Chapter 16: In the House of Calvin

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Several residents were in the halls, milling around before the dinner hour, the perfect camouflage for a group of visitors. No one needed to know they weren't invited by anyone. Amber's team only encountered a few of the house's staff, as most were preparing for the coming meal, though some of them regarded the unknown guests with stern looks and carried themselves with the air of a certain professionalism. They were mercenaries, which meant meant they were armed.

"Looks like most of the staff has been replaced with soldiers," Amber's call came through the coms.

"I noticed," Bryce said with evident mirth, though not all of them shared his enthusiasm.

"Uh-oh. What does that mean?" Courtney asked.

Amber huffed. "It means we shoot to kill. I'm sorry, guys, but this is how it has to be. They know what they are doing, and they won't go easy on you, so take no chances. It's them or us. We're not dealing with pushover security guards after all. But be careful. No bystanders get hurt, and I mean it."

Bryce smiled. It had been too long since he engaged in a serious fight, and he was looking forward to the challenge. He and Taylor made it all the way to the eastern wing of the house, near her father's study, before being questioned by two of the guards. They stood imposing, and one of them held up his hand.

"Sorry, gentlemen, this area is off limits. Go back the way you came," he said.

"Since when?" Taylor asked.

"New orders from Mr. Leider. You'll have to take it up with him."

Taylor didn't wait any longer. With a scowl and a flash of red mana, her true form emerged, and she lunged forward. She hit the men squarely in their chests, striking them down. They didn't even have time to react.

Amber must have seen Taylor's mana erupt for she asked through the com, "What was that?"

"They posted guards," Taylor said. "It's on now. Try to keep up."

Taylor spared a brief second to grin at Bryce before taking off down the hall at speeds he couldn't hope to match, though he poured a generous amount of orange mana into his legs to try. He came around a corner to find Taylor smashing through three more guards. Two fell to the ground, but a third managed to escape her wrath and aimed his pistol at her back when she passed him. He fired off a shot before Bryce was there, pounding him hard into unconsciousness. Taylor grunted when the bullet struck her but didn't slow.

Together they worked their way closer to Mr. Calvin's study and their archonic targets. Taylor charged the guards first and drew their fire, but she moved so impossibly fast they didn't even have time to set their aim before she slammed into them and sent them reeling. Her attacks didn't carry much force behind them, but her mere touch was enough to down any human threat, her red mana infiltrating them and overpowering their senses. Then Bryce entered the fray, knocking the remaining, disoriented solders to the ground with heavy punches. That was fine with him. He was a decent shot with a pistol, but he preferred to get his hands dirty.

They rounded a corner to find a blockade set in their path. Several bullets struck Taylor, and she and Bryce were forced back around the corner.

Taylor gritted her teeth. "That fuckin' hurts!"

Bryce studied her wounds. "Black mana. Looks like they managed to rally their forces."

"Not gonna stop me," Taylor replied with a wry grin, composing herself.

"Careful," Bryce said. "Two of them are acolytes, and one holds the black mana."

Taylor roared in defiance and turned the corner to charge their adversaries. She dashed along the walls, evading as much fire as she could. Within a second, she smashed through their ranks like a steamroller. Only the acolytes slowed her charge, meeting her with blasts of invisible energy. She roared again and lashed out at them with her open hands. She showed them what true power felt like.

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