The Chrome Borne (SERRAted Edge Series #4)by Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon
Tannim is a human mage fond of fast cars and loud music, working with the elf lord Keighvin to rescue runaway kids in serious trouble. But those kids are being used by Keighvin' enemies to bait a trap. Meanwhile, Tannim thinks he's found the right woman, but it seems she wants to kill him. See more details below
Tannim is a human mage fond of fast cars and loud music, working with the elf lord Keighvin to rescue runaway kids in serious trouble. But those kids are being used by Keighvin' enemies to bait a trap. Meanwhile, Tannim thinks he's found the right woman, but it seems she wants to kill him.
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The Chrome Borne
By Mercedes Lackey Larry Dixon
Baen BooksISBN: 0-671-57834-0
Chapter OneA dark red Mustang perched beside the ribbon of highway, alone but for the young man resting against its door. It was an unusual sight for such a place, here where the shallow water of the wetlands reflected moonlight, and endless silvered marsh grasses whispered in the breeze. The cicadas didn't care if the man was there, nor did the night-birds, nor the foxes and raccoons-they were used to the comings-and-goings of men in their loud machines, and would avoid him. There would seem to be no reason for him to be stopped here-no smoke or steam poured from beneath the nostrilled hood, no line of shredded rubber marked a newly departed tire. A highway patrol officer would have been very interested-if there had been one anywhere within twenty miles. And that, too, was unusual; this close to Savannah, there should be police cruising this stretch of road.
"One of these nights," griped Tannim to no one in particular, "I'll have a normal drive, with nothing chasing me, pestering me, shooting at me... no breakdowns, no detours, no country-western music, no problems. Peace, quiet, and the road. No place to go, no one to save, no butts to cover except my own."
Tannim pulled himself up onto his old Mach 1, faded black jeans shushing over the hood. Its cooling engine tick-tick-ticked, radiator gurgling softly as it relaxed from its work, the warm old American sheet metal satin-smooth and familiar. He ran a hand through his long brown hair, catching fingers in his uncountable ratty knots of curls, and snorted in cynical amusement. Casting his eyes skyward, scratching at his scalp, he said wistfully, "Man. They keep telling me, 'Y'knew the job was dangerous when ya took it.' Thanks for giving me the job description after I've signed the contract, guys."
The cicadas answered him by droning on, unimpressed.
The road was deserted, the air clear, the bright country sky shining off of the curved fenders. Tiny pinpoints of light twisted into sweeping contours only to be swallowed up in the flat black intakes of the hood.
The beauty and peace of the evening softened his mood. No finer job in this world, though. When it works out-wish Kestrel were here to help. He's better at this than me. Tannim thought about his old friend from high school back in Jenks, Oklahoma, with more than a twinge of regret-regret for Derek's curious blend of talents, compassion, and guts. Derek Ray Kestrel was gifted not only with a sexy name but with a knack for magic that just wouldn't quit. Deke spent his time with his cars and guitars, now, and didn't do road work anymore. Guess he didn't have the stomach for it. It can get gross enough to freak a coroner. Damned if he didn't have more than just talent, though.
He gave up on his hair and adjusted his jacket, a third-hand Battlestar Galactica fatigue he traded a Plymouth carburetor kit for. Both he and the other kid thought they'd gotten the better deal. They were both right. Tannim didn't know from carbs then, and had let go of a rare five-hundred-dollar sixpack. Deke had sure given him a hard time about that! The other kid had no idea how hard the battle-jackets were to get. Live and learn. He dug around in one of the many pockets he'd sewn inside the jacket, and pulled out a cherry pop, whistling along with the Midnight Oil tape on the Mach 1's stereo, occasionally falling into key.
Decent night for a job, though. Not raining like last time, and no lightning to dodge, either. Tannim was a young man, but he was not inclined to die that way, despite the reckless pace he kept up. Better to run toward something than away, he'd always thought, but the scars and aches all over his wiry body testified that even a fiery young mage can be harmed by too much running. Or perhaps, not running hard enough... He had been self-trained up to age twenty, and then someone from else when had taken him in and really shown him the ropes of high magic. Their friendship had built before their student/teacher relationship really began, Chinthliss admiring the boy's brazen style, wicked humor, and dedication to the elusive and deadly energy of his world's magic. That was, in fact, the reason Chinthliss had taken Tannim on in the first place; it had not escaped the young mage that he and his mentor were a great deal alike in many ways. There were a lot of words to describe the two of them, the best of which were creative, crafty, adventurous, virtuous-well, maybe not virtuous-but their many critics had other choice adjectives, none flattering. Tannim had a way of taking the simplest lesson and turning it around to befuddle his "master," who in turn would trounce the boy with the next one, and giggle about it for a week. It was Chinthliss who had given Tannim his name-it meant "Son of Dragons." It fit, especially since he thought of Tannim as he would his own offspring.
Eventually, the lessons simply became jam sessions of experimenting, and Tannim began teaching Chinthliss a thing or two. What was about to occur on this lonely stretch of road was something he'd come up with himself years ago-something that had scared the scat out of Chinthliss. It was the kind of "job" he had done a couple of times with Deke Kestrel in tow. He unwrapped the cherry pop and began chewing on it absent-mindedly, humming along with the tunes. He crumpled the wrapper and slipped it into a pocket, and his humming became a chant through clenched teeth.
He pulled his shoulders back and stretched, neck and back popping from road fatigue, and let in the rush of energy that heralded a major spell. Around him, the cicadas rose in pitch, to harmonize with Peter Garrett and the young man's chanting. Harmonizing with Garrett was no small feat, and he noted it as a good omen. He kept his arms raised toward the crescent moon overhead, and his eyes perceived a subtle change in the starlight as he entered his familiar trance.
His body went rigid, as if rigor mortis had suddenly frozen him in place.
To say that Tannim died then would be misleading-although he was not precisely alive anymore either. The trance he entered was protected well, and he was being monitored by otherworldly allies, but the young mage's soul was now connected to his body by the thinnest of threads-much more tenuous than anything most mages ever depended on during out-of-body work. Most of them would have been terrified at the notion of trusting their lives to so fragile a bond. But most mages weren't Tannim. He had been trusting his life and more to far more fragile bonds than this for a long time now.
As he stabilized his spirit-form, there was the sensation of everything being well-lit and dark at once, and of infinite visibility-the dizzying effect of mage-sight in the now-and-then hereafter.
He "felt" completely normal, right down to the candy tucked in his cheek and the feel of the Mach 1 beneath him. He tapped his worn black high-tops against the chrome, focusing his thoughts and getting comfortable, teeth gnawing on the pop's soggy stem as he drew energy up from the earth through the frame of the Mach 1, tempering it through the sheet metal, grounding the wild-magic resonances into the engine block, radiating the excess through the window glass.
Good so far; now to find him.
With that, he pulled his spirit away from his body, his shadow-image standing upright, stretching, and adjusting its jacket while his body remained seated on the hood, connected to it by a shimmering field of gossamer threads, the only traces of the spell visible to the trained eye. He stepped away from his anchor, and crossed the gravel shoulder.
A figure wavered and coalesced before him, a fortyish man in a plaid workshirt and chinos, standing with his hands in his pockets, looking away from the road. There was a half-smoked cigarette hanging slackly from his lips. He was an ordinary man, the kind you'd see at any truckstop, any feed store in the southern belt, lines etched into his face by hard work, bright sun, and pain endured. The only thing that set him apart now was that he was edged by a soft yellowish glow, which seemed to fill in every shadow and crease in that face, and followed him as he stepped towards Tannim.
His brows furrowed, as if trying to remember something. He took a drag off the cigarette. It glowed, but did not burn down. Smoke curled up around his face, a bright blue and violet. "Haven't seen you here before," the man said. "Hiya. Canfield, Ross Canfield...." The man stepped forward, reflexively offered a hand. Tannim bit his lip, stepped forward again, and grasped his hand. Well, I've got him. Oh God, I thought this was going to be easier. He doesn't know.
"Hello, Ross," he said. "I'm Tannim."
Ross nodded; he seemed distracted, as if he wasn't entirely focusing on the moment at hand. "Tannim? Good ta meetcha. That a first name or a last name?"
"Only name," Tannim replied cautiously. "Just Tannim. How are you? I mean, you look a little stressed, Ross; are you all right? How do you feel...?"
If Canfield was surprised about this atypical show of concern from a stranger, he didn't show it. "Been better. Strange night." Ross took a pull off of his cigarette. Its tip glowed again, but still didn't shorten. Its smoke wisped up violet and vanished above his head, and he blew smoke from his nostrils in a wash of reddish-purple.
"Mmm. As strange as usual." Tannim smiled inwardly at the oxymoron. "Where you from, Ross?"
Canfield focused a little more on him as the question caught his attention. "Louisiana. Metairie. You?"
Tannim moved a little farther away, unobtrusively testing the energies coming from Canfield. "Tulsa."
Now Canfield's attention was entirely focused on the young mage. "Why you ask?"
"Just curious; I wondered if you were local." It was time to change the subject "You know, Ross, you seem like a friendly fella, laid back, able to handle 'bout anything. Got something kinda serious to talk to you about."
"Uh huh." Ross Canfield set his jaw, and the glow around him turned a rich orange. Not a good sign. Red would be worse, much worse, but orange was not a good sign.
"Ah, look, Ross, I have some bad news for you, so don't get mad at me...." They always blame the messenger don't they?
"Bad news?" Another drag on the cigarette, which now glowed a fierce red-echoing the glow of energy swirling around him. "My wife just left me, kid, and you say you've got bad news?"
Abruptly, Tannim was no longer the focus of Canfield's anger. "That sonuvabitch Marty Lear tore the hell outta my lawn with her in that goddamn Jap pickup of his and-and-took her away-"
So; there was the reason for it all. Uh oh. Fast work, boy, you hit it right the first time.
Tannim's eyes narrowed, and he took the mangled pop stick out of his mouth. Power fluctuated around them, silent and subtle, but there. Tannim noted their patterns, setting up buffer fields with a mental call. He saw a fan of lines spread around them both, channels waiting to be filled if needed.
"What did you do?"
Canfield did not take offense at what should have been considered a very personal question. "Went after 'em. We was fightin' and she'd already called the bastard; he showed up and she jumped in. Caught up to 'em. Have this old 'Cuda, hot as hell..."
Tannim was the focus of Canfield's attention again; he felt the hot glare of Ross's stare. "What?" Canfield asked.
He isn't going to like this. "You had a Barracuda. I'm sorry, Ross, but... that's the bad news I have for you."
"What you talkin' 'bout, son?" Ross Canfield looked pale for a moment, then his glow pulsed cherry red and his face began to twist into anger. He exhaled bright red smoke from his nostrils, jaw set, threads of energy coalescing around his feet and fists.
Now a quick deflection. "Ross, walk with me a minute, will you?" Tannim started along the roadbed toward the overpass a hundred feet away. "How long would you say you've been standing out here, Ross? An hour, maybe? A couple?"
Ross hesitated, then followed Tannim. The tiny traces of reddish energy crackled and followed his steps.
"Ross, you remember stopping here? Getting out of that car? Lighting that cig?"
Ross absently pulled the cigarette from his mouth and looked at it, brow knotted in concentration.
Tannim stood next to the overpass abutment. It was gray concrete, scarred and cracked, with patches of cement covering half its surface. Bits of glass and plastic glittered in the starlight. Tannim picked up a razor-edged sliver of safety-glass an inch long. Barrier's in place; might as well tell him straight up. He hasn't taken the hints.
"Ross... this is all that's left of your 'Cuda. You hit this bridge doin' one-forty, and you never walked away from it."
The cigarette slipped from Ross' fingers and rested in the dry grass. It smoldered, but didn't set fire to the grass it landed in. The energy field around Ross Canfield crackled like a miniature thunderstorm, apparently invisible to him.
"Ross, look over there." Tannim pointed at the Mustang, and at the man still sitting on the hood. "That's me."
Ross took a deep breath, stooped to pick up his cigarette, and returned it in his mouth.
Here's where it hits. I can handle it; he's not too powerful... I hope. Tannim built up his defenses, preparing for a mental scream of rage.... Or worse. Sometimes they don't just blame the messenger, they kill the messenger. I hate this part.
Ross bit his lip, shock plain on his face as he realized the meaning of Tannim's words.
"Never... walked... away...."
Tannim nodded, ready to strike back if Ross broke and gave in to the rage building in him. "So I'm dead, huh?"
Tannim could feel the energies arcing between them, screaming for focus....
Hoo boy. Now so am I.
"That's right, Ross. You died three years ago, right here. I'm sorry, really...."
Ross Canfield pulled himself up to his full height, towering over Tannim by almost a foot, eyes glowing red with fury as he seethed. His fists clenched tighter, then relaxed slowly and finally opened. His broad shoulders slouched as his aura dimmed to orange, red tinges slithering away into the ground. He inhaled one massive breath, pulled a hand back through his hair and said-
Tannim heard mental giggles from his guardians, felt them skitter away to other business, pulling his borrowed energy reserves with them. He heaved a sigh of relief and lowered his guard against a strike.
Ross swayed as if drunk, then stared at Tannim's spirit-form like he was trying out newly bought eyes.
* * *
"So, this is what it's like to be a goddamn ghost," Ross said to Tannim as they stood beside the Mustang. "Just my damn luck. I should've expected something like this to happen to me.
Excerpted from The Chrome Borne by Mercedes Lackey Larry Dixon Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
New York Times bestselling author Mercedes Lackey has written over one hundred titles and has no plans to slow down. Known best for her tales of Valdemar and The Five Hundred Kingdoms, she's also a prolific lyricist and records her own music.
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