“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, molecular engineering, and advanced weapons research. ANOS is gonna deploy their heavy hitters any day now, so we need to prepare for some serious fucking—”
“You’re making excuses.”
“Kora.” Peter closed his eyes. He braced his hands (he’d stuck them together in a palm-to-palm prayer) against his nose and lips—a gesture that said You are trying my fucking patience. He dropped his hands and fixed her with a stare. “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 going on about our absurd-ass universe. Whenever you’re stoned, you run your mouth about how goddamn 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 said. “Shady government agency versus world-devouring evil. Which one poses the bigger risk?”
Peter flung his hand at Kora. “You’ve been trained from birth to—”
“Defeat an evil that’s plagued existence since the dawn of time?” Kora shook her head. “Peter, this isn’t a one-person thing. 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 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.”
“We don’t have time to learn each other’s skills,” Peter said. “Try to master everything and you’ll accomplish nothing.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t learn a little,” Kora countered. “We should all dip a 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 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 braced his elbows on his thighs and stared at the ground.
“Where do we start?”
“Finally.” Holly grinned. “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 cock-smasher.” She gazed greedily at the slashes of light surrounding her forearm.
“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 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,” he whimpered.
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 from a shittier wizard.
Holly let her arm fall. 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.
“Those jerk-off bandit kings came to his rescue. They arrived with portable artillery—folding catapults they lug around with two-goat teams. We couldn’t keep up with their firepower and agility. They used the ’pults to smash our outposts and retake the high ground. They also 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 a big-ass assault—archers, cannons, ’pults…the whole fucking deal. Then I’m gonna lead some gung-ho pipe-hitters into the pass. I’m gonna use magic to break their lines.”
“But my lord,” Estilian protested, “even if you break through, there’s a good chance you’ll be cut 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 me.”