“You need to learn magic.” Kora looked at Peter, then Eun. “Both of you.”
Peter was sitting at his desk, staring at his laptop. “No time. I’m ass-deep in blackmail, molecular engineering, and advanced weapons research. ANOS might deploy their heavy hitters, so we need to be ready for some serious fucking—”
“Kora.” Peter closed his eyes and braced his hands—pressed together in a palm-to-palm prayer—against his nose and his lips. A gesture that said, You are trying my fucking patience. He dropped his hands and stared hard at her. “I have too much to do. I can’t fuck around with weird phrases and stupid make-believe. When are you going to learn that—”
Eun snorted. “When are you going to learn that all of this is make-believe? Peter, you’re always gibbering about our absurd-ass universe. Whenever you get stoned, you blabber on about how amazing it is that everything came from an inexplicable 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 countered. “Shady government agency versus world-devouring entity. Which poses the bigger risk?”
Peter flung his hand at Kora. “She’s been trained from birth to—”
“Defeat an evil that devours realities?” Kora shook her head. “Peter, this isn’t a one-person job—Dee’s the embodiment of confusion and separation; we have to be the exact opposite.”
“How is magic going to help?” Peter argued.
Kora crossed her arms and leaned 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 Dee.”
“Try to master everything and you’ll accomplish nothing,” Peter snapped.
“Doesn’t mean you can’t expand,” Kora said. “I’m not gonna learn computers to your level, or get as good at aikido as Eun, I’m just saying we should broaden our perspectives. Be holistic.”
“Come on, Peter,” Eun urged. “Kora’s made an honest effort to learn our ways. She’s even learned a little coding. Remember that quote you love? ‘If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things.’ ”
“Is there an immediate threat?” Kora pressed. “Do we have to act right now?”
“Not right now,” Peter blustered, “but you can be damn sure we’ll have to—”
“Peter.” Kora said his name 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 rested his elbows on his thighs and stared at the ground.
“Where do we start?”
“Finally.” Holly grinned. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“Careful,” Estilian cautioned. “Senkilo’s cannon is a dangerous spell. Students train for five to six years before they summon any form of kinetic ordnance. Please remember that—”
“I don’t have to remember shit,” Holly scoffed. “Not with this cock-smasher.” She gazed at her forearm, surrounded by slashes of scintillant light.
“You’re a quick study, but the eldritch arts must be respected. You’re bending reality, milord. It isn’t smart to—”
“Don’t tell me what’s smart,” Holly snarled. She leveled the cannon at Estilian’s face. “You’re overstepping, fucktard.”
The mage raised his hands. Holly couldn’t kill with magic (yet), but she could still inflict a great deal of damage. “I meant no offense.”
Holly glared. The sigils on her cannon spun and whirred. A bead of sweat ran down Estilian’s temple, reflecting arcane glow off its surface.
You need him.
She let her arm fall. The intricate symbols turned transparent, then vanished altogether.
“My apologies,” Holly said gruffly. “It’s been a trying campaign.”
Estilian breathed a sigh of relief. “I understand, milord. Flaysac is a canny general. How does magic fit in your strategy?”
Holly regarded him with narrowed eyes. What in the actual fuck had given him the idea he could question her plans?
Keep him happy.
Holly grunted. “Damn bandit kings came to his rescue. Shored up his forces with folding catapults driven by two-goat teams. We couldn’t keep up with their mobile fire; they smashed our outposts and regained the high ground. We’re locked in a stalemate all fucking over again. So I’m gonna launch a big-ass assault. Archers, cannons, catapults…the whole fucking deal. After we prep the field, I’ll lead some riders into the pass and use magic to break their lines.”
“My lord,” Estilian protested, “even if you succeed, there’s a good chance you’ll cut yourself off from the main force.”
“I’ll be cut off from my army, but not from you, Estilian.” Holly looked him in the eye.
“You’re coming with us.”