EPISODE 17: FIELD TRIP

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“Glem, wake up!”

“Hace, if it is one second before five thirty, I—”

“Nearly fifty people were killed in downtown LA last night,” Hace said.

“Wait, what the fuck?” Glem demanded, but Hace was already gone.

He had woken up at five, as usual. It was one of the few opportunities first-years had to have some free time, as their schedules were strictly regimented from six AM until lights out. He tried waking up as early as four AM, but the proctors usually kicked him back to bed until five, at which point he would read or talk to other early-risers: usually Dravnik, Izale, and an assortment of upper classmen trying to cram for tests. Growing up in a bookstore, reading was one of the few pleasures that was readily available to him, and he was delighted to discover the Athenaeum archives had an enormous collection of novels, comics, magazines, to accommodate amagia with reading as an opus.

This morning, however, everyone was gathered around the common area’s symvision, tuned to the news. The feed alternated between aerial shots of Live Square and talking heads detailing the event, already dubbed as the Samhain Massacre. There was a lot of loose language and speculation, but the developing story was that terrorists had triggered a sedative bomb and opened fire on a crowd at the Fright Fair celebration held in Live Square. One hundred and twenty-some people were injured, including forty-six casualties. Seven asfalis police, and four amagia had been slain in the panic.

When Hace got back to the common area, the crowd had doubled in time it took him to wake Glem.

“Senior correspondent Janille Rogers is on the scene,” the anchor reported, and the screen split to show a reporter standing on the periphery of Live Square. “Janille, what is the situation at Live right now?”

“It is a somber, tragic morning in Los Angeles, Tham. Law enforcement teams have cordoned off the area surrounding LA Live as they search for evidence that can shed light on the attack that befell Los Angeles’ third annual Fright Fare last night. As of three AM this morning, all the victims have been evacuated and both the LAKF and LAPD have stated the situation has been resolved, but the city is still gripped by fear.”

“Do we have any idea about the motive behind this attack?” the anchor asked.

“The situation is still developing, Tham, but surviving attendees have stated that the attacks were immediately preceded by a bizarre speech expressing anticordance sentiments. So far, no organizations have taken credit for the attack, however.”

Hace squinted. This doesn’t fit the usual playbook. Anticordant sentiments had grown steadily over the last decade, and violent protests were becoming more common. But even terrorist organizations like the Unbranded, or Erician National Sovereigntists usually restricted their attacks to Athenaeums, lexiclaves, and other official amagiate institutions.

“The Arroyo Keeping Force is scheduled to hold a press conference covering the incident at 7AM this morning,” the correspondent reported.

“I do not understand this fucking country,” Drav said from behind Hace. “Ericia thinks it is the center of the world, but every week there is school shooting or terrorists. You people love to kill each other.”

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen in the SSS?” Hace asked.

Drav folded his lip and shook his head.

“Plenty of problems. Border disputes. Protests. Food shortages, occasionally. But not like this. Our government is very corrupt, which helps.”

“How?” Hace asked, mildly amused.

“People are afraid of the government. Both amagia and asfalis. So, we trust each other. Usually, anyway. Life is hard enough, so we do not feel the need to kill our neighbors.”  

Glem appeared on the other side of Hace, taking in the report in silence. Once he was caught up, he looked to Hace wearing a nervous expression.

“You think they might attack us next?” He asked.

Hace shrugged.

“I mean, they’re saying the threat has passed, but I guess it is possible.”

Drav furrowed his brow. “If this is terrorism, how can they know it is safe now? What’s the phrase? ‘Smells like a fish?’”

Hace snickered and gestured ‘close enough.’

—|—

At five forty-five, the campus PA announced that morning exercises would be held as usual, but all classes would be cancelled for the day. After breakfast, students would meet with their mentors who would handle supervision for the day. Good. I’m curious to know what Fitz has to say about this.

He wasn’t nervous about being attacked—with an AKF chapter on campus, the Athenaeum was probably the safest place he could be. That’s probably why these cowardly bastards struck downtown instead.

Drav joined Hace and Glem for breakfast, and they met with Cyphira as usual.

“Have you guys spoken to your families? Is everybody okay?” Cyphira asked.

Glem gestured gratitude at her concern.

“I called my mom this morning. Everybody’s fine, but dad will probably be at the mediclave two days straight. Apparently there were a lot of urdic injuries as well as physical trauma.”

“My aunt called the dorm to check on me,” Hace said. “She’s shaken up but she and my mom are fine.”

Cyphira gestured relief, which made Hace’s chest glow.

“What about your family?” Drav asked Cyphira. “Do they live nearby?”

Hace and Glem both glanced at Cyphira, cautiously curious. Hace knew that her mother was a Winter Court Royal from shared conversations with Fitz and her biological father had been murdered, but those were the only detail she had let slip about her family. Sure enough, she tried to dismiss the question with a shrug, but Drav prodded her to continue. She gave him a long look, took her time chewing her pancakes, and had a swig of orange juice before answering.

“My mom’s a fae. Never really knew my dad. I was in the foster system before I came here, and if any of my ‘guardians’ died at Live, the world is better off for it.”

The boys went dead quiet and exchanged glances. Cyphira shrugged again and took another bite. There was no bitterness in her voice. If anything, the most chilling thing about the statement was how matter-of-fact it was. It sounded more like a mathematical truth than a personal grievance.

Hace ached to know more. He wanted her to trust him. He wanted to know who hurt her so he could be angry on her behalf, or comfort her, somehow. Were you abused? Neglected? It didn’t make sense. She’s so smart. So confident and capable. Even if you’re too stupid to notice those things, you can’t help but see that she’s gorgeous. Anyone would be lucky to have her as a daughter. But that assumed her caretakers wanted a daughter and not a plaything. His mind started wandering darker paths, and suddenly the whole world seemed like shit.

—|—

After finishing breakfast, Hace and Cyphira started to make their way to Fitz’s office. The concern and anger that had been gestating since breakfast continued to swell in Hace’s head. Finally, his own silence became unbearable.

“Uh, hey,” Hace began haltingly.

Cyphira turned and emanated curiosity.

“I always go on about how bad I have it. You know, with my mom’s condition and my dad, and I just… I wanted to say I’m sorry. Like, it’s selfish. Or self-centered at least”

Her mouth twitched into a perplexed smirk.

“What are you talking about?”

“Like, I mean… I have no idea what you’ve been through. And you never complain or anything. But if you ever need somebody to talk to—”

“I really don’t,” Cyphira said.

She wasn’t trying to be mean about it. If anything, it sounded like she was trying to reassure him. But her tone was also firm, and the response felt like an icicle through Hace’s heart.

Ever since Glem made Hace realize how he felt about her, that affection had stalked him. Being aware of it made it so much worse. His nights were longer, filled with longing. When they were talking, or training together, the hunger became invisible. He forgot about everything. But the quiet moments in her company were torture.

I think I’m in love with you, Cyphira.

The thought burned him. It made him feel stupid. Seemed presumptuous somehow. I’ve only known her for two months. I’m only twelve years old. What the hell do I know about love? But what else could he call it? What else could it be?

“Sorry,” Hace muttered. “I just… I’m here for you if you need me.”

Cyphira turned back to him and opened her mouth, but something stayed her tongue. For once she was unsure of herself. Or uncomfortable. Or pained. Whatever it was, it was the exact opposite of whatever he hoped for. She knows. She knows and she doesn’t feel the same, but she likes me just enough to try to spare my feelings.

“Thanks,” she said at last, followed by the reluctant flicker of a smile. “I, uh, appreciate it.”

He forced a smile back. I want to disappear. I want to die.

— 7:24 AM| Arroyo Athenaeum (Fitzgerald’s Office) —

Hace and Cyphira beat Fitz to her office, which was hardly unusual, though she was even later for their lesson than normal. When she finally arrived, her eyes were bagged and she had both her jacket and waist cape slung over her shoulders, as if she couldn’t be bothered to finish getting dressed. In her other hand, she held a towering coffee cup. Her normally spiked white hair lay flat against her head, and she looked annoyed to be alive.

“You’re late,” Hace observed, testy.

“Any hour between two AM and noon is unworthy of my presence, so count your blessings and stow the lip.” She said and opened the door to her office. “Hope you guys have something to occupy yourselves with for most of the day, because I don’t have anything planned beyond our usual lesson. Honestly, I dunno what cancelling classes is supposed to accomplish.”

“I think you’re supposed to comfort us with your sage wisdom,” Cyphira said with a smirk.

“Make another wish,” Fitz grumbled.

She had a large, corner office in the second-to-top story of the West Instructors Tower, overlooking the Grand Arroyo. The wall-to-wall bookshelves had maybe twenty books on them total. The rest of the shelves were occupied with objects Fitz referred to as ‘souvenirs,’ ranging from a ring enchanted to hiss dirty words at everybody in a ten-meter radius, to a centaur’s great axe that lit ablaze when it was gripped with both hands. She also had an assortment of comic-book toys and other detritus stodgier masters would consider ‘unbecoming of the institution,’ or some crap. The wall opposite her desk had an enormous symvision, which she usually kept tuned to the news, or cartoons, which made it hell trying to study up there. Still, Hace liked the space. Maybe I’ll teach one day and have a similar set-up.

“We probably missed the press conference,” Hace realized, upon seeing Fitz’ symvision. “I was hoping to find out what happened.”

“I watched it before I came here,” Fitz said. “Brief and full of bullshit.”

Cyphira and Hace both turned to her, battering her with their questions. Fitz gestured for them to shut up with one hand and massaged her forehead with the other.

“Here’s the official line: the LAPD’s Arch Chief said that the suicides on the Colorado Street Bridge in Arroyo were part of an anticordance terrorist plot. Terrorists in the crowd and among the event staff opened fire on the attendees, while egregores attacked simultaneously. The matter is supposedly resolved, all the conspirators are dead, either by suicide or caught in the crossfire.”

“How can they be sure?” Hace asked.

Fitz grinned.

“They can’t. It would have been smarter to say the investigation is ongoing. This neat little story is supposed to assure everybody everything’s fine now, and lay questions to rest. But terrorism is never that cut and dry. That means one of two things: they are trying to cover something else up, or they know more than they are letting on. Maybe both.”

“What do you mean?” Cyphira asked.

Fitz smirked.

“A friend downtown told me that the LAPD, LAKF, and Arroyo’s departments were all on high alert as of like, noon yesterday. Apparently, we had plainclothes people in downtown LA. We saw this coming. And instead of cancelling the festival, we let it happen.”

Cyphira and Hace looked horrified.

“Why?” Hace asked, outraged.

Fitz drummed her fingers on her desk, and shrugged.

“I have no clue. None of the explanations I can think of are great, and most of them suggest we were up to some genuinely shady shit. Try as we might, Amagia can’t always be the good guys.”

“We could go to Live,” Cyphira said. “Do our lesson there. See if there were any fae who knows something.”

Fitz scoffed and opened her mouth with a rebuke, but stopped herself and steepled her hands in front of her mouth. Is she seriously considering a fieldtrip to a crime scene? Oh man, that would be incredible!

“That would be extremely dangerous and irresponsible of me,” Fitz said. “But the other officers have probably already conducted their interviews with the fae. So we probably wouldn’t be caught. And even if we were, I probably couldn’t be fired for it.”

“Let’s do it!” Hace said.


Fitz looked at her proteges, studying them carefully.

“Have either of you negotiated with fae before? During your seizures, I mean?” She asked.

They both nodded.

“Once I got directions through a maze from a redcap,” Hace said.

Admittedly, the murderous little bastard had tried to kill him first, and he only got the directions in exchange for sparing its life. Same principles apply though! Give and take relationship. Situational leverage. Mutually agreeable solution.

“I sold some of my hair to a pixie to avoid doing a puzzle and made her promise to use it to make a dress,” Cyphira said. “Can we actually interrogate a fae?”

The primary reason akrasiacs were prized by the Amagium was their ability to enter the Faed and acquire irrefutable testimony. Since Fae were incapable of directly lying, their statements carried tremendous weight in court. But students usually weren’t allowed to go into the field until their tenth year, and then it was a strictly ‘watch and learn’ arrangement. But Fitz seemed to be considering it in earnest.

“I guess it’s worth going down there to see what’s what. But you can’t dick around, and you have to do exactly as I say. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.”

Hace and Cyphira tripped over their tongues with promises of obedience.

— 9:07 AM | Los Angeles (110 Freeway, Arroyo Parkway) —

“If anybody asks, I took you both to the Hunting Library. Fibbed on the sign-out sheet because I don’t feel like getting a lecture for being irresponsible, or whatever,” Fitz said.

They zipped along the 110 in Fitz’ car, a new ‘32 Sherman Dasher.

“Do you think it will be that dangerous?” Hace asked from the front passenger seat.

“After cancelling classes for a terrorist scare, I’m pretty sure they’d frown on me taking you to the site of the attack. But I wouldn’t do it if I thought you couldn’t handle it.” A couple seconds later, she added: “You should be ready for a fight though. The Faed is a reflection of reality, and lots of people died here last night. Folks on the flip side might be more aggressive than usual.”

Cyphira sat in the back of the car, stretched out across the passenger seats. 

“It’s also Dia de Muertos. Is that going to have an affect the Faed?” Cyphira asked.

“The Veil will probably be interesting. Most of the ‘ghosts’ people see around this holiday are familial egregores. But Samhain is the big date for fae. They don’t take much notice of Dia de Muertos.”

“Why?” Cyphira pressed. “They love it when we decorate. I figured they’d be fascinated by all the marigolds and altars. Especially given how large the American and Hispanic communities are in Los Angeles.”

“Yeah, you’d think. But it’s a holiday that celebrates souls. And family. Neither concept exists for fae; at least, not like for us. It’s something of a sore subject. I think they feel left out.”

Hace smirked. Suits me just fine. I prefer killing fae to bartering with them. He wondered, however, how he would feel about the holiday if his human half was Latino. Especially if I was Catholic.

Christianity had a messy relationship with fae. With magic in general, actually, but fae and half-fae get the worst of it. By their own admission, the fae lacked souls, which didn’t sit very well with an institution founded upon the concept. So what can you say about the souls of children who were fathered or mothered by fae? According to the Vatican, the Faed comprised the ruined-and/or-corrupted remnants of Eden and the fae that inhabited it were former angels who refused to pick a side in Lucifer’s rebellion. For their cowardice, the archangel Michael cursed them with false life for all eternity. Which always struck Hace as odd. I mean, cursed magic isn’t terribly angelic. And shouldn’t God be the one to make that call anyway?

In the Middle Ages preceding the Second Amagium, half-fae were considered monsters by the church, addressed with endearing terms like “half-born,” and put to death as such. Later on, after the protestant revolution, Pope Novus V stated he received a revelation from God: any entity sired or conceived by human intercourse possessed a soul, which superseded the fae’s lack thereof. There were certain sects, in fact, that believed half-fae who lived virtuous lives could redeem the angels who were trapped in Eden, eventually liberating the whole realm from its purgatorial fate.

Like most of Christianity, it struck Hace as seemingly convenient explanations for problems that deserved more complex deliberation. But it still gets to me sometimes. You can’t help but wonder, “what if they’re right?” Gods are real. Angels are real. Maybe Fae are fallen angels, or half-demons, or whatever. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up in a Catholic family told that you are half a person.

Hace spent most of the drive in a daze, contemplating the theology and politics of his biology. Fitz took a lightway path that opened up on the 101, conveniently leading to the Olympic exit, which was as close as you could get to Live from the freeways and lightways. But as soon as they hit surface streets, a cordon zone at Georgia Street diverted them away from Live. LAKF and LAPD were everywhere. Squad cars and cruisers blocked every street leading in that direction.

Fitz parked at the nearest structure they could find, and made their way back to the law enforcement perimeter.

— 9:31 AM | Los Angeles (West Olympic Boulevard) —

The sidewalks were dotted with reporters and small clusters of onlookers drawn by the spectacle. News copters circled the square above in lazy orbits.

“Pretty sure this is as close as we’ll be able to get,” Fitz said. “First one of you to find a soft-spot wins a shiny gold star sticker on your report card.”

Hace and Cyphira both closed their eyes and felt around the area with their wyrds, gently probing the edge of the dimensional Veil. As Fitz predicted, Dia de Muertos’ influence made it livelier than usual, and thinner all around. Cyphira pointed by a lamp post next to a coffee shop.

“We can punch through anywhere, but that’s practically an open door,” Hace confirmed.

Fitz nodded and gestured for them to lead on. When they arrived, they waited a few minutes for the crowds to thin; Akrasia tended to spook people, and in an area on high alert, the last thing they needed was passersby approaching Keepers with tips about terrorists who could vanish into thin air. When they didn’t appear to be observed, they each pushed their wyrd inward, shoving themselves against the veil.

Rather than the usual curtain of chilling water, the veil was bright orange. It felt like a shower of translucent marigold petals. Hace could actually see egregores swimming through them. Some were fashioned as painted calaveras. Others resembled people of Hispanic and American heritage in traditional dress. And there was music as well. Guitars and singing. Hace had never seen it like this before.

The vivid distractions nearly led him astray, but he managed to follow Cyphira and Fitz’s course fairly accurately. As he burst through the ocean of ghostly flowers, he emerged in a ruined city, entirely wrought of bones. The streets were replaced by streams of small bones—teeth, metacarpals, and the delicate instruments of the inner ear—clinking along in a steady flow.  Buildings resembled massive femurs, and unnaturally shaped spinal columns. In place of trees and bushes, antler-like trees seemed to grow from dust, sprouting black leaves. But they were the only hint of life in the place.

The weather consisted of brooding, slate-colored clouds, backlit by an eerie white light, neither day nor night. The thunderheads raced across the sky at an unnatural speed, disproportionate to the wind at ground level. While Los Angeles had been threatening a drizzle, the air here was dry as a corpse in a sun-bleached desert.

“Whoa,” Cyphira said. “I thought you said this place would definitely have witnesses after what happened last night.”

“The Faed loves to make fools of us kid, you know that. Besides, we just got here. This place may be busier than it seems.”

“Maybe we should head in the relative direction of Live,” Hace said, pointing in the direction of the square based on where they entered from reality.

“Good a choice as any,” Fitz confirmed.

The three of them crossed the first street on a bridge resembling a clavicle. Hace had the uneasy sense that they were being watched, but the place was silent and still, save for the streams of tiny bones, and the occasional whistle of wind through the hollows of the buildings. After a walk of roughly two blocks, they came to a square paved with the tops of polished skulls, resembling white and brown cobblestones. And at the heart of the square, a figure sat cross-legged.

Fitz held up a hand and turned to her students.

“Do you know what that is?” she asked in a hushed tone.

Its flesh was dark, threaded with bones resembling snakewood roots. A mass of thorns sprouted from the crown of its head, and two gazelle-like horns sprouted from the tips of its ears.

Cyphira shook her head. Hace nodded. He had only read about them and seen pictures, but he was certain it was a spriggan. They were nasty, powerful fae, often employed for wet-work between the Courts. While all fae had an intense fascination with kids, spriggans were particularly renowned for tormenting, abducting, and abusing children. Especially ones deemed troublemakers and trespassers.

“Spriggan,” Hace said with a hint of disgust. “Asshole-slash-pedophile-slash-assassin.”

“Ya aren’t wrong,” Fitz chuckled, “But let’s at least try to be polite.”

Hace nodded acquiescence. Honestly though, the world would be better off with one fewer spriggan running around for a few days. Hell, I bet we could kill it hard enough to take it off the board for a month.

“Autumn Court, right?” Cyphira guessed.

“This one is for sure,” Fitz confirmed. “Let’s go say ‘hey.’”

The three of them strode across the plain of human skulls. At twenty paces, the Spriggan opened its eyes and stood, flesh like treated leather, wooden bones, and viny sinews all cracking as it moved. It wore only a torn shroud around its waist, and a few assorted beaded bracelets on each wrist.

“I think that’s close enough without an invitation,” the spriggan said.

“Ho there,” Fitz responded. “Were you around these parts last night?”

The spriggan scratched its nose. Each of its fingers ended in blackened, talon-like claws.

“Is this a personal inquiry, or are you acting on behalf of your coven?” It asked.

“Let’s call it a personal inquiry,” Fitz said, smiling.

“Bold of you,” the spriggan scoffed, a deep voice that was discordantly smooth with its rough appearance. “Your kind razed this place in search of answers last night. Frightened away all the prey. Doubly bold of you to bring them with you,” the spriggan stated.

Fera smiled at the spriggan and spread her hands wide.

“We don’t need to come to blows, but if we do, it’ll go poorly for you,” she said coolly.

The spike-headed fae’s black and gold eyes gleamed.

“Would you care to make a wager? If you can make me yield, I will give you all the information I have on last night’s events. However, if I can best you, I shall take custody of your enchanting charges.”

Fitz scoffed.

“Come on, Fae are supposed to be shrewd negotiators. You’ll just refuse to yield, forcing me to kill you, and I don’t feel like walking away empty-handed. Besides, you don’t seem to appreciate the situation you’re in.”

“Oh?” the spriggan asked.

“I don’t speak for my ‘enchanting charges.’ I just teach them. And I teach them well. Raise your hand against us, and they’ll tear your leathery, twig-boned ass apart like starving dogs.”

So much for being polite, I guess. Hace sneered at the fae with a wicked smile, emanating ravenous hunger. Cyphira batted her eyelashes and gestured ‘let’s play.’ You better believe we aren’t bluffing. I’ve killed Siol at least thirty times. Dear Old Dad’s Eminence is on a whole other level than yours, kiddy-diddler. And with Cyphira’s help, it won’t matter what kind of tricks you have planned. The spriggan held its smile, but Hace could tell it was reassessing them.

“Make your wager with them,” Fitz said impatiently. “Hell. If you promise to give us the information we require, whether you choose to yield or die, I promise not to interfere.”

The spriggan regarded her seriously, seemingly surprised.

“Humans can lie, or easily change their minds,”

“We can. But breaking a life and death promise in the Faed would likely maim my wyrd permanently. I might lose the ability to perform certain kinds of sorcery. My contracts would lose potency. It’s not an offer I make lightly.”

“A mother would chew her arm from her body to protect her children,” the spriggan said.

Hace snickered. Mothers wouldn’t gamble with their children, in the first place, fuckwit.

“Again, they aren’t my children,” Fitz scoffed. “Look, I’m confused. A second ago, you thought you could take all three of us. Are you telling me you’re afraid of these charming children?”

The spriggan sneered at Fitz.

“I am always looking to adopt new pets. Even if they need to be housebroken.” It turned to Hace and Cyphira. “How about it, sweets? Best me and I shall show you what happened last night. But should you yield, or submit to unconsciousness, you shall join me at Autumn’s altar.”

Hace held a hand up before Cyphira could accept.

“If we kill you before you can yield, how will you relay the information?” He asked.

“Confident, aren’t we?” The spriggan laughed. “You know my kind specializes in dealing with naughty brats, don’t you?”

“That’s not an answer,” Cyphira said, crossing her arms.

The spriggan seemed to delight in her cheek.

“Inhale the dust of my body and it shall convey my memories to you. Is that satisfactory?”

Cyphira and Hace looked at each other and nodded. They didn’t even consult Fitz.

“You have a deal, spriggan,” Hace said.

The spriggan opened his mouth to say something else, but Cyphira’s fist pulsed, firing a truly reckless kinetic bolt. The force of this one outclassed the ridiculous hits that Hace, Drav, and Lin had scored in their training exercises. To the naked eye, the spriggan’s head seemed to erupt in a cloud of fae dust as the bolt made contact.

Hace was already dashing forward, fists shrouded with urdic sorcery. Before the spriggan could swipe, Hace performed the most recent technique that Fitz had taught him. “You’re good at glamour magic, Red. Most people think it’s just fun to fool around with, but if you can use make-up without a contract, you can probably do illusions with sorcery too. And a good feint can turn the tide of almost any fight.”

Just before Hace got into range, he darted to the side, and created an illusory double of himself. The details weren’t great. Even three seconds would be enough to tell which body was real, and which was false. But Hace didn’t give him three seconds. He had his double launch a wild haymaker. And when the spriggan attempted to guard itself, he dropped his weight into a side kick directed at the spriggan’s wood-like knee, and fortified it with sorcery.

The spriggan’s branch-like leg bones didn’t completely snap apart as Hace had visualized—another tip from Fitz—but it was enough to dislocate the joint and make the thing slump, just in time for Cyphira to deliver a monstrous punch into its chin as it fell forward.

Hace sent another decoy illusion to attack the creature, hoping to create another opening, but the spriggan ignored it in favor of counter-attacking Cyphira with a backhand. The blow struck her face with a crack and sent her head snapping back. We have to keep it on its back foot. He charged forward without a duplicate, putting all the force he had into a series of punches. His first right hook broke on of its ribs. He followed up with a haymaker from the left, catching it in the jaw; dust and sap-colored blood gushed from its mouth. But when Hace launched his third blow, the spriggan caught the blow square in its palm.

It clenched its root-like fingers around Hace’s fist, and barbs like razor-wire embedded themselves into his hand. He cried out as the spriggan yanked him close, tearing his flesh even as it trapped him. He saw white as it punched him in the face with a fist as hard as lacquered wood. Before he could get his guard up, he took a knee to his stomach and another blow to his head that broke his nose. Warm, wet blood flowed freely from his nostrils. Despite seeing stars, Hace managed to block the thing’s round house kick, albeit sloppily.

An icicle erupted from the spriggan’s chest, high on its left shoulder, coating its bark-and-leather-like flesh with rime. It was jagged, big around as the business-end of a baseball bat. The second the blow made contact with the spriggan, Hace used a burst of kinetic sorcery around his fist to dislodge himself the spriggan’s thorny grasp.

“You good?” Cyphira asked, as Hace retreated to her side.

“Pissed,” Hace said, flicking blood from his shredded hand onto the expanse of skulls.

“Good enough,” Cyphira said, grinning.

Time for round two.

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