The vampire didn’t burst into flame at the touch of the sunlight, sadly. Nothing that dramatic.
But suddenly Kyra’s struggles actually meant something. Crippled, in pain, unable to coordinate or direct her efforts to their best effect, she could still actually break Katrin’s grip. She fell to the ground a moment later, collapsing and whining in pain as her weight fell on her shattered leg.
Before any of the vampires could react, Daniell darted forward and grabbed her by the scruff of the neck, her teeth set on Kyra’s neck. Kyra was larger by a considerable margin, but that didn’t necessarily mean as much to a werewolf; Daniell was easily able to drag the larger werewolf back to our position.
Meanwhile, the other vampires were edging away and hissing, an odd, eerie sound when multiplied across so many mouths. Apparently sunlight wasn’t instantly lethal to vampires, as I’d always suspected, but they still didn’t seem to want to be in it.
Which, in turn, made it exactly where I wanted to be.
I charged forward, straight at Katrin. She looked at me the whole time, still with that broad, mad smile. She had plenty of time to dodge, to escape, or fight back, but she didn’t even try. She just stood there and smiled as Tyrfing came around in a broad arc, reflecting the sunlight so brightly that it almost seemed to be giving off a brilliant light itself.
I heard shouts of surprise and pain from the periphery of the room as Katrin fell, as that beam of reflected sunlight swept through the darkness which still lingered at the edges of the room. I roared, brandishing Tyrfing in front of me, trying to buy time for the others to catch up.
It didn’t take more than a few seconds for them to realize what had just happened and start moving forward to join me in the pool of sunlight. The vampires caught on moments later and pounced on them, trying to bring them down before they could.
But they were disorganized, still off balance from the way things had changed in the last few moments. And the people they were attacking were ready for it. It was a close call, but in the end everyone made it into the light.
We quickly shifted into a defensive position again. Kyra was at the center—not even a werewolf could keep fighting on that leg—with the mages and soldiers around her. The outer ring consisted of me, Aiko, the jötnar, the other werewolves, and the shapeshifters.
The vampires were recovering now, but it was too late; they’d already lost the critical advantages which had made this fight so one-sided. They threw themselves at us, but now we were in a good position to defend ourselves, and they didn’t have the leadership to organize or coordinate their attack effectively.
I found myself fighting between Aiko and Ryan. She was holding her blade in both hands, warding off attacks. She couldn’t really kill a vampire with it, not even in the weakened state these ones were in, but she could keep them at bay, slashing at them when they got too close. She focused on crippling rather than killing, taking off limbs when they overextended.
Ryan, on the other hand, was holding a crucifix in one hand and a gun in the other, presenting both of them against the vampires. It was hard to shoot accurately in the chaos, the press of the fight, but he was good at it. He made it work.
He wasn’t the only one holding a religious symbol. A couple of the mages had various objects held high, a mix of crosses and more interesting, unusual choices. One woman had a dagger held high that shone with something a little bit more than reflected sunlight; vampires hesitated throughout that entire quadrant of the circle, and actively flinched away from the light. The man next to her was presenting a pipe, of all things. Another man had an actual scroll in his hands, and was chanting something in what sounded like Hebrew. It would not have surprised me to see someone pull out a pasta strainer and start reciting from the Loose Canon.
The nonhumans had their own symbols held high, as well. Anna’s collar had a large cross hanging from it. Vigdis had a silver chain in her hand, with a pendant in the shape of a wolf’s head. Appropriate for a shapeshifter, I supposed, and it might explain something of why she had signed up with me to begin with. It had never occurred to me that she might view the Fenris Wolf in a religious light, but it wasn’t that strange for a jotun, I supposed. Kyi had the runes tattooed on her arms, hands, and collarbone prominently displayed, and I knew that they had a religious connotation to them. Even Unna was holding a seashell overhead with an attitude that made it more than just an object.
For my part, I held nothing but Tyrfing. Appropriate enough in a way, I supposed. Certainly it would be reasonable to assume from my actions that I worshipped the sword.
The vampires attacked, but there was no real strength, no authority to it. They were slowed and weakened by the sun, by the wide array of holy symbols presented against them. I didn’t know much about vampires beyond the most practical level, I didn’t know why symbols of faith were such a hindrance to them, but they were.
I cut them down as fast as they came, having to consciously hold back to keep from advancing and breaking the defensive line. Ryan was shooting them, not able to kill them, but wounding, pushing them away. Anna and Daniell and Matthew were all able to trip them up and pull them down, keeping them still until one of the housecarls could finish the job. Similarly, Chuck was a force unto himself. A vampire was not stronger than a magically enhanced polar bear, not in the sunlight. A casual swat from him was enough to fling a vampire across the room, or tear its head from its shoulders outright.
Protected behind that wall of flesh, the mages were able to focus in relative safety. Some, too exhausted to use their magic, or lacking abilities that were applicable here, had to rely on other methods to make themselves useful. These mages focused on presenting the symbols of their various beliefs, or used the tools I’d provided, bombarding the vampires with holy water, with prayer beads and heads of garlic. Others were still able to contribute more directly, blasting the enemy with electricity or force, setting them on fire and locking them in place. The woman with the dagger just removed pieces of them before turning her attention back to the ceiling, widening the gap and letting in more light from the setting sun.
The soldiers were less useful here. Their weapons weren’t as effective, overall. But they also had the holy symbols and objects, and they did have some weapons that worked. They threw flashbangs into the crowd, further disorienting and debilitating them. Bullets weren’t particularly useful, but they did at least weaken and slow the vampires, leaving them more open to attacks that could actually hurt them. One of the gangsters threw a grenade that burst into incredibly intense flames, setting several vampires on fire. It was across the room from me, and I still felt the heat for the few seconds it was burning.
It only took moments before the vampires turned to run. But there were only two exits from the room. One was the hole in the roof, which led to an environment almost as hostile as what they were leaving. The other was the door we’d come in through, and it was there that the vampires ran.
They were brought up short when Unna gestured with that shell and crooned gently. The holy water on the ground swirled and then rushed over to the door, flowing up off the ground to form a thin barrier. One of the vampires tentatively reached through it, only to stop, apparently unable to move through it. I wasn’t sure whether it was that the aversion to the holy water was that strong, or if it was Unna’s doing, or if one of the mages was doing something.
The end result was the same. All of the vampires were crowded together for a moment, backed against the wall.
A hail of bullets, spells, grenades, and holy water rained down on them, and ended my war with Katrin once and for all.
“Neutral ground,” I said, walking into the shopping mall. “This is your idea of neutral ground.”
Newton smirked at me. I couldn’t see him, since this meeting was just the two of us, and I was guessing he was wearing the mask anyway, but I was confident he was smirking. “It’s neutral,” he said. “Unless you’re going to accuse me of owning it.”
“It’s public,” I said sourly. “Any moron could walk in and overhear this.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Consider it an incentive not to do something stupid. You pick a fight here and people get hurt.”
“We agreed to a truce,” I reminded him. “Until the discussion was over.”
“That’s fine,” he said. “I get it, you know, you’re old-school. Whatever. I’ll take my security my way.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Under any other circumstances, something that close to an accusation that I would break a truce would require a response. Jötnar took that sort of thing seriously, and allowing it to pass uncontested was as good as an admission.
But there were mitigating factors. I thought I could get away with letting this one slide without comment.
“I don’t like you,” I said. “I don’t like what you stand for. I don’t like what you do. But I’m trying to be as fair as possible. So I’m going to give you one chance here. Stop the nonsense, stop picking fights with me, and swear that you’ll follow my rules and support me against outside threats. You do that, and I’ll leave you be. One chance, and once chance only.”
“Like hell,” he said, with a clearly audible sneer. “You’re a scared little bitch. We both know you can’t back it up. If you could take us on you’d have done it already.”
He hesitated, obviously thrown by that. “Okay? That’s it?”
“Yep,” I said. “I don’t think we have anything else to discuss. Do you?”
“No,” he said after a moment. “No, I guess we don’t.”
I nodded, and pushed the button on the remote control I was holding in my cloak pocket. I couldn’t see them, but I knew that two lights would have turned on the moment I pressed it.
A few seconds later, I hear two almost-simultaneous cracks of gunfire as Aiko and Kyi pulled their respective triggers.
Newton never had a chance to scream. I couldn’t see, but I could feel the motion in the air as various things were propelled out of his body by the impact. One of the bullets had hit him in the head, while the other struck dead-center in his chest.
A force mage could stop bullets. But you had to know about the bullet to raise a shield against it. There were ways around it, of course. This tactic would never have worked against someone like Alexander, or even most of the Watchers I’d met.
But Newton was a cocksure, arrogant man. It had never occurred to him just how rapidly he could die.
Once again, I found myself oddly grateful for blindness. It meant that I couldn’t see exactly what I’d just been splattered with, although I could imagine it well enough. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t the first time I’d stood close enough to someone to be covered in blood and brains and chunks of organs when they got shot.
There was a half-beat of silence before people began running away and screaming. I ignored that, focusing on the handful of other people I could feel.
The people who were running towards the scene.
I picked one at random and turned to face them. “You,” I said, pointing. “I’ll give you one chance, and one chance only.”
They froze, head turned towards the corpse of their former leader. It didn’t take long for them to get the message. “I swear,” they said, with audible reluctance. “I’ll follow the rules.”
I pointed at each of the rest in turn. None of them refused to swear the oath.
“Okay,” I said, once that was done with. “Now get out.”
I waited for them to leave, then turned and walked the other way. Herjolfr rose from his seat on the bench nearby and fell in beside me before I’d taken ten steps. Aiko and Kyi would meet us outside, where Kjaran should already have the car running.
“You know,” the skald said to me, “that people will say this was a violation of truce. They’ll call you an oathbreaker.”
I smiled a little inside my helmet. “The truce was explicitly limited to the duration of the discussion,” I said. “With no leeway afterwards. And you heard me tell him that the discussion was over. It isn’t my fault that he failed to realize what happened.”
“True,” he agreed. “But people will question it.”
“That’s why I had you here to witness it,” I told him. “You’re a skald. Your word is trusted, even if you are my housecarl. If you tell them that it was properly done, that I didn’t break the oath, then they’ll believe you.” I paused. “Unless you’re saying that you question the validity of my actions.”
He made an interested noise. “No,” he said slowly. “I can’t find anything in your actions that violates the terms of your truce. Although I do recall that you made an oath to Shadow, and several of the other independent mages, that you would treat them fairly and mercifully in your power. When they swore fealty to you last night, you made that oath.”
“I was very fair,” I said calmly. “I offered him a chance to avoid his fate, and told him in advance that it was his one and only chance. And death is merciful.”
“Sure,” I said. “Some prisoners in Italy actually lobbied for the death penalty, because life imprisonment was too cruel. And I made his death as quick and painless as possible.”
“A coup de main is not the same as a coup de grâce,” he said dryly. “But I take your point.” We walked in silence for several seconds. “Your actions were within the bounds of the acceptable,” he said at last. “But they will be noted. Your reputation is already fearsome, jarl. What you have done today will make it more so.”
“Fearsome is good,” I said quietly as we stepped out into the morning sunlight. “Fearsome means nobody causes trouble.”
“Perhaps. I only ask that you take care, jarl. Oderint dum metuant is a fine idea, but Accius was a playwright, not a politician. It worked rather less well when Caligula put it into practice.”
I stopped and turned to face him. “Okay,” I said. “What is with the Latin? Do you have something against English?”
“When I was young, if you did not speak Latin, you might as well not speak,” he said, a little stiffly. “Norse could carry you through the north, but if you went south, or east, Latin was the only language that truly mattered. The words may be old, my jarl, but the ideas are timeless.” For a second I was worried that I’d actually offended him, but his next sentence was much more relaxed. “And it is the nature of a skald to make allusions to great thinkers of the past,” he said. “The preservation of wisdom is a great task.”
“Fair enough,” I said, continuing towards the car. “But for the record, I’m aiming for Machiavelli here, not Caligula. Keep in mind that the people I’m applying these fearsome tactics to are already pretty hated themselves. Nobody much is going to miss Newton.”
“You have a point,” he said. “Just take care. You are walking a narrow path, jarl, and a misstep could end in tragedy. As could a push.” For a moment I thought he was going to say something else, but then Aiko and Kyi reached us, and he fell silent.