Ali threw the blanket in his hands and it billowed out. The black shape stopped falling and it hung in the air. Ash let off a few rounds, but I knew they’d not penetrated. The bullets had been caught in the effect he’d placed on the cloth.
I remembered. Chronomancy.
“Last time I saw you die won’t be like this time,” I warned. “Run, Ali.”
His hand briefly showed from behind his barrier, the fingers posed, the movement fluid while sweeping across. It was a motion casting, a physical ritual. I could see the power gathering around him, the anticipation of a command.
I marched forward with my rusted cleaver, Ash staying back.
“Stop!” I ordered him.
There was a brief hesitation, but the spell climaxed. A resonation which formed a field over the alley. Immediately I knew what it might be, and as I looked at my watch ticking minutes as seconds, I was sure. The sun behind me began to inch forward faster.
I’d reached the blanket in the air and stabbed into it. With the spell, it cracked apart, falling as tatters. Ali wasn’t behind it, though. In fact, I saw that he was behind Ash.
Hate that trick.
Ash was frozen in space with a touch. He’d been slowed down so quickly that his startled turn would take him days. And Ali was ready to do the same to me.
I’d fought the Grand Chronomancer, Sosias, the heaven’s rearranger. I could face this practitioner. Utopian magic was in its infancy.
With four quick slashes, the concrete was marked with a diamond around me. Ali entered back into time right in front of me, frowning at the protection I’d made.
“How did you imbue it so quickly?” he asked, genuinely interested.
“How did you find us so quickly?” I’d give one to get one.
I resisted checking my watch. I could hear its rapid ticking.
Ali nodded at my return question. “I can’t manipulate causality, not like Wulff and his disciples. I change time.” He spoke energetically with his hands as well as his words. A side effect of casting with them, I thought. “I used time travel to search the city. I’m in many places this morning, but only the path in which I find you is kept.”
I chanced a look down at my watch as he finished.
It was bad.
I spoke rapidly. “The element of the blade is absolute. The intention of a border is obvious. The metaphysical command is clear.”
“What is so absolute?” he wondered. “I can’t sense anything?”
I didn’t answer. I lashed out, severing one of his hands. His reaction speed wasn’t fast enough and wasn’t enhanced by his super speed. He was caught off guard.
His hand hit the ground as he staggered back. Ali hit his back and scrambled away. He was on his feet and several yards back in an instant. I stepped forward and slashed many more times at the ground, etching out three more diamonds and a larger one overall. Expanding territory. I had to get to Ash. Time was running out. I could build towards him. He wasn’t too far.
Ali was on his feet and his body was a blur acting out a spell. I realized that he was using his magic to enhance itself, which was an absolutely bullshit tactic. He was slowed, though, by his missing hand. He bravely fought through with his will, but couldn’t compensate in his rituals which needed to involve both hands. He was trying to alter them on the fly, but he was losing blood incredibly fast.
I drew my automatic pistol and rattled its short store of ammo off.
Ali was peppered and stumbled back once more, this time into the alley wall. His greying face was shocked. He ripped at the dirty shirt he’d wore to see that his Eidolon body suit had stopped the bullets. It dawned on his face as he clutched his stump, that he was about to die if he didn’t do something. His gaze was cast down the alley.
If he escaped, they would know exactly where we were.
We’d have no chance of evading them for long enough. If we still did.
Ali signed with his remaining hand and the temporal field over us dropped.
He tried to stand and slipped on the concrete which was instantly wet. Rain appeared all around us, rushing in, and the sky greyed nearly to black when the effect ended. A storm had arrived.
He fought to his feet and was about to disappear. Flee.
I slammed my cleaver into the center of the four-part diamond. “Die,” I said. The command was clear, the power beyond necessary.
Ali gasped for breath. He slipped again into a puddle, clutching his arm. He lay very still, only his eyelids fluttering. I stepped out of my diamond protection.
That was what I was capable of. He’d felt the force of a determination trillions of years old. The sheer momentum I was carrying.
Freeze tag. Ash was still stuck.
I went and touched him, killing the effect. He whipped around for just a second before realizing what had happened. He grimaced.
“Fucker got me,” he said.
“I got him, don’t worry.” I checked my watch again. It was past twelve. “Dammit.”
“He ate our time? Can we make it?” Ash asked.
I looked down the alley. “No. We’re going to encounter Kendall. I can sense it. Everything is gathering in front of us. It’s the last trial. They’ll be an army to face.”
“Just you and me, yeah, against all of them. That’s abulous.”
I took off my jacket first, shrugged off my shoulder holsters, then put it back on. No ammo left for my pistols anyway. I had my own weapon. A personal connection.
“They’ll try to stop us, but we’ve got all the weight behind us. Even Christopher wants us moving forward. The bastard has us in line for now. But even with all that, Ash, there’s only so much that armor can do for us. Against Kendall… Hasami, I sense. And possibly the whole Guild? We’ll see.”
“I guess we will,” he smirked.
The rain was beating down on us. Droplets gathered on my watch-face in the shadow of my body. 12:50. The light above was muted. The alleys boxing us in. The sight of the elevator was muddled in the clouds, but I could still make it out. Getting lost was not a concern.
What was a concern; our enemies discovering our destination.
I couldn’t properly shroud the body of Ali, and I suspected he had a failsafe in place. They will have known we made our way past the church. Our direction might be inferred.
They’ll be trying to quarantine the area, at this point. Create a search grid.
“They’re on our trail. The shroud, it’s keeping us unnoticed. Why don’t they just flood the city with drones?” Ash asked as we ran.
“Shrouds are effective against Aku because their attention is too spread out. They’re incapable of focus, as a single soul which occupies so much space. I can play on that. Create blind-spots.”
Ash wasn’t breathing as he went, whereas I was huffing raggedly. I forgot sometimes that he didn’t exert. Wasn’t alive.
“And we can’t just metaphysic our way to get where we’re going… fastly. That’d be too easy.” Ash was still smiling.
“If you ascribe to the notion… We kind of already are… Reality is a shadow in a cave… Magic is just a feedback technique, leveraging rules. What we’re doing now is magic.”
Elements in battle. Good and evil, some times. Not today.
“I don’t really care, bud.”
We took a flight of steps, Ash following my lead, up onto street level. With the rain and chaos, there was no one really on the street. A few figures under black umbrellas sat around.
One of them, I sensed, wasn’t human. A watcher.
I didn’t have time to care about that. They were passive observers. Numbered around eight, but I couldn’t quite tell. Only one was manifest. His blue eyes visible beneath his umbrella, across the park on a bench. The wet grass vibrant between us.
“Creepy,” Ash commented. He’d spotted it too.
“They’re important,” I replied. “But not to us.”
Just past a row of apartment buildings, the very base of the elevator was hidden. Less than a mile, now. We could make it.
There was only a parking lot between us and the densely packed three to four story buildings ahead. We ran under the unpowered lot lights, nearing them.
From up above he sounded, “Doran, this is law enforcement!”
No. We were too close.
The silver man landed in our way. I quickly glanced back and Kendall was there with Hasami and another at his sides. They emerged from the same alley stairs we had. Three behind and one ahead.
The silver man approached. “Listen,” he spoke.
“No-” we were boxed in. Too much open space to my left and right. They could encircle us. “-How’d you do it? You tracked us to Ali?” His body was solid, his face was hidden. He had stopped moving and listened now, the rain pouring down. I looked back to Kendall. “You guessed our path by the only landmark in its way?” His face gave it away.
“That’s a yes,” Ash saw it as well.
“It doesn’t matter,” the silver man continued. “You’re done.”
He was right. It didn’t matter. The situation is what it is.
Ash spat at the ground.
The silver man began to approach again. He was a few dozen feet off. His voice boomed. “There’s nowhere for you to go. You’re coming in. Now.”
I put out a hand. He did slow for a second, thinking I might have cast a spell, but quickly started again. Ash at my side met my eyes, expectantly.
Closing in. I couldn’t go around. I couldn’t teleport us. The silver man could fly, Kendall was fast. I couldn’t possibly fight them all, not in the open like this. I sensed the firepower the silver one could level. There wasn’t a way out. I couldn’t fucking fly.
Oh. Oh! Yes.
“You’ve got an idea?” Ash saw the look on my face.
“Get behind me. Grab on when its time.” He understood, putting myself between him and the silver guy. I set my feet, drawing out my hands and hardening every muscle. I stood strong and addressed the silver Sentinel. “See me,” I ordered him. Then again, “see me!”
He stepped cautiously, raising a hand which blue light billowed out from.
I put on a grin and looked right up at the sky. The silver man, who had before had his vision locked on me, followed my line of sight. Ash jumped on my back. I tensed up.
Then, I flew.