Kyle had been holding onto the vague hope that the bounty hunter would pass him by while he was hiding behind the pole talking to Jessie. He looked carefully out from his largely ineffective hiding place and found that wasn’t the case. Instead the hunter had stopped, with his head cocked to the side as though he was listening to something, about a dozen strides away. He was probably communicating with his partner, he either had an earpiece or a spell. It probably didn’t matter which.
Beyond the concessions area, the Old Mine Amphitheater was set, as the name implied, in an old mine. It had been an open pit quarry at the end of a relatively short box canyon in the hills outside town. The mine had folded before all of the stone was removed, leaving the site as an open bowl of rock at the end of the canyon. It had excellent acoustics and it had been purchased by a developer that had converted it to a medium sized concert venue by building concrete, stadium style seating across the valley. The lights in the concession area were on the tallest poles, and he’d sort of worked his way up to the challenge practicing on the shorter lights along the rim of the Amphitheater and in the seating area.
With the exit behind two bounty hunters, and via public transport since he’d just banished his ride, running wasn’t going to be a good way to escape. He briefly considered just talking to the men. He was contractually obligated to deal with them, after all. After a few seconds’ thought he discarded that idea, Ketan’s warning was too fresh in his mind. Besides, if anyone complained, he could claim he hadn’t known who they were. In truth he couldn’t be certain they were after him. Perhaps the men just appreciated boy bands.
Instead, he decided to walk away looking casual. Kyle wearing a staff windbreaker and an all access pass on the lanyard around his neck. He could pass through the gate, which wasn’t open to the public yet, and after that hide in the employees only area of the amphitheater, or maybe escape out a service entrance.
That plan in mind, Kyle scooped up the now mostly empty backpack he’d been using to carry his batteries and such and started walking confidently toward the turnstiles. The area between his shoulders itched and he could imagine the bounty hunter watching him through narrowed eyes, but he kept his shoulders relaxed and his stride measured. Odds were, they were working off of some picture or pictures of him. They wouldn’t easily recognize him from the back, and he’d stand out less if he moved casually.
He reached the turnstile without incident and swiped his badge through the ticket reader. Its optics recognized his employee access and let out a beep, unlocking the bar. Kyle nodded to the gate guard and stepped through. He felt like sagging with relief, but he kept walking instead.
That was just as well, his relief would have been premature. Someone shouted behind him. It was some instruction about stopping, or waiting, but Kyle didn’t really process it. He jumped, startled and looked back. The bounty hunter must have been counting on that because he broke into a run as soon as Kyle over reacted.
Kyle swore under his breath. The turnstile took him into a sort of concrete tunnel under and through the amphitheater seating. Ordinary concert attendees walked a few hundred feet to the front of the bleachers and then entered the seating area from the front. But the bleachers were hollow, and there was enough room under the back side of them for a hallway and a series of storage rooms. Those were accessed by a locked door just inside the tunnel. That area had always been his target.
He wouldn’t have made it though. The bounty hunter was fast. Magically boosted and inhumanly fast, in fact. He crossed the 25 yards from where he was standing to the gate in seconds, and his sprint ended in a dive that would have taken him over the turnstile and into Kyle had the security guard not gotten in his way. Fortunately, the gate guard had reacted and moved just enough to block the gate. He didn’t really intercept the bounty hunter, that would have implied too much intent on the part of the guard, however he did get in the way of the hunter’s jump.
The guard and the bounty hunter went down in a tangle hitting the turnstile as they did so. Kyle thought he heard a crack, but he didn’t stay to investigate. Instead he used the distraction to swipe his security badge against the electronic reader of the employee door. It beeped. He yanked the door open and jumped through, dragging the heavy door shut behind him.
Kyle stopped to take a deep breath and think. The security door wouldn’t hold the bounty hunter long. At a minimum he’d say he was after a dangerous mage and get one of the guards to let him through, but Kyle hadn’t trapped himself. There were three more entrances into the hall from the ticket area, or he could go clear to its far end and climb through a stairwell there up to the seating area. He could even hide in some storage room.
There was a colossal bang from the door Kyle had just come through. He jerked toward it and saw that something had hit it hard enough to crease the entire surface of the door inward. The distortion of the metal wasn’t bad enough to drag it out of its frame just yet, but it was maybe a quarter of the way there.
Seating area, Kyle decided, he had an idea to get away up there. He ran for the end of the hall focusing magic as he did so. Being chased by a magically enhanced bounty hunter wasn’t a meditative experience. He never would have managed to draw any charge had he not already been holding a tiny bit of energy from his work with the lights. At least luck was on his side in one way.
The door behind him let out three more bangs in rapid succession as Kyle ran down the hall, but it didn’t give before he ducked into the stairwell. Unfortunately, the door into the stairs didn’t have any lock, and there was nothing to barricade it with. As he ran up the stairs three more bangs reached him, and then, ominously, stopped just before he exited into the seating area.
Kyle stopped where he had a clear view of the door. A clear line of fire. He hadn’t wanted to try this. After Ketan’s warning Kyle decided to come up with a magical means of self-defense. At first, he’d considered weaponizing his own spell. There were several obvious possibilities. He could blind people with a sudden flash, summon that IR beam he’d used to burn the bar table when he’d first used it, or even craft an illusion to get himself out of trouble. Unfortunately, the more time he spent considering those options the less practical they seemed. A bright flash wouldn’t stop a magically boosted opponent, but he couldn’t burn someone down in the street because his conspiracy theorist friend said the man might be a threat, and the RealDreams wasn’t exactly combat portable.
Besides, he was hardly starved for choice. Mankind had been attacking one another with magic as long as they’d known of it, and they’d discovered it before fire! In part a special class of bounty hunters existed to deal with mages because they could be really dangerous if they bothered to learn the right spells. There were also a bunch of less-than-lethal options as magic could harmlessly “stun” an opponent more effectively than physical force. Eventually, Kyle had spent 45 minutes researching the question online before buying one such stun spell off of a dodgy website. The license was cheap because it had a 5% chance of failing outright and could be fatal to people with a weak heart. It was also a pain to trigger because it wasn’t a modern spell, but his plan for getting to the parking lot would take more time than the bounty hunter was going to give Kyle if he picked the correct exit on the first try.
Trying to keep his breathing steady he spoke in a tongue bending Native American language. As he understood it, the words were a brief prayer for aid to Raven who had stolen the sun from the sky. At the end of the recitation Kyle reached out toward the western horizon and closed his hand over the last remnants of the setting sun. He must have gotten the words right. His hand filled with crackling energy.
Kyle took another deep breath and looked at the door of the stairwell. It was still closed. He took a couple more breaths trying to steady his aim. He positioned himself moving his hand a bit behind his back so the energy wouldn’t be immediately visible to someone coming through it, but so he’d still have room to “throw” the spell side arm. It felt like forever passed.
Then the door burst open with enough power it probably wouldn’t shut right again and the bounty hunter tore out of it moving so fast he was nothing but a blur. Kyle didn’t as much throw his spell as whip his hand up in self defense and let it go. His aim was probably terrible. He would certainly have missed except the bounty hunter was inches away by then.
The spell hit. A wave of light the exact color of the sunset washed over the bounty hunter for an instant. For that instant, Kyle knew, an important component of human neural tissue became non-conductive. All electrical signals stopped. Then the light vanished, and they all started working again. The process left the brain of the target profoundly confused at the level of individual neurons. They’d all fire wildly for a few moments only regaining enough coordination for consciousness after 5 to 15 minutes.
The bounty hunter slammed into Kyle. For a moment, he thought the man must be one of the people with a protein formation mutation that rendered the spell ineffective. But the man’s limbs were limp and he made no effort to tackle Kyle or break his fall as they both tumbled to the ground. The spell had worked, it just hadn’t halted his attacker’s motion.
Kyle rolled the other man off him. Even though he was amped up on adrenaline the bounty hunter felt heavy. The muscles in his arms and chest were like iron. Kyle thought maybe he knew the spell that had been used on the man – it was a sort of a magical steroid that encouraged formation of very dense very strong tissue. It was very expensive, but its results stuck around even once the magical current was off.
Once the bounty hunter was laying on his back, Kyle looked to see if he was still breathing. He was. Kyle took a deep breath to steady himself but he couldn’t afford to waste time. The bounty hunter wasn’t wearing any sort of obvious phone. That probably meant he’d been talking to his partner with a spell. There was a very good chance somewhere a second bounty hunter had felt the connection drop and he was now heading toward Kyle at top speed.
Kyle hurried over to where a light pole stood against the edge of the stadium seating. He’d worked on it earlier that night, and remembered it while he was thinking of back exits to the amphitheater that wouldn’t be watched.
The pole was set at the edge of the seating area where the bleachers came near, but didn’t quite touch, the natural canyon wall. In this spot, the top of the canyon was 10 feet or so above the top of the bleachers. The canyon was surmounted by a 6 foot tall, barb wire topped, fence should anyone decide that hiking along the top of the canyon, climbing down it’s rock face, and jumping into the bleachers, was better than paying for concert tickets. But the light pole was 20 feet tall, meaning that if one was inside there were four feet of it that could be used to jump over the fence and into the woods beyond. Kyle had noticed all of that while setting up the magical light that now burned at the top of the pole. He doubted anyone else would think of the ladder as an exit; you’d have to be crazy to try it.
Kyle wouldn’t have been crazy enough on any normal day. Today wasn’t normal; as he climbed the ladder built into the side of the pole the bounty hunter began to stir, so the mage gritted his teeth and leapt. For a terrifying moment he was airborne sailing over first a huge drop, then sharp spikes, then forest floor where he landed somewhat roughly. It hurt, but he doubted the bounty hunters would be able to work out where he’d gone. Having just made the jump it seemed even crazier to him.
It took him 45 minutes to limp his way through the dark forest to the main road, and another 30 minutes for a very confused Jessie to come and get him. Still, he was safe, and hopefully the appointment he’d made for the following morning would clear out the IP charges against him.