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May 19

Chapter Eight: Theatre of Coils

Chapter Seven: Suttlest Beast IV
Chapter Eight: Theatre of Coils II

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“Down!” Tatianna spun me away from the window, pulling me down as the shouting began. There were voices outside, yelling and calling, and she slowly rose to a crouch to risk a quick look out the window. My bedroom wasn’t on the ground floor, and I could see her trying to peer down across the garden to the drenched street below. The rain limited her vision, but she could make out figures moving quickly around the hedges. Figures clearly armed. One lay sprawled out in the street, the top of his head spread open like a shattered fruit. The work of Fotti’s rifle, I surmised.

“Krait spit. They’re here.” She said. “Used the rain for cover, they’re already at the damn hedge. C’mon.” She pulled me to my feet, and I had barely a moment to snatch my weapons from their stand near my bed before we were out the door.

I buckled my sword belt on as I ran, wishing again that my rapier hadn’t been lost with The Maiden. The replacement Baen had found for me wasn’t a poor weapon by any standards – a slender colichemarde, one that suited me well – but it wasn’t quite the same and I still found it to feel foreign in my hand. By some miracle she had managed to save my pistol – the weapon had fortunately taken only superficial damage – but I felt incomplete without my sword.

“Take the east!” Tatianna shouted, pointing down a passageway at the base of the stairs, the sound of breaking glass and gunfire peppering the mansion making us both reflexively duck. She squeezed my hand. “We’ll talk more after.” She whispered, then took off at a dead run. I shouted after her, but in a few moments she was out of range I was left in utter blindness.

Stupidly, I realised, Baen and I hadn’t considered the possibility of me being left alone in the defence of the manor, out of range of friend or foe alike. I couldn’t shoot out a window without an extra set of eyes, and I couldn’t cover a doorway unless the enemy was already all but through it.

Baen had, I thought, chosen an absolutely terrible time to leave my side.

Working from memory, I made my way down the hallway, fingers trailing along the wall to guide me. I moved as quickly as I dared, but I hadn’t studied this corridor recently and it wasn’t as fresh in my mind as I would have liked. It rankled me that for all our preparations I had overlooked something so basic.

Glass broke, somewhere ahead of me. I heard the sound of wood straining, and I guessed it to mean someone was trying to pry the boards off one of the lower floor windows in an attempt to flank us. There were three windows ahead large enough to admit a person – two in a study, one at the end of the hallway, but as I drew closer and began to see through the eyes of the would-be intruders I still couldn’t tell which one I should be guarding. I cursed my own stupidity again, realising that Baen and I should have taken an extensive tour around the manor so that I could recognise the outside better.

I had the best chance of being correct if I guarded the windows in the study, but if I was wrong and they came in through the hall I would be cut off and in a terrible position to defend myself – the study had one entrance and almost no cover, not to mention that I was not familiar enough with the room to be confident in my own ability to navigate it.

Knowing there was no sense in second-guessing myself, I went for the hallway window, drawing back the hammer on my pistol and waiting in a low crouch behind what I assumed was a low table. I had already decided that given the nature of my situation I wouldn’t be holding back, and prepared my mind to conjure whatever I might need. Better to meet an onslaught like this with overwhelming force and finish it as quickly as possible.

There were six pirates busily working on the boards – a combination of asura and humans – all hooded against the rain and doing their best to keep quiet. I breathed out slowly, knowing that in a few moments I ‘d know if I’d gambled correctly.

Boards splintered, and I couldn’t help but smile.

The first pirate through was a wiry asura, who discarded his crowbar and slithered his way in like a grey worm. He scanned the hallway, drawing a long knife, and to my satisfaction he looked right past my hiding spot. I was just another dark spot in a dark hallway, after all, and he had no reason to study me more carefully.

“Come on.” He hissed at his companions, who were prying the last of the boards from the window to admit the bulkier humans. “Come on!”

I waited, patiently, till three of the six were inside, then moved.

A thought sent clone ducking into view from a doorway, pistol in hand. The pirates were quick, leaping for cover as the clone began firing imaginary bullets, and I surged to my feet, covering the distance between me and scattering the pirates in a heartbeat.

The first asura to have come through had just enough time to look up at me before a lunge sent my sword through his large eye. He died, twitching, and I spun around to slam the pommel of the weapon into the face of a human. Cartilage crunched, and he fell back with blood spurting from his nose. Another asura tried to slice the back of my leg open with a wicked looking knife, but I stepped easily over the swipe and kicked him hard with my other foot before he could recover.

I let my momentum play out, turning with the kick to level my pistol at him. A clone shimmered into existence, blocking the wild, overhead chop from the broken-nosed human as I finished off the asura with a single shot to the top of his large skull. I spun, stabbing my clone through the back, piercing its illusionary body to plunge the tip into the last pirate’s throat. He gurgled, dropped his cutlass, and fell.

I turned back to the window, leveling my pistol at the opening when it became apparent there was no need. Outside, one of the pirates lay dead. Another’s vision was dimming, and the third was pulling a long knife from his body. Small, gloved hands handled the weapon deftly, wiping the blade on a corpse’s sleeve as they moved to the window, tapping on the wood to draw my attention.

“Varr.” The voice came, soft and low, and my jaw tightened as I recognised the speaker.

“What are you doing here, Moravel?” I hissed back, ignoring the difference in rank between us. “We’ve been trying to reach you for weeks!”

“Ingesbror has nearly forty of his dirtiest here.” The Lightbringer answered, apparently unfazed by my lack of respect. “There are too many to fight – I’m here to extract you and Galmond.”

“What?” I snapped, too taken aback by her final words to really note that it was indeed Ingesbror leading the assault. “We’re not done yet.”

“The crew of The Covenant is about to be wiped out – we’re not going to get any information from your corpses, so we’re ending this.” She said. “I have a strike team nearby. Once you and Baen are clear they’ll move in.”

“And do what?”

“Subdue Ingesbror and his men, capture Tatianna for questioning.” She said. “I won’t say you’ve done a good job, but your work so far has been adequate enough that we can proceed from here. Resources are stretched thin, and since this situation has escalated beyond mission parameters we’re cutting it here.”

“But we’re close!” I insisted. “We need to survive this, take out The Misericorde’s monster and then we have him.”

“The monster?” Tianne echoed. “Absolutely not – by all accounts it’s far beyond your abilities.”

“We can take it.”

“Your assessment is irrelevant.” She retorted. “Now get Baen and prepare for extraction.”

My mind, I realised, was already made up. If a Whispers team came in now, any progress we had made with Tatianna would be destroyed. She would never trust me again. For that matter, in all likelihood we would never speak again. The Misericorde had visited so much misery on The Covenant’s captain that couldn’t help but feel that if I too betrayed her it would ruin her forever.

“No.”

“What?”

“No.” I repeated. “This is the best chance we have, and I swear to you we are so close to an answer. This operation was meant to take months, maybe years, and look at how much progress we’ve made in a matter of weeks! We’ve earned this opportunity.”

“What you think you’ve earned doesn’t enter into it, Agent Varr.” She put careful emphasis on my rank, a deliberate reminder of where I stood in the pecking order. “Your role in this mission is over.”

“Keep your team on standby, if we die, you can come in and wipe everything out. Ingesbror will want Tatianna alive, so you have your prize – all you’ll have lost is a pair of belligerent agents.” I said. “If we succeed you’ll still have two agents firmly embedded in this crew and a better chance than you could ever hope to have at discerning The Misericorde’s identity.” Tianne didn’t speak for a long moment, but the sound of gunfire and shouting reminded me that we didn’t have time for this. I took a breath. “Lightbringer… please.”

There came a soft note of laughter, surprisingly melodic.

“I’ll stay and cover this window for you, but my team will stay on standby.” She said. “You’re on your own, agent.”

Chapter Seven: Suttlest Beast IV
Chapter Eight: Theatre of Coils II
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