The Amber Solitaire Mysteries
By S.D. Fawkes
Chapter 56: Heroes Fall
Tracker of Essence let out a soft hiss as he stumbled through the brush, the pain in his side spiking every time he tried to increase his pace. The minions of his Quarry had proved little match for his skills, learned as a guard at Avernus; only Marshal Amber’s admonishment not to kill had allowed them the opportunity to wound him. Unfortunately, while not fatal, the wound had impaired him to the point that he had not been able to keep up with the chase, and Marshal Amber had gone ahead, leaving him to gingerly make his way towards the isolated manor on the hill. In the distance, he saw a flash of light atop the manor, and a moment later heard a crashing sound. He hobbled faster, pushing past the pain, uncertain if it was the mental compulsion of the loyalty spell or a more genuine feeling urging him on.
Amber Solitaire groaned, somewhat surprised that she was still alive. She tried to drag herself up and immediately collapsed. Her arm was definitely broken. She tried to put the last few moments together. Justice Evensong had surrendered, Amber had taunted her, and then something had happened, the roof had collapsed beneath them, and she came to on top of a pile of rubble with a broken arm and...
Something was missing.
She groped around with her good arm, searching even as she realized that someone else was moving nearby.
“Looking for this, my Dear Marshall?” said a voice above her.
Amber rolled over, and saw, standing in midair, Justice Evensong, holding Amber’s wand. Two of the fingers on her left hand were broken in half, with splinters of wood jutting out from the stumps.
She pointed the wand at Amber, “Where is the recording?”
Amber stared at her for a moment, dumbfounded, and then began to laugh.
Tracker was close now, he sensed where the spell duel between Marshal Amber and the Quarry had begun, and followed their path towards the manor. Here the Quarry had launched a powerful spell, there Marshal Amber had deflected it. A burned patch of grass and a deer rooted to the ground by vines further up the hill. He considered stopping for a snack, but there was little time. By the main doorway, a dense cloud of magic, and a broken wand on the ground. The Quarry’s. He felt a brief sensation of pride in Marshal Amber, followed by worry, what had that explosion been, if the Quarry was disarmed. And then he heard a haunting, unfamiliar sound from inside, and silently moved to investigate.
“What’s so funny?” the Justice demanded.
Amber continued to chuckle, wincing. She probably had a broken rib or two, along with the arm.
“Your circumstances are hardly amusing, Solitaire, now tell me where the recording is or I’ll be forced to resort to… unpleasant measures.” she said.
“There is no recording.” Amber said. “I was just messing with you, trying to get you to confess, and then you blew up your whole house, which, by the way, probably alerted every Marshal within 5 miles, so thanks for calling my backup.” She winced, trying to sit up. “Probably for the best if you just surrender now, there’s no way you can cover up this level of magical energy.”
The Justice’s face was set in a furious rictus as she slowly descended to Amber’s level. “I did not spend the last 20 years of my life, more money than you will ever see, and bargain with powers you couldn’t even begin to comprehend just to lose it all because one rookie Marshal didn’t know when to stop looking. It’s a shame you died in the building collapse, Solitaire, you could have been halfway competent if you’d had the time. Paralycto”
Tracker crept closer, not particularly caring what his Quarry was ranting about. He saw Marshal Amber, wounded on the ground, and felt a surge of empathy. He remembered all too well the feeling of helplessness a paralysis spell instilled. More than once, in his youth, he had watched friends and family carted away by ranchers as he and the other Guardians of the Herd lay stricken on the ground. It would be different this time. He observed as the Quarry stowed Amber’s wand, reaching down for a large piece of rubble. In his injured state, he would only get one chance at this.
Amber stared up at the Justice, struggling to break through the spell. “Any last words, My Dear Marshal?” Evensong asked.
“Fuck… You…” Amber strained.
“How unoriginal.” The Justice said, raising the rock high, when 300 pounds of Chupacabra hit her from behind.
Amber stared, astonished, as Scaly Dave slammed into the Justice, jaws clamping down on her arm. Apparently, the Justice’s robes were imbued with some defensive spells, as rather than collapsing to the ground, she instead managed to shake off the Chupacabra, and reached again for Amber’s wand. At this, Scaly Dave reared back and screamed, stunning the Justice. Amber felt a terror in her heart as the sound washed over her, but, remembering her training, bit down on the inside of her lip, distracting her from the supernatural fear. She felt the paralyzing effects of the Justice’s spell wash away, her concentration having apparently wavered.
Tracker had miscalculated. The Quarry had proven resistant to his physical attacks, his bite simply bouncing off her robed arm, the scent of her magic mingling with something else that he had not noticed before. His Danger Call had stunned her momentarily, but she was already shaking it off as he moved between her and Marshal Amber. He did not know how to disable an opponent this powerful without killing her, and his conditioning still prevented him from disobeying Marshal Amber’s order. He heard her stirring behind him, and hoped she would run. He did not want to lose the first human he had met that had treated him as a person, rather than an animal, or an object of pity.
Amber tried to rise from the ground, looking at the Justice beyond Scaly Dave. She could order him to kill Evensong, and he would do it gladly, but she knew that afterwards, the Chief would insist he be put down. No Chupacabra who had killed a human could ever be trusted again. Instead she reached into her boot, careful to keep herself concealed by Scaly Dave, and drew her father’s keepsake.
“Get out of my way, you disgusting animal!” Evensong shouted, preparing a lightning spell. The Chupacabra again. How had such a creature managed to derail her plans to this extent. She had only signed the order to transfer it to the Marshal’s custody because she had assumed it would serve as a distraction. Now her underestimation had cost her again. It was time to end this.
Tracker screamed again, this time in pain, as the bolt hit him. Collapsing to the ground, he felt his limbs spasming uncontrollably. As he struggled to regain his feet, he saw Marshal Amber standing over him, a wand in her hand, but he smelled no magic coming from it, only metal and oil. As the Quarry moved to cast another spell, Marshal Amber pointed the wand at her, and an incredible noise erupted from the wand. He stared in awe as the Quarry jerked backwards, blood spouting from her chest as she collapsed to the ground.
Amber stared down at Justice Evensong, her father’s gun in her hand. The Justice was bleeding badly, but would easily last long enough for the healers to arrive.
“Hah... “ the Justice tried to laugh. “A gun… How was I not prepared… for that…”
“Too long in the Magimundi” Amber replied. “If you don’t see what’s going on in the world around you, how can you expect to control it?”
“I don’t need… your pithy judgements…” The Justice said. “You win… this time…”
“There won’t be another time, Evensong, this ends today.” Amber said.
“So… certain…” the Justice whispered. “You should take… your own… advice.” With a sudden move, she clenched her broken hand a final time, and Amber was already diving for cover as she heard a familiar Crack.
Instead of an explosion, however, there was a sudden intense heat, and a blinding light. When Amber looked up, all that was left of the Justice was a charred corpse, and Amber’s wand, wholly intact.
When Tracker felt the surge of unfamiliar magic, he too had retreated behind cover. But there was something unpleasantly familiar about the scent. He rose to find the body of the Quarry, smelling to confirm she was dead. But the scent of the magic coming from her hand was different, it reminded him of Avernus, and some of the magic he had sensed there, but this was darker, more pungent. And far older.
Amber collected her wand as Scaly Dave sniffed at the corpse. She hoped he wouldn’t eat it, that would be hard to explain.
“Come on partner,” She said, “let’s get you to the healers.”
Wincing as she was reminded of her broken arm, she remembered Evensong’s last words. What had she meant? That there was another, deeper conspiracy behind the one she’d already uncovered? Something that would prompt the Justice to kill herself to avoid being exposed? She sat down beside Scaly Dave, suddenly exhausted. Whatever else had happened, her partner’s killer was dead, and she was alive. Anything else could wait for tomorrow.
Amber Solitaire and Tracker of Essence will return in
The Amber Solitaire Mysteries
Night of Swords