The Greenwitch brought her arms down, and the burst of danger I felt from her went back down. “And so you answer for your sins!”
Domenic first. “He’s here!” I stabbed the earth where I could sense him deep below. “Get him!” AgreementUrgency. I could trust Chloe to do the job, Domenic had already started guiding her by writing on her skin.
I turned to 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. As long as Chloe still needed my power to “Of all the people I’ve killed, I think I’ll enjoy you the most.”
“Poor Bound-Viper, who can see everyone’s strings but her own.” The witch moved back, changing the Fate-threads with every step. I watched them, noting that the ground beneath my feet was the biggest threat. “Granny knows her own Fate. The Greenwitch cannot fall by your hand.”
“Sounds sexy, let’s test it.” I drew on what precious little energy remained in my armor to cut through the extra threads; the chaos became a clear path which I could follow.
All the practice I’d gotten while Chloe was unknowingly giving me power while she slept would come down to this moment, my greatest challenge to date. Except the two I’m fighting to protect. I rushed to catch up, knowing her every step was three more obstacles in my way.
The Fate-threads changed and I dived to the side a heartbeat before a spear of living tree root shot out of the earth. A moment slower, and it would have been Chloe’s forcefield which saved me, and cost me seconds of fighting at this level.
I grabbed the root, using it to swing myself toward the witch, sailing through the air. Three more spears came up below me. I hit the ground running.
Dom was right to tell me to train without powers; my body’s doing work that would have cost me minutes of strength. I’m training a hundred times harder if I get out of this alive. New threads burst up in front of me, a wall of many deaths, some fast and others slow. Poison? She has poisons that can kill me?
“Why do you fight, Bound-Viper?” Granny had stopped her retreat to talk, knowing 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. Each moment bought me time, let me recharge, let me look for a way to get through this alive. “A lot of people have asked me that question, one way or another.”
There’s an opening. 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, anyway. That bother you?”
“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. Some died by their own hands, others died betrayed by those they trusted. Granny made certain each suffered dearly for their slights.”
“Color me impressed.” The power was one thing, but the way she talked like it was about she had for lunch sent the real message. I knew then that nothing I could say or do would get under this monster’s skin.
“So again, Granny asks why you fight her.” The witch took another step, which cut the Fate-rope I had been working toward in half. “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, she would keep her promises. It dominated the landscape, almost a trunk unto itself where I could walk away. 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. The explosion destroyed most of my armor, but I shot forward like a bullet out of a gun, and slammed my knee into the bitch’s jaw. I kept going until we slammed 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 looked a lot like how my own power was fixing 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 in my leg 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!” UnderstandingHope.
Chloe got the message. Still gasping for breath, she took to the air with one of Domenic’s oversized swords.
The grass around me changed; it was more luck than anything that saved me when tens of thousands of tiny razors shot out of the ground, each blade of grass 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 through my flesh in a thousand places.
I growled in pain as I retreated from the monster. Stupid. So fucking stupid. I let my guard down. I’d burned through what was left of our shared power, and Chloe was out of juice; there was nothing left we could do. I sacrificed everything and I’m still not strong enough.
A spear shot past me. The witch tried to dodge, but the spear still had enough charge for me to change it. I twisted the handle into something like a meat hook, which caught her shoulder. The weapon caught into the same tree that I smashed her skull against.
The Greenwitch screamed in real pain this time, as she pulled herself off the barbed hook, dark green blood pouring from her wound.
I jumped forward, getting into touch range just to keep her from having a chance to recover. She evaded 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 my own. I was rewarded when one of my claws tore through her cheek.
More vines came in, new forms of death for me, but my armor changed into something both less restrictive and stronger; Domenic had stopped focusing on himself and was trusting me to fight for him. 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 tore through the glowing patterns of the healing Gadget. Chunks of soil were kicked up by each swing of her sword. A three-pronged attack pattern which proved too much for 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 defeated by the serrated spikes I broke off deep inside her.
I watched her Fate-threads thin 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 remained was frail, easy to cut. Her power exhausted, her physical body returned to that of an old woman, she was beaten.
Nothing can take victory from us now.
Domenic pointing his blade at the witch’s throat. ReluctanceDetermination. “Last chance. Undo whatever you did to my sister.”
Correction: nothing except Domenic can 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 sword in front of 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 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, 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 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 argued , 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 can’t 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. I kept my eyes locked on the Greenwitch, willing her to make the mistake that would let me kill her so he didn’t have to.
“Maybe someone out there has powers that would do the job.” So many threads which would end in her death at my hands, if all needed her to act first. She didn’t, so I answered Dom’s question. “We don’t. This is our 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, not 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. Your sword cannot save her from Fa-” Dom’s swing was as sloppy as his stance, but his power made the metal sharp enough to cut through stone. He hit the Greewitch, cut through most of her head, continued to take off her arm at the shoulder and again near the elbow. She fell to the ground in four pieces and a pool of green blood.
Somehow, her severed head kept cackling as her green-black blood dissolved to a nasty looking mist. Fate-threads promising nothing but pain and death emerged around the smoke. We die if we stay here.
I took a step back, flaring my power to grant all the energy I had Chloe. “We have to go! 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.