Vlad strolled across and over to the Large Dining room. Forty-one started playing statue and the lords ignored him.
Vlad removed the City Police Department's keep out tape from the first doorway and stepped in to stroll the length of the table to the other door.
Lord Andre stomped up to glare at him as he removed the tape from that doorway.
"So I take it you are finally satisfied?"
"Yes." Vlad stepped out and spotted Lord Nikoli frowning their way. "Really a shame, to see any member of a leading family fall to such depths."
Lord Andre frowned and loomed. Lord Nikoli started their direction.
"I'm afraid your cousin has been . . . well foolish hardly covers . . ."
He broke off to nod politely to Nikoli as he neared.
"So . . . is Lord Axel here?"
Behind the frowning pair, Nastasya slipped past the back doors, barely pausing, and glanced into Mr. Solovsky's nook.
"Lord Axel . . . killed . . ." Lord Nikoli broke off to look out the front entrance where a cab had just pulled up.
Lord Andre turned toward the front, but jerked back to look behind. "Girl! I said no one was to go in there." he strode down toward her.
Nastasya cringed a bit. "I didn't go in, I was just looking to see if it needed . . ." she ducked a slap.
"You stupid . . . shit! Troops in the back!" He lunged and grabbed Nastasya. "I should have known you were spying on us . . ."
:: Armored troops entering the southwest offices from the back. :: Pauli's mental voice didn't stutter.
Which is a bloody stupid thing to think when one is reaching for someones neck . . .
:: Shields! :: Axel's voice.
Vlad got his left arm around Andre's neck, his right out to grab Andre's right arm and his feet braced to jerk them all backward and out of the doorway as armored troops charged in from two sides.
:: The red lightning bolt guys are the good guys. :: Axel again.
They hit the ground hard, Vlad underneath, concentrated on choking Andre. And shielding . . . he really wasn't good at shields . . .
Gunfire echoed down the hall.
:: More to the northwest, they're heading for the front stairs. Boss, you don't appear to have any weapons. :: Pauli, horrified.
Someone crashed into them, ripped Andre out of his grasp. Then landed on Vlad and smashed him flat on the floor. He raised his head and spotted Axel running up on a trio of Cyborgs in black armor. Who flopped down to skid up to stop at his feet. Axel snatched a rifle from the ground, turned to fire three time at something above Vlad's head, then turned and shot more cyborgs charging down the stairs, who were shooting upwards at someone snugged down and shooting from the second floor balcony . . .
Then Forty-one was heaving the weight off Vlad and hauling him away.
A wavery shield covering them as Nastasya staggered to her feet and grabbed both of them. Vlad spotted the entry to the dining hall and steered them that direction. The panel between the seascape and the horse . . .
"Oh!" Nastsaya dived to poke at the bottom of the side moulding and pushed. The whole panel swung on hinges and they tumbled through and closed it behind them.
A short corridor, two doors on each wall, ending in a blank wall.
"Quietly, now. We need to find out if they brought in another beacon. Where are the nearest stairs up?"
"Right here. So we didn't have to parade through the back halls and Grand Hall with all the food." Nastasya trotted to the first door on the right and opened to yet another metal staircase .
She stepped through and looked up, froze.
Vlad jumped through, pistol coming up as he jerked her away from . . . nothing. He eased over to look up, the hair on the back of his neck prickling as he broke into a cold sweat . . .
A snicker from Forty-one. "You two need to work on your mental shields. That must be a damn good fear spell." He nudged Vlad out of the way and walked up like there was nothing to it.
Vlad and Nastasya exchanged glances, then he concentrated on his mental shield, pushed it as hard as he could and walked nervously up the stairs.
:: Pauli? If Lord Axel isn't too busy, could you ask him to kill the fear spell on the west wing? :: Nastasya edged toward the first step, looking firmly down . . .
And suddenly Vlad's nerves settled and he trotted the rest of the way up.
Forty-one was peeking through the second floor door. "The soldier Cybords are coming out of a room down the hall. Must be a big room, there are a lot of them."
:: There aren't many good troops. :: Pauli sounded worried.
"Or they've opened a portal there. The Imps removed the portal we found, but . . ."
"You found a . . . never mind, you can tell me about it later. So . . . how do we stop them?"
Vlad bit his lip. "Are they coming towards us?"
"No, and I think they're going down a different set of stairs."
Nastasya crowded up behind him. "So . . . I can do stun spells and energy shields."
Vlad swallowed. "And I can do a physical shield, but both of us have to be able to shoot."
Forty-one nodded. "I'll take the left side, keep the energy shield shy of my left side so I can shoot."
Vlad nodded. "And I know how to open holes so I can shoot thought my physical shield."
"Quietly, now . . . we need to close the portal so they can't just keep bringing in more Cyborgs."
They slipped out the door, Forty-one stepping to his left, Nastasya to his right.
They got a dozen feet closer before one of the soldiers spun . . . and collapsed.
Then it got noisy.
Vlad fired at the few less well armored spots in the standard soldier rig--the thinner plex over the eye-piece, the gap between chestplate and upper leg armor--as they charged the door the Cyborgs were exiting.
A glimpse of the "throne room" and Vlad dived in to empty his mag at the bar on the floor at the end of the room. A brilliant flash.
He was jerked back, blinking flash blinded eyes.
"Keep holding the shield." Forty-one's voice. "Close your eyes, you should be all right in a few minutes."
"I told Axel you closed the portal, so the Imps should be making progress, we just need to hold out . . ." A flash of heat, "Eep! For a few more minutes!" Her voice got a bit high at the end.
"Let's slide down to the corner and crowd in together so you don't have to cover so much and . . . here come the good guys . . ."
It got very noisy. He kept squinting through watering eyes, flashes around the periphery of his vision . . .
Silence, relative silence. Moans, distant screams, snapped commands . . . Axel's voice, getting nearer.
"How close were you to the portal when you shot the beacon?" Loud enough to hear through his ringing ears.
"Fifteen feet? Maybe?"
"Ouch. The doc will be here in a few minutes, get him to check your eyes. I've got to go sort out the Fake Cousins."
"Are they really imposters?"
"Either that or I've been underestimating them for my entire life." The movement at the periphery of his vision that was probably Axel, moved off.
They helped Vlad down the stairs, over the frame of the hidden door and sat him down in one on the dining room chairs. Apparently where they were putting all the low priority patients.
He closed his eyes and listened . . .
Nastasya, of course, looking out at what was going on elsewhere. "Why are they washing his face?"
And Forty-one. "It's peeling off a film that gives him wrinkles . . . He's a lot younger than the real Lord Andre."
"I know him! That's Max! He's two years older than me. Miss Vera's son. I . . . had hoped he'd run away and made it . . . but I was afraid His Lordship had sold him, or killed him, or he'd died getting chipped . . . But not that, because Sevastyan dissappeared too . . ."
Forty-one snorted. "And he looked a lot like Lord Andre, who was probably his father, and Lord Vladimir might have been his grandfather?"
Vlad cleared his throat. "And this Sevastyan? Did he just happen to look a whole lot like Lord Nikoli?"
"Yes." Nastasya sounded exasperated. "My stupid family. We used to kid them about it, it was so obvious . . . so all this was planned . . . over two years ago?"
Vlad nodded. "And the people he was talking to noticed two boys who might be really useful, sometime in the future. Maybe not the way it played out, with the Plague and all, but Siberia Max is a tasty little tidbit, with the cutting-edge research, the micro electronics manufacturers . . . the small population and three working portals."
Axel's voice. "I think you're right about that. And my cousins are being held on Budapest Reborn."