Low Midnight Page 17

He took a moment to stand still, listening. Waiting for that prickling on the back of his neck that told him something strange was close by, a feeling of warning that had as much to do with instinct as anything supernatural.

Let’s scry a bit, see if anything turns up.

Since meeting Amelia and leaving prison, he’d taken to carrying a collection of items in his pockets. String, a candle stub, a packet of salt, a few herbs like sage and rowan. A piece of chalk, a bit of iron, a quartz crystal. The most basic tools of spell casting. He could work just about any kind of basic magic with these items. Rather, Amelia could work magic, using his body to manipulate the items, to power the spells. She’d been able to use her magic to preserve her soul, but without a body, she couldn’t use what she’d learned.

Over time, Cormac had come to see the usefulness of Amelia’s brand of magic. Made up a little for losing his guns—though as he sometimes joked at Ben, it wasn’t having guns that was strictly illegal for a convicted felon like him; it was getting caught with them. Ben didn’t think that was funny.

This is quite simple, really. It won’t tell us details, but it will tell us if this location has a strong magical presence or not. This might indicate if Kuzniak used magic to kill Crane.

“Let’s get to it then.”

First, face east. Then we’ll need a small hole in the ground—

He found east by the sun, which was edging past noon to the western hills, then found a sheltered space where he dug a divot in the ground using his boot heel.

We need kindling for a fire, and a match—

Using his pocket knife, he cut a twig and its lingering dried-up leaves from a scrub oak and crumbled the vegetation into the hole. Early discussions between them established that a disposable lighter worked just as well as a match. Better, even, though it might not have been as elegant and mysterious. Amelia was still getting used to the wondrous modern technology.

In the end, he could only do so much, following the easy directions she gave him. He could do the prep work, the hard labor. But just about every spell had a moment where timing and precision came into the mix. A deeper knowledge, the kind of thing Amelia had spent her life studying, and Cormac hadn’t. So he gave himself over to Amelia.

In that moment, he didn’t have control of his body. He was there looking through his eyes, he could feel his thumb resting on the lighter, felt the sun’s heat on the back of his neck, but Amelia was doing the moving. Wasn’t quite an out-of-body experience. More like sitting in the passenger seat when you didn’t know if the person next to you could really drive. He’d learned to sit back calmly, resting in the back of his own mind so he didn’t panic and freeze up.

Kitty told him once that he’d fallen asleep, but Amelia hadn’t, and talkedin a dreamlike state. He didn’t remember that. He wouldn’t say that he was afraid she’d up and take him over entirely one of these days, waiting until he fell asleep and then going for some walk he wouldn’t appreciate. But nervous wasn’t quite afraid, was it?

I wouldn’t do that, she commented. When you sleep, I sleep. I was talking in your sleep, that time.

That didn’t even make sense.

She held up the lighter and a length of red string, then whispered an incantation with his voice, something in a language he didn’t know, probably Latin but knowing Amelia it could have been anything. She repeated the incantation twice more, set the string on fire, and dropped it in the makeshift cauldron filled with leaves.

The vegetation instantly caught and flared in a foot-high burst of flame that made Cormac sit back. In a moment, the leaves were nothing but ashes, and the edges of the shallow dish in the soil were scorched.

Amelia gave a mental shiver that might have been a deep sigh. “That’s good enough, I think.”

It felt like an extra long blink, a brief moment of vertigo, and she fell into the back of his mind. He was at the fore, right where he belonged, without even thinking of it, like nothing had happened. Back in control of his body, Cormac brushed himself off and looked around to make sure they hadn’t set anything on fire.

“I take it that’s a positive,” he murmured.

Oh, I would very much say so.

A noise—footsteps—caught Cormac’s ear, and a male voice shouted at them from the head of the trail. “Hey, you! You there! Stand up! Keep your hands up!”

He looked over his shoulder to see a man standing some thirty yards away, holding a rifle pointed at him.

Chapter 8

CORMAC STILL held the lighter. He kept it in sight, putting both his hands up while he slowly got to his feet, stamping out the last of the smoldering ashes. So, this must have been the guy poking around Judi and Frida had mentioned.

There were actually four guys, three with guns, but only the guy in the middle had drawn on him. The other two who were carrying waited to see what their alpha male buddy would do, and if Cormac was going to give them any trouble. The fourth guy stood behind the others, hunched in a long overcoat and looking miserable. Cormac kept his eyes on the armed trio while mentally reviewing the area and his escape routes. He couldn’t win in a fight with all three of them, but there was enough cover here he could avoid getting shot. If he had to, he could go over the edge of the plateau and slide to safety on his ass without getting himself too badly hurt. Though his recently broken and healed arm throbbed at the memory of how well that sort of thing usually went.

He nudged Amelia. You got anything that can spook these guys?

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