Just as suddenly as it had started, the gunfire ceased.

Footsteps echoed down the hallway, paused at the end and started towards them. Emil motioned Mamdouh to stand back and readied a fist. The first glimpse of a head rounded the corner. Emil let fly, his whole body behind the punch.

Misha deflected it inches before he made contact. Kinetic energy carried Emil through the full swing, and he toppled forward. Misha caught him, quickly set him back on his feet. “Bozhe. You really are Chuck Norris, aren’t you?”

Emil made a face, hoped it masked the sick relief that flooded his system. “Whatever.” He started towards the door. “Glad to see you’re still in one piece.”

Misha snorted, and fell into step behind him. “Whatever.”

Mamdouh trailed behind them. “What happened to those other guys?”

They reached the door. Misha paused to check the revolver’s magazine while Emil tested the lock. “Lost them a few corridors back. How big is this place, anyway?”

Mamdouh opened his mouth to answer. Misha glanced over his shoulder, abruptly grabbed his arm and hauled him into the doorway. A hail of bullets shredded the air where he’d stood before.

Emil clenched his teeth and bent over the lock. “I thought you said you lost them!”

“Guess they found me.” Misha brought the revolver up and fired two cover shots. He glanced over his shoulder at Emil. “What the fuck is taking you so long?”

“Don’t look at me.” Emil frowned at Mamdouh. “Why didn’t you say this door was locked?”

Mamdouh had both arms covering his head. He peered through them sheepishly. “I figured you could break through it. Don’t all secret agents know how to pick a lock?”

Emil groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. Another burst of gunfire pinned the three of them flat against the door. As soon as it stopped, he stepped back and placed a hand on the doorknob. “Anoiktó.”

Mamdouh peeked down at his hand. “What are you doing?”

Misha fired off two more shots. “Don’t distract him, kid.”

Emil firmed his grip. “Khula. Oscailte. Fosgailte.” The metal started to heat in his palm. The lock didn’t budge.

Misha’s shoulders were tight. “Anytime now.”

“Stop distracting me.” Emil took a deep breath. “Ptach et ha delet. Iftaḥ yā simsim.”

Misha barked out a tense laugh. “Did you just say ‘open sesame’?”

Emil continued through clenched teeth. “Fàng kāi. Otvoreno.”

More gunfire. He didn’t move until Misha forced him to duck. Still, he kept hold of the doorknob. The metal sizzled against his skin. He breathed through the pain and wracked his brain. There were infinite overrides he could use, but they were running out of time.

Sure enough, Misha fired off two more shots, then turned to him. “I’m out.”

Emil dragged his free hand down his face. He glanced at Mamdouh, and his stomach twisted. Usually it was just him and Misha on the line. Now they were responsible for the teenager, too. He’d put himself out there to help them. It shouldn’t cost him his life.

Emil took a deep breath. There was one override he still hadn’t tried. All the Ministers he knew avoided it whenever possible, said it was the equivalent of using a broadsword to cut through butter.

The sound of footsteps echoed down the hallway, and Emil made up his mind. He could use a broadsword at the moment. He leaned in close to the doorknob and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Patû.”

Tumblers clicked inside the lock, and the doorknob turned. Emil didn’t stand on ceremony. He yanked the door open and shoved a gaping Mamdouh through it. Then he turned to Misha.

The Peer didn’t look at him. “Go.”

“But what about–”

“I said get out of here, Emil.” Misha did look at him then. His face was set. “You need someone to cover your escape. I’ll meet up with you later.”

The footsteps were growing louder. Emil shook his head. “What are you going to do? You’re out of ammo.”

Misha flipped the revolver around so the butt stuck out like a club. “Since when did I need bullets to get the job done? Trust me.” He checked to make sure Mamdouh wasn’t watching, then leaned in and pressed his lips to Emil’s. He pulled away before Emil could kiss him back. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Fine.” The word came out a croak. Emil shook himself, swallowed the sudden knot in his throat. “The Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Be there tomorrow, early.”

Misha nodded and pushed him through the door into the stairwell beyond. He turned back just as a group of five men in assault gear burst around the corner. Emil saw the revolver arc through the air. It struck one of the men in the forehead with a sickening crunch.

Then Misha kicked the door shut.

◊ ◊ ◊

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