Hestia fired a handful of shots in Dorian’s general direction to keep him under cover. Rage twisted her face as a quartet of blue flames appeared behind her, twisting into the shapes of butterflies and drifting through the air toward the impostor’s hiding spot.
“You didn’t give me a chance to contact my handlers before the prison raid,” the clone shouted back mockingly, tossing a small metal box into the center of the room. “But I suppose I should thank you for delaying this attack long enough for me to set up an ambush. With the four of you out of the way, no one will know enough to even slow down Starfall.”
The box exploded into a flash of bright light and screeching static. Almost immediately, Kat’s senses dimmed to an acceptable level as Sensory Dampening protected her from the device’s effects.
Dorian’s replacement broke from cover, left arm over his face while the right carried his pistol. He vaulted a desk, sprinting toward the door as Kat brought her pistol up. Her first shot missed, but the second struck him square in the flank, knocking the clone sideways.
Before she could fire a third shot, he gingerly slipped behind another cabinet, just in front of her. Kat swore to herself. She’d used her silenced pistol, and unsurprisingly the high mass, low velocity round hadn’t done much against the kevlar weave that all of the infiltrators were wearing.
“You bitch!” He shouted, his voice coming out in a pained gasp as a trio of guards in bulky body armor stormed into the room.
Xander’s pistol fire sparked off of their armor, the angled ceramic plates deflecting the low caliber rounds. They countered, their rifles issuing a cacophony of discordant blasts as they echoed in the tiny room.
A swarm of flaming butterflies, curving back from following Dorian’s clone, clustered around one of the guards. They flashed with a searing blast of blue light, sending a wave of heat slamming into Kat as they self immolated.
Kat slammed her back into the desk in front of her, hand snaking up to grab the stun baton left there by Xander, as she began casting Pseudopod.
One of the security officers slumped to the ground, the polymers of their helmet fused to their skull by the intense heat of Hestia’s spell, but the other two fanned out into the room, guns at the ready.
Xander popped up and fired a shot before their return fire forced him back into cover. Both the clone and Kat took that moment of distraction to break into the open. The false Dorian ran for the exit while she jumped into the air, immersing the crackling stun baton into the base of the tentacle of water growing from her stomach.
The rope of water blurred through the air, slapping into one guard and discharging the electricity from the baton en route to coiling around Dorian’s ankle.
Then, all three of them, Kat, the guard and Dorian began falling together. Quickly, she removed her baton from the Pseudopod, not wanting to share the fate of the twitching security officer once she was no longer airborne and insulated.
The imposter slammed face first into the ground, nose shattering like a ripe tomato. A second later, the guard joined him, smoke coming from the joints in his armor as he twitched spasmodically.
Kat burned stamina and Leapt, landing on the final security officer’s side.
The woman yelped as Kat’s weight knocked her off balance, but a fraction of a second later, Kat’s knife, empowered by Penetrate, slipped under the seam of her helmet. By the time the two of them hit the ground, blood was pouring from the ruptured seal in the guard’s armor, and Kat’s victim wasn’t moving.
Another masked and armored security officer burst into the room, only for a wave of fire to erase their head and upper torso. Hestia shifted the flame lance, cutting through the clone and stunned guard’s chests with an effortless twitch of her hand.
A grenade clanked on the floor, but even crouched over the body of a guard, Kat’s agility and reaction attributes were enough. The tentacle of water created by Pseudopod lashed out, batting the metal oval back out into the hallway a second before it detonated.
Hestia followed the explosive outside, screaming in frustration and rage as she erupted into a corona of flame. The smell of charred flesh began to waft through the room as the walls grew hot to the touch.
“Erinyes,” Xander called out. “Hestia should have the door covered. See what you can do for Merrimac. As soon as the backup generator kicks in, Whip and I will try and locate the secure storage.”
“We’re still going after the data?” Kat asked incredulously, kneeling over Merrimac just before she began reciting the words to Cure Wounds I.
“We have to,” Xander replied grimly. “Elaine knows we’re here, and I saw a lot more than a handful of corporate security guards heading our way. Williamson is in the building herself along with at least six individuals marked as VIPs. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to fight our way out of this. There’s a decent chance our exit will involve a window and gravity magic. There’s certainly not going to be a second shot at retrieving the data.”
The lights turned back on as the secondary generator kicked in. Around them, various smartglass displays, the ones that were still intact, anyway, booted up to a number of loading scenes.
“This is do or die, Erinyes.” Xander walked over to a jack, plugging himself in once more. “If we don’t expose Elaine, Belle is going to be left swinging in the wind, and she’s the only thing standing between our families and Schaumburg’s total destruction.”
Kat nodded back before focusing her attention on Merrimac. Despite the close range gunfire that had brought him down, the damage didn’t seem as bad as she’d expected.
Of course, that was a relative matter. Dorian’s clone had still shot him a good dozen times, and even with the kevlar weave Davis wore under his infiltration suit, the bullets hit close enough together that at least four or five made it through the shredded fabric. It still took a good half of Kat’s remaining mana and almost thirty seconds for the bleeding to stop.
Merrimac jerked upward, gasping for breath, his hand reaching up to grip Kat’s in a vise-like hold.
“Save your mana, girl,” he choked the words out, pain clouding his words. “You’re going to need it. I have perks that can heal me from here.”
She glanced back to Xander only for the older man to nod. Davis grunted in pain as he slid backward on the blood-slick floor and propped himself up against one of the security room’s metal desks. Reluctantly, Kat stood up just as Hestia walked back into the room, still wreathed in fire.
Hestia’s hair blew back and forth, whipped about by a wind that touched only her. The arms and shoulders of the older woman’s infiltration suit were burned off exposing unblemished skin beneath. Around her, dozens of fist-sized balls of flame pulsed angrily.
Her eyes locked on Merrimac’s bloody but conscious form, and the spells winked out. Hestia sprinted across the room, dropping to her knees next to Davis.
“I thought I saw you die,” she whispered heatedly, hands on his shoulders. “That thing unloaded a full magazine into you when you didn’t have your armor on. You should be dead.”
“Luckily, Erinyes can use healing magic,” he grunted back, hissing with pain as he tried to shift his body once more. “Fetch me the Monitor, will you Hestia? I don’t think these assholes are just going to stop coming after us because we asked nicely.”
Quietly, the woman picked up Merrimac’s massive rifle, and dragged it over to the seated man. Merrimac put a hand on it, stroking the stock of the weapon lovingly while muttering some sort of incantation under his breath.
The desk he was leaning against crumpled, the metal flowing forward to encase Merrimac. Steel plates seemed to sprout from his infiltration suit, glowing gently blue as more and more of the material surrounded him until eventually, the skinny man was clad in a huge suit of armor.
“It’s good to have you back,” Kat could barely hear Hestia whispering the words, but even across the room she noticed that the older woman’s eyes were damp. “I couldn’t afford to lose both of you in one day.”
Even sitting down, Merrimac was almost the size of a small car, and likely as bullet resistant. He hefted his rifle easily, his glowing armor whirring slightly as he brought the gun to his shoulder.
“I have two hundred rounds of armor piercing and fifty of high explosive,” Davis called out, not moving from where he sat. “I can’t move or it’ll negate the perk keeping me awake and alive, but that should be enough to hold off whoever’s after us for a little while. What’s the plan, Exe.”
“Doesn’t look like there are any good options, unfortunately,” Xander sighed as he tucked his cord back into the cranial jack. “They’ve got the security station down to read-only right now. They know we’re here and have all permissions for these workstations revoked. The secure storage is on the thirty-second floor and there are about a hundred guards between here and there.”
“No chance of us leaving a back door and sneaking in later?” Davis asked without much hope.
“Negative,” Xander replied, walking to the center of the room and grabbing a rifle. He tossed it to Whippoorwill. The girl yelped, barely catching the weapon.
“It looks like our only option is to send someone in fast and hard to crack the vault.” He passed another rifle to Kat. “There are too many guards. If we get bogged down in a fight they’ll overwhelm all five of us in minutes. Someone needs to man the cameras and steer the strike team away from security, and that means leaving people here where they’ll be a sitting duck for unending waves of corporate security.”
“If this is about me,” Davis shook his metal clad head, “I know what I signed up for. I’m not going to let my injury slow the operation down. Leave me behind. Who knows, I might even make it.”
“No.” Hestia crossed her arms. “You retired and I came back as a favor, so unfortunately for you, Merrimac, you’re not the team lead. I’m not leaving you to die.”
“Unfortunately,” Xander replied, picking up a final rifle for himself, “I really do need someone to monitor cameras and comms. I’ll also need some people to keep the coordinator safe. That means Whippoorwill down here with Merrimac and Hestia covering her.
“Congrats, Whip.” He chuckled. “If you get out this alive, you’ll have earned a name.”
“I’ll say,” Hestia snorted, surveying the charred bodies. “We’ll have enough of these to build a fairly grisly barricade before the night is through.”
“But,” Whippoorwill’s voice was trembling but she held her rifle a steady and determined grip. “That means that you and Erinyes will have to go alone. I saw how many guards there are and-”
“It is what it is, Whip,” Kat shook her head, resignation weighing down her voice. “Exe and I have the best chance of making it to the vault before the security forces can triangulate on us. This isn’t just a mission we can back out of, everyone dies if we fail.”
“She’s right,” Merrimac nodded, the metal of his impromptu helmet scraping against the chest plate. “The mission comes first. Even if four of us die, so long as the fifth uploads that data, we’ll have saved the lives of dozens of people close to us.”
“It’s a tough ask for someone on their first combat mission,” Xander walked over to Whippoorwill and put a hand on her shoulder. “I swear I meant to ease you into this sort of thing, but once again necessity has made a fool of me. You can handle this, Whip. Just follow Merrimac and Hestia’s lead.”
Whip nodded, hands gripping the rifle tightly as she hunkered down next to a desk.
“Come on, Erinyes,” she could almost see Xander’s golden tooth glinting through his mask. “It’s time to go save the world.”
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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