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Magic Man

Chapter Twenty-Four


Though Redflare and Dumont were caught off-guard by Wulfeburne's appearance, the others reacted quickly and professionally to the sudden presence of another enemy. Unfortunately, the killer hadn't just been showing off when he'd made his entrance; he'd clearly been preparing one of his new techniques. Even as he finished talking he made a quick gesture and waves of exhaustion passed over Redflare's brain.

Through vision which swam as if in a dream, the magician saw Kemet and Isis crumple in mid-turn, their bodies falling limply to the carpet. His knees wavered, threatening to send him to join them. And why shouldn't he? He was tired, so tired. To keep on was pointless, a futile exercise. He just needed...to...rest...

His vision was starting to go dark when he came back to himself with a snap. Redflare stumbled, off-balance from the effects of the sleep-inducing technique, but managed to catch himself. He raised his poisonshot to fire at Wulfeburne, but Corliss grabbed his arm. He tried to wrestle himself free, but she hung on with the strength of a wildcat, literally clawing at his arm.

"Tsu!"

The laserlike beam of Dumont's technique lanced through Corliss's skull, piercing her temple above her left eye. She fell at once, Redflare's arm slipping from her limp, dead hands.

"Enough of this!" Wulfeburne barked. He'd moved out of the doorway and four members of the Bane Spikes had emerged from the room behind him, each with a drawn firearm. One did not wait for further threats, but fired her silentshot at Dumont. The neural paralyzer took effect immediately, sending her to join the twins on the floor.

"Drop the gun," Wulfeburne ordered Redflare.

There wasn't much of a choice. He let the poisonshot fall.

"Excellent decision, Redflare," Herrod said easily.

"Get some plasmarings on them, Paul. Then you can crow."

Herrod frowned, but reached into the pocket of his robe--should have frisked them down, Redflare thought belatedly--and took out two sets of wrist-cuffs. He stepped up behind Redflare, grabbed one of the magician's hands, and pulled it down behind his back. He closed one cuff around it, then tugged the other wrist down and locked the second cuff into place.

As soon as the second cuff was fastened, Redflare became aware of a faint buzz in the back of his mind. Though not as physically restrictive as military plasmarings they were just as effective at preventing the particular form of concentration which was necessary for technique use. Herrod also ripped off the commlink, cutting the connection to Nima. Once Redflare was secured, Herrod stooped and did the same to the stunned Dumont.

It was intriguing, though. They'd assumed that Herrod was the one in charge, and he certainly had the mannerisms to match the assumption, but he was clearly taking orders from Wulfeburne, doing his grunt work. What was more, he obviously didn't like it, so the pecking order within their Circle wasn't as comfortable as it might have been.

Am I missing something? he wondered. More than likely, he was. More than one thing had escaped him thus far, including the importance of the team being hired. He still didn't have all the pieces.

Such as, for example, how he was going to get out of the trap they'd blundered into.

By itself, he thought, that was all but extraordinary. They'd planned carefully, scouted the location. The security log had shown only Herrod and Corliss present, and not only had Wulfeburne found his way in but also four armed gangers whom Redflare was quite certain the Fairlane owners' association would consider "undesirable characters." Tough enough to get them into a place like this, but it would be all but impossible to do so with their guns. But Wulfeburne had managed it somehow, and had lured the hunters into yet another trap by doing so.

"That's better," Wulfeburne said. "Now, someone get rid of these two. We don't need them."

"Hold it," Herrod countered as a Bane Spike stepped forward, sonic gun in hand to perform the executions. The ganger stopped, caught between two superiors.

Wulfeburne's gaze narrowed dangerously.

"Paul, perhaps you don't remember that you no longer make the decisions here?"

"I'm being practical," the SDE man countered. "It'll be enough work to clean up the evidence of one corpse here, let alone three. If you take them back with you and exterminate them there the bodies can be ditched and no one will take an interest."

The blue-haired killer thought that over. It was hard, Redflare thought, to think of the murderous tech-user as anything so mundane as an investment banker. He had the authority, the air of power of a sec-chief or black ops specialist.

What if he says no? the magician thought desperately. How can I save Kem and Isis?

"All right. You've got a point. There's no reason to risk anyone else getting interested in this affair." He scowled and added, "It's already had too damn many scrag-ups as it is."

The list of scrag-ups gathered one additional item then, as the window offering a panoramic view of the city exploded in a shower of armored glass fragments.

"What the--?"

"Who--?"

Immediately thereafter, two figures swung down from above on cables. One was a nondescript man wearing a matte-black carbonsuit and a fancy mantle in the same color covering his shoulders and flowing into an ankle-length cape. His right hand held a three-foot rod capped with a macelike knob for striking, which he leveled in the general direction of the gangers and Wulfeburne. Before any of them could react, he chanted a single, meaningless word.

"Hewn!"

Wind roared through the room, conjured by yet another new technique. Unlike the common Zan, which set up a vortex of wind around the targets to buffet them while sucking the air from their lungs, the new attack shaped the air into spiraling drills which blasted into their five targets. Wulfeburne staggered, while three of the Bane Spikes went down and the fourth doubled over as if gut-punched.

As the Circle prepared a counterattack, the second man swung through the window, a long-bladed sword gripped in his fist. He wore armor and a visored helmet of ceramic and was clearly ready to inflict serious damage. Herrod raised his hands to attempt something, but Redflare flung his body against the back of the exec's legs. Herrod fell backwards over him, and the magician grunted in pain as the bigger man's weight crashed down on his back, but he'd achieved his goal of disrupting Herrod's technique use.

Wulfeburne cursed, realizing no doubt that his position was going from bad to untenable, then thrust his hand skyward and chanted, "Grantz!"

The bodies of the Circle members and their pet gangers faded to glimmering points of light which streaked upwards through the ceiling. Redflare felt a sharp tug as his body began to feel lighter, and realized that he was within range of the technique. There was no teleportation technique which could take an unwilling target that Redflare knew of, though, so he focused his will, resisting that mental pull, and at last the feeling of lightness left him and he returned to himself with a thump.

"I hope like hell you two are on our side," he said with a groan. "I'd hate to think we just went from the frying pan into the fire."

The swordsman pushed up his visor.

"Hey, now, Redflare, you didn't think I'd leave my own team in the lurch, did you?"

He grinned down at the magician. Redflare supposed the man had the right; if he'd been killed and was still walking around like Dace he'd be smiling too.

* * *

"It was clearly a drive-by shooting," Reiko Yoshida's contact at the DLE reported. "Multiple witnesses have provided a description of the assailants as Bane Spikes, members of a gang based in Old Camineet, and the bodies we found bear that out. Everything we've discovered tells us that this was a deliberate hit on specific targets, including a number of armed and armored security operatives. Heavy weapons were used--lasers and vulcans. Two other apparent victims were identified as Gunter Holst and Evangeline Case, both with criminal records and believed to be active as hunters." The cop paused and said, "The investigating officers haven't pinned the secmen as SDE yet."

That was something. If the dead agents were identified as SDE security, the DLE would no doubt have questions for Yoshida, probing questions about the cause of a gun battle in a fairly peaceful part of the city. Neroton was not Ossale Court. The cops would make an effort to uncover the illegal roots of a conflict that ended up with open combat in the streets, their objective being to give an object lesson to the behind-the-scenes players to keep private biz private, not spilling over where innocent bystanders could be hurt.

"Thank you for the information. You can be certain that we are as interested as you in finding the one responsible."

"Yeah, I bet. Just remember; this bounces back on Sarranas, I've never heard of you."

"Of course."

Yoshida killed the connection, seething with cold fury. She disliked traitors such as this DLE agent who sold her information his agency wanted kept to itself, but would use them gladly. On the whole she preferred hunters, who at least wore their mercenary nature openly without professing false loyalties.

Now, though, someone had taken out her hunters, and her field agents as well. Someone using gangers as catspaws, paid assassins? It was unusual for a gang to wield military-grade weaponry and to do it with sufficient precision and valor to defeat fully-equipped security troopers. It was even more unusual, she thought, for gangers to make a concerted attack which sacrificed the lives of several of their own to achieve results. There must be some powerful motivating force behind it.

It was not, she decided, Dumont and the hunters. Holst had reported just missing them at Mama Russi's. They should not have been able to arrange a counterstrike so quickly. Nor was it usual for hunters to act via third parties--they generally didn't have the financial influence to "subcontract," especially on this scale.

Yoshida rose from behind her desk and stretched. She'd been keeping late hours ever since Dumont's jump and she was all too aware that a tired mind made errors.

If it was not the hunters who had brought in the Bane Spikes, then perhaps it was the ones sponsoring the jump, the corp Dumont was going to. By default they would have money and influence, as well as a motive.

Or did they? Open war was an excessive step to take. It implied either that the hirer did not fear retaliation or set such a high value on the paratech project and Dumont that they were willing to offer their hunters direct support.

Yoshida sighed and dropped back into her hard-backed chair. It didn't feel right to her, didn't mesh with her instincts. A warrior had to trust her gut when facts were too few, and Yoshida's gut was telling her that she didn't have hold of the right threads. Now that her field team was gone, together with her best street-level operative, it didn't seem likely that the matter would ever resolve itself--at least not in SDE's favor. Dumont would be long gone before Yoshida could get back on her track.

The future, she perceived with a sick fear beginning to swell within her, seemed to hold nothing but disgrace.

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