Be light, be agile, be ready.
I’d learned this lesson a lifetime ago. First in the Legion, then the Detachment. After over a decade of being ready to go anywhere and do anything at a moment’s notice, what began as tips turned into operational procedures, then into habits and finally a state of being. Even after Tarabulus, after the Fire, old habits died hard.
It’s all I got.
Dinner was room service. Spring rolls with pork peanut curry. The meal wasn’t meant to be filling; it was meant to supply protein and energy without slowing me down. If the delivery boy found it odd that a Chinese man refused rice with Asian food, he didn’t let it show. I made sure he was more appreciative of the tip I left him.
Allondir had retreated to his room next door. After a very quick shower, I changed into more comfortable attire. Polo shirt, cargo pants, socks. Boots were laced up and unzipped, ready to be slipped on at a second’s notice, right by the door. I placed my scroll on the table, plugged into the charger, and my tools were in arm’s reach.
Opening up my limbs’ fuel ports, I swapped out the expended fuel sticks. Each stick was good for 12 hours, and my limbs could hold six each. For cyborgs in the field, it was always good practice to top off whenever there was downtime. Especially for someone in my profession.
Then, and only then, did I relax. For degrees of ‘relax’. I lowered myself into a lotus position.
Tried, rather. My artificial joints and stretch receptors were nowhere near as elastic as my flesh-and-bone ones, designed primarily to support the extra mass of my limbs. Once I thought I could train them to be more flexible, but carbon nanotubes simply could not, would not, grow. They were dead. All I could do was train my organic stretch receptors. What few I had left.
I unfurled into a cross-legged position, resting my hands on my knees. Half-closing my eyes, I sank into my breath.
Magic is the ability to do work at a distance, mediated by mana and governed by a focused will. Without will, you cannot influence mana. With insufficiently focused will, mana will disperse, leading to unpredictable side effects. The Fire may have claimed my limbs, but I will not surrender my magic.
The scroll chirped. It was linked to a microcam I had installed on the wall facing Allondir’s room, set to trigger if someone attempted to enter or exit the room. I sprang up from the floor and checked the screen.
Allondir. Dressed up in a fancy suit, ready for a night out.
I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was going to tell me his new plans in person. But he walked past my room and headed for the lift lobby.
“Shit!” I said.
Damn him. I told him he had to keep me updated on his travel plans. Even if he wanted to take a walk around the neighborhood, late at…
Why is he going out at midnight? Can’t be a girl. If he wanted one all he had to do was call the concierge. Or surf the web and call one from his room. And he had explicitly told me he wanted to rest and did not want to be disturbed.
He had someplace else to go. Someplace not on his itinerary.
Someplace he couldn’t tell me.
I swiped the screen away, opening my grimoire app. I flipped through to a bookmarked page: a glyph for a sylph.
There was a time I could summon one as easy as breathing. But my Tier One conjuring days were over. I touched the glyph and stepped back.
Blue light flared from the screen, forming streams and tendrils that curled into each other, dissolving and solidifying, building a creature from the inside-out. Beginning as a formless blob, it grew mass and definition, sculpting itself into a female humanoid the size of my palm. Four wings sprouted from her back. Long hair sprouted from her head. She opened her eyes and beheld me.
A summoned sylph would have more life, more personality, more colors. This one, generated from pure mana, was little more than a servitor with a useful intelligence and limited lifespan. More a drone than a living being. But she would do.
“This unit awaits your command,” she said.
Snatching up my scroll, I called up the microcam image. “I need you to follow this elf,” I said. “Watch him on the astral plane. Keep me updated with a telepathic link.”
“Understood. Warning: establishing a telepathic link will significantly reduce this unit’s operational life.”
“Acknowledged. Proceed with your mission.”
A silver cord extended from her crown, latching on the mine. It connected with a subtle pressure. The sylph phased out, rotating itself into a different dimension. Elves may be sensitive to mana, but it took a Gifted to spot astral surveillance and Allondir definitely wasn’t.
I tooled up and snapped my scroll on. The mana reservoir was depleted, but the mana recharger wasn’t portable. When I checked the microcam, the elf was gone.
That was okay. In my mind’s eye I willed myself to see through the sylph’s eyes. Positioned above Allondir’s head, she saw him looking down at his feet, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, occasionally looking up to check the floor number.
I called his scroll. No response. He had switched it off.
“Son of a bitch.”
I didn’t bother calling the lift. It would take too long. I took the stairs instead, racing down the five floors to the ground floor. When I emerged into the lift lobby, I saw him step out the front door. I widened my steps, tearing through his wake. He boarded a taxi, I sped up—
And he drove off.
“Son of a bitch!”
There were no more taxis in the queue. None on the street. At least the sylph was still tracking him. I unfurled my smart scroll and called my driver.
“Who is this?” he mumbled sleepily.
“Cyr,” I said. “I know it’s late, but I have a job for you. Pays double your rate.”
That woke him up. “For you, I will work. Where you going?”
“Hell if I know.”
If you enjoy blending sci fi and fantasy, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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