The Hunter took yet another breath.
With her back to the wall and with the whole world ringing around her, noisy and pneumatically, she processed her aching wounds with a firm poise.
Zaniyah was starting to wonder if she would ever experience unwounded movement again, not that she could blame any of the others, she was the one hiding the pain and debilitation.
She heard the disappointed click of an empty gun. She turned the corner, blowgun on her mouth, and blew. The shooter’s shoulder suffered a spasm. Then he cursed and lost his senses as he slipped into a temporary coma.
“I grabbed one!”
She glanced aside as a body was slammed against the wall near her. The Circus Freak held up a woman by the collar of her vest.
“Where’s the stone!”
“Stones? What stones?!”
“I AM NOT IN THE MOOD!” He slammed her again, a bit too hard. Her eyes went out of focus for a second there, after which the back of her head started bleeding. “D’you see this jungle woman? She will eat you!”
Zaniyah squinted, not breaking her serious and exhausted gaze. Something in it must have looked convincing because she told them how to get it. The Circus Freak then hit the woman’s neck and she fell asleep. Though with how she was bleeding, it was likely to be forever.
“We should expect traps.” After all, if their meeting had been a trap, how could the room where these items were being held not be?
“Hey, that’s why you’re here, right? Man, good thing this place’s super noisy, right?”
“The chaos helps,” she agreed, “let us move.”
It did. All around them, people were working. Things were fizzling, blowing up, steaming, revving, reloading and any sort of technological sound that was as pollution to the tower itself. They had not expected to be infiltrated so soon after their escape, that much was obvious.
The Hunter and the Circus Freak moved swiftly, despite her wounds. The halls were small and disorganized, the rooms randomly placed, as were the eventual stairs to other floors. That not only made sneaking around easy, but also meeting with someone without people from the room next door, or walking along the corridor just around the corner, noticing.
Still, the Hunter would have preferred the tense stress of working a quiet place, only so that she could experience some quiet.
Meanwhile, working the Circus Freak was humbling. She considered herself to be pretty athletic. Peak, even, in terms of what one could achieve with the human body, but that man was on a whole different level.
His movements were so sharp and steady, and the same time, fluid. There were little details to his turns, to his spins, the way he split his legs open to stay near the ceiling or climb a wall, something she could also do, but he had something extra to it all. It was as if he didn’t feel that particular muscle pain, that stretching tendon, that tiny bit of stabbing that hurt the body enough to make it unconsciously stop.
It was curious, how he could ignore the limitations of his body.
“Stop,” she whispered rashly, before she put her full weight onto the foot that was on the first step of a flight of stairs.
“Why? There’s no stop sign,” he complained with a gesture that seemed to indicate he was a hundred percent serious. She disregarded it.
“I think…” she looked aside at the walls carefully and noticed a portion of the wall that was considerably less dusty. She placed her hand and pressured.
A second later, every step of those stairs received another layer as metallic boards slid in from crevices in the wall that appeared. They were placed on top of the actual chairs.
“Oh. The stairs were a trap?”
She nodded and stepped to walk down.
“You’re good at this, I would’ve just ran down like a clown.”
Zaniyah glanced back, wondering if he had rhymed on purpose. He interpreted her look differently.
“Still would’ve reached the bottom, o’ course. ‘m usually faster than any silly trap.”
She looked ahead.
You’re tiring is what you are.
Reaching ground floor, they met with two other guild members. Startled, they drew their guns, but the Circus Freak was two thirds way to reaching them and she had the blowgun at the ready. She hit one of them and jumped aside to avoid the second one’s shot.
He missed the Circus Freak but grazed her, before getting knocked out by a stab at the neck.
“Ssss,” she frowned down at the side of her left forearm, smelling more of her blood. It wasn’t deep, but it wasn’t shallow either.
“You okay back there?”
She spat in the wound and put her right hand over it, reloading the blowgun with the left.
She put the blowgun to her mouth and the movement gave her a little stab in her new cut. Zaniyah took the blowgun out of her lips.
And took yet another breath.
The tower shook to a sound more explosive than any of the others that surrounded them. In fact, it silenced most every other noise in their proximity. Even the Circus Freak stopped and looked around apprehensively.
After a few moments, alarms began to sound, making the tower all the noisier.
“That’s not us, right?”
She shook her head.
“Those anarchist guys?”
“You’re giving me the irrelevant eyes.”
“We should hurry.”
“Oh, the hurry look,” he chuckled, “sorry there. You should make your expressions better, I can’t tell what you’re thinking most of the time.”
“That is fine.” More than fine. It sounded good and all-around desirable.
“Not when you don’t say anything,” he pondered.
She took another breath.
“Can we go?”
“Sure. Where to?”
Zaniya nodded and crouched, closing her eyes. She found she could not focus so, flustered, she marched down to one of the guild members they had taken care of.
“What’re you doing?”
“I cannot concentrate.”
She grabbed at the man’s clothes.
“You need more nudity in the room?”
The Hunter looked back, insulted, while she took tiny shreds of garments. She rolled them up into tiny balls and put them in her ears, all without breaking her judgmental stare.
“What?” He laughed mildly.
She crouched again and focused, her hands in her ears without much pressure. It took her a minute but she managed to focus. With the tower under attack, and over a hundred people all aware of what the invaders were after, it was an easy thing to use her predator sense to get a feel for its location. Easy but not fast, the noise really was too much.
“Alright,” she pulled the balls of cloth out of her ears and stood up. The sudden movement made her leg throb and her balance waver. The clown instinctively handed out support.
“Ey, don’t fall on me, we’re in a hurry, right?”
The Hunter grunted and pulled away into a firm stance.
She started a run but was immediately interrupted. A voice cracked around the hall, artificially transmitted through some form of technology she didn’t understand, but then, that wasn’t new at all.
“We are under attack. You listenin’? We’re under attack! Grab your weapons! Trigger your safe rooms if you gottem! Trigger your ambushes if you gottem! If these anarchic losers think they’re getting pulling this off, they got another thing coming! I’m turning on our security!”
“YEAH!” Came the voice from a room two doors down the hall. Both the Hunter and the Circus Freak looked in that direction. Then they traded glances. Then they ran, the Circus Freak starting to laugh.
They ran into the room, finding all of five people were in there, one of them just then removing a mask that would be protecting him from a blowtorch or some kind of the same thing. Zaniyah used a blowgun on the farthest of them, running towards the nearest. Circus Freak ran to do his thing.
She stepped into range of the woman while drawing a dagger from her waist, she grabbed her gun arm to keep it from twisting to get a good shot, and sliced open the woman’s belly. Not gruesomely but as deeply as her swift swipe allowed for. She pushed the body onto the other member but one of the guys the Circus Freak had gone after had focused her instead. A bolt was shot at her from some kind of experimental-looking crossbow, which she avoided successfully if not for the shallow cut it got across her cheek.
Zaniyah rolled aside, jumped and front-rolled into a double-kick at the legs of the man who pushed the body of the woman aside while taking a shot, missed, at her. His body fell on top of her and not only took a blade to the chest but a bolt to the head as she hid hers behind his.
The Circus Freak then finally took the man down.
She got up and scratched her cheek, recognizing a new scar, though maybe not a very visible one.
“Why’d he target you?!” The Circus Freak kicked the crossbowman’s head. “That’s so annoying!”
The Hunter motioned him to follow while already reloading her blowgun. That room had paper, however, which she laced around the flesh wound that was on her arm. Her body was becoming a mess of patches and wounds, it was embarrassing how the Circus Freak was seemingly and completely unscathed.
Left arm excluded.
As they jogged out of the room and along the corridor, the clown couldn’t keep the silence.
“I knew those LBA idiots were stupid, but they’re really trying to help the beasts, huh? It’s not just for show.”
Her feelings on the matter were far more murderous than his, seeing as they had kidnapped Mother Superior, thus succeeding in keeping most of her own guild busy with her rescue. Most of. Not her.
She was on a mission to save the world. She was also hoping Thunuk was doing alright.
Worrying about Thunuk was, without a doubt, the last thing she ever expected to do. Those worrying thoughts went away once they caught sight of a couple more members of the Tech Guild, leading a dozen more.
They retreated under a spray of bullets and yelling. Fortunately, the doors were made of iron, few as they were. They went inside one and closed the door, locking it. They fired a few bullets into it, cursed, and then started blow-torching the lock.
There were a few tables and closets that weren’t nailed down, Zaniyah and the Circus Freak piled those in front of the car.
“YOU DON’T PUT UP A FIGHT, WE DON’T PUT YOU UNDER GROUND!”
“You mean you’ll give us a proper burial? That’s mighty nice of you!”
“What?” The voice yelled out, over the blowtorching and the alarms, “no, we won’t! We’ll feed our furnace with your bodies!”
“How is that putting us underground, then? I really feel I can’t trust you like this, Jim.”
“WHO THE BALLS IS JIM?!”
The broadcasted voice emerged again.
“Just received a report that the Shadow Conclave has returned to the building, and so soon, too.” It was important to note the voice did not belong to Griff. That was odd. “No more hostages. No more friendly tech nerds. I want these LBA scum ended and I want those obsolete agents from Shadow Conclave to have their suicide fulfilled.”
“D’YOU HEAR THAT? THIS IS THE END FOR YOU!”
“You’ll bury us, though? Put us underground, right?”
“THAT WAS JUST A METAPHOR YOU—YOU JUST WAIT!”
He looked at the Hunter and grinned happily, placing himself right in front of the door, the lock already melted. They were forcing it open.
Zaniyah moved a bit to the side, got out her blowgun and placed it on her lips.
And took yet another breath.