Thursday, October 4, 2007

Exit Strategy

He started on the fourth floor but by the time Matt brought Zephyr to a stop again, he was at the bottom of the ground floor stairwell. Five seconds after that, his teeth stopped vibrating.

"There has got to be an easier way to do this," he groans, trying to keep the contents of his stomach where they were. He felt dizzy and ill but at least all his bones were intact. Driving down eight landings worth of concrete stairs will do that to a body.

"Seriously, can't you like... fly... or something?"

His motorcycle just roared at him in frustration. The engine wound up and eased down, the spiritual equivalent of, "Whatever."

"No, seriously. You are supposed to be the soul of a griffon, right? So why is it I only ever see you fly when I'm not on you?"

The bike dropped into a low, irritated growl. Matt got the distinct feeling this was something he needed to not push any farther. He was getting tired of reaching these little impasses but right now Zephyr was his ride home. Best not to antagonize living vehicle, especially when one is not carrying cab fare.

"Fine. Let's just get back to Casa de Mercy. Okay?" With that, Matt sent a quick pulse of entropy at the fire door between the stairs and the building's wide open lobby. The black, hissing magic left his hand, convulsed through the air and settled into the metal beyond. The door shuddered, a shadow passed over it and the air grew cold enough for Matt to see his breath.

A moment later, the fire door disappeared in a fall of ferrous powder, rusting away to nothingness in an instant. A thousand years of erosion in the blink of an arcane eye.

Matt grinned to himself. No matter how many times he did, it never got old.

He guided his bike through the ruddy mist of the former door, hopping the jamb and turning sideways onto the lobby tile. From here is was just a half-throttle ride through the main hall to the front doors, both of which were most likely in smouldering pieces all over the foyer. At least, that's how they were when he came into the building. That's what tended to happen when high security met high explosives.

Matt opened up the bike's choke and let Zephyr run a bit. The back columns of the lobby zipped past in a blur. He was doing 40 miles an hour inside an office building. This was so much fun, it should have been illegal.

Oh yeah... it was illegal.

Of course, so was breaking and entering, a couple dozen counts of discharging a firearm in city limits, assault, battery and however many miscellaneous felonies he had performed on the premises thought. In the balance of things, a little reckless driving was the least of his infractions.

Up ahead, approaching very quickly, his last turn before getting out appeared. He reached out, grabbed the corner rail and spun Zephyr in a perfect right angle turn, locking her brakes and downthrotlling to kill his momentum. The end result was him stopped at the opening to the foyer, just forty feet of marble tile between him and the exit.

Forty feet of marble tile and a single figure standing between the ruined doors. Matt stared at the man, trying to make out his features in the darkness of the hall.

Long white hair, streaked through with dove grey, framed a downcast face, the man's features obscured by shadows. He was wearing a floor length coat and tall boots with small silver plates across both toe and heel. Riding gloves covered each hand, disappearing into the long cuffs of his pale shirt. Silver buttons walked the length of his chest, appearing wherever the coat lay open all the down to the argent plate at the front of his polished black leather belt.

"Hey!" Matt called out, gunning his bike and holding down the brake so his wheels spun but he stayed still. "I'm coming through! You might want to get out of the way!"

The man looked up, his eyes hidden behind narrow, almost sagely-looking sunglasses. He stared forward, presumably at Matthew, and slowly shook his head. The man moved to settle his feet in a sentry's stance, arms at his sides. He clearly had no intention of stepping aside.

"Look!" Matt growls slightly, idling Zephyr forward a few feet. "I have had a long night and I intend to go home!" Then, a little quieter but no less exasperated, "I am leaving. NOW. Get out of the way."

Again, there was nothing but a shake of the head from the long white haired figure at the threshold.

"Suit yourself!" Matt took his hand off the brake and let Zephyr rocket forward at full speed. Her back tire squealed, sending a cloud of noise and burned rubber into the air as he raced toward freedom and the front doors. Just before his bike made contact with the fool blocking the exit, there was a sea of white and then motion and sudden pain.

It took a moment for Matt to remember what had happened. Until that clarity returned, he simply laid at the base of one of the lobby pillars, his body protesting the pain of impact and the sheer speed of the man's attack.

Wings. It had been wings. Just as Zephyr was about to made contact between her front wheel and the black coated figure's chest, he had turned sideways and manifested a massive pair of snowy feathered wings. One had caught Matt's motorcycle broadsides and sent her across the room to wreak into a cut stone wall. The other had done much the same to Matthew, slinging him bodily into a column.

Shaking it off as best he could, Matt leaped to his feet, fighting off the wave of vertigo that accompanied the move. He reached into his coat, pulling both pistols from their holsters with a hiss of well-oiled leather. If he was fighting what he thought he was fighting, there would be no time to waste or to aim. He would have to shoot fast, try and take the bastard down before...

...and Matt looked at the front doors to find no one. The man was gone. Matt sighed, correcting himself. Not a man.

And as the shadow from above gave him only a split-second's warning to dodge before a glowing blade of deadly light transected where he was standing, Matt finished the thought. This was not a man at all.

It was an angel.

Matt dodged to the side, avoiding the sword stroke but failing to evade the burst of broken tiles that resulted from the forceful strike and the landing angel hitting the floor where he'd been. Several of them darted around him, one catching his cheek and gouging him deeply. "Ahhh!"

There was no time to dwell on the pain. The celestial assailant was not slowing down and not taking even a moment to recover. From the moment it landed, it was spinning into another attack. Matt barely sidestepped a lunge and ducked a head stroke from the man, distracted by the almost sinuous way his opponent was moving. This was almost a dance for the angel, almost too graceful and ceaseless to be real.

But the painful cut on his face and the sudden sting of the angel's sword tip drawing across his right arm was enough to bring Matt back to reality. As hypnotic as the unearthly figure was, the winged white-haired killer was exactly that - one of Heaven's executioners. He could never let himself forget that. Angels were divine slaughter hounds, the winged pack of the Christian Wild Hunt.

At this distance, which wasn't much, his guns would be useless. He tested that theory by firing off a couple of rounds from each. The ease with which the angel avoided the point blank barrage was almost laughable. Matt tossed the guns and stepped back for a moments breathing room.

Room and space to draw a more appropriate weapon. Closing his hand around empty air, Matthew willed his own angelic sword to appear. Its edge manifested just in time, catching an incoming swing from what was now his very surprised looking foe.

"You have no right to that weapon." The angel's voice was calm and clear, an audible perfection to match his outward one. Unfortunately, the winged warrior wasn't saying anything Matt really wanted to hear. Not again, anyway.

"That's too bad, since I'm keeping it." Now that he had the option to parry, he was back in this fight. Matt intercepted the next attack, catching the angel's sideswing and then deflecting the riposte that followed. The angel was good. Damn good. Good enough to wound him twice more in the next minute. Matt was defending himself adequately but he couldn't keep this up for long.

He parried aside the next head stroke, managing a clumsy attack of his own and getting counterslashed for his trouble. At this rate, he would have to buy a new shirt; the one he was wearing was rapidly becoming tatters and blood stains.

If he was going to walk out of here alive, he was going to have to cheat.

Fortunately, he didn't mind that thought at all. There was a time and a place for nobility. This was life and death; anything was fair game.

Unfortunately, most of his tricks would not work here. Angels were immune to his magic and aside from his sword and fallen guns, he possessed no way to hurt them. He needed a way to get past the angel's guard, though. His opponent was just too damn good. If he couldn't get the celestial to drop his guard, eventually Matt knew he'd make a mistake and get skewered.

Ending his life as another mark on an angel's kill list was not appealing. He considered how to avoid that fate as he and the angel continued to do battle. Their weapons were glowing fiercely, flaring into angry flames every time they met. The fight ranged from the middle of the hall to the far corner of the room past the new-destroyed elevator and back again.

Unfortunately, Matthew's arms were getting tired fast. He'd managed to ward off the seemingly indefatigable angel with only a few scratches and shallow cuts to show for it. However, each minor slash was a bit deeper than the last. If this kept up...

Then the angel got lucky and drove his sword point into Matthew's shoulder. There was a wave of raw, holy agony, a power that had him screaming in pain and nearly unconscious. It was all Matt could do not to look his blade in the sheer agony. He had to get away, had to get this weapon out of him...

...but then his awareness kicked in and he knew instinctively what to do. Instead of pulling the blade out, he decided to keep the blessed thing in him. It hurt like Hell, pun intended, but it also immobilized the angel for a moment.

All Matt needed was that moment. With the angel's sword pinned in his own body, there was a single window of attack open to him. Throwing everything he had into this last strike, Matt turned his blade from a defensive motion to a killing blow. If it missed, there would be no stopping the angel's next attack. He had to make this one count!

The stroke came up between the two of them and connected with the angel's upper chest in a draw cut. Long coat and white shirt both parted under its edge, pale flesh cleaving right behind it. Matt was suddenly awash in an angel's blood, caught for a moment in a spray of blood.

There was enough demon active within Matt now that the touch of an angel's blood was like acid! Matt cursed, howled in pain and whirled away before he could complete the strike. "Damn it!" he spat, turning around as soon as the sudden red pain was gone. His sword was steaming and his warding coat was nearly spent from saving his life...

...and his target was gone. There was a glowing sword of light impaled through his upper shoulder, a trail of blood leading out of the building and a mass of feathers - some of which were fluttering to the ground as he watched.

"Bastard got away..."

Paranoid and gasping from pain, Matt managed to pull the blade out of his body, drag his way to his damaged but not destroyed bike and get out of the accursed building. He was hurt. Badly. He needed a doctor but no hospital would admit him without I.D., especially when the interns started asking awkward questions; some of which had no good answer. He had no I.D., no insurance and his injuries were obviously violence-related. The police would have to get involved and from there things would just get ugly.

Forcing himself not to pass out, Matthew kept his motorcycle on the road and managed to stay conscious... mostly. Right now he needed the only comfort or care he knew of...

Right now he needed Mercy.

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