All we had to do was make it that far.
We flew by the Museum of Science and Industry on our right, then flashed over the bridge above the Fifty-ninth Street Yacht Harbor, moving into a section of road that had a little distance between itself and the nearest buildings and a decided lack of foot traffic on a cold autumn evening.
As if they'd been waiting for an opening away from so many prying eyes, the Wild Hunt swept down on us like a falcon diving onto a rabbit.
But they were not attacking a rabbit. They were attacking a wabbit. A wascally wabbit. A wascally wabbit with a Winchester.
Something that looked like a great, gaunt hound made of smoke and cinders, with glowing coals for eyes, hit the ground just behind the Harley and began sprinting, keeping pace with us. It came rushing in, dark jaws spread to seize the back tire, the same motion it might have used had it been attempting to hamstring a fleeing deer. Mindless animal panic raged inside my head, but I kept it away from the core of my thoughts, forcing myself to focus, think, act.
I saw Karrin's eyes snap over to her rearview mirror as it closed, and felt her body tensing against mine as she prepared to evade to the left. I gathered my will but waited to unleash it, and as the charhound closed to within inches of the tire, Karrin leaned and took the Harley left. The charhound's jaws clashed closed on exhaust fumes, and I unleashed my will from the palm of my outstretched right hand with a snarl of "Forzare!"
Force hit the charhound low on its front legs, and the beast's head went into the concrete at breakneck speed-literally. There was a terrible snapping sound, and the charhound's limp body went tumbling end over end, bouncing up into the air for a dozen yards before landing, shedding wisps of darkness all the way.
What landed in a boneless sprawl on the road was not a dog, or a canine of any sort. It was a young man-a human, wearing a black T-shirt and torn old blue jeans. I barely had time to register that before the body tumbled off the road and was out of sight.
"Good shot!" Karrin cried, grinning fiercely. She was driving. She hadn't seen what was under the hound's outer shell.
So that was how one joined the Wild Hunt. It was a mask, a huge, dark, terrifying mask-a masquerade.
And I'd just killed a man.
I didn't get any time to feel angst over it. Karrin gunned the engine of the Harley and it surged ahead, running along the spit of land that bifurcates Jackson Harbor. Even as she did, two riders descended, one on either side of the road, their steeds' hooves hammering against empty air about five feet up. Like the charhound, the steeds and riders were covered in a smoky darkness through which shone the amber fire of their eyes.
Karrin saw the one on the right and tried to move left again-but the second rider pressed in closer, the dark horse's hooves nearly hammering onto our heads, and she wobbled and gunned the accelerator.
I recognized another hunter's tactic. The first had forced us to close distance with the second. They were driving us between them, trying to make us panic and think about nothing but running straight ahead-in a nice, smooth, predictable line.
The second rider lifted an arm and he held the dark shape of a spear in his hand. He hurled it forward, leading the target perfectly. I flung up my left hand, extending my shield spell. It got mixed results. The spear flew into it and through it, shredding my magic as it went-but instead of flying into my face, the spear was deflected just enough that its blade sliced across the back of my neck, leaving a line of burning pain behind it.
The adrenaline was flowing and the pain didn't matter. Hell, it really didn't matter if the wound had opened an artery-it wasn't as though I could stop to get medical attention if it had. I twisted around to fling another bolt of force at the rider, but he lifted a hand and let out an eerie screech, and my attack was dispersed, doing little more than inconveniencing my target. His horse lost a step or two, but he dug black spurs into the beast's hide and it soon made up the pace.
Big surprise, magic wasn't a big threat to the Huntsmen.
I drew the rifle from the rack on the Harley, thumbed back the hammer while still holding it in one hand, then twisted at the waist to bring it to bear on the rider, the heavy weapon's forearm falling into my left hand. I didn't have much time to aim, and it might have actually been counterproductive, given our speed, the irregularities of the chase, the darkness, and the rain. Plus, I'm not exactly Annie Oakley. So I made a best guess and pulled the trigger.
The rifle let out a crack of thunder, and a burst of disintegrated shadow flew up from the shoulder and neck and jawline of the rider. I got a look at the armor beneath the mask, and a portion of his face, and realized with renewed terror that I'd just put a bullet into the Erlking.
And an instant later I realized with a surge of incandescent hope that I'd just put a bullet into the Erlking on Halloween night.
The Erlking reeled in the saddle, and his horse faltered and veered away, gaining altitude again. I levered a new round into the chamber, gripped the weapon like a pistol, and whirled it back over Karrin's ducked head to point it one-handed at the rider on the right, who was even now making his own approach, spear uplifted.
I guessed again and shot. I didn't hit him, but the thunder of the gun came just as he flung the spear. I didn't rattle the rider, but the flame-eyed horse flinched, and the spear flew wide of us. The rider was not deterred. He brought his steed under control first-then he let out a weird, bubbling screech and swept a long, dark-bladed sword from the scabbard at his side. He started closing the distance again.
It was impossible to lever another round into the rifle quickly while riding behind Karrin. That thing John Wayne does, whirling the rifle one-handed to c**k it? It really helps if you have one of those enlarged, oblong lever handles to do it with, and mine was the smaller, traditional rectangle. Also, it helps to be John Wayne. I had to draw the rifle into my chest and hold it steady with my left hand to get it done. The rider swerved in at us and I shot again-and missed as his steed juked and abruptly changed speed, briefly falling back before boring in again.
I repeated that cycle three times before I realized that the rider was playing me for a sucker. He respected the gun, but knew its weakness: me. He wasn't dodging bullets-he was dodging me, tempting me into taking shots with little chance of success in an effort to get me to use up my ammo.
And all the while, the rest of the Hunt kept pace with us: dozens of riders like this one, plus maybe twice that many shadowy hounds, all keeping about fifty yards back and up, clearly giving the first two hunters the honor of first attempt.
"His horse!" Karrin screamed. "Shoot the horse!"