I’d blacked out for a moment, going limp.
Relativity, I thought. Assert one reality over another.
I’d locked into Sebastian’s eyes. A trick learned from demons. And when he looked up, with Ash holding tight onto my back, we’d accelerated at breakneck speeds. Traveling with his line of sight, letting go at the peak, we’d sailed high through the rain.
I can fly. Absolutely loved that trick.
What goes up. Not the last bit.
In the air, Ash manipulated me around. I was lightheaded, couldn’t think straight. Our arc would be harsh, our landing harsher, I knew. Suddenly, though, I understood what Ash had done. When we hit the roof of the first apartment building, I landed with him beneath me.
I rolled off onto the pebbled roof, knocking over a folding lawn chair. Somewhere distant a woman yelled. Ash was pulling his limbs back into place beside me and swearing. A brief coughing fit hit me as I stood over him. I was getting over the impact, limping a little, as I looked back over the building’s edge. The silver man, the Sentinel, jumped. Thrusters on his back spewed out red hot air, misting the asphalt with his ascension. He was seconds away.
Ash was barely up, his form still distorted. The entrance into the stairwell was almost a hundred feet off across the roof. That wouldn’t cut it.
My cleaver quickly in hand, I cut easily through the ground beneath us. Sparks erupted as I cut through powerlines and the roof caved in. We dropped through just as the Sentinel hit.
It was almost a dozen feet to the floor where I hit my knees and then side. The silver guy leaned into our hole, ready to jump down. I had a hunch about him.
I raised my blade up at him and he ducked back like I was about to fire something. Suspicion confirmed. I got to my feet with Ash and looked for a door.
He’s a Magi. Attuned enough to know to be afraid of this thing.
Ash opened the apartment’s door and held it open for me. He followed just after me, throwing one of his knives back as the door closed behind us. I caught a glimpse of it bouncing off the metal man’s head.
He’s not going to flinch at anything Ash can do.
In the hall, I could see both the stairwells at hall’s ends and the elevator.
“Can’t touch the suited fuck,” Ash quickly said. “There’s thirty heartbeats in the building. Shields for us.” He chose the direction for us, darting for the stairwell.
He’s right. The Sentinel can’t let loose. Collateral damage.
I’d seen him take out a building in the war games, I remembered. Overkill.
Ash jumped the first stairs, knocking into the rail at the bottom and then flying the next flight. I hopped the first like him but had to dive down the next.
The sentinel dropped and stopped just beyond the railing, hovering in the air past it, over the parking lot, his armor seeping with blue light. It opened for only an instant, flashing a rune on his dark-skinned chest. The magic hit me as I hit the third floor.
I tried to stand but stumbled. A sleeping spell wrapped around my neck like a millstone, pulling my face into the concrete.
My eyes were blurry, but I could see Ash with his gun up and firing at the Sentinel.
Shake it off.
Ash’s eyes widened. I knew his attack was useless.
I was vulnerable. The Sentinel was going to kill me.
My cleaver cut through a blast of energy as I rolled over, dissipating it. The Sentinel fired another, larger blast. I slashed it again, letting the crackling plasma roll off me.
“Fuck,” I groaned. I rolled behind the descending stairs as more shots hit. His shots were breaking against the concrete. They weren’t breaking through?
May be using nonlethal. I doubted it.
“Stay behind me,” I told Ash.
I was heavy on my feet, but we managed to back up down the hall with me blocking the Sentinel’s barrage. When we got close enough to the other end of the hall and the other stairs, he boosted out of sight. He knew, he had to either get the jump on us or throw something too big to block. Right now, we were managing both his options. Good.
“Yo, faggot!” Ash fired at the stairwell after catching a glimpse of Kendall coming up.
Right. There was more than just a Sentinel, too.
Deal with it.
“Advance!” I commanded Ash.
He hurdled the stair’s railings, landing at the very base to open fire. I followed, dropping down behind him. Wind and rain washed against the back of my neck. As I came down Kendall kicked in an apartment door and escaped Ash’s shots. Black fluid dotted his path.
I was yanked backward by something amorphous wrapped around my left leg, pulling me down the stairs. Dragging my on my belly to the ground, hoisting me up, then slamming me down. I couldn’t see what it was whipping me around. I was pulled by my leg, bound to an axis and spun three hundred sixty degrees right back around into the apartment building’s walls. I was just fast enough to spin my sword and sever the line at my foot.
I scrambled to my feet, baring my teeth. I clutched my free arm to my chest. It’d taken the walls impact. It didn’t feel right.
The red substance which had grabbed ahold of my leg turned to dust when severed. The nanites dead. The line returned to the one who’d sent it.
A non-distinct Eidolon and beside him, Hasami. Both wore helmets, but I recognized the handcrafted katana he’d half drawn from its sheath.
“Hasami,” I said. “I can sense your hesitation.” The other Eidolon, I sensed anger. “Listen-”
“I want to listen.” He fully sheathed his sword, raised his hands. “But you must stop.” He stepped closer, keeping both hands raised.
“He can’t,” the other one spoke. A male voice. “What are you trying, Doran?”
They couldn’t know that. It would make things worse.
Where the fuck was Ash? I could hear him firing. I could hear the Sentinel’s thrusters too.
I moved my injured arm just enough to check the time. The watch was cracked. Dead.
It didn’t matter anymore. They’d caught up to us. There was no subversion or hiding left to do, only people left in my way. I had to keep fighting. Keep momentum.
I sprinted for Hasami and covered the distance before he could reach down to draw his sword. I jumped to kick him in the chest. He tumbled back and skid into a car.
The other Eidolon fired out a spike of red nanites from his hand, which I cut down.
“Symbolic resonances,” he said to me. The nanites formed a sword. He stepped forward and my blade clashed with his, not going through. He was smart.
He knew, a sword against another sword meant more than just nanites.
Our weapons unlocked when Ash shot him in the head. He crumpled with holes in his helmet. “Kendall’s slipped me,” he told me.
I asked him as we ran for the next building. “You went after him?”
“I hit him a couple times, almost had the fucker.”
We ducked into the next apartment’s center hall. “He’s not mortal, Ash. Don’t get distracted again.” I ordered him.
He didn’t like it, but he listened. “Fine.”
My foot flew out from under me.
I was pulled quickly out the mouth of the hall and thrown through the air. I landed on the roof of a car and rolled off behind it. I could see the Eidolons feet through the gap underneath. Fuck this guy.
“Tumble!” I smacked the car with my palm.
It rolled violently over the Eidolon, crushing him in a flurry of glass.
Didn’t you already get shot?
That didn’t stop him. He was up again, blue blood spilling out the holes in his head.
An avatar of some kind. Remotely controlled.
“I know what that thing can do!” he yelled, pointing at my cleaver. “I’ve seen it. I-… Wasn’t going to be risking that.”
I tasted blood. One of my teeth was loose.
“Not what you wanted to see, though.” I could read him like a book. I could see his soul. “You lost someone to the cleaver. You wanted to see what the element was, get close enough to know. Now you know… She’s gone.”
Hasami pulled himself up from beside the car across the street, drew his Katana.
“Ash!” I called.
The hall where he’d been was unnaturally blackened. Sound didn’t escape.
Kendall. Ash’s not coming.
“Closure,” the Eidolon muttered, angry. He reformed the red sword in his hand.
“Two on one, then.” I grit my teeth and stretched out my injured arm. I’d need it.
“Stand down,” Hasami warned me.
The Eidolon lunged. I met his sword with mine, slid under it and cut through his arm. I weaved around him and kicked him in the back, moving for Hasami.
Hasami swung twice at once, simultaneously deflecting my slice and stabbing. I twisted around the stab and swung my cleaver around for his face. He barely formed a ghostly katana quick enough to block. He took several steps back and I sensed the Eidolon running up behind me. I parried his first strike and his second, having to alternate as Hasami tried to come at my undefended side.
I was dealing with a flurry of attacks from both sides. I couldn’t keep it up.
I had to slip close to the Eidolon the next time I deflected him. He had no hand to stop me from ramming into his chest, nor balance to save himself from falling. The moment he hit the ground, I chucked my cleaver into his chest.
Hasami came at me with four coexistent swings, filling up his max reach. I jumped backward, away from my weapon. I hit the ground and scrambled.
Hasami leaped and brought his sword down.
From the Eidolon’s chest, my cleaver dislodged and flew to stop his attack. It landed in my grip, caught in both hands, letting his strike hit the flat side.
Finally, I kicked him from me and he sprawled.
I picked my head up to see. He wasn’t ready to get up. Hasami was completely mortal. That fall had knocked the wind out of him.
“Ugh.” I let my head drop, let a sigh out. Breathe. I rolled over onto my stomach, got my arms under me to stand.
The Sentinel dropped out of the sky and landed beside Hasami on the ground. His suit thrummed with energy, but he wasn’t attacking. He was protecting.
I backed away towards the hall. The darkness had lifted and Ash wasn’t there. I ran through, looking into the open apartment doors. I came out the other side.
“Doran,” he said. He was on a knee in the grass just there. His rifle up, aiming at the apartment windows all around. “He can fucking teleport.”
“Ash!” He was fixated.
“What?” he snapped.
“We’re close. Ignore him.”
“He’s taunting me.” I grimaced at him. He changed subject. “There’s new heartbeats,” he said, getting up. He kept his eyes on the balconies. “New heartbeats. They’re not running. They’re comin’ in. Reinforcements.”
“It’s a mad dash, now. Come on!”