They had emerged into a hallway almost indistinguishable from the one that they had been in outside of Larry’s bedroom, only lit by the same dim, red light. Power was out everywhere.
‘Johnson,’ said one of the guards, ‘What happened in there? What are we dealing with?’
Even through the daze that the entrance hall had left him in, Larry felt angry reprimands blossom in his chest. Before he could scold the man for not acknowledging his presence, Johnson seized control, speaking quickly.
‘Ongoing attack. Two entities, maybe more. We’re getting the boss to the helipad.’ Johnson spoke without so much as breaking his stride. The men understood instantly, keeping in step with the pair.
Larry pulled a little closer to Johnson, lowering his voice so that the men around them couldn’t hear. ‘There were two of those bastards, Johnson. What the fuck is happening?’
‘I don’t know!’ muttered Johnson, his voice ragged and lacking the tone of command that he had used on the men, ‘The important thing now is to get you to the helipad.’
The corridors in Larry’s mansion were built like the veins of a leaf, branching out from the entrance hall. Other than the grand staircase, there weren’t actually many points where someone could cross between floors. The closest to where they were, now that the grand staircase had been destroyed, was the library.
Somewhere in the attack, Larry had lost his slipper, making his footsteps uneven. His dressing gown was soaked with ice cold water and clung to his skin. Larry was actually a little relieved at how angry it was making him. It helped pull him a little from the daze.
They emerged through another door and into the library. After the grandiose scale of the entrance hall, the library seemed tiny. Though smaller than the mansion suggested, it was still large enough to span two floors, and comfortably accommodate the five men. A spiral staircase connected their floor to a walkway that circled above them. The walls were lined books, their spines showing a range of topics, from encyclopaedias, to books on business, to books on occult knowledge.
‘Be on the alert,’ said Johnson, ‘We don’t know how many entities we’re dealing with or what they can do.’
The men readied their sub-machine guns, then formed up around Larry, covering him from all angles, though they had to awkwardly abandon those positions as they climbed the spiral staircase.
They had reached the upper level, and begun making their way to another side door, when they heard a small noise from behind it. It was a cough.
They all froze, and the guards pointed their guns at the entrance way.
Johnson paused for a moment before speaking, ‘Identify yourself,’ he called out to the door.
There was a pause.
‘Hey, Johnson, it’s me,’ said a voice from beyond the door, ‘Don’t shoot, okay.’
The door opened slowly, and three men walked through. The man that had spoken was one of two guards.
The third man was different. He had long black hair that draped around his shoulders, and a helmet that covered the upper half of his head with no discernible eye-holes. His outfit was strange, a mixture of black, armoured plates of some unknown material and silver metal cords, that almost looked like they were emerging from his skin.
‘Cutter!’ barked Larry, looking at the man in the helmet, more relieved than he was letting on, ‘Where the fuck have you been?’
Cutter didn’t respond. In fact he barely seemed to react at all.
‘Cutter’s a little shaken, sir,’ said one of the other guards, ‘He was in the basement when the attack took place.’
Johnson, had lowered his gun a little, but ever since he had heard their voices through the door he’d seemed suspicious.
‘Cutter,’ he said again, ‘What happened?’
Cutter was silent. His mouth was the only part of his face that was visible, and it just hung slightly open. It looked like he was asleep on his feet.
‘It’s like I said, sir, he’s really shaken up,’ said the guard who’d spoken before, a tall blonde man with bags under his eyes, ‘He’s really shaken up. He won’t say anything,’ the blonde man smiled, seemingly not realising his repetition. Now that Larry was looking for it, there did seem to be something of a dreamy quality to the way that he moved and looked at them too. After a pause, he continued, ‘We managed to get up the grand staircase just after that storm-thing hit the entrance hall.’
Johnson’s hand was still clenched onto his gun.
‘We’ve just been from the entrance hall. It destroyed the staircase. How did you beat us here?’
There was a moment of silence. The blonde man stared confusedly for a moment, then swayed slightly. After that, all three of the men went for their weapons.
Johnson brought his gun up and fired a brief burst into the side of the blonde man. He barely seemed to notice.
The other guard brought up his machine gun, and fired a burst straight through the head of the guard to Larry’s right. The man crumpled instantly.
‘False flag!’ barked Johnson as he fired, ‘It’s a trap!’
The hesitation vanished from the guards around him and they opened fire. None of their bullets found their mark though.
Cutter’s weapons weren’t guns. He had drawn two razor-thin short swords from him back and was weaving an intricate dance before him. Each blade was intercepting and deflecting the bullets as they were fired. Skittering noises and sparks exploded from their edges as he advanced towards them.
Larry and the remaining guards hunkered behind bookshelves, continuously firing to keep the attackers on the defensive.
It wasn’t working. Although Cutter was slow given the effort he was expending, calculating where to put the blades to intercept the bullets, he was still advancing. The other two guards shooting around either side of him were keeping them pinned where they were.
Larry was bundled down in the corner of a bookshelf, Johnson practically lying on top of him and the other two pressed close. His nostrils were filled with sweat and the artificial smell of the guard’s uniforms. His ears were ringing with the clatter of gunfire and the continuous skittering of the blades. His face was being pressed down into the corner, so all that he saw was chipped gold paint and the wood underneath.
He felt a bullet whistle close by, and felt one of the guards tense. Heard him shout out in pain. Larry couldn’t see how the firefight was going, but it didn’t sound good. The skittering was getting closer.
Larry was not afraid of dying. The thought never really occurred to him that he might die. But he did feel a mounting tension rising in his gut that translated into anger.
There was a particularly loud metallic skitter, and another of the guards tensed and then went limp. It was just Johnson now.
Larry’s anger peaked.’I’ll do it my fucking self!’ he shouted as best as he could into the wall.
Twisted on his side, he brought his hand back and placed it palm down on the bookshelf.
‘Movere!’ he shouted, and brought his hand around.
The words vibrated once more in that strange, echoing tone, and several things happened at once. The bookshelf exploded outwards from the wall with a violent jerk, its momentum forcing it through the railing on this floor of the library, and through the three men coming towards them. The skittering noise abruptly stopped. Larry’s arm bent oddly as he moved the bookcase, and there was a dull snap followed immediately by Larry’s scream. Books scattered everywhere and there was a dull thud as the bookshelf hit the floor.
There was an comparative quiet after the explosive gunfight. Only the fluttering of loosened paper settling to the ground.
Johnson stood up slowly. His cheek had been badly grazed by the bookshelf as it flew off the wall, but he was otherwise uninjured. He peered over the ruined railing, his gun still up before turning back to Larry.
‘Shit!’ Larry said between gritted teeth, ‘Fuck! Broke my bastard arm with that spell!’
‘You got all three,’ said Johnson, a little dazed. He turned back, ‘We need to keep going.’
‘If you fucks had done your job,’ said Larry as he rose, cradling his arm, ‘I wouldn’t have had to do that!’
Johnson helped Larry upright, then checked on the other guards. Two of them were dead, the third was injured.
‘There’s a first aid kit on the helicopter. We can get him there,’ said Johnson, as much to the man bleeding on the ground as to Larry.
Biting back anger, Larry said, ‘Bring him, then.’
The three shuffled as fast as they could. The guard, who’s name was Adams, was being supported by Johnson, while Larry still walked a little behind the pair. As they left the library, Larry looked down and saw the bookshelf sprawled out on the lower floor. Cutter’s arm stuck out from the side of it in a way that was almost funny, like a cartoon. The arm was still moving, mindlessly reaching for the sword that had fallen outside the range of his fingers. Larry was unsettled, but quickly pushed the thoughts away.
They moved slowly through back passages and stairways that Larry barely knew existed. These passages weren’t designed for guests, weren’t even really designed for him. Instead they had been created for the countless maids, guards, and other hired help that the mansion supported. As such, they were far more utilitarian than opulent, but still bathed in the dim red light.
‘Did you see that?’ said Adams, ‘They didn’t even hesitate. Just as soon as they realised we knew, pow! They started firing.’
Larry was unsure whether Adams was not truly in pain, or whether he was just in shock.
‘Why would they do that, Johnson?’ continued Adams, ‘Why would Cutter and the others turn on us?’
Johnson didn’t respond. His face could have been carved into a cliff-face if it wasn’t from the rivulets of sweat running down it.
It was slow going with Adams’ injury. The bullet had gone through his left thigh. It hadn’t hit bone or a major artery, but it was bleeding continuously. Larry’s right arm was likewise near useless. It wasn’t a bad break, but every step brought fresh twinges of agony. He inwardly cursed his mages for not providing any healing magic.
As they walked, they heard dim sounds of battle. The house creaked and groaned, and they felt the ground shake beneath them every now and then with a dull thud. Sometimes gunfire would clatter, and sometimes people would shout orders.
‘Around this corner,’ said Johnson, ‘And then up the stairs, then we’re-‘
The lights went out and they were plunged into absolute darkness.