Illumination 2.9: Malachi

Seth nearly wrenched Jehane’s arm from its socket when he skidded to a stop outside an unbroken window. Even as she caught her balance, he put the latchkey against the glass and flipped the switch.

Nothing happened. No portal opened. The window didn’t even break. The very lack of a response horrified Jehane. But Seth just shook his head and started running again, heading away from the place where they’d arrived. They passed a block of unbroken windows before Seth stopped to try again, with the same frightening lack of results.

On the third try, Jehane heard the old familiar shadow music again: the wind whispering across dark water, moaning up and down. She caught her breath, then curled her fingers on Seth’s sleeve. “Malachi is following us.”

“Yeah?” Seth shot a glance up at the buildings. One of them towered over the others. There was a large courtyard next to it, with a glimmer of water. A few shops nestled in the shadow of the building still glowed with light, but nobody came outside. “Go over there, out in the open. Try to draw him out and I’ll get behind him.” He looked at her face. “Don’t let him corner you, even if you think it will help.”

Jehane nodded. Draw him out. Excitement mixed with the panic nibbling at the edges of her self-control. She had no idea how to draw him out, but she very much wanted to try.

Blue tiles and spot lighting made the fountain an enchanted place. The water tumbled down a set of terraces into small pools separated by potted plants, before dropping to a large sunken pool below the surface of the courtyard. There was a second courtyard down there, leading to some of the lit shops and accessed by shallow steps. Jehane could just make out the reflection of the building she stood beside in the pool below.

She stood at the top of the stairs, then turned away. The shadow music was near. She tilted her head, trying to pinpoint it. But the water distracted her, chuckling, rushing, interfering. Then there was a splash behind her, louder than the flow of the fountain.

“Malachi?”

“Yes.” His quiet voice, flat and deep, seemed very close, but when she jerked around, he wasn’t there.

“I don’t want to fight you,” she said nervously.

“I know,” he said. “You’re the girl with the seeing eyes.” His voice moved around her. “Are you a hunter who doesn’t hunt, now?”

“I see, and hear. Malachi, what happened to your partner?” She stopped trying to see him and closed her eyes to listen.

“Haven’t you met him? Isn’t he charming?”

Blood splashed across her mind’s eye, and faint, sketchy songs ended. “No! Not him. What about Emily?”

Something crashed nearby and she jumped. A square trash can not six yards from her had fallen over, one corner sheared off. When Malachi spoke again, his voice was full of splintered ice. “She died. The center fell out of the world. I thought you didn’t want to fight, little girl?”

“No,” she gasped. Maybe that had been the wrong thing to ask.

“Don’t push that, then.” For a moment, Jehane saw a shadow against the wall across the street. It wasn’t Seth.

Malachi spoke again, in a tone of calm inquiry. “How are you a hunter who runs instead of fights? Have you tasted despair again? You had so much when I saw you as a child.” Jehane twisted her head, trying to find Seth instead of Malachi now. What if Seth tried to attack Malachi before— before it was necessary? She didn’t want them to fight either. “If only they hadn’t found you then. But it’s not too late. There’s hope.”

“How are you moving so fast?”

“It’s a secret.” Her long hair, tied back in a low ponytail, lifted off the back of her neck. She turned again, and finally saw him. He stood on the far side of the fountain, somewhere between the ragged boy of her memory and the well-groomed young man of the video. His hair was shaggy, his clothes worn, his long jaw dusted with stubble. In one hand he held his weapon; the other was upraised and closed. When he met her eyes, he opened his hand and blew.

Some of her hair flew off his hand, dancing into the breeze.

For a breathless moment, they stared at each other. His face was as empty as a statue’s but his gaze moved over her face. His eyebrows drew together, and he said, “How will you get home?”

Jehane’s internal paralysis broke, leaving her with a terror that overrode her curiosity and fascination. She whirled and ran across the street, fumbling out her own latchkey device.

When she smacked it on the window and thumbed it on, there was only the click of metal hitting glass. No portal opened.

There was no way home. She was trapped here, in this endlessly noisy world.

Malachi stood on the other side of the street and said, “The way is broken. But a new gate will appear. It’s already creaking open.” He tilted his head, as if listening.

Jehane could only hear Malachi’s music and the rushing of the fountain. She couldn’t hear Seth at all. She slid down the window, biting her lip so she didn’t blind herself with tears.

She was trapped here, and she was trapped here alone.

 

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