Chapter 9: Shuffle.
Matt sat in the garage on a red stool.
He kicked the wall on every spin, a squeaky ritual that did little to relieve his boredom.
“You going to just sit there all day?” Nicky asked. He was neck deep in paperwork, and had ordered Matt out of the office soon as he walked-in. So Matt sat on the stool, squeaking the day away.
“Probably not,” Matt said. Nicole, and Annabelle had taken the angel out shopping after her shower. Nicole had ordered him to cease ‘helping’ her until later. She was actually a little annoyed with him for pushing it so hard. Well just annoyed with him in general, he guessed.
“Let me rephrase. ‘You spin the chair again, and I have a safe full of artillery in this office. Unlocked.’” A laugh slipped, as Matt jumped off his perch, and walked over to the door.
“Nice take her pistola?” he asked, eyeing the open safe.
“The nine?” Nicky asked. “She’s probably got something bigger in her trunk.”
“That’s my girl,” Matt said. “You need any help?”
“You don’t want to help with this shit, Matt. I’m only doing it because I can’t exactly get under a car like this, but Nice is still giving me hours. You have a bank account?”
“Note from Ursie to add you to payroll,” Nicky said. “Same level as Nice.”
“Morgan’s girl friday,” Nicky said. “She runs the Path well.”
“I know she does, man.”
“Doesn’t try to get herself killed at least,” Nicky added.
“I wasn’t trying for anything, man. I was just protecting our interests.”
“What ‘interests’ could a charity organization have with fighting Chark? We help people, we don’t hurt them.”
“Interests.” Nicky knew of the books, but he doubted Nice had ever given him the full story.
“Dude, we’re not the fucking mafia, we don’t have private interests,” Nicky said. “It was your fucking brother, and some more stupid shit. Like that time you got my fucking sister beat up. All those times. All that fucking worry too.”
“Sorry, man,” Matt said. “I was doing the right thing.”
“No, Matt. You were doing what you wanted.” Nicky said, knocking his coffee cup into the wall. “Always what you wanted, and I was glad you couldn’t hurt her anymore. One last big one, and he’ll stop hurting her, I told myself.”
“I didn’t hurt her, I was the good guy,” Matt said. “We were-.”
“You were fucking around, Matt. Just another joke. You know she spent three months in her room? Just coming out when dad asked? Fired. Quit life, because you wanted to fuck around some more.” Nicky stopped for a moment, moving some of his paperwork out of the puddle of coffee. “You just walk back in, like what? Nothing ever happened? You just disappeared for five years, and it’s like nothing?”
Matt had no reply, so he just stayed quiet a moment. Finally he asked, “You hear from the Witch?”
“Morgan. And no.”
“I’m going to dart down to Corvene, and check it out.” Matt started off, barely turning to say, “I know I’m just a fuckup, but even a fuckup can see something’s not right here.”
Nicky said something, but Matt ignored him.
The mage went out the back, breaking into a run, as he reached the stack of cars. A leap, and he was airborne. All the mornings fog had lifted, so he flew high. Clouds soaked him, and he remembered he had a brand new staff he had barely used, but going back was beyond him right now.
Besides that he could not escape the feeling that time was important. Things were happening.
Nicole heard the click as the power shut off.
“Oh, that’s not good,” Annabelle said. Nicole could barely make her out in the dim light. She was in her human glamour, but Nicole was about a second from asking her to change it. “Not good at all.”
“Emergency lights,” a red vested worker said, shining a flashlight around. “Should kick in-. Ahh, there we go.” Orange for just a second, and even the angel looked relieved. As quick as the lights had come on they faded.
“You feel that, Wings?” Nicole asked the fairy. The tiny tug on her soul told her magic was nearby. Matt was better at sensing it, but she suspected even a few humans were sweating by now. This magic was not like the mage’s own brand of honey. It was bitter, and dark; lost in shadows, and rot.
“Move!” Nicole shoved the angel, diving back herself, as the bat came down between them. “Cinnamon aria tango!”
As soon as the codewords were out Annabelle dropped her glamour, the spell breaking off in shards. Bright red, she glowed with inner light. A gesture, and the air above was filled with fire, creating a halo of light around them. Another, and the assailant screamed, flames chasing across his body.
He held a bat, but the wielder looked like he might be more comfortable with a latte, and a ukulele. Well right now, he looked like he might be more comfortable not on fire, and screaming on a store floor.
“Can we put him out” Sari asked, panic in her voice.
“Oh.” The fairy snapped, and the fires were gone.
Nicole thought he was dead, he was still so long, but after a minute he groaned slowly shifting to his feet. Still smoking he raised the baseball bat.
“Fuck,” Nicole said. “Wings?”
She lit him back up. His screams did not quite cover the shriek, as a blonde woman grabbed the angel from behind. Nicole moved to help, but the angel popped her wings, shirt ripping. A crunch of packaging, as the blond hit the wall somewhere in the darkness. A strong arm grabbed the leprechauns, the red-vested stocker, and she struck. Two punches, and he was laying in a stack of toys he had been shelving.
“They’re zombies,” Annabelle said, throwing a few fire trails to keep those still in shadow at bay. Nicole had drawn her gun, keeping it aimed at the ground. The blond was at the end of the aisle, half-hiding behind a shelf. Nicole could hear the woman’s low growls, as she pulled the angel to her, wrapping Matt’s coat around the girl’s shoulders.
“Yeah, shit’s gotten real,” Nicole said. She wished she had stuck her battle axe in Matt’s dumb magic pocket, but she had never been successful in returning an item from it yet. “Okay, S, you’re between me an’ Wings. Start moving for the door.”
The angels eyes glowed golden, bright as Matt’s magic, for just a moment, and then she said, “They’re gathered at the front. A lot. This way.”
She started for the back, and Annabelle nodded following. Nicole wanted to ask questions, but with the movements around the edges of the fairy light, argument about direction felt a bit meaningless.
Annabelle’s wings were wrapped, but she was hopping every few feet, like she was desperate to take flight. Sari led them into the back of the story. A door covered in ‘Emergency Use Only’ signs sat at the end of the hall. The other girls stopped in front of it, but Nicole just gave it a hard kick.
“Just go,” she said, pushing the other two into the sunlight.
Two figures waited outside for them, one of them making a grab for Annabelle. The fairy punched badly, going way off balance, but the power behind the punch left the man crumpled into a wall.
“Shit, Annabelle,” Nicole said. “Nice one.” The other one watched them, it’s eyes focused on the angel.
“Stay back, drooly,” Annabelle said. She grabbed the angel’s arm, shoving her backwards at Nicole. The fairy started backing up, and Nicole took the front, gun aimed at the dead eyed woman.
With a roar she charged forward, Nicole pulled the trigger twice. Two small holes appeared in the front of the woman’s calf, and red mist exploded out the back. The shots echoed into the woods behind them. The woman barely made a noise, just lay on the ground, hungry eyes still caught on Sari.
“Car’s out of bounds,” Nicole said, as they had parked at the front. “I’ll call Nicky.”
“I got it,” Annabelle said. Two men appeared at the front, and Nicole pulled the angel to the side. “Cut through the woods?”
“Do we know where they lead?” Sari asked. A dozen people poured out of the doors they had just exited.
“Not our first rodeo, sweetheart,” Nicole said. “Although first time for living zombies in a SuperStore, but, eh, things happen.”
They were almost running as they slipped into the trees. Nicole would prefer to be small for this, she would move slower, but she would be harder to find in undergrowth. Annabelle could probably be home in a half-hours quick flight, if she could see where she was going properly.
Letting the angel out of their sight was not an option right now though. Those things were after her.