Violence wasn't the whole point of the attack. Admittedly, Will hated that it had to come to this. But what other options did they have? Being smothered by layers upon layers of red tape and bureaucracy as they attempted to "go through the right channels" while the ones on top continued to do as they pleased? That was not an option. The best way to gain something, Will had learned, was to do it yourself. To push and demand and claim what was yours. And that was exactly what he intended to do.
"Are you sure about this?" Jisoo's tone was hesitant. "We could still--"
"No," he cut her off. "We've planned this for weeks. It's now or never." He adjusted his earpiece, then combed down the wig with his fingers. He frowned as he appraised his reflection in the mirror. Blond curls never looked good on him, and neither did green contacts. But looking good wasn't the priority now. He tugged at the gray fabric of the uniform he wore. The material was thin; the clothing was form fitting. It made him feel naked. How could anyone be comfortable wearing it? And the lack of pockets was an insult.
"Head in the game, Will," he reminded himself. "Bigger things." He slung his bag over one shoulder.
"You're not confident about this either," Jisoo pointed out.
Yes, thank you for your input. Will pinched the bridge of his nose. It was easy to forget that while he was technically alone, Jisoo could hear him loud and clear. "When is anyone ever?" he asked. "We know not everything will run smoothly all the time. But we do it anyway. We do what we have to do."
There was silence on the other end. For a moment, Will thought she had decided to ignore him. Then, her response, "But do we have to, really?"
"Yes. Listen, Jisoo. Your job is important. You're our way in and out. But you don't have to think about what goes on in there if you're so concerned. You won't be responsible." He didn't really believe in that last part, but he hoped she would buy the lie.
"We're all counting on you," he quickly added before she could protest any further. "I'll signal you once we're ready." He pulled the door open, and headed outside.
Avoid eye contact. Don't look down.
The good thing about crowds was that they made it hard to pick out individuals. Blending in was also further simplified by the fact that everyone wore similar uniforms, even when the students were from different schools. Will followed the steady stream of teenagers as they headed to the hall. His brows furrowed as he wondered if the hall was big enough to accommodate so many people. While he had snuck into this particular witch academy enough times to know the building layouts, he had never actually seen its main lecture hall. He probably would never see it.
Finding an opportunity to slip away from the crowd, Will made his way down one of the smaller corridors. This was the one used by the likes of technicians and cleaners. All the little people that kept the place in tip top shape but were not meant to be seen. Or were only allowed to be seen for a certain amount of time. Damned snobs and their aversion to anything or anyone they deemed not good enough to be in their presence.
The service elevator was tucked away in a corner, and was markedly less fancy compared to the ones leading to the classrooms and administrative offices. It seemed to be a lot more primitive in design as well. The thing rattled and shook as it carried its sole occupant to the basement floor.
This part of the building housed labs. On a regular school day, they would be in use. Today, though, was a different story. Inter-school events did not happen often, and when they did, they involved deviations in everyone's schedule. And that served Will and his cause well.
Reaching inside his bag for the explosives he had packed, Will looked around, identifying the columns supporting the building. He worked quickly, affixing them to the pillars in question. The bag was considerably lighter once he had finished. Will stretched.
"Ghost, how are the cameras?" His voice had dropped to almost a whisper, despite knowing that no one was around.
"Taken care of. All wiped," came Jisoo's reply. "Is everyone in position?"
"We've set the explosives," another voice informed. "No word from Void yet."
Will massaged his temples as they went through the status check. Hearing multiple voices in his ear wasn't a fun experience. Utter chaos, it turned out, involved careful planning. He drew in a breath. "All right. Ghost, have our exits ready soon."
"On it. See you in a bit."
"This can't be happening." Will's grip on his weapon tightened. He fell back a step, but kept his gunblade level, aimed at his quarry.
"Will, what's going on?" Will barely registered Jisoo's panicked voice. "Where are you?"
He didn't answer. His gaze was fixed upon the boy standing across from him, blocking his exit. Will swallowed, trying to keep his hands steady. "Eustace?" It can't be him.
But it was. There was no mistaking it.
Eustace didn't answer Will. His dark green eyes were burning with fury. His strawberry blond curls were matted with blood. The gray uniform he wore was caked with dried blood and dust. Slowly, he began to walk toward Will, stepping over the debris from the explosions. He stretched his hand to his side. A yellowish glow surrounded his palm. A metal strut from one of the collapsed structures flew toward Eustace's extended hand. His fist closed around it. All the while, his gaze never left Will.
"H-halt! Not one step closer!" He's one of them. That friend I grew up with is one of them.
"Will? Will! Answer me, goddammit!" Will flinched at the sound of Jisoo's voice. Keeping his gun trained on Eustace, he moved a hand to turn off the earpiece.
"I'm only going to ask once." Eustace's voice was a low growl. He stopped his advance, but did not lower his makeshift weapon. "Why?"
The corner of Will's lip twitched. Now that the initial shock was fading, he could feel his own anger rising. "Why? You damn well know why." He glanced down at Eustace's hand, and the glow surrounding it. Then returned his attention to Eustace himself. "You're one of them. Since when?" He swallowed, not daring to ask the other question that had crossed his mind.
"Since ever." Eustace's muscles tensed. He rushed at Will, weapon raised.
Too late to dodge, Will brought up his gun, blocking the strike using the blade attached. Pushed back.
Eustace waved his free hand. It glowed yellow.
Will barely had time to register the chunk of wall. It crashed into him, knocking him to the floor. The gunblade tumbled out of his grip; Eustace kicked it beyond his reach. Will struggled to rise, wincing. Pain exploded in his head.
Eustace bent down to grab Will by the lapels with his free hand.
Blinking back stars, Will tried to pry Eustace's fingers away. "Get. Off!"
"Who put you up to this? Tell me."
"Why," Will breathed, "do you care?" He grimaced. It hurt to breathe. Distantly, he wondered if he had broken something. Damn it, how was he going to get out of this one?
"What if I blew up Jisoo's house?" Eustace snapped. "What would that be, huh? Moreover, how would you like it?"
"It's not the same thing!" Will argued, trying to ignore the pain. He managed to shove the taller boy off. His eyes darted from one side to another, searching for his discarded weapon. Or anything that could be used to defend himself. His mind went through his available options, trying to formulate a plan. A hand moved to his ear, and he realized his earpiece was gone, possibly knocked out by one of the blows.
"The charms shop down in Myrrhran. The healers' quarter near Elysion. And now this," Eustace listed. "How much of it were you involved in, and who else is responsible?" He tapped the metal bar against the ground. His hands, at least, had ceased glowing.
"Not ... telling." No, wait. He's being chatty. Keep him talking. You can figure this out. He gritted his teeth. Still searching. He caught a glimpse of his gunblade. It lay past Eustace.
"I won't let this go, Will." Eustace jerked his chin in the direction Will had come from. "It's hell back there. Did you think it's fun?" His glare deepened at the word.
Will drew a breath, shaking his head. "Thought you'd get it." He winced, meeting Eustace's glare with a similar intensity. "I'm sending a message."
"Message? What m--"
Will charged at him.
Eustace was thrown off his feet. The strut fell from his hand, clattering to the floor.
Will pushed himself forward, diving for his gun.
"God fucking dammit, Will!" Eustace snarled, caught off guard by the action. He scrambled to his feet, both hands crackling with magic now. A gust of wind blew in Will's direction, flinging dust and miniscule bits of rubble.
Will brought up his arm to shield himself. He dug his heels onto the ground. Eyes narrowed, he took aim.
Chunks of rock and metal levitated in the air around Eustace, then launched themselves at Will.
Will ducked to avoid most of the projectiles. Shit! His arms curled protectively around himself. You want to kill me now, Eustace? Is that it? Your witch friends matter more now? He trembled with anger. He lifted his chin.
There was a sickening crack as a piece of metal struck him across the nose. Will stumbled back, dazed. He nearly dropped his gun again, but tightened his grasp on it at the last moment. A coppery tang assaulted his sense of smell; the back of his throat tasted like pennies. He pressed the back of his hand against his nostrils, and wiped the oozing blood away. Will glanced at Eustace. Okay. You want it like that? Fine, we'll play it like that. This time I'll really shoot you. He aimed his gunblade. His hand quivered.
Meanwhile the barrage of debris had ceased. Eustace pulled another metal strut toward himself. A glow surrounded the piece of metal as it twisted and morphed its shape. Both ends tapered into sharp points. Eustace gripped his new weapon. "We could stop this and you'll turn yourself in. Or," he muttered slowly, "it's gonna hurt."
"Sorry." Will pulled the trigger.
Will stumbled along the alleyways. It had been almost half an hour since his run in with Eustace. Everything stung, and the image of his now former friend was burned into the back of his mind. That look of betrayal in his eyes. His unrestrained anger. It all felt surreal. Will shivered at the thought of having to shoot the witch.
You didn't kill him, he reminded himself as he put his hand to a wall to steady himself. He drew in several ragged breaths. Probably fucked up his legs for the rest of his life unless he gets healed up quick. But you didn't kill him.
And that makes it all okay? a voice in his mind challenged. Ends justify the means isn't looking too good now, is it? Not when it's up close and personal.
"It was him or me," he breathed. He leaned against the wall and tilted back his head. He screwed his eyes shut. His head throbbed. He sank to the ground, burying his head in his knees. He had to figure out how to reach Jisoo. And then what? Explain to her that he was blindsided by their childhood friend who happened to be a witch? That Will had shot him? That Eustace was on their side?
And if Eustace was a witch, Will noted, then what about his sister? What about her?
"I don't want to know." He lifted his head, gently knocking it against the wall. I don't want to know.