Hungry Like The Wolf, Part Nine: Trump Cards

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(April 18th)

Proteus shook his head, one hand massaging his forehead. “That flute packs a punch,” he said, blinking furiously.

“I'm aware.” Melchior didn't take his eyes off Piper. “If you wouldn't mind covering my rear, I need to attend to this, quickly.”

“No problem.” As Proteus stepped across Melchior's path, he quirked a smile at Jack. “Should have run when you had the chance, man.”

“Our mission's not done yet.” Jack raised his gun, firing a shot easily. As he drew level with the Mythica lieutenants, Proteus' body shimmered and changed, his arms growing long bony ridges that stretched to cover his face and chest. The bullet impacted harmlessly with his shield, and he peeked through a slit in it with a grin.

“Pretty much is.”

Opposite them, Melchior's staff pulsed with power again, and Piper's car exploded forwards, rolling end over end towards her. Piper leapt to one side, playing several quick notes as she rolled across the ground, and the car slowed as Melchior redirected his energy to his shields. “A valiant effort, but the two of you are no match for the two of us.”

'He might be right,” Piper thought in frustration. 'I can't get through those shields. Jack?'

'Busy!' Jack was dancing backwards, hopping away as Proteus leapt forwards, his body shimmering and flickering between shapes, a smooth snake striking one moment, a bull twisting to kick out the next, a small rabbit that easily avoided a shot a moment later. 'This one's faster than I thought. The shield's made of magical energy, so it works best on objects. Wouldn't do as well if you walked over and punched him.'

'Well, if you guys need help, I can try to lead Kitsune your way. I mean, I don't know if that would help, but…'

'No, Blossom, it's fine.' Piper straightened, her notes reaching out to fade harmlessly against Melchior's shields. 'I have a plan now.' An image of Roland laughing flickered across their thought-link, along with a glum certainty that this was going to get back to him. 'Here we go…'

Melchior ducked as a bullet impacted off his shields a few inches from his head. He glanced behind him to see Nimble bolting towards him, and brought his staff around to send a pair of garbage cans crashing across the hero's path. “Proteus!”

Proteus flickered into human form. “He's faster than I thought! Sorry!” He looked past Melchior, and grinned, shifting as he did. “New idea!” A moment later, he roared as his hooves struck the ground, and a thin, sharp-horned ram charged forwards towards Piper, who seemed oblivious as she played. Her flute's tone changed, becoming flowing, spritely, and light as her fingers flew across the flute's holes. Proteus gathered speed, flickering around two more shots as Nimble shifted his aim.

And then, with a loud squacking noise, a shape detached itself from the wall and slammed into the ram, sending him staggering slightly off-balance. A moment later, the air was filled with the sound of wingbeats and cries.

Proteus shifted again, becoming a large cat and staggering backwards as he swiped at the air with his paws. A human face tilted back. “Melchior!”

Melchior gestured, sending a half-dozen birds slamming against a wall, as several more began to dive-bomb him. He then spun, blocking Nimble's kick with his staff as two more birds began to slam against his shield from behind. “Pigeons!” the man spat.

“Pigeons,” Nimble confirmed with a grin, watching as Piper continued to play, a veritible whirlwind of birds gathering in formation to leap down at Proteus. The shapeshifter looked panicky and confused, slashing out at the suddenly homicidal birds. “Something wrong, Melchior? I would have thought dumb animals would be simple enough to ward off.”

Melchior considered Nimble sourly for a half-second, and then gestured behind him. “Proteus! We're leaving!” He gestured, and the armored truck bucked, slamming into the street hard enough to cause Piper's flute to falter. In that moment, he swept himself into the air, landing neatly at Proteus' side. A second gesture brought two small crates from the truck, landing gently at his feet. “We have what we came for, there's no sense in risking more.”

“But Lord Fenris said…” Proteus started worriedly.

“I will answer to Lord Fenris.” Melchior reached into his pocket, pulling out a small vial. As the birds redoubled their assault, and Proteus fended them off as best he could, Melchior let the vial fall. “Goodbye, Magisters.”

Nimble raised one hand in a farewell salute. Melchior's smile fell away as he saw the small black detonator held in it. “Goodbye.”

As the vial touched the ground, the crates exploded. The last sight that Nimble and Piper had of the two was Melchior desperately raising his shields against the explosion, bracing himself and his companion as lightning swelled to carry them away.

Piper let her flute fall, and the pidgeons, suddenly panicked by the blood and feathers covering the street, scattered in all directions. “Pidgeons,” she said with as much annoyance as Melchior had. “Roland is never going to let me live this down.”

“If we don't hurry, he might not get the chance,” Nimble pointed out, racing for the truck. “Come on!”

Down the street, Kitsune and Blossom were still ducking and leaping when Kitsune straightened. Faintly, Blossom could hear Melchior speaking in her ear. “Operation failure. Get Lord Fenris out.”

“Problem?” she asked brightly, leaping forwards to wrap Kitsune in vines.

Kitsune somersaulted out of the way, rolling across the ground, and rolled her eyes. “Always,” she grumbled, bursting into motion back towards Fenris. “I swear, that man.”

“I know how it is,” Blossom agreed easily, falling into pursuit. “I think Piper has the same sort of problems with Invictus, some times. He just doesn't listen to you.”

“He's not my boss, Lord Fenris is,” Kitsune retorted. “Melchior just has a knack for messing up and then shifting blame to other people. This won't be his fault, you'll see.”

“Ooh,” Blossom let her face scrunch into a wince. “That sounds annoying.”

“Well, he's not so bad, but…” Kitsune broke off abruptly. “Why am I speaking to you?!”

Blossom beamed. “I'm very persistent.”

“Well, piss off!” Kitsune put on an extra burst of speed, opening the gap. Blossom charged after her, mask blank.

“Boss! We need to get out of here!” Kitsune yelled as she approached where Fenris and Invictus were battling. “Melchior and Proteus have pulled out, and our people are withdrawing.”

Fenris glared over at her. “I'm not finished!” he yelled, turning back to Invictus. The hero was swaying on his feet, arms raised in a boxing pose.

“Yeah, me neither. Why don't you come back… in a bit…” Invictus said muzzily.

Kitsune ignored him, racing to Fenris' side. “Sir, the rest of the Magisters will be here any moment. I don't think I can fight them.”

“No problem, I'll take 'em all on.” Fenris said, all of his attention on Invictus. “I need to know who they're working for. You go on ahead.”

Kitsune nodded, resignation on her face as she turned back to the street. “Very well, sir. Finish this one. I'll hold the others off.”

Fenris looked at her, looked at Invictus, and gritted his teeth. “Don't be ridiculous, they'd destroy you.” He sighed, stepping back. “Forget it. The artifacts are gone, no sense wasting my energy anymore. We'll finish this another day.” He saluted Invictus. “I'm impressed, kid. Not many people survive me. But that doesn't mean I'll go easy on you next time. Kitsune, get us out of here.”

As Blossom rocketed down the street, the armored truck in hot pursuit, Kitsune pulled out and dropped another vial. Thunder roared, and by the time the Magisters arrived, the two Mythica were gone.

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