I never imagined my first trip to Denmark would include crouching in a forest in the dark of night, but at least the beech trees gave Lyder and me much needed cover. I rose to my feet and stood over him, jerking my head to the right to indicate that we needed to pack up and head out. When he waved me off, I shut the transmitter case with my foot and trained my sten gun on him.
He glared at me. “I wasn’t done with my radio transmission.”
“You went over by five minutes. That means they’ll be coming.” I had little patience for people who did things that would likely get me killed.
He pulled out a pistol and grabbed the case. “I’m ready.”
I flinched when the first gunshot rang. It took the SS little effort to pinpoint our position. Lyder jumped to his feet and ran with me through the forest. I breathed in through my nose and out my mouth, like I’d do when taking a jog. I felt a cold lump in the pit of my stomach as my shoes haphazardly crushed dry leaves and twigs beneath them. We heard voices, dogs barking, and where the forest cleared we saw the headlights of a trekker sitting in the middle of the road.
Great, we’ve just been flanked.
With heavy breaths, we paused and pressed ourselves against the trunk of a tree as if it were all the protection we needed.
“Any bright ideas, sergeant?” I pulled out my golden knife and began carving repetitions of two alchemical symbols into the soft earth: Fire and Air.
“We make a stand and fight,” he said, dropping the case and pulling out another pistol. “They’ll likely force us to surrender once they see my uniform.”
“Bad plan.” They might take an officer of the Danish army as a prisoner of war, but if they caught a woman in civilian clothing with a machine gun aimed at them, they’d kill me on the spot—or take me in for interrogation with a nice dose of torture, and then kill me.
“Drop your weapons,” a voice on a loud hailer commanded first in English and then in German. It came from the trekker. From the other side I could hear the dogs’ howling grow louder and men’s boots trampling crisp leaves.
Lyder raised his guns and fired at one of the SS officers who had made his way down from the trekker. It looked like he was hit in the shoulder, but he quickly reciprocated the gunfire. I took the opposite side and aimed my gun, hitting him with a burst of bullets. The officer grunted and fell to the ground. I began feeding my Fire and Air symbols with energy, slowly building up the power I needed in them. Lyder shivered and stared at me.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Saving our lives.” My right hand shook as a warning but I ignored it and continued. I held off the effects of the spell just long enough so I could blast the other men in range.
We moved to another tree when the men from behind sent gunfire and their vicious dogs our way. When they were close enough, I released the symbols and sparks began forming in the air. The sparks grew into flames, and joined by Air, became a whirlwind of fire. I directed the firestorm toward everyone behind us, and then confusion and panic broke out. Some of the men fell back while others were caught in the raging flames and burned alive. Still, others ran for cover and waited. I nudged Lyder, who simply stared at the spectacle, and urged him to follow me.
“Emelie, why are you going toward the trekker?” he asked.
“A trekker only holds two at most. I’d rather go against one soldier than twenty.” I felt something wet trickle down my nose and knew it was blood. I relinquished any remaining hold I had on the firestorm, and with fear I awaited the inevitable physical exhaustion to creep in.
We headed up the dirt embankment and saw that the trekker still had its lights on, but no one moved there or made any further demands on the loud hailer. Where did the second man go? Lyder suddenly shouted a warning, but it was too late. The man we were looking for had wrapped his arm around Lyder’s neck from behind and lifted him up against the embankment with little effort. Lyder dropped his weapons and began kicking his legs in the air and clawing at the man’s arm, but to no avail. His strength was simply inhuman.
“Drop your weapon,” he said, “or I’ll break his neck.”
I placed it on the ground in front of me and held my hands up in the air. “Who are you?”
He released Lyder and made a quick blow to the back of his head to knock him unconscious. “A rich man, once I hand you over. They like collecting Tower Slaves.”
He jumped from the top of the embankment and landed on his feet. He wore no uniform, only a dark sweater and trousers. I could sense the taint of dark magic on him and I cursed at myself for wasting so much of my strength earlier.
“I’m not with the Gray Tower.” I trembled from fatigue and lowered my arms.
“Doesn’t matter.” He gave a smug smile, watching me reel from the effects of my previous strong rush of magic.
He pulled out a pair of Czech swivel cuffs, and when I sensed the amount of iron present in them, I lifted my wrists and allowed him to cuff me. Obviously this warlock wasn’t an alchemist. As soon as the cuffs clicked shut, I threw my arms up high and over his head and pulled him toward me so that the cuffs pressed into the back of his neck and we were locked in an embrace. I manipulated the iron, letting it do the work for me and turning it into a weapon that would corrode and blacken his flesh. He began struggling and screeching, unable to hit me with a spell because I was right up against him. He did put aside the pain long enough to figure out that he could strangle me though, and wrapped his hands around my neck and squeezed with the ferocity of desperation.
There we were, in near silence, arms around each other and neither one intending to let go until the other dropped dead. Tonight however, would not be that night for me. A spray of blood hit me across the face as the corrosion from the iron cuffs ate away into part of his neck. I fell down with the weight of his body, and coughed and sputtered. After I managed to wriggle free, I tried to find a key on him but his pockets turned up nothing—except a business card for a Dr. Falk Meier, which made me shudder.
My wrists burned from the spell and my legs felt like rubber. I stumbled over to my sten gun and picked it up before limping over to Lyder. I prodded him and called his name a few times, and uttered a silent prayer of thanks when his eyes blinked open. “Lyder, we have to get out of here.” I coughed again, but this time it was due to the forest fire smoke billowing toward us.
“Where are my guns?” he asked with a groan.
“There.” I nodded over to my right and he rushed toward the weapons and reclaimed them.
The other men who had run off were now regrouping and we could hear them in the distance. I helped him to his feet and we dashed south alongside the road, trying to make it back into town where my safe house stood. I was already running out of breath and hardly managed to keep up with him.
“You couldn’t find a key?” He glanced at my wrists and then his gaze went back to the road.
My eyes narrowed. “Yes, but then I decided that I liked wearing Czechoslovakian handcuffs.”
I stumbled and nearly fell, but he caught me and pulled me along with him at a quick pace. I had to give him credit—he wasn’t going to stop for anything. When we reached town, a few resistance fighters who had been appointed as lookouts signaled to us and guided us through back alleys until we reached the safe house. Once inside, Lyder immediately shed his uniform jacket and grabbed a bottle of liquor. I, on the other hand, asked my hostess Kanja if she knew how to pick locks.
She grabbed her smallest blade from the kitchen and held it up with a grimace. “I don’t know what to do,” she said.
“It’s okay, I’ll walk you through it.” I sat at her kitchen table and held out my wrists.
She sat across from me with a frightened expression. “Perhaps Sergeant Lyder—”
“He’s busy getting drunk, thank you.”
“I’m not drunk yet,” Lyder said. “Can’t you transmute those cuffs anyway?”
“Maybe one day I’ll be able to. Kanja, my wrists are badly hurt. Would you mind?”
She sucked in a deep breath. “Then…tell me what to do.”
I guided her through each step, using encouraging words and a soothing voice. When the cuffs clicked open I winced and gave her a pained smile. “Thank you. You’re a very brave young woman.”
She couldn’t have been older than eighteen, but then losing one’s parents and joining the Resistance made one grow up rather quickly. I looked up at Lyder when he set a glass in front of me and poured me a drink. He had grown much more subdued.
“To another day of cheating death,” he said, finishing off the rest of the bottle.
“Just remember not to go over a thirty-minute broadcast. Ever.”
“God, I’m going to have a headache in the morning,” he said, rummaging through Kanja’s cabinets.
“I’m going to be aching all over,” I complained. I was so exhausted from the fight that I didn’t think I had the energy to mend my wrists with magic. I thanked Kanja once more when she went over to the sink and brought a wet towel for me. I had forgotten that my face was bloodstained.
I wiped my forehead and cheeks clean, and as soon as I downed my drink I felt sick. The house suddenly quaked and unnatural screeches filled the air. People began shouting and screaming, and the sound of gunshots popped in long bursts. I didn’t even have to look out the window to know that Black Wolves had landed.
“Get into the closet!” I rose from my seat and shoved Kanja toward the bedroom. Lyder was on my heels.
“What’s going on out there?” he asked, as I pulled them both inside and shut the door.
“Everyone, quiet. Don’t move, don’t speak, and don’t breathe.” I sucked in a quick breath when the pain in my wrists flared up, but I managed to get us into the compartment behind the secret panel in the back wall.
I crouched in the compartment and closed my eyes. I emptied my mind of any fear or expectations and focused only on cloaking my abilities. A Circle of Protection would’ve just served as a beacon for the Wolves—I needed to hide, to be nothing to them.
We heard more gunshots and screams. Somewhere nearby glass shattered and a car screeched before colliding into something. When the house shook again with a crash, we thought a grenade had hit part of the house. We thought better of it when it sounded like something heavy with talons came walking down the hallway and scratching up the hardwood floor. I opened my eyes when I heard a grunt, and through a crack in the panel we saw the Black Wolf’s shadow blot out the stream of light coming from beneath the door. Lyder pressed his hand over his mouth and Kanja pulled out a tiny crucifix and held it close.
Lyder looked like he would sick up at any moment when a set of claws, attached to a human-looking hand, reached beneath the door and spread out. I continued concentrating on cloaking myself and lightly extended it to the others in the closet. My head throbbed and I felt feverish. I knew that if I kept pushing myself that I’d faint. I think the only thing that kept me from passing out and hitting the floor was the fact that I wouldn’t be able to do it quietly.
The claws ripped the door open with a yank, and I feared the false panel that separated us would not remain secret for long. A garbled voice from outside called to the Wolf and it pulled away, making a long whoosh that resounded throughout the hallway. The kitchen window shattered and the menacing presence that permeated the house dissipated.
None of us moved or spoke for nearly a half hour. Lyder licked his dry lips and finally stuttered. “T-they said if our government surrendered, that they wouldn’t send the Black Wolves.”
I shook my head. “They’re a bunch of liars who can’t be trusted. Put that in your next radio broadcast.”
Lyder groaned. “I left my radio set out in the forest.”
Kanja cleared her throat. “Is it safe to go outside now?”
“It’s best we stay here a little longer. Just in case.” I placed my hand on her shoulder. My wrists felt slightly numb.
“And you said the Gray Tower trained you?” Lyder threw me a dubious glance.
“Do you want to go fight a half-monster that likes to eat people for lunch? I don’t get into tangles with Wolves unless I have to.” Besides, I was so drained that I didn’t even think I could get up and move, even if I had wanted to.
“What time is your pilot coming to pick you up?” Lyder asked.
“Midnight. I think I’ll be ready by then.”
“I hope we can see you again,” Kanja said with a weak smile.
“I hope so too. Hopefully when we’re not under the threat of a painful death.”
Lyder chuckled. “Fits the job description, doesn’t it?”
“Then maybe I need to find a new job.”
I knew I said that every few weeks, but this time I think I meant it. How many more times would I push my limits and run weak and tired with a bloody nose? Or get trapped in a closet with a Black Wolf sniffing at me? Kanja had no business being my host, but she was the only one who volunteered—and probably the only one left alive.
She looked at me with triumph in her eyes, probably unaware of how close we all were to evisceration. I felt guilty at both having her involved and the prospect of never returning to help. In my heart though, I knew the truth that I’d have to speak aloud when I made it back to Baker Street—I was tired, and at this stage I’d be of use to no one.
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