“‘Satan himself will laugh,’ eh?” Aiko said as we drove off. “You’re lucky I didn’t break down laughing. Would’ve ruined the atmosphere.”
I grinned. “You think you had it bad? Imagine how I felt. I had to say it with a straight face.”
“Although I did like the bit with the demons,” she said thoughtfully. “Had real panache. Not that I know what panache means. Still, it was nice. Lyrical, even. Like something out of Shakespeare.”
“Might have come out of Shakespeare for all I know,” I said cheerily. “I never did read that crap.”
“Lucky,” she muttered. “Think they bought it?”
“One of ’em did,” I said grimly. “At least. And that’s all it takes.” I paused. “But, probably, yes. They seemed pretty fond of the melodrama and ridiculous speeches. I figure, speak to ’em in their language, that’ll get the point across. Think it worked.”
“Great news,” she said. “How long you think we have?”
I frowned, estimating calculations in my head. “Call it an hour to get the message across. Another twenty minutes to organize a reaction. Maybe fifteen to implement it. Hour and a half, tops?” I shrugged.
“Guess we better get a move on, then,” she said, accelerating well past the speed limit.
On the way back I got a phone call. I listened to the slightly panicked voice on the other side. I spoke a few words to him, as gently as I could, and hung up.
“Word?” Aiko asked me.
“That was Luke,” I said, frowning. “Apparently Erica decided to go confront Jon and see what he has to say for himself.”
“Think she’s a plant?” the kitsune asked lightly.
“We should probably step up our timetable then.”
Aiko dropped me off at my cabin and left. It was necessary, for this plan to work, that I do the next part solo.
I grabbed Tyrfing and belted it on. Slipped my pistol on, grabbed my shotgun and slung it over my shoulder, the whole ten yards. Which, again, is a ridiculous phrase, considering that I’ve never been all that fond of football. I left the armor, but other than that I had my entire kit.
Like I said, it’s a delicate balancing act between seeming too casual, and looking like you’re ready for World War III. In this case it was even harder, because Jon knew that I knew that he wanted me dead. given my reputation and that fact, he would rapidly get suspicious if I didn’t seem prepped for a fight. On the other hand, if I overprepared by much, he might start wondering what else I’d done to get ready, which would pose serious problems. This plan was kind of counting on him not thinking in that vein. If he started considering that topic, it wouldn’t be hard for him to figure out what I was planning, in which case I was about to die in a distinctly unpleasant manner.
Eventually I got the balance right. Then, just when I was getting ready to leave, I was interrupted by a coldly unemotional voice from behind me, in my kitchen. It said:
“Drop your weapons, Wolf. It’s over.”
I froze and turned to face the voice.
It was, quite obviously, Jon. The fox’s vision of him had been blurry, dulled both by the passage of time and the fact that I was looking through another being’s eyes, but still remarkably accurate. Tall, a little on the thin side, he looked like he was in early middle age but had a confident demeanor that somehow suggested that he was a fair bit older.
The accoutrements were new. He was wearing dusty black clothes, including a full-length hooded cloak that should have been ridiculous but, instead, actually made him look kinda scary. There was a wand on one hip, and an elaborately decorated knife rode on the other. He was holding a staff, of course, a thick shaft of wood as tall as he was. It was pale and greyish, making me think of maple weathered and aged by long use and exposure to the elements. There was a ruby pendant prominently displayed on his chest. Overall, he practically radiated the “evil wizard” theme so strongly I could taste it.
Oh yeah, and he had half a dozen lackeys with him. They were human goons, big men holding assault rifles, and carrying pistols and grenades and probably other things, too. They all looked confident, though it ranged from the expression of a person looking forward to the prospect of hurting someone to the casual, bored look of a professional for whom violence isn’t a terribly exciting thing, in either direction.
I, of course, immediately judged the second category to be the greater threat by far. Professionals are generally much more dangerous than lunatics. Insanity might make you harder to predict, but it has disadvantages too.
“Drop the weapons,” Jon repeated, not sounding terribly excited. “It’s over.”
I licked my lips nervously, thinking. There was a chance that this could still work out. I hadn’t been expecting him to move this fast. I sure as hell hadn’t expected the gunmen. But, well, you never know. I might win.
A plan formed and crystallized in my head in an instant. I spent one more precious moment considering it, but I didn’t see any obvious flaws—besides, you know, the obvious ones. The timing would have to be absolutely perfect, and it depended on luck to an uncomfortable extent, but if it worked it might even the odds.
I dropped my hand to my belt, and unclipped Tyrfing. At the same time I undid the clasp holding it into place, the motion small enough that hopefully none of them had noticed. I threw the sword forward to clatter at their feet, a dramatic gesture that just happened to also be totally meaningless.
Because the sword also slid out of the scabbard. Just a little bit. Maybe three inches.
I took my time about the rest of it. I dropped the shotgun off my shoulder and straight to the ground beside my feet, then bent over to put the pistol next to it. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, I removed things from my pockets and piled them on the ground. A leather pouch full of magically charged dust, another pouch filled with ball bearings, a couple ammo boxes, a set of lockpicks. Anything and everything that could conceivably be used as a weapon I took out and put on the floor. It took about five minutes.
That would have to be enough.
Then, as I pulled out my rope and dropped it to the ground, I also palmed a little chunk of crystal. Then things started to move very, very quickly.
I threw the crystal in their direction, closed my eyes and turned my head to one side, and focused my will on the stone. I had designed the thing to react to my power, and it did so marvelously. The spell that I had sealed into the structure of the crystal released, very suddenly and with tremendous force.
It had been the first stored spell I made, and I had deliberately done something about as simple as possible. Light is, after all, a very pure and very simple release of energy. No complicated structure or ideas, no elaborate effects. Just a sudden flash of light comparable to a flashbang. There was no noise, no heat, but suddenly the room was filled with an illumination that was painful even behind my closed eyes.
In the same movement, I dove to the side. Not a moment too soon, either; they were reasonably good marksmen, and they reacted instantly to my motion as I released the stone. Half a dozen assault rifles sent a veritable fusillade of bullets my way. They were temporarily blinded, which was the only reason I survived the first moment of the fight, but they were still filling the hallway where I was standing with enough lead that a few hits were inevitable. I felt a hot sting above my right hip as I dove. Then, while I was crouching in the corner, another round hit my left bicep, and a ricochet caught me in the calf.
I sat, and endured without making a sound that might give them something to aim at it. It was hard, just sitting while that hail of death proceeded all around me. One heartbeat. Two, and I started getting nervous.
Then, as I had known it must, something went wrong.
Tyrfing’s entropy curse had been searching for an opportunity, a way to turn events for the worse, and it had found one.
They were good men, as mercenaries go. Skilled, practical, and, perhaps most importantly, careful. But combat, especially under unexpected circumstances, is inherently chaotic. You can’t control or predict every variable, meaning that there’s always an element of chance.
And chance was what Tyrfing manipulated.
This time the crack was found in the bracing of a rifle against a man’s shoulder. Now, you should know that an assault weapon generates a tremendous amount of force in the form of recoil, especially when fired on full auto. Which, in their surprise and sudden panic, these men were doing. If you’re firing a relatively light round, you’re experienced, and you’re well braced, you can keep the gun under reasonably good control.
Unfortunately, one of the men was unlucky enough that the stock of the gun slipped. Without something to brace the weapon against, and caught by surprise, he was helpless.
The recoil did as recoil does, spinning him around.
Unfortunately for the other men, he didn’t have time to let go of the trigger. Even worse, he spun in such a way that they were raked by friendly fire. Then, in another tragic coincidence, one of them, being temporarily blind, assumed that there was an enemy right next to him, panicked, and returned fire.
All of this happened in a couple seconds. Then the magazines clicked empty and I opened my eyes again.
Six men were bleeding on my kitchen floor. Several of them were obviously dead, while others were merely on their way to that state.
Well, damn. I was right. Throwing Tyrfing at a group was, like, the ideal weapon.
Except that Jon wasn’t down. That, really, was the big problem with the situation. None of the bullets had even come close to him; there was literally a ten-foot circle around him that was totally, completely, impossibly untouched. Most of the walls looked like Swiss cheese, but that one section of the room was utterly pristine. The hooded mage was looking at the carnage with a mildly interested expression, and I realized with a sinking feeling that I hadn’t even rattled his cage.
He knelt to examine Tyrfing, looking slightly more intrigued now. I took advantage of his distraction to go for the shotgun.
He heard me, of course. I mean, the man wasn’t a complete idiot. He hadn’t forgotten I was there. He glanced in my direction, his eyes showing no more emotion than they had before, and flicked his fingers vaguely in my direction. His lips shaped one word, which I never heard.
As it turned out, there was a difference between Olivia and her master. I’d been able to fight off her mental attack, but I never even felt his. I was prepped, ready, and alert, and he still demolished me in an instant. Sudden darkness swamped me, and I was not only unconscious before I hit the floor, I was out before I knew I was falling.