Category Archives: 7.02

Void 7.2

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My backpack, sitting at Ty’s feet, produced the gate for travel to the spirit world.  Tyler did the ritual, for the practice.

I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d gotten to the spirit world earlier when I’d entered the police station.  I really hated having a gap in my memories.

Entering the spirit world, as it happened, wasn’t much of an improvement or a help.

I’d suggested the detour as a way to stay off the radar without straining Fell’s reserves, but the slips of paper with the eyes on them were visible here too.  They fluttered in the strong wind like ungainly bats, and went out of their way to catch on light poles, windows and walls.  The eyes, drawn on the papers in the real world, were visible here, fully detailed, complete with eyelids, the pink at the corner, and the tiny veins on the surface.

I could see the connections tying the eyes to the people who’d drawn them.  Most were inactive, lazily looking over the city and the shadowy silhouettes of people or watching where they were drifting.  When the connections flared to life, though, the eyes were alert, and they had a way of finding us.

It was like being caught in a net.  Struggling meant getting caught faster.  Moving around, we put ourselves in a position to be seen by more eyes.  They were communicating, I suspected, using something as mundane as phones, and reporting what they saw so others could do the meditating thing, get their eyes to focus, and track us.

Problem was, even if struggling did get us more tangled up, staying put and doing nothing left us in the same predicament, caught in the metaphorical net.

Snow came down hard and wet, and the wind was so chaotic that there was no protecting ourselves against it.

We headed straight for the nearest group of Sisters, and I was all too aware that others were making their way toward us, some from maybe halfway across the city.  The net was closing.

Our only option was to cut the net.

I had nothing against the sisters, but they’d joined this fight, and even Laird’s kids had to accept that picking a fight might mean you’d get hurt.

We rounded the corner as a group, me in the center, Maggie in front, her athame in hand, bag slung over one shoulder, hanging just beneath her free hand.  Her black hair and the ends of her scarf whipped in the wind.

I wasn’t sure if it was uncharitable to say, but she looked most at home in this chaos.  Here, as we walked into the wind, she was moving faster than any of us, determined, and the human veneer was giving way to the Other with the force of the wind and the traces of the spirit world.  I apparently looked like a heroin addict when I was infused with too much in the way of spirits.  Maggie was a little more elemental, a little more natural.

Fell held himself together better than any of us.  His flesh and hair were largely untouched, but his eyes and clothes periodically showed traces of the smoke and dust that he so frequently used.

“Evan,” I said.  “Scout, that way, see if you can’t stop them from running.”

“On it!”

He took off, and tumbled head over talons as the wind caught him off guard.

Some wing flapping and experimental twists and turns later, he figured out how to fly into the headwind, using twists and turns in the alleys where the walls broke up the wind.

“Good kid,” I muttered.  The air whistling past us made my nearly inaudible.

The weather was steadily getting worse.  My clothes were soaked, and the cold was seeping into me.

“Is this something important?” I asked, raising my voice.  “The weather?”

“It’s important,” Fell said, raising his voice to be heard.

“What is it?”

“No idea!”

We were drawing closer when Evan returned.  I nearly dropped the object he deposited in my hand.

A keychain.  A set of keys, a car key, and a USB stick connected to a fish-shaped carabiner.

Evan moved his wings over his head, and my first impression was that he was trying to shield himself against the wind.

It was only after he’d taken off again that I realized he’d been trying to salute.

“Stealing is bad karma, right?”

“Yes.  Implements more than regular things,” Fell said.  “But even stealing a regular thing is bad.”

“What if I throw it away?  Still bad if I don’t have it?”

“You moved it from where it’s supposed to be.  A little bit of a problem.”

I nodded.  “I can deal with little problems.”

We caught up with the two Sisters at their car.  They were out of focus, clearly in the real world, but they did see us.  Both had identical tools.  Rings on their fingers, burning bright in the spirit world.

They could have left the car behind.  They didn’t.  Rather than give us access to it, they’d decided to hold their ground here.

Evan was perched on the hood of the car.  They didn’t seem keen on ignoring him, so both stood close together, taking a position that let them keep Evan, me, Fell, Ty and Maggie in sight.

I twirled the keys around my finger for a moment, waiting.

There were more Sisters coming.  By unspoken agreement, we held our ground.

“Can you hear me?” I finally asked.

One woman nodded.

“Can we chat?” I asked, “Or have you sworn something or been bound in a way that makes it impossible?”

“We could talk,” she said.  Her voice was muffled, and it wasn’t the wind.  This particular spot was in the middle of the city block.  The wind that did make it into the open space where the alleys converged swirled more than anything.

“Your boss, the Elder Sister… how’d she get you roped into this?”

“We volunteered,” the woman said.

The third Sister entered the… whatever this space was.  The cul-de-sac of an alleyway.  She stopped partway down, looking at the scene.

I waved at her, beckoning her over.

She approached, taking hesitant footsteps.  Her hand was clenched, her thumb held between the middle and ring fingers of her right hand, so it touched the glowing ring that marked her as a Sister of the Torch.  As an Elementalist.

She was older than the other two, and wore a small leather jacket over business casual clothing.  With us in the spirit world and her in the real world, she was harder to make out, a little more vivid, as if she were standing under blacklights and we weren’t.  She was either stronger than the others, or she was a little more Other.

She took us in.  Fell and Maggie were standing off to one side.  Ty stood next to me, holding the backpack in both hands.

“You guys volunteered to join the war effort, help the Elder Sister,” I said, to bring the new arrival up to speed and give them a nudge to maybe offer more details.  “I wanted to make sure you weren’t lied to.  This is dangerous, and you might reconsider if you had all the facts.”

“We know it’s dangerous,” the older woman said.  “It’s an insurance.”

“An insurance?” I asked.

“We invest our time, two hours a week, while we’re in University.  Learn the ropes, learn the basic spells, do the rituals until we can do them from memory, offer an animal in sacrifice to the spirits, and eventually forge our rings as we enter the inner Sisterhood.”

“And you give up the ability to lie,” I said.  “You face greater risk from Others and predatory practitioners.”

“Yes, and we serve Conquest in exchange for his permission to do business in Toronto.  We each make several Terracotta Soldiers -dolls- every year, we attend meetings in a rotation, paying fealty.  All of this is a kind of insurance, and an investment.”

“For what?”

“Knowing you have the ability to set someone on fire is an edge, when you work in a high-stress environment, it gives you confidence.  We can walk down a dark street in a bad part of the city, and you can be confident.”

“Until a goblin comes after you,” I said.  “Seems like a pretty bad tradeoff.  A lot going in, but the results aren’t all there.”

“Goblins burn just like people do,” she said.

She paused.  I suspected she’d noticed what I’d noticed a moment ago.  A carload of Sisters was drawing closer.

“Goblins can slit throats just like people do,” Maggie commented.

The Sister ignored her.  “The other benefit is the Sisterhood.  Contacts, the undeniable ties.  We join, and we can’t step away, not completely.”

“That’s a good thing?” I asked.

“I think it is absolutely a good thing,” she said.  “We’re a second family, we rise and fall as a group.”

“And when your Elder Sister is conscripted by the Lord of Toronto… wouldn’t it make more sense to preserve the group and let her fall, than to take the risk.”

“Not if it means angering the Lord of Toronto.”

“Not really buying it, Sister,” I said.  “A tiny bit of magic and a close-knit sorority, in exchange for having to march off to war?”

“Once every few generations?  Yes.  A tiny bit of magic?  Many people seem to think we’re weak because we aren’t practitioners first and foremost.  We’re businesswomen, lawyers, mothers and wives.”

She looked at Fell as she said ‘people’.  She turned her attention back to me.  “Conquest picked us for a reason.”

“He did,” I said.

The car with the other Sisters arrived.

The silence lingered, cut only by the sound of doors opening.  The Sisters at that one car got out, watching from a distance.

The older Sister looked at her charges.  Herself, the two who Evan had stolen the car keys from, and now four more.  “We’re not as weak as people think,”

“Maybe not,” I said, “But I don’t think that’s why he picked you.”

I saw her expression change a little.  Concern?  She didn’t look that comfortable in the cold wind.  Her cheeks were red.

“Why, then?” she asked.

“Because he’s worried you’ll see through him.  Practitioners in Toronto fall into categories.  There are the ones who are oblivious, too small or minor to have really clued into the way things really work-”

“And how do things really-”

I talked over her.  “-Like the Knights and you.  There are the ones who know but couldn’t do anything about it, like Fell here… the ones who know and don’t care, perfectly happy to maintain the status quo, and there are the ones like me.  Who know and can announce it to the world.”

“You’re not making sense.”

“The Lord of Toronto is weaker than he lets on,” I told the Sisters.  “He’s a pretender.  He uses theatrics to seem like he’s more than he is, to get people like you to bend the knee.  He’s a false Lord, a figurehead.”

Her eyes narrowed.

I saw some other Sisters exchange glances.

I spread my arms.  “Would I really challenge him if he was as powerful as he pretended to be?  The Sphinx knows, but she doesn’t care, because apparently having something as messed up as that guy is better than sticking her neck out and being Lord herself.  Fell knew, but he’s obligated to serve and keep his mouth shut.”

“Why tell us this?”

“What I was originally getting at was, well, if I’d brought you on board, there was a chance you’d clue in.  Even if he wins, he sort of loses, because you come to resent him, or he loses respect and loses power as a consequence, on multiple fronts.  By telling you now, I get the same result.  Thank you for sitting still and listening.”

“This doesn’t change anything.”

Think about it, take a minute, consider what it means to the Sisters and to your Elder sister.”

“She’s still in his clutches,” the Sister said.

“My companion Rose was too,” I said.  “She suffered, but she did get out.”

“Our Elder Sister could be tortured if we don’t toe the line,” a woman said.

The older Sister -not the Elder Sister, who wasn’t even present- frowned.  “The other option is that we deal with you right now.  The crisis ends, we have Conquest’s favor, whatever he might be, and things go back to normal.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “I can also kind of imagine Conquest killing all of you, rather than risk letting this information spread.  Think about that, weigh the same arguments we raised before.  The benefits versus the losses, when you’re dealing with all this.”

“I’ve already thought it through.”

“In twenty seconds?  While we exchanged words?”

She nodded.

“Damn,” I said.  “I don’t suppose you’re going to turn around, say I’m right, and agree to let us go?”

“No.  Putting you before the Elder Sister?  No.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“So am I,” she said.

“Should we call an end to the discussion?” I asked.  “Resume hostilities?”

“I expected you to try and worm out of this one.”

“Should we?” I asked, again.”

“Yes,” she said.

The word was barely out of her mouth when I pointed.  “Leonard!”

The Sisters tensed.

But Ty was already responding.  He dropped the backpack, holding Leonard so the bag dropped away and Leonard remained.

“Might be flammable!” I called out, before the Sisters could react.

Ty whipped the bottle in their direction.  It hit the wall behind the closest car.

Leonard appeared, smoky, stronger and clearer than the last time I’d seen him, but this was a one-time appearance.  He had an overgrown beard, a receding hairline, a worried expression, his eyes sticking out slightly, his expression sad.

I could smell the gas, sharp enough that I thought it might affect my sense of smell for the next while.

They coughed.  We backed up before the gas could reach us.

One had drawn a gun from under her coat.  Evan flew by her, but didn’t move the weapon aside.

I looked at her and shook my head, raising my voice to be heard. “I don’t think you’ll die unless you pull that trigger.  Anything that fires a bullet could ignite the gas.”

She was coughing so much she couldn’t really aim.

The older Sister was trying to draw something on the back window of the car, but she wasn’t getting very far.  She startled a bit.

Rose at work?

Bloody Mary, even?

Rose was supposed to be with Alexis, or at least spending much of her time there.

The older sister looked at me with red eyes.  Her nose was already running, partially from the fumes, partially from the coughing.

The strength went out of them, one after the other.

Leonard, too, faded in his own way.

His power had been spent in one burst.  I’d been waiting for this kind of situation.  Dealing with practitioners, humans.  This was the first time I’d been up against them and fully armed at the same time.

I stepped forward, paused as I smelled the gas, and then held my breath, pressing on.  The impression of the gas was fading with every second, faster than it might otherwise dissipate in air.

After a moment, I bent down to check the older Sister’s pulse and breathing.  The others joined me, dividing up the workload.

I very nearly jumped out of my skin when Fell slammed a car trunk.

I heard banging.

“Dolls,” he said.  “Almost slipped out.”

I nodded.

When I stood up from the second woman, I saw Rose in the mirror.

“What’s going on?” I asked.  “Where’s Alexis and Tiff?”

“They’re safe, but it’s getting ugly, and they’re a little spooked.  Might be time to regroup.”

I nodded.  “We’ll head your way soon, get them prepared.”

Rose disappeared, stepping out of sight.

It only took a moment to check everyone.  Evan was the last one to finish, his tiny head pressed against the woman’s throat, wing extended over her mouth.

“Recovery positions,” Fell said.  “If they vomit, we don’t want them to aspirate.”

We turned them over as Fell instructed.

More were on their way.

“Drive?” Ty asked.

I looked at the keys I had in hand.  I shook my head.

I bent down to put the keys in the hand of the woman Evan had taken them from, then closed her fingers around them.

“They may shoot first, next time,” Rose said.

“They might,” I said.  “But Grandmother told us we needed to get our karma up, as one of her rules, and this feels right.”

“Dunno how right it feels.  It’s getting colder, the wind’s getting worse,” Maggie commented.

“We should hurry,” Fell said.  “There are more coming, and that trick only works once.”

“Getting criticized from all sides,” I muttered.

“Not from me,” Evan said.

I drew a marker from my pocket.  I moved the older Sister’s head.

It only took a moment.  A dotted line.

Words:  I could have cut your throat, above the dotted line.  Below: Conquest would have.

“Let’s hurry then,” I said.

We left on foot.

By the time we reached Alexis, Rose and Tiff, we’d crossed paths with another group of Sisters, successfully distracting them by pointing them to the others, only a minute or two behind us, and Fell had used more of his power to help us disappear into the midst of the weather.

The snowstorm had locked down the city, alternating between wet, heavy snow and freezing rain.  When I looked, I could see that the real world looked almost as desolate as the spirit world.  In spots, the ice and snow had brought down branches from overhanging trees, blocking off streets.

Some blocks had power, others didn’t.  Power lines were down somewhere, I was betting.

The gap between the two worlds was swiftly closing.

Darkness, I thought.

It was eerie that Maggie had suggested it before other parties had brought it to pass.  I wondered if the violence or pseudo-violence against the Sisters counted as the ‘blood’, or if we could expect more bloodshed in the hours to come.

I was shivering.  My constitution wasn’t all there, and the cold and wet was getting to me.

The connections said they were close.  We were unable to see more than ten feet in front of us in the real world, where things weren’t as obscure as they were in the spirit world.  Their sudden appearance from the falling snow and fog was a bit startling.

“Geez.  Give us a bit of warning,” I said.

“Sorry,” Tiff said.

“You guys okay?”

“Bit spooked.  The power went out.  The candle man-”

“Tallowman,” Alexis said.

“The Tallowman, he made candles, but that mostly made it worse.  His candles cast pretty spooky shadows.”

“I can imagine,” I said.

“It took us a bit to convince ourselves the power going out wasn’t the start of some attack plan.  You get paranoid,” Alexis said.  “Rose left to let you guys know, but… not having her around, it’s tough.”

I nodded.

“What’s going on?” Alexis asked.  “This is crazy.”

“It’s the work of the Lord of the City,” Fell said.  “He’s increasing the pressure.”

“We’re stepping up our offensive,” I said.  “We just took down one group of Sisters, and it looks like we took the meat out of their surveillance system, though it’s still there.”

“Definitely still there,” Fell said.  “I can see them looking.  They’re making stilted, periodic progress towards us.  Looking for us, finding us, getting ready to move through this mess, and then traveling for five or ten minutes before they stop to start looking again.”

“The snow’s hurting them as much as it’s hurting us?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Fell said.

I nodded.

“We stopped a good few of them, maybe their leadership, Elder Sister excepted.  I’m hoping the headaches they get will keep them out of the fray for the next bit.  If the weekend ends and they have to go to work, and if my arguments had any effect, maybe that’s enough doubt to make them reconsider what they’re doing.”

“He still has the Shepherd, the Eye, the Astrologer, and he should have the support of the lesser Behaims, if he’s convinced them that helping him is the only way to rescue Laird,” Fell said.

“I know,” I said.  I shivered, a sudden, jarring movement more than a gentle tremor.  It seemed to startle Evan, who shuffled around some where he was tucked in between my neck and coat collar.”Fuck, can we get inside?”

“Joel sent a text before the phones died,” Alexis said.  “There’s a place a block and a half this way.  I’ll show you.”

We marched off as a group.  I could see how the others crowded around one another, shoulder to shoulder.  Only Maggie, Fell and I stood apart.

It bothered me that I wasn’t part of the huddle, but I was willing to trade the physical discomfort for the psychological security.

I rationalized it by thinking that I was wet and snow-covered enough that I’d just get them wet and more covered in snow.

It was feeble, but I’d put up with it.

Nobody was talking, and the- it wasn’t silence, with the wind howling and the nearby trees creaking as they blew, but it was a lack of conversation.  I spoiled it by speaking up.  “In terms of territories, how many do we have?”

“We left our mark at the garage, three apartments if we include that last one, and your place,” Alexis said.  “A bit of graffiti, kind of saying ‘we live here’.  I don’t know if that counts.”

“It’s pressure,” I said.  “He’s lost soldiers, he’s getting meaner.  The snowstorm may be a part of it.”

“We’re winning?” Alexis asked.

“We’re not losing, and that’s the important part,” I said.  I was mumbling, my lips were so cold.  “It’s a matter of time before he gets more involved.”

We passed a grocery store.  There were people crowded inside.  Taking shelter, and stocking up on supplies, it seemed.

“Joel didn’t say how stocked this place was,” Alexis said.  “Should we grab stuff?”

I stopped.  I could see Rose in the window.  Where our hair and coats were flapping from the cold wind, Rose was still, her hair in place but for a few strands that had slipped through.  Her face wasn’t as red as ours were.

Mary Francis was beside her, knife in hand.

She looked imperious, and it wasn’t just because the Bloody Mary made for an excellent contrast.

“We could,” I said.  “I don’t think any place is delivering.”

“We shouldn’t,” Fell said.  “Look.”

I looked, and I saw.

Ghosts.  They were more monstrous than most I’d seen.  Twisted, influenced by outside sources, maybe.

The Shepherd had our location.  The ghost-keeper.

The ghosts were entering the grocery store from the far wall, mingling with the crowd.  Searching among the vague silhouettes that represented people in the real world going about their business.

They weren’t looking for us.

One ghost stepped forward, crossing paths with an old man.

Another, a woman, walked forward, while a small boy ran from another direction, his head turned, oblivious to her, a plastic container of candy in one of his hands.

They stepped forward, overlapping.  As ghosts were prone to do in the movies and tv shows, they dissipated, breaking up and becoming fog on contact, then began to draw back together.

But they weren’t walking through the people.

When they congealed, they congealed around or in the people.

The child continued on his way, but something stayed behind, a woman who’d bled.

The result was a mingling, with traits of both, a bleeding hermaphrodite woman-child.

More physical.

“Wraiths,” Fell said.

Wraiths.  Ghosts twisted by negativity and spirits.  Some, like Leonard, faded with time.  Others found sources to tap to fuel themselves, but became twisted.  More like the Mary Francis summoning that was keeping Rose company right now.

These were the twisted ones.  I could imagine they were the Shepherd’s special reserve.

The old man and young man mingled to become a shadow bent by disease.  The old man didn’t continue on his way.  He fell like a rock, his features clarifying as his emotions grew stronger.  Others leaped to his side to help.

The ghost had taken something from him, and he hadn’t had much to give.

I saw as another ghost found another victim.  A ghost of a woman slender, finding a heavier man who looked all the heavier in full winter gear.

My view of the heavier man faded until he wasn’t visible at all, no matter how I focused my vision.

Not someone of much substance, it seemed.

The three ghosts headed straight for us.

“They know exactly where we are,” Fell said.  “They’ve known for a bit.  We just- this is a trap.”

“Drat and dagnabit,” Maggie muttered.  “I wish I could swear properly.”

Fell looked around.  “I don’t know how those scrying papers can even see us.  This snowstorm-”

“Maybe the scrying papers aren’t what found us,” I said.  I pointed.

It was a shape.  A man, half again as tall as any of us, naked, his hair long and curly, a thin beard on his face.  He carried a sword and a round shield that was broad enough to cover him from knee to shoulder.  The snow piled on his shoulders, dusting his hair and pubes white.

Where he was supposed to have eyes beneath his eyelids, he had only shafts of light projected from some inner luminance, extending out in our direction.

When I changed my focus, viewing him with the Sight, I saw sun flares and bright spots.

“The Astrologer,” Fell said.  He was backing up.  He’d already drawn his gun.  “She’s making a play.”

“Fuck,” I said.  I shivered.  “Can’t accuse him of not holding to the idea of the challenge.  He’s playing the general, timing things to corner us.”

The glass window of the grocery store broke.  I saw people shriek.

Mary Francis stood in the shattered window frame, but she wasn’t why they were screaming.

No, the screaming had started earlier, but it had been muffled by the distance between us and them and by the glass.

Someone was kneeling on the ground, bleeding openly.  The silhouette was no longer vague, but was showing glimmers of something that might become a ghost.  A psychic impression on the fabric of reality.  Vague as the person was to my senses, the blood was very real.

More ghosts were finding victims in the chaos.  I saw one ghost pass by several subjects before choosing another.

Picking hosts, complimentary souls to leech from, who shared some common element.

There was blood elsewhere.  Spatters, further from the wraiths.

It took me a second to make sense of the storm within.  Dark shapes that had been people were gathering and mingling like waves in a storm, crashing against one another.

The wraiths seemed to be getting stronger, feeding on the negativity and violence.

The people were rioting, and the Wraiths were both feeding on it and lapping it up.

I clenched my teeth.

An eye for an eye, Conquest?  I went after the very core of his being, attacked his ability to be Conquest and subjugate others by putting him on his back foot, and he was returning the favor.  Attacking my conscience and my drive to fight.  This violence and these deaths were on my hands.

With no cars on the street, we were free to back away.  I took a step back, and virtually everyone else in the group took my cue.

Fell didn’t.

“No,” Fell said.  “Stop.”

I’d seen a lot, but with the mounting pressure of the advancing wraiths and the imposing figure of the naked swordsman promising imminent attack, it was hard to convince myself to stand my ground.

“He wants us to run,” Fell said.  “We’d be running right into a waiting trap.”

“We’re supposed to stay and fight?” Ty asked.

“Do you want to die?” Fell asked.

“No, don’t want to die,” Ty said.

“We have to pick one and go through them,” I said.

“Yeah,” Fell said.

A wraith staggered toward us, going from a meandering approach to a sudden run.

Fell’s advice forgotten, we collectively backed away.

“Ty, salt,” I said.  “Throw it.”

“Won’t work so well,” Fell said.

“Throw it anyway,” I said.

Bloody Mary slashed at a wraith.  She drew blood, but the blood didn’t spatter anywhere.  Spectral, imaginary.

I grabbed the tube that hung across my back and pulled the toque off the handle.

“Evan,” I said.  “Ask the Hyena to come out to play.  Same rules as before.”

The Astrologer’s creation hadn’t moved an inch.  It could have been a statue.

“Hey, uglymutt,” Evan said.  “Come out to fight, listen to me, don’t hurt anyone living.”

Ty threw salt at the wraith closest to us.

It smoked, staggered back, blinded, but it didn’t perish.

Superficial damage at best.  A momentary setback.

“Said it wouldn’t work,” Fell commented.  “It’s not entirely a ghost anymore.”

“Mary!” Rose called out.  I didn’t hear the next thing she said.

Mary stalked toward us, breaking into a run.  She didn’t stop, simply stabbing the wraith in the back, crashing into and through it.

Blood spilled, a hole opened in its middle, but it didn’t stop.

The Bloody Mary climbed to her feet.  She stabbed herself a few times in the thigh in irritation, contemplating her next move, or waiting for the Wraith to make it’s next move.

“Hey, goblin,” Evan was saying.  “Listen.  You come out right now!  I order you and Blake orders you!”

The sword didn’t change.

“He’s not listening!”

That fucking goblin.  I’d bound it, after a fashion, but it had bound itself.

It was apparently content to stay bound and let us deal with the current situation, and I couldn’t do anything to change that fact.  If I could use my own talents, my own power and words, maybe I could have forced something, but that didn’t fit with the nature of the contest.

“We run,” I said, glancing over my shoulder.  “Fuck it, we can’t go through them.”

Fell didn’t respond.

“Fell?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “We run.”

“Evan,” I said.  “Go.  Scout.”

He took off.

This was it.  I’d aimed to unsettle and upset Conquest, to hit him where it hurt.  I’d done it.

He was pulling out all the stops.

He could keep up the pressure like this, and the snowstorm alone would do us in.

The sidewalks and streets were alternately covered in mounds of snow and freezing puddles that had a way of getting past the tongue and lace of my boots to transfer freezing cold to the tops of my feet.  The street was more puddle than anything else, but the puddles masked potholes and other hazards.

We turned our backs to the scene, hurrying as well as we could across the hazardous terrain.

Evan returned.  “The Eye.”

“That way?” I asked, pointing.

He was already gone before my finger could extend.

A glance behind me indicated the wraiths were making good headway over snow and ice, unhampered.  There were a good seven of them outside the grocery store.

I drew June.

If Mary could hurt the wraiths, then maybe June could too.

Maybe if they got that close, it didn’t really matter.

The wind howled.

Tiff shrieked.  It sounded far away, with the way the wind stole the sound.

I turned, and all the strength went out of me as I saw the damage.

Fuck, fuck no.

Alexis was down, and she had an arrow as long as my arm sticking through her stomach.

In the same moment I looked to see what direction the arrow had come from, another one appeared out of nowhere.  It didn’t fly through the air, I didn’t see it.  I only saw the aftermath.

An arrow simply appeared, sticking right through Fell’s collarbone.

I saw the Astrologer’s creation, sword and shield abandoned.  The naked warrior held a bow.  I saw light cross, making an effect very much like a lens flare, and he drew another arrow out of the air, nocking it.

I dropped to my knees, my arms going around Alexis.  I held her tight, trying to pull her back and out of the way.  Her body felt alien and limp in my grip, the contact uncomfortable, but not acting was unimaginable.

At least around the nearest corner.

The Astrologer’s creation wasn’t shooting.  The Wraiths were in the way, closing the distance.

“Blake,” a feminine voice said.

I looked.

The Sphinx blocked our path, large enough to take up the entire sidewalk.

“Please,” I said.  “Let me help my friend first.  She’s-”

“Shhh,” the Sphinx said.  Her large, human hand reached down, a fingertip touching my lips.

Her lion’s paw moved, a little lower, claws appearing and disappearing.

Shredding my jacket, my sweatshirt, t-shirt, and laying the ribs beneath bare.

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