When the hands reached through the emergence point and yanked them through, Ajax discovered the hard way that weapons made from your own anima don’t like to go through the void between portals. His scythe appeared in his hand without conscious effort when the hand landed on his shoulder and then, as he was pulled into the blackness, there was only pain. It was like the rawness of a toothache or an ice cream headache all over his body, and the scythe moved in his hand like a living thing, cornered and furious.
In the endless transit, he found at himself at war, struggling to overcome screaming nerve endings to stop the weapon in his hand from burying itself in the warmth of his companions. It could cut them open and drink up their warmth, transfer it to him and sooth his pain, if only for a moment. And once the pain returned, why, there were always more people willing to be his friends. It was a gift he had, just like his father.
Ajax tried to release the scythe, to send it away again. But his fingers wouldn’t open. He wasn’t holding the scythe; the scythe was holding him. All he could do was pit his strength against it, to keep it from moving him as a weapon. And all the while, agony burned through his frame, encouraged and channeled by the weapon.
He fell to the floor in the Portalry, fingers still clenched over the scythe’s haft. The pain faded, but the hunger of the weapon remained, running through his mind like chains. A boot came down on his wrist, pinning his hand down. Then Kwan’s hand rested on his forehead. “Let it go, Ajax.”
“Sedative?” asked the Tanist tightly.
“Wait,” said Kwan.
Ajax drew in a deep, shaking breath. He’d already made his decision, weeks ago. He was his mother’s son, not his father’s. And he didn’t want the weapon out right now. He pushed it away.
But the scythe laughed at him as it faded away, promising a new accounting the next time he let it take control. Oh yes. You could never be the child of just one parent, and neither of them were saints.
The boot lifted off Ajax’s wrist. “You all right?” Kwan waved his hand in front of Ajax’s eyes.
Ajax sat up, every bruise and abrasion aching. “I’m all here, at least.”
Kwan sat back on his heels, shaking his head. Seth and Jehane stood just behind him, both looking worried, and the Tanist stood right behind them, her hand on Seth’s shoulder. She tapped her foot impatiently.
Ajax looked between Kwan and the Tanist. “Just a guess but I’d say you’re not going to exile me back to Earth for misbehavior.”
“I haven’t decided what to do with you yet,” said the Tanist.
“Oh, we’re back there again. Right. Of course.”
“Cut it out,” said Kwan, his voice much sharper than Ajax had ever heard it before. He realized that under the concern brought on by the weapon trouble, the teacher was well and truly angry at him. “You couldn’t wait ten minutes for me to get here? I’ve been your advocate since you got here, Ajax and right now I’m really wondering why. I hope whatever you found out there was worth it.”
Ajax didn’t say anything. He wasn’t going to tell them about Natalie’s cambion, and he could barely think of anything else. Natalie’s eyes, Natalie’s smile, merged with a monster. A monster that played games rather than murdered, but still an uncomfortably alien creature. But Jehane had hope, had found real reasons for hope, and that was something. He needed something. But he didn’t want to talk about it.
Kwan narrowed his eyes, and looked between all three of them. “What happened, then? Elian said the field generator activated. Did you find anything else?” Something flickered in his eyes and Ajax realized that Kwan didn’t want to know, either.
The silence stretched out a little too long. Seth said, “The field generator was different. Subtler, smoother. There were no troops or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
The Tanist said, “Did you see Natalie?”
“No,” said Seth. “We didn’t.”
A wistful expression crossed the Tanist’s face. “Ah, well.”
Jehane looked up, her expression fierce. “We saw others, though. And we learned interesting things. And you should stop being such a cranky old man, Kwan, because I’m not grounded and neither is Seth. And we were both with Ajax. It’s not like he committed a capital crime.” Ajax looked at her in astonishment. She’d come back from her little trip with Malachi different, and it wasn’t just the blushing.
Kwan looked puzzled. “Seth—”
“She is correct,” said Elian, his voice absolutely neutral. “Valeria ungrounded him earlier.”
“And you’re not teaching him properly,” Jehane went on. “Nobody ever told him not to bring out his weapon in transit. You aren’t treating him like someone who can summon a stage 3 weapon, so if he does screw up badly, it’s going to be your fault.
“I know that,” bit out Kwan. “Maybe I just had more faith that he’d obey some basic restrictions.”
Ajax felt like he should probably get involved in his own defense but he just couldn’t summon the motivation. There were more important things going on than whether a teacher was disappointed in him. He met the Tanist’s gaze and realized the look she was giving him was meditative rather than angry.
“We’ve all done stupid things because we’ve lost people, Kwan. We can discuss it later. Right now I’d really like to hear what Jehane, who has become a rather valiant defender of underdogs, has to tell us. This important information.”
Jehane looked up at her suspiciously. “Why are you holding onto Seth like that still?”
The Tanist actually smiled. “Because he’s the only one of you who’s made a habit of actually running away lately.” But she took her hand off his shoulder. “Please, tell us what you found.”
Ajax wondered what Jehane was talking about. He hoped it wasn’t Natalie’s cambion.