The plan was turn the loyalty of one of PrimaLux’s senior staff members against them and from there bring the whole corporate house of cards tumbling down. Claudia Goodwin, Vice President of R&D for the Central Asian Region, had shown all of the signs of being ready to defect from her overlord’s embrace, but, unfortunately, the plan to turn her was going to fail.
Val suspected that would be the case. She didn’t have Anna’s people skills, or Tam’s data gathering abilities, but something in her gut told her that Prima was not going to let an asset like Claudia Goodwin go regardless of how well crafted Anna’s extraction plan was.
“I see Goodwin leaving her office,” Val said into the dermal mic that fed her earbud.
Anna’s plan had called for them to be wearing live comms for the whole operation. Communication and teamwork, without those they weren’t going to stand a chance. Val’s stomach sank when only silence greeted her update. She knew what it meant.
“I’m afraid your friends can neither hear you, nor help you.”
The woman who spoke had somehow crept up on Val without making the slightest sound or disturbing the air at all. Given the spells Val was wearing like a second skin that meant the other woman was using magic as well.
“That would be your doing I take it?” Val asked, turning casually to face her opponent.
“Oscar’s. He handles tech. I’m more on the personnelle side of the equation.” The woman hadn’t taken a fighting stance. She didn’t need to. She was all casual looseness and long powerful limbs. She stood just distant enough that Val couldn’t launch an attack without allowing plenty of time for a response, and even if she’d been closer there was an electricity in the air around her which suggested an array of unseen defenses which Val could only guess at.
“Before we begin,” Val said. “I’m just curious, did you invite any of the standard security guards to join us?”
“There wasn’t a need,” the woman said, rolling her shoulders as she evaluated Val from head to toe.
“Thank you,” Val said. “We looked them up too and some of them are in pretty tight circumstances. I don’t want to have to put any of them in the hospital once we’re done.”
“That’s cute, but it’s not going to be a problem.”
“I can understand why you’d think so,” Val said. “Misha Collins. Three times national kickboxing champion, two tours of duty in the US Marine Corp before being hand picked by PrimaLux to a staff position on the Executive Security team. You define formidable even without the cloud elemental inside your lung.”
“You have done your homework on us, Ms. Perez,” Misha said with the ghost of a smile. She was taller than Val, and at least thirty pounds heavier. Not insignificant factors in a fight where skill was relatively equal.
“I prefer Val, and I just like to plan for the future,” she said, walking, slow pace by slow pace around the outside of an unseen circle between them.
“I don’t think you do,” Misha said, matching Val’s steps with a languorous pace of her own. “If you looked to the future at all, you wouldn’t have chosen to oppose us. There is no future in that.”
Val scanned their surroundings, taking in everything around them without losing sight of Misha. Vice President Claudia Grace was still a few minutes away from joining them in PrimaLux’s multi-level parking garage. There were some other vehicles still left scattered around the floor they were on but Val knew which one was Claudia’s. She could see it, the entrance to the parking garage, and the exit Claudia would use to leave work normally. The getaway car the plan called for them to use to throw Prima off their trail was obscured behind the the central elevators used by the employees Prima consigned to the less convenient levels of the garage but neither of the cars could leave the garage without driving past the point where Val and Misha were circling each other before their struggle began in earnest.
“I’m surprised you didn’t choose the expedient option and just shoot me,” Val said, returning her focus to Misha.
“In broad daylight?” Misha asked.
“Are you suggesting PrimaLux would have a problem with that?” Val asked.
“Not as such,” Misha admitted. “But there is the point that you are currently bulletproof.”
“You caught that?” Val asked. “I’m impressed. Tam will be disappointed to hear that she left a detectable after mark on the spell.”
“Ms. Le is unlikely to be concerned about anything like that in the future,” Misha said. “Unless she chooses to switch her loyalties, but we both know that’s not going to happen.”
“I notice you’re not trying for a sales pitch with me?” Val said.
“Valentina Perez, also a champion martial artist, medically discharged after an unfortunate accident cut short what looked to be a very promising career in the US Army. Recruited by the Second Chance Club as an associate specializing in physical security,” Misha said. “Those details only hint at the values which drive you, but I feel confident in guessing that there is effectively zero chance you would renounce your friends or your cause.”
“Which leaves us here,” Val said, coming to rest with the parking lot’s outer wall a half dozen feet behind her. They were on the ground floor, because as a Vice President, Claudia Goodwin enjoyed a space of privilege in all things. “You know, under other circumstances, I think I might really enjoy this.”
“I doubt it,” Misha said and stepped forward.
Val matched her step and from there the fight was joined.
Neither went in for a quick kill. The risk involved was too great for either combatant to take when they knew their foe was more than capable of exploiting any available openings.
Instead they tested each other.
And the spells they were carrying.
Misha swung first, her first carrying with it a torrent of air that was powerful enough to blow Val completely off her feet and uproot a small tree that had been planted outside the parking garage.
Val felt an enchantment surge through her veins and watched as her vision fractured into a thousand identical images. Each picture gave her a slightly different perspective on her surroundings and taken together they produced a seemless vision of the world slowed down by a factor of fifty.
She was flying through the air uncontrollably in one fraction of a second and then coiling and righting herself in the next.
Rather than resist the gale force aftershock of Misha’s punch, Val let it throw her feet first into a column on the parking garage’s outer wall. She flexed into the impact, bunching her legs up, as the wind expended the last of its energy pushing her against the support column.
Before gravity had a chance to argue its cases against Val clinging to a wall, she leapt, pushing off the column with the force of a charging bull elephant.
A bull elephant’s force when applied to Val’s far lower mass produced an acceleration which would have had disastrous consequences on her body if spells of stone and iron hadn’t hardened her to survive even far greater rigors than the ones she subjected herself to.
Misha was braced for Val’s return strike, her body flowing away from the force of the blow like water swept away by an invisible tide.
Val flew past Misha, and twisted in mid-air, coming up in a dizzying roll as her vision faded back to normal and time resumed its normal rate of passage.
Misha’s dodge wasn’t solely a defensive maneuver though. She flowed away from Val’s strike and then swirled around to follow Val into her tumbling roll. As Val tried to rise, Misha was there to land a solid hit to the center of Val’s chest.
This time rather than wind, the punch was followed by a thunderbolt.
Lightning lit up Val’s nerves and arced out from her eyes, fingers and toes. She flew into a BMW, shattering the front bumper and smashing in the engine block as bright spots colored her vision.
Misha did not allow her time to catch her breath. She followed the thunderbolt punch up with a leaping blow the cracked open the earth. Val wasn’t there to receive it though. At the last instant she rolled forward, dodging Misha’s punch by inches before shooting up to catch Misha’s chin with a vicious headbutt.
Misha reeled back, her head only still attached to her spine because of the veins of binding spells that were woven into her. They preserved her life but were taxed too close to their limits to mitigate the pain Val inflicted.
Like her opponent, Val didn’t allow Misha a chance to collect her breath. She fired a series of jabs into Misha’s rib as a warm up for a trio of knee strikes and an elbow to Misha’s temple.
If the strikes had been from a normal fighter, they would hospitalized have any normal foe. Val was not a normal fighter. Her blows were hitting with the force of a mid-sized sedan impacting a brick wall at full speed. A normal fighter would have been reduced to jelly by any one of them. Misha, of course, wasn’t a normal fighter either though.
She caught Val’s elbow, locking the arm and threw Val, head over heels out of the parking garage.
Val tumbled through the air, aligning herself just in time to land on both feet and one hand. The force of Misha’s throw carried her further though and Val scrapped along the perfectly tended sod, tearing a furrow into the earth and sending dirt flying in a spray ten feet high.
With the distance between them, both Val and Misha took a second to shake their heads, and recover from the damage they’d sustained before stalking forward to resume their engagement.
They didn’t speak. Neither would give up the advantage of focus and attention like that, but Val did offer Misha a small smile and a nod of respect, which Misha returned. At that moment, there wasn’t anyone else in the world either could have fought who would have given them a challenge and both of them knew it. They also knew that, for as powerful as the spells they wore were, the outcome of the battle wasn’t going to be decided by the mystic might backing them, but by the skill and tenacity they brought the contest.
Misha hurled a disk of raw, glowing energy at Val, an attack of solid magic, but Val shrugged it off effortlessly. Without a context and a form, the mystic attack didn’t have anywhere near the power to overcome the combination of the mystic shields Val carried and the fire of her own determination to see the fight through to its end.
Misha’s attack hadn’t been misguided though. She reached back to throw another disk and instead flashed across the space separating them faster than Val had anticipated. Misha’s fists fell like sledgehammers, battering Val’s face, abdomen, throat, and knees. Before she knew it, Val was hunched over, staring at the ground.
The fight could have ended there but Misha tried a knee strike that Val saw coming. Blocking that bought Val an instant where Misha was off balance which in turn meant it was Misa’s turn to hit the ground.
Val drove Misha’s head into the earth with her knee and then stepped back to kick Misha in the ribs. The kick launched Misha into a tree which split in half and toppled over onto Misha, adding insult to injury.
Val wiped blood from her mouth and offered the fallen Misha a small salute before turning back to the parking garage.
“Anna? Tam? Anyone out there?” she asked as she saw Claudia Goodwin reach her car and unlock the door.
As if on cue, Misha hit her in the back, slamming her into the parking garage’s outer wall.
“They’re not there anymore,” Misha said, pinning Val to the wall. “My team has already taken both of them out of play.”
“The game’s not done yet,” Val said, struggling to break free. Between Misha’s size advantage, and the geometry of the hold she caught Val in though Val’s struggles were useless.
“Yes it is. This is where it ends,” Misha said, a curious sadness in her voice.
Claudia Goodwin climbed into her car as Val watched, and as Val watched, the car exploded. The blast of fire outshone the daylight for a brief moment and then everything in the parking garage was darkness and smoke.
“You could never win against us,” Misha said, her voice hollow and empty. “This was always going to be where you lost. This is the end of your story.”