Tanice automatically checked the spare magazines as she slotted them into the holders at the sides of her belt. The rounds, etched with magic, glowed faintly red. Next, the guns. She tested the bolt slide, the firing action, the grip. She knew these guns as well as – perhaps even better than – the back of her own hand. She could strip, oil, and assemble them with her eyes closed. And she did. Often. But today was too important for that. Today wasn’t a day for tricks and gimmicks. Today was her first mission.
She held still as she heard faint footsteps enter the room. She knew that step. “Mother.”
“Daughter,” came the reply.
Tanice turned, sliding her guns smoothly into their holsters, and looked into a face that was the spitting image of her own. Dark eyes, surrounded by smooth dark skin. A mouth, overfull, with the hint of a smile always in one corner. The biggest difference between them were the scars. Her mother held the results of many battles, including the raking claws of a shapeshifter across one sculpted cheekbone.
Her mother sighed, and Tanice braced herself.
“How I wish we didn’t do this. You’re so young. Too young. You’re a child, still. Children shouldn’t play with guns.”
Tanice gritted her teeth, “Who says I’m playing?”
Mother sighed, “I’m sorry, daughter, that wasn’t what I meant. I know you’re trained, and I know you’re good,and I know you believe in what we do here. I just… You’re still my little girl, and I worry for you. Going out in the field for the first time…no training matches it. You can never truly know if you’re capable of this until you get to that moment where you must kill, and even 100 missions in, you still run the risk. Better people than me or you have frozen at the wrong second and never come home again.”
Mother absently touched a deep, puckered scar that ran up her left arm and disappeared beneath her shirt.
Tanice debated for a moment. She had pulled together a slideshow of child soldiers in the human world, prepared herself to snark her way through this moment. But seeing the flash of memory, the vulnerability in her Mother’s eyes, she swallowed her pride and rested her hands on her Mother’s shoulders.
“I know. I can never take away the pain of what happened to Father, and I know I can’t say anything to make this easier. But I’m coming home, ma. If only so I can tell you and your worries to suck it,” Tanice grinned.
Mother snorted laughter and pulled her into a hug, “Alright, alright. You get home in one piece, and I might even let you without kicking your butt. Come on, I was told to bring you to the briefing.”
Tanice lit up, “Yes! Lemme just grab my sword and stuff…” she turned back to her rack and picked out the hilt she had carved her name into, years ago when she had begun her training, back in the days when she couldn’t even lift the blade when it emerged. She focused her will, and a blade formed, made of her own magical will, and etched in glowing red runes. For the millionth time she wondered how the magic worked – those lessons had always been more philosophy than action, and thus not her strong point – then defocused so the blade could dematerialise, leaving just her hilt to slot into its hip holster. After adding two dagger hilts to straps on her inner wrists, a magical lockpick, and a small book containing hand-drawn, ready-for-use spells, she was ready.
The briefing was no different to those she had sat in for her training, except that this time one of the participants named was herself. She would accompany two older practitioners, one a pure mage named Madrigal, the other a pure fighter named Ackson. This was the standard arrangement for this type of mission – a smash and kill, with a newbie in tow.
The plan was simple, at least. A den of lesser demonic creatures. Two ways in. Tanice and Madrigal, with her particular brand of mixed attack and defense magic, would guard one, wait until Ackson smashed their way through the other entrance, then kill anything that came their way.
As the three of them drove to the location, Tanice promised herself the older fighters would have no cause to wish they hadn’t been chosen to babysit. And also that she’d remember this feeling, for when it was her turn to do so.
Parking a short distance away, she and Madrigal snuck around to a filthy back alley, on a street of old houses either deserted, or used as squats. Magic took them through a locked fence, then muffled their footsteps as they approached the backyard.
Tanice went to open the back gate and froze as Madrigal hissed at her.
A small line of magic shot from her to the gate and she whispered in Tanice’s ear, “Quiet spell, stops any squeals or creaks.”
Tanice mentally kicked herself as she slid the gate open, the lack of even incidental sound slightly jarring.
Madrigal performed the same quiet spell on the back door, and motioned to Tanice to pick the lock.
Tanice knew she was being tested. She knew Madrigal could open it with barely a thought. But it was her first teaching mission, and so she must be taught and tested.
She brought out her magical lockpick, a small black stick with a red rune etched into one flattened end, and pressed it against the lock, bending her will towards the tumblers.
With the silencing spell, on the door, she couldn’t hear the opening click she was used to, but she felt them move, and nodded to Madrigal.
The mage held up her hands, signalling stillness. They would enter and guard the door the moment they heard Ackson burst in. He, meanwhile, awaited their ready signal.
Madrigal closed her eyes and created a slightly shimmering bubble of glamour around the house, ensuring nobody else on the street would see or hear the fighting.
Tanice pulled out her book of spells, and cast speed, night sight, and strength onto herself. To her own sight, she now glowed gently red, and would for the next few hours, but only those blessed with magic would see it.
Madrigal nodded her approval as she cast shields on them both, and prepared more spells to cast mid-fight.
Both now prepared, Madrigal sent a silent Go signal to Ackson.
A moment later, they heard the front door splinter, as Ackson roared his way in.
Madrigal nodded for Tanice to enter, and she did, sword in her right hand, one of her guns in the left. She felt Madrigal just behind her, placed perfectly out of reach so Tanice had room to move.
Red magical light flashed as Madrigal set traps in the kitchen doorway and across the floor.
The first demon to escape flashed red once and disintegrated.
The next two did likewise.
In the other room, there was nothing but the sound of growling, roaring and crashing.
Then everything went quiet for a moment, and Tanice had just enough time to see the traps blink out of existence, before a demon came racing towards her.
It was tall, but slender, wielding a bone blade in one hand. Its teeth gnashed as it came for her, and a pink tongue lashed out, hitting her face and leaving a burning pain behind.
Tanice raised her blade, focusing the demon on that, then shot three rounds into its chest, and one into its head.
It was dead before it even realised it had been tricked.
Tanice, panting heavily with adrenalin, turned to ask Madrigal what the fuck she was doing, letting the traps go, but stopped with her mouth wide open as she realised. She had to be given the chance to kill or her test was unfinished. She had followed orders, used magic to unlock and buff, and taken up her position correctly. But without a kill, the lesson remained incomplete, so they ensured a kill came her way.
Instead of her original words, Tanice bowed to both Madrigal and, as they entered, covered in demon ichor, Ackson, “Thank you for facilitating my test, and my first blood. Did I pass?”
Ackson shrugged, “I missed it all, can’t pass you.”
Madrigal rolled her eyes at him, “I did, can, and do. You’ll move to the next level of training and missions now. I have a whole report to fill out and give and you’ll be properly debriefed, but aside from the gate thing, you performed perfectly. And the gate thing is good, because I have to include something teachable, and it’s a minor error, so nothing to fret over. You picked the lock quickly, you chose your battle spells well, and that distraction trick, was, honestly, very fuckin funny.”
“And when we get back, we’ll have a drink with you,” Ackson nudged the dead demon with one foot, “But first, cleanup. Having a mage makes this easier. I know you’re using mostly fighting magic, but you could stand to learn these ones.”
Tanice nodded, “Cleanup spells. Will do.”
Madrigal smiled and closed her eyes, holding out her palms, facing each other, a few inches apart. As she focused, a ball of pulsing red magic formed, grew, and became concentrated. After a few minutes, she breathed a command word, and the ball exploded, disintegrating the demon, removing the blood, and cleansing the entire house of any hint of magical or demonic activity.
Sweating from the exertion, Madrigal nodded, “Done.”
“Then let’s go!” Ackson smiled, “We’ve got a newbie to get drunk!”
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