Illumination 8.5: Considering The Stakes

Jehane jerked backward at the sight of Tainter, unable to resist the desire to turn and flee like a rabbit— at least until the red chain caught her. Malachi stood stock still, all his attention transferred from Jehane to Tainter, even though he only looked at the other man from the corner of his eye.

Then Jehane thought, I’d almost found him, and anger bubbled through the crippling fear. She might have gotten somewhere with Malachi if she’d had more time. There was a spark of the boy somewhere inside. But Tainter was going to push him, and she couldn’t fight off both of them, so she was probably going to end up dead. And, probably, it’d be Malachi who killed her. And if that happened, not only would she be dead, but she thought Malachi’s last spark would die too, and Seth and Ajax would die, and maybe even the whole world.

So she had to survive, at all costs.

She took a deep breath. She could cut off her hand, or Malachi’s, which would ruin both their days, but there was more at stake than a hand or a bad day. Her weapon, still clutched in her free hand, twitched without her conscious direction.

Tainter said, “What is it? Am I interrupting something? No?” He smirked. “A pity.” He was wearing a jacket almost identical to Malachi’s; it was baggy on his smaller frame, and he looked like he’d been rolling in the snow.

Malachi’s free hand closed over Jehane’s wrist, pulling on it and changing her angle so she couldn’t strike at herself. Her weapon flickered.

Tainter moved a few steps closer. “Pesky things. Shall I help, ah, secure her? Hatherly will be ever so pleased to see her.” He dropped his voice conspiratorially. “I am too.”

Malachi called his own weapon in his chained hand and pointed it at Tainter. “She’s mine. I’ll deal with her.”

Tainter paid no attention to the sword. “Of course. You do have some work to do after disappointing the boss before. You’re always so sweet on the ladies. How did you drag her away from her friends?”

“With the help of a Cambion. It’s still playing with the others down there.” Malachi’s sword-tip flicked in the direction of the emergence point.

“Little Natalie’s Cambion? Oh, that is interesting.” Tainter turned as if he was going to move away, then stopped and turned back again. “But we should get this prize home before they chase us down. Frightening lads, with the knives and the scythe. Shall I make a gate?”

Jehane wrenched at the hand Malachi held, with no result. He didn’t even look at her. She maneuvered herself to where she’d be able to kick him despite being incredibly close and mostly behind him. Then she hissed, “I’m not going to die,” and drove her heel into his knee. All she wanted was for him to let go of her hand.

Malachi’s knee bent, but his grip on her hand didn’t weaken. Tainter, however, seemed to have been waiting for the opportunity. He leapt across the intervening space, mouth wide, eyes mad, hands reaching out for her. Malachi did something complicated that involved releasing her hand and swinging her under his arm, while turning his body to keep himself between Tainter and herself. “You are not going to touch her,” he snarled.

Tainter looked delighted. “Oho, I was interrupting something. How sweet!” Malachi swung his sword at Tainter, who dodged easily, then circled. “Oh, my young man, you’re letting your baggage slow you down. That’s not good. I have a duty to set you free. Hatherly will be so pleased.”

Then Malachi’s sword vanished, and he pulled Jehane close. She kicked him again and shoved her hand into his face. “Hush,” he said. “We’re going. Trust me.” Then he sprang, and landed in a full fun.

Tainter called, “Oh, fun! I’m going to catch you, and I’m going kill her, Malachi. And you’ll be so pleased in the end, too.” Jehane, half-flung over Malachi’s shoulder, saw him move.

He was unburdened. He was faster. He would catch them.

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