“Here we are,” Saira says, her voice low. “Follow me and watch your step. You’re heavy for these old floors.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sky replies, feeling the floor’s creaking through his boots even more than he hears it. He moves up next to her to look over the edge of a broken wall in a partly collapsed building across from the warehouse, on a side street. The can see the front of the warehouse only obliquely, but there is a window and a service door on the side nearest to them.
Saira looks at him, trying to look offended but obviously amused. “Ma’am? Really? Do I look that old to you?”
He barely glances at her, but smiles slightly. “You look very young to me, actually.”
She grins. “Not too young, I hope.” He feels her shoulder press against his. “I would hate to be giving you wrong ideas about myself. That could prove fatal. To you.” She uses her chin to indicate the window. “Care to take a look? Should give us a nice view of the inside.”
He nods. “We won’t be able to converse there, so remember: we need to take someone alive. For information.”
“Bummer.” Saira’s voice is dry. “It sure would be nice to have the resident death goddess talking to dead people. That way I could just kill ’em all.”
“Trust me, I would rather have her around, too. We’ll just have to make do.”
Saira looks at him again. “She cut off the snake’s head, didn’t she? The Dukaines fell apart right after she ran away with the Bunnies and then the Bunnies returned but… No Alma.”
Sky tries not to let worry and sadness color his voice. “I hope she will return soon.” He almost says more, then scolds himself for wanting to reveal too much to this assassin he barely knows.
Saira is silent for a moment. “Huh, so she’s a goner. Too bad. People here are gonna miss their Blue Lady. She seemed…” she shrugs, “different. Oh well,” her voice takes on a forced cheerfulness. “Don’t be sad. What do you care how this ends? It’s just another day in Three Rats. No one ever lasts long here. Especially Guardia.”
Sky takes a breath. “Let’s go. If we go down the street behind that rubble, then back up along the wall, they won’t be able to see us through the window.”
“Fine, lead the way. Maybe shoot some rats with that little trinket you have.” She slings her own crossbow, beautiful and custom-made, so that she can move low with her hands free. Sky does the same with his heavier, less elegant crossbow, and goes over the wall.
Sky moves swiftly up to the warehouse, barely hearing Saira behind him. Indeed, he has to resist the urge to look back at her to make sure she is there at all. He has been in situations like this many a time, for the Guardia, and for a long list of others before that. He has rarely worked with someone capable of such silence. Somrak, perhaps, but few others.
He moves surefootedly and quietly himself, but feels like a lumbering pachyderm next to Saira. Still, a part of him is merely falling back into old patterns, a groove worn deep by centuries of such action. He is in his element, finally. Leading – he is capable of leading. But in situations like this, with immanent battle, with action and instant decisions. Running a Guardia station, day by day, exhausts him, even terrifies him more than impending death ever could.
They cross the street and slip across to the warehouse, then move along the wall to the window, passing the door for the moment. Sky takes a quick look. The glass is so filthy he can barely see through it. Just shapes, furred, except for one. One dragging another, smaller one.
“Guy in the suit,” Saira whispers, looking as well, readying her crossbow. “Is that a kid?”
Sky nods. “He has a knife.”
“The hairy ones – I know those mugs. Demis, all of them. Three brothers. And their nasty old mom. Where is she…?” Saira takes another quick look. “Cage in the back left corner. Buncha kids. I saw bunny ears.”
Screams from inside prompt Sky to look again. He curses almost silently. “A summoning circle. He’s bringing something. A demon. We have to move.”
Saira nods. “I’ll take point. The suit is mine. Watch out for the brothers. They bite.”
Sky twitches his head toward the service door. They move there and he pulls out a long leather wallet. Unfolding it reveals a set of silvery lockpicks inscribed with delicate writing. Saira rolls her eyes, but Sky ignores her as he uses two enchanted picks to unlock the door in moments, magic helping him quickly find the right tumblers and muting all sound of the locks turning. He quickly slips the set back into his jacket, nods at her, and pulls the door open.
As Saira goes through, crossbow held ready, Sky marvels again at how smoothly she moves, a sleek predator focused on the kill. He has seen many as young and far younger who had become killers, but few who took to it with such cold joy.
As she steps in, he rises, unslinging his crossbow and slipping off the safety, scanning for a target as he moves inside.
And then he hears a feminine shout from behind. “Sky! It’s a trap!” In a moment, he notes several things: The words are in Japanese. There is a spell going off right next to him. Saira is going to be caught in it.
Though throwing himself back into the street would save him from the brunt of the blast, he finds himself leaping forward even as these momentary realizations form. He hears Saira’s crossbow fire as he tackles her, hears the breath being knocked out of her. Then pressure, heat, light.