PanicUncertainDanger. Possibilities danced around me, possible Fates selected or destroyed by the tens of thousand like a forest made of nothing but spider webs, on fire, with the spiders building the forest up front as fast as it burned in the back. Most threads bordered on the impossible, unraveling from thicker strands of more probable events. Those, too, were culled or braided into even thicker trunks of events that were almost certain, which themselves caught on the events which were undeniable and absolute.
As an example, the trunk which declared the sun would rise tomorrow stood well above the underbrush of our battle; none of us, including the witch, could change that Fate. In every way that mattered, it was absolute certainty. I selected that landmark, then sought a future where we were alive to witness it.
Start with Domenic. “He’s here!” I stabbed a chunk of metal into the earth. “Get him!” AgreementUrgency. I could trust Chloe to do the job, Domenic had already started guiding her by writing on her skin.
I faced down the ancient creature before me. Avenues of attack blossomed before me, too many to count. I chose the safest path, to gloat and buy time. “Of all the people I’ve killed before, I think I’ll enjoy you the most.”
“Poor Bound-Viper, who can see everyone’s strings but her own.” The witch moved back as she spoke, changing the threads with every step. I watched them, noting that the ground beneath my feet was the biggest threat. “Granny knows how her story ends. The Greenwitch shall not fall by your hand.”
“Sounds sexy, let’s try it.” I drew on what precious little spare energy remained in my armor to cut through the excess threads. Uncountable threads vanished from my sight, pruned away for bordering on the impossible, such as me or the witch surrendering or killing ourselves, or ignored for being unrelated or meaningless, such as the fates of every insect and blade of grass the pair of us stepped on. The impassable underbrush now became a clear lattice which I could climb on, to keep ahead of the flames.
I rushed to catch my retreating enemy, aware that every step she took was three more obstacles for me to overcome. I dived to the side, a moment before the Fate-threads changed and a spear of living tree shot out of the earth. A moment slower, and it would have been Chloe’s forcefield which saved me, at the cost of precious seconds of combat at this level.
I grabbed the root, using it to swing myself toward the witch. Three more spears came up where I would have been. I hit the ground running.
Dom was right to tell me to train without powers; my body was doing work that would otherwise have cost me a lot of energy. I vowed to double down on my training if I we got out of this alive. Countless new threads burst up in front of me, a wall of many divergent deaths, some fast and others slow. Poison? She has poisons which can kill me?
“Why do you fight, Bound-Viper?” Granny had stopped her retreat to talk, confident that I couldn’t reach her. “What drives you?”
I took a step back, buying time to allow her to talk while I looked through the threads for my victory. “A lot of people have asked me that question, one way or another.” There’s a promising path. I took a couple steps to my left, putting myself into position to start my future attack. “Though there’s usually a lot more screaming and crying.” Come on, come on. “I think my favorite was this pregnant chick, begged me not not to kill her baby. Don’t know how anyone that good at eating pussy ever got pregnant. After, I ripped it out of her stomach. Kept my promise. Well, it was still alive when we left, at any rate. That bother you?”
“Compared to the Greenwitch, that is nothing more than the petty antics of a child.” It seemed I hadn’t upset to her like I’d expected, but the path worked a different way to buy the time I needed. “Granny once cursed seven men so that their own families would hate them, and their friends would kill them over imaginary crimes. All died, some at the hands of those they trusted, and others at their own. Granny made certain each death took days.”
“Color me impressed.” Less the brag and implied power, more that she spoke of it the way another might their dinner plans. I knew then that nothing I could say or do would get under this woman’s skin.
“So again, Granny asks why you fight her.” The witch took another step, which cut half the Fate-rope I had been building toward. “The Greenwitch could sever your bonds. Both the Dawnchild and Thrice-Blessed are interred, and without your power they cannot escape Granny’s snare. Take the last vestiges of your strength from their grasp, and you shall be a slave no longer.”
The path I’d put so much care into burned away, replaced by one I’d thought impossible; I could surrender to the witch. It dominated the landscape, almost a trunk unto itself where I could walk away from this. Past that, only paths of death remained in my sight. Domenic and Chloe would die, and I would be free again.
“You know, you bring up a good point. Why would I fight you?” There’s my path to another morning. I started to draw on the battery which they were calling on to survive beneath the swamp. PanicConfusion BetrayalDrowning! My Pairbonds cried out as they realized the power they needed was no longer there. They tried to steal the power back, but it was mine to command and theirs to borrow, not the other way around. “Thank you.”
The woman’s eyes widened in surprise. “Granny must admit, she did not expect that answer of you.” The woman walked closer, and the tension of the terrain relaxed to allow us passage. I took the opportunity to take a couple steps of my own. “The Greewitch knew your bond was weak, flawed by its imbalanced nature, but for the Loa to leave it so frail-”
I burst toward her as fast as my power would allow. It required expending most of my armor in the explosion, but I shot forward like a bullet out of a gun, and caught the bitch in the jaw. Momentum took us both into a nearby tree, where her skull crumpled like so many others I’d smashed over the years.
“I just figured out why I’m fighting you.” I watched the threads warp as the swamp responded to the witch’s death, trying to pull her back together. It was not unlike how I was now putting together my broken knee. “You remind me of my father.”
I drew back and kicked her in the chest, crushing the chest bone into the heart, and then I kept pressing while her power fought to revive her. The pain was exquisite. Somewhere behind me, the ground exploded. FreedomSafe!
I turned just enough to point and shout orders. “There! Near the trees! That’s the healing spot!” I’m sure I could have thought of a better way to describe it with time, but Chloe got the message. Still gasping for breath, she took to the air with one of Domenic’s oversized swords.
I jumped backward as the fate of the grass around me changed. Tens of thousands of tiny razors shot out of the ground at me, as each blade of grass became a deadly dart slicing into me.
At first, the armor and Chloe’s power was protection enough, but then I ran out of power and hits sliced me open. I growled in pain as I retreated from the monster. Stupid. So fucking stupid. I let my guard down. Then a spear shot past me at the witch.
She moved to avoid, but the spear had enough charge for me to change it. I twisted the handle into something akin to a meat hook, and caught the bitch in the shoulder. Momentum carried the weapon further until it hit a tree.
The Greenwitch screamed in genuine pain this time, and in her struggle she pulled herself off the barbed hook. I jumped forward, getting into touch range just to keep her from having a chance to recover. She avoided me better than I’d expected, but her body was still that of an old woman boosted by her powers, while I was young and healthy and boosted by mine. I was rewarded by a deep new gash in her cheek.
More vines came in, deciding new avenues of death for me, but my armor changed into something both less restrictive and stronger; Domenic was boosting me. We are a hundred times stronger together than apart. Metal blades, powered by his strength rather than mine, allowed me to carve through the plants and get closer to the Witch.
Further away, Chloe smashed into the glowing pattern which defined the healing Gadget. Large swaths of soil were kicked up by each swing of the sword she had. A three-pronged attack pattern which proved too much her to counter.
I sliced or dodged my way through her last ditch efforts to save herself, then shoved my spiked gauntlet into her chest. She tumbled backward, then fell into the mud. What little healing power she had left was countered by the serrated spikes I had break off deep inside her chest cavity.
I watched her Fate-threads grow more and more limited as she ran out of options. I tapped into Chloe’s power one last time, to watch in case there was something left I couldn’t anticipate. What little there was seemed to be thin possibilities which could be cut with ease. Her power had been exhausted, and her physical body returned to that of an old woman. Nothing can take victory from us now.
Domenic brought his blade up, pointing it at the fallen woman’s neck. ReluctanceDetermination. “Last chance. Undo whatever you did to my sister.”
Correction: nothing except Domenic could take our victory. A hundred new possibilities bloomed from nowhere, as the Greenwitch gained new paths to fight us. She was crafty, and this swamp her home for longer than I cared to guess. If she bought time enough she would escape, if not defeat us outright.
The witch cackled, but her eyes fell on me rather than the immanent death before her. “The Thrice-Blessed still thinks he can defy Fate. But Granny knows better. What of you, Bound-Viper? You who see the strings the Loa weave for us as even Granny cannot, can you not yet see your invisible chains? Can you see his?”
If her plan is to piss me off, it’s a success. “I can see the longer we talk, the better your chances to escape.” I selected my future from the endless tangle, and discarded the rest. My power generated a wonderful crackle-tingle as I prepared my most elegant and beautiful weapon: my own hands. “Your choices are to release Beatrice and live, or I can save her by killing you.”
SupportAnger. Chloe kept silent, but the burst of power which danced between us told a story of its own, and how she agreed with me. We would not hand Beatrice over to Granny Greenwitch under any circumstance, though our reasons were different.
HesitationAcceptance. Domenic, too, was ready to let me end this bitch. I took a step forward, shifting some of my share of metal into a blade which would pierce her flesh so I could pour a city block’s worth of electricity into her blackened ancient heart.
“Is that the way of a king, Thrice-Blessed?” Granny, it seems, was as unimpressed by my threats as she was Domenic’s. “To let others stain their hands in blood to spare you? Would that be your legacy?”
GuiltResponsibility. “No, it’s not.” Domenic’s voice shook. “No one should have to kill for me.” HateDisgust RegretShame.
I would have protested, screamed, perhaps skipped all that and killed the witch before her cruel tongue could utter another word. I wanted all those things, but Chloe and Domenic’s emotions clawed through my chest like a physical thing. Their hate of killing, their contempt for murder… for me. I kept silent, afraid that any word I spoke would remind them of what I was. It won’t be me to kill her, it cannot be, not now.
Domenic turned to look at me, taking his eyes off the hateful creature before him. “You’re sure this will work, and there’s no other way?” HopeDread.
He wants me to tell him no. Deep inside my soul, I wanted nothing more than to lie to him, but I could not. “Maybe someone out there has powers that would do the job.”
I kept my eyes locked on the Greenwitch, willing her to make the mistake that would let me kill her so he did not have to. So many threads were there which would end in her death at my hands, if only she stepped into one. “But for us? This is the only way.” I can do it, I want to do it, all you have to do is let me.
TrustRemorse. “I understand.” LoveRegret ResignationHate. Domenic brought his arm up and back, as if holding a sickle to go through wheat. It was a sloppy stance, one not well suited for an executioner, but it would do the job. “I won’t let you kill my sister.”
The Greenwitch started to cackle. “You signed the contract, Thrice-Blessed. Do you believe your sword can save her from-” Dom’s swing was as sloppy as his stance, unfit for a warrior, but his power allowed the blade to cleave through the Greewitch, sever most of her head, then continue through to take off her arm at the shoulder and near the elbow. HorrorGuiltRemorse.
She fell to the ground in four pieces. Somehow, her severed head kept cackling as her green-black blood converted to a nasty looking mist. Fate-threads promising nothing but pain and death emerged around the smoke. We die if we stay here much longer.
I took a step back, flaring my power to grant more energy to Chloe. “We have to get out of here! Now!”
She got the message, and took to the air to grab Domenic. I turned and ran, trusting Chloe to take care of Dom while I would escape on foot. ShockPain RegretNecessary FearFocus. Perhaps I trusted Chloe a bit too much.
Moments later, an arm wrapped around me and yanked me up hard enough that it cost some energy from our shared power pool to keep my ribs from breaking. We fell forward away from the growing toxic cloud and cleared the miles of Granny’s swamp in a matter of less than a minute. The deep green mist continued to grow until it reached well above the tree line, and was visible from miles away as an angry green storm cloud resting on the ground, complete with rolling flashes of deep green sheet lightning.