Symphonies of sirens echoed in the city streets. Police cruisers, flying ambulances, a PSB ESWAT gravtruck. Karim could identify them all by their tones, their pitches, the patterns of their wails. Truly, it was just another night in Babylon, where gods and devils dueled in the dark, and the humans caught in between kept their heads down or held fast against the onslaught.
And the night wasn’t over.
Back in human form, Karim fled to an open-air parking lot far to the south of the shooting, far away that the sirens faded into the distance. He stripped off the false license plates and plastered on new ones, then returned to the driver’s seat. Alone in the darkness, every electronic device on standby, he rested his palms on his knees and closed his eyes and breathed.
One in a hundred people were Elect. One in a thousand were psi. One in a hundred thousand were psis and Elect. Not for want of trying. Most psis, with their sensitive psyches, could not tolerate the eldritch energies burning through them when the gods fell upon them. The luckiest were destroyed, in mind, body and spirit. The unlucky ones became Husks, empty shadows of men, the puppets and playthings of gods that roamed the world, destroying and consuming everything they saw.
Karim was that one in a hundred thousand. A man so rare the STS had welcomed him with open arms. In truth he hadn’t known he was a psi, not until Galen touched him, changed him, molded him into who he was today. It was his secret weapon, his one advantage over the soldiers of the New Gods.
When his blood cooled and his muscles relaxed, he concentrated. And reached out to Galen.
Lend me your eyes, the eyes that see all, that I may find the Street Wolves.
A deep voice, clear and ringing, echoed in his head.
You shall have them. Go forth and destroy all who threaten us.
And now he saw.
Past and present collided as one. Phantom images, illusory sounds, faded scents smashed into his mind. Every contact left a trace, and now he sensed the life energies of all the people who had used his vehicle before him, imprinted into the Aether.
Karim sent his mind forth, taking his perspective with it. He rose, through the roof, up into the air, higher than the apartments and skyscrapers, soaring as high as an airship.
Babylon spread herself before him. Here and now, every secret lay bare, every soul surrendered its sins, every being seen and unseen revealed itself to him. He could go anywhere, see everything, become an all-knowing king of Babylon.
But that was not what he was here to do.
He turned his mind to an address. The home of the leader of the Street Wolves, the shot caller of shot callers, the alpha of the pack. The one who would have authorized the campaign against Galen. The one who would have to pay in blood for everything his minions had done.
The world flashed past in a blur. Suddenly he found himself floating high above a six-story apartment building, an apartment nestled among a forest of apartments. Here the streets were cramped and narrow, designed for pedestrians and bikes first and cars second. Instead of a fire escape, the target block had a true external staircase, slithering up the western wall, climbing all the way up to the roof.
Here, there was a structure that might have been a storage shed. Now it was a full-fledged apartment. Larger than its downstairs neighbors, isolated from the street, it was a budget penthouse, with the rest of the open roof a bonus courtyard.
Laundry hung at the edge of the roof. A worn-out sofa sat next to the door, paired with a shoe cabinet. A round plastic table, surrounded by a set of chairs, sat in the middle of the roof, in the shade of a raggedy umbrella.
And a ward guarded the entire apartment.
Karim saw it as a shell of sickly green light. It covered the entire building—the windows, the door, the walls, the roof—a curtain of impenetrable eldritch energies, shifting and writhing in the light.
And the ward had its own guardian.
It looked like a flea crossed with a crab, a thing of hard carapace and scrabbling legs and hard spines. It was too intangible to affect the real world, much, though it could harm the souls of disembodied spirits like himself. But its true purpose was to watch the house. If an uninvited guest approached, if a psi tried to breach the ward, it would intervene. It would alert its master.
The flea-crab rotated slowly in place, turning its attention on the stairs, the roof access door, nearby roofs, the streets, up into the air—
Karim ducked away, planting himself behind a nearby water tank. In his Aethersight, the creature’s cone of vision became a huge cone of bright white light. The light swept past him and into the darkness. Karim peeked out again.
He couldn’t look into the apartment, not directly. But he had indirect means of perception.
He looked into the past.
Five minutes. Ten minutes. An hour. Two hours. Three. Trails of faded light bloomed from the door. They resolved into beings, two men in jackets and boots, two wolves superimposed over the men. The wolves were a deep abyssal black, gripping the heads of their hosts in powerful jaws, too-human arms and legs latched tightly around their torsos to melt into their hearts and bellies.
The door opened to admit the wolf-men. From where he was, he couldn’t look into the doorway, not without alerting the watcher spirit. Going back in time, he saw the wolf-men run in reverse from the door to the external stairs, down the stairs and out into the cramped streets.
The watcher spirit turned back around. Karim ducked back. When its gaze passed, he returned his attention to the apartment. Now he looked further, deeper, rewinding the clock. The door opened, and a third wolf-man emerged. This wolf was taller, larger, stronger than the others. A wolf almost the equal of Galen the white.
Jamal Wright, alpha of the Street Wolves.
Or was he? This was his home, he had the energies of the Street Wolves, but was that him?
Of course he is, Galen whispered. I recognize the shape of his soul.
That was that, then.
Wright ambled backwards across the roof, retracing the steps of his lesser beings, and headed down to the street and out of sight. Further and further back in time Karim went. For most of a day, nothing happened. Then Wright appeared once more, climbing up the stairs and re-entering the house.
Then the watcher spirit came close and Karim took cover again.
With his physical body, still maintaining meditative discipline, Karim called Kayla.
“There are at least three male subjects inside the objective area. Galen has made PID on our HVT.”
“Understood. I am in position and ready to provide overwatch. What was their body language like?”
“The HVT is calm, collected, casual. Like a guy returning home from a day on the streets. The other two subjects were in a hurry. They were running all the way from the street to the apartment.”
“Sounds like the subjects heard of the takedown and hustled to inform their boss.”
“I think so too. Way I look at it, we wait until they’re done. Once they step out, I give the HVT a five-millimeter hello.”
“What about the other two?”
“The HVT is the primary objective. The other two are secondary targets.”
Karim wanted to agree with her. It was a no-risk job. Karim didn’t have to go into the fire again. One shot, one kill, and it would be done.
Are you going to satisfied with this?
Karim had no organization, few resources, just one markswoman to back him up. Walking into the wolf’s den would ignite a firestorm. The job was dangerous enough. Adding more danger was suicide. If he could end this war with a single shot, he would take it.
But the Street Wolves, the thugs, they had challenged Galen on his turf. More than that, they’d tried to burn down the temple, with Dahl inside. They tried to murder the priest, and if they destroyed the white wolf’s head, Galen’s anchor in this world, it was good as slaying him. Blood demanded blood.
Two forces battled in his head, firing salvos of arguments and counterarguments, competing strategies and consequences. Both were a fundamental part of him, united in the purpose of defense, divided in execution, the operator warring with the wolf.
What would Yuri Yamamoto do?
If he’d ask Yuri, he’d simply say, Whatever was appropriate for the situation.
What did the situation demand?
He turned his thoughts to it, focusing the entirety of his attention and his will. The wolf went silent, the operator relented, Galen the White stepped aside and gave him space to think.
In a flash, Karim saw what he had to do.
“Negative,” Karim said. “If this is a war council, then those subjects are his betas. If we kill the HVT but leave the betas alone, the betas may organize a retaliation strike. We need to take all of them out. It would leave the Wolves scattered and leaderless. It’s the sort of thing the Pantheon would do.”
“What’s your plan?”
“I’ll go in and overwhelm them with violence of action. You maintain overwatch.”
“The Pantheon doesn’t have a wolf god among them. You need to make entry as a man, not a wolf, most definitely not a white wolf. If you must transform, you need to do it indoors.”
And eliminate all witnesses.
“It’s safer if we wait for them to leave,” she continued. “Out in the open, I can nail one or two, you can take the rest.”
“They could be calling up shooters right now. If they step out before I reach the objective area, take the shot. Otherwise, I’m going in now.”
Kayla sighed softly.
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