Beringer took stock of his weapons and ammunition. One pistol. Two spare magazines. Two large blocks of aetherium, one in each pants pocket. Four smaller ones in his shoulder holsters. That was all.
Note to self: next time, always carry a long gun on your person or nearby.
“What’s the plan?” she asked.
“First we see if there’s a welcoming party,” he said.
The witch’s eyes turned a brilliant shade of green. She looked at the main door and shook her head. “There’s too much Darkmist for me to see through. I can’t tell if there’s anything there.”
Beringer extracted his detector and aimed it at the door. He turned the knob, setting it to detect demons. The screen showed a collection of bright white dots several meters in front of them. His earpiece crackled a constant TIKTIKTIKTIKTIK.
“Yup, definitely a welcoming party,” Beringer said.
Kentaris peered over his shoulder. “There’s ten of them, at least. We’re not fighting our way through that.”
There was an alley on Beringer’s left. It was dark and cramped, choked up with litter and rotting garbage. But bolted to the wall of the building was a fire escape.
“There’s our point of entry,” Beringer said.
“Works for me.”
As they waded through the trash, Beringer said, “Can you see people with your Dark Vision?”
“Yeah. Once we’re inside I’ll look for the hostages”
Beringer climbed up the stairs. “Excellent. I’ll cover you while you do that. When you find them, we push forward to them and get them out.”
“What about Simon?”
“The hostages are the priority. If he’s in the way, we flatten him and move on. If we don’t see him, I’ll call for backup and let the Enforcers take care of him.”
“I’d rather we kill Simon too. The Tradition doesn’t need to be tainted by this.”
“This isn’t about the Church versus the Tradition anymore. It’s about saving those people.”
She sighed. “Well, fuck it. The Church has shat on the Tradition for centuries. What’s another incident, huh?”
Beringer didn’t say anything to that. He was too busy checking the windows on both sides for Voidspawn and targets. On the fifth floor, he aimed his weapon at the fire escape door.
“Cover me,” he said.
He checked the detector. It showed a demon right behind him. He spun.
Kentaris. Her eyes were glowing, her hair spreading out. Raw power gathered in her fingertips.
“You’re throwing off my detector.”
He shrugged. “So much for technology.”
He put the earpiece away and tested the doorknob. Locked. He pressed his left-hand block of aetherium against the lock and willed it to take on the shape of the key. It grew warm in his hand, sliding into a new form, and slipped into the keyhole. He unlocked the door and moved in.
Inside was pitch black. He opened his Void Sight. The darkness resolved into clearer detail. Past the door was a narrow corridor. To his right, the elevator beckoned. That was a death trap. To his left, the staircase. That was a safer option. When Kentaris stepped through, Beringer fished out the four lumps of aetherium in his shoulder holsters and laid them on the floor.
“Stand clear,” he said. “And watch my back.”
He pressed them together, merging them into a single large lump of shining metal. He bound his soul to it, willing it to take the shape he needed the most. The metal flattened and expanded, spreading out into a shield. The edges of the shield flared up into wings, creating a nook.
“That’s pretty neat,” she said.
He lifted the dull shield from the floor. On the other side was a wide, thin strap of flexible polymer that served as a lanyard. Right above that was a soft armrest and a handstrap. Beringer wriggled his forearm between the lanyard and the armrest, gripped the handstrap and brought the shield up.
The Void crawled at the edge of his vision. Extending his pistol, he swiveled left. Black things poured through the pipes, dribbled out of ventilation ducts, or just plain warped into shadows.
“Defiled incoming!” he yelled.
And the doors flung open.
Black figures zipped out, sliding across the floor. Beringer braced himself just as the first of the Defiled crashed into him. The shield erupted into shining light, reducing the Voidspawn to dust.
The surviving Defiled consolidated themselves, solidifying into human form. The nearest one extended his right arm, pointing it at Beringer just as the Voidguard brought his weapon to bear. Beringer fired. So did the demon.
A black spike slammed into the shield, breaking itself apart in actinic light. Beringer stumbled, his shot going high into the Defiled’s face. Beringer gritted his teeth, brought his pistol down on the closest black mass and pressed the trigger. Again and again and again and again, sending a hail of aetherium rounds downrange. The bullets blew themselves apart, searing the corridor with light and heat and fury. Beringer kept up the pressure, firing as fast as he could aim, until he realised there was nothing left in front of him but a rapidly dispersing cloud of Void smoke.
“Are you okay?!” he yelled, his ears ringing.
“I’m fine!” Kentaris said.
He peeked over his shoulder. She was materially intact. Not a single hair was out of place. But the walls, floor and ceiling behind her were smothered in dark matter.
“Good work,” he said. “Any sign of the hostages?”
She pointed at the floor, through the floor. “Down there. Looks like the basement or boiler room or something.”
All he saw were a collection of distant colored dots, covered in shadow. Dark things writhed and seethed between Beringer and the hostages. None of them, at least, was Simon.
Beringer swept aside the small pile of brass at his feet and recharged his Lynx. “Let’s go. Stay behind me and stick close.”
They went down the stairs. Slowly, carefully, toeing aside trash and piles of filth. Through the buzzing in his ears Beringer strained to pick up the slightest clue of the Voidspawn’s presence. He was sure an army of wights could shamble up to them without them noticing it until it was too late.
The fourth floor was unoccupied.
So was the third.
Descending to the second, a chill swept through Beringer’s bones. He glanced up.
A cloud of Defiled congealed in the second floor common corridor. Before he could warn the witch, the shadows ahead of him lengthened and grew form and length and depth, and stepped out to meet him.
“Defiled above and in front of us!” Beringer warned, and took off down the stairs. The moment he had a clear line of sight, he fired at the closest target. It rearranged its mass, creating a small hole for the bullet to pass through. So did the ones behind it. Beringer fired a short burst, but all he saw were explosions along the far wall.
The Defiled froze in place.
Stalemate. He couldn’t harm them. But they had to close in to harm him, and his shield would destroy them on contact. If they solidified he’d blow them apart. If he charged them he’d be exposing themselves to defeat in detail, and if we ignored them and went down they’d have a free strike at their back.
Reality warped. A hail of dark flechettes passed overhead. The Defiled scattered, but not fast enough. The clouds lost coherence, simply easing to exist. All that remained were splatters of Void-stuff.
“You have to show me how to do that one day,” he said.
“You’re willing to drink ambrosia? And learn the mysteries of the Tradition?”
Power flared behind him. “Let’s go.”
They went down. Down. Down. Beringer wondered at the lack of opposition. Maybe Simon had spent his forces. Maybe they’d killed most of them at the necropolis. Either way, he didn’t see any more traces of the Void. He paid extra attention to the walls, the passages, looking for booby traps. Nothing.
On the ground floor, Beringer re-oriented himself. The hostages were still there. And so was a huge Void signature.
“Simon,” Kentaris said. “He’s there.”
Beringer's voice trailed off.
“What?” Kentaris demanded.
Beringer stared. The witch was shimmering. Her skin was the shade of alabaster, her hair like snow. And her eyes had turned pink, her irises the color of blood.
“How much ambrosia did you have?”
Her voice was slurred. Slow. Ambrosia, he recalled, was made by dissolving powdered aetherium in high-strength alcohol.
“Enough to kill Simon.”
No. Her voice wasn’t slurred. It was as though it were chopped up in a dozen places and unevenly stitched together. As though her voice had been cloned multiple times and said the same words very slightly out of sync.
“You are losing your grip on this world.”
“We who fight the monsters of the Void must have a foot in that other world. Is that not from your doctrine?”
He scowled. “Let’s get this over and done with.”
“We’re just going to hit him head on?”
“I’m going to. He can’t touch me through the shield. Bullets will bounce off him, but they should distract him long enough for you to finish the job. If that doesn’t work, I’ll pin him against a wall and we can lay in our blades.”
“Works for me.
They headed down the stairs. Through a door that led to a short corridor, lined with rotting brushes and spiderwebs. At the far end was another door. Behind that were the women. And Simon.
The door was unlocked. Kentaris opened it, and Beringer went in.
If this story looks familiar, it's the original concept of my Covenant Chronicles series. To see how it really turned out, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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