A hole gaped in the skeleton's left side, between the third and fourth rib. It held for a second, grew, melting, and then the entire skeleton imploded into dust. The dust outline lingered in the air for a moment, taunting me, before melting into the breeze. "Shit!" There goes my evidence. Smooth, Kate, real smooth.
"Was this supposed to happen?" Julie asked.
"No," I growled.
A round of enthusiastic applause echoed behind me. I jumped to my feet. A man stood leaning against the wall. He wore a leather jacket that wanted very much to be leather armor. The business end of a crossbow protruded over his left shoulder.
Hello, Mr. Bowman.
"Good form!" he said, clapping. "And a lovely landing!"
"Julie," I said, keeping my voice level, "stay put."
"No need to worry," Bowman said. "I wouldn't hurt the little lass. Not unless I had to. And maybe if I was really hungry and there was nothing else to eat. But then she's so thin, I'd be picking out bones from between my teeth all day. Hardly worth the trouble."
I couldn't tell if he was kidding. "You want something?"
"Just came to see who troubled my bolts. And what do I find? A mouse." He winked at Julie. "And a woman."
He said "woman" in the same way I'd say "Mmmmm, yummy chocolate" after waking up from hunger pains and finding a Hershey bar in an empty refrigerator. I flicked my sword and backed away a bit so the hole would be to my right. If he knocked me into it, it would take me a long time to climb out.
The man approached. He stood tall, at least six three, maybe six four. Broad shoulders. Long legs in black pants. His black hair fell in a tangled mess on his shoulders. It looked like he might've cut it himself with a knife and then tied a leather cord across his forehead to keep it somewhat pinned. I looked at his face. Handsome bastard. Defined jaw, chiseled cheekbones, full lips. Eyes like black fire. The kind of eyes that jumped from a woman's dreams right into her morning and made trouble in the marriage bed.
He gave me a feral grin. "Like what you see, dove?"
"Nope." I hadn't had sex in eighteen months. Pardon me while I struggle with my hormone overload.
Shave that jaw, brush the hair, tone down the crazy in the eyes, and he would have to fight women off with that crossbow. As it was he looked like he prowled in dark places where the wild things were and they all ran away when they smelled him coming. Any woman with a drop of sense would grab her knife and cross the street when she saw him.
"Don't worry. I won't hurt you," he promised, circling me.
"I'm not worried." I began to circle, too.
"You should be."
"First you say I should, then you say I shouldn't. Make up your mind."
Drops of water slid down his jacket. Judging by the light stabbing through the holes in the roof, the sky was clear. No hint of moisture in the air. Suppose Derek's intel was right. Suppose he did teleport. How would I keep him from disappearing?
The man spread his arms. I didn't like the way he moved, either, light on his feet.
"What's with the cute shoelace on your head?"
"What this?" He flicked the end of the cord with his finger.
"Yeah. Rambo called, he wants his bandana back."
"This Rambo, he a friend of yours?"
"Who's Rambo?" Julie asked.
If a cultural reference flies over a man's head, does it make a sound if nobody else gets it? I had never managed to watch the whole movie - magic always interfered, but I had read the book. Maybe after the flare cut out and tech reasserted its dominance for a few weeks, I'd dig the minidisc out and watch the darn thing from start to finish.
The bowman took a step, and I pointed Slayer's business end in his direction. "No closer."
He took another baby step forward. "Sorry, my foot slipped." Another step. "Sorry, just can't keep the bloody buggers under control."
"Next one will be your last."
He rocked forward and I almost lunged.
"Uh-uh-uh." He shook his head in mock disappointment. "I didn't actually step, see."
He raised his hand in a peaceful gesture. "You need to relax a bit, dove. Like Mouse over there. You trust me, don't you, Mouse?"
"Ahhh, I'm hurt. Nobody likes me."
I knew he'd move a fraction of a breath before he started. Those eyes gave him away. He lunged, missed, and found Slayer's tip at his back.
"Move, and I'll cut your liver in half."
He spun toward me, and my saber glanced off metal. Chain mail under the jacket. Crap. Steel fingers clamped my sword hand, keeping it pinned. He turned and stabbed the rigid fingers of his right hand under my breastbone. I shied away from the stab to lessen the impact - it still hurt like hell - and grabbed his right wrist, jerking him toward me. For a second all of his weight rested on his left leg and I kicked it out from under him. He crashed to the floor and dragged me down with him, his fist locked on my sword hand. I hit the ground, letting go of Slayer. My hand slipped between his fingers and I rolled into the clear.
Half a breath later we were both on our feet.
"Pretty sword," he said, twisting Slayer to catch a sun ray. The light danced on the opaque blade and sank into the black chain-mail shirt now showing below his jacket. "Why no guard?"
"Don't need one."
"Is it any good?"
I kicked a strip of leather I'd sliced off. "You tell me."
His hand went back to check his chain shirt, and I kicked him, aiming for the throat. He caught my foot with a grunt, and dumped me on the floor. His knee pressed on my neck. He'd set a trap and I'd walked right into it. The light was shrinking. I could barely breathe.
"You kick like a mule." He grimaced and ground his knee harder. I wasn't getting enough air. He had my right hand pinned, but not my left. I bent my left hand, and a cold sliver of the silver needle slid into my palm from the leather wristband. "But I've been at this a lot longer..."
I drove the silver needle into his thigh.
His thigh muscle contracted. He grunted and fell off me. I leaped to my feet and kicked him in the face. It was a solid kick and it connected. He sprawled on his back, blood running from his nose. I dropped next to him, slid my leg under his arm, and clenched it with my other leg, bending the arm backward in a classic shoulder lock. He growled. All I had to do was scissor my legs, and I'd dislocate his arm, and I still had both hands free.
I zipped his jacket open, looking for the maps.