Low Midnight Page 61

The charm doesn’t confer invisibility. That’s very powerful magic, too much to waste on this. This—it simply involves perception. It encourages observers to look away. They don’t see you, not because you’re invisible, but because they don’t see you.

Magic by semantics. Sure, why not?

He stopped hiking when he heard something. Snap of a twig, a rustle against a tree branch, a murmured voice. Layne brought friends. The voices only spoke a word or two, but they seemed to be looking for someone. Whoever was here, they hadn’t seen him. Cormac moved as quietly as he could. When he reached the end of the deer path and emerged from the trees, the plateau opened before him, a dried-out stretch. The wind had stopped and the air was still. Sound carried, and he heard a pair of voices calling to each other in stifled whispers. They were among the trees, on the other side of the slope. He wiped his forehead, erasing the spell’s mark, and waited.

“Hey! Where’d he come from!”

“I thought you were watching!”

Layne’s two goons emerged from the trees across the flat space, staring at him, their jaws dropped. They had guns in holsters but hadn’t drawn yet. Whether things stayed that way depended on how much control Layne actually had over them.

Layne himself moved up from behind them to the middle of the plateau, hands at his sides. He wore a sly smile.

“Wasn’t sure you’d actually have the guts to show up,” he said, a predictable bit of bluster. Cormac smirked back.

Flakes of snow started falling, picturesque white spots drifting slowly, as if independent of gravity.

Oh my goodness. I’ve read about gunfights at high noon in the Old West. I never thought to see one.

You ready to draw, then? Cormac asked her.

I don’t know. I don’t like the way he’s smiling at us, as if he knows something we don’t.

That’s the mind game. He’s being intimidating, trying to throw us off. I’m doing the same thing. Remember, winning a shootout isn’t about just being fast, it’s about being accurate.

I’m not sure I can—

You’ve done this before. Against the demon, against Harold Franklin.

But that’s just it, I knew exactly what they could do, exactly where they drew their powers from. I knew what spells to use against them. This—we only have one chance, and I don’t know the right spell. We still don’t know what the amulet does, only that it exists.

The answer popped into his head—you use the strongest one, of course. Just like you used the most powerful weapon you had, and you hit as hard as you could. Make sure you only need to strike once and don’t give the enemy a chance to stand back up.

Amelia knew what offensive spell was her strongest; he felt her confidence. The storm helped; she could chant a phrase and use a talisman to calllightning out of the overcast sky. Fry Layne where he stood. Cormac sort of looked forward to it. At her direction, he found the right talisman, a Thor’s hammer in his left-hand jacket pocket. She could invoke storm magic from a half a dozen cultures, use the energies already brewing above them to strike a blow.

Remember, he told her, you’re a more experienced magician than he is. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.

But what if he doesn’t have to?

The comment made him pause, and he tilted his head as if listening. Quickly he brought his gaze back to Layne, and wondered what the other man made of the gesture. Only a handful of people knew about Amelia. To everyone else, Cormac had just suddenly become a powerful magician. Part of the legend, right?

The snow remained scant, occasional flakes rather than a real snowfall. Not enough to interfere with his line of sight. But the clouds thickened, billows like cotton batting gathering overhead. His hair stood on end, from static cracking in the air.

Layne stood like a man invincible, who could not fail. He knows something, Cormac thought.

Amelia had retreated into herself, pondering. Cormac nudged her.

What if he doesn’t have to do anything? she repeated. A powerful offense is unnecessary if your defensive capabilities are strong enough. What if, what if …

“I thought you were badass, Bennett! Show me what you’ve got!”

He’s provoking us. He wants us to attack.

It did seem that way. He’d set some kind of trap, and if they attacked him outright, they’d walk right into it. Cormac was raised to be a hunter; he was a patient man. The longer he stood and glared at Layne, the more flustered the man would get. He had time. More important that they figure this out.

Blue and white streaks of light flashed in the clouds, lightning waiting to be summoned. All Amelia had to do was say the word and call down a bolt to smash Layne.

He’s not a magician, Amelia said, her thoughts racing. All he has is the amulet.

That was it. The key to it all.

“I’ve got it,” he murmured, at the same time Amelia realized, I’ve got it.

That was what the amulet was, what it did—somehow, it used a magician’s attack against him. The original Milo Kuzniak didn’t have any magical ability, just smoke and mirrors and a notebook filled with folklore, but when Augustus Crane attacked, he died. And when the younger Milo Kuzniak attacked, he died.

It’s a mirror. The amulet is reflective. I call down lightning on Layne, I’d only be calling it down on myself. I can’t do anything to him, Cormac. Through him, she made a gesture, dropped the Thor’s hammer back in his pocket. The static charge in the air dissipated, the lightning overhead faded. He breathed out like he’d just left a minefield.

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