Granny watched me with those piercing emerald eyes. “The Greenwitch demands the orphan born between two worlds, yet at home in none.”
For a second, I didn’t get her meaning. For the next ten seconds, I hoped I was wrong. Roughly thirty seconds after that, I remembered how speaking works. “No!”
My armor came to life around me, cleaner and clearer than it had since that encounter with Hunter and Killer. Shifting blades formed across the surface of my metal, to defend me and threaten the witch.
Why is my power clearer now? Is it because I’m angry? That doesn’t make sense, it never cared about my emotions before. Like so many other things, it didn’t matter. I stepped forward. “You said I was allowed to back out of your task, and I’m backing out. Or are you going back on your word?”
The Greenwitch cackled. “No, Thrice-Blessed, it is not today that you get to make your choice. When the time comes, you will hand the orphan to me of your own volition. It has been etched in Fate.”
“It’s never gonna happen.” I took another step forward. “No one threatens my family.” I shaped metal into a spear, only to be dropped into pitch darkness. All my senses seemed to be gone. It took me some time me to realize that wasn’t quite accurate; I did have my senses, but they were useless. She did the same thing to me that she did to Chloe, shutting down my powers. The difference being that Chloe wasn’t encased in a half ton of steel when it happened.
“Know this, Thrice-Blessed,” the Greenwitch’s voice echoed through my armor despite it being too thick to hear anything else. “Favored servant you may be, but like Granny you are still a servant. When the time comes, you will surrender the orphan to the Greenwitch of your own volition. It is Fate, and even you cannot defy Fate.”
I would have yelled something, but I couldn’t open my mouth inside the metal prison of my own making. I should have been grateful I had space enough to breath, but I wasn’t in the most rational of moods. I wasn’t sure how long I was trapped before my power kicked back on, letting me control my metal again. The first thing I saw was a solid blue sword held right in front of my eyes.
“Gah!” I stepped back, tripped, and landed on my ass. On the plus side, in its liquid state my armor made for comfortable padding.
“Domenic?” From the better perspective, I could see it was Chloe holding the weapon. “Thank god! I thought she was going to leave you in there!”
“Is that why you were waving a sword in front of my face?!”
Chloe glanced at it, then back to me. “I was, uh, trying to cut you out. But I had to go slow because I didn’t know how thick the armor was. I don’t think the Greenwitch is going to heal us twice, or that you’d want her to.”
Memories of the nightmare that was the Greenwitch’s healing brought a chill to my spine. I made one of my goals in life to never be on the receiving end of that nightmare ever again. Right alongside protecting Beatrice from Granny. “Where’d she go?” I climbed to my feet, no longer impeded by my own steel.
“I don’t know.” Chloe slid her sword back into the sheath. “She froze you, then vanished in a burst of green smoke. Either teleportation, or illusion, or I’m not sure what. Considering all the other crazy shit we saw, I’m not sure she was ever physically here in the first place.”
As if she wasn’t terrifying enough already. “Well, I’m for getting the hell out of here before she turns us into some kind of amphibian.” I shifted my armor into the usual carry-along mode. “We can talk on the ride home.”
“Right.” The flight to my truck was done in silence, in part because it was easier that way and in part because neither of us had anything to say. Besides, we had roughly an hour long drive to the city to say what needed said.
The first part of the car ride was similarly devoid of conversation, with Chloe resting her head agains the dashboard while I drove. “Sorry.”
“Sorry?” Chloe’s voice didn’t carry a confused tone, or really any tone at all. “What are you sorry for?”
Good question. “You heard what the witch said. I turned down my powers. Twice. If I hadn’t, or I’d turned them down the third time, then none of this would be happening. I know…” I couldn’t find the words to explain what I meant. Chloe talked about that perfect partnership enough times in the past that I knew how deep losing it hurt her. “I’ll find some way to fix this.”
Chloe sighed, finally lifting her head out of her arms. “I can’t tell if you are a complete moron, or you think I am.”
“Well, if you saw the way Bea figured out I had powers, you’d have no doubt that I’m a moron.”
“Bea knows you’re-” Chloe stopped herself. “No, that’s a conversation for another day. Dom, what would change if you didn’t have powers? I’d still have mine, and still find out my parents ran the local Nazi empire. The psycho-twins would still come to town and go on a killing spree. And I’d still find out that monster was my…” As she spoke, her voice got more high shaky, until she broke down into sobs.
“Okay, you’re right.” There were too many variables to know if Starfall would still encounter the twins, or that the fight would have had the same outcome had I not been involved in Chloe’s life. “I guess I didn’t change anything. So I’m both stupid and arrogant.”
“Well, there’s one thing.” She moved her hand over to set on my leg. The gesture was appreciated, even if the armor made it impossible to feel her hand. “If not for you, I’d be alone right now. Given what my mom did to yours, I wouldn’t blame you if you never wanted to see me again.”
“That theory would never hold in court. Too much circumstantial evidence and guesswork.” That just so happens to make perfect sense. “And true or not, that changes nothing between us.” Well, aside maybe you’ll stop trying to keep me from taking down your father.
“Thanks. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you as well.” Chloe squeezed her fingers through my armor, but stopped when she met my actual leg. “I should be the one apologizing. Not about my parents, I think I’ve done that enough. But if I just came out with the truth about how Pairbonds you wouldn’t have gone to the witch, and then… Beatrice.”
“If you had, I’d still have insisted we get her help. I knew the witch was a healer, and powerful in other ways we might need to beat the twins.” If all she did was heal them, it might have been enough. That power was by far the most horrible thing I could imagine going through. “Besides, I’m not giving Bea over to that damn witch, and her Loa can join her in hell if they think otherwise.”
“Do you think she’s right about the Loa? That our powers are magic? And all that stuff about them coming from our souls?”
“Nanna would slap me for this,” then chain me to a bed and call an exorcist “but I don’t think it matters. The afterlife, heaven and hell or whatever are just vague concepts. What matters are the people and the things here and now. That’s what we can rely upon. Everything else is us trying to comprehend things outside our reach.”
“Huh.” Chloe turned her head to look out the window. “I think I get why we can’t bond on our own.” I waited patiently while she gathered her thoughts. “For me, it’s always been about the ideals. Flesh comes and goes, bodies live and die. It’s our ideals, how we live and the legacy we leave behind that matters. I guess that means we really weren’t meant to be, excess Y chromosome notwithstanding.”
Ouch. It’s true, but ouch. As Beatrice said, people like Chloe didn’t belong in my world. I almost wished I could belong in hers, but that wasn’t a real option either. “Of course, that invites another question: what do we share that somehow ‘completes’ our mutual Pairbond? What’s in her that’s supposed to complete us?”
“The witch said it was knight and dragon, right?” Chloe’s “We have our dragon, and our destiny is to slay it. Seems simple enough to me.”
The Greenwitch listed that as only one possible combination. Even if Chloe was right, and that was anyone’s guess, I had gotten the impression that killing Hunter was not how it was supposed to work. “Maybe you’re right. All I know for certain is if we want to beat them in this rematch, we need a better game plan than the last time.”
“I think we’re in better shape this time. I’ll stay out of Killer’s ice attacks, and that should be a good start.”
“We need something better than just winging it.” I took a deep breath, now free of pain. “I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. I think I have a few tricks up my sleeve that can give us the advantage in the rematch. But first we need a staging area. Preferably somewhere big, away from other people, and no one will will miss too much. One of your dad’s properties, perhaps?”
Chloe turned her head toward me. “Actually, I think I know just the place.”
Chloe’s building was an old car factory, and indeed perfect for my plans. Too far from town to attract vagrants and long since stripped of equipment, it had done little but collect dust for years. My power couldn’t spot any firearms or other possible spots to hide contraband in the building. I rested my back against one of the steel support beams. Preparations had taken over an hour of very hectic work. Greenwitch may have healed me, but she didn’t magic away my years of mostly sedentary lifestyle.
Chloe drifted down from the ceiling. “You finished with your part?”
“Yeah, I got it as perfect as I can get it. Either of us should be able to set off any of the traps whenever we need to. How about you?”
“Well, I flew around being as visible as possible for the last hour. Good thing my glow seems to restore energy rather than drain it, and we’re far enough out that I should recharge quick.” Chloe looked up at the ceiling. “Assuming that Judge, Jury and Executioner didn’t take them out first, how long do you think we’ll have to wait for them to show? Do you think they even know they should show?”
“You felt her during the fight just like. She won’t be able to stay away.” Any more than we can. “I don’t buy the Fate mumbo-jumbo, but I think she needs this to end as bad as we do. Closure, I guess.”
“Closure it is, then.” Chloe set down next to me to grab the sword I’d made for her. It was a solid sheet of steel roughly four inches thick and almost as tall as she was. It was a smashing weapon more than a cutting one, relying almost entirely on mass and inertia to do its damage. “How much punishment do you think this thing can take?”
“A lot.” Not the most scientific of measurements, but so be it. “It’s kinda brittle compared to car steel, but it’s designed to withstand a lot of weight. As long as you avoid cleaving through the support beams or concrete, I doubt it’ll break.”
She hefted it up to rest on her shoulder like it was little more than a styrofoam replica. “Yeah, wouldn’t want to-” she stopped dead. “I feel her. They’re here.”
“It’s not just me then?” Hunter stepped out from one of the further support pillars. Her features highlighted by random bursts of orange electricity. “What were you saying earlier about Fate?”
She was listening that long? I didn’t feel anything like I had before. My heart was racing and my emotions a blend of fear and uncertainty, but they were my own emotions; nothing from Hunter or Chloe. “Where’s your sister?”
“I told her to go ahead, and I’ll catch up later.” Hunter’s lightning picked up, rolling across her like a personal storm. “She’ll have to find her own Destiny. No matter what happens, tonight belongs to us alone.”
“She’s telling the truth.” Chloe stepped forward. Flashes of orange danced through her own green aura. Without word or warning, she surged forward toward Hunter. I stayed back for now. We all have our own roles to play in this dance.