Jessie nodded sharply and took off running. She had an impressive sprint. Kyle wondered if she ran routinely or if it was just fear. It took her less than a minute to round the far corner of the building.
Kyle could still see the sun so he spoke the words of the spell again and grabbed another handful of bright white winter light. He used his left hand this time to keep his right free for more traditional fighting. He needed a better spell. If it had even been cloudy he would have been defenseless. He hadn’t paid much for what he was using, but he was starting to think he’d been cheated.
Thus armed, he began to peek around the dumpster. He didn’t get to see its other side before something slammed into it hard enough to move it. Kyle jumped awkwardly and landed a few feet further from the dumpster on his back. From that position, he could see what had hit the dumpster. It was the manticore and it was angry.
It leapt over the dumpster in one extraordinary bound and landed on the ground beside Kyle. It looked down at Kyle and gave him the scariest, toothiest smile Kyle had ever seen. The expression would have been horrible however it had been delivered, but it was made worse because real human intelligence glittered in those eyes. Kyle didn’t really know much about manticore and had been thinking of it as a sort of animal. That had been the safe bet. Many old warrior enchantments had retarded intelligence because the human mind is fragile and brain for brawn was a good trade in iron age conflict. Now he realized he was completely wrong.
The manticore waved his tail above Kyle letting him get a really good look at its sharp, poison tipped barbs. Kyle heard a voice yelling from off to the side, something about, “catch him, not kill him.” The manticore apparently found that argument unpersuasive because it smashed its tail down right at Kyle’s head.
In his prone position Kyle couldn’t dodge. He tried to block instead. It would have been hopeless, the tail had a lot of momentum and could probably tear right through his hand, but Kyle knew a trick. The chi block. In truth it was nothing more than a chi strike cast from some part of the body someone was trying to hit in the instant of impact. Master Shan claimed some of the warriors of old China had been good enough to reliably turn a sword from any part of their body. However, it was so tricky he only tested blackbelts on the technique.
Kyle didn’t exactly nail it. The descending tail hit his hand and began to push it toward his face. Even at the speed the tail was moving that gave Kyle just long enough to react. He still had a good supply of magic and he let fly with it. There was a tremendous crack of disorganized magic and force rushed out into to the world. The manticore’s tail was thrown back. Kyle’s own hand slapped him hard in the face. A shattered spine bounced off the aspahlt right by Kyle’s head.
The manticore howled. It’s voice sounded high, reedy, and incredibly pained. Apparently the tail was a sensitive area. Kyle thought that sort of made sense; if it had poison glands then it probably needed a fairly delicate network of nerves to precisely control the release of that poison.
Kyle rolled back to his feet just in time to see the bounty hunter closing with more green energy in his hand. Kyle whipped his own spell at the bounty hunter hoping he’d get lucky and knock the man out. His left hand throw didn’t come anywhere close to its target and instead he managed to abuse an innocent shrub. The bounty hunter ducked, needlessly, then grinned and slowed to a walk.
Kyle realized he intended to close until he couldn’t miss. Feeling a little desperate, he looked around for cover, and found only one thing. There was a manticore dancing around in pain, whipping its tail back and forth, swearing in some language Kyle didn’t know. Kyle ran to the side placing the bulk of the enchanted between himself and the bounty hunter.
The bounty hunter broke into a slow jog and closed until he was just on the other side of the manticore but he couldn’t get a clean shot around his partner. The next bit played out like a game of tag from Kyle’s childhood. The bounty hunter tried to break clockwise around the manticore, but Kyle ran the same direction keeping them separated. The bounty hunter would have run faster than Kyle, but in this case they could both only run as quickly as they could corner and that was about the same speed.
As with recess back in school there was only one good way to break the tie and the bounty hunter took it. He went through the manticore. Or, rather, he went over. Without warning, he leapt up onto his partner’s back. The manticore didn’t care for that and reacted by swearing even more and trying to buck the bounty hunter off. The bounty hunter rode it as smoothly as a surfer on his board and grinned raising his hand high as though he intended to throw his magic without even jumping down.
Kyle stumbled backwards desperate to put some space between himself and the bounty hunter but unwilling to look away and uncertain of where to go. Jessie chose that minute to arrive. Her car squealed to a halt between Kyle, the bounty hunter and the manticore. Her window was down, she shouted, “Back’s open, get in.”
Kyle didn’t need the urging, he’d already ducked as low as he could get to try to get to cover behind the car, and he was running towards the back seat in a crouched position. A ball of green energy clipped the top of the car just as he reached it. Green light rolled down the side of the car and just missed Kyle’s fingers. From inside the car the speakers let out a loud sound of electronic distress. The car’s engine stuttered for a moment, but it didn’t die. Kyle yanked the door open and leapt inside.
Jessie slammed her foot down on the gas before Kyle was even in a seat and he was thrown backwards, then a moment later to the side as they rounded the courthouse. He fumbled for a seat belt.
“You’re paying all the tickets I get for doing this.”
Jessie didn’t answer. Instead she jerked the wheel of her car and took them up and over a grassy median that separated the parking lot they were in from the road. The car bounced across the grass, barely missed a tree, and rushed straight for an unbroken wall of traffic. Kyle wanted to scream but his throat locked tight on him. Ordinarily, of course, traffic got out of the way so cars could merge without slowing, but that was when the car was driving itself and communicating its speed, direction, and intended course to all the other cars over the traffic network. Kyle had no idea if it would work for a car being driven, off road, and in violation of at least half a dozen traffic rules, by an actual human.
Fortunately, whatever programmer had developed the emergency protocols for the road network had been having a good day when he’d done it. Ahead brakes locked simultaneously for an entire row of cars, a tremendous screech rose from dozens of cars at once, burnt rubber puffed up from several sets of wheels, and a gap opened in traffic. Jessie steered into it, turning the car so they didn’t loose much speed before they merged with the traffic pattern. Then she leaned back in her seat and commanded the vehicle, “Auto-drive on, destination nearest hotel.” She sighed loudly.
Kyle slumped. It was practically impossible to follow an auto-drive car through traffic unless you knew where it was going or left at almost the same time. They’d basically picked their destination at random, and Jessie’s unique exit from the parking lot should have kept anyone from getting right on their heels. They were safe.
Of course, safe was relative. Kyle hadn’t gotten a patent. Instead he’d been told, basically, that Thomas had very good reason to never let up on trying to force Kyle out of business and possibly out of existence as well. He had no idea what his next move should be. At this point it wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to flee the country under an assumed name and maybe try to start a new life somewhere else. Only he doubted even that would work. His home, business, and bank accounts were probably watched now. He’d have to hike to Canada and then what? Maybe chop wood and skin beavers in the far north to make ends meet while staying totally off the grid.
He needed a plan, and possibly a miracle.