Price Threefold, Chapter 42- The Baron

Pairbonds, in addition to the usual aspects of a power interaction[13] include what has been described by subjects who’ve experienced it as a spiritual connection which runs deeper than any they’ve ever experienced before. Such relationships, while only romantic approximately 47% of the time[14], often supersede all other relationships. Controversy exists over whether the effects are traditional emotions, or an addiction to the increase of power the Pairbond grants both Imbued.[15]

The more I read on the subject, the worse it began to look. Truth is Madness, but Listen and Believe is idiocy. Case in point: if the witch was to be believed, Chloe was caught up in a three way Pairbond, which all literature on the subject agreed was impossible. Someone had to be wrong, and I suspected it was everyone, including the witch. I took a breath, then slid away from my desk.

“Still doesn’t explain why Chloe ran away weeks before Mom died.” I couldn’t call it fortunate, but I had access to more than one source of information.

“The Fate-Warper ran afoul of her own clever schemes,” the Greenwitch said. Her ability to hear and speak to me whenever she wanted had long ceased to startle me. “For every blessing given, the Loa demand equal sacrifice. The trappings of wealth she shrouded herself in demanded the loss of her daughter. She sought to use her Loa to steal back the balance of her debt, and so through her actions, everything was forfeit.”

I bit down on my outrage; a talent any good politician learned early. In the silence after Granny’s declaration, I sought a diplomatic way to tell her to go to hell. “So you’re saying Mom deserved to die? If so, seems a bit of an oversight that I get her power.”

“It is not a tale what is deserved, Fate-Sealer, but of choice and consequence,” the Witch said. I still hadn’t decided if she was in my room and invisible, or talking to me at a distance through some psychic power. My power insisted she wasn’t in my range, but the witch was had powers the likes of which I didn’t pretend to understand. “The Fate-Warper danced in the inferno, and so the flames consumed her, as they would sinner or saint alike.”

“By that logic,” if you could call it logic, “Spark isn’t responsible for Mom’s death. No one is, we’re just puppets acting out whatever Fate wants us to.”

Cackling laughter echoed through my room. “Even Fate lacks that power. Your will, your choice, is your own, but everything given must be taken again. Your mother lost sight of this, but take care not to go too far in the other direction to avoid her mistakes. The Serpent has amassed quite the debt of her own, and you have become the mechanism of her demise by your own choice.”

There was little danger of me buying into either nihilist or fatalist philosophies. “And when I kill her? Doesn’t that mean someone else will be chosen to kill me? Then Jason avenges me only to die to someone else. An eye for an eye until everyone is left blind.”

The laughter hadn’t stopped until after I finished. “So you are not blind to the building which crumbles around you. The Fate-Warper built an empire on the back of borrowed power. The balance will be met.”

“Circular logic, nothing more.” After saying it, I wondered if Granny Greenwitch had any knowledge of debate terminology. “No matter what I say, you’ll claim it is Fate. No matter what I do, you’ll suggest it was Fate’s idea. So, let me ask you this. What if I decide the only winning move is to not play? How does that sound?”

“Can you?” I couldn’t quite read the old woman’s tone. Somewhere between sad and smug, perhaps. “If you were the sort of person who could chose nothing, the Loa would never have accepted you for their temple. Those whose nature it is to merely exist or hide behind others can never know their Blessings.”

She might have a point. Of all the things I had imagined being in life, lazy was not one of them. “Then I go into business, or become a hero like my mother.” The latter option rang hollow; my mother was not a hero, that was a Truth I could not deny. To say nothing of how my power was amongst the least heroic that wasn’t outright mind control.

“And what of the rest of your family?” the Greenwitch asked. “You chose your Fate to deliver another to hers, could you be the one to find the solution when none before you have? Will you cast aside your sword and extend forgiveness, at the cost of everything your family stands for? Do you believe your father would make the same decision? Could you dissuade him from the path of destruction which Fate has decided upon, Fate-Sealer? Or would you let him take responsibility for your failure?”

I stood and went for my window. “I don’t know.” My decisions were mine to make, but my father could never be able to accept this situation. Every day the so-called Serpent was free would eat at him until he snapped and did something which brought the house down, as Granny put it.

I climbed out onto the roof in hopes the air would be more fresh out here. It was a stupid idea; the same faded monochrome dominated the lawn as had my room. If anything the vista was made worse, awash with the death and decay which was the ultimate Fate for all things living. I still had normal sight, showing the landscape for what it was, but vision was no longer my primary sense. The trees that I knew were magnificent stood broken and riddled with termite holes, while our well-manicured lawn was a slimy morass of decaying vegetation. The miasma of death  wafted through the air with no specific source, as if a rodent had died in the walls of the universe.

I called on my power and dragged myself into the land of the dead which I was now and forever connected to. Here, in this land of death, even the Greenwitch could not follow.

I jumped from the roof, trusting the alien physics of my power to protect me. My feet passed through the ghost-soil, and I screamed in pain as my legs told me in no uncertain terms they were broken. Then the pain was gone and I climbed to my feet. Perhaps someone else would find it funny, but it was impossible to die here, in the land of the dead. The fog rolled in around me, concealing the horrors which lived here, if ‘lived’ was the proper term.

I did my best not to look at the security guard near the gate, but I’d not yet grown accustomed to the hideous, aged and rotted flesh which made a strong man look like the muppet from Tales from the Crypt. He could not see me; he was in the living world, and could expect decades before being dragged over this side of the barrier.

“I may not know what to do to stop Fate’s twisted games,” I said to no-one in particular. “But I believe it’s time for a weapon’s test.”

No answer came, only the dying could be heard in this world, and the native denizens made no sound at all. I was alone in a silence like few would ever know in their lives. Still, I kept an eye on the living side. They were nothing but ghosts and illusions from this side of the barrier, but they carried weight and inflicted pain, as I’d learned when I was hit by a car the other day.

In such deafening nothing, even the faintest sounds could carry forever, and thus it didn’t take me long to hear the weeping of a dying woman. Others joined in, each screaming out as their bodies touched this land of the dead. I was too far from the hospital for that dirge to reach me, so it had to be something far more sinister.

I jogged toward the noise, only to come to a ramshackle house in the white trash corner of town. The stench of death hung heavy in the air around the house, a miasma different than the fog which defined this world.

With a swift kick, the door on this side broke inward, though its physical counterpart remained standing. I had to close my eyes to walk through, but felt no resistance or pain in the process. Later, I would discover that they kicked in the door to the house, which left it broken in a way identical to what I left behind.

The voices I’d heard weren’t dying, or at least weren’t dying fast. A man and woman were at fault, their bodies crying out on this side while shambling about their kitchen. Even if I knew how to read lips, their mouths were too rotted out to recognize; it was only their hair and clothes by which I identified their sexes.

The chemical poisons they played with had infused their bodies, turning them into something even more hideous to behold than the other corpses. It didn’t take a genius to realize they were producing meth. Had that been all of it, perhaps I’d have left and called the cops after I returned to the living world. The screaming toddler in the other room, sitting in a diaper that was so full it had begun to leak out of his or her legs, denied that possibility.

I couldn’t explain the way the barrier between worlds works, but perhaps one could imagine it as the surface of water. Held above by buoyancy and surface tension, all living things, sinking into the pool, crossing into death, with an agonizing slowness which took a lifetime to complete.

Submerged below was myself, and the dead. Flawed as the analogy is, picture what I did as splashing some of the world of the dead up into the world of the living. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized I could do such a thing, but in discovering my power I did as Greenwitch described and sealed their Fates.

Stricken by panic, the pair stumbled in the kitchen. The woman fell back, cracked her head against a table, and went down as the chemicals spilled on top of her. It took only a moment before she stood fully on this side of the barrier, her screams now silent. Her body turned to mist and joined the rest, forever silencing her voice.

The man seemed to have better control; he felt around the kitchen until he found a knife, which he brandished in front of him while shouting in silence.

He’s blind. My power blinded them. I can use that.

After a few more seconds, his eyes trained on me. “The fuck are you?” His hands trembled in terror. “Back off!”

I obeyed, unsure what had happened. He was still alive, yet in the world of the dead as I was. Mist moved away from him, as if unwilling to touch his skin. Then I saw them, natives of this world. Hideous wolflike creatures with empty black eyes stalked forward on rotted paws. One turned his head up, as if to howl at a moon that to my knowledge did not exist on this side. Until now, the monsters in the mist had remained hidden, unwilling to let me witness them save as brief glimpses in the corner of my eye.

The panicked drug maker screamed as one of the wolf-monsters bolted past my shoulder. I screamed as well, unsure what was happening or how to stop it. For a moment, I feared the motion was them moving to attack me.

The knife sank into the creature’s chest, not through any skill on the man’s part, but because the thing ran straight into the weapon. He fell to the ground, but the monster vanished into mist. Fresh fog bled from the claw marks left in the man’s rotted flesh. The man’s living flesh was unharmed, but his life was diminished, somehow.

Another monster jumped out of the mist, this time catching the man’s skull in his teeth. He screamed and stabbed at the wolf-thing, until a lucky thrust caught the creature in the eye-socket and it vanished in the mist.

The man stabbed again despite this, and tore open his face. Real blood fell from him to soak into the dead ground we stood upon. Huge amounts of mist poured from the gore as if it was dry ice.

I took another step back. How do I stop it? I reached for the power I hadn’t known I had, trying to find a way to undo whatever it was I’d done, to put him back in the real world. It didn’t work, and another creature grabbed the man’s arm in his teeth, an act which brought another wave of screams.

By the time he’d switched his knife to the hand that wasn’t clamped in jaws, another monster had pounced on his chest, and a third went to work on his leg.

Soon a fourth had his head locked in its jaws, while the fifth joined the third in pulling his legs apart like they wanted to rip him in half. After a minute, the result of the struggle was as if his soul was drawn and quartered. The spirit split in half and separated from the physical, vanishing into fog just as the woman had minutes ago.

The wolves turned to face me, but did nothing other than wait. To my surprise, the screaming hadn’t stopped. I turned to look behind me, at the other sound of cries; the toddler still sat in his living room, though also in the world of the dead. Several wolves eyed the child, but did not approach.

They won’t, they can’t, not without my permission. That thought calmed me, allowed me to get my own fear under control. My powers function on my emotions, at least in part. Now I could assert control over the situation, and I banished myself and the child back to the living world.

“Did you find the answers you sought, Fate-Sealer?”

“Found me awful quick.” I gagged in the stench. The pollution of this house was worse by far than the dead world. I looked around, unsure of how to proceed. My eyes fell on the man whose apparent cause of death was when he stabbed himself in the face. “What happens if it’s not me who does the killing? Like, hire or trick someone else into doing it?”

The witch began to cackle again. “Granny cannot say. But mayhap Fate will reward your cleverness, or consider the Serpent’s death balance enough.” I felt a hand press into mine, but by the time I reacted it was gone. In its place, I held a small mummified skull, not much larger than a baseball. “A gift built long, long ago by the Greenwitch.”

“What’s it do?” The thing was hideous, but dry and solid enough that I wasn’t afraid of breaking it. The more I examined it, the more I began to consider the costume I’d need to wear; something no one would suspect was associated with a white power gang like Heritage. Every culture on Earth had strong death icons, so I had a glut of symbols to pick from. Granny’s voodoo themes would work quite well.

“Everything you need to make your mission a success,” she said. “When used, this tool will cause the one who strikes to kill you instead slay the one they love most in this world. Mayhap, the serpent can die by a hand not your own.”

“And what do I have to sacrifice this time?” I glanced at the baby who hadn’t stopped screaming. I can’t let anyone know I was here, but I can’t let the kid die like this. I knocked the phone off the hook with the back of my hand, then used my knuckles to press 911. A woman’s voice spoke on the other end, but I didn’t care what she said. In the end, they had to investigate every emergency call, which meant a few minutes from now cops would arrive. Let them make of this scene whatever they want.

“Nothing.” The voice in my head seemed limited to my head, so I wasn’t afraid of the phone hearing her words. “The Greenwitch created them long ago, knowing they would be there in times of great need. All others were consumed well before your birth. Granny has long hoped for the day this one would reunite with his brothers.”

Without a word, I pulled myself into the dead world again. Mist drifted from my hand. It’s coming from the skull, bleeding away the time it has left. It’s human, and it’s still alive.

I almost destroyed it right then, fed it to the wolves as an act of mercy. Instead, I wrapped it in my shirt and began my walk home. No matter what else, I needed to succeed in my mission.

….

The whole mission is a disaster. I brought myself back to the living world miles from the school, panting hard. As it turned out, running in the dead world was much the same as running in the living, though much cooler than midday in North Carolina. “You said it would kill the Serpent!”

“Granny said no such thing.” Still, the voice was disembodied. After that first night, I had never seen the damned witch in person. I suspected she was afraid of me, and the power I now held. “Granny said it would replace you with the most beloved of the one who sought to slay you.”

“It was supposed-” I folded over, trying not to throw up. I killed her. “That girl was innocent! It was supposed to be the Serpent!” All the literature said a Pairbond was stronger than any other connection.

“The love of two who have not yet found harmony in their song carried less weight than the love of a boy-king for the sister he raised as his own, as the Greenwitch knew would happen.”

“You planned this?!” I drew on my power again, readying for a moment to attack the witch. Her, I would drag into the dead lands, then leave there to starve rather than allow the monsters to make quick work of it. “You’re a monster!”

“Granny does not pretend otherwise. If it is any consolation, the Child will survive.”

“Assuming I believe you.” Come on, where are you hiding? It has to be nearby, all Imbued have limits. Draconic beasts passed between the trees, visible in the physical world as the faintest wisps of smoke. They had no power on this side, but they responded to my call to hunt for the witch.

“The Thrice-Blessed struck to incapacitate. As far as you drove him, it still was not enough to make him take a life, and so the Child survived.” In my grief, I almost allowed myself to believe her. “The rest, the Greenwitch will handle. Your task is done, lest you wish to return and attack the Bound Viper again?”

I hesitated, looking back. Much as I hated to admit it, I was depleted, tired, and in pain. In addition, my power was nowhere near unbeatable, and by the time the Killing Field repopulated itself with monsters enough to finish the job, there would be Imbued from other states in position to retaliate. All it took was one whose power countered mine, and my mission died with me.

Dies with me. That’s it! “I’m done with you, anyway. I’ve found my answer, the way I break the cycle.”

The Greenwitch cackled like the madwoman she was. “Oh, Fate-Sealer, have you not yet learned that is impossible?”

I didn’t answer her; she didn’t deserve to hear the solution before I revealed it. Nor could I trust her, given what she’d done today.

Perhaps I didn’t have the power to stop the entire cycle, but I could stop it for me and my family. If my power had taught me nothing else, it was that Fate’s control over us ended when we did. When the time came, I would kill my mother’s killer, and then I would kill myself.

Fate would, indeed, be sealed when I finished.

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