Chapter 2: Research

“Hey,” came a female voice as Li walked through the arches of the main gate, “what’s your business here?” Li turned to see a grumpy looking security guard staring at her with narrowed brown eyes through the window, her expression openly distasteful. She wore a standard navy blue uniform with short, brown hair tied into a bun. Li smiled in response and walked closer, taking out her purse and retrieving a small card that she held up to the window.

“I’m here on business, could you point me in the right direction?” Li asked politely, still smiling. The security guard glanced at the card, then back at Li. The card looked like a normal driving licence from a distance, featuring a picture of Li with her name, date of birth and identification number, though on closer inspection, it turned out to be her identity card within the American Occult Lore department. The local school also happened to feature a direct link to one of the largest occult libraries in England and all the people who needed to know were familiar with this.

“Hmph. Obviously a fake,” the guard responded apathetically, turning back to her computer screen. Li was not impressed and tapped on the window with a frown.

“You’d rather call up the department? Run my number through a database? I’ll wait whilst you do,” she responded with contempt, the passive racism of the people getting under her skin a little. The guard glanced up, then tapped away at her keyboard without a response to Li. “Well?”

“Keep your wig on,” the guard snapped, “I’m running your number through the system.” Li smiled again and placed her card back into her purse, depositing the purse into her bag soon after, standing with her hands clasped in front of her. The security guard continued to tap away before raising an eyebrow in surprise. “Right. You’re clear apparently, Miss Li. Head to the entrance to the right of the main entrance, if you follow the wall, you can’t miss it. The library is by the boarders’ dormitories there and the code is seven-four-two-one.” The guard paused, peering at Li suspiciously. “If you cause trouble, sorceress, we’ll fall on you like a pack of wolves, understand me?” the guard uttered in a threatening way, causing Li to step back a little, her face betraying her shock at the sudden change of pace. The security guard grinned, having successfully intimidated Li with smug knowledge as she slid a ‘visitor’ badge under the glass to Li before returning to her monitors. “Have a nice day.”

Li walked away from the booth in haste, not willing to engage in a verbal duel with a security guard for the sake of her pride. She did not have the position or pull to get away with speaking her mind to such people, so she gritted her teeth and just made her way to the entrance that she was directed to, pinning her visitor badge to the breast pocket of her coat. The main courtyard of the college was very well maintained, though the season had taken its toll on the vegetation. The grass remained green and well trimmed, though the trees had lost their leaves and the flowerbeds lay bare. Cars adorned each side of the road, parked close to the curbs leaving enough space for cars to get through the four way junction in the middle, as long as they were not as wide as an American hummer. A slight breeze had picked up during the morning, the temperature dropping since the clouds had covered the sky. Li could easily predict what the weather was doing if she had the reagents, as well as the clearance to perform a weather prediction ritual in the middle of the school grounds. She chuckled to herself at the idea as she walked towards the main building, taking a right as she reached the front entrance. The building was very old, the architecture very old fashioned and reminiscent of a castle. She reached a heavy wooden door as she followed the wall to the right of the main entrance. Then, she pushed the door open and walked inside.

The interior was no more modern than the exterior, also bearing more similarities to a castle as opposed to a school. She shrugged as her eyes darted around the small, yet tall room she stood in. To her immediate left was a pair of vending machines, one for snacks and one for drinks. On the opposite wall was a door that led to the nurse’s office, and to her immediate right was a set of stairs that led upwards. Li frowned, scratching her head. She did not see the dormitories anywhere yet. It could not be in the nurse’s office, and she had yet to hear of an occult library located inside a vending machine. She took her chances with the stairs, walking past a group of female students in white blouses, regulation skirts and ties. Li opened her mouth to talk once she had passed the group of girls, though no words came out and she closed her mouth as quickly as she had opened it. There was no way she was going to ask a group of random students where the occult library was, and asking where the boarding house was would just be asking for suspicion. At the top of the stairs, she noticed a door with the placard reading the name of the dormitory block to the side of it. With a sigh of relief, she began looking for another door. There was one to her left, though as Li approached it, she could hear the sounds of an English class on the other side. She could identify the lines of Shakespeare being read out by students; the start of Romeo and Juliet. She smiled to herself as one of the students started his line; she had always liked Tybalt. She looked around herself cautiously as she pulled out a notepad, scribbling on an empty page in pencil what looked like some sort of arcane diagram. She placed her pencil hand onto it and closed her eyes, stepping forwards slowly. For a moment, she wandered around the small room seemingly blindly, until she eventually stopped to the right of the door leading to the boarding house. It was a standard, concealed pathway. Down the right hand side of the page, she drew the symbols VII, IV, II and I, before tearing the page out and placing it on the wall, the side with the drawing pressed against the wall. Immediately, she walked through the wall, to some degree, emerging into a rather large and ornate looking room filled with books, scrolls, glass jars, straw mannequins, old fashioned chalk boards, ragdolls and lots of cushions. There was no way this huge room would fit in the side of the school building, however large the school building was. It was simple portal magic, though she knew she was still nearby. Portals such as this one were only capable of transporting an individual a short distance.

“Um… Hello, madam,” came the voice of one of the librarians, and old man in his sixties with blue eyes and a receding hair line, “we weren’t expecting visitors today, but you’re obviously not lost. How can we help?”

“Hello,” Li said with a bow, “I was wondering if I could browse through some of your books?” she inquired, causing the man to raise his eyebrow. She shook her head, smiling, “I work with the American Occult Lore department.”

“Of course, madam,” the man said rather solemnly, “we’re always glad to help our American friends. Who’s your handler?”

“Walker,” Li replied, suppressing her distaste for the man, though the librarian saw right through it.

“You’re not fond of Walker? He’s efficient and gets results, I’ll give him that,” the librarian paused, grinning, “but he’s also a hot-blooded American. They have no sense for the subtleties of social interaction and etiquette, I can see why he may be harsh to you.” The librarian walked off before Li could really answer. If she could pin the stereotypical old sage badge on any individual at that moment, she’d stick it right to his shiny, balding head. Regardless, she was inside the library and was free to go about her business. It was sparsely populated, a few librarians of all ages shuffled about, tidying and re-arranging books and a few initiates practised under the supervision of an instructor. Li grinned as she walked to the bookshelves and started to scan from left to right, row by row, though as she thought on it, her grin turned to an expression of sadness. It was comical how much the British Occult Division resembled Harry Potter, she had made jokes about it in the past, though she knew that if China and its allies moved against the world, then Britain would have to lead the counter charge. This would not cut it. She sighed, blocking the thoughts from her mind, focussing on her books.

Hours passed in the occult library as Li trawled through the texts, jotting down anything that may be useful in locating the vault. History books, spell books, even a selection of fictional works based on Smith’s life, nothing was left to chance. Many groups had come and gone, librarians had changed shifts, and changed again. The custodians had also changed shifts, one keeping a menacing eye on Li. No one trusted her in this place, she was an outsider and a fairly unwelcome one at that, but they would not do anything without her doing something wrong first. Li stretched in her seat and checked her phone for the time. Four twenty seven. It was getting late, and she was starting to get a headache from all the reading. She stood up, stretching once again as she tidied up after herself. She may be an outsider, but she was at least going to show these people that she was a respectful outsider, placing all the books back in the exact places that she had retrieved them from. She gathered up her belongings and thanked the librarian she had spoken to when she entered, making her way back to the entrance portal.

“It’s disgusting what they practice in the East. They’re nothing but monsters!” Li overheard a young, English boy say to his instructor with typical, youthful enthusiasm. He was no older than fourteen, though she frowned, gritting her teeth again as she curbed her tongue once more and hastily made her way back to the portal before she said anything stupid. She took out the piece of paper that she had used to enter and pressed it to the wall, walking through and emerging back at the school, in the small room outside the dormitories. Again, there was nobody there and even if there was, she remained invisible to the naked eye until she spoke the conclusion to the spell, which she did in short order.

“How the hell is this country leading the occult field?” Li muttered to herself as she made her way down the steps, though she stumbled and almost fell to the bottom, grabbing onto the hand rail to prevent tumbling. Of course, portal magic was a taxing ritual and she had accidentally skipped lunch in her research.

“Miss, are you all right?” came the voice of one of the students in full uniform. Li looked up at the girl, nodding her head with a smile.

“That’s kind of you to ask, but yes, I’m fine. I wasn’t watching where I was going and I slipped,” she answered, getting to her feet, walking past the student who then went on about her evening tasks. She kept walking to the entrance, sliding the visitor badge back to security at the front gate with a smile. As she walked, she thought on what the boy had said in the library. “Monsters?” she muttered to herself as she made her way back through Kemp Town, “kid, we’re not all like that, though you’ll be lucky to even lay a finger on some of the… things that they’re making over there.” She stopped at a newsagent’s on her way back to the bus stop, buying a Galaxy bar and a small bottle of orange juice that she consumed as she walked. “They’re taught to control magic, they’re taught how to practice it in safety, they’re taught about its roots,” she paused, sighing and pressing the button on the pedestrian crossing, “but they’re not taught its practical uses. They’re not taught non-magical talents to go hand in hand. Half of these little boys and girls would be deceived, seduced, betrayed or just straight up murdered before they could even start to fight. Tradition means nothing when faced with superior training and preparation.” Li went silent as group of students from the school approached the bus stop, probably to get the bus back home. Li checked her phone for the time again. Four forty five. She quickly put her phone away as she noticed the bus pull up, stepping in first and showing her all-day return ticket to the driver, who grunted with a nod, much in the same way as the first bus driver had. She took a seat, looking out of the window again. Again, she found a lone tear stream down her cheek which she carefully wiped away with her hand, still careful not to smudge her make-up. Without realising it, in her monologue, she had sounded exactly like the people that she had fled from all those years ago and this did not sit easily with her. She sat in silence, staring out of the window at the sea to clear the thoughts from her head; she had done a lot to separate herself from them. It was starting to get dark, so visibility was not as good as it had been in the morning, but it was acceptable.

“Oh, hey!” came a familiar, slightly northern English voice. She glanced up to see Albert, the man who had knocked her over in the morning. She smiled uneasily as he sat next to her, the same feeling that something was odd about him gnawing on her thoughts.

“Oh, hello,” Li replied quietly, turning to stare out of the window again. Albert frowned at her projected apathy towards him.

“We didn’t exactly get off to the best start, and for that I’m sorry,” he said quietly, now in a more public place, “I’m not trying to flirt or anything, I’m just trying to get to know my neighbour a little better.” Li remained silent. “Well, uh, I hope you had a good day?” he asked, causing Li to frown and turn around to face him, staring at him for a moment.

“Sorry, this is my stop, I need to get off,” she said coldly. Albert sighed and got up almost as soon as he had managed to sit down so that she could walk past, though as she did, he slipped something small into her coat pocket without her noticing. Li got off at the next bus stop, completely oblivious, though still cautious of Albert. He grinned, taking out a notebook as he relaxed in his seat, watching her from the window of the bus as it drove past and placing an earpiece into his right ear and adorning a pair of thick rimmed glasses, not too different from her own.

Li wrapped her coat around herself tightly. The English evenings were far colder than the day time, far colder than her old home. She shuddered slightly, either thinking about Albert or the cold air and pulled out her notebook, reading through her notes as she walked back to her flat. She had a way to walk, as she had gotten off the bus at an earlier stop than usual to avoid that man, which also caused her to feel uneasy for a reason that she could not fathom. This Albert fellow was far too strange. An enemy counter-agent? Had the Chinese sent him? She shook her head, dismissing the thoughts and getting back to her notes.

“Eric’s guitar points the way, the underwater kingdoms remodelled. But alas, he was not talking about Sussex,” Li read aloud, thinking to herself. She had no idea what it meant, but it was the best clue she had to go on. She had found an excerpt on this vault in Brighton, but all it left her with was this cryptic phrase which she had already translated from the original Latin. “What the hell does that even mean?” she exclaimed aloud, causing a few people to turn their heads and look at her as if she was a madwoman. Li’s cheeks went bright red, an embarrassed smile on her face as she started to walk faster, almost running back to her flat the whole way. She arrived in the main lobby and checked her mail. It was empty and so Li made her way to the stairs, deciding against the elevator as she saw Albert standing there again. He was everywhere, and it was starting to annoy Li to the point where she thought about confronting him about it. If she could get him alone and incapacitated, she knew a few interrogation rituals that could be used to rip the information from his mind, though they were not pleasant rituals and left permanent damage. However much she hated the Chinese occult education system, she had to admit that her prior teachings it had its uses sometimes.

She halted that train of thought as she reached her front door, unlocking it and walking inside. She took off her coat and hung it on the coat stand near to her front door, before taking off her boots and walking further in, down the hallway. Her flat was warm, a welcome change in temperature rose to embrace her as she walked into her bedroom and allowed herself to collapse onto her bed. She was exhausted. Skipping lunch, combined with portal magic had really drained her, though she was hardly surprised. She grabbed her phone to check the time from her bag that lay next to her, though a few objects had spilled out since she had fallen onto her bed, namely her foundation, notebook and letter from Huojin. Quarter past five. She cursed to herself in Mandarin as she sat up on her bed, getting to her feet and entering the bathroom. She turned on the shower, allowing it to warm up as she did in the morning, as she undressed and removed her make-up in front of the bathroom mirror.

She took a leisurely shower and, once she had returned to her bedroom wrapped in her towel, took her time to choose her outfit for the evening. She picked out a shimmering, tight-fitting, black cocktail dress with a single, thick strap that went from the right hand side of her chest, across and over her left shoulder, as well as a pair of translucent, black tights. She made her way over to the long mirror in the corner and got changed, examining herself at length as she did. She stood in front of it for a few minutes once she was fully clothed, turning and examining herself in great detail. Eventually she decided that she was happy with her outfit, smiling to herself and checking the time. She frowned and picked up the pace a little, blow-drying and brushing her hair, deciding to keep it loose before applying eye-liner, a darker shade of red eye-shadow than the one she had worn during the day, and a layer of matching, dark red lipstick.

The doorbell rang.

“Just a minute,” Li called as she made her way to the door, opening it and looking up into the eyes of Paul, her boyfriend. He was fairly tall, just under a foot taller than Li, with short, light brown coloured hair and dark green eyes. Physically, he was an imposing sight, being a personal trainer at a rather serious, body-building gym on by the seafront near Hove, though Li knew him for the gentleman he was. He wore a white shirt, unbuttoned at the top, under a grey suit jacket that matched his trousers, smart leather shoes adorning his feet.

“Sorry I’m late, traffic was terrible,” he explained apologetically. Li raised her eyebrow quizzically.

“Late?” she responded in a surprised tone, to which he held up his watch. It was twenty past seven. “Oh, one moment,” she said quickly as she dashed back into her bedroom, taking a small collection of black and silver bangles and placing them over her right hand, allowing them to loosely hang around her wrist before gathering a few items and placing them into a small, leather handbag. For a moment, she stared at her notebook, wondering if she should take it with her.

“Uh…” came the voice of Paul from the hallway, interrupting her train of thought.

“Oh, sorry!” she called out, taking her bag and dashing back to the door. “Sorry, it’s been a really long day, my mind must’ve just switched off for a moment,” she said apologetically as she got her shoes on, a pair of black leather pumps with slight heels. On the spot she had decided against bringing her notebook. This was an evening of enjoyment, not work.

“You mentioned that you had a tough day,” Paul started as the two of them got in the elevator. He pressed the button for the ground floor as he finished his sentence, “what happened?”

“Oh, it’s nothing really,” Li replied a little defensively at first, “lots of paperwork, I had to skip lunch to get everything done.” Li hated lying to Paul, but she had not worked up the courage to tell him that she was a sorceress, a taboo subject in itself that was made worse by the fact that his parents hated magic of any kind, let alone of a foreign origin. She had promised herself that she would tell him if their relationship became serious, if she ever made it that far.

“Skipping lunch?” Paul started in a teasing voice, “your personal trainer wouldn’t want to hear that. Oh, wait, I basically am your personal trainer!” Paul laughed as they left the elevator though Li’s expression dropped as she caught a glimpse of Albert in the lobby again. She did not want to catch his eye and so she positioned herself carefully so that Paul’s comparatively large figure would conceal her, at least for the most part. He’s either a stalker, or a counter agent. You don’t just see someone this often and get such an uneasy feeling around them every single time, Li thought to herself as they walked outside and down the road to Paul’s car. The car was an old MG convertible that Paul had maintained to a meticulous standard. The relative size of the rather small vehicle in comparison to Paul always caused her some small measure of amusement. They got into the car, Li with slightly more ease than Paul, buckled up their seatbelts and drove off towards Brighton city centre, taking a route along the seafront.

The car hummed gently as they drove along the seafront, Li was thinking about who this Albert could be and what she was going to have to do about it. The car stopped at a set of traffic lights and Paul turned to face Li. “Are you all right?” Paul asked with a concerned tone. “You’ve been deathly quiet, and in the lobby you looked like you had seen a ghost. If there’s something on your mind, you know I’m here for you, right?” he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder. He was right, Li had been silent for half of the car journey, lost in her thoughts. She smiled and shook her head.

“No, no. It’s just the long day, I’ve got a lot on my mind,” she paused, looking down for a moment as Paul put the car in gear and continued to drive. She turned to look out of the window. “But that’s not important this evening,” she continued, leaning over and resting her head on Paul’s shoulder once he placed his hand back on the steering wheel, “you never told me where we’re going.”

“I didn’t, you’re right,” Paul grinned as he spoke, “for all you know, we could be going to get a kebab!” Paul broke into fits of laughter at the idea, receiving a playful punch on his arm from Li as she sat up straight again.

“Yeah, sure,” she started with a chuckle, “Mr. Gentle-personal-trainer is going to take his girlfriend to get a kebab. How romantic.”

“If you must know,” he uttered with a smirk, going silent.

“Yes, I must,” Li put on a bossy attitude in jest, putting her hands on her hips in an over-exaggerated way.

“If you must know,” Paul said again, though this time after a brief pause, he finished his sentence, “it’s a surprise.”

Li shook her head, raising her hands up, letting them drop with an exaggerated slapping sound as they landed on her legs. “You’re a real effort sometimes,” she exclaimed with a jovial tone, adjusting her seating slightly as they pulled into an underground car park near to the centre of Brighton. Paul parked the car in an empty space near the exit and the two of them got out, Paul paying for a ticket at the nearby machine whilst Li stood by the car. The brief conversation had set her mind at ease, forgetting about the recent negative events. She was in a good mood. “So,” she beamed as she took Paul’s hand in her own, “ready to tell me where we are going yet?”

Paul remained silent as they left the car park, merely tapping the side of his nose as they turned right along the seafront road. Li did not have time to respond, crossing a single road before Paul led her through the front doors to the first restaurant that they came to, a seafood restaurant on the front.

“Hello, how can I help you?” asked a waiter standing near the door at a large book, glancing at the two of them. He was tall, wearing a white shirt and smart, black trousers.

“Yes, I have a tabled booked for seven forty five? Name is Simons,” Paul responded, taking a step forwards. The waiter looked through the book, searching for the booking, though he frowned after a while, flicking to other pages.

“I’m sorry sir,” the waiter replied after a minute or two of searching, “we don’t have any bookings by that name at all.” This surprised Li. She knew that Paul was not the most academic of individuals, but she knew that he was not that disorganised either. He would not just forget to book a table. Li reached into her hand bag for her note book. It was not there. She silently cursed to herself, remembering that she had left it on her bed. There were, of course, other methods available for detecting magic, though Li was not carrying the necessary reagents for some of the more subtle methods and overt methods were obviously out of the question. She closed her eyes and focussed, relying on her passive ability to detect magic that being a sorceress granted.

This is foolish and reckless, she thought to herself as she reached out, feeling the ambient magic residue that flowed around her. She could feel the life of the immediate area around her, though she felt the strain once she pushed her ‘vision’ outwards, only managing a few centimetres before she felt like she was about to collapse. She just did not have the energy for any magic at the moment, having only eaten a pain au chocolat and a Galaxy bar all day, with one cup of coffee and a small bottle of orange juice to hydrate her. She opened her eyes, returning to reality to notice Paul and the waiter having the most calm and civil argument that she had ever seen. Paul was saying that he had booked a table, the waiter was saying that he had no record of this. Li put her hand on Paul’s shoulder, feeling a little weak from attempting to cast an expanded magic ritual, her eyes fixed on a table in the far corner. It took her a while, but she could not help but notice Albert sitting at a table, eating what appeared to be a plate of shellfish. Her eyes widened and she looked up at Paul, who looked a little worried at her appearance.

“Paul,” she started, though she stopped, clearing her throat as the words were far weaker than she thought they would be, “it’s not worth causing a scene over. Let’s go.” Before Paul could answer, Li had walked out of the door, her walk normal, though she knew in her mind that she was beyond exhausted. If Paul’s polite and gentlemanly arguing did not cause a scene, she’s fairly certain that a Chinese woman collapsing in the middle of a restaurant would. Paul walked out after her, placing his hands on her shoulders.

“Li, are you feeling all right?” he inquired with the same concerned expression. Li looked over her shoulder. Her face showed her tiredness, as much as she tried to hide it.

“I’m not feeling so well, I’m sorry. Could you take me home?” she asked apologetically. It was a lie, mostly. Again, she did not enjoy lying to Paul, but this was not the time nor place to explain the whole truth of the situation, the magic as well as the mystery that surrounded Albert.

“If that is what you want,” Paul replied, his voice carried a slightly disappointed tone, but also a small amount of frustration. “If you don’t feel well, perhaps it’s for the best,” he concluded as he took her hand and led her back to the car. Li could not blame him for his feelings. She knew that he had planned the night, she knew that the table should have been booked. She clambered into the car, sitting in the passenger seat as Paul paid the ticket price. The chair was comfortable, seemingly more comfortable than before and she soon drifted off to sleep.

“Li? Li, wake up,” Paul said as he shook her gently. Her eyes slowly opened to the once again concerned face of Paul as he tried to gently wake her up. She stirred groggily, stumbling out of the car with the help of Paul. She noticed quickly that Paul had driven her back to her flat, parking near to the front entrance.

“I’m really sorry for all this,” Li apologised with a smile as they entered the lobby. They walked over to the elevator, Paul pressing the button to call it. It arrived fairly soon after.

“No, don’t worry about it,” he started as they got into the elevator, pressing the button to get up to the third floor, “I mean, it’s not your fault that the restaurant staff are incompetent.” Li smiled, she could tell that he was disappointed, though it meant a lot to her that he did not plant any of the blame on her, despite really deserving a share of it.

“Thank you,” Li replied as they got to her door, which she unlocked quickly, “again, I’m really sorry.” She leaned in to plant a kiss on his cheek before they merely bid each other farewell, Paul returning to the elevator and Li going into her flat, locking the door behind her. She slipped off her shoes and stumbled into the kitchen, her expression moving from a pleasant smile to one of near despair. She walked to the refrigerator, grabbing a carton of soy milk, as well as a Tupperware container full of some hoisin duck and noodles that she had made the previous night, as well as a small, yellow pepper from the vegetable drawer, taking it over to the counter. She took a glass from the cupboards and poured herself out a cup of milk, drinking it rather quickly before pouring another one. She took a knife from the top kitchen drawer and a pair of ivory-coloured, plastic chopsticks, chopping the pepper into strips and placing them on top of the food in the Tupperware container, deciding to just eat it cold rather than go through the hassle of re-heating it. Not eating for a whole day has a tendency to make food taste better than it probably is, she thought to herself as she ate at a rather alarming pace.

Her thoughts were cut short as she thought she heard a sound, turning to look out of the kitchen door. There was a man standing to the side of the doorway, around the same height as Paul, though remarkably more skinny. He held a gun in his hands, an ornate Browning 9mm, and appeared to be wearing smart-casual clothing, a pair of slacks and a red shirt.

“On the ground, now,” he ordered with a normal tone. He did not shout, nor did he try to intimidate which in itself was more intimidating to Li. She placed the Tupperware container on the counter slowly and deliberately. “Now,” he repeated, motioning towards the floor. Li tried to reach out to his mind, though her magic was suppressed, unable to even sense his presence. A man able to just get into her apartment with no tell-tale signs? A magic suppression field? The former she could write off as a skilled burglar, though the latter pointed towards the Occult Inquisition.

Without warning, she darted towards him. Seeing what the English sorcerers were like she hoped that he would not expect someone quite so trained as Li as his target.

There was a loud bang, then she stopped in her tracks and crumpled to the floor. There was no outside disturbance at the sound of the gunshot, confirming Li’s suspicion that there were multiple barriers at work in her apartment.

“Oh shit,” the man said to himself, “shit, shit, shit,” he continued to curse, holstering the pistol and immediately pulling out a phone from his pocket, dialling up a number and placing it to his ear. Li tried to shift her weight with a quiet whimper, clutching at the wound with one hand whilst she used the other to push at the tiled floor which now shone with a slick crimson. She was bleeding very badly, her black dress now with a large, sticky patch where the blood was seeping through. The man started to speak after a while, causing Li to look up. He was speaking into his phone, explaining what he’d done rather apologetically. For a moment, Li wondered what he was sent here to achieve, though the fact that she was losing blood at a phenomenal rate halted her train of thought. She would not last long in this state. She reached for the broom in the corner, pulling herself towards it, though the man was too busy getting yelled at over the phone by whoever hired and sent him on this errand. She grasped it in her hand, feeling the weight of it as she looked up at an A5 sheet of paper that hung in the corner. She poked at it with the broom, causing it to flutter lightly to the ground next to her.

She recognised the symbols on it; it was a simple magic suppression field that was easily broken. She dropped the broom and reached for the paper, instantly tearing it up as the broom clattered to the floor, causing her assailant to look over at her again, having hung up the phone a moment before. He pulled out his side-arm and pointed it at her again, dashing back over to her position. She smiled. Turnabout is fair-play, yes? she thought to herself as he clutched his head and screamed in pain. She knew that the sound suppression field was still up, having only torn up a piece of paper that she knew was for magic suppression. Nevertheless, she was in his mind. He jerked about her apartment, knocking the coat stand over and kicking shoes in all directions as he flailed madly. Whoever sent this man had underestimated her abilities, it seemed as she tore into his nervous system. In an instant, the man fell to the floor with a thump. He was still alive, though completely paralysed.

She was curious about the phone call, her eyes darting to the still-lit phone that had fallen from his grasp, but she knew that the phone call would mean nothing if she could not live to chase it up. She turned, heavily supporting herself on the kitchen counter. Her vision blurred, her hand over her wound pressing harder. She lay in a pool of her own blood by now and her vision blurred. She whispered an incantation under her breath, hoping that her regenerative magic would be enough. It would have to be enough as she slipped out of consciousness, her hand still pressed to her wound.

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