The man crossed the street to Crystal’s side of the block. His foot hit the curb and he wheeled immediately toward Chambers, making a beeline for him. My brain conceded to my gut – this was it.
Nothing else moved. Chambers pretended not to notice. As he closed the distance I had a vague sense of an approaching slayer but I couldn’t be sure if that was my senses or just what I expected. It wasn’t strong – not like it should be for an unconcealed slayer. But this guy had layer upon layer of subtly – I didn’t believe he wasn’t concealed, that wouldn’t make any sense.
I had the same vague sense of the other slayers around me and the creatures as well, although only Chambers was unconcealed. Expectation, not reality, I concluded and forgot about it. My job was at hand.
He stopped in the middle of the street. he glanced around, not particularly interested in the scenery that I could tell. It was the causal glance of habit, not the studied searching of paranoia.
No, he wasn’t that cocky – he knew we were here. Had to – it was an obvious trap, after all. So it was ego that brought him here – that and a bit of desperation, I suspected.
He stared briefly at Chambers and shook his head dismissively as if to say, no, that’s not why I’m here. Fine by me, I thought, I’d much rather you tried that. But you’re making the first move, not me.
Ten seconds became an eternity. If my senses had been heightened before, they were in the stratosphere now. Reality played out frame by frame, all in high definition. I knew he was moving before he moved. The thing I thought least likely – typical. This guy didn’t like to be predicted.
Size makes no difference to Nyota, as long as it’s a spear. She’d had dozens of them in her arsenal – the one she used now wasn’t as big as a dagger but it found its mark before his hand cleared his coat. He dropped the gun, unable to hold it with her spear in his wrist. He didn’t even spare her a look.
He glanced up toward me. He wasn’t so much challenging me as re-assessing his options. He did not fluster easily – but I’d expected that. Nyota slipped back into the shadows. Chambers just sat. We waited.
He causally pulled the blade from his arm, as if he were dealing with a kid’s bubble gum. The blood dripped slower now, the sure sign of a slayer. Not that I’d had any doubts.
I felt the change and made my own. Now it was a battle of wills – which one of us would Chambers obey. A few weeks earlier, there would have been no contest but that was his mistake. If he wanted to take me out, he should have done it when I was weak. I wasn’t weak now.
Chambers grunted, almost groaned, from the conflict taking place in his spirit. He might want to obey me, but Vinnie wasn’t going to let that happen, if he could stop it.
Time stopped. Nothing moved, nothing seemed to breathe, but the battle raged. Chambers got up but just stood, not yet able to resolve the conflicting orders. I should have wondered how that was affecting him but instinctively knew that I had only one priority or I’d lose. And I wasn’t going to lose.
I don’t know how long it went on – a lot longer than it seemed. My focus was on the battle as was Vinnie’s. I’m sure he didn’t notice, either, because he just kept fighting me. Cocky didn’t begin to describe this guy’s ego. Did he think if he beat me he could handle two freaking ancients that serve the Mistress directly? Heck, maybe the idiot did. I’ll never know, I don’t suppose.
Things were happening but neither of us were aware. It ticked me off – he was so danged strong. That didn’t make me fear losing – it made me mad and more determined. the harder we fought, the more determined I became.
That should have scared me – did much later – because this was nothing like me. Sure, I’d been in fights, won and lost them, but I was the one that cut them off before they began, mare than wanting to fight them. This wasn’t like me – in a way, it was like someone else had replaced me and I was just watching on the sidelines – but at the same time it was very much me myself in the fight. Determined, angrier than I’d ever been, steely nerves, coldly dispassionate, and not giving an inch – a warrior with a battle to win.
I didn’t know who was ahead, where the battle stood – it seemed too early to tell so that didn’t bother me. Then, something happened that demanded my attention – Chambers was moving toward the building but not at my direction.
What? How the heck had that happened?
Vinnie lost his concentration first – that was some consolation later. It gave me a chance to look at Chambers. What I saw I didn’t believe. Three of the folks from his building were pulling him inside, away from Vinnie.
Vinnie and I both started looking around the street, he was probably more shocked than I was but not by a lot. The empty street was full now – even Mrs. Elmore in her wheelchair was out. All the neighbors – everyone who lived on that block and parts of the next two, were standing in the street. People were moving, getting between Vinnie and Chambers.
The gun was gone. I had enough sense to look and saw Nyota walking back to her station with it. Good, someone had some brains – I wasn’t counting myself at the moment. At the moment, I was too busy breaking into a cold sweat. A slayer isn’t someone you trifle with and there were way too many innocents – normal people – way too close to him. That gun couldn’t be his only weapon – it was probably a show of contempt. Vinnie was dangerous and surrounded by the people I cared about.
I was halfway down the left side fire escape before I knew I’d moved. I could hear Crystal above me, to the right, also at a dead run heading down. Mertyn and Tresmayne had dropped most of their concealment – enough that Vinnie couldn’t not know they were there but without scaring the pants off everyone else. Slayers were following suit, it felt like little explosions going off as every slayer made sure Vinnie knew he had a lot more than normal humans to deal with if he started anything.
I was on the ground, and completely unwilling to trust Vinnie’s sanity when Mr. Myers caught my arm. “Wait,” he hissed, “listen to them. Don’t rush in!”
Crystal skidded to a stop beside us and we listened.