He went over the plan in his head one last time.
It was a fairly straightforward assault. No fancy tactics or areas to exploit. Their target had chosen the area well.
Maybe too well, he thought unhappily, staring at the squat stone building that their quarry had holed up in. No buildings touching it, and at least ten feet of space on all sides. He and his men would be seen coming no matter which direction they came from. The roof was covered with pressure sensors according to his intelligence, and Kincaid knew there would be other, more deadly and decidedly less detectable threats up there as well.
That’s what came with the business of mage-hunting. Only another magic user could pick up any spells or wards that had been cast on the building, and Kincaid didn’t have one of those available to him.
“Are we going to go in now?”
He tried not to growl in frustration as the man next to him spoke.
“When I’m ready, Kvoss, and not a moment before,” he snapped.
His Queen had seen fit to send him the Assassin. While this was his specialty, Kincaid couldn’t help but be pissed. He and Kvoss had never liked each other, even before Kincaid had left for Europe nearly a decade ago. It had been quite nice not to have to deal with the irritating jerk.
My Queen, you have an odd sense of humor.
Shoving his personal feelings aside, he racked the slide back on his specially-made pistol, loading one of the depleted uranium bullets into the chamber while sliding the safety off at the same time. There was no point in delaying any longer.
The rogue mage, one Samuel Girard, was pinned down in the building. Just like Kincaid and his men had no back door or sewers with which they could access the building unseen, neither did their target have any such ways he could escape. It was going to be a straight up showdown, and he had every confidence his men would win out, despite the mage’s strength and spells.
“If you would do the honors,” he said with false sincerity, gesturing for Kvoss to lead the way.
The Assassin, his title as well as his job, smiled and rose from where they crouched at the lip of the building across the street. He muttered a few words, pulling an object from his pouch, and waving it in three circles above his head before slamming it down into the roof with a crack. The sound was visible, a tiny golden ring that spread out from the rod the assassin was holding.
As it went, blackness thicker than the night around them followed. It blanketed noise, and most importantly, would obscure from the nearby residents the sounds and sights of the battle about to come.
Sometimes, I do love magic, Kincaid thought. It really was useful. As long as it doesn’t fall into the hands of the wrong person.
In the modern world, most humans had no idea magic existed. Even fewer still had any idea of the pain that had been inflicted upon the world by magic users who had run wild, or simply lost control.
What would historians think if they found out that much of Attila’s hordes were made up of the undead, I wonder?
“Ready?” Kvoss asked, an eager grin on his face.
“Just do it.”
The man nodded and flicked the rod into the air above the building, sending a ball of green light shooting across it, the signal to attack.
Kincaid was over the edge of the building without hesitation. He might head up all of High House Ursa’s operations in the European theatre, but that didn’t mean he was a desk jockey. Kincaid led from the front, and tonight would be no different.
A swirling beam of red light lanced out from the building, and he threw himself to the side, his pistol tracking the origin—a small, recessed window—and sending rounds flinging into it even as he rolled.
Around him, his operatives erupted from their hiding spots and charged for the inconspicuous house. They came up over cars, out from around street corners, and one even erupted from the sewer in the middle of the street. They had been in hiding for nearly two hours now, waiting for the opportune time to attack, when the fewest possible witnesses would be about.
In the twenty-first century, they had to work much harder to keep their secrets than they had in the past—even with the aid of magic, something humanity as a whole had relegated to their books and movies.
If only they knew the truth of the world they inhabit, he thought with a snort, coming to his feet and firing as he ran. Around him, others were doing the same, targeting the tiny windows, doing their best to ensure Girard couldn’t get any more shots off.
“Anything?” he asked Kvoss as the master assassin landed next to him.
Kvoss was the only magic user in their midst. Not a mage, he had no magic inherent to him, but he was trained in the use of certain artifacts such as the silencer he’d put up over the area.
His other main use was to rip down the wards around the building so that Kincaid and his men could storm inside. To do that, however, the men of House Ursa would have to get him right up to the door.
Yet again he grit his teeth, frustrated at the lack of their own mage. Of course, there was no way the man was coming, mostly because he was dead, killed in the uprising that had split the House two weeks earlier. They were still recovering from that, and he knew it would be a long time before they were back to where they had been.
“I am ready,” Kvoss said, ducking low as a green thunderbolt sizzled through the air, smacking into a parked car across the street and melting through its door.
“Then do it already,” he growled, watching as one of his men was flung back by a ghostly blue hand, smacked clear across the street and into a storefront, glass shattering. The noise was dulled, barely audible, but the spell that had been cast would do nothing to slow electronic alarms. They had to finish this up and finish it soon.
Kvoss lunged forward, reaching into the folds of his long, sweeping leather cape and withdrawing something. He slapped it onto the door, said a few words and then punched the ring on his middle finger into it.
Blue energy flung him and every shifter back as it dissipated.
“Holy shit,” Kincaid muttered, getting to his feet. “This motherfucker Girard is more powerful than we thought.” Turning to his men as they got back to their feet—most of them, anyway, as one was down and not moving—he shouted a warning. “Be careful! He’s got more juice than the intel showed.”
The energy discharged was an indicator of how strong the wards on the building had been. Kincaid had expected to be rocked backward, and he’d braced for it. Yet he’d been tossed five feet back onto his ass, and some of his men even more.
Goddamned Intelligence. Can’t get anything right!
He wisely ignored the fact that he oversaw the intelligence operations among other aspects. Now was not the time to get distracted by failure. If he wanted to get his men home, he had to end it and end it soon.
Kvoss moved up to the door, and a blood-red nimbus of magic appeared in front of him. A breaching shield. The assassin walked up to the door and kicked it in with one foot. Almost immediately, a stream of green energy impacted the shield, but it held, and Kvoss entered the room.
Behind him came Kincaid and his men. The Assassin’s job was to hunt down rogue mages, and really, the rest of the bear shifters were just there to assist him, but they weren’t about to let him shoulder all the danger, no matter how annoying the man was.
They spread out into the room. Girard swept his hand around and lashed out with a bright orange blade of fire.
“Everyone down!” Kincaid shouted, putting his command into practice.
Everyone but Kvoss got as flat as they could, but at least one of his men was too slow and received a blackened burn across their side. Kincaid cursed, but they would live. That was the important thing. Wounds would heal. Right now, though, they needed to take this bastard down, and quick!
The old building was going up in flames as the mage battled against Kvoss’ shield. Lifting his gun, Kincaid let a round fly, but he wasn’t surprised when it ricocheted away less than a foot from the mage, a blue glow surrounding him. Of course, he had his own shield.
“Any day now!” he shouted at the assassin, but one look at Kvoss told him the assassin was giving everything he had into keeping up the shield under the onslaught of green magic.
This was going to have to be settled by Kincaid and his men, and soon. The fire blade had gone dark, but Kincaid could see the mage preparing to attack them again. He needed the initiative. An idea came to him.
“If it’s on fire, throw it at the bastard!” he hollered, grabbing a flaming box from nearby and tossing it with all his strength.
A veritable barrage of missiles descended upon the man, who was shrouded in shadow and black clothing, missiles coated in flames borne from his own magic. The shield stopped the debris, but sparks showered down on Girard. He wasn’t able to repel his own magic.
The mage screamed, and his concentration fell, all his magic dissipating in a heartbeat. Kincaid rose to one knee and fired at almost the same instant Kvoss condensed his shield into a spear and flung it forward. They would argue for years over who struck first, but it didn’t matter. Girard was finished, a magical spear in his arm, and one of the depleted uranium bullets in his torso. Spinning like a rag doll, he fell to the ground as blood erupted from his side, spattering the far wall.
That was when the screams began. These weren’t normal screams of pain either. The thing with magic, or with shifter DNA—which was more science-based than anything—was that it reacted very violently and painfully to radiation of any kind. Introducing radioactive elements into the body, such as via the depleted-uranium bullet, was painful beyond measure.
Kincaid knew as he’d been shot with one before.
“Kvoss,” he snarled, gesturing at Girard. “Do your job. The rest of you, fan out, take anything of note, and get any casualties on their feet or over your shoulder. We’re moving in three minutes. This place isn’t going to last much longer.”
Truthfully, he doubted they had three minutes, but his men were done in under two, and they cleared the building. Outside, most of the casualties who were hit by the magical defenses were either on their feet or awake. Two wouldn’t get back up though. Kincaid said a brief prayer for the men, men he’d known and talked with, laughed with and fought beside for years.
Then he was back in the command chair, and his men disappeared into the night mere minutes before the magical silence fell apart and the nearby world became aware of the blazing building.
Already, in the distance, he could hear sirens ringing. The damage wouldn’t extend beyond their target building, thankfully.
He jogged up next to Kvoss. “This is the third one this year,” he muttered quietly, not wanting to unsettle his men with his thoughts. “Just in Europe alone.”
“There have been others,” Kvoss said. “It happens. A cycle. It will happen again. I sense nothing untoward about it.”
He fell silent, not sure he believed the man.
Almost at the same time, they both reached for their pockets, pulling out cell phones.
“Hello?” Kincaid said quietly, his ears picking up the sound of his voice from the Assassin’s phone as well.
“My Queen,” they replied instantly with reverent tones, Kincaid’s perhaps just a bit quicker and more sincere.
“I need you to return to Ursidae Manor. Both of you.”
The pair of shifters looked at each other in surprise. Kvoss being recalled wasn’t a surprise, however. He resided at the Manor, House Ursa’s seat of power, located in the northeastern United States.
Kincaid on the other hand hadn’t been recalled in nearly ten years. Not since he’d feuded with the King.
But the King is dead, killed in the uprising, and the Queen is in charge now. Perhaps things are changing.
“We’ll be there immediately,” he said.
“Good.” The phone line went dead.
Kincaid kept running as he slipped the phone back into his pocket, eager to get back to base. His mind was going insane, wondering why he was being recalled.
How fucked up were things, that she needed his help?