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A simple job
#11
He drove past Boda Oszkar’s place again.

Viktor Lih’s mouth turned into a firm, upside-down U. The gold tracery of Sage’s lenses was woven into the albino cop’s widened, watery eyes, and his pale eyes were lashed with nearly invisible white hairs. His mouth was nearly invisible behind the plume of sugary dust that rose from the half-eaten doughnuts like a breathing mask.

“Nothing to worry about, sport” Lih said, through a mouthful, echoing what dispatch said, “just routine.”

His voice was soft and small, each muffled word sounding like a rounded stone dropped into a deep pool. He stiffened, staring up at the massive window lights that ran along Boda’s house. Up in the deep blue sky, stars were shining. His lenses auto-tinted.

Lih was scared and jumpy. This far out, shit was likely to happen at any moment: bombardments; robberies; sneak attacks... He did get a feeling every now and then. An abrupt sense of foreboding. Taking notice of his funny feeling, he didn’t know what it meant, but anything could happen, and it might be bad. Goodbye, Lih, nice to have known you… He could call for backup… his partner Dorian might even drive out here. Who knows? Should he be looking after himself, or looking to the greater good?

But, he knew the answer to that. He knew what to do. It would be his duty. Even if he got himself pulped doing it. Still better than Dorian looking down on him.

He sat up, dusting doughnut crumbs from his lap. Lih breathed heavily and rubbed his dry hands together. Then he reached into the thigh pocket of his fatigue pants and fished out a pack of smokes. Cracking the window, he lit one.

Smoking helped with his nervousness. And nothing… just nerves. He wasn’t in any way special. But he knew how hard it could get if the CCD suspected you. Maybe that’s why the captain sent him to check on Boda. To speak to him. Get to the truth. Sound advice. If only Boda didn’t scare Lih. He’d never had the pleasure of meeting the old man, only seen that visual of Boda.

Boda’s face was long-browed and noble. His eyes were hooded; his spade of a nose had a slight hook to it; his cheekbones and the skin of his forehead from brim of his metallic snake-print, giving his leathery skin a jaundiced tinge. Even Lih, for all his youthful enthusiasm, was cowed by Boda’s wary, grizzled eyes. Yes Sir-ee, Boda seemed a hard bastard all right.

Lih exhaled a plume of fragrant smoke. He drove around Boda's in silence, now smoking, watching the house.

Then he smoothed out the crisp front of his uniform jacket, shook out the ashes from his spent cigarette, pulled on his gloves, adjusted the sit of his officer’s cap, and parked his car in front of Boda’s, next to Boda’s car.

He took Boda’s file from his dashboard, reviewed it quickly, and then began to stride purposefully across the driveway towards the vast and vaulted entrance of Boda’s place—looming in the darkness like a gigantic basilica—with its high domed roof painted with beautiful, ridiculous colors. He walked away from both cars down the promenade. To his awe, where the road dropped away to the iron fencing around Boda’s: the two tall spires, carvings, and various windows were arranged in descending curves, like the upper tiers of a great theater. It took a lot of care to maintain a house this size, this expensive. Boda’s house recognized Lih’s approach, and blinked its outside lights on.

Lih stopped in his tracks in that grand, lit entrance. He hoped the old man wasn’t sleeping. Boda didn’t look to be a morning person. He really, really, didn’t.

Wake-y, wake-y.

He raised a gloved hand and knocked on Boda’s door.

“Open up, police!”


He loved this shift, this hour in particular. This early, the city was still eerily empty... The speakers inside his patrol car were playing the same-y soft rock they’d been broadcasting throughout the night, and his car’s holographic screens were scrolling random, soothing texts from various, government-vetted social media channels.

The air inside his car was heavy with the hot smell of baking bread. Down the street from where the police station was an arcade of vendors—a clothing store, blacksmith's, a butcher’s shop, and a bakery. The bakery was the only business up at this hour. Its ovens were running in the back of the store, and the lamps were lit in the windows. In less than an hour, the city’s morning pattern would begin, and the area would be busy with workers walking from their apartments to get to work. The bakery, which did a busy trade every morning in morning buns and their popular dumplings syrnik with fresh farmer’s cheese, was preparing for the morning rush.

He’d knocked on the door of the bakery and got the bleary assistant to sell him some soft, sugar doughnuts, still warm from the ovens. Not jelly filled, but still… Now he sat in the front seat, munching the food throughout his long, long drive to the outer limits of golden ring. There was a slight vibration as his car drove itself.

As the shadow of the steel bridge passed over him, Lih felt a rush of excitement. This was the first time he had been invited to go-it-alone, to check on a larger than life person such as Boda… Oh yes! You see, Lih was a kid, surrounded by grown-up men that he so desperately wanted to impress. Dorian, Sage, Costa—he guessed. The captain himself, certainly. He loved the fact they paid attention to him, took him seriously. Milking it a bit, even. Lih jumped and they listened and things happened… Well, look at it this way, he was a rookie, following more experienced, reliable cops around. As far as they were concerned, he was a boy with some potential to be a man; learn to be one of them.

Lih was just a small part of the force, and a recent part too. He’d join the cops just sixteen months before, but already he was a junior detective, assigned (unofficially) to the domovoi. He knew he had a bright future. One day, it would be him sitting up there counseling his juniors, in that magnificent office, linked to the police systems, commanding the power of many, to fight monsters in the CCD’s name.

To get there, he had to shine. To excel. To do his job in exemplary fashion and be seen to be doing it too. Sure—he could have stayed in and written reports, letting the others take the field work at hand. It had nothing to do with Dorian's missing scientist case, but this routine was important, and suited personal delivery of results. Besides, anybody to do with the cabaret controversy—Jaxen or Boda—tonight brought him to his higher-up’s attention...

“Check on him. Bring him in, if you find anything. Don’t hurt him. If anything happens to Boda, I’ll have your neck. Clear, Lih?”

“Crystal, sir.”

“Get to it!” snapped the Captain.

Lih hurried away. He had no idea what the Captain meant by “anything”, but he’ll find out.

"..."

He blinked. His gaze returned to the flickering screen.

More images of tonight’s cabaret came in, sometimes four or more at a time, overlaying, comparing, transferring data from one to another with a blink of Lih’s eyes, compressing information into the holographic screens that floated around his windshield…

Fantastic. What the hell would it have done to the public morale if such performances were common? Anyway, the CCD had gotten wind of it. The police had been playing on Boda’s rep to stage a few ‘entertainments’ on stage and some of the officials got nervous. The performance got reported, and the next thing Lih knew, he was driving by Boda’s unique styled… house.

Boda’s car was parked in front.

“Oh,” said Lih, deflated. “So he’s home.”

Better drive around one more time.

Viktor Lih, doughnut muncher  Smile
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#12
To Ryker's disappointment, the destruction of the lock did not elicit an emergence. Whomever was inside was either unaware of the disturbance or elected to hide like a coward. Daybreak will not save you, Ryker thought as the power drained away. His arm no longer throbbed. A dull ache, perhaps. A thumb to the line of the cut would surge a fresh bolus of power through his limbs. He did not make such a move. Darkness descended; an absence of light but also the murky world obscuring his damaged eye. The power heightened his senses to the point to somewhat accommodate the disability. He would require a fresh injury to summon its presence again.

His arms were covered in scars: superficial, faint lines of hundreds of cuts. The forearm was the easiest, most accessible place for self-inflicted pain. His hands were required to operate fully. The shoulder usually covered with sleeves. Legs were trapped in the utilitarian clothing of an operator. He learned early on that pain was required to bring the power to control. In prison he picked fights just to let someone land a solid enough blow so he could practice the forms. It became something of an art: allowing enough of a hit to bring the power, but not result in so much damage that he was too disoriented to use it. Self-infliction was under his control. His time. His depth. His intensity.

He was about to draw the knife again when an alert flagged the display of his HUD. One of the hover-drones identified the same vehicle passing twice down the street. Unusual for this time of night, but Ryker did not believe in coincidence. Command ran an analysis on the plates and registration returned CCDPD. 

Ryker's smile went unseen in the dark. He moved quickly. This advantage would only present itself once.

The rifle was disassembled in one swift motion and slung to his back. He pulled his sidearm, made by a special issue armory shop contracted with the highest government agencies. A .45ACP, the custom carry was completely tuned to his hand and otherwise illegal for anyone outside special forces to possess. Not that Ryker's job was concerned with triviality of the law.

Thumb movements controlled the drone's actions across tech-sensored, second-skin gloves. The HUD alerted motion in the active radius around the house. A male figure approached. Front lights flared bright, but the video adjusted appropriately. A uniformed policeman knocked on the door. 

Ryker hurried, stealthily as the shadows creeping from hell, and took a position along the house. The security sysem would already sense motion, and alert the interior of the pending door knock. Ryker's presence would likely go unflagged... for now.

He readied himself at the back door, prepared to slip in the moment the front opened. It was then that he drew the knife, plunged its point into his left forearm, and the power flared hot. Weapon readied, he waited for the right moment.
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#13
[Image: TOP4_JAMESGOLDSTEIN.jpg]
Boda

Boda popped some sleeping pills and crawled into bed. Next thing he knew, the house roused him awake with the appropriate dongs of a door-knock. Groggy and pissed off, he crawled from bed, snatched his robe and checked the video feed. The face of a corpse looked back at him. Pale as one anyway. Either everyone and their goddamn mother thought he needed protection or they were here to arrest him. Nobody had any fucking decency anymore. He was older than dirt. He needed some goddamn sleep! He could go to prison tomorrow.

He stomped downstairs, lights illuminating the hall as he proceeded. He called down, "Hood!", with no idea if the meathead was still there or not.

At the bottom step, he caught a glimpse of the gun's pretty face. His own drawn low and heavy. Sleeping pills dragged shadows under his eyes. He sucked in a rattled breath and looked at the door. "Think it's really police?" he asked.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
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#14
Hood Wrote:The minutes dragged as he waited for whomever these idiots had sent to off an old gay man to come in the back door. A thought that got a brief, mildly amused snort. Coming in the back door. Old gay man. The world was just full of funny little moments like that, if you were willing to pay attention.

And then there was a knock at the front door. Self important, confident, bold. Police. What kind of idiot did they think he was? Well, in their defense, they probably had no idea who he was...but still insulting. And of course, the old man had to up and drag himself out of bed right then to dutifully respond to the local constabulary. Despite the fact that his own government, or some idiot element of it, was almost certainly going to try and have him killed that very night.

He didn't bother looking at the old bastard, his gaze still settled in the direction of the back door; not in his direct line of sight where he sat. Was it really the police? Why the hell would it be...why wouldn't it? A hint of a thoughtful frown, and he glanced towards the front door, which he could see from where he sat. Or at least the entryway. Why would they jimmy the back door, only to come around to the front and just up and knock? They had no way of knowing he was aware of their crude attempts at the back lock; even if they'd set thermals to see him through the walls, he hadn't moved in response to the noise. His pulse hadn't changed, body hadn't warmed up. He'd just sat patiently.

So they wouldn't have changed their tactics, would they? It was a gamble, of course. Most would assume fifty fifty odds; either the back door, or the front. But why not both? Why use a door at all? In his old life, he'd have just rigged the old fuck's car. Or maybe come in and feed him a blade through the heart, if he felt like watching the target die. Of course, in his old life, he'd never have been sent after an old man who insulted the government with some stupid fucking play, either. Big boys and girls weren't so fucking thin-skinned to be offended over something so stupid.

Literal monsters in the sewers. Magic wielding walking bombs in the streets. And they take offense to a fucking play.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'd bet it's a cop at the front door. They probably want to bring you in for questioning, probably laying charges of slander or defamation or entirely reasonable legal response like that. Might let you have a bit of a nap before they hit you with the paperwork though. Fuck you look old without your beauty sleep." He stood then, glancing at Boda with a predatory grin, before walking towards the back of the house.

It would be rather awkward to get locked into a gun battle and kill someone with a cop right there. Especially since he wasn't on a legally sound protection contract at the moment. But merc'ing gangbangers wasn't particularly entertaining, and with the fucking Atharim chasing their own shadows, he wasn't likely to get an interesting challenge for a while. A few weeks of legal rigamaroll would be worth the headache. As long as whoever the fuck they'd sent put up a fight.

And if it were one of those walking bombs, well...they were just as mortal as everyone else. Just had more tricks in their bag. Which tended to make them arrogant and cocky. Although it was a distasteful thought to be off'd by some fucking magic channeling shit-stain on a whim. Well, all the same. Just as mortal as anyone else.
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#15
The front door went unanswered. Boda and the unidentified man remained within their poor fortress. Ryker really hated to take it to brute force, but he couldn’t leave with a failure. The agency already doubted his skill given his injuries. Despite previous demonstrations that he was in full form.

While the pain throbbed, the psyche split within and a boulder of power was formed. He threw it through a nearby window. The glass shattered with impressive noise and dismay. Enough to disorient anyone within.

Same time, he kicked in the door and stormed the fortress, ready to decimate anyone in sight. Bullet or bomb. It was all the same to him.
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#16
It was the dead time before dawn. The wind was swirling around Boda’s place. He felt the movement of air against his face, gusting down the thick, painted walls. He stood for a thoughtful moment, standard-issue cape swept back over one shoulder, his service gun slouched barrel-down across his belly staring into...

Well, he didn’t rightly know what. The big, metal door didn't open. No amount of knocking could persuade it to open; furthermore he didn’t have the energy to shove his way through Boda’s... wide entry.

Lih grasped the door handle, turned it, but couldn’t open it. He held it fast as he leaned down and put his ear to the green painted metal; brushing his white-blonde hair out of the way to do it. For a moment, for a fleeting moment, he heard... Shuffling. Voices. But, nothing: it had just been the wind, and Lih’s imagination. He felt stupid.

“Boda? Boda?” mumbled Lih, trying to sound tough although there was something about Boda that made him feel anything but. “You alright? I’ll help if I can.”

Boda didn't dignify him with a reply.

Lih's gaze was now accusatory as he looked at the door. It was of little good to Lih or his career for Boda to hide from what had happened at the cabaret. Not that Lih was sure what happened, exactly, but he wanted to find out. Either Boda wanted to talk, or he didn’t. Clearly he didn’t. Not unexpected. He and Boda were probably singing from the same hymn sheet, and the hymn was oh, Lord, let’s get this over with as fast as possible.”

Lih turned away. He’d have to poke around. Find another way in. He’d always held that brains won fights better than bombs. Then again, he also believed that when it really came down to it, fighting your balls off never hurt...

You’re a complex man, officer Costa, his partner, his mentor, his friend, had once told him. He’d been sarcastic of course, and they’d both been off their heads on vodka. The memory made Lih smile. He brushed his fringe out of his eyes and made his way, double-time, moving softly as Costa had taught him.

Lih looked around, sliding his flashlight about him gently. The cone of his flashlight beam bobbed and swung. The shadows moved as his light turned. They dribbled and fell away, they altered and bent. The air was cold but dry, not a hint of moisture in it. A pulse began to beat in Lih’s temple.

“Wait… just give him a minute,” whispered Lih; the pulse in his temple still going tap, tap, tap. He could feel his own nerves drawing tight… Why? Why the hell was he feeling so edgy? Nothing got to him, usually. Why’d he got the strongest impression that—

this is going to be trouble

—he was being watched?

To his left, a window. A shadow. Nothing.

To his right. Another shadow. Wait, not a shadow, a tree… Then he snapped around suddenly, his sidearm up hard against his rib bone, aimed. From his position in that doorway, he could have sworn… he could have sworn… someone had been standing there. Right there.

But there was no one. Just a trick of the shadows. Just his racing imagination, reading shapes and forms in the gloom that weren’t actually there.

“Nope,” Lih breathed; amazed at his own foolishness. He couldn’t explain it. Not without sounding so mad Dr. Alex would have him clapped in irons and locked in a padded cell immediately. He faltered, ashamed.

This wasn’t like him. Jumping at shadows? Calm down. Calm all the way down. It’s routine—you’ve done this check a thousand times…This isn’t like you. All over the place, nervy and wound too tight. You’re a copper, for f—’s sake. We’re the best there is.

He ran his gloved hand back through his cropped hair. Frowning. He wanted to fight. He wanted to badge himself with the sort of glory that would make the other cops look up to him. Instead, he found most of his days spent on paperwork, filing cases, supervising supply details. He could do that kind of thing well, and people knew it. So he was always the one people asked when such tasks came up. It was as if the high-ups didn’t think about Viktor Lih as an officer. Just a facilitator; an administrator; a desk monkey.

“BOOM!”

Lih snapped out of his reverie as a sudden, almost hot wind surged up. The window to his left erupted like a small volcano. There was a chilling sound from above him. A sound that swooped from high pitch to low. The output of a powerful force ripped into the window and a rash of pressurized flame blew out the glass panels. A sound that shook the ground and clouds of smoke and debris burst out of the window.

Something happened to the sky, accompanied by sounds so loud they shook him. The spraying sky, the shaking ground, the house suddenly exchanged places and he fell back with a shriek.

Back! Back! Get clear!

Lih dove into the shadows and nearest tree cover. He threw himself desperately at the ground. He felt his wallet break under his chest and put his arms round the base of the tree, his heart thundering, his eyes closed.

When he looked again, he looked around, blinking. Smoke wreathed the air… it was murder on his watery eyes. Night vision refused to settle in.

“Oh, god no!” Lih gasped, his warm exhalation becoming vapor. He’d lost Sage’s lens. He cowered in terror at the seething, malign fury of the explosion above him. Signals from his earplugs went berserk in whirs of interference and swarms of static. He wrenched the earplugs out, wincing. Wild static charge filled the air, cracking off his weapon, making hair stand on end. Nothing but static. No getting help now.

Lih looked around for a sniper, a gunman in the shadows, but there was no sign of the attacker. Light! Boda. Had he done this? No. A seriously big, powerful weapon had taken this window out. It had blown out the shutter and bricks underneath. He looked up at the twisted metal and toothy stubs of glass in the frame and it took him a minute to get his breathing down.

Spitting out soil, Lih had risen. He swayed for a second, winded. His left arm hurt. His flashlight was jutted butt-end up a few steps away. He ran and pulled it out of the ground, frantically brushing at it, hoping its light worked after the fall.

It worked; light blinked at the haggard, stumbling figure, covered with dirt and grime; no longer pale; with now dark, freckled skin and hair. Even his shockingly white-blonde eyelashes were choked with dust and grit. Good. He’d need to see now, see like a hunting cat in the dark.

Lih pulled out his pistol, almost as an afterthought. He moved forward to get a look in, stepping gingerly over the debris under his boots. Just before the blasted window arches, Lih was peering in. He swore silently.

A large hole, scorched and burned out, the twisted, blackened limbs of fused metal adhering to the sooty walls like stomped spiders. Millions of glass fragments littered the burnt floor. There were seared tufts of carpeting around the wall's edges… his eyes widened.

What did this? Lih couldn’t see it. It troubled him he still didn’t know what took out the window. A round came from the Creator alone knew where, destroyed the window and... Boda's boxed in... He imagined the intruder climbing up; shuffling along the sill; picking his way down empty halls over the glass of the broken window and kindling of shattered furniture… But no. There was no ledge, no leaded rainwater sprouts or gutter trays to climb. Besides, this point of entry was much too narrow.

Lih shuddered. He could have been gashed by the flying shards; screaming as his blood steamed out. He wasn’t interested in history. He was interested in the future. And in being there to enjoy it.

What great purpose this room had once had was no longer important. It was empty. It was clear. That was all that mattered.

He turned and looked back. The wind, leaking through holes and exposed window, whined after him. Above the broken window, tiled roofs, domes and spires rose. No one came through here. Just a distraction. The terrorist had passed him by. The window didn’t matter. Lih didn’t matter.  Only the old man. Boda seemed to be all the enemy cared about. There was some cruel delight to be drawn from the idea of the old man suffering along with Lih; trapped in that house; praying for protection from the almighty hell coming to him.

He moved on; rounding the corner toward the back; crouching low; weapon braced; his flashlight chasing out all corners and the shadows.

He could see a battered, beaten door lay between him and the first floor. Somebody kicked in the back door, complete with frame out across the steps and let it propped upright against the side wall. He pushed the broken door aside. It didn’t budge at first, but then it slumped open. He hastily dropped for cover amid the wreckage. His foot braced against the broken door, Lih looked back once again at the shadows clustered behind him.

“What do you say?” he asked the shadows, “is it a day for heroes?”

He knew what to do: protect Boda. He paused against the sidewall near the exit and called.

“Hey, inside! It’s the police! I’m coming in so don’t hose me with bullets!”

He swung inside.
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#17
Hood Wrote:The window exploded just as he rounded the corner into the kitchen.

A natural reaction would have been to duck back around that corner, to hide from whatever was coming in through that window. But of course, most people didn't enter a house through a window into a space of unknown dimension and layout. Sure, maybe whoever was after the old man had the building's blueprints, but probably not an actual living floor plan. Not enough time to have done that sort of recon.

So the window was a distraction; it's what he would have done, after all. And he still hoped that whoever was coming for that wanna-be playboy's friend was worth the time Hood had taken out of his busy schedule.

So as the window exploded inward, he knew it for a bluff, went for the door as it surged open and someone burst into the kitchen.he dived and rolled deeper into the kitchen, towards the back door and its jimmied lock. As he dove, that door burst open, as he tucked his shoulder and rolled through the rain of falling glass, someone was surging in. As he came up to crouch, his gun was trained. It wasn't often that he got to kill someone in 'self defense' with an actual officer and a witness on the scene to corroborate.

One shot fired; five left in the cylinder, but wet-works shit that whatever ass in the government had sent knew how to storm a room, and the first round grazed just shy of the attacker to slam into the sink, bursting a pipe and causing a spray of water to come jetting out.  Hood sought to close the distance. Incapacitate the man at the door; Hood was a heavily built man, who wasn't one to skip leg day or cardio. He could move fast, and knew how to throw his weight around in close quarters. He would shoulder the attacker against the counter, and in the moment the attacker was off balance, clear the door; barrel aimed out towards the yard, ready to plug whoever was following, if there was anyone else.

But maybe this guy came alone? Maybe he'd be worth the time Hood had taken out of his busy...the water from the sink suddenly changed direction, splashed towards Hood and across the floor between the two of them. He fell forward, dive forward into the spray. A fucking Channeler.

A forward dive, a roll; new plan. Smash into the man's legs, knock him to the floor. He wouldn't be expecting Hood to be able to control his momentum so well, or be so willing to press the attack. Most people would have been confused, would have sought to shield their face, to protect their eyes. Hood just closed them and continued through; he'd charged worse in his time, and a little water (as much as it stung for the added force it was being thrown) wasn't about to stop him.

But the fuck wasn't an idiot either; he cleared the door quickly, a leap forward away from the counter and spray of water, a gun shot that went wide, punched a hole into an expensive looking refrigerator door. Hood came up from his roll with one shoulder pressed to the counter he had sought to smash the fuck into, his back now to the open back door. A risk, but he couldn't take his eyes off the fucking walking bomb. A gamble that whomever had sent the ass figured he could handle an old man alone.

He kept his revolver tucked close to his chest, and as he smashed into the counter, now wet and annoyed, he fired another shot at the assaulter, only to find it punching through a hurled heavy wooden table that came tumbling through the air with an ease that was not possible for something simple flipped by a strong man. Four left in the cylinder. But the aim of the table throw was off; against the counter as he was, the table smashed partly against it, only managing to box Hood in for a moment before he stood, revolver up and over in line with his eyes, seeing the attacker moving for the dining room door; it would lead back around to the front room.

"Dining room! Channeler!" His voice was loud, but calm. No fear, no urgency to it. Stated facts, cast with a disciplined voice; one used to be heard over the roar of war. He smashed the sole of his boot into the flipped table, easily kicking it a few feet across the floor, as he put two more rounds through the wall, into the dining room along the course the assaulter would be taking through the room. Low, hip height.

Then he was moving for the hallway he had first taken into the kitchen, absently wondering what the officer at the front door was likely to do with all the gunshots and noise in the house.
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#18
The shot fired was aimed as warning, leave now, I’m not here for you, was his red-rimmed greeting to whomever waited within.  The flash of motion carried a forward offensive despite the ferocity of his entrance, and Ryker barely missed being shot in return. A surge of anger channeled at the water spraying the side of his body. They both slipped in the torrent. Ryker was forced to divert some much needed attention toward the attacker, of whom barest glimpses revealed a man of impressive fortitude. This was not what he expected.

The flood swept the gunman from his feet, and Ryker barely escaped being tackled. The fucker wouldn’t give up! Goddammit, he really wasn’t in the mood to deal with extra complications. For all the noise, the spray of water, crunch of glass, and ringing of gunfire in their ears, his senses were tuned ahead. A flash of silk and gray streaked toward the door.

Ryker would not allow him to escape. He’d never hear the end of it. Power wrung the table on its end, flinging it at the gunman as he dashed after Boda. Next time he saw someone, no more warnings.
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#19
A small, pale man with too much respect for rifles, Lih cowered in the shelled-out corner of the premises. Here in this patch of hell, the light was harsh and painful to him, and the open air brought sounds of the calamitous battle to him with greater clarity: the overlapping, meaty thump of explosions, the shrill peals of rifle shells, the unexpected sucker-punch of shockwaves, and to top it off, the slithering collapses of masonry.

Holy crap. I am dead. Lih looked around. A rifle shell struck nearby and he winced as a huge hole exploded in the wood beside him.

Quiet night, quiet house was suddenly disrupted by bright, angry flares of enemy activity. He did not see anything especially sinister in the fact that Boda’s attackers had orchestrated a shatteringly well-timed firefight. In many ways, he’d been waiting for it to happen ever since jumping in...

It was just—he’d never heard anything like it. They were like murderous playthings, rolled out of hell’s toy-box, blitzing out devastation wherever the shells bounced. That was it. Boda’s house, and everything and everyone in it, didn’t stand a chance.

His breathing short and panicky, Lih pressed his face into the painted wall. And, while face planted, he realized he had made a bad call. A very bad call. Maybe his thinking was wrong. Maybe he was acting rashly. He should have ran. Just run. Forgotten the attackers. Just bloody run for his life.

He drew his weapon and checked the safety was off—matte-black, heavy, ugly, it was unmistakably an officer's gun. But utterly useless against these attacks. There was precious little a cop like Lih could do that would even annoy attackers like that. He might as well be unarmed for the simple reason a primitive pistol like this wouldn’t even make the attackers sit up and take notice. Outclassed didn’t even begin to cover it.

Bad call. Bad, bad call.

Lih listened for a moment and his face went dark. There was no telling the enemy strength. It took his breath away to feel this attack, near to him, so completely unchecked by fear. When the fighting began, Lih faltered completely and backed away. He hated not being on form, but his own courage and intent seemed to leak away when he became aware of the sheer fury he was witnessing.

Was Boda alive, he wondered? … Boda, fleeing from his devastated home; or, Boda grabbed and dragged up by his captors from his hiding place with bundles of possessions—and the gunmen making ready to leave. If there was a chance of saving Boda, he’d do so in the slim hope of protecting Boda. But if he’s been taken by the attackers, he’s already dead. The sort of monsters who were looking for Boda won’t be interested in doing deals.

It pained Lih to think of Boda right in the thick of it, lost in the whirling, deafening violence of the fight… Alone; in trouble; how desperately scared the old man was… how little combat experience a civilian had— how little Lih himself had. Captain was sending a novice, frightened boy up country to assist a novice, frightened old man.

On top of that, Boda was most likely still very rattled by events of the previous night. That was something at least, Lih mused. It would be the confidence and steadiness of the officers like Lih that would keep Boda safe, together. He knew he was young and all this was new to him, but his department was counting on him, and his loved ones had faith. He'd faced down a rougarou last month and lived to tell the tale. That actually got a flush of pride into Lih’s face.

Just for a moment, Lih reminded himself who and what Boda thought he was: Officer Lih. Viktor Lih. Was he afraid? You bet he was. Was he inexperienced? Absolutely! Did he break and run? Yes! But only in his mind. He ran to friendly places and loved ones, where he could be safe… and then, by the light, he saw what those friendly places and loved ones would become if he did not stand fast, and so he stayed and faced the music—slim, corded with muscle,with a "face like a corpse". That’s how Boda had described him. Corpse-faced.

Another descriptor to note—"scared".

Damn right. He was scared; furthermore he should be scared. Right then, Viktor Lih had gone in alone, but it was worth remembering that peace was forged by men who were afraid, yet who faced down the monsters anyway.

Inspired by his heroes, Lih took off in the direction of the attack. If this day were to be won—and Lih doubted there was a gambler in the whole world who'd predict that outcome in his favor—it had to come another way. Even if that meant acknowledging his fears and facing the most dangerous f'ing bastards in all of Moscow.

Chasing up, with a handkerchief buckled over his face to shut out the searing smoke, he ran faster, as fast as he could… expecting at every step to be incinerated. Now and then, scorched chunks of plaster fell close, so close as to block his route. He felt half cooked, wilted, choked. He couldn’t draw breath properly. The heat from the walls all around was like an oven.

The rolling thunder of the barrage was coming closer. There was no time for further doubt. Lih figured if he moved against the tide, ran toward the attack, he could get around the side of the attackers and perhaps stay alive.

Lih sprinted through the inner door on the far side of the hall, swept down through a whirling haze of black and gray smoke. He kept hopping as shards of debris dug into the leather sole of his boot. Pain flared through his feet, but he bit his lip.

He half-hopped through a tiled gallery where the force of the blast had brought the window and metal blinds in, then on into a larger area before emerging through a set of double doors into…

A secure premise, for now: a metal sink guttered by shells, just an empty water-drenched ruin. There was no sign of Boda.

Between the beat of rifle rounds, close and distant, he heard voices. He came to a halt “f—!” he cursed, and turned back to chase after the voices.

With a terrible shriek of wrenching timber, the entire door frame buckled and collapsed. Lih flew into the air, falling with it into a creeping dark black curtain of smoke approaching like doomsday.

Screaming, Lih gray’d out.

Lih, down
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#20
[Image: TOP4_JAMESGOLDSTEIN.jpg]
Boda


For all a man’s bravado, there were times in life when he was faced with a choice. These diversions in the yellow wood were not conscious paths; the core of a man shaped his decision before he himself even knew to make it. Would Boda flee? Or would he stand and fight? Defend his home and pride?

Fuck no. Boda wasn’t suicidal. At the first explosion, he was throwing open the front door and bolting down the path in nothing but silk pajamas flapping on the wind. The car remained parked on the street exactly where he left it. Maybe that was an odd choice for a man driving a $200,000 ride. Most would lock it away safe in a garage. Not Boda. Not tonight. He had every intention on a quick get-away.

That Hood fellow could have all the fun he wanted in the meantime.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
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