Now it’s time to apply what we’ve learned. This is an action scene I wrote specifically for this blog. The magic in this world is fairly simple; it works by “Infusing” inanimate objects with a connection to a magical energy field called the Ether. Such objects are separated into two categories: Sinks that drain energy and Sources that emit energy. Each Infused weapon will drain/emit only one type of energy, and they are so labeled. “Heat-Sink, Heat-Source, Light-Sink, etc.”
So now that you understand the basics, it’s time to see how a character can think tactically in this system.
Dipping her hands into the basin, Desa splashed water over her face. She looked up to study herself in the mirror. Well, at least the sun’s out, she noted. If you’re going to die, it should be on a pretty day.
A round face of dark copper skin stared back at her, her dark eyes glittering in the light that came in through the window. Is it all just bravado, Kincaid? she wondered, her brow furrowing. Or can you follow through on your threats?
Desa winced, tossing her head about with enough force to send droplets of water flying. “Yes, Lommy,” she said, backing away from the washbasin. “I know. She’s here already, isn’t she?”
A glance over her shoulder revealed a young man standing just inside the door to her room, a young man dressed in tattered pants and a long brown duster. His face was hidden beneath the brim of a wide hat. “Yes, ma’am,” Lommy said with a nod. “Says your father sent her to clean up his mess.”
Clenching her teeth with a hiss, Desa hung her head. She pressed a fist to her brow and rubbed away the itch of sweat. “Well, at least Daddy notices me,” she muttered. “So, this assassin of his… What does she look like?”
Lommy looked up to blink at her. Unlike Desa, he had the pale features and golden hair of an Easterner. You might have expected him to prefer the company of his other Easterners – they tended to see themselves as superior to all other people – but Lommy was, in fact, quite different. “She’s tall, Ma’am,” he said. “Long, dark hair.”
Desa spun around to face him.
She marched across the room with her arms folded, frowning down at herself. “So this is the woman who will kill me,” she said with a shrug. “Did you get a good look at her? Is she carrying Infused weapons?”
Lommy scrunched up his face as though the question upset him, shaking his head in disgust. “I couldn’t tell, Ma’am,” he answered. “To be honest, I wasn’t exactly eager to get too close.”
A warm smile bloomed on Desa’s face as she stared up at him. “Well then…” she said, batting her eyes. “We’ll just have to find out for ourselves what kind of woman my father keeps on his payroll.”
She marched past him.
Just down the hallway, a long set of stairs led down to the Common Room, and she could already hear the chatter of men and women waiting to see what she would do next. She had promised these people they could stand up to the Easterners. Now it was time to bloody well prove it.
At the foot of the stairs, she ventured a glance into the common room and saw over a dozen people seated at the small, square tables. Most had their eyes downcast, but a few looked up when she passed.
“Kill her for me, Miss Kincaid,” one shouted.
She chose not to dignify that with an answer. The sound of her own surname left bile churning in the pit of her stomach. Kincaid was an Eastern name. Her father was an Easterner – as blonde as they came – and her mother had once enjoyed the privilege of working as one of his house maids. Any woman with half a brain would be able to figure out how that story ended. Of course, she had no right to the name, being a bastard and all, but she chose to keep it just the same. It angered her father to no end.
She pushed open the door.
The inn was located on a wide cobblestone street with a well in the middle of the road and tall buildings that rose a good three or four stories, each with black tiles along their slanted rooftops. The woman who stood not ten paces away with her head down, caught Desa’s eye.
Tall and slim, this woman wore black pants with a revolver on each hip and a sleeveless shirt that had seen some wear and tear. Waves of long dark hair fell over her shoulders like a lion’s mane, but her skin was as pale as the mildest milk. So…this was the assassin her father had sent.
The woman looked up to flash a bright smile as she appraised Desa. “So, you’re the one who causes all this trouble,” she said, arching an eyebrow. “I could live out the rest of my days on the bounty I’ll collect from you.”
Desa closed her eyes, the wind blowing strands of hair across her face. “At your service,” she said with a nod. “Personally, I think retirement is a bore. You’ll have a lot more fun if you journey with me.”
“I didn’t say I planned to retire.”
The woman stalked forward with a hand on a holster that held her revolver, her head bowed as if she saw something fascinating on the ground. “This is more than just an occupation to me,” she explained. “It’s my passion. I just won’t have to do it for coin after I’m done with you.”
“Who are you?”
The assassin lifted her chin, squinting as she decided whether to answer. “My name is Azra Vanya,” she said at last. “I believe every woman deserves to learn the name of her killer, don’t you?”
Crossing her arms with a sigh, Desa frowned as she considered the question. “Well, I suppose you know my name,” she said, stepping forward. “I’d rather not kill you, Azra. We don’t have to do this.”
“Oh but we do.”
“Then let’s get it over with.”
Spreading her arms wide, Azra bowed with a flourish. “Of course, my dear,” she said, caressing the grip of her pistol. “As a gesture of good will, I would be happy to let you make the first move.”
Desa pulled a throwing from a sheath on her belt. In one quick motion, she tossed the thing and watched it tumble end over end through the air, sunlight glinting off that razor-sharp blade.
It flew over Azra’s left shoulder to land uselessly on the ground behind her. The few bystanders who had gathered to watch this fight – fools,the lot of them – let out gasps and puzzled grunts. She could deduce their thoughts easily enough. Desa Kincaid didn’t miss.
Azra glanced over her shoulder, her face contorting in disgust. “So, that’s the best you can do,” she said, jerking her head toward the fallen knife. “Well, most rumours are badly exaggerated.”
She drew her pistol.
Desa ducked, lacing fingers over the back of her head just before the gun went off with a CRACK! A bullet zipped past above her, striking the front wall of the inn. That in and of itself would not have been so bad if not for the stirring of the Ether she felt.
The inn’s front wall exploded, sending chunks of gray stone flying outward. The bullet had been a Force-Source.
She somersaulted across the cobblestones, then came up on one knee. Sweat rolled over her face as she looked up at her opponent. “Okay,” she said, eyebrows rising. “You may have some skill.”
Azra pointed the gun at her.
With a thought, Desa triggered the Gravity-Source in the knife that she had thrown, and watched as her opponent was yanked backward. The woman’s arm flailed about, and her gun went off in the confusion.
Desa got up and ran, painfully aware of the pull of gravity that seemed to tug at her insides. A few moments, and she would be close enough to the knife to lose her balance. She killed the Source, and just like that, gravity returned to normal. As she drew near, she watched the other woman stand.
Azra tried to take aim.
Desa kicked the gun out of her hand. She spun and back-kicked, driving a scuffed black boot into her opponent’s chest. The other woman went stumbling backward to hit the front wall of the tanner’s shop.
Everything went dark in the blink of an eye; it was as though the Goddess herself had snuffed out the afternoon sun in much the same way that an ordinary person might snuff out a candle. In the distance, she heard shrieks and cries for mercy. No doubt the townsfolk had reached the conclusion that the world itself was ending. The truth was far more benign: Azra had used a Light-Sink.
Countering this tactic was no great difficulty. A single thought was all it took to trigger the Light-Source in her ring, and then she lifted a hand to direct a cone of radiance at the tanner’s shop. She found Azra crouched down and drawing her second revolver.
Desa killed the Light-Source.
Dropping to her knees just before the gun went off, she cursed herself for falling prey to one of the simplest ploys imaginable. By making herself the only source of light, she may as well have painted a target on her chest.
She threw herself down on the ground and rolled aside just before something hit the cobblestones with enough force to send chunks flying. Azra was firing blindly, hoping to score a lucky hit. Time to give the bitch a viable target.
Removing her ring with a grunt, Desa held it in her balled fist. She tossed it aside and listened for the sound of metal hitting stone. In this oppressive darkness, she would be unable to say exactly where it landed, but anywhere away from her was good enough.
She triggered the Source.
The burst of radiance that appeared some twenty feet away was enough to let her make out the buildings like shadows in the pale moonlight. She saw Azra turn and fire at the spot where her ring had landed.
Desa rose and charged at her opponent. The sound of footsteps must have alerted the bitch to the imminent danger. Azra turned and tried to take aim, but her eyes would not have adjusted after staring at the ring.
Desa leaped and kicked out. The tip of her boot struck Azra’s nose, and the woman grunted as her head rebounded against the stone wall. She stumbled away, dropping her gun as she tried to get her bearings.
Light returned to the world – perhaps because Azra had killed the Sink, or perhaps because it had been filled to capacity – and she saw the assassin standing with her face buried in both hands. “This isn’t over.”
She shot straight up into the air, rising to the height of the rooftops while the wind whipped at her hair. Only the slight stirring in the Ether revealed that she had triggered a Gravity-Sink. She somersaulted through the air, then landed on the roof.
Desa winced so hard her face hurt, then shook her head in dismay. “Sometimes, I hate my life,” she said, triggering the Gravity-Sink she had Infused into her belt buckle. “But usually only on days when the sun comes up.”
The face of the building that housed the tanner’s shop scrolled past in front of her, and she had to struggle to ignore the growing queasiness that came whenever she forced herself to endure weightlessness. A Gravity-Sink would only affect a small area around her own body, but she would rise until her Sink had drained every last drop of energy it could store. And then she would fall.
As she passed the lip of the rooftop, she saw a pair of black boots, two long legs and then a stained shirt. Azra’s face soon filled her vision with teeth bared in an ugly rictus smile.
The woman threw a punch.
Five knuckles struck Desa right between the eyes, and the next thing she knew, she was tumbling head over heels across the street. She tucked her legs against her chest and allowed herself to somersault through the air.
She uncurled to press her feet to the surface of the inn’s front wall, then pushed off. Stretching her arms out, she flew straight as an arrow across the street. Her stomach was in knots from vertigo.
As she passed over Azra’s head, Desa killed the Sink. Slapping her hands down on the tiled rooftop, she thrust her feet into the air. She flipped upright and took a moment to catch her breath.
Desa whirled around to find her opponent waiting.
Azra kicked her in the stomach. The woman spun like a whirlwind, one fist lashing out for a back-hand strike.
Desa ducked, evading the blow by mere inches. She waited half a heartbeat, then rose to punch the other woman’s nose. Her opponent went stumbling, nearly falling hard onto her backside.
Desa jumped and snap-kicked.
A black boot to the chest sent Azra staggering all the way back to the ledge. She spread her arms wide to catch her balance, tottering on the brink of one very long fall. “I have to give you some credit, dear.”
Azra slipped a hand into her pocket, retrieving a coin. With a growl, she tossed it, glittering metal catching the sunlight as it tumbled through the air. Tension clawed at Desa’s insides as she braced herself for what she knew would come.
The coin landed at her feet.
The roof gave way beneath her, but she didn’t fall. Instead, Desa was thrown up and backward as kinetic energy from the Force-Source transferred to her body. It wasn’t like being hit with something heavy; there was no pain. One moment she was stationary, and the next, she was flying. That was all.
She landed on her ass near the peak of the rooftop. Unfortunately, she was dazed and gravity did the rest. Desa slid downward over the hard black tiles, picking up speed before she dropped into the hole.
She fell into what appeared to be an attic.
Closing her eyes, she slapped a hand over her face and rubbed the dust away. “All right,” she said, getting to her feet. “There has got to be a way to finish this bitch. Think, Kincaid! Think!”
Azra dropped through the hole, landing crouched on the wooden floor. The woman stood and backed away with a self-satisfied smile. “Well then…” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “Here we are.”
“You gonna talk me to death?”
Azra flung a hand out, tossing yet another coin that tumbled through the air before it hit the floor with a loud thunk. Desa braced herself for the sudden kick-back of kinetic energy, but nothing happened.
It wasn’t until she tried to reach for a throwing knife that Azra’s plan became clear. She was unable to move her arms or legs. A dull throb in her forehead was the result of the fact that her lungs were no longer breathing air. Her heart had stopped pumping! She was frozen, left helpless to watch as the life drained out of her.
The coin wasn’t a Force-Source; it was the exact opposite. A Force-Sink that drained kinetic energy from anything within a small radius. Azra stood just five paces away with her hands on her hips, smiling and shaking her head.
She would be unable to attack Desa – even if she had a gun, the Sink would render any bullet useless, and she herself would be affected if she got too close – but she could stand and watch as Desa suffocated.
How was she going to get out of this one?
Did you enjoy that? Well, there’s plenty more tight, fast-paced action in Symbiosis.
Now available on Kindle
It’s had some great reviews!