Illumination 5.9: Priorities

Ajax’s new friends weren’t going to last long, he could tell. Discipline, training and drugs kept them moving and fighting, but they’d already left one unconscious soldier behind. Right now, they were powered by a burning desire to find the person responsible for the citywide attack and end him. He’d promised to point said person out, if they took him along to the big gathering reported by the spy balloons. He’d expected Tainter or Malachi, but finding Hatherly at the heart of the monsters hadn’t surprised him much. He didn’t really trust anybody in the Tower except Natalie.

Some of the cambions edged sideways, out of the direct line of fire. Even though the big guns of the soldiers didn’t hurt them as much as they’d hurt a creature of true flesh and blood, apparently word had gotten around. The guns hurt enough. But Ajax kept his eyes on the legion of Awakened. The soldiers’ allied Awakened were strong, but there weren’t very many and the enemy Awakened were almost as dangerous to the soldiers as the cambions.

Ajax thought the scythe he held in his hand was going to be pretty good for dealing with fields of monsters.

As if reading his mind, Seth called, “Nice weapon.” He nudged Natalie and muttered something. Natalie transferred her gaze briefly to Ajax, her brows knitted together in thought, then returned to watching Hatherly and Jehane like a cat watching a pair of mice.

“You son of a bitch,” said the Tanist. Ajax realized she was still talking to him. “So you’re a traitor too. I knew it. I was just wrong about who you were working with. How dare you bring them here? This is a Tower affair.”

Seth said, “Priorities. Ma’am.”

“Indeed,” said Hatherly. “Please don’t be frightened of the guns, my children. They can’t really hurt you.”

The cambions moved forward, first in a creep. Then one leapt, and one of the soldiers— the one lugging the really big gun– said, “Wrong!” There was a deep, loud thud and the leaping cambion spun around mid-air, scrabbling as a hole opened up in its side.

As if on a planned signal, the Awakened and the Nightlights attacked. Ajax’s scythe hummed in his hands. It really felt good there, like a natural extension of his arms. He swept it around and felt the edge slice into three Awakened.

He took a huge step forward and whirled around, extending the shaft of the scythe like a staff. It was amazing. How could anything get past him? Then something small and toothed landed on his face. He swore and pulled it off and stomped on it and gulped a breath. He had to stay focused on the enemies, or the weapon he’d summoned would sweep him away.

“Lyman!” shouted Hatherly and “Jehane!” shouted Natalie. Ajax realized that Jehane wasn’t just standing near Hatherly, ready to run back to her friends at an excuse; she was actually being restrained. The other Nightlights were around him now, fighting the cambions and the Awakened, so he started cutting his way through the flood of Awakened to Natalie. The soldiers followed in his wake, unable to see the Awakened his scythe cut through but instinctively finding the path of least resistance.

As they passed, Rose and Kotone doubleteamed a cambion that already had several smoking bullet holes through its torso. The Tanist was with them, her own stage 2 weapon plenty dangerous in the situation. Ajax noticed distractedly that Kotone’s sword blocked the Tanist’s weapon, seemingly accidentally, as it swept too close to one of the soldiers.

“Ajax,” said the corporal. “Where’s the weapon?”

Ajax scanned the field, and realized that although most of the cambions had taken the field, Malachi and Aya were still standing guard, and behind them was a pair of cambions. One of them was even stranger than those he’d seen so far. It looked half-mechanical.

Ajax pointed with his scythe. “That one.”

Hatherly saw him pointing, and dragged Jehane so that she was facing the guns.

Ajax called, “There are other soldiers watching from afar. They’ve got a much longer range than you do, Hatherly. I can see you’re crazy, but don’t be stupid.”

His words dropped like a rock into water. Ripples spread into the turbulence around him, bringing a lull in the fighting. The human Nightlights, now ringing the soldiers, needed to catch their breath, and the cambions were wary. Unlike the Awakened, they seemed to have a survival instinct.

Hatherly said, “You’re still annoying, boy. You could have been useful, too. Well, no matter. It’ll be a bit inconvenient if the Tower hears about this but it’s not going to change much. I’ve had years to get everything I can out of that place. The whole organization is rotting from the inside. What have they accomplished?” A faint smile flashed across his face. “And where are these soldiers watching from far away? Asleep, perhaps?”

The corporal said, very quietly, “Ajax, we have five minutes before a missile is launched.”

“You see, they don’t care about you, my dear.” Hatherly did something to Jehane, and she gasped and whimpered. An irritated look passed over Hatherly’s face, and he did something else. That time, Jehane screamed. When Hatherly stopped, Jehane hung limply in his grip, her eyes moving between Malachi and Natalie and Ajax.

Ajax’s breath hissed between his teeth. “She’s not the kind of hostage he’s going to let go.” He stared at Hatherly, and, like a magic picture resolving itself into an image, his understanding of Hatherly changed. The man wasn’t afraid, just irritated, like a pest had made an inconvenient mess. He had a plan. He fully intended on leaving, and he wasn’t going to leave a living Jehane behind.

“We could shoot them,” said the Corporal flatly. “But if we can’t get control of the weapon…”

Ajax took a deep breath. “We have five minutes. Plenty of time.”



One thought on “Illumination 5.9: Priorities

  1. More, more, more!

    I find myself wondering exactly how much AJax explained to the soldiers on the way over, if anything. In particular, you say they can’t see the Awakened, but are they aware that there is such a thing as Awakened? If not, it must look like the Nighlights are swinging wildly at nothing most of the time.


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