“You need to learn magic.” Kora looked at Peter, then Eun. “Both of you.”
Peter’s eyes were glued to his laptop. “Kora, I’m ass-deep in blackmail, chemical engineering, cybersecurity, and advanced weapons research. ANOS mobilized their heavy hitters, so we have to prepare for some serious fucking—”
“You’re making excuses.”
“Kora.” Peter closed his eyes and braced his nose and lips against his hands, which he’d stuck together in a palm-to-palm prayer—a gesture that said you are trying my fucking patience. He dropped his hands and fixed her with a stare. “I have too much stuff to do. I can’t afford to fuck with weird phrases and stupid make-believe. When are you going to get it through your head that—”
Eun snorted. “When are you going to accept that all of this is make-believe? Peter, you’re constantly going on about how ridiculous our world is. Whenever you’re stoned, you run your mouth about how amazing it is that everything came from an unexplained expansion of matter and energy. Take a step back from your scope-locked worldview.”
“Yeah but ANOS—”
“Isn’t nearly as dangerous as Dee Sonay,” Eun said. “Shady government agency versus world-devouring evil. Which one poses the bigger risk?”
Peter flung his hand at Kora. “Eun, she’s been trained from birth to—”
“Defeat an evil that’s plagued existence for time immemorial?” Kora shook her head. “Peter, this isn’t a one-person thing. We have to band together and combine into a single, unified entity. Dee’s the embodiment of separation and confusion; we have to be the exact opposite.”
“How is magic going to help with any of that?” Peter argued.
Kora crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall. “We can’t just stick to our respective areas of expertise. That doesn’t work in life, and it won’t work with Dissona.”
“We don’t have time to learn each other’s skills,” Peter retorted. “Try to master everything and you’ll accomplish nothing.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t learn a little magic,” Kora countered. “We should all dip our toe into each other’s skillsets. I’m not saying I learn computers to your level, or get as good at aikido as Eun, I’m saying we should expand our perspectives. Be holistic.”
“Come on, Peter,” Eun urged. “Ever since she got here, Kora’s been studying our ways. She’s even learned a little coding. Remember that quote you keep repeating? ‘If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things.’ ”
“Are we facing a threat?” Kora asked. “Do we need to deploy an immediate response?”
“Not right now,” Peter blustered, “but you can be damn sure they’ll—”
“Peter.” Kora said it so calmly, so evenly, that it stopped him in his tracks. “Do you have any idea when they’re going to attack? Tomorrow? The day after?”
“No, but, but—” Peter stammered for a second, then sighed in defeat. “Fine.” He braced his elbows on his thighs and stared at the ground.
“Where do we start?”
“Finally.” Holly rubbed her hands together. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“Be careful,” Estilian cautioned. “Senkilo’s cannon is a dangerous spell. Under normal circumstances, students train for years before they handle kinetic ordnance. Please remember that—”
“I don’t have to remember shit,” Holly scoffed. “Not when I’m packing this beautiful cock-smasher.” She gazed avidly at the slashes of light surrounding her forearm.
“Senkilo’s cannon is intermediary magic. You’ve been learning arcana incredibly fast, but the eldritch arts should be treated with care. You’re learning to bend reality, milord. It isn’t smart to—”
“Don’t tell me what’s smart,” Holly snarled. She leveled the cannon at his face. “You overstep your bounds, Estilian.”
The mage raised his hands. Holly wasn’t able to actually kill anyone, but she could still inflict a lot of damage. “I meant no offense,” he whimpered. “Please…I was only trying to be of service.”
Holly glared at him. The sigils on her cannon spun and whirred, the brilliant red orb in front of the barrel crackled and spat.
A bead of sweat ran down Estilian’s temple, reflecting crimson glow off its moist surface.
You need him Holly. Unless you want to learn magic from a shittier wizard.
Holly let her arm fall to her side. The intricate symbols became transparent, then vanished altogether.
“My apologies,” Holly said gruffly. “It’s been a trying campaign.”
“I understand, milord.” Estilian breathed a sigh of relief. “Flaysac is a canny strategist. If you don’t mind me asking, how do you plan to employ arcana against him?”
Holly regarded him for a long moment. What in the blue fuck had given him the idea that he was here to do anything besides teach her magic?
Keep him happy.
“We were making headway, but those jerk-off bandit kings came to his rescue. They built fallbacks deeper in the pass, and shored them up with solid earthworks. We’re locked in a stalemate all fucking over again.” Holly put her hands on her hips. “So what I’m going to do is launch an all-out assault—archers, cannons, catapults…the whole fucking deal. Then I’m gonna lead some gung-ho motherfuckers into the pass. I’m counting on magic to break their lines and carry us through.”
“But, my lord,” Estilian protested, “you’ll be cut off from the main force. Even if you succeed, you’ll be forced to survive on what you carry on your mount.”
“I’ll be cut off from the army, but not from you, Estilian.” Holly looked him in the eye.
“You’re coming with me.”