Chapter 29

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A slow trickle of water works it's way down the stone wall beside me as I wait for Tawny and the others beneath the mangled remains of the Irrigator. When a droplet falls I reach out to catch it, drawing my hand back and studying the small pool created in my palm. My thoughts turn to emerging from a desert swim and finding someone waiting for me by a cracking bonfire. I shake the memory clear the instant I catch myself smiling, coming to focus just as the sound of approaching footsteps reaches my ears.

Pushing off the rusty bit of pipe I was leaning against I go to meet them. I cross my arms and stop a few feet short of Tawny and her crew, ignoring the instinct to step back when Tawny adjusts the bulky pack strapped to her shoulders. Best-case scenario she is carrying only a detonator but I'd be willing to bet that more than one unstable invention is taking up residence inside that bag. When my part in this mission is over I am going to make it my business to be as far from Tawny and her pack as possible.

"Well, strike me down." Babel's lead anarchist whistles softly, "You're early."

"Miracles happen." I respond. "Are you ready?"

"Are you? Have you found a way in?"

"Of course." I feign offence. "All that's left is to dispose of the Brutes guarding the door. I just wanted to make sure that you've made good use of the last twelve hours before getting my hands dirty."

Amusement shows on her face as Tawny indicates one of the tunnels across the chamber. "We've carved out a route through there. It's a straight shot to the labs and completely closed off from the Enforcers."

I consider the path she's chosen, draping a black scarf over my head and suppressing a shiver of anticipation. Adrenaline has already begun to work it's way through my veins, bringing with it the thrill of relying purely on my instincts. The heavy Enforcer breastplate is forgotten, discarded alongside the Irrigator. My only armour, tonight will be my lightweight black clothing, my nerve and the ancient dagger tucked into my boot.

Tawny waits for me to finish my preparations, one brow quirked conspiratorially.

"Give me a five-minute head start," My hands have grown steady and my voice cold. "Then send someone to wait outside the vault's main entrance. I should have the guards taken care of by then."

She gives a curt nod. "See you on the other side."

Drawing the scarf up over my nose I take off for the darkness. My footfalls are soft, my breaths even as I hurdle the last pieces of rubble and dive into the tunnel leading to the vault of gunpowder. Kicking off the stone wall I reach out and grab the metal piping overhead, heaving myself up into the narrow space between the tunnel's ceiling and the pipes.

The bolts securing the pipe dig into my knees and palms. Gritting my teeth I crawl resolutely forward, letting the distant echo of shuffling bodies guide me. Time is indeterminable but eventually the Brutes come into view, a pair of grotesquely-sized shoulders filling the narrow passageway. Eyes flicking to the hatch door behind them I slow but don't stop, creeping the last few feet and dropping into the space between the Madam's monsters and the gunpowder.

The Brutes are slow to turn and my dagger is clenched in my fist long before they can fully register my presence. Raking the blade across the throat of the first I duck and roll out of the way of the second, re-appearing behind him and kicking out at both his knees, driving the behemoth to the floor. The metal gear embedded in his chest slams violently into the stone and I catch hold of his head when it snaps back, twisting his neck and severing the bones in the space of a second.

The Brute slumps lifelessly from my hands. I remain very still, poised and tense while I strain my ears for any sound. Long moments pass with only the definitive click of the dying gears before I rise carefully to my feet, wiping my dagger clean and stowing it away.

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