I whistled as we walked down the street. I wasn’t very good at whistling. That was okay.
There were only a handful of people with me. Vigdis was there, as were Ragnar, Thraslaug, and Nóttolfr. Jibril walked in the crowd, the ghoul’s human mask slipping further with every step. Jack, the mage I’d hired for his talent with barriers, slouched along at the back of the group, arrogant and smirking in his casual shirt and slacks. Matthew skulked along at the periphery, with the skin of a wolf, but not the mind.
Only the most aggressive, violent, amoral of my minions had come. There was a very good reason for that. I was not in a moral state of mind.
Anna had stayed back at the house. I knew she didn’t want to be here for this, whether she knew it or not. And my vision had recovered enough that I didn’t need her to provide eyes.
Not for this, anyway. You needed delicacy, care, and precision to create. Destruction was easier. Destruction was easy as breathing.
I’d worked so hard to build something here. To make Colorado Springs into something better. I’d worked for it. I’d bled for it. I’d sacrificed so much. And less than twelve hours later, the people I’d been trying to help started tearing it down again.
So be it. We all made our choices. We all faced the consequences.
We knew where they made their home. They did not rely on secrecy to protect them. They did not rely on defenses to protect them, either. They relied upon the hesitation of my housecarls to act without my order, and my hesitation to endanger the innocent.
On another day, these might have been good things to rely upon.
The college was quiet. Naturally; anyone could be forgiven for running for cover when they saw us coming. We were not pretending to be kind and harmless. Not today.
The door to the lecture hall was locked. A security measure, most likely. Meant to keep the building secure from vandals and such. There was little reason for those without keys to be there when class was not in session.
That wouldn’t do. I was here to teach a lesson today. The students had perhaps not realized that yet.
I kicked the door once, twice, and it broke. The metal was too strong to break, but the glass inset was not; it shattered under my boot and fell to the ground in shards. There was something pleasant about the sound, the cracking of the glass, the pieces falling broken to the ground. There was something comforting there. I didn’t ask what.
Stepping inside, I found myself in a large lobby. I didn’t recognize it; we were at the community college, and I’d gone to the more expensive private school on the other side of town. It didn’t matter; I knew where we were going. I could smell them.
I looked for a staircase, couldn’t see one. The sign said there was one around the corner, so I walked that way, the minions trailing behind me.
I realized that I was still whistling, and debated stopping. I couldn’t come up with a reason to. They would know I was coming, but I didn’t care. The sound pleased me, so I kept whistling. It sounded bad even to me, but was still recognizable as a tune, albeit a simple one. “A-Hunting We Will Go,” if I wasn’t mistaken.
Appropriate enough, I supposed, though I had no intention of letting anyone go.
Upstairs, to the second floor. The hallways were floored with plain white tile, clean and gleaming in the harsh fluorescent light. It seemed wasteful to have the lights on when no one was supposed to be here. Did they ever turn them off? I supposed not. I wouldn’t have cared, except that the humming of the lights was annoying me.
I started to hear voices and knew that we were getting close. I picked up the pace slightly, until Jack was almost running to keep up. Unsurprising; he was only human. The rest of us were, in various ways and for various reasons, more and less than that.
We reached the specific classroom I was looking for and I kicked the door, planning to knock it in the same way I had the front door of the building. It should have worked easily, since this door was simple pine, but instead my boot bounced off without even making it shiver in its frame.
Reinforced with magic, I didn’t doubt. So be it. I drew Tyrfing and took a moment to appreciate it, the beauty of the blade, the delicate play of light on the metal.
Then I slashed straight down the center of the door, from top to bottom. The sword passed through wood and magic with equal ease, slicing a gaping hole in the ward. I heard a shout from within as the mage responsible realized that his spell had been destroyed, and I kicked the door again.
This time it worked, breaking the lock and knocking the door open. Almost half the door fell to the floor, cut off by Tyrfing; the rest looked sad and inadequate in a doorway far too large for it.
I stepped in and saw them gathered there, the men and women who would tear down all that I had sacrificed so much to build. They looked young, and mostly they were young.
As I entered, with various minions following behind me, one of the males stood and ran for the other door out of the room. He opened it in a panic and started to exit, then stumbled back into the room, blood leaking out around the head of the axe buried most of the way to the eye in his skull.
Vigdis followed him in, grabbing her axe and tearing it back out, shoving the corpse to the side. She was grinning like a child in a candy store.
The giants and the ghouls started moving up into the student area. The seats rose up in curved, tiered ranks, something like a small amphitheater. The room could have seated perhaps a hundred, but only a quarter or so of the seats were filled.
I left them to it and went to the podium, where another young man was standing. He had been in the middle of talking when I opened the door, I thought, but now he was silent.
“I surrender,” he said as I approached, stepping away and holding his hands above his head. “Oh God, please don’t hurt me.”
Tyrfing reached out and took his head off. The body fell to the ground in two pieces, spraying blood all over the place.
“He surrendered,” one of the mages in the audience said. She sounded stunned and horrified. I got the impression she’d likely never seen anyone die before.
Thraslaug grinned and chucked her axe at the girl who’d spoken. It wasn’t a spectacular throw, and throwing an axe is a pretty weak attack at the best of times, but she was a giant. It didn’t really matter that it wasn’t the best performance I’d ever seen. The girl still fell like a puppet with her strings cut.
“Funny thing, we just don’t care,” the jotun said cheerfully, pulling a large knife from her belt to replace the axe. “The jarl was very clear on this topic.”
People started screaming and running, getting in each other’s way in their desperation to get out of ours. After a few seconds, they remembered they had magic, and some of them started fighting back.
But here, too, the lack of coordination showed. One whole group attacked in a ridiculous variety of ways, interference between their magics and their own poor aim combining to make sure that not a one hit its target. None of them thought to put up a defense of any kind, and when Matthew reached them, he ran amok like a fox in a henhouse, biting and tearing and pulling them apart.
I stood and watched the carnage, not moving. I felt no real urge to participate. I wasn’t quite sure why. It wasn’t that I wasn’t angry; on the contrary, the undercurrent of rage I was feeling right now was still indescribably intense. It just didn’t feel quite real. There was still that sense of disconnection, of detachment. I couldn’t quite fit my emotions to my thoughts, and neither one had any real connection to what was going on around me.
I felt, more than anything else, numb.
I didn’t fight that feeling. I got the impression that doing so would be a very, very bad idea. I hadn’t been lying when I told Kuzunoha that my reaction to this was beyond anything I could control. If I let my current state of detachment slip, I really couldn’t guess what I would do. I mean, in the past when I’d thought Aiko had been killed, I went completely berserk. And I’d been a lot less powerful then.
Anyone can lose control of their anger. When a normal person does it, it’s bad. People get hurt. People get killed.
When it happens to someone with the kind of power I’d accumulated, insurance companies have to invoke the line about acts of God to keep from going broke, and the reconstruction process takes years.
Which was fine with me, but I wanted to make sure that if I snapped, it happened in the right place, at the right time.
So yeah, I was fine with autopilot now. Just fine.
“Keep one alive,” I called, watching the slaughter. Any pretense of fighting back was gone by now. These mages had barely any combat experience, and taken by surprise, with giants and monsters getting up in their faces, they couldn’t use that to any real effect.
It was sort of crazy to watch, when I contrasted it with the fight in Russia. Those had been serious mages, forces of nature. That necromancer had been an army on his own, literally. These guys were…not even in the same realm. it was hard to conceptualize them as being the same sort of creature.
They finished up and dragged the one I’d requested down to where I was standing by the podium. She was older than some of the others, maybe early twenties, with long dark hair, running mascara, and a bite wound on her thigh.
I glanced at the injury as they dragged her closer. Lethal, I thought. Not immediately, but Matthew had bitten through some major vessels. She would bleed out within a few minutes.
“Who is your leader?” I asked, looking down at her. My voice sounded bizarrely blank, almost like flat affect. I realized I was spinning Tyrfing in my hand again, and forced myself to stop.
“J-Jimmy,” she said. “Jimmy J-Justice.”
“Jimmy,” I said. “Pompous asshole? Good with fire magic?”
She started to talk, nodded instead.
“I’m going to eviscerate him,” I said calmly. “He’s had more than enough chances. His last name is Frazier, by the way. Would you like something to drink?”
She swallowed and shook her head. “What’s going to happen me?” she asked.
“You’re dying. I suppose I could save you if I wanted to.”
“Please?” she whispered. “I’ll work for you if you want. Anything, just…don’t let me die.”
“From someone in your position, that sort of offer is unreliable to say the least.”
“Jarl,” Jibril said disapprovingly. The ghoul was chewing on something; I didn’t think about what. “Kill her or don’t. It’s cruel to keep her waiting like this.”
I looked at her for a moment longer, then shrugged. “I suppose you might be useful,” I said. “Someone put a tourniquet on that and call an ambulance.” I dismissed the matter, pulling my own phone out of my pocket and dialing a familiar number.
“Jarl?” Selene said. “Are you…feeling better?”
“No,” I said. “Send Signý down here. Have her bring everything she needs to curse someone, and the collection of samples I took from the employees.”
It took less than twenty minutes for Signý to get there. By that point we’d moved from the college to a nearby park. The sole survivor of the attack was unconscious in an ambulance, on her way to the hospital, where she might or might or might not die. I wasn’t concerned about the wrong sort of questions being asked about the event. I practically owned the hospital she’d gone to.
The jötnar were standing around eating tacos they’d bought at a truck on the way to the park, and talking about the “fight” in much the same manner as normal people might discuss a particularly rousing football match afterwards. Matthew was eating as well, though he was still in fur, and thus not participating in the conversation.
I wasn’t eating or talking. I was in no mood for casual conversation, and I wasn’t hungry. Or, rather, I was hungry, to an extent that would have left me afraid that I was about to starve to death before that ceased to be a plausible concern. It was just separated from my conscious thoughts, in the same way as the anger that was still continuing to build in my subconscious.
I wasn’t concerned. I’d started to put two and two together about what made me feel that unnatural hunger, and what made it go away. If I was even remotely close to right, I wasn’t going to be feeling hungry at all here in a little while.
“Jarl,” Signý said, walking up to me. “You have something for me to do?”
“That’s right,” I said. “I need to find Jimmy as soon as possible. Ideally if you could also kill him that would be nice, but I remember you saying that was more difficult with your approach.”
“That’s right,” she said, dropping the packs she was carrying on the ground. One was a heavy backpack, which contained the hair and blood samples I’d taken from all of the Inquisition and arranged to have kept fresh in case I needed them. The other was more of a satchel of black leather; I didn’t know what it contained, beyond that it was presumably what she needed to do her thing. “Why do you want him dead?”
“Does it matter?”
“Not for the magic,” she said. “No. But I like to know.”
“Ah,” I said. “In that case, it’s because he betrayed my trust, repeatedly refused the offers I gave him to change his ways, worked to tear down what I’ve given everything to build, and led numerous idiots to their unnecessary deaths.”
“I see,” she said. “In that case, let’s start the cursing.”