Category Archives: 7.07

Void 7.7

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The splinter found its way to a spot just below Laird’s Adam’s apple.  When I pulled it away, it broke, the narrow end of the splinter disappearing beneath welling blood.

Laird dropped to his knees, holding his hands to the wound.  I met his eyes as he stared up at me – one was almost crimson, with a bead of red on it.  Not from the splinter – something else.

I felt like I wanted to throw up, scream, swing punches and curl up into a ball, all at once.  I felt betrayed, if you can even feel betrayed by your enemies.

All of the emotions were at odds with one another, and I was left there, shaking, trying to put the pieces together and remind myself of where I stood.

My thoughts ran backward.  From the stabbing to the visions, Evan, Laird grabbing me, Conquest speaking, then I began to wrap my head around the whole situation.

Rose was summoning Pauz.  Maggie was… I didn’t know where Maggie was.  Somewhere outside.

“Even something so small as a rat can bite, when sufficiently cornered,” Conquest said.  “You might want to step forward and help Mr. Behaim.  Certain deals were made, and those deals are void if he passes.”

I stared down at Laird.  He was covering the wound.  I wasn’t sure how you could put pressure on your own throat without strangling yourself, but he seemed to be doing okay.

Until he coughed, hacking out, and a cloud of blood sprayed out with the spit and air.

Not so long ago, Fell had told us to move the bodies of the fallen Sisters so they wouldn’t suffocate on their own vomit.

Once vomit or foreign matter got into the lungs, finding its way past the little valve that decided whether stuff made it to the lungs or the stomach, it became a problem.  People could manage fine, or they could die a rapid death.

If he was coughing up blood like that, there was a good bit of blood leaking from the wound, straight to the windpipe.

I bent down.

“Blake,” Evan said.

“Turn over, Laird,” I said.  “Face down, better it flows out and up, than inside and down.”

He didn’t move.  He stared at me with one bloodshot eye.

“I’ll help,” I said.

I hated touching him.  Touching people wasn’t my thing, and touching people who were bigger and stronger than me…

My hand shook as if I’d been electrocuted, as the thought ran through me, clenching even though I hadn’t instructed it to.

“Okay,” I muttered, and I wasn’t even sure Laird heard me.  “I can’t help that way… just promised.  I’ll…  Evan?  Help him.”

“Um,” Evan said.

“Please,” I said, quiet.

I half-turned, watching Conquest.

Laird grunted, then started coughing violently as he flopped over, the sparrow playing a role with a bit of a push.

He was face-down, now.

The blood flowed more freely, and leaked between fingers as he clamped his hands to his throat, forming tendrils as it dribbled onto snow.

I reached out, stopping just shy of touching his gloved hands with my own.

It would have made sense, to do it, but I couldn’t bring myself to.

“If I grant you another stay of execution,” Conquest said, “It would be the third.  I would be in my rights to demand a favor of you.”

I shook my head, not really in any headspace to form the words.  No stay of execution.

I wasn’t in any shape to fight.  Physically, I was fine.  But every non-physical part of me was in a bad place.

I was shaking, and it had nothing to do with the cold.

Not in any shape to fight, but I didn’t really have a choice.

He held his bayonet rifle like a spear.

My instincts were all wrong.  When I’d dealt with Pauz, I’d thought about how skewed my impulses were, especially when by boundaries were breached.  This was the same, but it was far more pointed.

My instincts were telling me to go after Conquest, to throw myself at him in an effort to hurt him like I had Laird.  To get rid of all of the negative feelings, venting the outward-pointed ones on Conquest, silencing the inward-pointed ones by taking that bayonet to the chest or throat.

It was the simplest, easiest way to make it all stop.

He was approaching, and I was frozen in place, trying to get my mental bearings, to convince myself to move.

Thinking of everything I had to fight for.

But all I really wanted was peace.

The two ideas conflicted.

Conquest took a step forward.  Steady, no hesitation, but not rushing either.

A war was going on in my head already as I tried to sort out my thoughts, reaching for some idea that wouldn’t fall apart as soon as it was fully formed.

Alexis, Tiff, Ty, Goosh, Joel.  No, I’d done more harm than good.

“Um,” Evan said.

Evan?  I couldn’t find a way to complete the thought.

Molly?  I’d just avenged her in a way, maybe.  There was more to be done, but I’d done something.  If I ran into her after I moved on, I could say that much.

No, wrong train of thought.

Conquest drew closer, snow forming clouds around the base of his feet as his weight came down.  He was three times my height.

I wouldn’t be able to fight like this, not with my head and heart all mixed up.  I couldn’t convince myself to do this smart, instead of doing it reckless.

Rose?  I didn’t trust Rose.

Family?  No.

The next thought outside family was the lawyers, the nebulous idea of dying and going straight to some miserable afterlife, simply because of the karma that dragged me down.

That was a bit more of a push.  The concrete idea that I wouldn’t find peace, going down that road.

I took a step back, slowing the rate at which Conquest closed in.

I didn’t want to go to hell, or whatever equivalent I was due.

Even simpler than that… I didn’t want to die.

That was the idea I needed to move, to act.

He was still closing faster than I could retreat.  Only natural.

He drew his weapon back to thrust.  I cast my arm out.

I was almost too slow.

Laird’s blood, caught in my cupped hand, spattered the snow.  I held my hand out, more blood dripping from the fingertips.

Conquest stopped, weapon poised.  The blood formed a line between us.

Blood of a free man.  I thought, still backing away.  Once captured, rescued and given liberty.  By you, no less.

This is why you wanted to find Behaim?” Conquest asked.

I was silent as I continued backing away.

“Freedom may run contrary to my nature, but blood doesn’t,” Conquest said.  His deep, eerie voice felt like it could carry across the neighborhood, over a good portion of the city, even.  “Suffering doesn’t.  Death and dying don’t.”

He stepped over the line of blood.

I was too messed up in the heart and in my head to even swear or feel panic.

He stabbed with the blade at the end of his gun, and I threw myself out of the way.

One action, one response, and it basically illustrated how the fight would go.

He barely had to try, while it took everything I had to get out of the way in time.  I hit the snow, and had to fight to get the right position and find traction so I could move fast enough to avoid a second thrust.

The blade raked along my shoulder.  I felt pain as blade parted flesh, then felt the cold seep in, swift.  The two things put together were pretty indicative of there being something terribly wrong.

I stumbled.  Evan caught me, a bit of a push at the right moment.  I found my balance and stumbled a few more steps.

It was only a scratch, I realized, the cold air leaking in through a tear in the fabric.

“Um,” Evan said.  He took to the air, circling me, drawing higher.

I looked to see why he was agitated, and saw Conquest lowering his gun, barrel pointed at me.

“Wait,” I said.

Evan flew past me, giving me a bump, as Conquest pulled the trigger.  I didn’t move a muscle of my own volition, but Evan pushed me out of the way.  I felt the wind move as the bullet whistled past my arm.  Even through my coat, I felt it.  I caught my balance, a couple of paces to the left of where I’d been standing.

Wait?  If you want another stay of execution,” Conquest said, “I’ve already said what that entails.  A favor.”

I didn’t respond.  Maintaining eye contact and speaking felt like a foreign concept, and I wasn’t about to take a submissive action like lowering my gaze.

“Beg me,” he said.  “Kneel.”

Beg?

I realized I was hugging my arms against my chest.  I hadn’t been aware.  It made me look weak, but I felt weak.  I’d been scraped raw, and all I wanted to do was break down.  Shut the world away.

There was a chasm between where I stood and where I wanted to be.  I’d just dealt with one person who was responsible.

Dealing with Conquest, though?

I’d known from early on that winning wasn’t really in the cards.  Even if I did win this battle, I’d lose in the long run.

I was so sick of all this.

When the words came out, they came out as a torrent.  I couldn’t stop once I started, so I put my focus on forming the words properly.

“Why the fuck would I beg?” I asked, and there was venom in my tone.  “You’re petty, Conquest, you’re small in every way that matters, you’re a fucking pretender, trying to cover up for the fact that you don’t have as much power as you’re pretending.  Practically everyone in this city that matters knows, they look down their noses at you.  You’re a fucking joke!  The metaphorical small-dicked, overcompensating, pathetic joke of Toronto.”

The wind blew hard, stirring more snow.

Conquest raised a hand.

The wind shifted, abrupt and strong enough to nearly lift me off my feet.  I was left momentarily blind as snow found its way to my eyes, my weight no longer solidly on hard ground.

I caught myself and shielded Evan.

As quickly as it came, the wind stopped.

A cracking sound marked a tree reaching the breaking point, and a large branch crashed to the snowbank beneath it, crunching ice.

The houses and cars along the street were painted with snow and frost that crusted the windows.  I had little doubt the same was true across the city.

It was quiet.

“Empty words,” Conquest said, “When you insist on retreating and running.”

Had I pushed him to his breaking point?

Had I challenged his authority enough?

It was impossible to keep it all in my head.  Conquest, the fight for survival, the absolutely black well of emotion that had boiled over when he’d shoved the echoes at me.  There was no way to wrangle it all, to keep it in mind, so some of it was bleeding out.

That odd feeling of betrayal had become indignance.  It felt like such a small word to be labeling my feelings with, but how was I supposed to parse it, otherwise?  I wanted justice.

This world had been unfair to me from the beginning.  I’d paid for my victories thus far.

He stabbed.  Evan helped me avoid it this time.

Two near-misses that only Evan had saved me from.

I hadn’t missed the pattern.  I’d sensed it when we’d fought the oblivion demon, and Fell had put words to the idea.  Evan’s ability to help me escape harm had its limits.  Illusions had a way of cracking on the third attempt.  Evan’s ability to save me from harm had a way of failing on the third try.

There was an underlying logic to this world.

“Go check on Rose,” I murmured.

“Are you sure?”

Not answering, I touched him, he hopped to my finger, and I flung him out.

Evan gave Conquest a wide berth on his way to the open garage door.

“Doing away with your familiar?”

I opened my mouth to speak, found the words out of reach.  He took that moment of bewilderment to advance, swinging the spear.

I stumbled back out of reach.

He aimed, to shoot, and I let myself lose my balance.  The shot passed over me.

I flipped over and half-crawled, half ran to the nearest parked car.

A car wouldn’t actually stop a bullet, as I understood it, but the engine block was dense enough.

“Still running,” he commented.

I found that spark of anger again.  “Are you that weak, Conquest?  That you’re bitching about someone keeping his distance?  You sound like the sort of kid I used to play with in elementary school.

“You twist my words.”

I did.  I could interpret most things he said or did to attack him.

It was something I’d learned to do long ago, when I still lived at home.  When the fight over the inheritance and the general atmosphere was still ongoing, toxic and unpleasant.

I said, “They’re coming out of your mouth.  You’re an incarnation of Conquest in a country and city that barely has any!  I almost pity you.”

My words came out a little ragged.  There had been too many bursts of action, too many bits of running and fighting, moments of high adrenaline.  My head was pounding from the stress of emotion running too high for too long.  I needed to maintain my attack.

“Perhaps the mental strain is getting to you?” he asked.

“You sound scared,” I said, raising my voice.  “No flourish, no stylish finish.  You’re down to the point of stabbing and shooting, waiting until I get tired and can’t stay out of reach.  You just pulled out your trump card, and I’m still fucking here!

“Not a trump card.  Merely a card among many,” Conquest said.

He raised his gun, but he didn’t aim at me.

It was Maggie, on the far side of the street, crouched by a snowbank.  She was more exposed, now that the snow had stopped.  Her face was intact, now.  The same healing she’d granted to me?  Faster, clearly, with no scarring.

He fired, and Maggie moved her hand.  The bullet hit snow.

He fired again, but she was already moving her hand in the other direction.  The bullet hit snow on the other side.

Goblin magic?  They work with and against metals.

Maggie ran for cover, hiding at a spot I couldn’t see.

Cowardly, I thought.  I said, “I thought this was between you and me.”

“Then you’re an imbecile.  The contest was for us to battle with the aid of champions.  She remains yours.  I’ve disabled your Rose, killed young master Fell, slain your Hyena.  Without your Rose, you can’t use the imp.”

“And yours?” I asked.  “Somehow I don’t think it’s confidence that has you here alone.”

“The Eye was working the storm, drawing on shifts in climate, and twists this city up to build my tower, as man disrupts his environment to fuel the growth of cities.  He’s active, but indisposed.  You’ve weakened my Shepherd, set the Sisters of the Torch and the Astrologer against one another.  Laird bleeds to death as we speak.  This is the natural conclusion.  Once I’ve dealt with the goblin queen that lacks any goblins, it’ll be only you or me, and you can only run for so long.”

As if to punctuate his statement, he stepped closer.  He thrust around the side of the car, I backed off, and he reversed the weapon, swinging it like a club, hitting the car so it rocked into me.  Both car and the snow that layered the top of the car hit me.

Wind knocked out of me, momentarily blind, my movements limited as more snow fell.  I was between the parked car and the snowbank, and was knee deep, with snow having fallen around my feet.

I saw Evan fly forth from the garage, and my spirits lifted.

But Evan wasn’t coming to my rescue.

He flew to Maggie.

Conquest struck the car again.  It slid, sandwiching me between fiberglass and snowbank, momentarily squeezing the air out of me.  I stood at a diagonal, half buried, pinned.

“A beheading, do you think?” Conquest asked.

I looked to Maggie and Evan.

No help there.  Maggie held her funny little dagger, but she was staring at me, and she wasn’t doing anything.

I had my locket, but no glamour, no spell I could rely on.

The hatchet was broken.

I was almost out of tricks.

But Duncan had been too, not so long ago, and he’d put up a fight.

Duncan.

The thoughts that reached me were fragmented ones.  Theatrics, object-

He drew his weapon back behind his right shoulder.

“Fuck you!”  I shouted.

His distorted expression showed only a permanent leer of contempt.

He swung.

I reached up and across, with my right arm, fist clenched.

Stop!” I bellowed, pulling my sleeve down, exposing the skin between glove and coat.

The blade of the bayonet, practically a sword, given our scale, struck my arm.

The arm wasn’t enough to stop it, obviously enough.  Much less my wrist.

But the Stonehenge charm bracelet was the first thing in the line of fire.

The blade cut the bracelet.  It stopped.

Everything stopped.

Maggie and Evan remained in place.  The snow had stopped falling when Conquest had ordered it, but even the snow from inside the house and the snow that fell from rooftops like a frozen waterfall had stopped in place.

When I looked with the Sight, I saw that most spirits had stopped altogether.

The movement of my arm stirred the spirits, as if simply reminding them to start moving again.

Two simple elements.

Theatrics, for one.  A good, clear shout, acting at the right moment.

Duncan had been given the bracelet as a power reserve.  I’d spent that power, rightfully taken, much as I’d spent June.

Chronomancy might be a farce, at least in part, but this had worked.  Nothing Conquest had done had suggested he was immune to the flaws of perceptions.

There had been nothing certain about it, only gut feeling.  If there hadn’t been a spirit inside, or if there hadn’t been enough power, or if Conquest had been immune…

I sank back, gasping for air.

My head touched the snowbank, and found it hard.

In the next moment, I was moving.  My arms stretched out, finding leverage on the snowbank, and I managed to pull my legs up and free.

I climbed over the back of the car.

I found secure footing.

Lines circled my wrist, like the rings of Saturn led astray, dust swirling in a corkscrew orbit.

Breaking apart, showing just how much time I had.  One or two minutes, if that.

Couldn’t hurt Conquest.  He was an incarnation, vulnerable.

I made a beeline to Laird.

The cut on my shoulderblade made itself known as I pulled off my jacket.

I rolled Laird, surprised at how easy it was.

Using my jacket as a bundle, holding the bottom corners and the sleeves, I scooped up the blood-soaked snow.

I slung the bundle over one shoulder, hurrying toward Evan and Maggie.

The line was running out.

I bent down, and began shaking the bundle, controlling the gap in the bottom-

The effect ended.  Wind blew, fierce, from the point where sword had touched bracelet, stirring snow and creating clouds of loose snow that reached as high as the houses around us.

I squinted against the wind, glancing up at Conquest, as he followed through.  The blade bit into the car’s frame.

He looked up at me.

I kept letting the bloody snow out of the jacket, drawing a thicker, clearer line.

“Blake?” Evan asked.

“Plan?” I asked.

“Rose won’t wake up.  She got shot, inside the mirror-world.  I thought Maggie could give blood, but-”

“There isn’t a strong connection,” Maggie said.  “Among other reasons.”

Like whatever it is that’s lurking just under your skin?

Arm extended, I peeked around the snowbank.  A bullet clipped the space inches from my head.

“Use mine,” I said.  “Just… don’t grab me.  Stab only.”

Maggie wasted no time in listening.  I was glad for that.  I even respected it.  After so long fighting with Rose, arguing over every last thing, it was awfully nice to have a friend that’d stab me when stabbing was necessary.

The dagger punched into the back of my hand, almost exactly where I’d stabbed myself when I’d fought the faerie swordswoman.  I bled.  Maggie drew out a line in Rose’s direction, matching the direction to the connection that stretched between us.

Maggie said, “Rose, we give you Blake’s blood and bid you to rouse.”

I added,  “We need you as we needed Laird.  This may be our last chance.  Take as much as you need.  I don’t know if I trust you, but I trust you to do that much.”

I felt the strength go out of me, as I sank to my knees.

Here we were.

He’s only about as strong as the Hyena.  I took on the Hyena with only a little help from Evan and June.

Still bent over, I resumed drawing with the bloody snow, a thicker, stronger line.

“He’s coming,” Maggie commented.

I nodded.  My hand hurt,  and holding the coat was hard, but it got lighter as I deposited more snow.

Conquest appeared, drawing close, as I had the circle three-quarters of the way done.  Maggie and Evan remained at my side.

I felt stronger with allies close.

“Blood of a free man,” I said.  “I claim his defeat for myself.  It’s blood I drew, suffering I own, my victory, my conquest.”

“It’s incomplete,” Conquest said, circling around.

I turned, ready to pour more snow, but it took him only two steps to circle around.

The bayonet blade stabbed the earth just beside the opening in the circle.

Maggie’s backpack was bloating and twisting.

She threw it at Conquest.  He swatted it aside.

Rose is back.

The imp clawed his way forth from the backpack.  He hurled the bag and its remaining contents to one side, then hopped up, placing himself on the tire mounted on the back of an S.U.V.

“Cheat me once, diabolist, shame on you.  Cheat me twice?  Shame on me,” Pauz growled, in his too-deep, gravelly voice.

“Yet you accepted Rose’s offer,” I said.

“Yes.”

Conquest glanced at me.  “What have you done?”

“Then, Pauz,” I said.  “Follow through, and you’re free.”

That last word was a heavy one.

All that trouble.

All of the danger he posed.

But I was letting him go.

I knew what was coming.

Pauz screeched.

It was that same terrible noise as before.  A rotten, venomous sound that penetrated to the bone marrow and distorted vision.

Radiation.

But it worked, distracting Conquest.

I threw the last of the bloody snow down, on and beside the blade of the bayonet.

The bayonet was a part of him, as were the bullets, apparently.  He apparently counted the snow a barrier, when it was .  He couldn’t swing over or through the snow.

He could only pull it free.  Crimson snow fell into place, closing the circle, complete.

Conquest opened fire on the imp.  The imp scrambled away.

“Blake-” Rose said, speaking through the pendant.  “Corvidae is on his way.  He couldn’t find anything good, apparently.”

I nodded, then realized she might not be able to see me.  My throat was tight.

“Blake?

“Sorry,” she said.

“Me too.  This went poorly.”

“We’re alive,” Maggie said.  “Drat worrying about how.”

“Drat it indeed,” I said.

The imp slid over the front of the vehicle, disappearing beneath the underbelly.

Conquest stabbed the car with his bayonet.  I saw him tense, and felt alarm sing through me.

“Fuck,” I said, the word escaping as a gasp.

I ran clear of the circle, and Maggie was a step behind me.  Evan fluttered, giving us a nudge.

The S.U.V. hit the dead center of the circle, then rolled clear.  The snow was largely untouched, the line mostly unbroken.

We backed into the middle of the street, while Conquest dealt with having the imp in front of him and us behind.

It’s not safe inside the circle.  Our refuge.

Conquest turned his attention to us.

Pauz attacked, leaping to the small of Conquest’s back.

A rabbit leaped from the midst of the snow to claw and bite Conquest’s arm, failing to get far with the white, leathery skin-fabric covering in the way.

I couldn’t say for sure, but a part of me wondered if a being like Conquest remained as afraid of demons as the rest of us.  He was immortal, few things could touch him on a fundamental level, but when you lived by a concept, and you faced down a being that could subvert that concept…

Conquest was twisted to begin with.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was still there in that alley, or in a room of the hostel-turned shelter for young homeless.  To let him become more twisted?  I didn’t like it.

I especially didn’t like giving the demons ground, but the alternative was losing the fight or turning to the lawyers.

The lawyers were an unknown quantity.  The deal they wanted to make with me sounded too good to be true, so I could only assume it was.

Pauz was more of a known quantity.

Conquest shook both imp and rabbit off.  He stabbed a raccoon that was making its way through the snow, then shot something in the distance I couldn’t see.

I could see the connections between imp and animal.  He was reeling them in, calling them in from elsewhere.  Rats by the hundreds.

I wondered if this neighborhood would be okay, after all was said and done, or if the vermin and mad animals would follow Pauz to his next destination.

Neither was necessarily good.

But we didn’t have much in the way of options.  The Hyena was out of commission, and I’d made promises as far as the Hyena went.

I could see Corvidae.

Empty handed, damn.

We had the numbers advantage, but things weren’t coming together.

Pauz wasn’t winning or bringing Conquest to his knees.  Corvidae hadn’t been able to find what we needed…

We moved as a group, putting distance between us and the fight, using the car that Conquest had smashed for cover.

“Check another house,” Rose told Corvidae, “tear something from the wall if you have to!”

Corvidae smiled.

It wasn’t a pretty smile.  His features were alien.

It wasn’t a nice smile either, or a respectful one.

I was reminded of Midge, the inbred redneck Other.

Contempt.

Corvidae disappeared, moving too quickly through the snow.  I looked away before he could distort in my field of vision again.

“He’s no help,” I said.

“We need him,” Rose said.

“Not much help to go around,” Maggie said.

All of the bodies on this battlefield had been nearly buried by fallen snow.  Laird was the only person who wasn’t covered.

I’d spent the past week building up allies, drawing people together, and now…

Just us.

“This grows tiresome,” Conquest said.  He held his weapon out, pointed at Pauz.  The imp moved through the snow like a crab, not taking its eyes off Conquest.

It leered, its entire body tense.

“Surrendering?” Rose asked.

“No,” he replied.

He aimed at me.

I ducked, and the bullet hit the hood of the car.

He kept firing.

We ran as a pair, Rose within my pendant.

But there wasn’t much cover to go around, outside of a handful of cars buried in snow and some frozen snowbanks.

We picked a snowbank, and Conquest fired anyway.

Evan tried to give us a nudge, putting us out of the bullet’s way.  Conquest shot him instead.

One crippling blow, removing Evan from the picture, knocking me down.

Maggie grabbed my arm before I could fall, and I fought her, struggling free.

Stupid, reflexive action.

I landed face down in a driveway, feeling like a bullet the size of a beachball had just passed through my chest.  My thoughts turned to slush.

I’d just given energy to Rose, and now Evan was claiming his rightful share.

“Luck stretches thin,” Conquest said.  He held out his rifle, pointing it at Pauz.  “The universe makes its demands.  You can only gamble so many times before the universe sees fit to give me my due.  Back away, goblin queen.”

Maggie backed away from me.  I wouldn’t accept her help anyway.

“Not having free use of my power, it’s something of a chore,” Conquest said.  “I’ll be glad when you’ve given up-”

He fired at the imp, driving the beast back.

“-and I can flex muscles that have atrophied in the past few days.”

“Sorry,” Maggie told me.

She bolted, running down the street.

Conquest raised his gun, but Maggie ducked low, and in a moment, the connection broke.  She’d cut it.

I bit my lip.

Conquest loomed over me.  I couldn’t move.

No tricks up my sleeve.

He stopped to shoot a larger animal.  One of the imp’s.

I was starting to feel the effects of the imp’s power.

That scared me more than anything.

“You’ve got the upper hand,” I said.

“You surrender?”

“I don’t know if I can,” I said.

“The alternative is death.  I strongly suggest surrender,” Conquest spoke.  “Laird is dead.  I promised him that I would wait two centuries before I used the Thorburn power.  The threat would cow those beneath me, I would gain in power, simply having you in my grasp, and he can build his kingdom in the meantime.  Keeping you alive was only a way to delay your counterpart’s manifestation as something real.  It simplifies things.”

“My counterpart-” I started.  My mouth was dry.

“Yes?”

“I don’t know if I can surrender, because Rose and I are a unit, two sides of the same thing.  We’re both the Thorburn heir, as I understand it.  You might need to get her to surrender.  You’ve bested me, I won’t move ten paces from here until this is decided.”

Rose spoke, “Fuck you, Blake.  Sticking this on me now?  It’s-”

“It’s base trickery,” Conquest said.

Shocked at the words, I swallowed hard.

“Rose told me you were hard to get along with.  That you and she had a flawed, distorted relationship.  I’m to believe the tie between you two is so strong that you can’t surrender without her consent?  That when you promise to refuse any use of magic, she isn’t bound by the same promise?”

“It’s complicated,” I said.  It sounded feeble.  “We’re ying and yang, two sides of the same coin.”

“It’s not that complicated at all,” Rose said.  “I haven’t used any magic.”

Conquest turned his head.

“I haven’t.  Just like Duncan did when he was spent of power, just like Blake, I’ve been using the power Maggie and Blake’s friends set up.  They drew the circle, they set the things up to be summoned when an object was broken… we picked objects on my side of the mirror.”

“Thin.”

“As for my other power, to break mirrors, it’s innate to me while I’m an Other, a distorted reflection.  Besides, the deal was not to use power in Toronto.  This mirror world… it’s not Toronto.  It’s a vestige of Toronto.  It’s like comparing Disneyland and Euro-Disney.  It’s my world.”

“Questionable,” Conquest said.  “All the same-”

He lunged.

He passed into the pendant.

I flinched as the glass shattered.

The window of the S.U.V. broke next, then the windows of the house.

A battle waged over the reflective surfaces.

I could only wait.  I’d done what I could.

Pauz approached me, grinning.

No.

“I beat you once,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.  “Shall I take my revenge now?”

If he did – if he stopped me before Conquest could…

The contest would end.  A draw at best.

But it would be a horrible way to go.

No, I had to trust that this would work out.  Trust in the others.

Even if my companions here were reduced to the ones I trusted the least.  Maggie with some wild thing lurking within her, Rose with her questionable motivations, Corvidae, the impof things feral and foul.

I closed my eyes.  “No.”

He had a mocking grin on his face.  “You said you wouldn’t move.  Shall I drag you aside and watch what happens?  I can reign over the chaos that follows.”

“Or you can go,” I said.  “Did you think I didn’t plan contingencies?  That I don’t have a way to capture you right away?”

His eyes narrowed.  “Tricks.”

I remained still.

Glass continued to break here and there.  I could feel the strength going out of me.  Rose was spending power, and she was using the conduit of blood Maggie had drawn out, to keep her reserves up.

“I am Blake Thorburn,” I said.  I shifted position, cupped a limp Evan in my hands, then found my feet.  I stood as straight as I could manage.  “Custodian of Hillsglade house, overseer of the Thorburn’s diabolic library.  I come from a long line, and you’ve caught me at a moment when I’m very tired and very pissed off.”

“Poor mortal,” Pauz said.  “I can smell your pain.”

Time to draw from the same well as Rose.  “If you cross me here, I will bind you again, Pauz, I swear it on my name and my blood, and I’ll stick you somewhere where you won’t be found until humanity is long gone.”

“Your words don’t have the power that hers do.  You’re not the real heir, not the heir intended.”

“No,” I said.  “Do you really want to risk it?”

He narrowed his eyes.

He disappeared in a flurry of flies and darkness.

I sagged, the strength going out of me.

I’d never acted so much in my life.  To pretend I had strength when I felt more powerless than ever.

I carefully measured my steps, taking only five, to get past the driveway.

Corvidae appeared, a small oval mirror in his arms.

There we go.

He held it up, walking slowly.

I could see when the presence moved into it.

Corvidae threw the mirror.

It landed in the snow, one end buried.

He can’t turn down a fight, I thought.  He has to crush the weak.

The mirror stuck in the middle of the circle I’d drawn.  The blood of a free man, Laird.

The circle would be lined with Rose’s hair.  Hacked off.  Caught by Conquest, freed by myself.

Maggie had torn out the pages of Black Lamb’s Blood, weighing them down so they wouldn’t fly away.  I couldn’t afford to lose them.  The pages that had bound an Other, now free.

Thrice bound.

“It’s done,” Rose said.

I slumped to the ground, exhausted.

“We did it, Evan” I murmured to Evan.

“Woo,” he mumbled.

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