Chapter 63

The first wave of Mayfield’s troops did not stand a chance. They poured through and were immediately gunned down as the entire front line of employees unloaded upon them. All fell to the ground, wounded or dead. The second wave made a slightly better show, stopping most of the bullets with riot shields. Unfortunately for them, most were still in Zap’s circle of effect when he triggered the hung spell there; a towering inferno set the hapless soldiers ablaze. Matt targeted the remainder with the stun turret and they were gunned down under a combination of stun bolts and bullets. The soldiers did not seem discouraged, however; they rallied and attempted another entry.

The defenders fought back.

“Raimi’s taking over for me in the back,” To’mas’s voice sounded over the employee radios. “Taking sniping position.”

“Right,” Alan replied. He sighted an intruder over his barrier and fired. “Focus on commanding troops or those with special armaments. Or few armaments.”

Steve and Zap crouched behind the same barrier. Zap finished murmuring a spell and a bolt of lightning shot from the tip of his wand. It struck a group of three soldiers who had just come through the door, who staggered and lost control of their shields. Steve took aim and fired three times, hitting each of the soldiers in the forehead.

“Fuck,” Zap said a bit shakily.

“Yeah, I’m kind of a crack shot these days,” Steve replied.

“No, I mean,” Zap said. “We’re killing people. We’re actually killing them. I mean, have you ever done that before?”

Steve set her jaw. “No,” she said. “Don’t think about that right now.”

“Right,” Zap replied, then closed his eyes and started chanting.

One of the soldiers staggered past a hail of gunfire and stun bolts and made it to one side of one of the checkout kiosks, crouching just behind it. His shoulders fell in a sigh of relief. With no warning, Michelle-Bear stepped from behind nearby cover, swung her maul in a lateral half-circle and struck the soldier in the side, crushing him against the side of the kiosk. He fell to the ground, clutching his arm and struggling to breathe. Michelle-Bear stepped back under cover as a few other soldiers turned their fire on her.

Before the soldiers could regroup and send another party in, Zap stood and shouted a few arcane words. A wall of light streaked across the entrance of the store, blocking the door-shaped hole.

“That’ll give us some time,” Zap panted, then dropped into a sitting position and leaned against the HDP barrier.

The defenders hurriedly worked to reload their weapons and recuperate. Michelle-Bear ran out from her cover, collecting weapons and shields from the fallen soldiers. What few were still alive and conscious received a gentle tap to the back of the head, rendering them unconscious.

“Hey,” Steve said to Zap, looking up briefly from refilling a magazine with bullets.

“Yeah?” Zap said, not looking up. He was rifling through a duffel back filled with plastic sandwich bags, each one holding a small amount of material spell component. He had removed some of the bags, placing them in small piles next to one another.

“I looked up the name of the woman I’m a reincarnation of,” she said.

“Who was she?” Zap asked, his attention still absorbed.

“Oakey,” Steve said. “Ann Oakey.”

Zap stopped what he was doing and stared at Steve. “Oakley, you mean?” he asked. “Annie Oakley?”

“Yeah!” Steve said, smiling. “You’ve heard of her?”

“Crack shot indeed,” Zap said, shaking his head. “My dad has a video to show you when we get out of this. What the hell’s that?”

Zap pointed at a strange device at Steve’s feet. It looked not unlike a rotary fan with curved blades made of shiny gray plastic. It had what appeared to be a red-battery assembly in its center and had several protruding cables.

“That,” Steve said proudly, “is an attachment to Polaris that I made. It uses a standard energy converter to change Polaris into a hybrid energy pistol.”

Zap recoiled a bit. “Is it … safe?”

Steve looked ceilingward, shrugged, and made noncommittal noises.

“What do you call it?” Zap asked.

Steve grinned. “The Spur,” she said. “On account of its shape.”

Zap continued to watch Steve as she returned to the task of refilling her magazines.

“You’re really something else, you know that?” Zap said.

“Hmm?” Steve said, looking up at him.

“I…” Zap began. “Would you—”

“Incoming!” Alan shouted.

There was a deafening blast. Zap’s magical shield shattered, driven inward by an intense explosive force. All of the defenders’ eyes shot to the roiling cloud of smoke where the door had been. Through the smoke rolled a massive hunk of gleaming plastic, a hulking personal tank just small enough to be able to fit through the plastic hole that it had just widened.

“Oh, no,” Nalley breathed. “A Juggernaut Suit.”