What madnesss is this? Tuesday Fiction on a Thursday? Oh, so topsy-turvy! Won’t somebody please think about the children! Part sixteen of Ben’s serial for your reading pleasure…
Blackened Petrov’s Warehouse Headquarters, Merywyn
The Same Time
The soft, familiar voice made Ioryssa’s teeth pull back in a snarl. Lizzie Bullets’ trap had indeed worked too well. Ioryssa and her boys had arrived just in time.
She’d hoped to beat Bullets to the warehouse. An open attack on the Kayazy gangsters had to attract attention, and Ioryssa wanted to be there when it did. Both women wanted their adversary, an Iosan Mage Hunter, to come out of hiding. But whatever Bullets thought, there was no way she could handle an entire gang of Kayazy and the Mage Hunter at the same time. Ioryssa’s help was unasked for, but Ioryssa was going to give it anyway. The bodies in the street had told her that Bullets was already here. But so was the Hunter.
Ioryssa yanked her sword from the torso of a dead Kayazy, already moving towards the voice. “Leon, Thordok, left,” she hissed, gesturing with her pistol. “Tovys, Tonio, right!” The Trollkin warrior and Llaelese pistoleer faded into the maze of crates and boxes to her left without comment or glance. Ioryssa felt Tovys’ eyes on her and knew he had paused even as she heard the rattle of Tonio’s ornate Ordic plate mail fade away to the right. Tovys had something to say, but Ioryssa didn’t wait. The Hunter wouldn’t.
“Here I am, Cygnaran,” the soft voice was saying from somewhere above. “Are you so eager to die?” Ioryssa snarled again. Where was it coming from? She and her boys could easily cover the floor of the warehouse, but the ceiling was an impenetrable mass of darkness. And that’s where the Hunter was. Ioryssa imagined that deadly little crossbow lining up on an unaware Lizzie Bullets. Ioryssa and Bullets were not friends, but they were allies now. Ioryssa was not going to let the Cygnaran mage die like that.
“It’s not over yet, Bullets!” she shouted. Her voice snapped in the stillness, throwing echoes in the cavernous emptiness. “I’ve brought backup, and we’re here to put this annoyance down!”
“Ioryssa?” Bullets’ voice was incredulous, but also relieved. Ioryssa’s grimace softened into a grin. Even a dirty merc like her could play the hero sometimes. She took cover behind a particularly large stack of crates. The Hunter knew she was here now.
“Remember me, Huntress?” she called out, using formal Shyrr this time instead of Llaelese.
“I remember you, Ioryssa of No Particular House,” the soft voice hissed. “Heretic.”
Ioryssa barked a laugh. “It’s tragic that you can’t see the irony. You call me heretic for my opposition to the Retribution of Scyrah, when the entire Retribution is heresy!” Make her mad. Make her mad, but don’t stop moving. Ioryssa bolted from her cover, scrambling over a broken antique table and crouching behind a stack of rolled carpets. Assume the Hunter could see her. Hold no position for too long. A clink of steel to the right told her Tonio had found a Kayazy with some fight left.
“What we do is for Scyrah!” The Hunter’s voice boiled with rage and Ioryssa’s smile broadened.
“Scyrah would never approve of killing innocents and you know it. No matter how many spell-caster corpses you pile up, she’s not coming back, and you know that too. Monsters like you are the reason I left Ios!” She ran again, finding a new hiding spot. This was fun, but she couldn’t enjoy the taunting too much. She’d get sloppy. Couldn’t get sloppy when the enemy was better than her. “You’re just too afraid to change when the world changes!” she finished, dropping behind a cluster of barrels.
To the left, Leon’s pistol barked, and then there was total silence. Ioryssa didn’t really expect a verbal response. Just needed the Hunter to –
Thunk. She heard the the impact first. Ioryssa’s eyes snapped down to the grey-fletched bolt in her left shoulder. Then the pain hit. By all the Vanished, it hurt! “Lyliss’ frigid lips, leave my shoulders alone!” She dropped to her hands and knees, scurrying deeper into cover. Wincing, she holstered her pistol. The shoulder wound would ruin her already-bad aim. Now she was stuck with her sword, against an invisible enemy well out of reach. “No plan survives contact, after all,” she muttered.
Maybe she could get a shot from the catwalk. She raised her eyes above the barrel. There were ladders at the corners of the building. She should be able to reach one of those without being shot again, but once she was up there …
“Don’t.” Ioryssa whipped around, sword already raised and pointed at the throat of a pale-faced Lizzie Bullets. The human woman ignored the sword, shaking her head. “You won’t be able to see her from there either.”
Ioryssa’s mouth twisted. “At least you believe we’re on the same side now.”
“Shut up. We need a plan, and you standing out in the open getting a bolt in the eye isn’t it.”
Ioryssa shrugged. “Know where she is?”
Bullets pointed straight up. “The roof. The rafters. She’s tucked right up there in the shadows. I can see her, but I can’t get close enough to hit her.” There were faint swirls of blue glow in the mage’s eyes. Some kind of vision-enhancing spell. “We need to get her to come down, or at least get one of us close to her.”
Ioryssa shrugged her uninjured shoulder. “I think I made her mad, if that helps.”
Bullets snorted. “I don’t think she’s going to run away on us, if that’s what you mean. She still wants me dead.”
“She definitely wants me dead.”
“Common ground at last.” Bullets chuckled, then frowned. “What about your friends? Do you think she’ll stay focused on us, or go after them?”
Ioryssa paused. The warehouse was still quiet. “Doesn’t sound like there’s any Kayazy left. My boys are smart enough to keep quiet. If we can get her down from there, we have the numbers. For now I think it’s just you, me, and her.”
“What about your husband? He’s a mage, right?”
Ioryssa’s spin went cold. “He is. He’s not human, though.” He was an outspoken opponent of the Retribution, though. Could the Hunter know that? Would she go after him when she already had two targets? Ioryssa’s voice dropped to a whisper. “What’s she doing now?”
Bullets glanced upwards. “She’s moving.” She made a small gesture towards the front of the building. “That way. She’s … Ioryssa, she’s aiming, and not at us.”
Ioryssa sprang to her feet as a man screamed in pain. As Toyvs screamed in pain. She bolted, left arm dangling. “Thamar’s Teeth,” Bullets swore behind her. Ioryssa didn’t care. A patter of feet told her the Cygnaran was following. So many boxes in the way! With her injury, Ioryssa couldn’t climb them. She had to go around. She was too slow. She was going to be too late.
“Ioryssa. Ioryssa!” Bullets was yelling at her. Ioryssa just grunted back. “You get to Tovys. I’ll get her off you.” There was a strange whoosh from behind her, and Ioryssa risked a glance over her shoulder. Bullets was gone, teleported away. Didn’t matter. Tovys mattered.
Tovys was down. Slumped against a wall of crates, staff fallen to one side, cloak pooling around him. Bolt in his chest. Ioryssa dropped to her knees, skidded into him. He groaned. Breathing. Alive. Ioryssa exhaled. He was alive. The bolt was low. Missed the heart, missed the lungs. Painful, deadly if untreated, but he was alive. Ioryssa glanced upwards.
Lizzie Bullets was on the catwalk, running full tilt. One of her arms was extended, and blue runes swirled continously around it. Arcane bolts shredded the air in front of her, tracing lines up into the rafters. A second shot would kill Tovys, but there had been no second shot. The Hunter was too busy dodging Bullets’ missiles. Lizzie Bullets had saved Tovys. Time for Ioryssa to do her part.
“Boss!” Leon and Thordok appeared. Tonio’s head came out from behind a stack of carved chairs. He’d lost his helmet.
“He’s alive.” Ioryssa didn’t look at Tovys. Couldn’t, right now. She looked up instead. Saw Bullets stagger to a halt, breathing heavily. Saw her lurch into motion again, firing again. Saw the bolts splashing blue light against the roof and rafters.
Light amongst the rafters. Ioryssa’s eyes widened. Something was moving up there! A shadow among the shadows, a puddle of darkness that the arcane projectiles did not illuminate. Ioryssa’s lips pulled back into a savage smile, and she dropped her sword, pulling her pistol.
She fired. She missed, of course, but the shadow dodged again. The barrage of glowing lights slowed and the illumination faded. Bullets was tiring. They were all tiring. Plans that relied on precision would not win them this fight. But those relying on numbers and brute force might.
Ioryssa glanced about. Leon’s pistol was out, and he was watching Ioryssa. Tonio gave her a nod, raising a Kayazy blunderbuss. They’d noticed what she had. “Thordok,” Ioryssa said softly, “go find one of those guns.” She nodded towards Tonio’s salvaged weapon. “Everyone … follow the lights.” She looked up again. “Bullets!” she bellowed. “Light her up!”
The Cygnaran didn’t spare any breath. She just came to a stop, setting her feet and raising her hand again. Her other hand gripped the catwalk railing tight. She fired.
Ioryssa tracked the light, found the dark spot. Her pistol cracked. Two Kayazy firearms spoke with overlapping booms. As the light began to fade, Leon’s revolver barked. The shadow jerked. A hit was too much to ask for, but the Hunter was shaken.
“Do. Not. Stop!” Ioryssa roared, her throat raw. She scrambled to reload, making as much use of her injured arm as she could. She heard the two blunderbusses rattle and clank. Heard the hiss of another arcane bolt, the bark of Leon’s revolver, the whir of its cylinders, a second bark. She glanced up again.
Intermittent flashes of light showed the Mage Hunter retreating, moving towards the back wall of the building. Ioryssa’s face contorted with emotion. “Follow her,” she growled.
The Hunter became the cornered prey.