The rain drove down so hard, it could’ve stripped the cobbles from the bridge. But nothing could remove her mom’s hand from Sarah’s. Her fingers sliced around the young Sarah’s skin, holding her tight, a few charges of magic zapping and sinking into her grip until nothing could break it.
“Don’t fall behind,” her mom breathed, the words shaking from her constricted throat that tightened with every pounding step.
The young Sarah couldn’t help it. Twisting her head, her brown hair slicing in front of her face, her eyes widened at the sight of their pursuers. She couldn’t see speeding cars, couldn’t see men racing behind them, weapons held high. Nothing but shadows flitted from one side of the road to the other, hiding behind streetlamps only to slice in behind old cars.
“Don’t look behind us,” her mother screamed again.
Holding her hand harder, she yanked Sarah across the threshold of the bridge.
They’d never make it to the other side.
One of those shadows shot in from behind. It smashed down into the cobbles a meter in front of them, rock dust spewing up everywhere.
“Behind me.” Her mother grabbed Sarah, twisted her to the side, and protected her with the bulk of her body. As sizzling hot chunks of rock slashed down, several smashed into her mother’s back, and Sarah could smell the scent of charred flesh.
As it filled the still night air, a harsh chuckle rang out. It sounded like a knife slicing right by Sarah’s heart. A few centimeters to the left, and it would kill her.
The shadows flickered slightly, dancing above the cracked cobbles, yet as one pushed forward, Sarah heard the dull thump of footfall.
Her mother hunkered over her harder, gripping her, magic building across her skin, nothing more than a faint charge now, a light blue wisp like a wash of paint. It would grow.
“You have me. Leave Sarah,” her mother hissed, voice strong but lips weak. As they wobbled, parting with a desperate gasp to utter Sarah’s name, Sarah gripped her mother harder.
“We’ll take both of you. Both of you are aberrations; both of you are monsters that must die. The council does not abide by things it cannot control.” Again the shadow took a step forward, even though there was no foot to step with.
The voice the shadow spoke with was an electronic muffled hiss. It was deidentified, but there was no one like Sarah’s mother.
Twisting backward, always keeping an arm around Sarah to block her off from the shadow and its power, her mother snarled again. “Charles, isn’t it? Why would the council send their head after me? You don’t expect me to put up that much of a fight, right?”
“I volunteered.” Now Charles was sprung, there was no need for his shadow. He took another step, and he emerged from it like a hand from a pile of dirt. First it was his feet, and they appeared in a cloud of crackling black magic. It scissored and sliced across his flesh, but the skin remained intact. The bridge beneath him did not. The already smashed-up stones were pulverized further. They turned into clouds of dust that erupted over the bridge. But Charles didn’t want anything disrupting the pantomime of this show. He swiped one bony white hand to the side, a red ruby ring visible on his pinky finger. The dust disbursed from in front of his blazing blue eyes.
He wore the long purple robes of the council. Trimmed with blood-red like fresh arterial juice, they glimmered with his power. He took another step forward. Now he’d formed in full, she couldn’t hide from the look in his eyes, no matter how hard Sarah wanted to.
Sarah’s mother pushed further back into her. “You will have to kill me here today, Charles,” she hissed. Every word shook down her arm into Sarah’s form, each one like the bang of a judge’s gavel. “Or I will find a way to drag you and the council down to hell, where you belong.”
Sarah hunkered forward, her small body covered with the protective veil of her mother’s spells. Tears sliced down Sarah’s cheeks, trembling onto her chin before sliding down to her collar, dislodged by her quaking nerves. As they pounded through her, she knew this was it. There’d be no getting away now. The council had them where they’d always wanted them.
One word rang through Sarah’s mind. A word with the power to part her personality, to rend flesh from bone, to grab up her heart and pulverize it in one swift kick.
She’d only heard it whispered by her mother, only behind locked doors.
Sarah had been pulled out of school, kept home, kept from going out even into the yard, all because of that one little word. Now that word would kill her. Or at least Charles Whitmore’s bony magic-covered hands would.
He sneered again. Sarah saw the look in his eyes, that wide, fixed stare, the energy of a man who wanted to kill, wanted to wrap his hands around someone’s throat, squeeze, and drive the life from their body like a farmer driving cattle across some barren field.
He took another step forward. Sarah thought she could hear another echo as if his footfall had been delayed somehow.
“You didn’t come alone, did you? It should be easy for you to kill me alone, Charles. But you’re a coward, right to the end,” her mother hissed.
“I am no coward, Leanne March. I am,” he extended a hand from the long sleeve of his purple robe, and dark green magic danced from fingertip to fingertip, “the last thing you two aberrations will ever see.”
“If the council remains on this hateful trajectory, it will die,” Leanne hissed.
“The only people who will die here today are you and your treacherous little daughter.”
Charles hadn’t paid attention to Sarah once. Until now. His gaze rammed over to her, slicing up the air, carving through space like a butcher’s knife. As it locked on Sarah, she saw the true aberration, the real monster in this town. The quality of attention behind Charles’s eyes was like burning hot magma. Dare to get in its way, and it would gleefully singe you to a crisp.
Sarah shuddered back again, pushing into her mother. Her mother gripped her tighter. Then she whispered one word, right by Sarah’s ear, “Safe.”
It called to an enchantment, a secret spell her mother had cast on her for months, if not years. Sarah felt something ignite in her sternum, a crackle like fire, then an adrenal burst like a flare. It shot down into her legs, coursing through her bloodstream like drugs. She shuddered back. She kept hold of her mother’s hand. She had a moment – one single sweet second to stare into her mother’s gaze. There wasn’t even the time to tell her mother she loved her.
The spell took hold.
She jerked out of her mother’s grip, the magic in complete control.
“Pathetic. You have no chance,” Charles snarled.
A bolt of magic sliced towards Sarah, but it didn’t count. She moved too quickly now, the escape spell pulsing through her body with the force to take on any enchantment. As she twisted to the side and rolled, she dodged with agility a six-year-old child should not have. It was sufficient to yank her out of the grasp of that groping spell. It smashed into the bridge railing, tearing off a massive chunk that hailed down into the cold river below.
As it splashed and sizzled, Charles’s scream rang out. “Catch her.”
Sarah hadn’t noticed before, but now her eyes widened like they’d been slapped. There were other shadows – they thronged the bridge, collected under the cars, and stood close to the streetlights. Now they moved, electrifying, magical energy pulsing through them like blood through a spasming heart.
Sarah screamed. She moved her head – the only part of her body still under her voluntary control. She turned, staring back in the direction of the bridge. Life provided her one second, just one moment to gaze at her mother. Then Charles Whitmore moved in. His hand formed a sword, bright, shining under the light of its own power. And that sword sliced right through Leanne March.
Sarah saw the blood splatter out behind her, heard every drip and patter.
She screamed her mother’s name, over and over again, and would for the rest of her life. But she escaped, and that was the point.