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I must have made some small movement because the gun pointed itself at me again and Eoul's face sobered. "I'll deal with the girl. Get rid of him," he told the mage as he began to come round the revving constructs. I lurched in the opposite direction, slipping on the ashes of my burnt employee record.

Eoul fired. The shot went wild but managed to wing my right arm as I dove around the middle row of cabinets. I cried out at the wave of searing pain needling my flesh but didn't stop running. Eoul fired over the top of the cabinets, missing me by inches when I ducked. I heard the man cursing as I made a beeline for the door.

I have to get Eoul away from here, I told myself as I gripped my streaming arm and ran in a crouch. I have to get him away from the mage and Darius, then find a way to get back and stop the mage before I'm too late.

Even I could admit it wasn't the greatest of plans.

The fifth shot pinged off the metal door as I slipped over the threshold, and I felt the small slivers of metal strike my face but didn't pause to inspect the damage. Eoul's heavy, running footsteps followed in my wake, trailed by his huffing breath.

Darius' inhuman shouting echoed in my ears and spurred on my tired legs.

I bolted through the slim hallway, angling for the stairwell. I meant to run for the ground floor, but two bullets embedded themselves in the drywall not centimeters from my head—so I diverted course and clamored upward to the third floor. I barely had enough time to flatten myself on the landing before Eoul fired three rounds from the bottom of the stairs. All three burrowed holes into the wall and misted my hair with white dust.

I pried open the door and crawled into the next room. Eoul's thundering steps began to climb the stairs.

Panting, I slammed the door shut to the stairwell, locked it, and took in my surroundings. I had never visited the third floor before, so I was unsure what I would find. Little lines of clerical cubicles stood in the darkness, illuminated only by the fuzzy ambiance peeping through the covered windows and a forgotten desk lamp. The beige carpet was drab and riddled with various dirty splotches, and the smell of the lunch someone had microwaved the day before still lingered.

The sight of so many abandoned cubicles with personal belongings strewn about was almost...apocalyptic. Sad.

Eoul had to shoot the lock twice before it crumbled and the sweating man could barrel through the doorway. I slipped into one of the nearest cubicles and sunk to my knees, holding my clammy palms over my mouth to hide my scared breathing.

"Let's finish this game, Gaspard," Eoul grunted. I heard him stomp near the entrance—but he didn't move farther than the crooked plastic fig tree at the end of the row. "I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to get around me, trying to get back downstairs to Emerson. It isn't going to work, sweetheart. Your hound's about to be put down."

I gnashed my teeth but said nothing. I gripped the wound on my arm until the pain was almost unbearable. I could taste the bitter twang of copper and gun powder upon my tongue.

A desk fan whirred in the cubicle across the aisle, fluttering a stack of receipts. Eoul fired two rounds into the empty space without bothering to inspect the noise first. I couldn't see the balding CEO from my hiding spot, but I could hear his quiet, displeased swearing.

"Come out, Gaspard. Let's...discuss things." His footsteps moved first toward the left, then the right as the man paced. I could almost sense his beady, hungry eyes scouring the tops of the cubicles as he waited for me to pop up. "I'm a businessman, after all. I can be amicable."

I slowly flattened myself onto the grungy carpeting. My blood seeped into the fibers as my wet hair fell across my eyes. "Fourteen," I whispered as I bit the inside of my lip and closed my eyes.

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