A Life Of Shadows – Kristen Banet

  • Sawyer stood quietly on the roof of the skyscraper, looking down to the second, lower roof. Her black domino mask was hot. Sweat already stung her eyes, and the job hadn’t even started yet. Her cloth face guard was sweltering, making her neck itch. She hated needing all this shit, but protecting her face from cameras was important. She heaved a sigh and jumped. Instead of falling between the two buildings, as no one could have made that jump, she rolled through her landing on the other roof. To any onlooker, it would have appeared she teleported from one roof to the other. She had, so they wouldn’t be insane. Though they might not have believed their eyes, even knowing magic was real. Blinking wasn’t the most common magical ability around, but it was one of hers. “Get in, get out,” she mumbled to herself as she dusted herself off. She needed to shake the bad feeling she had about this job before it messed her up. “Get in, grab the files, then get out. Then I just need to drop them off with the middleman and get the fuck out of Los Angeles.

    ” She readjusted the black long sleeve shirt she was wearing. The damn thing kept sticking to her, but she was working and even in the June heat of LA, she had to wear it. The black cargo pants didn’t help, either. She wasn’t in any real rush to get this done. She always planned these out so that she could take her time. Rushing led to mistakes, and Sawyer didn’t make mistakes. She strolled across the roof, not worried about security. Her research had told her that they didn’t have any cameras installed on the roof. Two months of back-breaking research went into this job, just like any job she took. Was it worth ten million dollars? Damn right it was.

    “Nearly one a.m.,” she mumbled, checking her watch. Two more minutes. “Three night-security guards in the building; and, since it’s a quiet night, two will be going on break instead of one because they don’t take their jobs seriously enough. The third will have a cigarette with the others, thinking no one cares if he slacks on the job. I’ll have twenty to thirty minutes to get into the server room, download the information, and leave. Plenty of time. No one will ever know I was here.” She tapped her foot, waiting for the moment she knew it was safe to go in through the roof access.

    The second she knew it was safe, she knelt and pulled her lockpick set out from a cargo pocket, getting to work with a master’s efficiency. Once she heard the lock click open, she grinned. She could have walked through the door, but sometimes doing it the traditional way gave more satisfaction. Now it was time to have some real fun, she chuckled silently. She closed her eyes, touched her Source, the magic core of her being, and pulled out just a touch of power. She focused on her cloaking talent and knew the moment she disappeared from the world. When she reopened her eyes, the world was colorless—a side-effect of being cloaked by her magic. Sawyer was a Magi, and she excelled in her craft. Not every Magi could cloak or even had similar abilities to her. They weren’t pop culture wizards and witches with spells.

    Magi had abilities or talents that they could do and a Source to power those, a magic well of power that was unique in power and depth for every Magi. She could cloak, which was using magic to make herself invisible. It had its draw backs, but normally it was a very useful talent. She couldn’t stay cloaked all night because it would drain her Source quickly, but staying invisible for this job wouldn’t be the worst thing. She stepped into the building, holding back a happy sigh at the blast of cold air from the AC. Thank fuck. It was so goddamn hot outside. She trotted down the stairs silently, keeping her feet light, even in the combat boots she wore. She’d been doing this for nearly seven years, so experience and muscle memory took over for the easy shit, like not making a ton of noise. Getting to the server room was probably the most dangerous part of the plan.

    She moved quickly to an office that she knew was three floors above the server room she needed to be in. She let go of her cloak and watched the world become color again, though it was too dark to really change anything. Time for her third magic trick of the night, going through solid objects. “Let’s hope no one stayed late tonight,” she sighed. She had to do three blind drops to get into the room she needed. The first drop happened instantly. One moment she was standing in an empty office, the next moment she was slipping through the floor to land in the office below it. Phasing was a Common ability, though it had its limitations. Going through something that was too thick, not having enough energy to make it, and solidifying to early was an awful way to die or lose limbs. If she wasn’t careful, she could lose body parts, and she nearly never used phasing while using another ability.

    There was just too much to focus on. She made the second drop without thinking about it. Phasing down through floors was a bit easier, since gravity took over. It involved ignoring the current floor and dropping down to the next, but she had to make sure she didn’t drop through several floors, so it still required her utmost attention. “One more.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the USB she needed for the server room. It would hack in, copy the files she needed, destroy the originals, and leave a virus for the dirt bag she was working against on this job. She dropped one last time and groaned at the heat of the server room, but that wasn’t what she should have been worried about. A shield slammed over the room seconds later and she froze. Whoever made it was smart enough to make sure it went under her.

    Shields, or force fields, were made by a Magi who had the talent for it. “My Shadow,” a smooth, velvet voice crooned from behind her, “it’s been too long.” Sawyer clenched a fist and closed her eyes. Shadow. No one had called her that for a very long time. Four years, to be precise. She turned to the source of the voice slowly, opening her eyes as she faced him. She pulled down the cloth that was over her mouth, letting it relax around her neck, so she could speak to the memory-made-real standing in the room with her. “Axel,” she tried to keep her tone light, but it wouldn’t fool the Italian man with dark curls standing across the room. Of all the people who could be there, this was the only one she hadn’t been prepared for.

    Nothing ever could have prepared her for a run-in with him, and the spike of fear in her sent adrenaline coursing through her system. “Why are you here?” “Really?” He chuckled and crossed his arms. She wanted to claw those olive-green eyes full of humor out of his head. She wanted to ruin the perfect, chiseled bone structure of his face. Sawyer had to bite back on her temper, on the violent anger and fear that made her veins feel hot and icy all at once. Air and heat were swirling around him, meaning she couldn’t even think to attack him. Plus, if she was going to attack Axel, she would need to kill him; and she didn’t have any weapons on her. She hadn’t thought she would need them for this job. “Shadow, love, that’s all you have to say?” “It’s all I have to say to you.” She grinned unkindly.

    She needed to get out. Fuck the job and fuck the money. She didn’t need it, and now she didn’t want it. “I’m going to leave, and you’re going to let me.” “Sadly,” Axel sighed and stepped closer to her, “I’m here to finish something. Four long years, Shadow… Did you really think you could hide?” “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” Sawyer began stepping away, moving towards the door. She knew what he wanted, but damn, she didn’t want to die tonight. “You were supposed to die four years ago,” he growled with a grin. “I told you the only way you were leaving my employment was in a coffin, but it seems killing you is more difficult than I thought.

    ” “Well,” Sawyer shrugged, inching even closer to the door, “maybe you should take that up with the ass who should have checked to make sure I was dead.” “I already have,” Axel chuckled. “Now, now, love… Don’t play hard to get. I’ve got the room shielded, so you won’t be leaving. We’re going to have a long chat before I end your miserable existence.” The air left her lungs, and she began to suffocate. She watched him give a deadly smile, completely calm. “Anything you want to say?” Axel asked with a chuckle as he stepped close to her. He thought he was being funny. Arrogant piece of shit.

    She narrowed her eyes on him, and decided to give up on trying to breathe—now or in the future. She focused on his face and, once he was close enough, slammed her forehead into his. The shield dropped, and air rushed into her lungs. Most Magi couldn’t keep their magic going if they were suddenly hurt. Some could, but Axel so rarely had the tables turned on him that he was inept at it. “Fuck you,” Sawyer growled at him as she ran for the door, phasing through a wall into a different room at the last moment because fire engulfed the door she had planned to use. Seconds, it only took seconds to evade Axel’s hands and make it into the next room. She looked around to see where she was and hissed as the wall behind her shook. Just as she was leaving the room, the only wall between her and Axel exploded outward. A chunk of drywall slammed into her back, and she didn’t spare a moment to look back.

    “Sawyer!” He roared. “We didn’t need to do this.” She made a sharp turn down another hallway, only to see a woman at the end grinning at her. Sawyer cursed at the sight of the woman’s scar, stretching from her left ear, down her jaw, and down the side of her neck. Missy. And she was holding a damn AR, aimed for Sawyer’s head. Sawyer phased into an office to keep running as the gun went off. She didn’t bother trying to get back into a hallway, going straight through walls. “Fuck me,” she hissed, stopping when she could feel several other Magi near her. They were reaching out with their Sources to feel hers.

    This was very quickly becoming the second-ugliest night of Sawyer’s life. The door to the office she was in blew open, and Sawyer found herself looking at Talyn, who shot her a glare. “I always did hate you,” he snarled. “Steal Colt’s abilities today?” She grinned defiantly. “Those won’t stop me.” She dropped through the floor as Talyn tried to grab her. She didn’t wait for her feet to hit the floor below before blinking to the closest door. She phased through it and kept running. She ducked when part of the ceiling above her collapsed and Missy dropped down with Axel. Sawyer continued to run.

    “You are all useless!” Axel roared, and Sawyer was flung by a gust of wind into a wall. She didn’t respond fast enough, and the drywall cracked and broke from the impact. Her mask flew off, but Sawyer had no idea where it ended up. “I’m so fucking tired of this,” Sawyer sighed, trying to pull herself out of the wall. Everything hurt. Her vision spun, making her unable to focus on shapes moving closer. She got to her feet and staggered into the unbroken wall across the hall. “Ready to extend your short life by talking to me?” Axel strolled over, looking furious. She chuckled and shook her head. “There’s nothing to say,” she laughed, waving a hand around wildly at him and the other criminals behind him.

    They were all there, all the people she once worked with, all the people who had hated her and the relationship she had with their boss. Missy, Colt, Talyn, Karen, Toni, and Felix. The best of the best at being the absolute worst. “Why isn’t Toni dead, though? He’s the one who dumped me in the ocean without checking to see if I had a pulse.” “Shut up, bitch,” Toni growled, but then he collapsed to his knees, holding his neck. His face slowly turned purple from the lack of air. Sawyer swallowed as Axel slowly choked him to death without laying a hand on him. “Be quiet,” Axel told them casually, and Sawyer saw Toni gasp, sucking in air as Axel finally released his control. The entire scene reminded Sawyer of the first time she met these assholes. Talyn had said something, she couldn’t remember what, but Axel had nearly killed him for it.

    Axel was possessive over his property; and in the eyes of his organization, she had been his property, not to be toyed with or insulted. “Now,” Axel smiled at her, “let’s talk. I want to know where you’ve been hiding, who you’ve spoken to, and what you’ve been doing. I don’t like having messes, and you are definitely a mess.” “Why the fuck would I tell you any of that?” She snorted, straightening up, but she still needed the wall for support. She realized that Axel didn’t have them shielded this time. He thought she was done for, too tired to keep running, too injured to put up a real fight. Arrogance was always Axel’s downfall, and Sawyer was thankful for that tonight. “So I make your death painless.” Axel stepped up closer to her, and she rolled her eyes.

    “You don’t do anything painlessly, so you’ll have to find a better reason,” she reminded him, spitting on the floor at his feet. He had screwed up, and she was getting the hell out of there. “Also, fuck you.” “Don’t ever fucking-” He went to slap her but missed. She phased through the floor again, his hand passing over her head. This time she let the drop take her two floors down. She didn’t know much about the lower floors and she landed on a metal desk, the impact jarring her leg and buckling her knee. She didn’t waste time on the pain, as loud noises could still be heard above her. She pushed into the hallway and blinked toward the end of it. As Axel and his followers came into the hallway, she phased through the window she had found and jumped.

    Free falling from a plane was a cool experience. With a parachute. Skydiving was an exhilarating pastime. Free falling from an office building onto a busy street without a parachute wasn’t nearly as enjoyable. Base jumping was stupid and reckless, something only the foolhardy thought was good idea. She let herself fall for half the height of the building before reaching into the last of her magic to change shape. She wasn’t a shape-shifter, per se. That was only because the ability to shape-shift was limited to changing into animals, and she didn’t become an animal. Doing this was going to send her into Source burnout, but she didn’t have a choice. The ground was coming to meet her quickly, and she wasn’t particular on becoming a part of the street.

    One moment, she was a solid human shape. The next, she was ethereal, airy, and light. Sublimation, an incredibly Rare ability, and her favorite. As a cloud of black smoke, she could float on the wind, making it so the concrete and asphalt below her weren’t scary anymore. She couldn’t do it inside with Axel because of his elemental control. He would have trapped her and torn her to shreds, since she was now part of the air itself. She had enough energy for about two minutes in this form, since she had to force her movement against the air currents to get far enough away; but it would be enough. Axel was stuck in the building, probably unwilling to make even more of a scene than he already had, and even he couldn’t stop the natural wind currents from carrying her away. Eight blocks from the building, she lowered herself into an empty alley. She’d done this mission without a go-bag or any of her weapons, preferring to go light over hauling a bunch of crap around, so she only had the phone and wallet she kept on her.

    Now she just needed to find a taxi and to get the fuck out of the city. Fuck her employer. She sure as fuck wasn’t calling him ever again. She pulled off the face guard, stuffing it into her pocket. She couldn’t take the long sleeve shirt off. She was pretty banged up, and people would see that if she was only wearing the tank top she had on underneath. She had to stay calm and keep her head. She couldn’t draw attention to herself now. If she freaked out, people would ask questions and she would become noticeable. She had to stick to her emergency escape plan and just focus on living through the night.

    She walked out onto the street, pulled some Marlboro Menthols from her pocket, and lit one as she kept moving. She rarely smoked. She knew how bad it was for her; but damn, on some nights, a good cigarette was the only thing between her and a total meltdown. Sirens could be heard in the distance, and she took a moment to appreciate that Axel wouldn’t come looking for her tonight. He needed to get out, too, or he and his little band of merry murderers would be having a standoff with the non-Magi police. It was enough of a break that she felt some tension leave her. She strolled quickly down the desolate street. Most people were intent on ignoring the ruckus nearby. Groups of people hung out on their steps, and one group of guys got eyes on her.


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