get behind it? It looked pretty flim—
More shots decided that question, and Jase lunged for the nearest tree. Diving for cover wasn’t as easy as it looked on d-vid. The hard-packed ground was dotted with gravel, and his palms stung. His knees felt like they were bleeding, even through the fabric of the suit the firm made him wear to pick up clients. And the tree wasn’t very big.
Should he try to make a break for better shelter? None of the shots were coming his way, but it sounded like a war had broken out on the Canadian side. Jase hoped, with a sinking dread, that none of the screaming people had been hit. The thought of someone in pain, maybe even dying, made his stomach twist.
Something scuffed across the ground behind him, and Jase looked around. More people were hiding in the park on the Canadian side, but there wasn’t as much screaming now, even though the shots continued, accompanied by the breathy turbine sound of revved motors. It didn’t quite sound like cars, though, more like the bulky hum you got from a big electric bike. Hogs? A drug gang? But dealers, of all people, would have enough sense to dump their stuff before they tried to pass—
Something hit the tree above his head with a loud pop, and Jase flattened himself against the trunk—no doubt getting sap all over his suit, but better sap than bullet holes!
Something rattled through the branches and fell beside him. Not a live grenade, which had been his first panicked thought, but a fist-sized stone. There was a gunfight going on just a few hundred yards across the border, and someone was throwing rocks at him?
Jase lifted his head cautiously. He saw the girl on the other side of the fence even before she started waving, because she was the only one who wasn’t looking in the direction of the shots. Her dark hair was cut in ragged wedges—her frizzy curls didn’t work nearly as well with the current style as his straight black hair. She stared at Jase for a long moment, then turned her attention to something in her hands. Was she tying string?
She wore biker leathers but didn’t seem to be part of the battle, which sounded like it was trailing off. She looked up again, making sure she had his attention before she straightened and threw something small over the top of the twelve foot fence. It lit about five feet from Jase, with a soft thump. Not a stone this time.
It was clearly intended for him, so Jase scrambled out to retrieve it, snatching it up and scrambling back a lot more quickly when another burst of shooting broke out. This time the shots sounded farther off; the nasal whine of the bikes was definitely moving away.
Jase looked down at the object in his hand. It was a medicine pouch, with half the beads falling off and leather that looked really old. Museum-piece old. Why would biker drug girl give him this?
Did he look like someone she was meeting? Or was this package so hot she was desperate to get rid of it?
She was now crouched behind a planter, ignoring him, which was probably wise. The cameras on top of the wall were in constant motion. They might have missed her throw, if she’d timed it right, but the more she ignored him the more likely it was the customs cops would do the same. And if that pouch held what he thought it did . . . he should turn it over to the customs officers, immediately.
He knew he should. But not all illegal drugs were harmful, and even the ones that didn’t nuke your brain were worth a lot of money. Maybe a year’s worth of car payments, despite the pouch being so . . .
Had any of those bullets hit his car?
Jase ran his hands over the midnight blue carbon fiber curves. He didn’t see any bullet holes, but the showers he’d driven through earlier had left dust splatters that might conceal damage. He had just made certain that his car hadn’t been shot, when a voice behind him said, "Jason Mintok? I’m Lloyd Hillyard."
The client! Jase spun and saw a gray-haired man in a suit that looked a lot less rumpled and dirt-stained than his.
"I’m sorry! I was waiting by the gate, with my sign and everything, when . . . Hey, you were on that side! What happened over there?"
The older man’s smile looked tired. "I don’t know much. We were sitting in line when a lot of shooting started, and both my driver and I lay down on our seats. A few minutes later lots of bikes whizzed past us, and then it was over. I heard some speculation about drug gangs, but I don’t really know anything. The customs agent who checked me through seemed pretty upset, though."
"Did they get them? The bikers?" If they’d been arrested, would they talk about the girl and her medicine pouch? He really should have given it to the customs officers. A little late for that, now.
"I suppose they’ll catch them somewhere down the road, but they’re long gone at this point. The agents over there seemed more concerned with keeping everyone calm, and making sure no one needed medical attention."
The agents on Jase’s side of the border had done th...