Anya's hand flashed to her holster but an icy glance from Daniel made her freeze.
The Administrator seemed unfazed. “You should know something about your dear Dr. Salaam. Firstly, he was being used by SICA, which means he was leading you and your brother to your murders. In his favour, I will say that he might not have known the details, The Western powers can be very seductive, he may have been sincere in wanting to help you. But he was quite simply a threat to you, intentions unconsidered. You are too precious, Mariya, I will kill hundreds more to protect you.” The Administrator beheld her tenderly, despite his dark words.
The memory of the bloody rivulets flowing from Salaam’s head on a rainy roof in Moscow had been burned in her mind, never to heal. That moment had become her symbol of utter depravity and the starkest expression of the high cost of heroics. Now to be told that her hero was another ‘shade of gray’ left her gut twisted in anger that she desperately tried to control lest her beast bring its desires to fruition on all those around her.
Ravi was the one to break the awkward silence. “Not to make light of your friend’s unfortunate demise, but what is the next course of action? With SICA combing all of Scotland for us, we need to do something.”
Anya answered before the Administrator could. “Exactly what we always do, leave false trails and return home.”
The older man smiled fondly at her. “Precisely my dear. Bear with this everyone, especially you two.” He pointed at Mashka and Evan. “I assume we will be parting ways somewhere along the line, but I really could use your help for as long as possible. At least until Mr. Donnelly and you are out of harm’s way.”
“So, you are just going to let us go this time?” Evan asked.
The Administrator shrugged. “Colleagues are most helpful when they are willing. And I can make sure any task would be to your benefit.”
Mashka looked at Evan and nodded towards the door.
He got the hint and told those present. “We need to deliberate, one moment.” They excused themselves and closed the door behind them.
Evan began, having already rehearsed his words. “Look, Mashka, I know what you are going to say--,”
“You should,” she snapped. “Are we going to go along with them, honest?”
“At this instant they can keep us safe, besides, The Apparition seemed rather adamant on our presence here.”
Mashka found herself forced to agree. “And she’s been talking with The Administrator too. Makes one wonder what their arrangement is.”
Evan grunted in agreement. “Mashka, do you trust me?”
She was taken aback by the question for a moment. “Why are you asking me that?”
“I need to know, do you trust me?”
Her catlike eyes focused intently on his grey ones, as if reading his thoughts through them. “With my life,” she answered, never losing eye contact.
“Then there’s nothing to worry about.” He said sternly, then cracking a smile. “Though, I can’t say I have the best track record.”
After a light punch to her friend’s chest, Mashka smirked. “The Administrator lied about wanting to work with us,” Evan’s smile wavered. “-But he spoke the truth when he said he wanted to keep us safe. I think The Apparition is ‘wearing the pants’ when it comes to his dealings with us.”
Evan raised his eyebrows. “I wouldn’t think she’d be powerful enough to do that.”
Mashka shook her head and lead the way back into the office. “We’re in!” she declared as she opened the door.
The Administrator nodded. “Excelle--”
A high pitched metallic shriek cut him off and the transmission ended though the noise remained, ringing in everyone’s ears.
“The transmission has been jammed!” Bruno exclaimed.
“That sounded like a shock grenade.” The Czech noted casually as he rose and passed through the wall.
“I guess this means we’ve been found.” Dr. Kerry sighed wearily. “Time to pack up.”
“Where’s Aleksei?” Evan asked.
“He went to talk to his brother in the next building over…” Anya began, then trailed off.
Mashka rushed towards the door.
“Hey!” Anya called getting her attention. She tossed a holstered revolver which Mashka snatched perfectly. “You might need that.”
“Tch,” Mashka growled, clipping the hoster to her belt and drawing the weapon as Evan had taught her.
Vlad spun around, looking for any sign of movement, but to no avail since the steam hid everything from view. He considered simply blasting away all the obstructions, but that was bound to get him in loads of trouble, as it was, this duel was making plenty of noise.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a stray swirl of mist that seemed out of place. He reacted by instinct, kicking behind him.
Aleksei backed away just in time to avoid the brunt of the attack, only earning himself a minor bruise. He could not stop as Vlad came in for the attack. With blinding speed Aleksei found himself on the receiving end of a left hook. His training with both Nida and Evan came back to him and he stopped his brother’s fist with his palm, grabbed Vlad’s upper arm, and kicked out his legs from under him.
However, Vlad caught himself with a hand and a foot and lashed out with his free leg. His strike missed, instead it knocked aside the swirling mist that was rolling off of Aleksei's body, leaving after images of his form wherever he went, disconcerting him.
Using the mist to thoroughly obscure his brother’s vision, Aleksei planned on backing away, but he forgot to pay attention to where his feet were and he backed into one of the shelves causing him to loose balance.
Vlad grinned when he heard his brother trip. If he moved quickly, he would make a direct hit. He extended his right hand.
Aleksei felt the temperature lower, but he had the wind knocked out of him. In his panic, he bid the vapour to ram into him as he turned on his side. He was thrown like a rag doll and sent tumbling through the rows of bottom shelves. He felt a portion of his sensory field destroyed as his sheet of water vapour had all heat sapped from it, leaving only useless frost and snow behind. Vlad, without knowing it, had half blinded him.
Still immobile from slamming himself with his own mist, Aleksei had no other choice than to push himself up just enough to bring vapour beneath him. Once he had accomplished that, he again, painfully, struck himself with the mist, this time launching himself high into the air so he could roll off of the torrent and land on a top shelf, hidden from view. Knowing that his rough landing would make a racket, Aleksei bid the stream that had brought him upwards to knock down a the large stacks of boxes from their perch making a deafening crash on the concrete floor and covering up any noise from Aleksei’s hastily planned movements.
Panting heavily and nursing his injured side, Aleksei beckoned tendrils of mist to reattach himself to the floor five shelves down. When he did he sensed that several persons had entered the building and he recognised none of their shapes. 'SICA! Vlad!'
“They’re in the building.” The Czech declared as he returned through the wall then glared at Bruno. “How did they get past your security?”
“Must have been a virus. Though it would take impressive skill to get past my custom firewall and--”
The Czech raised his hand for silence. “Later, right now, the point is that we‘ve been sniffed out. Bruno, you are staying near me.”
Immediately the computer tech knew he was both a suspect and/or a primary target of the enemy.
Kerry turned to The Czech. “Yes, Dániel?”
“How many are out there?”
Kerry’s pupils wove into interlaced triquetras then returned to normal in less than a second. “Twenty-three normal humans… but there are two, not Jinn, but I would be careful, their souls are unusually potent.”
“Good to know.”
Mashka looked strangely at Kerry. “You are Jinn too?”
“After a sort,” he smiled brilliantly, causing his initial unnerving impression to fade. “We’ll have to talk about that later. In the meantime, four of them just entered this building, and your brothers are being surrounded as we speak. Both of them are exhausted after using all that power they were fighting each other with.”
“What? They were fighting?!” Mashka cried in a hushed tone. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He waved her off. “Relax, neither of them are hurt badly. The important thing is that there are now six people at the other side of this building.”
Mashka nodded and turned her attention to the opposite side of the warehouse. Her keen sense of smell picked up on the intruders’ presence as did her sharp hearing as she removed her sensory limitation.
“Six just entered this building,” Mashka began, “and they split into two groups, each taking a side.”
The Czech nodded and looked pointedly at Kerry. The doctor understood the gaze and cockily smirked.
“Anya, how much do you want to bet I can shoot them all from here?”
“Just do it Kerry, stop fooling around,” she snapped.
“As you wish,”
Mashka felt a tingling in the air as Kerry tilted his head back, eyes rolling back in their sockets. She only got a brief glimpse again of his electric blue eyes before he spun around and stared through the forest of shelves and boxes, his twin triquetras twirling.
“Aha!” he exclaimed as he rested the revolver atop the nearest box, aimed through a gap and fired.
Mashka jumped from the gun fire, her ears ringing but still able to pick up the sound of a limp body falling to the ground. Barely a second later Kerry had already fired off his five other shots through the shelves, five more bodies echoed as they thudded to the cement.
He turned back to the two women as his pupils shrank back to their normal parameters and the irises faded to a much less electric blue. He blew at the barrel tip and holstered his weapon in his coat. “It’s such a shame you ladies could not see the light show. It’s a glorious and colour filled sight when a soul is liberated from its prison--,”
“Quiet Kerry.” Anya ordered in annoyance.
“Oh yes true, we need to get to the dear little boys now don’t we?” He stepped to the side gallantly, “Ladies with fully loaded guns first, of course!”
Dropping into the mist below Aleksei winced as his feet made noise against the floor. As quietly as possible, he hastened towards his brother who was standing still in the mist. He could feel several bodies intruding into the warehouse, eight persons fanning out at the entrance and peering into the mist. He felt them cast several small objects blindly outwards, one of them landed on a shelf a mere metre from Vlad’s face.
Running with a maelstrom of fog pressing behind to grant him speed, Aleksei leapt and grappled his brother to the ground as six ear piercing blasts and brilliant lights blinded and deafened the two young men. The river of mist that had followed Aleksei continued to push them to the far wall away from the intruders.
Aleksei’s body shook and shuddered in numb pain. He felt as if he had been on the receiving end of a jackhammer. He felt blood trickle across his skin, but his nerves were too confused to tell him where or how many wounds from which it flowed. He brought trembling hands to his ringing ears and tried to curl into a foetal position but his legs were were unresponsive. All he could see was the pale red colour one sees when facing a bright light with one’s eyes closed. As his vision cleared he could see first the cement floor then a hand.
Is that my hand? When the fingers twitched at his bidding he assumed it must be his. His vision continued to return and before him another hand beyond his came into sight. Slowly, Vladimir’s face came into view, his features grimacing at the pain that overwhelmed his body, but most importantly, he seemed unharmed.
For Vladimir the experience had not been quite as terrible. His brother had knocked him out of the direct path of the blast wave and shrapnel. His head spun and he felt a bump beginning to swell on the side of his skull, but otherwise he was fine, though in no way ready to move.
Someone grasped his hand so he tried to focus his blurred vision. His first reaction was to snatch his hand away, if only he could move that much, but something else kept him still, there was a sense of desperate urgency in the weakening grip on his fingers. Out of the darkness Aleksei came into view, his brown eyes wide in fear and pleading. Vlad’s groggy mind could not understand the expression until he finally realised the red lines of blood framing his brother’s eyes, nose, and mouth. A moment later he saw the sturdy, metal shelving that had pinned his twin to the floor from temple to waist.
Aleksei’s grasp weakened further and Vlad’s heart raced and he felt pinned himself by his brother’s frightened gaze.