Illumination 10.6: Diet Despair

The soldiers didn’t want to chat, Seth found, even when he offered to tell them all sorts of interesting things about the Guardians. They wanted him to sit quietly with his back against the wall and his hands on his head, while they watched Ajax and Natalie. He couldn’t see Natalie and Ajax himself. That was for the best, but he watched the soldiers carefully, smiling the whole time. If one of them even seemed close to squeezing a trigger, Seth was going to gut him.

The leader’s attention was pulled away from the drama by the crackle of a phone. He had a brief conversation, then looked at Seth. “You’ve got the same magic weapon as Ajax?”

“Sure. Want to see?”

The soldier ignored the offer. “Good. Some of the monsters are migrating this way. There’s a human with them.”

“I guess everybody wants to see the show.” Seth leaned his head back against the wall. “She’s escaped from him, and he doesn’t like that.” He closed his eyes as Martin started barking into his microphone.

“The idiot’s ignoring me.” Martin glared around the corner of the building.

“Good. She’s more important.”

A moment later, one of the soldiers sighed and relaxed. Seth sat up. “It’s over, then?”

“Tango,” muttered another one, fumbling with his gun. That seemed wrong, somehow.

“Shit,” said Martin. “He’s here.” He reached in a pocket and pulled out a tiny case.

Seth looked around, glancing around the wall. Natalie and Ajax were very close. Despair crept over him, cold and empty.

And it was odd, because it wasn’t real. It was like he’d had a drink flavored with artificial despair, and he could feel the bitterness at the edges. It bore only a passing resemblance to what he’d felt before, in the world without Natalie.

He turned around. All of the soldiers had collapsed to the ground, and Hatherly stood beyond them, with Surge on one side of him and the biomechanical cambion Seth had fought before on the other. The artificial despair radiated off of him, and even though Seth knew it wasn’t real, it still made him want to fall to his knees.

Instead, he smiled.

Hatherly smiled back, the old familiar smile of the man Seth had grown up knowing. “I rather thought you’d be able to lure her out when my own assistants failed. Why don’t you go to sleep as well, Seth? It will be easiest for you.”

“Boring, you mean.” Seth moved away from the wall, looking at Hatherly closely. He had no illusions about his ability to fight Hatherly alone and win, especially with his two cambions. Last time, he’d worked on taking out the biomechanical creature, and it had been the wrong decision. This time, he wanted to know how Hatherly was making him feel so awful.

“Oh, come now. If not for yourself, do it for your sister. It will bother her to see you suffering.”

“You didn’t hear? She’s not my sister anymore.”

Hatherly moved to one side. “You seem remarkably cheerful about that.” His hand brushed his belt, and Seth noticed the slowly moving shape on his belt loop. It was very small, but it moved in fits and starts, like a vivisected living thing struggling to escape. Just focusing on it made Seth want to give up and shut down.

He dragged his gaze up to Hatherly’s face instead. “Oh, it’s the best news I’ve had in days. I don’t have to be responsible for her anymore.”

Hatherly snorted. “You’re lying, boy.”

Seth’s grin widened. “Well, yes.” Then he launched himself at Hatherly, moving faster than the artificial despair could.

The cambions didn’t even try to intercept. Hatherly caught him like he was an enthusiastic child, bending one of Seth’s arms backwards. Seth didn’t even try to fight, pushing his free hand toward Hatherlys’ belt. He knew when he’d touched the artificial despair device because he didn’t feel the pain and emptiness anymore. Instead, he felt giddy. His arm didn’t hurt. Nothing hurt.

He tried to yank the device off, even as Hatherly was doing something awful to his arm. But it didn’t want to detach. He realized it was the belt, holding onto Hatherly with strap-like tentacles.

Well, here he was. He brought out one of his knives and drove it into Hatherly’s midsection, right through the device.

And the pain came rushing back, real and bloody this time. Distantly, he felt the biomechanical cambion switch on its field, and that made the pain less. That made everything less.

He was on the ground, holding onto Hatherly’s sword blade with one hand. Surge’s paw was on his shoulder. His own knife was bloody, too, but Hatherly was moving as if he didn’t feel it. But the despair device dangled, broken and still, from his hip.

That was good.

Good.

 

 

 

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