Miya and Ben had spent the past several hours staking out Don’s shop and planning accordingly. So far as she remembered, the little free standing adobe building didn’t have a basement. However, other than the glass door out front, someone on the street had no way of seeing inside. Good. Don’t have to drag Don someplace else.
The area wasn’t quite a shantytown, but close enough that Miya would have been more surprised if Don didn’t have some sort of security, magical or otherwise. Normal security would be overridden once he’s in the shop. Magic is a bit trickier. Using magic on inanimate objects in there might backfire, horribly. Even an anti-theft type magic stream he’d use could react with something I’d try to do. Then again, the shop sold magical oddities and paraphernalia, enough to trigger any overzealous security system. We’ll see. If I tamper with it, Don would know the instant he shows up.
Miya fidgeted, tapping the baton she’d borrowed from Amanda against her knee. She hadn’t exactly told Amanda she’d borrowed it, but she figured Amanda and Rob were too busy to be bothered with such a trivial things as that. They’d picked up a couple other important items as they waited for daybreak.
The baton was actually the same one Delta had made for the MHU, Miya had found the little MHU stamp on the handle while searching for a way to turn it on during the car ride. It also didn’t explode in her hands when she did finally manage to find the on switch. It’s a nice to have. A knife would work just as well, but the baton is less messy.
Miya repeated the plan in her head. Knock him out, drag him inside, make sure no one accidentally comes in, interrogate, then probably kill. If anything goes wrong, just kill him and run.
They waited. Eventually, the old beat up car Don drove pulled up to the back of the shop. Don stepped out and Miya’s fists clenched. Motherfucker. Don unlocked the back door to the shop and entered. Miya waited a few minutes. Don occasionally took special orders from clients for various items. She’d only ever seen those people arrive right at opening. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the store right now.
Miya took a deep breath from behind the old, degraded fence of the backlot behind Don’s shop. She waved to Skulker, sitting on an adjacent rooftop and able to watch the front door as well as the back. He waved back. Cool, no one. “Let’s do this,” she murmured to herself.
Knocking out Don turned out to be easier than expected. After checking that the abandoned backlot bordering the back of the shop remained abandoned, Miya chucked a rock through the windshield of Don’s car. The car alarm blared. Soon after it shattered, he came out, murder in his eyes and shotgun in his hands. Miya, who’d hid out of sight, heard a low snap beneath the car alarm as Skulker fired.
Don choked as all of his muscles convulsed, including the ones that let him breathe. He hit the dirt. Good. The convulsions stopped, and Don coughed and started to get up. Not good. Another snap, and Don went down again. That was easy. Then again, you don’t go to work expecting something like this. He was never really involved in all the Aztec politics going on around here.
Miya rushed forward to where Don lay and kicked the shotgun well out of his reach. Skulker teleported to join her, aiming his rifle at Don’s prone form.
“Tha’ shoulda only taken one shot. Got an iron slug if it’s a trap.”
Miya nodded. She turned Don over, face up. No reaction on Don’s part. She reached for her magic and probed at him. What’s this? He’s got a couple streams of magic going through him. What do they do? Oh shit, it’s reacting! She pulled back, avoiding a magical trap that would have knocked her out for a minute. “I think he’s out now.” So far as I can tell. She rifled through his pockets, emptying them. Not much in this wallet. Keys, I’ll hold onto those. Nothing else.
“Cool,” said Skulker, slinging his rifle over his back and grabbing one of Don’s legs to haul him inside.
Miya stared down at Don. You fucker. I’ve still got those wires in me because of you.
“You OK? Ya look kinda sick,” said Skulker with a sidelong glance in her direction, breaking her train of thought.
Miya grimaced. Bad memories. “I’m fine.”
She grabbed Don’s other leg and helped Skulker drag him inside. They pulled him to the back of the shop proper, the dirty shelves full of some of the most random object obscuring the view of the streets. A couple people walked past outside, but no one bothered to check out the shop. Easy enough. Need to make sure no one walks in now.
Her phone buzzed as she broke off to find a chair. She checked the number. This won’t take long, Chris can wait. She slipped the phone back into her pocket.
“Found one,” said Skulker, pulling up a large wooden chair from a corner.
“OK. I got the door,” replied Miya.
She flipped the Open sign to the Closed side, then pulled down the blinds of the front door. Her phone buzzed again. Damn it, what? Chris had sent her a text. “Where are you?”
“Somethin’ wrong?” asked Skulker as she returned. Don slumped in the chair where Skulker had hauled him.
“Nomad is asking where we are.” There’s a reason it’s just us two. The rest of them would probably pussy out.
Skulker shrugged. “Eh, we’re technically grownups. We can do whatever we want.”
Chris isn’t my fucking dad. “True. This shouldn’t take too long. Want to go grab the stuff?”
Skulker nodded and left the building to grab the bag he’d left on his roof. Miya resisted the urge to just slit Don’s throat while he lay there. He’s probably guilty, but I don’t know for sure.
“Pass me the duct tape?” she asked as he returned.
“Yep,” he said, tossing the thick roll of duct tape to her. He put a large car battery off to the side.
They wrapped several layers around Don’s chest, then strapped his feet to the legs of the chair and his hands to the armrests.
“I’m going to check the back,” said Miya.
“Bueno. I’m good here. Let ya know if he starts kickin’. Might wanna grab a cup of water if there’s anythin’ like that back there, wake him up,” he said, nudging Don with the toe of his boot.
Miya nodded as she pulled aside the ratty old curtain leading to the back room of Don’s shop. A single fluorescent light panel lit up the back. A couple flies flew off from the light before buzzing around it. Her nose wrinkled. Someone doesn’t know how to keep clean. Coffee stains marred the old, faded counters. The trashcan in the corner overflowed with papers and discarded food.
Need information. She couldn’t find a computer, but did crack open one of several filing cabinets against the wall.
With the papers of a random folder spread over a desk, she started sifting through the numbers of what appeared to be tax forms. After about thirty seconds, she stopped. What the hell am I doing? This isn’t a movie. This is a needle in a haystack situation. And it’s not as though I’m going to find his diary saying “Today I sold Miya to Overlord” or anything like that.
Miya sighed and swept the papers off the desk. Damn it, what am I even doing? I’ve got to get the information directly from him, I guess. Where are his drugs? Could threaten to overdose him. She opened a cupboard. Hello there. A safe took up the whole cabinet. This doesn’t look mobile. Maybe Rob could get it open if I manage to drag him out of that scrap yard. It’s steel, magic doesn’t take to steel all that well.
She heard a sharp whistle from Skulker. Don awake? “Hey there, Mr. Kidnapper!” exclaimed Skulker from the main shop outside.
Don groaned, “What the…”
“You awake? Feelin’ alright?”
Miya pressed against the doorframe and peered around it. Skulker leaned over, right in Don’s face. His head twitched slightly towards Miya. She circled her hand in a “continue” motion.
He gave a slight nod as Don tried to stand up from the chair. “The hell? Who the fuck are you?” he snapped at Skulker. He tried to twist his head backwards, to look to where Skulker had nodded.
Skulker grabbed Don’s dark grey hair and yanked it back towards him. “Skulker,” he replied, releasing Don’s hair.
Don took another moment to struggle against the duct tape before saying, “I’ve never heard of you. Let me go, right now.”
“Nah. You an’ me, we’re gonna have a chat.” Skulker pulled up the office chair that had sat behind the counter of the shop. On it he placed the car battery.
“What? You think hollow threats are going to make me talk? I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, but I promise you’ll regret whatever it is you’re about to do.” Playing dumb. Wait, no. He has no idea Skulker is with me.
“An’ what is ya think I’m ‘bout to do? Notice anythin’? No wires. No cables,” said Skulker in a hushed voice. “An’ you might be thinkin’ I’m jus’ gonna splash acid in yer face. Wrong.”
What the hell is he doing? Miya turned the corner. Skulker stood in front of Don, a car battery at hand. He swung it over his head, and sent it crashing down on Don’s knee. Don bit his lip, stifling a scream. Skulker stood before him, swinging the car battery. Don recovered his composure after a couple of huffs.
“You ain’t a good actor. Tha’ shoulda hurt a lot more. Hell,” said Skulker, grabbing Don’s knee. “Ya didn’t even wince when I did that. Magic shit? Wanna see how long it’ll take me to break that pointy-ass nose of yours?” Don remained stoic.
Oh, OK. He probably has a lot of personal magical protection in this place. Miya unhooked Amanda’s baton from her belt and examined the butt. There’s the dial. Miya turned on the baton, then turned a dial until a red light blinked at her. Red means danger. Good. The baton hummed in her hands. Whatever I do, don’t touch the hurty part.
Miya turned the corner. “Yes, magic shit,” she said, walking over.
Don took a couple seconds to react to the sound of her voice. He twisted around as much as the restraints allowed. Skulker made no move to stop him. Don mouthed, “What?” silently.
Miya nodded to Skulker. “Thanks. There’s a safe in the back, you might want to take a look at it.”
“No problem. I’ll be around if ya need me,” said Skulker, offering the free chair to her. He strode out of the back of the store.
“Hi, Don,” said Miya, once Skulker left.
“Miya? Where… where have you been?” said Don as Miya sat down across from him.
She tapped the baton against his knee. He flinched slightly. “Oh, out and about. You know. You seem sweaty all of a sudden.” He’s a lot more nervous with me than Skulker. And Skulker’s got that weird grinning mask thing.
“Yeah, I’m tied up. What do you expect? Come on, let me out. Why are you with that guy?”
“Why do you think? Come on, you’ve got a brain, right?”
“I don’t fucking know-”
She cut him off. “Answer the question.” Enough fucking games.
Don stared at her for a moment. “I. Don’t. Know.”
She tapped his knee with the baton again. His knee jerked. He grimaced, but didn’t break eye contact with Miya. “I. Don’t. Believe you,” she said in a near whisper.
His brown eyes hardened. He leaned back as much as he could in his chair and kept his mouth shut. New tactic.
“I wasn’t paying you any money for the last six months. No more opium for you? No more alcohol? You were in rough shape six months ago. Your cheeks aren’t nearly as hollow now. Hell, you’re probably not dangerously underweight anymore.”
“Still can’t believe the opium thing. Not heroin?” commented Skulker, walking behind Don with a can of gasoline in each hand and an empty duffel bag slung over one shoulder.
“He’s old fashioned like that,” replied Miya. That’s code for I have no fucking clue why.
“None of your business,” said Don. You freaked out every time I was late on a payment. I remember your shaking hands.
Skulker put the cans of gas down, then went into the back room with his duffel bag.
“Oh, but it is, addict,” said Miya. “I really don’t think you would have ever spoken to me if I wasn’t an easy way to your next fix. Kind of pitiful, really. The great, powerful mage couldn’t go a day without a smoke or a hit.”
“I’m sober. Quit cold turkey. Have been off that stuff for six months now,” answered Don with some pride. He froze when he realized his mistake.
“Six months? That’s exactly when I was here last. Funny.”
Miya tapped his knee again. “Ow,” he muttered. There’s the reaction I was looking for. No defense is infinite. On the other hand, damn, Amanda put a lot of power into this.
Miya leaned forward about two inches from Don’s face, able to take in every wrinkle on his face. “I was kidnapped six months ago. By Overlord. They said they knew all about my potential. I wonder how they knew that.” She said it more as a statement than a question.
Don’s eyes flickered left, then right.
“Look at me,” commanded Miya. “What do you know about all of that?”
She tapped his knee again. This time she heard a zapping noise, and Don jumped. “Fuck.”
Skulker walked out of the back room, his duffel bag his duffel bag now weighing down on his shoulder. He took a second to assess the situation, then left through the back door.
“That looked like it hurt. Want to see if that was just a fluke?” she asked, sitting back down.
Don glared. “They offered me more than you ever could.”
Skulker walked back in, carrying Don’s shotgun. “Wanna use this?” he said, offering it to Miya.
In response, she took the shotgun and leaned it against a shelf, barrel pointed down. “Maybe. Depends on how talkative he is.”
Don rolled his eyes. Miya turned down the power of the baton a little bit, then tapped his knee again. He convulsed. A burning scent filled the air as the baton incinerated his pants around his knee.
“Answer me,” she said, her voice flat and calm.
Another knee tap.
“Fuck!” he yelled. He spat in her face. She wiped it off.
Another knee tap.
Another knee tap.
“I did it!” he screamed. There it is.
“They offered me chemical treatments,” he said, rushing the words out. She ignored her buzzing phone.
“Oh, I see. Overlord got you off your precious drugs, did he?”
Don nodded. Miya turned off the baton.
“Now, what to do with you?” she asked herself aloud.
“That wasn’t me. Whatever they did, that wasn’t me.” Miya saw red for a brief moment.
She shoved a finger in his face. “I spent a couple months strapped to a hospital bed so they could cut me up because of you. You really think I’m just going to take that lying down?”
“Whatever it is you think you’re going to do, you’ll pay for it,” he said, his voice ragged and desperate. Bark bark, little doggy.
“I know. But I’ve got something planned for you.”
“Don’t you fucking dare,” spat Don.
“Oh, you think the guys in the Underground are going to help you out of this?”
“They’ll be here any minute.” That’s cute.
“That’s nice. This won’t take long at all.” She grabbed his hand. This is going to take a bit out of me, but I’d say this is worth it. She reached for as much of her magic as she could. “I was going to have your own skull lobotomize you, but I’ve thought of something else. Fun fact. You know where blood comes from? Marrow. Bone marrow. It’s that stuff I’m permanently burning out right now in your bones. And my friend has a lot of knives.” She motioned to Skulker, who’d taken a position behind Don.
Realization dawned on Don’s face. She released his hand and leaned back. “No, no, no. You bitch,” screamed Don, thrashing against his restraints.
Skulker cut his screaming short by swinging the car battery against his head. It collided with Don’s skull, something snapped, and he stopped moving. She spat on his bloodied face.
“I’m done,” said Miya as she stood. That’s over with. Finally.
“Bueno,” said Skulker, putting the bloody car battery on the ground. “Got the gas cans outta the car. Want a hand?”
She nodded silently. They splashed gasoline over the interior of the shop. Crime scenes are much harder to analyze when they’re a pile of ash and rubble. They finished outside. Miya tossed the last two cans through the opened door as Skulker produced a lighter.
“Wanna do the honors?”
“Fuck yeah.” She lit the lighter, then tossed it into the door as they both backed up. The gas caught fire instantly.
She watched the dark smoke rise. The magic of something didn’t agree with the flames; something started an inhuman shriek from within before cutting off. Slim Jim, Doctor Orange, Overlord.
“Outta here. This ain’t subtle, an’ it’s daytime now,” said Skulker, looking around.
She nodded mutely. Don said something about reinforcements. I think that was just bluster, but we should get out of here in case it wasn’t. Though he wasn’t too concerned right up until the end. They jogged through the back lot and into an alleyway.
“Ya know he woulda told you anythin’ to make the pain stop, yeah?” said Skulker.
“I am aware,” replied Miya.
“Found some stuff in his safe you may wanna take a look at,” he said, motioning to his duffel bag.
“Why?” Shit, did I kill the wrong person?
“It proves ya right.”
“Yeah. Solid gold in-” The walls of the alley warped inwards, cutting off both whatever Skulker had been about to say and the way to Skulker’s car. Shit, what?
Skulker grabbed Miya’s shoulder right before she collided with the now distended walls. “Down,” he yelled, pulling her to the ground behind a dumpster. Something exploded very close by right as she hit the dirt. It took her a moment to refocus her eyes and for the ringing in her ears to recede into the background. She gritted her teeth to distract herself from the pain.
Skulker hauled her to her feet as people behind them began shooting. Where the fuck did these guys come from? “Come on, come on,” he urged her, pulling out his own pistol and returning fire. The incoming bullets hammered against the metal of the dumpster, beneath the far louder cracks of Skulker firing.
Right. She pulled out her own pistol and turned around, squeezing off a couple shots. Masked men fired at them from the other end of the alleyway, no surprise there. Then another man jumped out from behind a corner and tossed a glowing rock.
“Magic bomb,” she screamed at Skulker, grabbing him and pulling him down. Is that Cynic? Who the fuck are the gunmen then?
She and Skulker ducked down as the glowing rock burst in midair. The bright flash of lights would have blinded them had Miya not pulled them back behind the dumpster. A cloud of dust hovered in the air where the detonation had occurred.
“Don’t touch it, it’ll fuck you up,” she yelled as Skulker as he started to get up. The gunmen kept up the fire at them. Don’t know how much longer this dumpster will last.
“Can’t stay here. That way,” he yelled back, pointing to a small hole in the stretched wall one of bombs had made.
They climbed through, the cloud obscuring the gunmen’s aim. Another rock exploded in the alley they left behind. They sprinted through an old video rental store and around two or three terrified customers huddled on the ground or running to a way out.
Skulker turned to make sure no one followed them through the hole. As she dashed to the front of the store, Miya noticed about four cars blocking the street through the front windows. More gunmen lay in wait behind them. Goddamn it.
“Down!” she screamed over her shoulder.
The hail of bullets shattered all of the windows. Skulker whirled around and ducked as Miya dropped to the ground once again, taking cover behind the solid part of the front wall. She heard a meaty thunk sound.
“Fuck!” roared Skulker, holding his hand close to his chest.
He crawled over to her. She pulled him against low wall and noticed blood spurting from his hand. Shit.
“Fuck!” roared Skulker, holding his hand close to his chest.
He joined her in leaning against the low wall, blood spurting from his hand. Shit.
“Put pressure on that,” she yelled, holding her pistol above the wall and blindly firing a couple times.
“Fuck!” he replied.
She stiff armed him against the wall, and shot the two men trying to get in through the front door. That just bought us maybe ten seconds.
She grabbed Skulker’s arm. More platelets for you. I’ve got a basic healing method, maybe that’ll slow the bleeding. “Pressure,” she repeated to Skulker.
“Fuck!” he replied.
They heard a roar and a scream. Bullets stopped shooting towards them. Wait. That was familiar. Miya poked her head around the corner. Olivia had torn up one car, trying to get at the two men behind it. Another of the gunmen lay bleeding in the street, crawling away. Where the fuck did you come from? Also, yay, we’re not going to die now!
To Miya’s right, liquid Nomad slammed another gunman into another car, scattering the remaining gunmen. An armored Delta behind him tossed something, and two went down convulsing. Nomad moved to backup Olivia against the other dozen gunmen as Delta rushed directly towards Miya. The baton on Miya’s hip started humming. Oh, that’s how they got here so quick.
“The hell is going on here?” said Delta as she reached them. What do you think?
“Skulker’s hurt,” Miya shouted back over the gunfire. A ball of fire sailed across the street, prompting another roar from Olivia.
“Fuck!” he added helpfully. He had a wad of his shirt pressed tight against his hand, which he curled his whole body around.
“Shit,” said Delta, producing a strip of bandages from one of many pockets she had worked into her armor. “We’ve got to get out of here. Cops are en route.”
Miya checked on the situation on the street. Nomad, back in human form since someone started throwing fireballs, fired from behind the car Olivia had wrecked. Olivia herself appeared to be anchored to the ground. She roared again, struggling to move her feet. Damn mages.
She noticed an unarmed man in the background, hidden in another alley. He looks like he’s trying to take a shit, so he’s concentrating. Miya glanced at Olivia, still trapped in one place and fighting. That’s not an insignificant thing to do. That would take a lot of concentration.
About half a dozen gunmen and a mage throwing fire had Nomad pinned. Miya vaulted the wall, cutting her hand on the broken glass. Ow. Fuck. That’ll heal. She ducked and sprinted past him and into the little grocery store on the opposite side of the street. I didn’t get shot.
She scrambled for the side door and poked her head into the alley. The man still hid there. Here we go. Got a nice iron knife for you. She broke into a sprint, knife in non-bleeding hand.
Miya collided with his back, ready to warp bones. Damn, still has magic defenses. Oh well. She stabbed her knife in the back of his knee. He screamed and thrashed as his knee buckled, throwing her off him. Miya recovered and hacked at him, not aiming anywhere in particular. The knife made contact with his side, and he went down on hands and knees.
Miya delivered a kick to his face, putting him fully on the ground. He tried to roll away, and Miya brought her foot down on his ribs. Another couple kicks to the temple and he stopped moving.
She whirled around. Anyone else? Nomad was back in human form, rifle aimed down the street. He wasn’t firing, so she assumed the others had finally fled. Then she heard sirens in the distance. Olivia was nowhere to be seen.
“Come on, this way,” Nomad called out to Miya, waving her over.
She ran to catch up with him. Behind him, Delta lead Skulker out of the other, now bullet ridden building.
“We’re getting out of here, then we’re going to have a chat,” Nomad continued to Miya. Fuck me, I’m an idiot.
Olivia circled overhead as Miya and Nomad joined Skulker and Delta at Chris’s car.
“How’s Skulker?” she asked Delta as Chris started the car.
“I’m alive. Take a look,” he said, holding out his hand.
He had two ragged bloody stumps where his middle and ring fingers should have been. Fuck me.