“If we get through all of this in one piece,” I announced while Avalon, Shiori, and I crouched in the open doorway leading into the hall, “we should send Manakel a nice fruit basket or something.”
Both of the other girls stared at me for a moment, Avalon finally managing an incredulous, “Why the hell would we do that?”
“Because,” I replied easily while grinning at them, “if he hadn’t offered some big reward, all these people might actually start working together instead of trying to win it on their own. And those guys might have called for help, or let anyone know where we were.”
As Shiori snickered, Avalon started to reflexively roll her eyes while muttering, “Chambers, you—” she stopped, her eyes turning soft while she reached out to gently brush her fingers over my cheek. Catching herself belatedly, the girl coughed and looked away with a blush. “You’re totally going to keep taking advantage of me missing you, aren’t you?”
“Damn straight,” I replied while my grin stretched wider. “You’ve got dumb jokes incoming for as far as the eye can see.”
Making a show of groaning, Avalon straightened up. “Come on, we might as well go kill something or get killed.”
“Best battlecry ever,” Shiori announced, giving me a wink while following Avalon.
Moving out into the corridor, the three of us started heading for the end where the opposite stairwell from where we had come onto that floor was. I glanced back behind us now and then, but between my ability to sense the items of anyone coming near, and Shiori’s ability to sense if anyone was looking at her without her knowing, we were fairly safe.
“Boy,” I murmured under my breath when we were almost to the stairwell door, “it’s a good thing they don’t really have much in the way of cameras in here, isn’t it?“
Avalon was the one who answered. “They say it’s for patient privacy, just like the walls being x-ray proof. But it’s actually so the Seosten can run their experiments and do their work without worrying about all the different ways that cameras could be turned against them or used to expose them.”
I started to reach for the door then, but both of the other girls reached out to catch either of my arms as they shook their heads. “People,” Shiori whispered in a voice that was barely audible even right next to my face. Avalon nodded in agreement while pointing to her ear and then up a bit to tell me that the sound was coming from the next floor up. The floor where the rest of the team was, apparently.
Right, Shiori had her half-vampire senses, and Avalon had apparently killed the vile piece of shit vampire that had been her father. I still needed to give her a high-five for that, but this felt like it wasn’t really the time. Maybe if we got out of this I’d get her a ‘glad your dad‘s dead’ cake or something.
Those two sat silently, clearly listening to a rather long conversation while I basically twiddled my thumbs. Enhanced hearing, I really needed some good enhanced hearing.
Finally, Avalon spoke quietly. “They’ve got one big guy at this end watching the hall, and one big guy at the other end doing the same thing. They’re both huge and heavily armed from the sound of it. The rest of them are going door-to-door one at a time. They’re trying to flush the others out and into a shooting gallery.”
“Thankfully,” I replied, “with my little partner’s help, we can time this really well with the others.”
Avalon looked like she really wanted to ask a lot of questions about that, but stopped herself. Instead, the girl focused on the most important question. “So you’ll know when they’re about to be found?”
After briefly checking with Tabbris, I nodded. “She’ll tell us when they’re right on top of them.”
With a short nod of satisfaction, the other girl replied, “Good. Then we split up. We wait until the others are about to be found, then hit the guys at either end together at once. That should distract the guys in the middle enough for the others to jump them. Can you get that across to them?”
Um. H-hold on,Tabbris murmured. There was a few seconds of silence while I held up my hand for the others to wait. Then her voice came back. Okay, they got it. Doug is really good at fox charades.
I’ll remember to get him on our team if we ever have a game night, I promised her before looking back to the others. “They’ve got it. She’ll let us know when it’s time. But,” I added, “there’s another problem. If we split up, it means that I have to leave one of you out of my sight. And, to tell you the truth, I’d almost rather stab myself at this point. Oh, and before we forget, you don’t have a weapon.”
Avalon‘s hand found my arm. Her expression was soft. “Chambers,” she whispered, “I get it. Trust me. But we have to split up right here. We’ll still be close. You and Shiori go to that end. I’ll wait here. As soon as it’s time, you jump your guy, and when I hear you go, I’ll hit mine.”
With a dangerous smile, she held her hand up as a small blue-green ball of energy appeared there. A second later, the ball transformed itself into a dagger. “And I wouldn’t be so sure about me not having a weapon. Besides, I’ve got this too.” With her other hand, she held up the little silver stiletto that Shiori had tossed to her. “So, I’ll be fine. Now go. Hurry, or this is all going to be pointless. Those guys are already searching the second room. They’re being thorough, but we’ve only got so much time.”
Briefly, I blinked at the energy blade. More powers that I didn’t know about, apparently. Giving my head a little shake, I straightened before leaning in quickly to give her a brief kiss. “Just be careful,” I urged.
That was all that I had time to say before Shiori and I were hurriedly, yet quietly, moving back the way we did come to the stairs at the opposite end of the hallway. Together, the two of us moved up the stairs to right outside of the other door while Tabbris kept me updated on how close the searchers were getting. They were still two rooms away by the time we were set.
Through the door, I could hear annoyed muttering and grunting from the guy stationed there. I could also sense his weapon. It was basically a giant minigun thing that made Vulcan look like a peashooter. These guys definitely weren’t playing around.
On the way down that hall, Shiori and I had decided on our strategy. We’d also grabbed the one thing that we needed to make it work. Now, Shiori held up the item in question, smiling at me as she mouthed, ‘Ready?’
With a matching smile, I gave her a thumbs up. Then we got to it.
When the signal came a few moments later, Shiori… knocked on the door. Only, she did so from an upside down position as she was clinging to the ceiling. Which meant that, when the (very large, very scaly) guy there quickly flung the door open, he saw nothing. At least at first. Then he saw the mop that the other girl smacked down toward his face.
He caught it easily, violently ripping the mop out of her hand before glaring up at the ceiling where she was. “You think you’re pretty cute don’t you?” he demanded while lifting that gigantic gun upward.
And that, of course, was when I popped out of the mop that the guy was carelessly holding down. My bladed staff was already aimed upward, and I drove it all the way through his nicely exposed throat that he was so thoughtfully baring for me by looking up at the other girl.
The blade cut all the way through the guy’s throat and into his head. But I didn’t count on that finishing the job. Instead, I yanked my staff back out, landing on my feet while turning in a spin that sent the blade through his neck from the other side, fully separating his head from his body.
“Trust me,” I informed his falling body even as Tabbris muted the pleasure sensation, “she’s not the only one who thinks she’s cute.”
Dropping from the ceiling to land next to me, Shiori paused. “Are beheadings supposed to be sexy? I think I have an extremely disturbing new fetish. I might need psychiatric help.”
There was no time to respond, as much as I might have wanted to. Instead, the two of us sprinted through the doorway, giving a short hop over the dead guy. We emerged in time to see Avalon finishing off her guy at the other end. Meanwhile, there was a big fight going in and just outside of the room right around the middle of the hall. The body of one unidentified guy lay haphazardly in that doorway, while another guy had just yanked Rudolph out, spun him around, and slammed him against the opposite wall while lifting a sword. I could hear even more commotion going on inside.
Without missing a step, Shiori flung one of her discs down the hall. It went spinning that way before literally cutting right through the arms of Rudolph’s attacker. Both limbs (and the sword he had been holding) dropped to the ground. An instant later, Shiori activated the energy tether line that connected the disc to her glove. Instead of pulling it back to herself however, the girl gave a sharp gesture to the right, which made the disc fly that way, embedding itself into the wall. At the same time, the length of the energy-tether was jerked in that direction, straight into the stomach of the man.
It bisected him. Where once the line would have simply electrocuted the man, now it literally cut him in half just above the waist. The tether wasn’t just electrified anymore. It was like one of those energy blades. Which clearly explained how Shiori’s last opponent had ended up cut in half as well.
For an instant, I cast a glance at the other girl while she yanked the disk back by that same coil. “You’ve upgraded.”
“Columbus,” she replied while catching the disc. “And Seth. They wanted me to be more dangerous. Namythiet helped.”
Together, we kept running, pausing to help Rudolph up. Avalon had already made it into the room, and the three of us followed her in, only to find that the fight was over. There were five bodies on the ground in there, and a handful of our heavily breathing friends.
Scout immediately dropped her gun, moving to embrace Avalon tightly, who accepted that with about as much patience as she possibly could, actually letting the other girl hold on for a few seconds before she pulled back. “Okay, okay. Time to talk later. Right now, we get the hell out of this room before they send reinforcements or something.” She was already pointing out the doorway. “I mean it, no reunions and no explanations yet. Just go, go, go!”
They moved, though Doug took a moment to look at me with a bloody sword in his hand. “Thanks for biting that guy,” he announced with a brief nod over his shoulder before continuing out the door.
Following the way he had gestured, I saw one of the dead guys there with my little fox-form crouching nearby with blood on its mouth.
Doug was going to get hurt, she replied, so I jumped on the guy and bit his ear.
Smiling briefly, I sent back, Good girl. See, you are part of the team. And they’ll know just how much you contribute soon enough.
We followed the others. Rather than changing floors again, we headed deeper into the hospital, away from the back stairwell area and into a maze of corridors that Rudolph could actually lead us through. We went left, then right, then left again, as the boy led us to an out of the way room tucked behind a lab somewhere, where we could crouch down and catch our breath. There was a whole other large room for any attackers to come through to get to us, and some kind of vent that we could squeeze into in an emergency. For the moment, we were clear.
“Okay,” Sean finally started, “does anyone want to explain what the hell is going on?” He looked to Avalon then. “I mean, super amazing awesome that you’re back, seriously. But when did this hospital turn into enemy territory? Who are all those guys, and how exactly are you here? Did you escape? What happened?”
Taking a breath, I started to explain. At least, I explained as much as I could without talking about Jophiel and Elisabet or Tabbris. Avalon and Shiori interjected where needed, and I gave the brief Cliff’s Notes version of just what situation we were in.
Once we finished, everyone else just kind of sat there in silence for a few long seconds. In the end, Rudolph was the first to find his voice, weak as it was. “So Grandpa Donald really is one of them…”
Wincing at the look in his eyes, I started to speak. But Shiori beat me to it. “I didn’t even see him until he was just laying there on the floor next to me. Maybe he was trying to warn us and got knocked out or something?” She bit her lip, looking to me quizzically. “I don’t understand.“
Oh God, I wanted to tell her. I wanted to tell all of them so much, but especially her and Avalon. I wanted to tell them. It ached so much, it was almost a physical pain to stop myself.
Before I was forced to say something, Douglas spoke up instead. “I suppose you already tried calling out?”
My mouth opened, but Shiori spoke first. “Oops.” The other girl was holding her phone up. “I mean, not that much oops because yeah, there’s no signal or anything. But I have a text message. Err, two of them. They’re from Koren, like… a minute before everything started. The first one says ‘Pixie’s awake’ with three exclamation marks. And the second one says ‘She said Manakel’s decorating.’”
That made me blink at her. “Decorating? Manakel’s decorating?”
“It must be a mistake,” Shiori replied. “She spelled Manakel wrong too, and only used s and d for said. She was typing fast. I don’t think she meant to say decorating. And that must’ve been when they shut down the phones.”
“Well, that’s not… Damn.” Sighing, I shook my head. “Okay, Manakel’s decorating. I… I wish we had time to figure that out. But we’re kind of on a time crunch here.”
“Speaking of that time crunch,” Douglas put in, “You guys know what’s going to happen here, right? I mean, the big bad you were talking about, Manakel? He’s probably just sitting up in that office waiting for his guys to either grab us, or for us to be stupid enough to walk into his office trying to turn off that jammer so he can take all of us at once. Seriously, why would he waste his energy looking when there’s only one place for us to go?”
Sean shrugged then. “We’re kind of hosed either way. If we just sit here, enough of those guys are going to find us eventually, and then we’re dead or enslaved anyway.”
Avalon nodded. “Exactly, it’s not like we have much of a choice. But, you know, anyone who wants to sit this out, feel free. No judgment. It’s too dangerous and no one‘s going to blame you for taking the duck and cover to wait for rescue approach.”
There was a brief pause then while everyone thought about it before Doug sighed. “You know your best shot at pulling this off is numbers, right? There’s no way any of us can take on that piece of shit. No way in hell. So the only chance we have is if there is at least one person too many for him to deal with instantly, so that person can break that jammer. That’s gotta be the target, stop the jammer and let the cavalry come in and save us. That’s all we really need, just one person to be able to pull that off. But that means that the more people you’ve got in that room, the better chance everyone has.”
Columbus nodded, his own face unreadable. “He’s right. If there’s not enough people in there to break the jammer before he takes all of us down, the whole thing was pointless anyway. Don’t play to win, just play to knock over the board so someone more powerful can save us.”
“How do we know we can break the jammer?“ Scout pointed out then in a soft voice. “What if it’s in a vault or something that we can’t get through in time?”
Before I could respond to that, Tabbris’s voice spoke up silently in my head. I can show you how to make a spell that’ll break it. It’s quick and dirty and obvious, but it should work. As long as everyone has one and uses it within a few feet of the jammer, it should make it at least flicker long enough for Mama and the others to get through. It’ll only be a few seconds, but if they’re trying to break the shield, they’ll make it in.
Somehow resisting the urge to once more gush about how amazing she was, I instead focused on the others and spoke up, explaining everything she had just said. Only, of course, leaving her out of it for the time being. As crazy as everything was, I really didn’t want to take the time to explain her presence. Everyone besides Doug and Rudolph probably instantly figured out what was going on anyway. Particularly as Columbus gave me a brief look of realization before his gaze snapped to the fox sitting there and then back to me. He didn’t say anything, but I knew he understood.
Avalon was nodding slowly, a thoughtful frown touching her face briefly before she announced, “Right, so we take a crash course in jammer disruption grenades, then make our way up to that office. We get one person close enough to set their disruptor spell, which should open a few seconds worth of time for Gaia and the others to get through.” To me, she added, “You learned some pretty impressive stuff while you were gone.”
I grinned back at her. “You don’t know the half of it. Turns out, Athena is a really good teacher.”
The other girl started to nod absently at that before doing an almost comically sharp double take. “I bet she—wait, what?!”
Looking to her seriously then, I replied, “I’ve got a lot to tell you about, stuff that would just distract you too much right now. But believe me, it’s a lot. And some of it is good news, I hope. The point is, there’s a lot to talk about. Too much to go over right this second.
“For now, let’s just focus on getting that spell down so we have a chance of surviving through the next hour.”