Illumination 8.8: Take Her

At first, Jehane thought, Oh no, what have they been fighting? But then the scene reassembled itself, and she realized Ajax and Seth had been fighting each other. They stood apart, a red chain binding them together, and then Ajax nodded at Seth, and the chain melted away.

She lowered herself from the roof into the snowdrift below, and Malachi landed beside her. Instinctively, she reached out for his hand as Seth and Ajax turned to look at them. It could still go so wrong, and it would, unless she stopped it. But she couldn’t let go of Malachi yet, not as long as he wasn’t pulling away.

“Jehane!” said Seth. “You’re— Are you still chained?” He stopped, and his face hardened as he focused on Malachi. “Let go of her.”

She had to stop it, and tears weren’t going to work this time. She had to find the words. Seth, stop. You know what he’s like, Seth. “Seth, he didn’t hurt me.”

Seth didn’t answer, but moved to one side, circling as if preparing to dart in. Ajax rubbed his wrist. “Then he should step away from you. We can be calm then. And we can talk about Natalie.”

Tainter howled again, unpleasantly close. Malachi’s fingers released her own. “He’s coming back. I’ll deal with him.”

Jehane wondered if Malachi meant ‘fight him’, given what he’d said before. With a pang, she realized the life in his eyes had already faded to embers. What had been done to him and what he had become were still too tangled up inside. If he went back to the other Echthros, he would forget, and she’d lose everything she’d just learned could be gained.

She closed her hand around the tips of his fingers as he extracted them. He put his hand on her shoulder and gave her a little shove. “Take her,” he said. “Take her out of here.” He hesitated. “And don’t come back. If you stay there, you may survive what’s coming.”

Jehane stared at him as Seth caught the hand Malachi had released. Then she pulled away, and a shout ripped itself out of her throat. “I’m not a dog. I do not have a leash you can pass back.”

Malachi blinked like he’d been slapped, then took a long step toward her. When Seth tried to interpose himself, Malachi planted one palm on his chest and threw him into the snow. Then Malachi put his hands on Jehane’s face and pressed his forehead against hers. “You. I know you. I am trying, trying to keep now and then apart. The weapon and the hand. The symbol and the soul. I am trying to keep them apart, so that I can see you again like this. But go away with them, go away now, so I don’t make a mistake again.” His breath in her face was warm. He kissed her beside her eye, absently. “Please.”

She wanted to wrap her arms around him again. But instead she steeled herself for the shock of cold and stepped backward. He dropped his hands, watched her go, with shadowed eyes.

Ajax was holding Seth by one arm, his scythe in his other hand. Seth stared between Malachi and Jehane, his mouth open and his eyes wide. “Ajax, man, I think punching each other was the wrong way to escape the chain.”

Jehane flushed, but went to stand on Seth’s other side. Malachi turned away, but Ajax stretched out his scythe. “Natalie.” And Seth flinched, and took Jehane’s hand.

“What of her? She is alive. Hatherly has made her the focus of his project. If his plan completes, she will be well when the rest of us are as the Antecessors.” Malachi looked up at the rooftops.

“But she’s well now?”

Malachi threw Ajax a tired look. “There is no time for this now. I am here. Tainter is here. You should not be here.”

Ajax’s eager expression hardened, and Jehane found words once again. “Leave him alone, Ajax.”

This time Ajax looked startled. “Uh…”

Malachi nodded at Jehane, took three steps into the shadows of a snowy wall, and vanished. Seth and Ajax both looked at Jehane, as if she’d suddenly sprouted wings. Ajax said, “So… you and him…?”

Seth, his voice subdued, said, “Look at that pink glow. That’s not just that we’re all freezing to death. That’s blushing.”

We should go, she did not say. Because it was always possible he’d come back if they waited just a little while longer.

Another howl, from the rooftops right above, but this howl stopped mid-cry, falling into a greeting barely heard. “Oh, there you are, kid. Have you…” it dropped to a murmur. It did not sound like Malachi was going to fight him.

Burning warmth slid down her face, even though she hadn’t expected any different.

“Hey, don’t cry,” said Seth.

“It doesn’t matter.” She wiped at her face.

“Of course it doesn’t,” said Seth, consolingly. “I’m just glad he had a moment of sanity and brought you back.”

“No!” said Jehane angrily. “It doesn’t matter than Natalie made a Cambion. It isn’t the end.” And she thumped Seth in the chest, then turned to stomp over to a window.

Then she paused. “Uh, did anybody bring a latchkey?”

Seth started laughing. Jehane shook her head and scuffed her way through the snow past Ajax to the emergence point. She tapped on the deep stone archway with the sealed door beyond. A moment later, the two boys joined her. At least huddling in the arch was warmer than standing in the middle of the street.

And now she had to wait whether she wanted to or not. But Malachi didn’t return, and neither did Tainter. After a while, the Absolute Focus Field faded away. It was so much smoother and gentler now that she’d hardly noticed it in all the tension before. But when it faded, the cold rushed in, and Seth and Ajax both staggered.

That’s when the emergence point reactivated, and hands reached out to yank them through.

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