It took Olivia almost an hour to wake up. I wasn’t too surprised by this. I’d still been riding the wave of anger at her intrusion when I punched her, and as a result I’d hit her maybe a wee bit harder than necessary. Like, harder than most any human other than an exceptionally strong martial artist would be capable of. Between that and the armored gauntlet, I’d been a bit concerned as to whether she would wake up at all.
An hour is a lot of time. I’d used it to, first off, recover my composure and settle back into my normal, mostly sane frame of mind. Then I’d tied the unconscious mage into a chair with my rope of shadows. Then, because she still hadn’t woken up and I am a great believer in redundancy, I duct taped her into place as well. The end result was that she was tied and taped in place at waist, ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, shoulders, and forehead. Her wrists were handcuffed to the chair arms, too. There was no way she was moving more than her eyelids, and the door was both locked and barricaded.
Like I said. Redundancy is good, and there is no such thing as overkill.
I was sitting in the other chair, watching her and drinking a can of root beer I’d bought from the vending machine. I don’t normally drink soda, but I’d felt a great desire for something and it wasn’t like they had any decent tea.
Olivia woke up slowly. She stirred abortively, blinked a couple times, then suddenly seemed to remember where she was and what had happened. She struggled, for a minute or so, trying to get loose. I smiled and drank root beer until she gave up.
“Good morning,” I said once she’d stopped moving. “How are you feeling?”
The mage tried, instinctively, to turn her head to face me. She failed; I’d taped her head into place too thoroughly to allow that much motion. She was restricted to looking at me in the periphery.
I was still wearing the armor, and the weapons. The only thing that had changed was that my pistol was sitting on the bed next to me, pointed directly at her. She noticed, visibly, and flinched as much as was possible. Good.
“I think we both know the drill,” I said, not waiting for her to answer my question. “You tell me what I want to know. Otherwise I kill you. Got it?”
She laughed dryly—more because her throat was dry than any deliberate inflection. “No, you won’t. You don’t have the balls.”
The hubris of some people always astounds me. It didn’t even seem to occur to her that I’d already shown myself willing to fight her, magically and physically, or that the method of rendering her helpless I’d chosen had carried fairly serious risks itself.
The question was how to convince her that I meant business. Torture sprang immediately to mind—few things communicate a willingness to do violence better—but I wanted to avoid that if at all possible. I don’t like pain, not my own and not other people’s.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I like a good fight as much as the next guy, and probably more. More than I should, really. But that’s more a matter of adrenaline, coupled with the thrill of testing myself against someone else and the joy of doing something I’m good at. And, I will admit, there is also a certain ugly pleasure in seeing my enemies fall before me. But simply inflicting pain just makes me feel sick to my stomach.
It’s kind of comforting, actually. If I ever stop feeling like that, I will know that I am well and truly screwed up.
I thought for a moment. Then I set the can of soda down on the table with a click. I reached behind myself and grabbed Tyrfing. Still not speaking, I drew Tyrfing. The cursed sword whispered against the scabbard, a sound that promised blood and death in the near future.
It reeked. The magic imbued in the sword was incredible, powerful and complex practically beyond my imagination. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I’m getting pretty good at making and examining magical items. But Tyrfing was in a whole other realm. It might have been one of the top hundred or so magic items in the whole freaking world. There were so many different layers and levels of magic embedded in the structure of the metal that I couldn’t hope to pick a single one, even an obvious surface layer, out of the crowd without some serious work.
Dozens and dozens of enchantments blended into a single aroma like fresh blood and broken stone. Somehow—again, I have no idea how the dwarves who created the sword managed it—you can only detect the blade’s magic when it’s drawn from the sheath. Most of the time it seems, even to me, just like another sword.
Now that it was drawn, though…well, it didn’t seem normal anymore, if you know what I mean. It changed the whole feeling of the room. Olivia shuddered slightly, though her movement was too restricted to really shiver.
I could feel the sword’s magic, too, probably as a result of long-term, low-level exposure. It beat against my senses, and I could feel it trying to do me harm. It hated me, I knew. Oh, not specifically; it didn’t despise its wielder, or anything like that. It just hated everyone. It wanted me dead, but no more than everyone else it came into contact with.
Such as, say, Olivia.
“You can feel it, can’t you?” I said, turning the blade to catch the light. For such a horrid thing, Tyrfing is really quite lovely, the black runes running down the mirrored blade perfectly shaped and clean. “You can feel it trying to get you.”
“What is that thing?” she said, sounding truly frightened for the first time.
“It’s my sword,” I said. “Its name is Tyrfing. Have you heard of it?” She shook her head, which wasn’t surprising. Most people haven’t heard of Tyrfing. I’m not sure why. Excalibur is plenty famous, and the two swords are hanging around on the same general level. Maybe it’s just that more of the people who encounter Excalibur survive long enough to tell stories about it.
“It’s quite powerful, as I’m sure you’ve noticed,” I continued. “Not terribly friendly, though. It’s trying to kill you right now. That’s what you’re feeling. Spend too much time around this sword and bad things happen. It starts small, but after a few minutes it can build to some quite ridiculous stretches of coincidence.”
If anything, I was understating the danger involved. Tyrfing came closer to killing both me and Snowflake than most fights I’ve been in when I was just trying to make a grilled cheese. I’ve sometimes wondered whether, in a fight, the best way to use it might be just to throw it at the enemy and let their own bad luck rip them apart.
I rested the sword on my lap and took a drink of soda. Tyrfing doesn’t like me to let go of it unless I’ve killed at least one thing since I drew it, but it doesn’t actively fight me unless I’m putting it back in the scabbard. Olivia looked scared, and small, and like she was about to cry. It wasn’t pleasant to see. I’ve felt like that, and my memories of those times aren’t something I like to dwell on.
But as far as she knew, my veins were filled with ice water and my heart was made of stone.
“I really don’t know how many people this sword has killed,” I said casually. “It’s had a few thousand years to work on it, and this isn’t the kind of sword that sits idle, if you take my meaning. I mean, I’ve only had the thing for six months, and I’ve already racked up, oh, it must be close to twenty.”
“And that’s just with the sword,” I continued. I was feeling a little sick, but I kept my tone light. “Before that, oh, it goes back a ways. I killed a family back when I was just a kid. Mother, father, daughter, son, I killed them all. Ripped them to pieces and ate them. I set my first girlfriend up to die for the sake of a lie I didn’t even tell. Last year I shot one werewolf in the face and slit another’s throat just because they had the bad luck to fall in with a nasty crowd, and I was in a hurry.”
Olivia was staring at me with a horrified fascination. I guess she wasn’t used to people talking about this sort of thing so openly.
I took another sip of soda. “So,” I said. My voice had lost all of its bantering tone, now. “If you’re seriously banking on me not having the guts to stick this sword through your chest, I would strongly recommend that you reconsider your position. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve killed a lot of people that I liked better than you, mostly for a lot less reason than you’ve given me. And I’m a little pressed for time right now, so you should probably not take your time thinking it over.”
“If I tell you,” she said weakly, capitulating. “Will you let me go?” I nodded. “Promise me.”
I looked at her seriously. “If you tell me what I want to know,” I said, “I will set you free. I swear this by the moon and stars. May the Wild Hunt take me if I fulfill not my word.” Which was, admittedly, a pretty antiquated sort of oath, but what the hell. If you’re playing for melodrama, you might as well go for broke with it.
She relaxed a little, with reason. Oaths are serious business in the supernatural world, and they’re pretty much the major currency. If anybody finds out that you’ve broken your word—and someone will find out, that’s inevitable, it’s practically a law of nature that somebody always finds out—then your reputation’s shot. Nobody over here wants to deal with an oathbreaker. Besides which, I’ve heard rumors that broken promises can have more…direct effects on people, sometimes. Nothing solid, but enough to give a person pause. That goes double for promises which, like mine, invoke a specific entity as reprisal. You break that kind of oath and there’s a very good chance that they’ll actually do it, just so nobody starts to question their rep.
Of course, a promise is only as good as the person that makes it. And, as always, caveat emptor is the order of the day.
She really should have known better.
“Fine,” she said, almost spitting the word at me. “Put that thing away.”
I didn’t pretend not to understand her. “That’s not how this works,” I said. “The sword stays where it is until we’re done here.” I smiled sharply. “Think of it as motivation. The faster you talk, the sooner you get away from it, and the less likely it is to hurt you.”
“Hurry up then,” she said.
“You’re Jon’s apprentice,” I said. “Or whatever his name is, I don’t care. How long?”
“Before you met the vampire, then,” I noted.
“He told you to offer yourself up to her?”
“Yes. I’ve been giving him information about her movements and activities.”
Interesting. I wondered how long he’d been planning this. It had all the signs of a careful, long-term stalk, rather than an attack of opportunity.
“Where is he now?”
“I don’t know.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really,” I said, packing as much skepticism into the word as possible.
“I don’t! I’ve never met him in the same place twice. He doesn’t tell me where until the day before.”
Interesting. If she was telling the truth—which I thought she probably was—he was paranoid enough to make me look like an amateur. That, in turn, meant that there was likely at least one person chasing him. Either that or he expected someone to start soon.
“What’s he planning?”
“I don’t know!” she cried desperately. “Oh God, I swear I don’t know! He wanted me to tell him everything Katrin did. That’s all I know.”
I looked at her. Saw—and smelled—how afraid she was, how she was finally realizing her own mortality. “You really don’t,” I muttered, disgusted. “You’re no different from Luke’s people, are you? Just a tool.”
“Please,” she said, some pride returning to her voice. “I’m nothing like them. He’s taught me things. Powerful things.”
“And yet,” I said dryly, “you remain as short-sighted and idiotic as before.” I shook my head. “You know,” I said thoughtfully, “I think that’s what makes me angry about all this, more than anything else. Kinda weird, considering all the horrible things you’ve done.” I considered it for a moment. “I guess that’s what it really is, though. I could almost forgive the rest of it.. Murder, strange rituals, even sending constructs to kill me… that’s more or less your job description, isn’t it? Mad scientists and evil sorcerers both. In a weird sort of way that’s what you’re for.”
“I don’t understand.”
I ignored her. “But what he’s done to them, well, that’s something else. I mean, you’re one thing. You went into it looking for power, I’m guessing for a fairly petty reason. You would’ve wound up here yourself at some point. But Luke? He and his were trying to do some good. Trying to make a difference in a cruel world. What happened to them was so far beyond unfair I don’t even know what to call it. I don’t know that I can forgive that.”
“I’ve told you everything I know,” she said, something of her haughty attitude present once more. “You promised.”
“I did, didn’t I?” I said. I wasn’t consciously trying to sound creepy or anything, but she flinched anyway. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
I walked behind her. Olivia went tense, then relaxed again. She was confident that I was cutting her loose, and she would be going free shortly afterward.
She was completely unprepared for me to stab her.
Tyrfing was, of course, more than sharp enough for the task. Driven by preternatural strength, it went straight through the back of the chair, punched through her chest, and stood out a good two feet on the other side, steel stained brilliant crimson with blood, though even as I watched the color faded, seemingly absorbed into the sword.
She gasped, a small, shocked sound in the sudden silence. She didn’t die instantly, though of course I got her heart. It isn’t hard to hit when you’re standing behind an immobile, unsuspecting person. You can actually survive almost anything for at least an instant or two. Even decapitation can take a couple seconds to be lethal.
“Two pieces of advice,” I said to her. “On the off chance that reincarnation is for real. Number one, nobody fucks with my head and gets away with it. Not nobody, not no how. Which is pretty specific as advice goes, but it might do you some good. Two, when somebody’s already threatened to kill you twice in a given conversation, be a lot more specific in what you make them promise.”
I twisted the knife—sword, really, but that doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic—and ripped it back out, bringing with it another gout of blood. Olivia slumped against her bonds. “Thus,” I said quietly, “do I free you from the bonds of your flesh. Rest in peace.”
So died a young woman who may or may not have been named Olivia, who had betrayed everyone she ever served but was still, in the greater scheme of things, nothing but a victim. I didn’t want to kill her, but I saw no other way.
I sheathed Tyrfing and waited a few minutes for the effect of the sword’s curse to fade a bit. It’s dangerous, of course, to me most of all, but the magic dissipates quickly. If you’re careful for that time and you don’t spend an excessive amount of time near the unsheathed sword, there isn’t too much that it can do to you.
While I waited I made sure that no trace of my presence remained in the room. I emptied the can of soda, then crushed it and dropped it into my pocket. Tyrfing never retained blood, not even a little, and I’d been careful and adroit enough to avoid getting any on myself. I took the rope back, and the handcuffs, and dropped them back into the right pockets. The duct tape I left. It would explain why she hadn’t struggled, and it was utterly anonymous. I had, of course, not taken off my gloves at any point. There would be no fingerprints, nor any hair that could be used to identify me.
I’d been quite sure of that, but I still double checked everything. A murder is a tricky thing, after all. You can’t be too careful.
Okay, done here. Time to bug out. That, in itself, represented a few problems.
I hadn’t been seen by anyone except Olivia and the clerk at the front desk. I wanted to keep it that way. In fact, if everything went right, I would just disappear without a trace.
I threw all the windows open wide first thing. The view from the seventh floor was…very impressive. I spent a moment appreciating it, then I dove out. Above me the curtains snapped in the breeze as I plummeted.