MERcURY OUT CoLD
For about one quarter of a second, I was sure we were all dead. Because when a bunch of people with semi-automatic pistols shoot at you, well, that’s a lot of bullets. And I don’t like bullets that are sent my way at high velocities.
But that’s what we had Airfoil for.
Brandon stood at the railing, arms outstretched, fingers spread. I couldn’t see what his medallion did, because its powers—unlike the pulsar stave’s blazing energies—were invisible, but when the bullets hit his shield, everybody knew it.
Sparks rippled across the air in a broad stretch that me, Teget, and Ramos were on the other side of. Fourth of July had nothing on the light show. Even better? The shield threw the deflected bullets down to the lower floor, where another row of sparks erupted. Gunmen and the unarmed partygoers scattered, screams carrying for the rafters.
The instant the gunshots shut down, I vaulted over the railing. Didn’t even have to look and see if Teget followed. I knew he had my back, always.
And, you know, his war cry drowned out all other noise.
Dominic staggered upright, clutching his arm. The woman with the sword stood like statue in the middle of swirling chaos. She twisted the blade before her, and I swore I could see a purple tinge spreading to the corners of her eyes. Gone was the cowering figure. Her posture was better than any Marine called to attention.
I landed twenty feet from the stage. “Hand over the sword.”
Serena grinned. “The mask is cute. Not as fancy as your usual wardrobe. Not as dashing, either. Sword’s right there, Mercury, but no one’s taking it away until I get paid for it.”
“Are you seriously—Hold on.” I popped a guard in the nose with the butt end of the pulsar stave. Crack went his nose and crunch went his jaw. Look. I didn’t feel great about it. It pained me to hurt people like that, because I could imagine what they went through in recovery. The ache in my leg reminded me every second.
But it didn’t hurt me as much as it hurt them.
Teget swept the ax across two more attackers, dropping them to the floor. That was impressive enough, but then Brandon flew down from balcony, bringing with him the limp forms of the two guys my brother and I had walloped in our initial attack.
Of course, now other bad guys had Dominic at gunpoint, so I guess it was a draw.
“Right, so …” I waved toward myself. “Gimme the sword.”
“You brought your entire entourage? I’m impressed. You’ve matured some. Not much, but we can’t have everything, can we?” Serena gestured to the sword. “This woman can unlock a lot of doors, Mercury. Don’t tell me you’re not the least bit curious.”
I rolled my eyes. “Nope.”
I pushed past her for the woman with the sword. She swept it around in a clumsy strike that I deflected, sending a shower of sparks into the air. Not bad for a kidnapped girl who looked like she was on her way to a Goth concert.
But then the ferocity of her strikes increased. So did their speed, and when I parried and went for a swipe of my own, she dodged with a skill that improved every second we were locked in battle.
The bad guys—Syndax Multinational’s favorite mercenaries? New recruits? Who cares!—took that as their sign to close in for the kill.
Teget launched into their midst, a madman consumed with lust for battle. He broke arms, slashed through shirts, smashed weapons.
Brandon used the two unconscious men like a snowplow, barreling aside a handful, then landed in their midst. An invisible wave, like a huge wind, sent everyone around him tumbling. “Get out of here while you still can!” he hollered at the noncombatants and aimed for the big doors.
They battered open and people ran, screaming.
Meanwhile, I was getting tired of the dueling. I backed up into a defensive stand, and sword lady did the same.
Then I whipped the pulsar stave’s end over and blasted her with a burst of concentrated tachyons.
She smashed through the plywood walls at the back of the stage.
Which had the added benefit of giving a Dominic a chance to aim an Echo Watch at the gun of the guy holding him hostage. The weapon glowed impossibly bright, like I was staring straight into a flashlight, and the guard yelled. He dropped his gun. Smoke rose from blackened fingertips.
Dominic struck him in the face until he toppled.
I launched myself over his head, riding high on the energies of the pulsar stave that infused not just the suit, but my prosthetic leg and every cell of my body. I aimed for the hole in the wall the woman had created, figuring out how I was gonna land without killing her.
Turned out, didn’t have to, because she was already leaping toward me.
We collided in a whump of flesh and bone, accompanied by a flash of pent-up power. Our tangle of limps crashed onto the stage, making a two-person dent. Pretty sure there was another dent in my spine.
And the whole time, Serena stood there, arms folded, smirk curving her lips. Man. I can’t believe I kind of had the hots for her.
Don’t tell Loredana.
Ramos? I told him to get lost and get Interpol! Instead, he had his pistol in a two-handed grip, aiming for Serena’s chest. Because of course he did.
“This is great.” She chuckled. “Am I under arrest? We’re well outside city limits—by a few thousand miles.”
“Hey,” I croaked. “That’s my line.”
“You’ll hand over the sword or I will shoot you.” Ramos’ stance never wavered.
“You will? You’ll shoot an unarmed woman in a foreign country? A federal agent?”
“Pretty sure Homeland fired you.” I let Dominic help me up. Where was sword lady?
She’d walked off like she was on her way to powder her nose, but instead of going to the restroom, she wound up at the box where Serena had set the Greek pottery.
Brandon stepped in front of her. “Stay put. I’ll take that sword.”
The woman stabbed so fast I was surprised Brandon had a chance to erect his shields. Even more surprised when the blade sparked, slowed, and then continued through. It cut his jacket and left a red stain on his ribcage.
He winced and fell onto his knees.
The woman turned and faced Serena.
“Do it,” she said.
The woman brought the sword crashing down.
“No!” Ramos spun and fired.
Serena kicked, sweeping his legs out from underneath. The shot buried itself in the ceiling. Next thing I knew, she was astride Ramos’ chest, the pistol in her hands, the muzzle buried under his chin.
I was too dazed to react. I was sure I was gonna hear the sickening slash of metal through flesh. But instead, pottery shattered.
The woman had broken the pot worth tens of thousands of dollars. Shards littered the floor.
“Release me!” Teget? He had eight guys holding him down, eight men with eyes turned black and tinged purple. Great I hadn’t realized how many of her hoodlums Serena had juiced up on the tachyon-infused serum Arkwright had developed for his Syndax soldiers, the stuff that could make them almost equal to me or Teget or another Medan warrior in strength.
“Okay, let’s not get crazy.” I held the pulsar staves ready, watching both the sword woman and the henchmen surrounding Teget. “Bet we can figure this out.”
“You are ones who attacked us.” That was Spikes.
“Nobody asked you.” I gestured to Serena. “Let our gang go and we’ll leave with the sword.”
“Too late for that,” Serena said. “She’s already proven more valuable than I’d hoped—and there’s no way I’m separating her from that blade. Make sure to tell Ms. Lark and the rest of the people at Procyon I’m grateful they shared their files. Otherwise, I never would have found Xia.”
A hissing built, like sand being poured down a tube. It intensified, and I thought one of the air vents overhead was gonna bust open, until Xia—Serena pronounced it “Shia,” in one syllable—waved her sword through a writhing tendril of glittering grains. Kind of like sand, to fit with the sound effects, but with maroonish, ruddy streaks.
It swirled around the sword, and when Xia slashed the air, the grains shotgunned in all directions.
The first spray struck Brandon’s mask. He arched his back, gagging, as the particles soaked through the fabric, poured up his nose, and filtered into his eyes.
Another tendril enveloped Teget, muffling his cries. His guards had to drop back before the spray infiltrated them.
Still another edge of the spray hit Ramos at the same moment. Serena backed away, but the sand or particles of whatever we were dealing with didn’t seem interested in her.
“Ramos?” I took a step toward him.
“Don’t …” His voice broke into a discordant array of sounds, with human words drowned under what I heard as screeching electronics.
The particles banked sharply, like Airfoil in pursuit of a bad guy, and came straight for my face.
A hand hit my shoulder and light blasted my vision—light, then dark, accompanied by the worst stomach drop since I’d done five roller coaster rides back to back.
Dominic’s loft materialized around me, hazy, warm, and indistinct.
I braced myself on the wood floor for just a second, and then the portal flared to life again.
We reappeared on the balcony. It took about five seconds, maybe less, and if I blinked, I thought I could see an afterimage of where I’d been. I swayed toward the railing.
“Easy,” Dominic said. “When I travel that fast, the side effects can be disorienting.”
“No kidding.” I grabbed onto the railing and focused on making sure the room quit spinning.
There weren’t many people left in said room. Serena’s squad of enforcers were all on their way out, exiting behind the plywood walls at the back of the stage. The other doors leading back into Klub Rozsada were flung wide open. No missing the shouts, or the general noise of mayhem, because the music had stopped.
And the weird keening of European sirens leaked in.
“We’d better get moving,” Dominic said.
“Not without the rest of our people.” Problem was, none of our people were in a hurry to leave. They stood stock-still, slouched over, facing each other in a ragged triangle.
I leapt over the railing and landed—in a heap, because my prosthetic leg buckled underneath. I almost wound up flopped on my side.
Didn’t seem to bother Xia as she used the sword to—what was she doing with it? Playing around like it was a vacuum, siphoning up the particles into neat, sharp ridges on the blade.
“Like I said, I owe Procyon a lot.” Serena put her hands on Xia’s shoulder. “Like revealing to me the legend of symmachites. Old Greek tales, tracked all the way up through the Second World War. Legends that told of their unpredictability, which made them useless, until Alexander whispered to me the secrets of the dark blade. Your idiot cousin didn’t understand its subtlety.”
“Kinda hard for him get subtle when your boyfriend betrayed and murdered him,” I snapped. “Immobilizing these guys isn’t gonna stop me from wiping you two across the floor.”
“Sure it is.” Serena whispered in Xia’s ear. Xia nodded, without breaking her midnight gaze with me. The purple light ringing her irises intensified. “Because we don’t need to do anything.”
Xia brought the blade’s tip to her nose and inhaled a flurry of the symmachites. She murmured, so quietly, I couldn’t hear anything but the shush of her breath.
But Ramos, Teget, and Brandon heard more than a wordless nothing. They leapt at us, in unison.
There was no finesse to their attack. Teget swung wildly with the ax, his blows jagged. I’d never seen him fight like that. I blocked with the stave, blows raining between us. “Hey! Teget! Snap out of this! She’s got you!”
He wasn’t even looking at me. A swirling, maroon haze covered his eyes as he continued a brutal attack. I could drop him—a quick Taser-like burst to the back of the neck—but I was more worried about Brandon, who was hurtling toward Dominic.
You know, Airfoil, the guy who could crush things with gravity.
Dominic blinked out, then reappeared back to back with me. The Echo Watches whined as he fired on Brandon, their blasts sizzling the air.
Ramos fired at me.
I dropped to the ground. Bullets whipped overhead. I split the stave into halves, and sped into Ramos with the daintiness of a charging bull on crack.
The collision smacked him against a wall. He dropped his gun.
“Ramos,” I panted. “Buddy?”
He glared past me, eyes the same vacant and stormy ones as Teget’s.
A sudden blow smashed me to the floor. Dominic cried out.
Yeah, that would be Brandon’s gravity powers.
We squirmed under the invisible force pressing us into the concrete. It was getting harder to breathe.
“I hate it when things turn out this easy.” Serena and Xia approached. Serena knelt by me, three feet away. She must have been just outside Brandon’s field. “Xia will make your death quick. Like a guillotine.”
“I bet she will,” I gasped, “But I’ve had enough for one evening.”
The stave’s energies flared. Brandon’s field? It fizzled out.
See, I’d already tangled with him as Airfoil when we were on… Less friendly terms. And figured out a tachyon-enhanced relic like mine could pierce his powers. Same as Xia had managed with the sword.
Except the stave was far stronger.
I threw one at Brandon’s head. He froze it in midair, but I was already leaping up, the second one unleashing at blast at his chest—right where he hung that stupid medallion. There was a flash, and a shout from him, before we tumbled back down. I snagged the half of the stave I’d thrown.
Dominic caught me. I could feel the rising breeze from the Echo Watches’ portal. “Come on!”
“No! Not without—!”
I was stepping away, reaching for Teget, when the portal blew outwards. Our cluster vanished.
And I was back in Dominic’s loft.
Except, so was everybody else.
For a split second, Ramos, Teget, and Brandon stared at me, as Serena and Xia materialized right next to us.
“Well, crap,” I croaked.
Brandon raised his hands and I knew we were royal toast, so I did the only thing I could think of—I channeled every last spare bit of energy back into the pulsar stave and delivered a shockwave that threw everyone against the walls.
Then I lunged at him, grabbed his wrists, and hollered, “Go!”
Still glassy-eyed, he got the Echo Watches spinning …
Face first into snow.
The air was cold, bitter, and damp. And me wearing nice party clothes and a ruined suit jacket. The shivering took over as soon as the adrenaline dropped off.
Dominic’s teeth chattered. He was sitting on his butt, ankles in snow, down in this—drainage ditch? “G-good p-plan.”
I collapsed onto the frozen banks. “W-Worst bachelor party ever.”