Jason grunted noncommittally and slid a matte-black collapsible baton into one of his belt loops. He set the handle at an angle to give easy access and tapped it with satisfaction. “True ‘nuff. But we go with the flow of fate, my friend, and right now, it’s flowing towards Alec, not towards some magic mind-control necklace.”
“The kumir stras’ti is more than that.”
“Yes, I know.” Jason shrugged. ‘I’ve even seen it.”
Patrick paused in his equipment check. “A picture – wait, of Isabella? Wearing it?” Jason nodded blandly as he strapped a Sykes-Fairbain commando knife upside down on his chest harness. Patrick was stunned. “But…that means you’re worshipping her!”
“Yes,” Jason said matter-of-factly. He paused and gave Patrick a significant look. “We all worship in our own way.” Satisfied with his kit, he thumped his chest armor. “I know that what I do is what is best for her. Therefore it’s easy to do it.” He paused, a faraway look in his eyes. “It’s incredible, you know – the kumir stras’ti. Not just amber. There are other stones, clear like water from a glacier frozen in crystal. Smooth metal spheres woven with the bronze cord, twisting whorls that catch the eye and carry you…away. It has a milkstone, like a chip of comet fallen to earth suspended over the frozen amber…it glowed against her skin, shone with the essence of everything I’ve ever desired…” Jason’s voice had grown soft and distant. Patrick was gentle as he grasped the man’s arm to bring him back.
“You’ll always want her that way, won’t you, brother?”
Jason shook his head, running fingers over his moustache, smoothing it unconsciously. “I dunno. But I knew this guy Patrick a while back who took on a burden that would never be lifted.” He looked into his friends eyes. “He turned out alright.”
They smiled grimly with the familiarity of unhealable wounds. Then Patrick broke the gaze to look up the stairs. “Jane’s been up there a while.” They exchanged worried looks as they realized how unnaturally silent the street had been after Alec’s capture. “I wonder what kind of distraction she’s plan-“
There was a sudden crash came from the alley, the sound of glass breaking and falling to the street. Faint shouts came from the compound, fewer than before but sounding more panicked.
“That would be it,” Jason said. The two of them headed out the door to get their friend.
It felt good to be back in her leathers, Jane thought. Her brown leather chaps over worn gray denim and darker vest over a green chamois shirt gave her both the comfort of familiarity and the protection of armor. Laying rone along the power line, one leg dangling straight down and the other hooked behind for balance, she flexed her grip and looked down at the Incubiker compound, her her dark gloves protecting her from the hum of electricity. She frowned, eyes fierce and bright as she studied the side of the building. She was facing a temptation.
Thanks to a few swallows from a particular tonic recovered from her rucksack she felt a sharp and crisp feral energy. A long sheath at the small of her back held her only visible weapon. The time of tricks and devices was, for the most part, over, so Jane had tried to be subtle with her plan. She really had. A simple strategy: crawl along this power line to the roof of the compound and make her way inside, sowing mayhem and chaos on her way to finding the Doukas brothers – that is, the kumir strast’i. If she happened to meet up with the brothers, well, there were some debts that needed paying…but she was focused on the mission. On her simple plan.
OK, she admitted to herself. Maybe simple wasn’t the right word. It wasn’t really much of a plan at all when she thought about it.
On the other hand, it had more nuance and subtlety than most of her plans.
Now she was inching her way along an line that thrumming with electric current, only held at bay by her leathers. Her hand-over-hand journey high above the street had been absolutely silent, no bulky gear to get in her way or rattle, and the idea of climbing a power line was just crazy enough that no one seemed to be watching.
Most of the windows on the building were sealed tight with the security shutters that Alec hadn’t managed to short-circuit. Jane thought that she could see vague silhouettes moving in the light behind one, though, and the garbled sound of a conversation floated up through the night air. The words were unintelligible but Jane thought she could hear a definite Russian tone to the voice. There was an urgency to their tone that implied some dread and impending arrival. There was too much grime to see inside, but slender silhouettes cut the light as Jane watched.
Of course it was a trap. Jane was under no illusions as to that. The question was, did she want to spring it, or avoid it? Jane continued along the line for a few more feet, stopped, measured the angles with her eyes, and then inched backwards a foot. She lay prone on the wire breathing slowly with eyes closed for a moment. “Eris guide my chaotic way,” she whispered, adding “Mei absolutio” Then, with a smooth motion she rolled off the wire, holding the line with one hand while she drew her obsidian knife with the other and sliced through the metal and insulation in a single stroke.
The swing didn’t take her directly through the window, but she’d planned for that. She hit the wall of the compound feet-first, boots planted wide to absorb the impact. She flexed her knees and pushed away from the wall, letting the bounce carry her to the side. As she reached the outer swing of the arc away from the building she drew her feet together. The hard soles of her boots drove through the window pane with a crash and Jane gracefully arched her body through the frame, landing with a small crunch of shattered glass.
She straightened up and looked around. She had landed in the Doukas’ private kitchen. Expensive dark-metal pans hung from racks set into the ceiling, and a dark slab of a fridge took up almost half a wall, resembling a bank vault more than a home appliance. Jane smiled evilly at the two women who stood over a large granite counter bent over white lines of powder. They reacted slowly to her entrance, their expressions confused by the drugs as they tried to make sense of this woman-in-cowboy-clothes that had just broken through the window.
Jane recognized the women from the truck, and squinted as she tried to remember their names. Ksenya? Valya? Nastya? It annoyed her that she couldn’t remember. They both wore negligee that clung to their slight frames but barely covered their surgically enhanced breasts. Jane could see a bruise on one woman’s ass cheek, about the size of Theo’s hand. She snapped her fingers. “You were Theo’s partner during the duel! Ksenya, right?”
The brunette looked shocked, worriedly glancing at her companion, then back at Jane. “Da?” her voice quavered.
Jane’s expression turned cold along with her voice. “Michael?” she asked softly.
Both women looked at the doorway to the left, then guiltily back at Jane. Neither moved, frozen like rabbits caught in the shadow of a hawk.
“Spazeba,” Jane whispered, and moved towards the doorway. Just as she reached it a large hand appeared around the frame, grabbing her by the throat and throwing her violently into the next room.
She was able to convert her fall into a smooth aikidoroll, coming back to her feet with her black knife held blade-reversed. She whirled to see Theo leaning casually against the doorframe.
His smile was amused, but his eyes were dead cold. “Cute blade,” he said, pushing off from the wall and sauntering towards her. “Get it out of a cereal box?”
Jane squinted at him, puzzled, and gave a little shrug. “I don’t know what that means,” she said, shifting her balance slightly on the balls of her feet, knees flexed.
“It means, in Australian terms, ‘thet’s nowt eh knaife’,” came Michael’s voice from behind her. Jane ducked instinctively feeling a whoosh in the air high above her head. She looked up to see Theo easily catch the handle of the K-Bar that Michael had lobbed high over her head. “Wound a little tight tonight, Ms. Jane?” he asked sardonically as Theo flipped the blade in his hand, testing the balance. Jane swore softly and breathed more deeply, spreading her awareness to take in the two brothers who had been waiting for her to take the bait.
Michael held an identical blade as his brother, the standard-issue Marine combat knife altered so the blade was a flat black that seemed to drink in the light. The two men circled Jane slowly, legs bent, feet silent. They moved like hyenas trying to decide the right moment to finish off a wounded gazelle on the savannah.
“My brother is easily distracted by hot asses, Ms. Jane,” Michael said, his voice laconic as if he were delivering a lecture. “But even he develops an immunity over time.” Jane shifted as the older brother spoke, trying to keep him in her peripheral vision as he circled. “Besides,” Michael continued, “considering what we had that sweet redheaded rugmuncher put you through, I don’t think you’ve got anything between your legs he’d want anyway.” He watched Jane’s expression for a reaction, but she simply watched him, calmly. Then he frowned and missed a step, squinting. “Didn’t I break your nose?”
Jane shifted again, making sure both brothers were within her field of view. She held her knife in a low guard position, ready to strike in any dirction. “Maybe you did, maybe you only thought you did.” Jane let mockery creep into her tone. “Kind of like you thought you got me, or that you got Isabella.” The three Russian women watched the predatory dance from the kitchen. They seemed fascinated by Jane’s defiance but unwilling to risk helping her. Jane didn’t blame them; the odds were not good. She flicked a glance back to Michael directly. “Or the Kumir Strast’i.”
She watched Michael’s face carefully as she said the words, but he gave no trace of recognition. His mouth did twitch, though, as a crashing sound came from the floor below them. Jane smiled as she heard more shouting and swearing by the Incubikers struggling for control of their compound. “Or like you think your boys can handle Alex.” She cocked her head slightly and smiled at the gray-haired man. “Frankly, Mr. Michael, I don’t think you have anywhere near as much as you think.”
Michael’s eyes narrowed and he straightened, lowering his knife. “OK. I’m officially tired of this bullshit,” he said. His eyes glanced over Jane’s left shoulder towards his brother. “Fuck this noise, Theo, quit dancing around. Take this bitch out.”
Jane turned to the left to meet Theo’s attack. As he hit her from the right she thought Stupid, stupid, such an obvious feint, they’re brothers, after all, should have known – and then she was caught. Theo gripped her knife hand, pressing in on the nerve juncture just over the thumb joint and forcing her fingers to loosen. The blade clattered to the floor. Her foot sent it spinning across the room as they struggled. Jane held the K-Bar away from her body with a joint lock on his arm, but that unfortunately tied up her own arms. She couldn’t risk any kicks for fear of losing her center of gravity. It came down to a losing battle of her leverage and skill against his strength and weight.
Jane shifted and spun inside of the circle of his arms, driving her hip up under his groin as she pulled his arm down to throw him to the floor.
It was a textbook throw, but unfortunately the textbook hadn’t covered petite blondes tossing large bikers. Jane’s small frame wasn’t enough to lift Theo’s center of gravity any higher than an inch or two. She ended up simply clutching at his shirt, hips shifting like a weird combat lap dance. Theo chuckled and wrapped her neck in the V of his arm, bicep and forearm pressing against her carotid arteries.
Jane’s vision started to tunnel into a gray blur. Her hands clenched Theo’s forearm. She gasped. “Theo! Please! Don’t!” Her voice was desperate and hoarse as she fought to stay conscious.
Theo stopped just before she went under, letting her body sag into the chokehold. Jane’s pulse pounded in her head as he relaxed just enough to keep her conscious. Jane’s vision was still hazy and she could feel the iron in Theo’s arm, ready to take her out at the slightest provocation. Dimly she could see the outline of a man in front of her. Michael? she wondered, just before he slapped her, left to right and then backhanded the other direction. His hand felt as if it would rip her head off.
Michael’s facade of self-control was finally gone. “Fucking cunt! I can’t believe you took out Beecee. He’s been with us since the beginning.” He slapped her again, then grabbed her short hair tight, wrenching her head back. “This time there’s no reason to stop, little whore,” he hissed into her face. “My brother and I are going to make sure you last a long time.” He bared his teeth in a cruel smile. “I’m sure those Russian bitches will appreciate the break. They don’t even know that we’re drugging them – they just wake up sore and tired. That’s because we’re merciful – to them.” Michael shook her head again, fist tight in her hair, and Jane moaned, her body helpless in Theo’s grip.
“You, baby, oh, you’re going to wake up mutilated, despairing, knowing exactly what we’ve done to you, and then we’ll just put you under again.” He laughed harshly. “You’ll be awake just long enough to wonder what part of your body will be cut off the next time you wake up.”