Buncombe waited for Justin’s heaving chest to calm. Then, not unkindly, he said, “We have to move. They’ll know he’s gone.”
Justin nodded, his face pale, his hands shivering. He had felt the twist, the twang in the fabric of the world beyond the mundane, as Tobias had breathed his last.
At Justin’s hand.
Daldion clamped down on the thought, ordering Justin to move, to rejoin reality.
He just had to move on. Ignore what he had done—there were lives at stake. His own, Buncombe’s, Amber’s, Francisco’s… Lives that to protect he might have to kill. Such was war.
The Art of War never mentioned this. Never spoke of the numbness and cold that killing brought. The bloody thoughts that rose even as he tried to walk towards the subway line. War had been strategy, impersonal, and a battle of wills—a complicated game. A game.
But as the revelation slowly fell over him, Justin realized it was a game only for generals and politicians and rulers. It was the soldier, the man on the ground, that had to effect the pieces’ moves. And down there, on the ground, it was dirty.
Buncombe stopped at the tracks and stared up and down the tunnel. Justin’s subway had left long before, but no rumble in the tracks indicated the arrival of another. One hand held the graze on his side, slowing the small trickle of blood. The red as startling against his brown skin.
Then Buncombe’s head snapped around, his eyes flickering to the entrance to the subway. “Get down,” he snapped, drawing his pistol again. The Berretta was already loaded and ready—Buncombe moved to the nearest pillar as Justin crouched against a corner watching for whatever Buncombe had heard or sensed.
Four men—no—eight. Two squads, moving slowly down the stairwells and into the doorways of the subway station. At first Justin could only see their black boots, but then their heavily armored bodies and helmeted heads came into view. SWAT.
Justin looked to the weapon that Buncombe had replaced in his shoulder holster. He knew how to use it and carried several new clips in his pockets. Not that he would need them—he had only fired one shot.
But if he did—if he had to exchange fire with the heavy rifles of the NYPD—he probably wouldn’t have a chance to reload, let alone fire all the bullets in a clip.
A lone subway car was scraping into position, and the SWAT team switched their gazes to it, moving down deeper into the station. Buncombe held a finger to his lips, nodding at Justin.
Three. Two. One.
There was a shock in the world. Like things were shivering, like the whole earth was suddenly fluid. A glow was thrown over the light, dimming it, but also illuminating in a different way. Everything was defined, all the edges clear and distinct, their true natures laid bare.
The SWAT men noticed it—but it was obvious they couldn’t see the blue like Justin could—they couldn’t see the Thin Places as it cast a shadow over reality as they knew it.
But they did see the four figures that seemed to materialize out of thin air—wolves. One white, one black, one gray, one brown. Iridesss, Zerihun, Daldion, and Rigel.
They opened fire, blowing holes in the tile and concrete floor as the four figures scattered, heading in all different directions.
The men were well trained. The stayed together, stayed in their strengths, firing bursts at the blurs that seemed to be circling them. But their shots always seemed to miss, the lead skittering to the left or right at each crucial split-second.
But they weren’t missing because the wolves moved to fast. They missed because the wolves weren’t really there.
“I really should work on a better illusion of myself,” Daldion said. “My ears are far too large.”
“I despise putting my visage on a fallen creature,” Rigel rumbled.
Despite himself, Justin blurted, “Fallen?”
“Their wolfish cousins we know as regular bloody wolves. They are far less…original…than our companions. Just as we, being bonded with them, become something else too. A step up, as it were. Or a step down. It is our choice.”
Amber stepped from the subway car, one eye on the SWAT men still shooting up the subway, both hands on her Glock. “If you’ve finished your biology lesson, we should be moving on.”
The doors began to close but a heavy figure blocked them—Francisco.
The trio moved into the subway and the doors closed softly. Outside the shooting stopped and the confusion began.
“This mission is blown.” It was the Latin American. “We should get out while we can.”
Justin opened his mouth to agree. To ask. To plead—to get out of the subway station, but Buncombe spoke first.
“No…no…no. This can’t be it. There has to be something more. Daldion saw New York. What happens here?”
“Tobias is dead,” Justin said. Francisco and Amber’s eyes turned to him. “I killed him. Isn’t that something?”
“Not enough,” Buncombe insisted. “You saw the SWAT teams. They had to be on Halling’s payroll. He’s hiding something. We suddenly arrive and start riding his subway, he panics. He calls in a few favors and gets the stations cleared and a few teams to check them out.”
Justin suddenly felt a lump in his chest.
“No. That’s not it. This whole thing was a set up. This was a trap.”