The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 16

I was asleep when the assassin entered my room. Sound asleep. I had to be. The monitoring spells my jailers had cast on me gave the assassin the perfect tool to determine when to strike.

In a military brig, asleep, and chained to a cot. Its not a great way to begin a fight. I did have certain advantages though, the biggest one being that I wasn’t alone.

“Wake. Now.” Fari commanded and dropped a spark of the stolen anima she held for me into my mind. The anima had been taken from the wardens and inmates of the Deep Run Facility. It carried their feelings as well as their power. A single drop of it was enough to launch me back to full wakefulness in less than in a second. Fari dumped images into my mind, warning me of the danger I faced, while the feelings of the dead sent a river of fear running down my spine and filled my lungs with the fires of their rage.

The assassin slid in through the door as I sat upright. He carried a small case with toxic contents inside and wore the standard uniform of Hellsreach’s local army.

The quiet one, I thought. The one sent to kill me without raising a fuss. That confirmed my guess that Red Robes wasn’t in direct control of the Hellsreach military. He had agents in place (and was probably an agent of a higher power himself) but he couldn’t order the army to kill me. That would have been the most expedient and reliable method of getting rid of me. That he didn’t opted for it was a good sign that I’d found one of limits of his power.

The choice to wait till I was asleep and the guards were changing shifts revealed a limit of Red Robe’s power but it didn’t mean the assassin was acting alone. Even if Red Robes could only act through hidden agents, I was sure Mr. Stealthy would have backup nearby. Backup that would be a whole lot louder in case the quiet approach didn’t work out.

The assassin saw that I was awake just in time for me to place where he was in the dimly lit room. Our eyes met and I felt my lips pull back in a hungry grin. There was a single moment, the tiniest fraction of a heartbeat where we both knew that the game had changed. In the holo-vids, we would have nodded to each other, or performed some other form of symbolic salute. This was a serious fight though and in serious fights its the one who resorts to violence first and hardest who has the advantage.

“Gotcha.” I said.

He broke the moment by reaching for his dagger. I broke it by hitting him with the cot.

It wasn’t much of a cot, just a few pieces of wood nailed together. The downside to that was that it didn’t have much heft as a weapon. The upside was that I was able to shatter it to pieces when I clobbered him with it.

The problem with chaining someone to a piece of furniture is that if they can break the furniture in question (which, admittedly most people can’t) you’ve effectively given then a set of chain whips to use as weapons. Again, this isn’t a problem with most people. Chains aren’t easy to fight with. Master Hanq had taught me how to work with a lot of improvised weapons though.

The assassin recovered from the wood shattering blow I’d hit him with and came at me with his knife. I parried the strike by catching the blade of the knife in one of the links of chain. I twisted, hoping to bind his arm, but he let go and stabbed at me with another blade.

I pivoted to the side and avoided the blow. He drew back and stabbed again but I caught his wrist before he could puncture me.

We struggled to the right and then back to the left. Each of us wanted the other off balance. In his case, he thought he could overpower me through sheer force. That would have worked poorly for him if I hadn’t needed to keep him alive. As it was, I couldn’t drain the magic out of him without risking that I’d kill him in the process and I needed him to be able to answer questions on who had sent him. I knew Red Robes hadn’t sent him in person, but any link in the chain that lead back to him would be a step forward for me.

I couldn’t drain the assassin, and out muscling him would tip my hand to Red Robes  in other ways, so I chose to break my attacker’s leg instead.

He was so focused on forcing the dagger into my neck that he failed to pay attention when I shifted my weight back and then forward into a snap kick that caught him on the inner side of his knee.

Joints are tougher than they appear, but if you hit them hard enough they fail in all kinds of unpleasant ways.

The assassin tumbled to the ground with a muffled shriek of pain. The fight wasn’t out of him yet though. I saw electricity crackle between the fingertips of his free hand. I spun and smashed his hand with my chains. Bones shattered but not before he’d gathered enough power to jolt me so hard I thought my skeleton was going to glow.

The electricity sent me flying back into the wall of my cell. I hit it so hard I cracked the stone. Only the shield I’d thrown up at the last second saved me from being splattered like a bug. As it was, the shield faded less than a second after I cast it, the energy in it spent protecting me from the impact and the worst of the lightning attack.

The assassin didn’t give me a chance to recover. Lightning flew from his ruined hand and locked my muscles rigid.

If he could have kept me like that, I would have been in trouble but throwing energy attacks takes a lot of power and with an injured hand his control was sloppy and unfocused. I endured the attack, siphoning off the worst of it and using the excess energy to repair the damage I was taking.

It wasn’t the best strategy in the world, but I felt like I needed to start feeding Red Robes misinformation about my capabilities. I needed him to make mistakes that I could exploit and sometimes you have to manufacture those.

The lightning attack faded away and I saw the assassin rise to his feet. Around his broken leg ran visible band of Physical anima that were acting as both a cast and a spare limb.

I let him take a step forward and then whipped one of my chains around his good leg. He’d raised an anima shield for protection so the chain didn’t injure him but it did distract him just as I’d hoped.

The moment he glanced down at his good knee to verify that it was still okay, I shot forward and upwards, driving an uppercut into the base of his jaw.

Anima shields are great at preventing or reducing damage. They had limits though, based on the strength of the caster. They also had limits in the face of Void anima. With my unarmed attacks I was able to channel a sheath of Void anima around my first. That let me tear through most anima shields like they weren’t there. That’s what happened with the assassin’s shield. Then my fist and the Physical anima behind it impacted his jaw and knocked him up into the ceiling of the room.

He hit the ground with a wordless thud.

I went to reach down and check that he was unconscious when the sensation danger plunged through me like an ice knife.

It wasn’t from the assassin though. It was from his partner.

I could tell from the scale of the cold that whatever the partner’s attack was I had to get out of the cell I was in. The door was open, but that would only lead me deeper into the building.

In the last moment I had available, I opted for another route. Picking up the assassin’s body, I leapt at the wall and hit it with a stone shattering blow.

The assassin and I tumbled out of the third floor of the building the army had put me in. We’d fallen no more than five feet when the level we were on exploded.

I hit the ground and rolled but lost the assassin in the process. He would up in a tangled heap about five paces away from me on the green grass of the parade ground where we’d landed.

I saw another attack, a rocket blasting forward on a tail of fire. It slammed into the building and destroyed the floor below where I’d been held. I was in motion, racing towards the source of the rocket fire when a third attack blasted into the floor above the one I’d been on and the building let loose and collapsed with a roar.

I still wasn’t used to using my anima for anything but fighting or sneaking around, but my need to catch the rocket shooter was strong enough that I found myself leaping onto the nearest rooftop instinctively.

The shooter, unlike the assassin, was dressed in a full set of heavy armor. He’d been the one Red Robes had contacted as the assassin’s backup. The one that Red Robes trusted to make the call for when to blow their cover and take me out using any means at all. Red Robes trusted the shooter and that meant I had to capture him.

Or her.

As I landed on the rooftop, I got my first good look at the rocket shooter.  She was tall, my height, and solidly built. I’d trained for speed, power and endurance. It’s a tough combination since each works against the others to some extent. The shooter had picked a simpler path. She’d focused on power.

The rocket cannon she carried was one that she fueled herself. The enchanted heavy armor helped with that but I was still impressed.

I was more impressed when she disappeared entirely on me. Impressed and puzzled. It seemed odd that someone who was willing and capable of destroying a building wouldn’t be committed enough to see the fight through to its end.

That’s when my danger sense flared again.

I dove off the roof of the building I was on and wrapped myself in a cloak of darkness as I fell. A second later the top of the building I’d been standing on exploded in flames.

She hadn’t fled, she’d just moved to a better firing location.

Her blast had given away where she’d moved to, but I was sure she was still in motion. I raced for the spot anyways, hoping to catch sight of her.

Climbing a building was easier than it had been before I could use my Physical anima. I’d always been strong, but when your body weight is a small fraction of the weight you can lift, you can move in some incredible ways.

All that did me no good whatsoever though. The building the shoot had been fired from was empty when I reached the top. I looked around and couldn’t find her, but I knew how to make her reappear.

All I had to do was drop my invisibility and let her take a shot at me. From what I could see though, she was able to move as quickly as I could and if we played hide-and-seek-rocket-tag for too many rounds, she’d inevitably win one of them. Not to mention the damage the base would sustain in the process.

I needed her though. I needed to know where to look for Red Robes next.

I was desperate enough to try dropping my invisibility when Fari spoke up and saved me from making a terrible mistake.

“I’ve found out who she is.” my friend said on our mental link.

“How?” I asked. She’d been wearing full armor. I hadn’t gotten a look at her face or any other identifying characteristics.  Or so I thought.

“Base records. She has to be one of the soldiers stationed here right?” Fari said. “I cross referenced the female soldiers who are here and matched that to the height and weight data you saw. That only left three candidates who it could be and two of them are asleep in the barracks. Or they were until about a minute ago. Also, there is a suit of enchanted heavy armor that is not officially checked out but is missing from storage. It’s synced to one, Heladran Mulwin, also known as the last remaining candidate.”

“Can we follow her?” I asked.

“We don’t have to.” Fari said. “She’s a reserve soldier. She was called up as part of the ‘extra security’ for the peace conference. Most of her belongings are back at her home though, which was also listed in her personnel file.”

“So if we can beat her back there…” I said, relishing the idea as the gears started to spin in my head.

“Then we may be walking into a trap.” Fari warned me. “These records could have been tampered with before I got to them.”

“That sounds perfect!” I said and began to scheme terrible schemes.

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