Zack peered around the corner and watched Murk’s two stone men rush at Igneous, and watched Igneous grab the arm of the closest one, twisting its arm and spinning it about to act as a human shield, an act that prevented the second from tackling her. Zack winced and pulled his head back around the corner. Chip and Hobbar stood right behind him, looking worried. Zack wasn’t sure why, but seeing the hacker unsettled made him happy.
“Do you think she’ll be able to handle them?”
“If none of the humans or Murk join the fight, absolutely,” said Zack. “They’ve got a numbers advantage, but she’s got the kind of experience that’d put a drill sergeant’s boot camp out of business for five years if it could be bottled and sold to new recruits. Murk and company’ll be coming around this corner any moment now. Does this other hallway have any exits?”
“I don’t know,” said Chip.
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I really don’t know! I was here once, and I went straight from those elevators to the cells and back.”
“We need to move, and now,” said Hobbar, looking around the corner. “I don’t think we’ll be able to get those guys into the cells like we did with the guy downstairs.”
“Right,” said Zack. “This way, Chip. If I’m lucky, you’ll make it out of here in one piece.”
Igneous watched the human guards rushing around the corner, and hoped that Zack would be able to handle everything coming his way. She grabbed the fist of one of her assailants to block his strike, and spun him into the other, causing the two to crash into the wall. She noticed that Jen was crawling away from the combat, toward the elevator behind Murk. Igneous was already starting to breathe heavily, and the orange and red glow from behind her eyes and the cracks in her skin increased along with her breathing. These two had clearly never practiced combat as a discipline, and lacked the field experience that might make up for it, but if they were smart about it they might be able to outlast her. The two regained their feet, faster than Igneous had hoped for, but unsteadily enough that she felt she still had a chance.
“I don’t have to handle this myself, do I?” asked Murk, flowing closer to the combat, growing slimmer and taller as he neared. “With what I pay the two of you, I’d hope that you could incapacitate a single mercenary without requiring my assistance.”
“Try it,” said Igneous, keeping an eye on the two rock men as they tried to circle her. “These two’ve at least picked up a few brawling techniques from the back alleys, but from what I remember you don’t even have that.”
“My people don’t need to learn to fight,” said Murk. “To touch us is to feel our wrath, and to engage us is to take the first step toward being enveloped.”
“Then all those combat classes I took when I was your age must not have given me any advantages over the years,” said Igneous. “Clearly, I don’t know what I’m doing out here.”
One of the rock men lunged, and Igneous grabbed it, using her attacker’s momentum and her own raw strength to launch the him into the opponent on her other side. The two hit the ground and looked up in time to see the cloudy expression intensify on Murk’s face.
“Fine, then,” said Murk. “I’ll drown you, and errode you away, and leave whatever might remain as a warning to future DMA members who think they can charge into my home or operate in Helix without my say so.”
Fletch lifted the entry hatch of the elevator and dropped into its cab. A magnetic key unscrewed the maintenance panel and allowed her to disable the elevator’s chime with the pull of a single wire. A button push later and the door silently slid open.
She witnessed Murk, the undisputed ruler of Helix’s criminal underworld, forming into a wall of purple and blue liquid, a liquid that almost prevented her from seeing Igneous on the other side. The wall rushed and rolled at Igneous like a wave, one designed to flow upon and easily entrap anything it encountered.
Fletch calculated the value of Igneous to her endeavors and relative use to DMA projects that involved her, and the worth of Murk. She reached for a pistol at her tech suit’s belt, one loaded with one of the two doses of Teles. She stopped reaching for it when the wall touched Igneous, sizzled, and recoiled.
Murk reformed into a more familiar version of himself, and came as close as he could to falling onto his back in surprise.
“How are you that hot?” he asked. “How… how are you alive? You should have either died or moved on to your metamorphosis by now!”
“Funny thing about all that combat studying I did,” said Igneous. “It taught me a few things about balance. Physical, emotional, mental… you’re right that I’m well overdue for your average Pyrhian, but I’ve got more than enough fight in me to burn you away. Or evaporate you. Whatever it is you do.”
Murk washed backward, toward the elevator.
“Now, you keep your hands off me.”
“Why?” asked Igneous. “I thought to touch you was to feel your wrath. Will your wrath not keep you cool? Hey, at least your guards here don’t seem to mind the heat. I should probably thank them, really, for the warm up before you entered the ring. What say you call them off, and the guards chasing Gamma, and I won’t finish the job.”
Murk took a moment and nodded to the two guards. They regained their feet slowly. Igneous looked beyond Murk and saw Jen sitting in front of one elevator and Fletch of all people stepping out of another.
“Sounds like you found your friend,” said Fletch. “Glad to hear that I came to the right building. When I saw the wind prophet, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to piece together the location properly.”
“I was worried that’d happen,” said Igneous.
“Don’t be too sad,” said Fletch. “You may still get your Teles if I find Gamma.”
Murk stared at the new intruder, not sure what was happening. Fletch glared at him when she noticed.
“I think my stony friend just told you to call your guards off from pursuing Zack Gamma. Get on that.”