Chapter Thirty-Three: Tibo
“I am disappointed, of course.” Chumin’s voice hadn’t changed in tone or timbre, still soft and patient while he held Tibo at gunpoint. “But you are young and impulsive. I don’t believe the situation is irretrievable if you stop reacting long enough to think.”
“You just said you’re killing Rolly! There’s no coming back from that!”
“Oh, my dear. My poor dear. Of course there is.” Chumin rose, far steadier and straighter than he had been before. “I can save your Rolly. Give him back to you. I can give you everything you want. Everything. You already have fame and more money than is good for you. But what is it you want Tibo Glent? Hmm? You want the goblin community to accept you, to laud you as a hero. I can give you that. You want your lover’s ancient family to accept you. I can give you that, too. Anything you desire if you tell me the one thing I need now and if you agree to work with me.”
Tibo backed a step, then another, sudden panic clawing its way up from his gut. He wanted to run, to hide, to curl into a ball and sob. “I don’t...how do you know these things? How the fuck could you know?”
Ominous shadows grew behind Chumin, increasing his mass, his overwhelming presence in the room. Visions of flames and smoke, of beloved voices screaming and of futile, anxious flight down darkened hallways filled Tibo’s beleaguered mind. He whimpered, unable to turn his back on the terrible things in front of him, too terrified of what might be behind him to turn around.
“You don’t look well at all, my dear.”
The words were so simple, though could even have been kind, but they slid around him with chill, cruel intent, working under his skin, words too large to be contained in the tower room, blocking out light and sense. Tibo panicked and scrambled for the door, yanking on the handle. The door didn’t budge, didn’t even shake in its frame as he pulled with everything he had, screamed and pounded.
He ended up on the floor curled up against the wood, arms wrapped around his head, crying out in terror at each approaching footstep. The fear made no sense. It was too huge, too sharp, too…
Too fucking overwhelming to be his. That bastard!
If there was one thing in life Tibo knew well, it was fear, and he sure as hell knew his own fear, the shape and the taste of it. This wasn’t his. This was Chumin emolating at him and it pissed Tibo the fuck off. Reaching past his panic, past the hammering of his own heart into the dark spaces was the hardest thing he’d ever done. His head pounded, his eyes felt like they were bleeding. Still he collected the magic faster than he ever had, gathered the fear and the helpless rage, pulling in the dark energy without thinking about too much or too fast. He knit all of the horrible things inside him into a black ball and pushed back.
Chumin stumbled back, nearly dropping his pistol. Suddenly, he was a normal goblin again instead of a looming specter of death. The fear was still there, pushing against Tibo in heavy, dark waves, but now he could handle it. He knew the source and his anger drove him, letting him gather his feet under him and stagger back up. Slowly, each deliberate step harder than the last, he forced his way back into the room.
Gods. He felt like he was dying.
“Do you see?” Chumin crowed, his voice laced with sharp delight. “Do you see the power you have? Untrained, untapped--and still you can do this. For all the gods’ sakes, let me teach you! Such a small thing you would give me and I could give you everything!”
Tibo lurched another step closer. Another. One more. He pulled his lips back from his sharp teeth in a parody of a smile. “No. I see what you are now. Spider in your webs. So many fucking webs. How do you keep track?”
“Practice. Patience. The occasional spreadsheet.” Chumin raised the pistol again. “I will kill you if I must, Tiborishandelac. I don’t wish to. It would be such a terrible waste. Yes, sometimes I do terrible things because I must. Because I have no choice. To keep the balance, to keep the world as stable as we can, sometimes there are terrible choices.”
“Yeah? Somehow looks to me like you take the easiest choices too much.” Almost there. Another step. “Snuff out stuff that doesn’t fit your plans. Gods forbid people wouldn’t behave in their nice little boxes.”
“My actions have always been for the greater good, my dear.” His voice wavered, either out of sincerity or because Tibo’s fear-throwing was getting to him, but damn, he sounded like he meant it. “I weave my webs so the world does not descend into chaos.”
“Fantastic.” One more step and I can jump him. Maybe two. “But I gotta draw the line at killing kids and selling out my friends.”
* * * * *
There was altogether too much blood in the corridor. Akemi knew some of these knights, knew they acted under orders. She wanted to avoid killing so many people valuable to the organization. She had struck to disable and to dissuade but the close-quarters fighting made it inevitable that some would be mortally wounded.
Damn Nootau for running off. Damn Ashe and Jaxx for vanishing. Damn Tibo and Rolly for not waiting two minutes so she could retrieve them. She stepped behind Jariah and two of her own security to get her back to the wall and draw breath. What she needed to do would be quick but she still needed more than a heartbeat or two.
Reaching into the dark spaces for a kitsune was as natural as breathing. Every kit began to play with manipulation of dark energy as magic in their first year, sometimes within days of birth. Learning to finesse those energies and to master the skills natural to every kitsune took longer and some never progressed beyond the simplest of illusions. Akemi had used her illusions successfully on stadium-sized crowds.
“Hold fast and trust me, not your eyes,” she told her knights as she swept the magic up and out.
It began as a wave of red, a tide of blood rushing toward them from the far end of the corridor. For some, this was enough to make them run screaming. Others fell, believing themselves swept up in the torrent. Behind the wave, though, a greater terror stalked the halls. The thud of its steps trembled through the floor. It’s roar swept the air into a howling wind before it. When it turned the corner, the nearest combatants could only stumble back in horror.
The monster had eight shining, chitinous limbs each ending in serrated pincers as large as a man. It walked on four and used the others as arms while stalk eyes swiveled from a mass of writhing tentacles where it’s head should have been. It opened its beak to roar and the stench alone was nearly deadly.
Some of the braver knights prepared to take a stand, so Akemi elaborated on the illusion and had the monster snatch up an illusory knight and rip her to shreds, using tentacles and arms to stuff the gore and red-tinged bone into its mouth.
“Run, you fools!” she bellowed. “Clear the corridors! Clear the level!”
Whatever their individual orders had been, Akemi’s was still the voice of authority for this facility. They ran. Some stopped to retrieve fallen comrades. Some had to be pulled from their frozen terror. But they ran. While the corridor cleared and Akemi’s knights stood at the ready as if to defend the corridor and their colleagues’ retreat, Akemi shifted.
Black fur began at her ears and raced down her body while her face elongated and her limbs shortened. Fingernails became claws. Teeth sharpened. Ears grew pointed. Akemi shook herself free of her clothes as she went to all fours and reveled in the wonderful rush of her nine tails bursting free in all their black-furred glory.
“Endlich,” she said on a fox sneeze. “I thought they would never leave.”
Jariah chuckled as she gathered Akemi’s clothes and katana to hand off to one of their own. “Just couldn’t wait to get naked. Typical.”
“You’re just jealous because you have no tails.” Akemi let go of her illusions and the corridor was quiet and clear of hematological flooding. “Where’s Pel? And Dzim?”
“Pel hasn’t checked in.” Jariah’s grin fell, her jaw tight. “Dzim was with Edwige’s group directing the medics last I saw.”
“That was a while ago.” Akemi took off at a brisk trot toward the operations center where she had assigned Pel. “We need more medics down here as soon as they can get turned around. Too many assets at stake. This is madness.”
“Oh, no,” Jariah murmured as they turned the corner into the operations center.
The communications boards sat deserted. Blood slicked the floor. In the middle of the floor lay Pel, gasping in Dzim’s arms, the wheezing of a sucking chest wound all too obvious with every breath.
Dzim glanced up with red-rimmed eyes to acknowledge them with a nod. He said softly, “Medics are coming. Don’t know...maybe too late.”
“Damn it.” Akemi’s tails swished in agitation behind her. “Stay with us, Pel. That’s an order.”
Pel managed a weak wave of one hand, letting her know he’d heard. “Report,” he wheezed.
“Shut up,” Dzim told him gently. “Idiot. You can’t report anything right now. Shh.” He kissed Pel’s forehead and looked up at Akemi again. “We lost some of them in the melee. Edwige and Aegeus are in the hospital wing. Mal and Kaden escorted them there. Nootau? No idea. Same with Jaxx and Ashe. Pel told Rolly and Tibo to run for Herr Delgavelac’s office if things went tit’s up. No confirmation yet if they made it.”
Akemi nudged one of her security men. “Jakob, call up to Chumin. Now.”
He nodded and jogged to one of the comm stations to make the call. After a few moments with the receiver to his ear, he shook his head. “No answer.”
“Lovely.” Akemi gave Pel a quick nuzzle. “You. Live, damn it. Dzim, stay with him. Jakob, you as well. Matthias, Jariah, with me.”
“To the keep?” Jariah asked as she checked her weapons and reloaded.
“Yes.” Akemi was already moving, breaking into a run. “I have the worst of feelings.”
* * * * *
For a long, heart-slamming moment, they stood frozen, held fast in each other’s battering emotive fields. Chumin moved first, taking his pistol in both hands in agonizing slow motion, his eyes pinched with the effort. Tibo bared his teeth, trying to will himself to do one last thing.
Move. Move now. Move now or you’re going to die. Move now or he kills you and Rolly dies. Move, you worthless moron!
With a throat-shredding shriek, Tibo launched, throwing everything into one desperate leap. He hit Chumin hard and they went down in a tangle of limbs, biting and scratching. They rolled across the carpet, instinct driving them both toward the windows and more light. Tibo sank his teeth into Chumin’s shoulder then had to release and duck his head to avoid a claw in the eye. Claws and fists flying, it was difficult to say what happened when.
Later, Tibo thought he had landed a solid punch to the side of Chumin’s head first or maybe the gun went off in that same moment. In whatever order, they broke apart, Tibo clutching his ribs, Chumin the side of his head as he retched on the carpet. Cold fury burned in the elder goblin’s eyes when he raised his head again. Then began to raise his gun.
Adrenaline spiked through Tibo so hard, he thought his heart would explode. He seized Chumin by his collar and belt and lifted him to hurl him at the window. The glass shattered in a splintering cascade of falling sunlight. Chumin’s scream was cut short by a sickening thud.
“Oh, gods…” Tibo thought he was going to be sick and the pain in his side hit him hard. He curled up on the floor, wanting desperately to go die with Rolly, no longer having the energy to crawl all the way across the room. “Rolls. I’m sorry. I love you. I’m so sorry.”
* * * * *
Jariah overrode the lock on the keep door, an agonizingly slow process since it was both magical and physical. As soon as she had it open, Akemi raced up the stairs, shifting back as she ran. Not a smart thing to do and she had to stop in the second floor office to get her legs sorted out. She grabbed a trench coat from a hook and reached the top floor still in her fox ears and tails.
“Chumin!” She pounded on the massive door. “Chumin, open the door! Now!”
Nothing. No, not nothing. A whimper? She pressed her ear to the door and heard someone call out in a thready voice, “I think he’s dead. Can’t...open.”
“Damn, damn, damn.” Akemi snarled and put both hands on the door, summoning enough physical fire to burn through to the lock mechanism, then the blue fox fire to burn through the spells. By now Jariah and Matthias had caught up to her and Matthias kicked the door in.
Again with the room reeking of blood. Akemi hurried in, taking in Rolly seemingly asleep on the couch and Tibo curled in an agonized ball on the floor.
“Where’s Chumin?” she demanded and didn’t care if it sounded sharp.
“Window.” Tibo gasped. “He shot me. Threw him out. Rolly...Akemi, please. Rolly’s poisoned. Dying. He said...said antidote. Tea cup.”
“Chumin gave Rolly poisoned tea?” Akemi asked, to be sure she’d gotten the sense of all that garbled mess.
Tibo nodded and Jariah came back from the window shaking her head. “Chumin’s down there. Can’t tell from here.”
“Goddesses’ tits.” Akemi hissed through her teeth as she gathered Tibo up in her arms. She stopped at the desk to sniff at the tea cups. “Hemlock derivative. Matthias, bring Mr. McFarland. Jariah, go down and stay with Chumin. Or what’s left of him. No one moves him until medical arrives. Once they have him, you grab a search party and find Demir and his wolf. For these two, I’m not waiting. We’re going straight to the hospital wing.”
“What about the others?” Jariah called after her as Akemi hurried for the door.
“Bernard’s on the Triad. I’ll get a squad searching for the phoenix.”
Too many mistakes that day. Far too many and too many hands in the same pots. Some of them were hands she thought she trusted. Chumin’s twisted body lay at the foot of the tower as they ran by to take the shortcut through the kitchens, faded green skin with the shock of white bone protruding here and there. Oh, my old friend. What have you done?