“Don’t worry about that, Jehane. Aya, let me go. I’m going to kill him. That will make you feel better, won’t it?” Laurel tugged on Aya, who held tight to her arms. Jehane didn’t think Laurel had much chance of killing anybody. She was panting, her eyes bright, and even as she struggled with Aya, she kept her body curved protectively around the place where Hatherly had hit her. And there were cambions all around them. Aya didn’t respond, but she kept her gaze fixed on Laurel and her grip tight.
“Let her go in exchange for you, Jehane? Is that really a good deal? Right now I have both of you.” Hatherly gave Jehane a little smile.
“You won’t, though,” said Jehane, desperately. “It wouldn’t work out.” Malachi’s hand on her collarbone was a steady pressure. He didn’t have his weapon summoned, which meant the potential for it was right in the hand at her throat. The dream, the dread of a weapon not yet present was enough to make her knees weak.
But he wasn’t keeping her alive for Hatherly. He didn’t want her to join them. The touch of his hand had promised death if she did.
Death if she joined them, probably torture and death if she didn’t. That was a pretty fine line to walk. And somewhere nearby were her teammates, and they carried a death for somebody, too.
Malachi said, his voice neutral, “Aya’s friend is bright and strong. This one is frail.”
Hatherly said, “Laurel’s very angry at us, though. That could make things tricky.”
“Angry? This isn’t angry. This is murderous. But if I could just kill you, that’d be justice. It’d be making the world a better place. How many monsters have you made?”
“Laurel,” said Jehane brokenly. “Don’t.”
But Laurel did. “Are you going to torture me into breaking, or give me to that freak you luminated? Where did you find him anyhow?”
Hatherly watched Laurel like she was a mildly entertaining stage show. “He was an experiment. Really, I don’t think there’s any need to push you. You’re almost there all on your own.” His gaze went to Aya. “You’re right, Jehane. I’m not interested in Laurel after all. Let her go, Aya.”
Aya released Laurel, but Laurel took her hand immediately. Aya’s fingers clenched around Laurel’s and then, almost reluctantly, she let go and stepped away.
Hatherly’s gaze was fixed on the two of them. “Yes, I thought so.” Then, in the space of a heartbeat, he impaled Laurel on the very long sword that appeared in his hand. Her eyes widened and she gasped once. As Hatherly withdrew his blade slowly, she slumped to the ground.
Jehane tried to scream, tried to do something, anything. But the little girl inside whispered, If you move, the monsters will get you, and all she managed was a whimper.
Aya stared down at Laurel, her face expressionless. Then she shrugged, and looked away. Hatherly turned to Jehane. “You don’t want to die, do you, dear?”
“No,” she said, shakily. And behind her back, she squeezed Malachi’s hand very tightly. I don’t. Please, help me.
Then, as if in answer, Natalie shouted and appeared from around the corner, Seth by her side. She ran toward Hatherly, her face pale and furious. Her clothing was torn, as if she’d pulled herself away from somebody.
Behind her came the Tanist and the rest of the Nightlights, but they moved cautiously, watching the cambions that had gathered around Hatherly and Malachi. One of them, a lizard with a lion’s head, roared and moved to meet Natalie. Then Malachi shifted his grip on Jehane, scooping her up and placing himself between her and the battle. For the first time, she could look at him. His face was impassive, and his gaze was on Hatherly. There was no sign of whatever had prompted him to tell her not to choose Hatherly.
Then Hatherly pulled Jehane out of Malachi’s arms. “Thank you, Malachi. I’ll take her now. I wouldn’t want you to be distracted.” She wasn’t sure how, but he held her so that she could barely breath through the pain in her arm.
The Nightlights tore through the first cambion that had intercepted them. But Hatherly whistled, and an absolute horde of Awakened clawed their way out of the ground, followed by two cambions, and descended from the sky, led by another cambion. They encircled the suddenly very small group of Nightlights.
“It’s their first family reunion,” Hatherly said conversationally, raising his voice to be heard over the slithering of Awakened. “I thought today might be exciting, so I planned ahead. As I said, I’ve been doing this a long time.”
The group of Nightlights was dwarfed by the army of monsters Hatherly had summoned. One of the boys said, “It’s mostly just Awakened, though. We’re powered up!”
“So are they,” said Seth. “But if you want to be dumb, make sure to take a cambion with you.”
Hatherly said, “You should have stayed away until I gave the signal. Then Aya could have killed Laurel and kidnapped Jehane. What a tragedy! As it is, I suppose the sensible thing would be to kill you all.”
“You’re pretty clever, it’s true,” said a new and unexpected voice. “But what I’m wondering is, will bullets bounce off that cleverness?”
Jehane blinked away pain-induced tears and saw Ajax standing outside the circle of monsters. She blinked again, and realized that one of the military groups stood around him, weapons aimed at Hatherly and the cambions. Their allied Awakened crouched at their feet, watching the Awakened the soldiers couldn’t see.
“You!” said the Tanist.
Ajax nodded and held out his hand. “Me.” With a humming sound, like a wet finger on glass, an enormous scythe appeared. The antecessor glyph on the blade read, “DESTRUCTION”.