Illumination 8.3: The Red Chain

Seth was very fast, but not as fast as the cat, not when he wasn’t expecting its angle of attack. By the time he understood that the cat was going after Jehane instead of Ajax, Malachi, Jehane and the cat were a tangle of fur and cloth. Seth circled, looking for something to grab or cut, and the cat sprang away, its jaws open wide in laughter. Jehane fell to her knees, eyes closed as if she was barely conscious, and Malachi jumped backwards as if he’d been shocked. Jehane threw up her arm and half-fell, half-stumbled after him. He pushed her away, and only then did Seth realize that a chain linked their wrists.

Seth looked between the laughing cat and the Echthros chained to Jehane. “What the hell, thing. That’s sick.” Then he darted toward Jehane and Malachi. Malachi dodged away, one arm coming around Jehane and lifting her against his side so he could move freely. Seth narrowed his eyes. He’d been moving to attack the chain, but of course how would Malachi know that? Or maybe he did, and he liked the chain where it was. Who could tell with these crazy Echthroi?

Well, he couldn’t attack the chain when Malachi was holding Jehane like that, but he could still get Malachi himself. That would make Jehane sad, but what else was new? Seth shifted his grip on his knives—

And the cat Cambion barreled into him at knee height, knocking him to one side like a pin in a bowling alley. He landed on his feet, barely, and then Ajax slammed into him as the cat danced out of his way. Its laughter was warm and bubbly. It probably thought it was watching slapstick comedy.

Seth kicked Ajax until he put some distance between them, turning back to Malachi and Jehane.

Who were gone. Seth could just make out Malachi on the far side of the plaza, leaping to catch a heavy balcony, Jehane a dead weight over his shoulder.

Ajax grabbed Seth by the arm. “Help me kill it, Seth.”

Seth goggled at Ajax. “Are you insane? We have to go after Jehane.” He gave Ajax a heartbeat to show a flicker of sanity, then started to move away. He made it two steps before the cat coughed again, and that red, crackling light engulfed both Ajax and Seth. The noise was deafening, pounding on both his eardrums and his sensitized anima. When the light faded, Seth was on his knees, his hands pressed to his ears. He blinked and shook his head. No wonder Jehane had been broken by the cat’s attack. He climbed to his feet, and a pressure on his wrist stopped him from getting too far. A red chain ran from his wrist to Ajax’s.

Ajax moved from a fetal position on the ground directly into a lunge at the cat, so suddenly that it pulled Seth off his feet. The unexpected resistance dragged Ajax into overbalancing and his head slammed into Seth’s shoulder. They both fell backward, rolling in the snow. Seth caught a glimpse of the cat Cambion yawning before he grabbed Ajax’s hair and shouted, “Jehane!” right into his face.

Ajax started shoving wildly at Seth. “Get off of me, get away! We have to kill the cat so we can get Natalie back! Why the fuck are you stopping me, what is wrong with you? We kill the cat and we’ll be able to save her.”

Seth grabbed Ajax’s flailing hand and held it up between them. “Chain? Do you see it?” Ajax hit him in the face. Which was totally unfair: days of trying to get Ajax to fight with him and finding out Seth was right was what provoked him? He’d lost his mind and Seth was already tired of it. He slammed the palm of his hand into Ajax’s face and swept his legs out from under him. “If we can’t catch up with them because you’ve gone psycho, if we lose Jehane too, I am going to rip out your guts, big guy.” While Ajax was gasping for breath, Seth struck at the red chain with his weapon. But it was as if it didn’t exist; his weapon passed right through it

Ajax watched him, then rasped, “Kill the cat and maybe it will go away.”

The cat, moving close to watch Seth’s efforts, leapt back again.

“How the hell are we going to do that?” Seth demanded.

The cat said, “What, I wonder, will you make?”

Ajax panted, staring at the cat with bright eyes. “Come here and I’ll show you.” The cat laughed again, paced two steps closer, then leapt backward as Ajax lunged. Once again, Seth was yanked off his feet. Ajax had, he realized, been flying on the hope that Seth had all but abandoned. And Seth had wanted to beat the hope out of Ajax so that he could also give up entirely. But now that they had clear evidence that Natalie had broken and become Echthros, Ajax had nothing left, while Seth still had what Jehane had tried to give him.

He couldn’t just let her go. He’d die before going back without her. But first, he had to deal with Ajax. He’d been where Ajax was, and in order to save Jehane, he had minutes to do what Ajax did for him across weeks.

Seth clenched a fist. There was probably only one way to do that.


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