She was there. Avalon. I’d found Avalon. She was unconscious, but I’d found her. I found her! It was thanks in large part to Jophiel and Elisabet puppeting Doctor Therasis to keep me here long enough that I could figure it out. And I was still confused by why they would do that when they couldn’t want us to open the vault any more than any of the other Seosten leaders did. But whatever their reasoning was, whatever they expected from me later, was for later. Right now, only one thing mattered: Avalon.
She was there. She was there. This is where Manakel was hiding her, right here in the hospital. The Mesches she was surrounded by stopped any magical search from finding her while also making her protection spells end sooner. At the same time, the nearby Tabilten, with the help of the wind spell that sent their purification power through the vent, cleansed the poison out of the air so she didn’t die.
That’s what I had been thinking of back when we had gone into Manakel’s cabin and found the Mesches’ cages. When I’d found out about the poison aura, my brain had been trying to remind me about the Tabilten’s purification ability, and the fact that a hospital would be one of the most perfect places to keep someone. Particularly if some of the staff of said hospital were on your side, either through possession or other means.
The point was, Avalon was there. Right there. But now the lights had gone out, which I knew had to mean that someone, probably Manakel, knew we had found her. And I seriously doubted he would be very happy about that. He’d move her, fast. Which meant we had to get into that room even faster.
Almost as soon as the main lights had gone out, other lights came back on. But these were different, dimmer and clearly running off some emergency power or something. Maybe they’d cut this place off from the outside world and that was a side effect? Whatever, the point was, the lights were very dim, casting a kind of eerie glow over everything, while still leaving a lot in shadows. The whole thing was creepy.
Shiori was still asking where Therasis had come from, even as I blurted, “Avalon’s in there.” I turned back to the grate, drawing back my fist before punching it. The thing didn’t budge. I hit it again, before shifting around to switch to my foot. But before I could kick the thing more than once, Shiori blurted from behind me, “Company!”
Sure enough, when I glanced that way, I found the girl in question in the middle of a fight with two men right in the doorway. They were dressed in orderly uniforms, but from the weapons they carried, these were no ordinary hospital workers.
Shiori ducked the swing of one man’s sword, then lashed out with a kick into his chest as the blade embedded itself in the doorjamb. As the guy staggered backward, the other one backhanded her in the face, making her stumble back toward me. He followed it up by snapping a pistol into position, taking aim. I had to help. I couldn’t save Avalon, only to lose Shiori. I had to move. I had to move now!
My weapon had already found its way into my hands and transformed into its bow form when I had first seen Shiori fighting. As the second man brought his pistol up, I launched a hasty energy arrow, which exploded right against the man’s hand to knock it backwards and up just as he pulled the trigger. Shiori had recovered by then, and pivoted into a sidekick that sent the man stumbling into his partner.
But there were more coming. Footsteps were approaching at a run from both sides of the corridor. Worse, I could feel people coming into the room behind me, where Avalon was. We were so close. I couldn’t let them just disappear with her again.
“Shy!” I blurted then, pointing to the vent behind me. “Sand!”
Thankfully, that was enough. The other girl got to the point, instantly transforming into her sand form. At that point, the air spell blew her through with the vent and into the other room where Avalon was. I could have done it myself of course, but I let the wind do it for me. My focus was on the guys in the doorway and their arriving reinforcements.
I was trusting Shiori to stop the guys in the other room from disappearing with Avalon. Which made me twitch a little. Not because it was hard to trust her. I did. But because the thought that I would suddenly lose both of them was horrific, and very nearly paralyzed me.
But now I had to focus. I had to deal with these guys. Because getting into the other room to help Avalon and Shiori would do no good if we just had these guys right behind us.
My first action, however, wasn’t to rush into the fight. Instead, I focused on taking half a second to disable the dibs spell that had temporarily been protecting me from being possessed (absent my little partner, that was). Because if I knew Wyatt, even if he couldn’t get to me, he was perfectly aware I was in danger. And if I knew Tabbris, she would react to that news, the instant she got it, by jumping straight back to me. So yeah, disabling the dibs spell before she ended up popping up right outside of me in the line of fire felt like a good idea.
The initial two guys had recovered by that point, the first one back in the doorway. But I was already right there, my weapon shifted back into its staff form as I drove the end of it into his stomach, doubling him over before I spun it up and around to smack him across the face with it.
The momentum from that put me right in the doorway, where I could see the second man already raising his pistol once more, while four more came rushing towards the room, two from each side of the hall. Six guys. Six. If they were planning on keeping me away from Avalon, they should have brought sixty.
Snapping my staff up, I triggered a blast from the end of it, which took the man with the gun in the chest and knocked him back once more. Almost simultaneously, I pivoted to snap my weapon down, smacking it across the back of the first man’s knee while he was still recovering from being hit across the face a moment earlier. The blow knocked the man onto his back with a cry.
“Guys,” I blurted then, while continuing my pivot to face the two men who were coming from the left side of the hall. “Time to fight!”
I wasn’t talking to my opponents. Rather, I was calling for Jaq and Gus. The two mice cyberforms appeared at their spot on the staff even as I shifted it briefly to bow-form to fire a shot that exploded right in the faces of the pair of men who were coming from the left. Quickly, I shifted the weapon back to a staff while my two little buddies assumed their spots, turning the staff into its bladed form.
Turning on my heel to face the guys coming from the right, I extended my staff and triggered the button that launched the grapple. It flew at the nearest guy, tearing through his armor to pierce his chest. While he was reacting with a cry, I triggered the concussive burst on that end of the staff, releasing it. The blast sent the staff sailing down the hall to the left before it impaled one of the guys there, who were both still recovering from the concussive energy arrow I had sent into them.
Meanwhile, the guy who had been grappled through with the chest was brought careening down the hall toward me, dragged by the line attached to the moving staff. Just as he reached me, I leapt and spun into a kick that took him in the face, knocking him off the grapple and sending him flying into his partner, who had been running up behind.
While I was spinning in the air from the kick, my hand slapped down toward the grapple as it went flying past me. My fingers barely brushed the end of it, but that single touch was enough for me to use my item movement power to put the entire staff back into my hands. Which was just in time too, since as I landed in a crouch with the weapon, the man with the pistol fired a shot that narrowly missed. Seriously, the laser sailed past my cheek so close that it burned a little bit. He adjusted his pistol and was about fire again when I smacked the staff across his hand to make him drop his gun. A quick burst from the other end of my staff sent me out of my crouch and up to plant both feet into his chest, once more knocking him into the nearby wall.
That time, before he could recover, I spun and brought my stuff up and around. The bladed end cut straight through the man’s throat, while I continued the motion into a full three-hundred-and-sixty degree turn which sent the blade through his neck yet again, this time completely separating his head from his body.
As the head went bouncing along the floor, I was filled with a rush of pleasure. It wasn’t anywhere near the strongest I’d ever felt, but it was still more than a bit distracting. Which was a bad thing, since the second man who had been coming from the right had disentangled himself from his partner (the one who had taken the grapple through his chest before I kicked him in the face as he was yanked toward me), and launched himself my way while bringing an energy-sword straight for my face.
My head jerked out of the way just in time, while my foot lashed out to kick the man. Neither of which I was responsible for.
I’m here! Tabbris blurted, immediately dampening the pleasure rush so I could focus. It was mostly gone by that point anyway, but still. Every millisecond counted.
I wasn’t going to ask how she’d known to come. That much was pretty obvious. Nor was I going to explain what was going on. She could read my thoughts to work out for herself. Instead, I focused on the fight at hand.
To that end, my gaze focused sharply on the first man, the one who had been knocked onto his back by my staff. He was rolling back into a kneeling position, snapping some kind of futuristic looking rifle off his back to point at me. Right before he could actually pull the trigger, however, I thumbed the other button on my staff, sending a cloud of sand right into his face while I rolled sideways. The shot from his gun took out part of the wall where I had just been, while the man himself staggered and flailed as my sand worked its way through the cracks in his mask to reach his mouth and eyes.
The man who had come from the right with the energy sword had recovered from Tabbris making me kick him by that point, rushing up from behind me. I felt his approach and knew exactly where his blade was. Which meant I knew right when to pivot out of the way, letting his blade slash through the empty air where I had just been right before I spun my own weapon upward, severing his extended wrist.
Weapon and hand alike clattered to the floor. But before he could even understand what had just happened, I was already pivoting to put myself right beside him while my foot lashed out. The kick collided with the back of the man’s knee, and as he fell, I brought my staff up in both hands, driving the bladed end down through his chest. Another rush of pleasure would have filled me then, but Tabbris was already on the job, dampening it.
Two of the six were dead. Which became three a second later as I took advantage of the opening that the first man provided while clawing and flailing at the sand scouring his eyes and choking him. The blade of my staff went straight through the man, reducing the soldiers to half the number they had come with. And I was nowhere near done. All of the anger, the frustration, the rage, the feelings of impotence and fear that had been weighing on me since the moment that Manakel had taunted me about abducting Avalon had all come bursting out. Now I had a chance to do something about it. Now I could actually help my girl.
No one was going to stop me from doing that. No one.
Three guys left. One of whom hardly counted since he was already on the ground from being grappled through the chest, yanked down the hall, and then kicked in the face. Which left the two who had been running in from the left, the ones I had blasted in the face with the energy arrow before one of them had also been impaled with my staff.
Yeah, that one wasn’t doing so hot either. Better than the guy on the floor, but not by much. He had recovered enough to bring his pistol up, firing off a couple shots. But I trusted Tabbris, flinging myself that way just as my partner activated my energy-absorption power. The shots hit, and I snapped my staff up, empowering it with the same energy in time to intercept the laser sword that the second man had just been swinging at me.
A quick flurry of blows followed then, before I managed to slam the blade of my staff down through the man’s foot, impaling it all the way through and embedding the weapon into the floor. Letting go so my staff stayed in that vertical position, I spun on one foot to put myself behind the now-pinned man. My foot kicked the back of his other leg, collapsing it just as I brought my hands down on the back of his head. The combined effort knocked him forward and down, shoving his face onto the bladed grapple.
Four down, while the fifth and sixth guys were clutching the wounds in their chests. The nearest one, the only one still standing, took aim again and fired off several more shots.
I absorbed them all. Then my hand snapped up and I released the gathered energy right into the man’s face. He dropped, collapsing to the floor without much of a face left.
Without pausing, I snapped my gaze to the last man. He was groaning, rolling over while clutching the wound in his chest. I was pretty sure he was crying behind that helmet.
“Can you teleport out?” I demanded while already moving, my voice flat.
There was a pause before the injured man nodded.
“Then do it,” I ordered, not even breaking stride. “And think about this next time you’re supposed to come after me or the people I care about.”
Again, there was a brief pause. Then the man’s hand moved to his waist, and he was gone. I let him go. Maybe he’d get medical attention and survive. Maybe he would end up dying. Maybe he would change and decide not to come after me anymore. Maybe he would come after me even harder. Either way, whatever happened, I’d deal with it later. He wasn’t a threat right now. That was what mattered.
Threats neutralized, I started to run. Tab, Wyatt, right?
Uh huh! she blurted then. He felt all the danger you were in through the spells. He’s been telling everyone, but there’s some kind of shield around the hospital. They’re working on taking it down, but it’s gonna take time. I… I couldn’t just leave you alone like that.
Smiling a little despite myself, I nodded inwardly. Thanks, partner.
I was focused on finding the room where Avalon and Shiori were. Sprinting around the corner, I let the Blemmye power to find any location that I knew about keep me going the right way. Before long, I could feel Shiori and Avalon both, so they were definitely close. There were also a handful of bodies lying motionless, as well as one very close to Shiori. The two kept merging and falling back in my senses, clearly indicating that they were fighting. I had to get in there.
But how? Where?
There! Wait! Tabbris blurted in my head, bringing me to a stop. Before I could say or ask anything, she brought my hand up with the field-engraver, scrawling some kind of quick counter-spell before triggering it.
There. There was a door right there. A spell of some sort had been hiding it, but thanks to Tabbris, I could now see it. The door was open, and I caught a glimpse of Shiori as the girl impaled her opponent through the chest with what was apparently his own sword before letting him fall.
“Shy!’ I threw myself that way, giving a quick glance around at the four bodies that littered the floor. “Are you okay?”
She was panting, but nodded. “Y-yeah. But Avalon…” She looked that way, toward the unconscious girl.
“We’ll get her out of here,” I promised. “Fast, before more of those guys come.” Still out loud, I added, “Tabbris.” Shiori gave me a brief look at that, but quickly understood as I continued with, “Any defensive spells?”
Uh huh. The answer came, and then I was on my knees, hurriedly scrawling counter spells to disable the magic that was keeping Avalon unconscious and imprisoned. Thank God I had Tabbris here, because there was no way I would have known enough about how to disable all those spells.
She moved quickly, and soon the last of the spells were disabled, freeing Avalon (though she was still unconscious). In that moment, I wanted almost nothing more than to grab the girl, pull her up, and hold onto her as tightly as I could.
Instead, I focused on taking an already-prepared bit of wood from my pocket, speaking aloud for Shiori’s benefit. “Tabs, use Marian. Get to the others and warn them. Tell them to get up, because the Seosten will be after them by now too. Go, go!”
My hands moved out of my own control, activating the theriangelos spell and turning the magicked bit of wood into my fox. For a second, I had the familiar moment of disorientation as I could see and hear through the fox as well. Then Tabbris shut down that part of my perception, taking it over for herself.
The fox went running out of the room, off to warn the others. Which left Shiori and me to get to Avalon. The two of us moved that way quickly, and again, it was all I could do not to get too distracted. Avalon. Valley. She was right there. Really her this time. I wanted to hold her even more than before.
I did hold her. In that case, however, it meant picking her limp form up and off the floor. “We need to go,” I told Shiori in a somewhat shaky voice. Focus, Flick. Focus on keeping Valley alive, and on getting the hell out of this hospital.
I held the unconscious Avalon tight against my chest, and together, we sprinted back into the hallway. Unfortunately, we got there just in time to find out more guards had arrived. A hell of a lot of more guards. There were well over a dozen coming down the whole corridor at us from one direction. Immediately, we spun the other way and started running. I could hear them shouting, and a few shots went sailing past or around us.
We ran. With guards hot on our heels, the two (or three… or four, all depending on how you counted) of us booked it, running fast and hard for the end of the hall, where a pair of elevators stood. Shiori extended a hand as we moved, using her metal-manipulation power to force the doors open. There was no elevator there. But we didn’t have time to wait for it. Not with these guys right behind us.
Instead, with a brief glance toward one another, Shiori and I both went right for the open elevator shaft. Together, with Avalon held tight to my chest, we leapt through the open doors.
Shots flooded the area around us, ricocheting off every surface above while we plummeted down through the dark shaft.