A Person Gets Shot In This One

Bridget was thinking about how nothing ever happened in Upper Cyria when something happened. A rising in gasps and mutterings from the citizens on the street prompted her to look up, seeing a very particular door open.

"Holy shit, is that Shan Yun?" She asked aloud.

"Crazy. It's almost like it's his house." Bella's answer lacked any inflection, and she didn't look up from the wolfhound she was petting.

"Well yeah, but, celebrity." Bridget kept staring at the commotion, then squinted. "Holy shit, is that Ivan Jacobi?"

"Oh, really?" Bella glanced up. "Hmph. Guess he's trying to win votes. Not much that's better for publicity than being seen out with the boreal hummingbird, or whatever he's called."

"Yeah, I suppose." Bridget squinted back at the crowd. "We might have to go escort them, or the fans could—Holy shit, is that Eleuterio Cienfuegos?"

"Eluto—who now?" Asked Bella, tilting her head.

"Cienfuegos. The painter?" Bridget prompted, looking back.

"I've never heard of him."

"He's pretty underground, sort of an absurdist."

"Since when were you an art connoisseur?"

"Blow off, I can be broke and still like fine art. Just can't afford it." Bridget looked back at the commotion. "And I have no idea why they're—"

She stiffened. Blinked. Rubbed her eyes. Stared again.

"Holy shit, is that Emily Kaldwin?"

"I'm sorry, WHAT?"

Emily walked calmly and purposefully through the streets, ignoring the whisperings from the growing crowds with a small smile.

"Are we sure this is a good idea?" Asked city administrator Ivan Jacobi, fingers nervously laced together. "I mean, she's a criminal."

"She's an Empress." Shan Yun corrected, stubbornly.

"And aren't we all technically criminals?" asked Cienfuegos, walking beside them with his hands in his pockets and a smile on his face. He looked…well. High. Unlike the panicky Jacobi, the ageing painter had seemed completely unconcerned with the sudden summons to Shan Yun's residence, and similarly unbothered by Emily's presence or her appearance. He'd simply walked up to her, asked her a baffling question about the sharpness of the Outsider's cheekbones, and then gone and sat quietly to the side as discussions continued.

"It's not technically criminal to be part of a cult." Jacobi hedged, looking around uncomfortably.

"Riiiight." Cienfuegos rolled his eyes. "And bleeding people to death for a drug trip is completely Abbey-sanctioned, I'm sure."

"You came up with the exsanguination machine!" Jacobi protested.

"I suggested that blood might carry memory, and performed some experiments." Cienfuegos countered, casually. "You decided to start kidnapping hobos."

"Gentlemen, maybe quietly…" Shan Yun prompted. Despite the late hour, the crowd following their strange group had grown much larger as they walked, and members of the Grand Guard could be seen trying to muscle their way through it to reach them.

"I get the feeling my pharmacy's going to get a lot of visitors in the next few days~" Cienfuegos chuckled.

Emily snapped her fingers, prompting them to focus. They'd made their way into the courtyard in front of Dolores Michaels Deposit and Loan Bank, and the guards (privately owned guards, Emily noted, not Abele's lackeys) did their best to keep the mob at bay. With that, it was easy to make their way inside the bank. As per the plan, they split up, with Yun and Jacobi going to talk to one teller while she headed to another (Cienfuegos sort of loitered behind her back).

The teller was a man with glasses and dark skin, and he met her gaze with some curiosity but no panic.

"Good evening." He greeted. "My name is Charon, is there anything I can do for you?"

Emily reached into her breast pocket, producing a piece of paper that she slid across to him.

'I am Emily Drexl Lela Kaldwin. I am here to make a withdrawal. Also, if possible, I would like to see the manager.'

This particular bank had had a reputation for some years now as being one of the most secure in all the Isles, and Emily knew how important it was to diversify her funds. Of course she had a vault here.

Charon took the slip and read through it, before looking up at her. To the man's credit, not a hint of surprise made it onto his face, despite the ridiculousness of her appearance and the situation as a whole. "I see. I apologise for the inconvenience, but may I ask for some proof of identity? The security of our clients' vaults is of paramount importance, as you can imagine."

Emily grit her teeth beneath her mask. Downside of putting my money in fifty different banks is that there's no way in the Void that I can remember all the sodding passcodes. I keep all the relevant paperwork in the safe room in Dunwall Tower, and I can't exactly get in there—

Which made her remember. She reached out with her left hand (gloved to cover the Outsider's mark), and presented the diamond-shaped ring on her middle finger. The one bearing her royal seal.

Charon saw it, and smiled. "Excellent. Please wait a moment. Once your seal has been matched against the documents we have on record, we will do everything in our power to—"

"Hold it!"

At the shout, Charon's expression hardened, and one of his hands drifted to something under the table. Emily turned to see a pair of Grand Guard standing just inside the doorway. Two women, one in standard grey and one in the red of a Guard Captain. Everyone in the room went tense.

"Emily Kaldwin?" The one in red called. "Firstly, love the outfit, secondly, I'm going to have to ask you to come with us."

Emily's fists clenched. One or both of the women were familiar, like she'd glimpsed them before, but she'd seen a lot of guards. Don't do me like this right now…

"As I understand it, Emily Kaldwin was presumed dead." Charon called back to them.

"Well she certainly doesn't look that way." The guard pointed out. "And alive or dead, she's still a pretender to the throne."

"Bella…" The other muttered, almost too quiet to hear. "Maybe we wait for reinforcements…"

Charon glanced at Emily. Then back at the guards. "I'm afraid that lady Kaldwin is a customer of ours. Unless you return with a signed warrant for her arrest, we at Michaels Deposit and Loan must ask you to leave."

"Sir…are you sure you want to do this?" 'Bella' asked, looking more incredulous than anything else.

That was when the sound of clanking footsteps became apparent. The large metal door at the back of the room slid open, revealing a sight that made Emily's breathing quicken.

A clockwork soldier (more hideously designed, but definitely one of Jindosh's works) emerged out into the hallway.

"Emergency button pressed." Declared the machine. "No immediate hostiles detected according to current parameters. Bank staff may designate targets at will."

Emily's eyes darted from the clockwork, to Charon, to the guards.

"The Grand Guard may have their way among the rabble, but this establishment cannot be pushed around so easily by the good duke." Charon stated, calmly. "Please leave the premises."

The two guards looked at each other.

"Alright, but. Be aware that this is getting reported!" The red-head called, half-heartedly, before both backed up slowly out the entrance.

Emily sighed (as did a good number of the atrium's occupants).

Charon did not sigh, but he did smile at her. "If I may say, your majesty, few are as enthusiastic about the new empress as Duke Abele is. You are not without allies here. Please, follow me."

"Gone, you say?"

"Gone, my dearest. Taken. I am told that it was, in fact, Emily Kaldwin."

"So, she really has gotten her magic back…well, we adapt. But she did leave your underlings alive?"

"It seems so. But two of them haven't returned to me. The one that did was almost too afraid to report."

"Oh, how delightful! Let's see how far she gets. Do you still need Jindosh for the Oraculum?"

"No. His job is already done."

"Then his loss is acceptable. Continue your exceptional work, Breanna."

"I will. Thank you, your majesty."

"Ah, honourifics. Do you have company?"

"Yes, to which I must now attend. I'll speak to you again soon. Goodbye."

Billie Lurk wasn't sure if the others could hear the conversation. The two witches that had found her had marched her up to the Important Person's Room (every good building had an Important Person's Room), but had insisted upon waiting outside as their lady was 'in conference'.

That was Delilah's voice. Please, for the love of the rats, tell me Breanna's talking to a statue and that Delilah isn't stood inside that room.

It appeared she was in luck. When Breanna Ashworth came to answer the door, she was alone except for a pair of the undead wolfhounds the Brigmore lot were fond of.

Her eyes widened when she saw Billie.

"This one showed up at the front door asking to see you, my lady." Said one of the witches, somewhat pointlessly.

"Is that so…" Breanna said, also somewhat pointlessly. She jerked her head at the others. "Leave us. Come in, Lurk. Let's talk, shall we?"

Billie followed her into the room. Fancily decorated, and with (oh thank the Void) a statue of Delilah in the middle.

"I almost didn't recognise you." Billie said, deliberately stepping around the back of the statue. "Gotten a lot older. I, of course, have not changed at all since we last met."

"Hah!" Breanna barked out a laugh, then snapped her fingers at her dogs. Their bodies both vanished, leaving them as lightly glowing skulls on the floor. "The attitude, I certainly remember. You never debased yourself before anyone, not even Delilah."

The curator sat down behind her desk, scrutinising Billie. "You know, some flocked to our mistress' summons as soon as she returned. A lot more came crawling out of the woodwork recently, after she claimed her throne. But I never expected to see you here, Billie Lurk. To be perfectly honest, I thought Daud had killed you."

"Rumours of my death have been…greatly exaggerated." There was nowhere to sit, so Billie stood, which suited her just fine. "Daud was a sentimental old fool. I escaped before Kaldwin came to put an end to the Whalers, but by that point Delilah was already gone and the coven was scattered."

"Sentimental old fool…that's what you said when you first came to us, offering to betray his coven for our own." Breanna leaned back in her seat. "And yet, he caught you."

"Attano caught me." Billie countered, only extremely bitter. "After Delilah ratted me out."

"Oh yes that did happen!" Breanna snapped her fingers. "Because the attack you organised to destroy the Whalers failed. Leaving me to wonder why we should take you back. If I'm right, and that is why you're here."

"Well, your alternative is the rest of these choffers." Billie pointed out.

"Right. And what do you think of my fellow witches?" Breanna raised an eyebrow.

"Charitably, I would say they're all people searching for freedom."

"And uncharitably…"

"Half of them are thrillseeking children, the other half are washed up old women trying to reclaim some semblance of meaning in their lives."


"But not you, of course." Billie placated, without much feeling. "You and Delilah were the only two people in that mansion with any common sense."

"And what are you, Billie Lurk?" Breanna asked, steepling her fingers.

"You already know the answer to that one, and I don't feel like trying to dress it up." Billie spread her arm out. "I'm a broke and broken old cripple. And I want my power back. So here I am."

"My sincerest apologies, your majesty." Charon declared, as he walked with Emily deeper into the building (Cienfuegos was, still, casually following them). "I'm afraid that the inconveniences in the way of you accessing your vault are not yet over. While we would be happy to provide you with coinage equal in value to your stored funds, accessing any personal items you may have with us will prove…difficult."

Emily raised an eyebrow at him. She had her notebook open in front of her as she walked; both to communicate, and because she was already noting down the bank's security measures in case she did need to rob the place.

"As stated previously, you have been legally considered dead for some months now." Charon admitted. "Ordinarily, process would already be underway transferring your belongings to your next of kin…or, as is becoming increasingly common, seizing those possessions for auction." His lips turned down at that.

Emily narrowed her eyes, scratching out 'is that legal?' into her book and showing it to him.

"Everything done by Michaels Deposit and Loan is legal, your majesty. But the rule and the spirit of the law do not always coincide." Charon seemed…frustrated. "It is a saying that a bank's first currency is not gold, but trust. And too many of Ms Michaels' executive decisions lately have been geared towards obtaining the former at the expense of the latter." He sighed. "I have warned her of this, but alas, I am not the manager. Just one of the founding employees and stockholders…"

Emily smirked under her mask. There's the frustration of a real human being…noting that down for later.

'So the bank still has my vault?' She asked.

"Ah, yes, forgive me. We do. The reason your belongings have not been transferred, your majesty, is because…well. They cannot be."

That merited a questioning glance from her.

"The details are best explained by Ms Michaels." Charon dodged. "You entered with Sirs Jacobi and Yun, would you be amenable (or, even, did you intend) to meet the manager alongside them?"

Emily nodded, as they moved out of the corridor and into another central workroom. Pride of place in the middle of it was what looked like a large cylindrical cage. Or…elevator?

"Excellent. Then I shall take you up to her office now." Charon led her towards a staircase. "The short of the matter is…well, in truth, it is rather embarrassing. The recently implemented Elevator Vault, in which your deposit is stored, was designed by Kirin Jindosh. The lock is a puzzle, to which he did not provide the answer…and none of us have been able to crack it."

Emily's face lit up with childish glee.

"So you do want back in." Breanna summarised.

"I do." Billie responded. "If you still have slots open. I should think my resume speaks for itself."

Breanna tilted her head. "And your injuries?"

"Missing eye doesn't mean much with darkvision, missing arm doesn't mean much with teleportation." Billie shrugged. "You know I'm skilled. More than most of your girls."

"Well, in truth, it's not your ability that concerns me." Breanna admitted, leaning forwards. "This isn't about power. It's about trust."

"Trust?" Billie repeated.

This conversation had already gone on far longer than she would have liked. Thomas was inside, he should have found the Oraculum and hopefully a way to destroy it by now. It irked her that the best she could do was keep Breanna distracted until he came up to take her down.

"Trust." Breanna nodded. "Isn't that really what any bond comes down to? Most of our witches are devoted to Delilah, but you…you're not really the devoted type, are you?" (Billie managed to suppress a snort, as she considered her past antics.) "So the question becomes whether or not we can trust you with power. Trust you to work with us. Trust you not to betray us."

"Isn't Delilah immortal?" Billie tried. "And if I did betray you, my magic would start to fade within days."

"You're offering facts that mitigate the damage of betrayal." Breanna pointed out. "Not convincing me that it won't happen."

Billie bit her lip in thought. Trust…Did she trust Thomas to get this done promptly? Did she trust Emily to survive whatever new madness she'd thrown herself into?

Well. She certainly trusted that only one of the people in this room would be leaving it as a valid threat. That drastically increased her options.

"In that case." Billie said. "I can tell you the place Emily Kaldwin is currently hiding."

Breanna's smile widened.

"This is ridiculous!" Dolores Michaels slammed a fist on her desk. "Openly flaunting your association, bringing the attention of the Grand Guard upon my bank! Have you taken leave of your senses?"

"The situation has changed, and we should take steps to consider how it affects things." Jacobi pointed out, standing in front of the desk.

"Ivan, I had hoped you of all people wouldn't be taken in by Shan's crush." Dolores warned.

"Crush?" Shan Yun repeated, voice incredulous. "Do not mislabel my intentions as something so petty! That" he pointed behind him, "is your Empress!"

At the end of his finger, Emily Kaldwin was sat cross-legged in the middle of the open vault. She had a few pads of paper scattered around her covered in notes and numbers, and her shadow-hand was tapping a pencil on her thigh. She was biting her lip in thought.

"No. That is a wanted, mute, homeless woman." Dolores corrected. "And the Empress our Duke supports probably wants her dead. It doesn't matter how much money I make for Abele, if we side with Emily Kaldwin he will kill us all!"

"I mean sure, if we declare we're supporting the girl's rule, but that's not what this is." Cienfuegos pointed out. He had set up two chairs next to the wall, and was sitting on one while propping up his legs on the other. "We can say she took her money and was gone the next day, which will be true. You're rich, Jacobi's important, Shan's famous, I'm sexy. Abele can't afford to have us all murdered for one slip-up."

("You're not sexy, you're fifty seven years old…" Jacobi muttered.)

"And I don't even know why you are here!" Dolores turned on Cienfuegos.

"I'm one of the founders of the Eyeless." He said, with a pout.

"No, we founded the Eyeless. You came along for the ride. You're not even in the group painting!" She pointed at her own wall.

"I painted the group painting…"

"Alright, don't kid yourself Dolores." Jacobi insisted. "This isn't about Abele and you know it. This is about her—" He pointed to Emily, who was now messing with the numbers on the first vault, "—and the Cult of the Outsider."

"...Alright then, let's talk about the whale on the deck." Dolores stood, after checking that her pistol was at her side beneath the coat. "We cannot let her take the twin-bladed knife. It would be a betrayal."

"I suspect that's rather the point." Cienfuegos pointed out, staring at the ceiling.

"Think about it, Dolores." Shan Yun begged. "It was our interest in the occult that led us to form the Eyeless, to find the cult. But what have they actually done? What have they given us? The blade, yes, but only because they explicitly don't want it and need it kept safe." He moved closer to her. "Emily Kaldwin has the Outsider's mark. None in the cult can boast that. She has demonstrated, nay, flaunted a mastery of the eldritch that make our attempts with blood and bone look silly. I mean, look at her arm!"

Michaels huffed. "That's not—"

"She claims to have spoken with the dead, Dolores." Jacobi said, quietly. "That the Outsider once gifted her father a heart through which she could speak to her deceased mother. The Cult of the Outsider has been stringing us along for years now, using us, with nothing but vague promises. But I asked Emily a question and she Answered It."

"All Shan Yun and I ever wanted from the occult was inspiration for our art." Cienfuegos admitted. "I learned more of the Void from a quick conversation with that girl than I have in a lifetime of research."

Dolores grit her teeth. Damn it. "And where is your loyalty?" She demanded. "We are only where we are because of the cult! We have pledged ourselves to their service, and you would—"

"Oh, quit lying to yourself, girl." Cienfuegos interrupted her. He was sitting up, now, meeting her eyes. "I know you. 'Loyalty', my arse. You'd kill all of them and all of us in the blink of an eye to get what you want, so what is it?" His expression hardened, and he jerked his head towards the vault. "Go ahead. Ask her."

The conversation was interrupted by a series of loud clicks.

They turned as one to the vault, where all of the doors (barring the one for their lockbox) were opening, one by one. In the middle of the room, Emily jumped into the air, throwing up a fist, before shamelessly shadow-boxing with a grin on her face.

Those movements stopped at the sound of one final click. That of Dolores Michaels' pistol, levelled at the back of Emily's head.

Perched on the back of a large taxidermized owl, Thomas stared down at the Oraculum.

Yep. That's an Oraculum.

He wasn't sure what he'd expected to find. He'd known going in that the witches had a Big Bad Machine that would do Big Bad Things and needed to be destroyed. And he'd come in and—Oh! There it was! A big camera pointed at some…things? With runes painted on the floor and big electricy-bits. Fun.

The things he'd picked up from the witches' conversation had provided interesting flavour text; it let them connect to the Void, see into the minds of the Oracular Order, hopefully manipulate their prophesies to serve Delilah. But that didn't really change Thomas' job, which was to blow it up, take down Breanna, and find out why Delilah was immortal.

Seriously, they do all like to overcomplicate matters, don't they? Sure, Billie's distracting Breanna, but she could have just stayed outside…

Of course, his goals being simple didn't mean they were easy. There weren't any stashes that he could find labelled 'Highly Explosive', no witches had mentioned any glaring faults that would destroy the device, and he was fairly sure that Emily would disapprove of him burning the entire conservatory down. So he didn't know how to destroy the Oraculum, barring a good few minutes of free time and a sledgehammer. He was similarly unsure about how to take down Breanna without killing her, since she probably couldn't be imprisoned, intimidated, or bribed with the same ease Jindosh could.

So he made a magic enhanced jump off the back of the owl, landed on an overhang near the top of the building, and made his way to Breanna Ashworth's office.

Worst comes to worst, I can just choke her out and ask Billie. Then go through her stuff. Everyone keeps documents about how to destroy them in their office, right? Hiram Burrows did. Or was that his bedroom…

"…have you heard the news? That she's still alive?" the words of a witch made their way to him. A pair of the women were walking along the balcony outside Ashworth's office.

"Who, Emily Kaldwin?"

"Yes, her. The little trollop's been spotted rampaging around Karnaca, and what's worse, rumours say that she's got her powers back."

"Eugh. The world isn't fair. Not only does she get given an Empire she doesn't deserve, but she gets the Outsider's mark? Twice?"

…Thomas forced himself to turn away and keep walking. Let them talk. Won't be so dismissive once their lady is—

"I mean really, did you ever hear the announcements of that condescending bitch from when she was in charge?"

"Oh, don't get me started. Worse than Abele, so entitled. If Delilah has made one mistake, it was not using a silvergraph to capture the moment she pulled out the wench's tongue."

Thomas breathed in. Sighed.

…I mean let's be honest I wasn't going to do this stealthily anyway.

He jumped.

Emily came down from her puzzle victory high to the realisation that someone was about to try and kill her. Again.

She turned to face Dolores Michaels, calming her expression into one of mild curiosity. Michaels herself looked very tense, her gun hand shaking slightly.

"I want to be immortal." The woman declared, looking vulnerable for the first time. "I want to live forever. With the Cult of the Outsider, there might be a way. Can you offer that?"

Ah. Classic.

Emily reached slowly for her notebook. When Dolores didn't move to stop her, she drew it with a flourish (her mark glowing slightly as she did so), then drew her pen.

She stared into the woman's eyes for a few seconds, thinking about what to say, before writing.

'From what I have found so far, there is little that the magics of the Void cannot do. But all of it comes at a price, be it to body, soul, or mind. I don't know how to live forever. I know that Delilah has found a way to make herself impervious to harm, healing in moments from even a blade to the heart. I don't know if it makes her eternal. But if it's something that she can do, I can probably do it too, if I learn how. And I will learn how.

I would not advise attempting to join her coven to learn her secret. She guards her power jealously.

Bear in mind that the Outsider's mark is not only a conduit through which we can more easily access the Void, it is a shield against its corrupting effects. But the Outsider gives his mark sparingly, and rarely to those who ask for it. Without it, even touching the Void puts you in incredible danger. I suspect that whatever 'immortality' this Cult of the Outsider offers, if you understood it, you may prefer to die.'

Emily tore the page out with another flourish, and held it out. Gun not moving, Michaels took the page with her other hand, and held it so Emily was still in her peripheral vision while she read it.

The entire process took a very long, very quiet few minutes, during which nobody said anything. Yun and Jacobi were looking at each other like they were the ones being held at gunpoint, while Cienfuegos had stood and moved unobtrusively towards the door.

Eventually, Michaels crumped the page between her fingers, and looked up.

"So you won't help me." She said.

Emily shook her head.

"And if I let you take that knife, the odds of this cult giving me what I want drops to zero."

Because I'm probably going to go destroy them next. Emily nodded.

Michaels nodded too, then met her eyes. "Then why shouldn't I just shoot you here?"

Jacobi flinched; Yun shouted in protest. Emily just flared her magic slightly, and raised an eyebrow.

"Well?" Michaels demanded, voice raising. "Why?"

"Uh, Dolores…" Yun warned. "Above your heads, there's…"

The director looked up. And saw the linked glowing golden orbs above them that Emily had just made visible.

Dolores' eyes widened in shock. She stepped backwards, and saw the golden orb follow her, even as Emily stood there writing with an orb above her own head.

"What is this." She asked, voice hoarse. "What did you do?"

'Domino. Anything done to me happens to you, and vice versa.' Was written on the page that the damnable girl held out.

Dolores almost felt her heart stop. So, if I shoot her…I die. That bitch, that's not fair! I can't hurt her! What do I do?

"Dolores…" Jacobi's voice came from behind her. "Immortality? Really? Isn't that a little—"

"Shut it, Ivan!" She snapped, rounding on him with her pistol. This was why she didn't tell anyone what she wanted, because none of them understood, they'd all already given up— "I don't want to hear a word out of your mouth about this! Any of you! Do you have any idea how much I've sacrificed for this?"

There was a flutter and a cough from behind her, and she spun again. Emily was stood in the doorway to the vault, holding out another piece of paper. The silence was really starting to creep her out.

Hand shaking, she took the paper.

'I learned long ago that sometimes, bringing more power to bear will only make things worse. That it's necessary instead to show weakness. So, I'm putting the power in your hands. Pull the trigger, and I'll die. Or put the gun down, and I'll know we can trust each other.'

Dolores looked up from the page in confusion…only to see the lights above their heads both wink out.

Emily looked at her, totally still, face utterly blank.

Magic's gone. If I shoot her now…okay, think. Is this really a good idea? She's clearly very, very powerful. It might be a better idea to side with her instead of—

Dolores fired the gun.

At the end of the day, she just really did not like people backing her into a corner like this.

The bullet tore straight through Emily's forehead, putting a tumbler sized hole in it and blowing a cloud of red mist out the back of her skull as her body flailed backwards—

And disappeared into a cloud of white smoke.

Dolores had about three seconds to wonder what the fuck had just happened before Emily Kaldwin walked calmly out through the doorway from where she'd been hidden, inside the vault. That was the last thing Dolores got to see before Shan Yun tackled her from behind, sending her crashing to the floor with him on top of her.

Breanna opened her mouth to respond to Billie's comment, but stiffened at a bang and a crash from outside the room.

Billie stiffened too, turning towards the door. Thomas, I swear to the Strictures—

"If you know where Emily lives, what are the odds she followed you here?" Ashworth said, sharply.

"Non-zero." Billie answered, gritting her teeth.

There was the sound of smashing windows from the floor above, and their gazes turned to the roof, the two zombie-wolfhounds manifesting fully and snarling. Breanna teleported into the open floor and drew her sword, magic thrumming about her body, shouts echoing in from outside —

And Thomas Moray dropped over the edge of the balcony landing on the stairs.

"Hello!" He called. "You're the curator, right? Hate what you've done with the place."

Breanna snarled, fully focusing on him, and Billie drew her pistol from her coat and shot Breanna in the back of the head.

Emily had a no-killing rule. Billie did not.

But Breanna's brains were not blown out the front of her skull to make a mess of her desk. When the brief muzzle flash subsided, it revealed the curator to be perfectly fine. Billie briefly wondered if she'd missed, but she hadn't heard an impact sound and she couldn't see any damage…

Just a single bloodfly, twirling through the air.

Ah, piss. Bone charms.

Billie shifted her grip and charged, and Breanna spun on Billie just in time for the butt of the pistol to crack across her cheek, sending her stumbling.

Billie drew her arm back and Thomas jumped, but Breanna recovered quickly, snapping her fingers at the floor and conjuring a blood-briar. The nasty green tentacle reached out and snagged Thomas' leg, yanking him backwards.

Billie's next swing with the weapon was caught on the forearm of Breanna's blade hand, and her other hand came up to grasp Billie's throat. Billie, lacking a second hand, couldn't appropriately counter, and was lifted up and slammed bodily into the floor. She kicked out, but Breanna teleported about a foot to the side before kicking Billie in the ribs, then stomping on her wrist and forcing her to drop the pistol.

If she'd been a decade younger, Billie would have twisted her body and roundhouse-kicked Breanna in the head, before jumping to her feet and tackling her into the wall.

If she'd had her other arm, Billie would have drawn her backup knife and stabbed Breanna in the calf.

If she'd had both eyes, Billie might have seen how bad an idea this was before getting involved.

But none of those things were true, and so Billie could do little besides gasp as Breanna grabbed her by the lapels of her coat and hauled her back to her feet.

Across the room, Thomas had fired a pistol into the blood-briar, freeing himself, then caught one of the wolfhounds about the throat as it lunged for him. As easily as squeezing a lemon, he broke its neck, causing its body to vanish, then kicked the second hound under the snout so hard its skull completely disconnected from its body.

He caught both skulls and smashed them into each other, destroying them and banishing the magic, before turning to Ashworth with his other gun leaping into his hand and—

"Freeze!" Breanna demanded, with her sword to Billie's throat. "Or she dies!"

Thomas froze. His eyes darted from Billie's to Breanna's, his grip on the gun not wavering. Two other witches appeared on the stairs, and one in the doorway.

"See this is just cheating." He growled.

"Right?" Billie gasped.

"How come bad guys get to do this?"

"I used to be able to do this."

"Hold on, let me try something." Thomas cleared his throat. "We…don't know each other?"

Breanna pulled the sword tighter to Billie's neck, making her hiss. "Drop. The weapon."

More witches appeared around the edges of the room.

"That didn't work, eh?" Thomas grimaced. Then sighed, and tossed the pistol to the floor.

He was dogpiled by angry plant-women two seconds later.

The only thing I enjoy more than Just Fucking Shooting People is literary parallels!

I love writing Emily. The fact that she can 180 from cheerily solving puzzles to discussing mortality inside of seconds makes her very versatile. Not to mention the moment I decided to send her after the Knife, I knew I'd need to have her really just Rich Person the problem. And bonus points to any reader who catches the reference in the bank teller. Of course, while she's doing that, things aren't going quite so well for her teammates. Thomas just can't help white-knighting his Empress...