About five minutes after I left Thomas’s place, I found myself instinctively checking the rearview mirror every couple of seconds and recognized the quiet tension that had begun to flow through me. My gut was telling me that I’d picked up a tail.
Granted, it was only an intuition, but hey. Wizard, over here. My instincts had earned enough credibility to make me pay attention to them. If they told me someone was following me, it was time to start watching my back.
If someone was following me, it wasn’t necessarily connected to the current situation with Morgan. I mean, it didn’t absolutely have to be, right? But I hadn’t survived a ton of ugly fur balls by being thick all of the time. Generally, maybe, but not all the time, and I’d be an idiot to assume that my sudden company was unconnected to Morgan.
I took a few turns purely for fun, but I couldn’t spot any vehicles following mine. That didn’t necessarily mean anything. A good surveillance team, working together, could follow a target all but invisibly, especially at night, when every car on the road looked pretty much like the same pair of headlights. Just because I couldn’t see them didn’t mean that they weren’t there.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I felt my shoulders ratcheting tighter with each passing streetlight.
What if my pursuer wasn’t in a car?
My imagination promptly treated me to visions of numerous winged horrors, soaring silently on batlike wings just above the level of the ambient light of the city, preparing to dive down upon the Blue Beetle and tear it into strips of sheet metal. The streets were busy, as they almost always were in this part of town. It was one hell of a public location for a hit, but that didn’t automatically preclude the possibility. It had happened to me before.
I chewed on my lower lip and thought. I couldn’t go back to my apartment until I was sure that I had shaken the tail. To do that, I’d have to spot him.
I wasn’t going to get through the next two days without taking some chances. I figured I might as well get started.
I drew in a deep breath, focused my thoughts, and blinked slowly, once. When I opened my eyes again, I brought my Sight along with them.
A wizard’s Sight, his ability to perceive the world around him in a vastly broadened spectrum of interacting forces, is a dangerous gift. Whether it’s called spirit vision, or inner sight, or the third eye, it lets you perceive things you’d otherwise never be able to interact with. It shows you the world the way it really is, matter all intertwined with a universe of energy, of magic. The Sight can show you beauty that would make angels weep humble tears, and terrors that the Black-Goat-with-a-Thousand-Young wouldn’t dare use for its kids’ bedtime stories.
Whatever you see, the good, the bad, the insanity-inducing—it sticks with you forever. You can’t ever forget it, and time doesn’t blur the memories. It’s yours. Permanently.
Wizards who run around using their Sight willy-nilly wind up bonkers.
My Third Eye showed me Chicago, in its true shape, and for a second I thought I had been teleported to Vegas. Energy ran through the streets, the buildings, the people, appearing to me as slender filaments of light that ran this way and that, plunging into solid objects and out the other side without interruption. The energies coursing through the grand old buildings had a solid and unmoving stability about them, as did the city streets—but the rest of it, the random energies generated by the thoughts and emotions of eight million people, was completely unplanned and coursed everywhere in frenetic, haphazard, garish color.
Clouds of emotion were interspersed with the flickering campfire sparks of ideas. Heavy flowing streams of deep thought rolled slowly beneath blazing, dancing gems of joy. The muck of negative emotions clung to surfaces, staining them darker, while fragile bubbles of dreams floated blissfully toward kaleidoscope stars.
Holy crap. I could barely see the lines on the road through all of that.
I checked over my shoulder, seeing each occupant of the cars behind me clearly, as brilliantly lit shapes of white that skittered with other colors that changed with thoughts, moods, and personalities. If I’d been closer to them, I’d have been able to see more details about them, even if they would be subject to my subconscious interpretation. Even at this distance, though, I could tell that they were all mortals.
That was a relief, in some ways. I’d be able to spot any wizard strong enough to be one of the Wardens. If whoever was pursuing me was a normal, it was almost certain that the Wardens hadn’t caught up to Morgan yet.
I checked up above me and—
Try to imagine the stench of rotten meat. Imagine the languid, arrhythmic pulsing of a corpse filled with maggots. Imagine the scent of stale body odor mixed with mildew, the sound of nails screeching across a chalkboard, the taste of rotten milk, and the flavor of spoiled fruit.
Now imagine that your eyes can experience those things, all at once, in excruciating detail.
That’s what I saw: a stomach-churning, nightmare-inducing mass, blazing like a lighthouse beacon upon one of the buildings above me. I could vaguely make out a physical form behind it, but it was like trying to peer through raw sewage. I couldn’t get any details through the haze of absolute wrongness that surrounded it as it bounded from the edge of one rooftop to another, moving more than fast enough to keep pace with me.
Someone screamed, and I dimly noted that it was probably me. The car hit something that made it shriek in protest. It jounced hard up and down, wham-wham. I’d drifted into the curb. I felt the front wheels shimmy through the steering wheel, and I slammed on the brakes, still screaming, as I fought to close my Third Eye.
The next thing I knew, car horns were blaring an impatient symphony.
I was sitting in the driver’s seat, gripping the wheel until my knuckles were white. The engine had died. Judging from the dampness on my cheeks, I must have been crying—unless I’d started foaming at the mouth, which, I reflected, was a distinct possibility.
Stars and stones. What on God’s green earth was that thing?
Even brushing against the subject in my thoughts was enough to bring the memory of the thing back to me in all its hideous terror. I flinched and squeezed my eyes shut, shoving hard against the steering wheel. I could feel my body shaking. I don’t know how long it took me to fight my way clear of the memory—and when I did, everything was the same, only louder.
With the clock counting down, I couldn’t afford to let the cops take me into custody for a DWI, but that’s exactly what would happen if I didn’t start driving again, assuming I didn’t actually wreck the car first. I took a deep breath and willed myself not to think of the apparition—
I saw it again.
When I came back, I’d bitten my tongue, and my throat felt raw. I shook even harder.
There was no way I could drive. Not like this. One stray thought and I could get somebody killed in a collision. But I couldn’t remain there, either.
I pulled the Beetle up onto the sidewalk, where it would be out of the street at least. Then I got out of the car and started walking away. The city would tow me in about three point five milliseconds, but at least I wouldn’t be around to get arrested.
I stumbled down the sidewalk, hoping that my pursuer, the apparition, wasn’t—
When I looked up again, I was curled into a ball on the ground, muscles aching from cramping so tight. People were walking wide around me, giving me nervous sidelong glances. I felt so weak that I wasn’t sure I could stand.
I needed help.
I looked up at the street signs on the nearest corner and stared at them until my cudgeled brain finally worked out where I was standing.
I rose, forced to lean on my staff to stay upright, and hobbled forward as quickly as I could. I started calculating prime numbers as I walked, focusing on the process as intently as I would any spell.
“One,” I muttered through clenched teeth. “Two. Three. Five. Seven. Eleven. Thirteen…”
And I staggered through the night, literally too terrified to think about what might be coming after me.