Chapter 51

An Open Target

As Jeanne’s fingers slipped between the first of the gems that comprised the swarm, an arc of crackling blue energy pulsed from the stones and wreathed her fingertips in brilliant blue and white light. She pulled her hand back and the wreath of energy crackled and stretched, as if she was pulling her hand away from a shimmering blue and white spider web. She cried out in surprise, as much shocked that she had not been harmed by the energy as by the strange tug that it exerted upon her. Then her hand drew far enough away and the last of the energy snapped back into the web between the stones.

The stones thrummed with a high-pitched harmony and a warm breeze gusted out to blow against Jeanne’s face.

From his position beside the door, Oliver watched as Jeanne squared her shoulders, lifted a foot, hesitated for the briefest instant, then stepped forward into the flashing, humming swarm of levitated gemstones. As her body pressed into the swarm, the gems stopped moving and their light dimmed for the space of two long breaths, then the light grew bright again and the gems swept out of Jeanne’s way.

“I hope this ends well,” Oliver muttered.

Jeanne reached the center of the gem swarm and stood atop a circular platform of carved stone about six inches high. Around her, the cloud of gems pulsed brighter and began to tremble with an increasingly nervous energy.

“What do you want?” Jeanne whispered.

Pulses of air blew through the swarm of glittering gems as billowing tendrils of energy poured out from the stones like vapor from a smoke machine, twisting together and crossing through each other until they took on the shape of hundreds of human figures, each sketched out in glimmering wireframes that hung in the air like so many spiderwebs. Jeanne gasped, then slowly turned around, looking at the army of ghosts that had appeared beyond the crackling bars of her gemstone cage.

Oliver, who had been watching the tunnel for any sign of the invaders who had fired their guns, glanced back over his shoulder as the breeze blew across the back of his neck. His mouth dropped open in an expression that bordered on terror and amazement as more and more insubstantial human shapes poured forth from the gems that studded the cavern floor. He had been prepared for something magical to occur. Had begun to steel his heart for Jeanne’s death amid the charged gemstones, picturing something akin to the lightning trap that had killed the high priest in the library. He had fought undead monsters and drank mead with dead gods, but, whatever these glittering apparitions might actually be, he had never seen anything like them in all of his adventures.

Oliver heard a scuffling of feet, followed by a sudden exclamation and turned to see two armed men carrying Kalashnikov rifles crouching just at the edge of his flashlight beam. He cursed and ducked back around the edge of the door frame. He was clearly outgunned, with only a handgun and seventeen bullets against at least two opponents armed with assault rifles. Worse, if he shot at the invaders they would return fire and Jeanne was standing directly in line with the open doorway.