Maybe an extra point in Agility and Reaction was overkill, Kat mused as she hopped over a trapped step in her college’s stairwell. Still, until she learned magic that would let her stop bullets, simply ‘not being where the bad guys were shooting’ seemed like a valid plan B.
Dorrik had grumbled about how Charisma, Mind, and Spirit were a spellcaster’s greatest tools, but as often as the big lizard gave good advice, it wasn’t like they were sneaking through a stairwell at 2 a.m., dodging guards with shotguns.
She pushed the fire door open and froze. Shadow was active, but barely ten steps in front of her, a corporate security officer was slouched against the wall. Her hand inched toward the knife strapped to her infiltration suit’s belt.
The guard pushed himself off of the wall with a grunt and began walking away, never turning to check behind him.
Kat’s hand returned to her side as his footfalls faded away, a slight frown on her face. The security officer was gone, but something deep inside of her screamed that he was a combatant, that she should tie up loose ends here and now.
It didn’t sit right.
Even if the officer might be a threat, even if the decision might come back to haunt her, Kat couldn’t bring herself to kill someone that wasn’t a threat to her at the moment. The guard could have just as easily been one of her school friends or one of the people she met in the ChromeDogs.
She wouldn’t hesitate to bring the man down if he spotted her or became a threat, a job was a job, but she wanted and needed to be a better person than she’d been in St. Louis.
With a sigh, she kept moving, creeping toward the security office. Kat took the lack of alarms and armed guards looking for her as a sign that she’d made it once again to the observation room without getting spotted.
She slipped another two disks of ZZ3 under the door and began counting. Halfway through, she heard a thud from inside. With a shrug, she waited five more seconds and tried the door.
A Hispanic woman in a guard uniform lay on her side in the middle of the room, pistol still in her holster. She looked peaceful. Almost like she was sleeping.
Kat closed the door behind her, locking it just in case the man patrolling the hallway wandered past. Efficiently, she put the shunt on the computer input, letting Whippoorwill have her way with the college’s antiquated security system while Kat found a length of extension cord to tie the woman’s hands and feet.
Technically, the plan called for the guard to be terminated, but Kat had three ampules of sedative. One for the Dean and two backups just in case.
She placed the applicator against the bound woman’s neck. It hissed as the pressurized gases inside the tube of plastic forced the drugs through her captive’s skin and into her carotid artery.
“Are you sure about this, Erinyes?” Xander’s voice in her ear almost made Kat jump. “If someone finds the guard, it could scuttle the entire operation, and you already left the patrolling guard on his feet. This seems like asking for trouble.”
Kat took a deep breath, closing her eyes behind the opaque mesh of her infiltration suit. Xander was right, but at the same time-
“If they become a threat to the mission...” Her voice came out a little harsher than she expected, but maybe that was for the best. “I’ve been resolving too many problems with my knife, Exe. You know I won’t hesitate to bring down an actual threat, but given where I grew up, I could have ended up as any one of these guards. Hell, it would have made more sense than what I’m doing right now.”
For a moment, there was only silence over their communication channel.
“I understand, Erinyes,” Xander replied. Even with the crackle of the poor transmitter he was using from the roof of a high rise across the street, she could hear the stress in his voice. More than that, he sounded bone tired. “We all have lines that we don’t like to cross. Just don’t be shy about crossing them if you have to. This isn’t a business for strict morals and clean hands.”
“My hands are already pretty dirty,” she chuckled. “A little more blood won’t change things all that much, but I’m not going to kill someone that I could just as easily spare. The world is already a shit enough place without me making it a little worse. I understand that I’m a grain of sand in a beach here, but-”
“I have him,” Whippoorwill interrupted the two of them. “Security has some minor updates, but nothing that slowed me down. Franklin is in his penthouse suite reviewing something on his smartpanel. He has a secretary and a guard up there with him, but everyone else has been sent home.”
“How do I get past them, Whip.” Kat checked her knife, pistol, and supply kit as she walked toward the security room’s door.
“I don’t think you do,” the other woman sighed. “The secretary is working at a desk that has a plain view of the elevator. She’s going to hear you coming up and be watching.”
“I’m sorry, Erinyes,” Whippoorwill continued, genuine emotion in her voice. “The girl is just a bystander, but she has access to a hardwired alarm. I can spoof an e-mail making her think that there’s some sort of late night security sweep of the penthouse, but I can’t stop her from tripping the siren. You’re going to have to bring her down fast and hard.”
Kat closed her eyes, gritting her teeth to avoid letting loose the scream burbling up inside of her.
“It’s for the mission,” Kat replied woodenly a moment later, trying not to think about the mechanics from St. Louis. She kept repeating to herself that this was different. This was necessary, but even as the elevator doors hissed shut behind her, the words rang hollow.”
Gravity pulled at her as the lift accelerated upwards. She drew a throwing dagger and frowned at it. It might be her weapon of choice, but it was a slow weapon. Knives killed by cutting tendons and ligaments to disable, and arteries and veins to bleed their target out. A precise enough throw would do the trick, the secretary couldn’t press a button if Kat disabled her hand, but that was hardly something she could count on with the entire mission on the line.
With a sigh, Kat sheathed the weapon and drew her pistol. It was squat and ugly, but it was quiet. High caliber, and low speed, the silencer screwed onto the front would reduce its report to a quiet cough, and the subsonic ammunition would eliminate the telltale crack of the sound barrier.
The elevator began to slow as it approached its destination. Kat closed her eyes and began channeling mana.
The doors opened with a ‘ding’ and Kat unleashed Dazzle on the waiting area beyond their metal embrace. Even through the mesh and her eyelids, Kat saw the brilliant white and orange strobes as the spell fired a dissonant burst of extremely bright light into the opening.
A woman let out a strangled scream of shock as Kat opened her eyes and stepped out of the elevator into the richly appointed reception area of the penthouse.
The secretary was beautiful. Like if someone had tricked Whippoorwill into dyeing her hair blonde and wearing an expensive, low-cut dress.
Kat’s eyes didn’t soften as the pistol jumped in her hand.
The first shot took the secretary in the shoulder, its momentum spinning the woman in her rotating chair. The second shot missed entirely, punching a hole in the elegant wood paneling behind the woman. The third hit her in the back of the head.
Kat didn’t bother to confirm the kill, the spatter of viscera on the wall behind the secretary evidence enough of her lucky shot.
“Christa!” A male voice shouted from the main area of the suite. “Are you all right? I thought I heard you shouting.”
Jogging footsteps announced the imminent arrival of another individual as Kat put her back to the wall a mere step from the entryway to the reception area.
A man in a suit, several inches taller than Kat and with short, cropped dark hair stepped through the opening. She could almost see his eyes widening as he took in the mess at the secretary’s desk as she pulled the trigger.
The gun coughed twice, and he staggered, but rather than blood, Kat saw a hint of chrome shining through the holes in his blazer.
Subdermal armor. Silently, she cursed herself for only carrying the bulky silenced pistol. Its big and slow bullets were about as effective as tennis balls against the guard’s armor. Unless she managed to hit exposed flesh, the pistol might as well be a paperweight.
The man grunted, swinging a backhand at her head with his left hand as he tried to bring his gun around.
Kat ducked, her Tower-enhanced reflexes more than a match for the poorly telegraphed blow. Only as his fist was passing over her head did she make out the two inch metal spurs jutting out from each knuckle.
“Assassin!” He shouted, the word devolving into a scream of pain as her throwing knife punched through the palm of his right hand, forcing him to drop the submachine gun.
He tried to kick her, but Kat flowed to the side seamlessly, drawing her actual fighting knife. She tensed her body, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.
The man’s eyes flickered back toward the office suite, looking for support.
Kat used that moment of distraction to dart in, slipping past the guard and activating Penetrate as he drew her dagger across the back of his thigh.
The skill wasn’t necessary. Whatever armor he had covering his torso, it didn’t extend to his legs. His eyes widened and the security officer collapsed as her knife cut through his hamstring.
Before he could hit the ground, Kat pulled her knife free from his leg and drew the blade across the inside of his forearm, slicing open tendons and opening his brachial artery.
He swung a bleeding limb at her, trying to fend Kat off, but it only bought him a second as she simply leaned backward and let his bladed fist swish past her face.
She leaned forward, dagger in hand, ready to finish him when Xander’s voice shouted in her ear.
“Use your gun!” She blinked down at the man, as he stared up at her in fear. “Your knife work is getting too distinctive, and the other side isn’t playing by the rules. We can’t afford to leave a calling card.”
The guard lunged for his submachine gun, awkwardly trying to grab the weapon with his still functional left hand, but a quick burn of stamina, and she Cat Stepped past him in a blur and kicked the gun away.
Keeping an eye on the injured guard. Kat ducked down and picked up her pistol from where she’d discarded it earlier in the fight. The man slid backward on the ground, his blood smearing everywhere.
“You don’t have to do this,” he whimpered, eyes fixed on the handgun. “I won’t tell anyone I saw you, I swear. I’ll quit my job tomorrow, say my Mom is sick and move away. Just don’t-”
The gun coughed and his head jerked back. If his head had subdermal armor, it wasn’t thick enough to stop the pistol’s oversized bullets. A second shot missed.
Kat stepped closer and fired twice more, each time taking careful aim to ensure that her shots hit him in the face.
Hands shaking slightly, she ejected her magazine and stowed it in her hip mounted kit, replacing it with one of the two spares. She racked a fresh round into the pistol’s chamber.
“Good job,” Xander cut in, “but stay on your toes. Franklin probably heard the guard’s warning, and we don’t have any idea what he’s capable-”
A metal sphere clinked off of the floor, bouncing once on the threshold of the entryway to the reception area before sailing further in.
Kat didn’t think, she reacted. Cat Step active, she blurred forward, committing every iota of stamina and Tower-granted speed to throwing herself into the hallway leading toward Dean Franklin’s suites.
The reception area erupted into an inferno, the pressure wave from the expanding ball of flame punching Kat in the back and throwing her further down the hallway. She hit the ground shoulder first, turning her momentum into a roll that returned her to her feet.
Standing about ten feet away was a middle aged man in a bathrobe and holding a massive silver handgun. Despite his apparel, he looked every inch a corporate executive, he was tall but not too tall with salt and pepper hair and a square, statuesque jaw that was agape as he stared at Kat.
She began sprinting toward him, serpentining through the hallway with Cat Step active as she began pouring mana into Gravity’s Grasp.
TIme seemed to move in slow motion as he raised the pistol, the golden links of the spell forming in her mind as Kat closed on him. Just before she reached him, Gravity’s Grasp snapped into place, the magic dragging down the barrel of his pistol a moment before he pulled the trigger.
Rather than a bullet, a bolt of lighting sprang from the revolver’s barrel, causing all of the hair on the left side of her body to stand on end as it seared the wall. Then, Kat’s shoulder hit his waist and her arm snaked around his leg, pulling it out from under him and spilling him to the ground. He hit with bone-jarring force, the enhanced gravity from her spell snapping the back of his head into the floor.
She landed on top of him, the breath rushing from his body as her elbow slammed into his solar plexus. Before he could recover, she straddled him, slamming her hand down on his temple. His eyes rolled back up into his head.
Kat checked his pulse and took note of the man’s steady breathing before pulling out one of the applicators and pressing it to his neck.
She stood up wearily, surveying the wreckage of the hallway and reception area.
“This is Erinyes,” Kat said as she pulled a pair of zip ties out of her kit and began trussing up the Dean’s hands and legs. “Please confirm that the penthouse is secure. Please also tell me what in the fuck just happened.”
“Uh,” Whip paused for a second, “I don’t see anything on the cameras but it doesn’t look like the fire alarms or sprinklers are working. It looks like the Dean had them disabled because he was afraid of them being used for some sort of gas attack.”
“For heaven’s sake,” Kat mumbled to herself as she walked back toward the reception area, mustering her mana to cast Water Jet.
“As for what happened?” Xander’s voice was grim. “Franklin is a player. An artificer initiate from the looks of things. That grenade and handgun were magical constructs. To anyone but him, they’re nothing more than lumps of metal. It's one of the more uncommon classes from The Tower of Somnus.”
“Shit,” Kat frowned, “is it safe for us to kidnap him? Without knowing exactly what abilities he’s hiding, how in the hell are we going to keep him secure?”
“Leave that to me,” Xander replied. “If you can deliver him to me unconscious, I can take care of the rest. As for you? Get your secondary shunt onto the terminal in his study. We’re going to need to activate the delta contingency plan.”
“Delta?” Kat asked, spraying down the last of the fires with magically generated water. “You want to fake a defection? How in the hell are we going to sell a false betrayal when half half of the penthouse is burned down and his support staff is shot to death.”
“With whose gun?” Xander replied smugly as Kat uncovered the computer terminal and inserted her second shunt so that Whippoorwill could have access to the system. “The weapon you’re using is untraceable and doesn’t have any prints on it. All we need to do is mash it into Franklin’s hand and it’ll look like something he picked up on the black market.”
“Hell,” he continued, “the fire works to our advantage. Originally I was going to make you drag their bodies to the kitchen and stuff them in an oven to erase the evidence of the knife wounds, but this is better. The fire was started with Franklin’s magic, and if all that’s left is bones with bullet holes in them, they won’t even know that a knife was used.”
“That could work,” she agreed grudgingly. “At least for the means of death.”
“Exe and I have put together some false bank records that show him embezzling funds,” Whippoorwill supplied helpfully, “and I’m already working on crudely erasing the security footage to make it look like an amateur is trying to cover their tracks.”
“And if you erase everything,” Kat nodded slowly, “anyone investigating what happened won’t know to look specifically for the records involving my dorm. Even if they could reconstruct the surveillance logs, the investigators won’t know where to look.”
She glanced at the unmoving Dean and sighed.
“It’s a bit rushed, but let’s do it,” Kat reached into her hip pack and began unfurling a lightweight parachute. “Tell me when you’re done, Whip. I have to get sleeping beauty ready to jump out of a building with me.”
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Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night