The Chrome Borne by Mercedes Lackey

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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—

“Well, shit.”

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. What the hell do I do now?”

Tannim stood at the hood, beside himself. “I’ll tell you in a second.” He drew up the Walking spell’s reserve energy and stepped back into his body, trusting his instincts that Ross was not going to disturb his transfer. Back at home, he opened his eyes, stretched and stood, rubbing the ever-present kink in his left leg.

“Just for the record, you could have hurt me pretty bad back there, Ross. Just now, I mean. Stepping into and out of a body is a vulnerable time. I trusted you that you wouldn’t—thanks.”

“Uh huh. What was I gonna do, rattle my chains at ya?” Ross snorted. “And, uh, if it’s not too much trouble, what the hell good is this gonna do me? What am I s’posed to do? If I’m dead, where are the angels?”

Tannim paused, and walked to the door of the car. “Get in; I’ll tell you.”

Ross reached for the door-handle, and his hand passed through it, a tracing of fire around the point of entry. “That’s lesson one, Ross. You’re only partially in this land of the physical. You can choose whether or not to interact with it. Lotta advantages to being a ghost; I don’t get the option of deciding if I want to be hit by a bullet or not.” Tannim grinned. “You do. Or rather, you will. You’re not up to that yet.”

“That’s spooky as shit,” Ross observed, watching his forearm disappear completely into the door.

“Normally you wouldn’t be able to do that to this particular car. As a ghost, that is. It has some powerful defenses. I’m lowering the ones against spirits for you, keyed to you and you only. Otherwise, you couldn’t get within a foot of that door. Also, another thing: if you get near my tape collection, I’ll kill you.” Tannim smiled. “You can fry magnetics with a touch—tapes, computer disks, that sorta thing. The tapes are in that red box there. Please don’t touch it.”

Ross looked through the window at the red fabric case, and read “no ghosts or possessions within 10 feet” embroidered into a panel on its lid. The caution was surrounded by arcane symbols. “Yeah, I see. What are those, spells or something?”

Tannim chuckled and leaned against the roof. “The runes? They’re from the back of Led Zeppelin Four. Scares most of the ghosts bigtime, except the metal-heads, they just give me a high-sign and say ‘Duuuude!’ ”

Ross laughed, and pulled his arm free of the door. He shoved his other hand in his pockets, and dragged on his ever-present cigarette. The smoke wisped away, disappearing as blue this time.

“That’s another advantage, you can see things living people can’t, like that warning. It’s for spirits only. Your vision should be changing soon, now that you’ve realized . . . ah, what you are now. Things’ll start getting pretty weird . . . people will have funny glows around them, colors that show how they feel emotionally, the brighter they are the more intense they are. I see that way all the time, it’s called ‘mage-sight’—that’s how I can see you now. Watch out for blind spots, they mean trouble every time. They stand for something you can’t see, something someone won’t let you see, or something you don’t want to see.”

Ross appeared grim for a second, then turned his head to face the overpass.

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