Jehane sat in the pumpkin courtyard, watching the scarecrow in the middle of the vegetable garden. Many years ago, Nightlights had been called Scarecrows, but over time popular culture had turned scarecrows into objects from nightmares and the patrolling Guardians hadn’t liked that very much. This scarecrow dated back to that time; certainly it wasn’t needed to frighten away hungry birds. It even had a name, John O’Field. And it wasn’t scary at all. It was a sack of straw, dressed in human clothes, and everybody ignored it except when it was falling apart.
Jehane tucked a knee up against her chest and rested her chin on it. The shadow music whispered to her. Seth and Ajax were coming down the hall. A small part of her mind squirmed and begged her to run away, that they would only come and take what they wanted and leave again. They were too lost in their own worlds to help her, or to let her be more than a bit player in their stories.
But there was John O’Field, looking at her with button eyes, joining the others into backing her into a corner. Seth always let her get into corners with no way out.
“There you are, Jehane,” said Ajax, stepping through the sliding door. “Why are you lurking out here?”
“I’m looking at the scarecrow,” she said, and watched the flicker of incomprehension on his face. She could have said ‘bees’ or ‘plibbity’ for all that it mattered.
He went on as Seth stepped in behind him. “Uh, we were just talking to Savannah. She says that Hatherly’s plan is to apply his machine to everybody, permanently— even other Nightlights, so he can make some kind of super-Nightlight. I’m trying to figure out what this means for Natalie. Is she just a test subject?”
Jehane watched as Seth circled around Ajax, then glanced around the courtyard before finally looking at her.
“What do you think, Seth?”
“I think you should take this as an important lesson,” said Seth severely. “You spend all your time trying to figure out how the echthroi can be brought back again. But how can anybody who wants to wipe out everything be anything other than irredeemably evil?”
Jehane shot to her feet. “Once you said you wanted to destroy everything.”
Seth grinned at her. “Yeah, well, that’s kind of my point, isn’t it?”
“How can you be like this? Abandon everything and laugh about it? Even if Natalie is dead, this isn’t what she would have wanted for you.”
“If she’s dead she doesn’t care. And if she’s alive, she’d probably be happy to see me this way.” Jehane stared at him and he went on. “Sometimes I play a little game. I try to figure out who would face Natalie and die instantly, and who would face her and have a chance of killing her. But I don’t want to have to include myself in that game, now do I? That would just be sick. Best to limit it to you, Ajax, Rohan. Kwan. Dad.” His gaze scanned the courtyard. “You’d all die.”
Jehane felt cold, then hot, then cold again. This couldn’t go on, any longer. She was trapped in a corner, all alone, and this time, Seth was the one trapping her. Her fingers closed around her stage 2 weapon. “Shut up,” she said, pointing it at him.
Seth’s smile flickered off. “Now, now, Jehane. Are you trying to get yourself on the list of people I’m avoiding? You don’t want that. You’d miss me.”
Ajax laughed without humor. “I told you so, man. And here I thought you were itching for a fight.”
Angrily, Seth said, “Dude, you want to screw my sister. Fighting you is easy.”
Jehane took two steps forward and swung her weapon. Both Seth and Ajax scattered. From behind the bench, Seth said, “Have you lost your mind, Jehane?”
“Maybe I’ve found it.” She pointed the weapon at him again. “You’re always playing games with me, Seth. Let’s play my game now.” Her weapon flickered, and she frowned. “You don’t want to go back to Earth at all, do you? You don’t even try.”
“Why should I? What’s out there that’s worth protecting? Even if Natalie is still out there, she always protected me.” His voice savage, he added, “And I will lose everything if I see her broken.”
“But you don’t want to fight me.” Jehane took three steps then leapt, hurling herself to the top of the bench and onto Seth, who didn’t get away fast enough. She knocked him down, landing with her knees on his torso. He goggled up at her, then faster than she could gasp, flipped her over and pinned her down for a few seconds. Then, just as she moved to find an escape, he leapt up and away.
She scrambled to her feet again, swinging the weapon that returned to her hand. He dodged and backed up. “Why won’t you fight me?” she demanded.
“Because it’d be unsporting,” he said. His mocking smile was back.
She swung again. “I think you’re afraid.”
He snorted. “Of you?”
“I think you’re afraid,” she repeated, and swung her weapon again. This time, the hot-cold focus traveled from her head down to her hand, and the stage 2 weapon flared and changed. The glowing grip acquired reality, mote by mote, even as it lengthened. The blade changed, too, becoming strange and curved and tri-part. It looked unpleasant, and it was much, much longer than her stage 2 weapon, and it sang in her hand, a song she’d never heard and always knew. The glyph on the blade read ‘Desperation’.
Behind them, Ajax laughed, but Seth stared at her in horror. “What the hell? Why would you get that out against me?”
The blade wanted to pierce him, hold him still, and tie a string through him. She thought, perhaps, and held it back.
“You’re afraid. Of hurting me. Of hurting your family. I think you still have things you want to protect. They’re just all in the Tower.”
He shrugged, watching her weapon in fascination. “You could look at it that way. So what?”
“So I’m going out again. And you’re coming with me.”
“I’m not Nightlight material, Jehane. I’m not… a good person like Natalie is. Like you are. I don’t care about people just because they’re people.”
“I don’t care!” she shouted. “I don’t care. Be my Nightlight. Don’t leave me alone in the dark just because you’re afraid.”
He stared at her, his expression as serious as she’d ever seen it. “I’m grounded until my mother thinks I’m not self-destructive anymore.”
“I can convince her. She’ll trust me, even if she doesn’t trust you.”
Seth looked away. “Of course she will.”
Her weapon melted away, and she suddenly felt a lump in her throat. “Seth? Do you trust me?”
He looked back at her, and a smile touched his eyes. “Can you do that again?”
She held out her hand and called on the song. The weapon came. It still wanted to pierce him, hold him down, make him listen, make him understand in blood. “Yes,” she said hesitantly. “Although it’s scary.”
His smile returned. “Keep calling that weapon and I’ll trust you forever.”
“Aww,” said Ajax, crossing the courtyard. “Time for a group hug.”
Seth said, “Back off, big guy. Go hug a blade.” But he hesitantly put an arm out to Jehane. She sent the weapon away and went to him, pressing her face against his shirt as he awkwardly patted her back. “I’m not what anybody wanted me to be,” he whispered. “I can’t make any promises. I can’t be who I was.”
“But you’ll fight.”
“That’s an evil looking weapon you have there, Jehane. What choice do I have?”