A Court For Crows (Part 18)

As my eyes adjusted to the sudden blur, she was in front of me, an inch in front of a smoking hole left in a long dead tube.

“Well,” Trellis said, flicking her eyes over to Jay. “Seems like you’ve already made your choice here, haven’t you?” The bullet had passed within an inch of her body right through where her chest had been.

She’d moved. Seen it coming.

How the hell.

“Got worried,” Jay said, talons loading another round, smooth. Click went the action. Breathed in. I breathed out.

Trellis gave me a sidelong look, her black eyes looking less and less human as time went on. Omoi flashed hazard warnings and played out dozens of projected paths that she could take. Clearly armed. Clearly anomalous. Like pin print pictures of the future.

“I hardly need to bring you in unharmed, Warden.”

I flinched, and Omoi screeched out one last warning.

“If I break you a few times, they won’t frown upon me.”

I dove to the side and the dead woman’s tube exploded.

Omoi replayed the vision in slow motion so I could see what I was dealing with.

Trellis came in quick, harsh, too fast, and her hand plunged directly through where I’d been a moment ago, and her fingers crashed through the reinforced glass, sending ultra cold fluids splattering across the lab. It was beautiful, incandescent, glorious

And then she was leering down at me.

A drop hit me from the spurting tubes and my skin hissed from the temperature difference, as painful as the flecks of cuts where glass sprayed past.

Then she jerked, twitching to the side. What little structural integrity was left in the cryo pod was gone; Jay took another shot.

The gun went off, and the side of the crypod tube exploded in a spray of shrapnel. Trellis hissed, baring a mouth full of teeth and clicking mandibles, then threw herself behind another cryopod for cover. “Last chance, Warden. Give yourself up, or we’ll hunt you down.”

“Whatever she says is a lie,” Jay spat. “There’s nothing for serving the damn bugs except becoming food yourself.”

“Let her make the decision,” Trellis insisted.

“I’m her Guardian now,” Jay said, flicking another bullet into the rifle. “Fuck off and die. Die like you killed everyone else who dealt with you.”

“A fate that even you won’t get to enjoy,” Trellis said, glaring at Jay. “You’re dealing with /him/? Well. Petty desires to take you /now/ can wait for later.”

“I’d rather be buried alive than deal with your lies ever again,” Jay said, pointing the gun at her.

“There won’t be an again,” Trellis agreed. Then she lunged, her hands more like scythes, daggers, pointed. At Jay, like a screaming insectoid bullet.

Capable of piercing glass.

“Down!” I shouted.

The crow went flat against the ground and Trellis sailed over top of him.

Then kept right on going. Jay hit the ground with a solid whump.

His eyes went wide and he stared, watching her fly past, out of position to do anything with his gun. Then she kept right on going and mounted the stairs.

A clean getaway.

“A bientot~!” She cooed, and vanished up the stairs.

Fluid poured from the shattered shell of the tube; supercooled blood dripped from the depths of the dead woman behind me, caught on the glass.

It smelled like mint and blood and gunpowder.

“Who the fuck was that?”

—–

“That,” Jay said, counting bullets in his rifle, before taking my offered hand to haul himself back to his feet. “Was bad news.”

“Between 1 and atomic holocaust,” I said. “How bad?”

“A solid seven, I guess,” Jay said, taking out a cloth to take care of the rifle. After a moment, he stared at me.

Lungs burned ragged. A few stray shards of glass had dappled my skin raw with cuts. His beak clicked.

“That was what remains after the miracle at Montgomery,” Jay said, watching blood drip down my skin. I held up a hand to cover the cut across my forearm, and his eyes flicked away. “Where a group of Crows assassinated the leadership of the Fey, and fragmented their forces to the point of uselessness.”

I clicked my teeth in a bizarre imitation of his beak clicking. “Ah. So a fragment? Do they have a name?”

“I don’t know fey politics,” he shook his head. “Nor do I care to. It’s enough that they die when I shoot them.”

Jay flicked his rifle up, checked it again, then gestured towards the stairs. “Come on. We need to get out of here.”

I paused.

Hesitated, turned around and looked over the dead body. So fresh. It still bled; anti coagulants made it look like a beating heart was taking over. Gently, I touched her skin. Cool enough to make the sweat on my skin freeze. Hand flicked up to her head. Tugged off her glasses. Slipped them into my pocket. Swallowed.

Stared down at Melissa. Her eyes were well enough preserved I could pretend she could start blinking at any moment. Ask why the world had ended.

They wanted minds, right?

“Jay,” I said, swallowing firmly. “I need you to shoot her in the head.”

He blinked, looked up at me. His feathers puffed up. “I…”

“You’re right,” I said. Swallowed. “I should do it.”

Picked the crowbar off of the ground where I’d dropped it. Brought it to bear in front of me.

“What in the world…” Jay said, staring at me.

The crowbar came down on her.

—–

We didn’t speak until we were out of the building. Boxes of supplies in my hands, heavy, awkward. Changes of clothes made me feel more human, but the sight remained locked in my head.

Weren’t any people left in there. Not after I’d looked.

Shaking.

High rise.

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