“Good. Now twist. Like that,” said Ben as Olivia held his arm in a joint lock. “Keep twisting until-nyah! There.”
Oops. “Sorry,” said Olivia, letting his arm go. She’d asked him for help on how to non-lethally take someone down. If I’m going to help, I might as well do it more on my terms. Ultimately she decided she liked the five people she knew over all the other targets of theirs she’d never met before. Of course, she had to mentally talk herself into asking Ben in the first place for ten minutes, but progress! See? I listened to Amanda.
Rob tinkered with his armor off to the side. A smiley face with one normal eye and one X eye in bright yellow paint broke up the dark grey of what he’d identified as the chest plate. After it, in all caps and the same chipped yellow paint, he’d scrawled “Smile! Tomorrow will be worse.” I’m sure I’ll figure out what Murphy’s Law is eventually. Underneath the plates laid an intricate set of gears and cords. Really confusing, actually. It doesn’t look like it’s close to being ready either.
Miya alternated between ribbing Rob as he worked and watching Olivia and Ben. Olivia wasn’t a huge fan of someone watching when she messed up. Get over it. She’s even thrown out a couple helpful tidbits, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. The three others staying in the lair had been very apologetic towards her after their meeting broke up last night. Olivia wanted nothing more than to go back to how things were before, and no one complained.
“No, don’ let go,” said Ben. “The key here is control. Pain is a fantastic way to do that if ya want someone down. You gotta learn how far you can go before serious shit starts to break, not stop when they yell out or somethin’.”
I’m still not entirely comfortable with this. Ben continued, “You got reach, an’ are faster than ya look. You can use that. Also, you could treat someone hittin’ ya as hard as they can like a light breeze, so tha’s good too.”
“Hey, none of that empathy bullshit. You get to choose who ya beat up. Make sure it’s people who deserve it. If they’re attackin’ you, they deserve it. Self-defense is awesome.”
“Yeah, but they can’t really hurt me. That… I don’t know. Doesn’t seem fair.”
“So?” asked Miya.
“So that’s… like you beating up a little kid.” She heard a snort of amusement from Rob listening in.
“Olivia. If they throw a punch, they probably mean it. What you do to them, they’ll happily do to you,” said Miya.
“Hey, you wanna know how to get someone down without killin’ ‘em, you gotta have self-control. Remember, it’s all about control. You coulda probably ripped my arm off if ya wanted to there, then I’d bleed out if the rest of you jus’ gawked. But I still maintain that ya need to learn how to shoot.”
“Why?” asked Olivia. This again?
Rob said, “Cuz they’re gonna be shootin’ at you.”
“Yeah,” said Ben. “If I had to fight ya, I’d stay as far away as possible an’ shoot ya a bunch. The reason we use guns is cuz you can kill somethin’ without gettin’ next to it. Anyone, person or alien or animal, can fight hand to hand if they’re desperate enough. If they don’ have a ranged weapon, they can’t do shit about you shootin’ them. Right now, you’re the one without a gun. I guarantee people are gonna wanna keep their distance from ya when yer glarin’ at ‘em. An’ then you’ll be stuck with gettin’ shot when you got no way to fight back. You could do some flyin’ an’ runnin’ an’ hunt ‘em down one at a time while yer takin’ bullets, or you could jus’ learn how to shoot ‘em.”
“But that is kind of lethal though.”
“That’s the point,” said Miya with some amount of exasperation. Yeah, got that. I’m not an idiot.
“Guns kill people, as well as the person behind the barrel, don’ get me wrong,” said Ben. “Ya shouldn’t point a gun at someone unless ya mean it. That means if someone’s shootin’ at ya, they’re tryin’ to kill ya. I don’ give a shit about any tearful ‘I didn’t know what I was doing’ bullshit. Guns do one thing, an’ anyone who uses one should know that an’ act accordingly. An’ remember, learnin’ an’ target practice is not the same as actually doin’ the deed. You choose if ya pull the trigger, regardless of the circumstances. I’m sayin’ it would be good if you knew how.”
“OK,” said Olivia quietly. I’m still not OK with it.
“Oh, an’ speakin’ of seemingly unnecessary things, Rob’s got yer knife.” Where did this come from? Rob got up from his armor, then grabbed and tossed a black sheath to Ben at that cue. Ben caught it. “The fuck? This is a bit more than a knife.”
Rob shrugged. “Old bayonet thing I made a while back. I figure the weight shouldn’t be too much of a problem for her.”
“True,” said Ben, handing the bayonet to Olivia handle first.
I don’t need a knife. Or bayonet, whatever. Do you not see the hands? “Um… why do I need a knife?” Olivia asked, not taking it.
He looked at her funny. “Cuz it’s made of iron.”
Olivia blinked. “OK. Same question. Why do I need a knife?” Is this a stupid… no, don’t second guess yourself.
He gave her a questioning look. “Cuz magic.” He realized something. “Oh, I get it. Miya, you wanna explain iron to her? Magic’s yer shtick.”
“My turn to be teacher. OK, so pure iron is… basically the most magically inert substance in the universe. Most metals are a bit iffy for magic, but with iron there’s about jack shit a magician can do with it. Pass me the knife thingy?” Ben, who had been holding out the knife for Olivia to take the whole time, passed it to Miya.
Miya said, “Give me a moment.” She closed her eyes. From the back came around a dozen or so bones in the shape of a stick figure dog. It trotted up to Miya, her eyes now open again, then reformed into a snake, the legs sliding up into the spine. Its ‘head’, three smaller bones in parallel with each other, extended up further towards Miya as the rest coiled up at her feet. A couple inches of translucent dark red… stuff connected the central bone of the head to the nearest bone of the rest of the body. I guess I’d call it a ribbon of red magic. Given that I don’t know exactly how you quantify magic. She could make out more of it between the other bones.
Miya took out the knife and asked, “Hey Rob, how pure is this?” If it’s just iron, shouldn’t it be pure? Olivia guessed the knife itself was about two of her hand spans long. A straight, single edged blade with a tapered pointy end jutted from the rough plastic hilt.
“Pretty pure. Should be able to do what you’re thinkin’.”
“OK, watch.” said Miya. She nudged at exposed magic ribbon with her foot. It bent. The further she pushed, the harder it got for her to make forward progress. She set her foot back down, the ribbon fluidly flowing back to its original position as she did so.
Miya said, “Enough force can separate a chunk from the rest of the golem. It’s hard, but you can do it. Or just shatter it, be it bone or rock or whatever. But for a lot less effort…” she crouched and lazily waved the knife through the same ribbon. The instant it went all the way through the ribbon vanished, and the three bones of the head clattered to the floor. Miya winced.
“Are you OK?” asked Olivia.
“Yeah, just some feedback when that happens.” Miya closed her eyes again, another ribbon extended to bring the severed bones back into the golem, and it reverted back into a dog and trotted back outside. Olivia heard a clatter as it collapsed outside. That is so cool.
Miya considered the knife. “This is good for taking down any magical defenses, not just golems. Magic can fuck with you. Yes, even you, Olivia. There are magical defenses against bullets, I know I’ve got some. But, there’s almost nothing I can do about this thing. Other than shoot you, of course.” Isn’t steel made of iron? She put the knife back in its sheath.
Rob spoke up. “Iron is why wizards ain’t controllin’ us all right now. Iron was seen as a mark of progress for Europeans, an’ magic as somethin’ more for savages. No offence, Miya.” She shrugged. He continued, “Magic’s actually on average more powerful that powers, but all powers don’t have this huge easy glarin’ weakness.”
Ben said, “Yeah, but iron weapons kinda suck. I know my rifle’s got an iron slug setting, an’ I’ve got some ammo for it, but iron, pure iron, is kinda sucky for stabbin’ and slicin’ stuff. An’ iron bullets ain’t a thing for anyone else.”
“Point,” said Rob.
“I have a question,” said Olivia.
“Isn’t steel iron?”
“Sorta,” said Ben.
“Steel is just magic resistant. You see a steel golem, you know the guy behind it is good,” said Miya.
“Why is that?”
Rob jumped up, excited now. “I gets to be more smartified here! So steel is iron with carbon an’ some other stuff. You can throw in all sorts of other metals into steel to change its properties. The primary ingredient is iron, but steel ain’t pure iron. The carbon is mainly what magic affects, along with the other stuff an’ any impurities. The thing is pure iron is a shitty weapon material. So when I make somethin’ iron for this purpose, I gotta balance purity with its ability to keep its form, cuz a child could bend a rod of pure iron. That knife is a second to last resort.”
“What’s the last resort?” asked Olivia.
“Throwin’ yourself at ‘em unarmed. Or runnin’. Those are mutually exclusive, so one or the other.” She looked at him curiously. “OK,” he amended, “So biology’s a bit more kind to you in that respect than the rest of us, so those might not be last resorts, but my point still stands.”
“I dunno. Does it?” asked Ben with a slow smile spreading across his face.
“No, no. Not this again. Back on track,” said Miya quickly before Rob could say anything. Again?
“Hang on,” said Olivia. Everyone looked at her. She took a moment to figure out how to ask what she was thinking, then said, “So iron disrupts magic?”
“Yeah, it’s gotta be near pure thought. Steel acts like any other substance to it,” said Rob.
“Isn’t magic, you know, why I’m alive? So could iron hurt me?”
The ever present easygoing smiles vanished. That doesn’t bode well. Miya said, “I don’t know.”
Ben asked Rob, pointing at the knife in Miya’s hands, “That thing’s got a point, don’ it?” Rob nodded.
“Pass it here,” said Ben to Miya. She did so. Ben caught it again, then pulled out the knife and a cloth. He wiped the blade down, especially the tip.
“There’s a good way to find out,” he said to Olivia. “Poke yerself with this. Poke, don’ stab or self-mutilate or push it hard. Like testin’ the sharpness. Here, this should be clean.” He put away the cloth and offered the knife handle first to Olivia again.
She took it hesitantly. It’s not heavy at all. She glanced at everyone. Everyone is silently watching me. This is weird, right? Ben nodded in encouragement. She poked at the top of her free forearm with the tip of the knife. A drop of blood came up from beneath the point. Oh. “Blood,” Olivia muttered.
“Alright,” said Ben after a moment. “Yer kryptonite is idiots, cuz ya only use iron shit when you got a magic user an’ nothin’ else on ya to deal with ‘em.”
“OK,” said Olivia quietly, staring at the knife in her hands. Someone could kill me with something like this.
“Uh oh,” said Ben. Olivia looked up sharply at that. He grinned at her. “Looks like someone’s contemplating their own mortality for the first time.’
What’s wrong with that? “I guess,” she said.
“Ya ever have cake before?” he asked.
What does that have to do with anything? “Probably. I can’t remember though.”
Ben looked around at everyone else. Rob began to smile, but Miya looked as confused as Olivia felt. “Then fuck it, let’s get some cake! Besides, we’ve been sittin’ in here doin’ nothin’ but talk for the last five chapters. No, tha’s not the word. Days. I mean days. That’s it.”
In hindsight, the cake was to get her mind off of depressing subjects. It worked, and Olivia only realized right as they prepared to find the Undead. I probably shouldn’t let myself get sidetracked so easily.
“So this is one of the places they frequent, right?” whispered Gears.
His armor, once he got it up and running, towered over everyone else. Which meant he was about eye level with Olivia. Yay. He moved slowly, but according to Gears he could exert a lot of force with it. Not the most subtle person, though I’m one to talk. At least I’m not wearing a freaky grinning mask. Gears’ was the exact same as Skulker’s, right down to the size of the face and creases at the corner of the mouth.
The bulky armor had more splashes of random, painted quotes over different pieces. The bright colors clashed magnificently with each other and the dark grey metal of the rest of armor. Alternating green and orange letters for one of them. Why? A white scarf, with “HA HA HA” scrawled haphazardly over it in black marker, wrapped around his neck. Scratches and burn marks covered every plate of the armor. A crowbar was slung on his back, and he cradled a large shotgun.
“Yes, we’ve been over this already,” said Miya, looking particularly small between Olivia and Gears.
Miya wore camo pants, boots, and a trench coat over a tank top. She held a gun, several carved bones, and two knives hidden in the various interior pockets of the coat. A large mass of bones rested behind her, the red magic holding it together not emitting any light like Olivia thought it would in the dark. That thing can be really quiet. I can’t really complain about that.
The six of them stood or crouched in a rough circle in yet another abandoned building overlooking the aforementioned place. In this case the place was a semi-abandoned warehouse, not too far from where Olivia used to live. They’d seen at least five people go in since they started watching the place.
“Always good to make sure. Gotta communicate an’ shit so we don’t all die.”
“No one’s going to die,” said Nomad sharply. “Now, Ms. Communication,” he pointed to Miya, “You go over the plan.”
“Unoriginal bastard,” muttered Skulker under his breath.
Miya rolled her eyes. “You and Gears go in, followed by me and Delta when you give the all clear. Olivia takes one side on the outside, Ben the other. They watch for anyone coming or going, as well as act as a reserve of sorts. I miss anything?”
“Are you going to kill anyone out of hand?”
“Then that’s everything. Let’s get moving.”
Skulker remained crouched by the window of the room with his rifle out. Miya, Nomad, Delta, and Gears began to file out. Olivia, the last one, turned around to Skulker and said, “Good luck.”
“You too,” he said, not taking his eyes off the target building. “Don’ sweat it, you’ll do fine.”
“Thanks,” she said, leaving. She didn’t have any weapons, and no one had brought that up. She’d talked to Chris earlier, asking to maybe not be involved with too much combat. He’d agreed, even though she skirted around the why.
She headed to the roof as the other four went to the ground floor. She reached the roof and took flight, making sure to stay out of sight of the building, or being too high up for anyone to see her. She landed behind the roof access of a low building across from Skulker and the warehouse. She stayed hidden behind the lip of the roof, watching.
“We good?” whispered Chris over the comms.
“Yep. Showtime?” whispered Rob back.
“I’m not seeing anything.”
“We’re good.” Olivia heard a loud bang. Please stay safe.
Loud booted footsteps came from below her. Purposeful footsteps. She smelled fire. Uh oh. That’s not normal. Or good. “Skulker, someone else is here.”