Surrounded by a bunch of magical animatrons designed to track and probably kill me, I did what any reasonable person would do.
“Excuse me.” I said, pushing past them.
I walked right back to my seat.
With agonizing slowness, the constructs slowly dispersed back to their own seats, Marbleface continuing to stare at me. Look, they’re not all that bright, but they have rules determining what they can and can’t do. And as any roboticist, AI programmer, or alchemist could tell you, trying to approximate intelligent behavior through rules is a futile, and really frustrating task. I’d give you some sort of witty analogy about how hard it is, but if you don’t believe me, just try to do it yourself. Either you’ll stop doubting me, or you’ll accidentally revolutionize several sub-fields of computer science and magecraft. And then you’ll send me a gloating e-mail me about it, and I’ll steal your work. Win-win.
Anyway, now I had a better idea of what was going on. There were five Marblefaces on this plane, they all knew who I was and where I sat, and judging from what had happened so far, they had rules.
- Avoid performing actions that draw excessive action to themselves where possible.
- Don’t allow me to leave their sight.
And, that’s all. I could probably add a couple more corollaries, but I wasn’t sure what they weren’t allowed to do, and what they were too dumb to do. They weren’t actively aggressive, and they weren’t willing to try to break into the bathroom. They likely had some sort of enchantment on them that allowed them to shirk attention in order to gather outside the door, but it probably wasn’t strong enough to allow them to do anything more outrageous. I could use that. I sat down, clicked my seat-belt together, stowed my tray-table in the upright and locked position, and started planning how to lose my stalkers.
At 10:04 in the morning, we touched down in Atlanta. And then we disembarked the plane. By we, I mean me, my stalkers, and a large crowd of people completely oblivious to how close they had come to sleeping with the fishies. I, and everyone else on that plane, was lucky that whoever was after me wasn’t willing to cover up the loss of a plane to get what he was after. I had lost most of my checked luggage in Ireland, I really didn’t have much other than my backpack, which was filled with books and my rusty metal spike meal-ticket. I also had my lighter and wallet in my pockets along with some tissues. I’m not sure where and when the tissues came from, but they looked used. Thus were the contents of my arsenal. Yeah, look at me, the mature and prepared wizard, fear my dirty tissues. Just sneaking the lighter and large piece of rusty metal through security had stretched the limits of my ability to manipulate memory, I wasn’t comfortable trying to sneak in a gun or explosive, and I’d lost the wand I brought with me in Ireland.
As I lamented my lack of offensive options, we all shuffled through the jetway and onto the terminal. My first impression of the Maynard Jackson International Terminal was that it was white and large. It was really white, and most of the things that weren’t white were either alive, windows, or advertisements. It also was rather non-flammable looking, lots of metal, and faux-wood, tile floor, plenty of open space. The jury was still out on whether or not that was a good thing. I’d never been here before, since I’d left from Dallas on my way up. My client had specified an address in Atlanta for the drop. Thankfully, I’d at least checked a few maps of the airport before leaving, so I had a sense of where everything was.
Tactical considerations aside, it was a pretty nice space, especially if you were a fan of international style architecture. Personally, I prefer Gothic buildings, but mages as a whole are pretty renowned for being several centuries behind on art and architecture. We’re a reactionary bunch. As we exited terminal twelve, I cut to the left, trying to get out of the crowd. Marbleface was waiting for me, the enchantment draped around him probably making the rest of the world think he was a responsible father waiting for his daughter. The rest of the world sucks balls sometimes.
As I passed Marbleface, he turned and started following a few steps behind me, swinging his battered briefcase like a damaged metronome. I could almost feel the glass eyes of his brothers from across the concourse, rushing to keep up with me as they exited the plane. They followed straight down the stairs and into the duty-free store. Being mindless automatons, they clearly hadn’t read my file. My posse of defective marionette kidnappers followed me straight into the section of the store that contains hopelessly overpriced high proof beverages. For once the enchantment of un-noticeable-ness around Marbleface numero uno worked in my favor, as nobody questioned why a teenage girl was ripping bottles of Johnny Walker out of their plastic cases. Some poor policeman was probably going to have a heart attack when he watched the footage of me tomorrow. After pulling the fifth bottle of 210 dollar blue label from it’s annoyingly extensive casing, I started cracking the necks of my bottles. Then I gave my followers a remarkably expensive golden shower. They didn’t react, apparently being doused in alcohol didn’t count as an offensive action. At this point, I was kinda surprised that some the clerk or some TSA wannabe cop hadn’t started bothering me yet. I really needed to get someone to teach me whatever spell had been placed on Marbleface, that would make so many illegal activities substantially easier.
Suddenly, Marbleface decided he was tired of the whole ominous muteness thing. “What the hell do you think you’re doing to my dolls?” The construct said, his mouth looking utterly wrong as it flapped in ways that definitely did not correspond with the sounds it was producing.
That caught me off guard, so I said the first thing that popped into my head. “They smell better this way.” Yeah, I’m gifted at witty repartee.
“Stop screwing around and give me the relic girl.”
“Or what?” I asked.
Marbleface lurched forward and grabbed my backpack, and his posse started to surround me. I tried to pull back, but Marbleface stepped closer to me. He was nearly a foot taller and probably fifty pounds heavier than me, I didn’t have a chance. He ripped the backpack off my shoulders, pushing me back. Two of the still silent constructs caught me, grabbing my shoulders. Suddenly, he brought his briefcase up and around, and slammed my head with the thin side of it. I tried to dodge, but I only succeeded in leaning back far enough to catch the blow across my jaw instead of on my cheek. For the second time that day, I tasted blood in my mouth. Gods he was really trying my patience.
“Or that. Thanks doll, I owe you one.” Seriously, he called me doll? What was this, a bad mafia movie?
I spit my blood at his face. Or, I tried. In movies, it looks all badass and defiant, when I did it, all I managed to accomplish was soiling a pair of bargain bin pinstripe pants. It also took Marbleface’s attention away from my hands for a moment, which was unfortunate for him, considering his compatriots were only holding my shoulders.
Ethanol alcohol is remarkably flammable. Unfortunately, whiskey contains water; and as you are probably aware, water is not flammable. Its a common misconception that molotov cocktails were made with vodka. They weren’t, the Poles were smarter than that when they invented them, they used vodka bottles filled with petrol or napalm, probably with tar to get it to really stick to whatever unfortunate tank they were lobbing the bottles at. That being said, as Marbleface was about to discover, you really should avoid open flames when doused in 80 proof whiskey. Ethanol vapor produces a beautiful burst of blue and orange flames, and a respectable 1.3 million joules of heat per mole combusted. Its not quite as good as butane or diesel fuel, but still quite enough for what I had in mind.
I held my lighter out. I I really wish I could have seen the expression on Marbleface’s navigator when he realized what I was doing.
With a quiet whoosh, one and a half liters of ethanol blazed into brilliant life in front of me. Literally. I felt out the newborn fire with my mind, and fed it magic, drawn from the my body and the air in the concourse. As it gorged upon my magic, the fire changed, growing beyond a simple combustion reaction, becoming a living thing. It wasn’t that impressive of a fire at first, only the small fraction of airborne ethanol igniting in response to my lighter. That tiny indigo flare gorged itself on the mana I wrapped it in, growing without any apparent source. In a moment, my now crimson flame had grown large enough to surround Marbleface’s torso.
I staggered forward, feeling like I had just sprinted a mile; the dolls holding me going limp as they reverted back to their default instructions. The poor man controlling Marbleface screamed, the sensory feedback from his construct overwhelming him with pain. The now raging fire quickly evaporated the water content of the whiskey, consuming his both the alcohol and the shirt it was on. I reached out to my fire one last time, this time forcing mana to condense in the center of the flame. Then I dropped to the floor, face down, with my hands between my thighs, and released the working. It wasn’t much of an explosion, more a whooshing noise than a blast, but it looked more impressive than it sounded. When I stopped holding the magical energy in the center of the fire, it immediately rushed outward, seeking to diffuse into the surrounding space. And the already magical fire consumed and followed it, rushing outward in every direction, igniting the wooden shelves of the store and the other pseudo-businessmen.
Part one of my brilliant plan, commit arson in heavily guarded public space : Check! Time for part two, scream like a little girl and run away. It wasn’t dignified, but then I’ve always been much more attached to my life than I was to my dignity.