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Alinore Valmont. Marday, Aries 19th, 2348 AA. 2:43 PM. Westridge (Athenaeum – Central Quad)

If we survive this, I have no idea how the CIC intends to cover it up. The underground quad was a ruin. Part of the central terrace had collapsed onto the lower terrace, which in turn gave way and crushed the fountain at the base of the chamber. The runes preserving the water-slicked walls were failing after multiple impacts and stray slashes. Water now spouted and dripped from the chamber in random streams.

Averael was losing. There were no two ways about it. The pair of them were fairly evenly matched, the fight was one or two strikes away from victory on either side—but he was fighting defensively, ensuring Pensey’s safety over attacking. They had traded streams of fire and bolts of lightning, thrown pieces of the shattered concrete terraces at one another, and engaged in brutal exchanges of blows and grapples.

Evitria launched herself into a graceful pirouette, balanced on the tip of one bladed leg, with the other whipping around her like a bladed top. Averael prepared to counter the reckless attack, but Evitria abruptly paused, and briefly thrust Lin’s body to the front of her own spell-flesh; using her as a shield. Averael stopped short of delivering his blow, surprised, and Evitria took the opportunity to impale him through the stomach with her leg. Averael’s body flickered, and Lin saw that he only narrowly managed to reposition Pensey inside himself so that she didn’t take a fatal wound.

Lin was confused. He hesitated this time. He has to kill me to save Pensey, doesn’t he? Unless…he believes I can find a way to break free.

Evitria sneered inwardly. “Averael is a sentimentalist at heart. You didn’t notice? He hesitated earlier as well, before he fired at you. As long as I have you inside me, he will continue to second-guess himself, hesitate, and hope for miracles while I wear him down.”

Averael and Evitria flew around each other in a rotating orbit, standing off in three dimensions. Both of them were flagging. At length, the stalemate was interrupted by three loud claps, followed by a forceful, yet elegant voice:

“A recess, please!”

Forsythe strolled into the chamber with his strange cross-hilted weapon crooked over his shoulder.

“Before we all start trying to kill each other, I would appreciate the courtesy of an introduction,” he said, inclining his head toward Evitria. “For my part, I am Edryr Forsythe, Senior Special Agent of the Amagium’s Confidential Interests Chapter.”

Evitria snickered and spoke:

“I am an Ifrit of the Firstborn Djinn. That should suffice.”

Forsythe drew his head back.

“A true Ifrit? Indeed? It’s an honor then. I’ve yet to meet a proper djinn.”

Lin could feel Evitria’s emotions; amusement and disgust in equal measure. The aspiring goddess looked at her nails and drifted lazily through the air as she replied:

“You still haven’t. But I have met many amagia, and I think this recess has gone on long enough.”

“Another moment,” Forsythe said, gesturing casually for her silence. Evitria’s temper flashed hot in Lin’s head. “Averael? Care to add any context?”

“I’m trying to save these kids, you insipid horsefucker!”

Funny. You seemed pretty willing to blast me a couple minutes ago. Forsythe was also skeptical.

“Yes, that sounds like you.”

“What if I am telling you the truth?” Averael pressed. “Is it worth risking their lives? Do you want me that badly, Forsythe? Are you ready to throw away your soul so soon?”

Forsythe hesitated and took stock of Evitria. She smiled and gestured playfully.

“Oh, if you’re here for the angel, by all means, proceed, Special Agent. I shall even assist you.”

“My lady, what brings you to Arroyo?” Forsythe asked.

“Averael is possessing that girl because she has something he wants. It is extremely powerful, extremely dangerous—”

Averael interrupted:

“Forsythe, I swear—”

“Yes, shut up.” Forsythe shushed Averael without looking at him and addressed Evitria again: “What is your interest in all this, my lady?”

Evitria smiled, now slightly intrigued. Her idle observations leaked into Lin’s head. “For a human he has an exceptionally regal bearing. A great deal of confidence to address godlike power so casually… I wonder how he would ‘fit’ me. Certainly, a more suitable host than this child.” Lin snickered inwardly. If you’re so powerful, why don’t you step outside and try it?

“I am just a concerned citizen,” Evitria said with a smile.

Forsythe smiled back.

“I’m afraid that’s a little vague for my liking.”

The man moved so quickly he seemed to disappear. And while Lin herself couldn’t discern the difference, Evitria knew that it was all a matter of physical prowess. There was no glamour or enhancement contract speeding up his movements. Yet his strength and speed vastly exceeded what any normal human would be capable of.She grinned as she matched him blow for blow. Lin could tell that Evitria was impressed, and intrigued.

“Perhaps you are worthy of my name after—”

In a flash, she had lost her right hand. Lin’s body was unharmed, but it shared the pain of Evitria’s ethereal body. She tried to scream, but the djinn was indifferent to the pain. No, you’re exhilarated by it. This is the first time a mortal has hurt you since you were last bound. Are you a masochist? Evitria said nothing, but Lin could sense her annoyance at the sass.

Then Lin splintered apart again. Her entire body, as well as the etheric form encasing her, dissolved into a flutter of butterflies with molten glass wings before Forsythe could land his next slash. How the hell do you do that to our bodies? Lin had no way of grasping the magical principles behind the magic in the face of the physical disorientation. Evitria didn’t answer.

She reformed in the air, high above Forsythe, in the chamber’s central hollow. Again, Lin wanted to vomit. Evitria’s voice came to Lin, testily. “Keep your head, girl.” Lin paused, then smiled inwardly. Why should I? I’m sure a lowly mortal couldn’t be a distraction to a great djinn such as yourself.

“Fitzgerald, if you please!” Forsythe called.

Another powerful wyrd flared to life above Evitria, diving down the shaft from the top of the elevated terrace overhead. Master Fitz! Something heavy and metallic coiled around Evitria’s waist, and Lin felt an influx of binding magic. You can’t shapeshift like this, can you? Lin asked, taunting. Evitria’s reply was terse. “Are you really so desperate to die, girl? I will come back if I lose this fight. You will be reduced to rotting meat!” Again, Lin smiled inwardly. If that’s what it takes.

Fitz hurtled past Evitria, yanking the chain taught. And as soon as she touched onto the floor, she unleashed an electrifying contract while pulling the ensnared djinn with all her might. Lin lurched through the air, wracked by lightning, and smashed through the water-slicked tiles of the domed wall. She wanted to pass out. Even Evitria was having trouble shrugging it off. But she pinned Lin’s mind to consciousness with sheer force of well.

So Lin decided to try something she wasn’t very good at:

I’m giving up. Evitria tried to ignore her, but by means of an odd psychic echo, Lin knew that she was listening. You want to keep me awake? Good luck. Until you get the hell out of my body, the only thing I’m going to focus on is the pain we suffer together. I’m going to dwell on it. I’m going to bitch about it. I’m going to—

“Would you shut up!” Evitria shouted out loud, just before another familiar wyrd ignited.

Jaythe Elroy launched himself from the middle terrace at a sharp diagonal, swinging his enormous great-sword with a wild, somersaulting slash that narrowly missed Evitria’s head, shearing all the armored glass plates from her left arm. She was already regenerating; already fighting back with the right hand that Forsythe had severed earlier. But it’s adding up, isn’t it, “goddess?” You can’t fight them on the outside and me on the inside at the same time. Not forever.

Evitria snarled, grabbed Fitzgerald’s chain, and pulled her so sharply that the Masters collided before Jaythe could perform another attack. The chain fell slack and its binding magic released. Evitria immediately dissolved into a flight of hellish butterflies again. Rather than fleeing, she swarmed the Masters with her razor sharp, molten glass wings. Lin’s senses went kaleidoscopic again, fractalized through hundreds of compound eyes.

Through the blur, she caught a glimpse of Forsythe trading blows with Averael as the latter tried to escape. You foppish prick! Focus on one target! Do not underestimate her! Lin realized that Forsythe had struck Averael with some kind of binding contract that was preventing him from fleeing the area. Meanwhile, Evitria continued to assault the other two keepers.

She reconstituted just a part of her body—a single glass arm with diamond hard, claw like fingers—and slashed at Elroy’s back. He spun with his sword, still half blinded by the burning insects, but Evitria had already moved on to Fitz. This time the djinn didn’t bother with an arm at all; just a narrow glass scalpel that sliced Fitz’s left Achilles’ tendon.

The severed tendon snapped up Fitzgerald’s leg, and the pain was too much for her to endure. Evitria reformed in full behind Fitz as she fell forward, and kicked her in the back of the head, slamming her face into the concrete. Elroy retaliated with a broad, horizontal swing. He was using the flat of his blade, probably hoping to knock out Lin rather than killing her. But the flat swipe came slower, and Evitria was now well-accustomed to his movements. She turned her torso into butterflies just before the blade could make contact, and it slid through her harmlessly. Off kilter, Elroy was powerless to dodge Evitria’s counter: a simple, old-fashioned fireball.

He brought up a barrier at the last second. When the smoke and resulting explosion cleared, his uniform had been largely atomized, and his body had been reduced to a tapestry of charred flesh and blisters. Please don’t be dead. Please! Elroy was a good teacher, and had a decent sense of humor. Fitz was still lying face down on the concrete, but Lin saw her hand twitch.

Evitria purred in Lin’s head: “Oh thank you, dear. I almost overlooked that.”

The djinn raised her foot over Fitz’s head, with the intention of reducing her brain to pulp. Before she could bring down her foot, Forsythe dashed forward and slashed Evitria’s leg at the ankle, just beneath where Lin’s leg ended. He continued running after the slash, and turned to face Evitria and Averael with an almost pirouette-like spin.

“Now that you can’t run,” Forsythe said. “I will concede to a truce until she has been dealt with.”

“Deal!” Averael snapped.

A torrent of white, etheric water smashed Evitria from behind. Like every other attack Lin had suffered through Evitria, it was agonizing, but this magic seemed to suffuse the djinn’s body. Lin felt a powerful current of Averael’s energy tugging at her, body, mind, and magic, struggling to cut through the connections between her and the ifrit.

He’s trying to free me. Now’s my chance!

Evitria writhed, and Lin tore her upper body free from the djinn’s back. Her lungs seemed to stumble as she briefly regained control of her own body. It felt like surfacing from an ocean. Her arms and legs were still stuck in the ifrit’s ethereal flesh, however. Forsythe charged forward, preparing to decapitate Evitria, but she pivoted, putting Lin in his path. He hesitated long enough for the djinn to pull Lin back inside. And in a flash, they fluttered away again.

For an awful instant, Lin sensed Evitria consider running. “No. I am too close to my goal. I have searched for her far too long. I will not be driven away by an amagiate dog and a broken angel.” Lin couldn’t help but feel relief. Thank God, common sense doesn’t seem to be one of your strong suits.

Evitria’s shrieked in her head. “I’ll burn you to ash before I give up on my Godhead, you insufferable little quim!”

As they reformed atop the middle terrace, Lin felt their shared body come to a feverish boil.

“Surrender the vessel, Averael! You can’t banish me without killing my host,” Evitria shouted. “Either I leave with the Logos, or this girl’s life!”

You’re panicking. Lin beamed inwardly at Evitria. The djinn ignored her, trying to work out a combat strategy.

If I can kill the amagia first, Averael won’t be a problem. But as long as he is acting as a distraction…”

Lin grinned again. Heads up.

Propelled by an explosive, synchronized beat from his eight wings, Averael slammed into Evitria, seizing her head. He flew her into the wall of the chamber, grinding her face against the wet tiles. She screamed, eventually twisting free by half-shapeshifting and slashing at his stomach with her lacewings.

Averael had no choice but to guard himself with both hands, else her blades would have reached Pensey. They still managed to sever both his hands and leave a nasty gash in the pale flesh beneath his robes. He beat his wings once more in a hasty retreat.

Hang in there, Pen! Though Lin was speaking to herself as much as Pensey. She felt the seething energy possessing her growing hotter and hotter. Evitria allowed her to sweat just enough to stay alive, and seemed to be flooding her brain with oxygen to keep her conscious. It’s still too much! Kill me and they won’t just settle for banishing you back to the veil. They’ll put you in a goddamn lamp.

The barb drove a wedge into Evitria’s mind. A storm of thoughts came rushing free from whatever partition she was trying to maintain. Lin saw that the djinn was not who she once was. She was not what she once was. Through her panicked mind, Lin glimpsed a time before humanity had discovered—or perhaps invented—their gods.

People didn’t have the words to describe djinns then, much less the tools used to pin them down. There were no clear divisions between the fae, egregores, and other entities that inhabited the earth. Things simply were as they were. Humans threw themselves at her mercy, begging, praying, bargaining for miracles. Even as the first pantheons emerged, she was still revered. Still beheld with awe and respect. But monotheism changed things. Judaism begat Christianity which begat Islam in turn, and a new origin and past were retroactively assigned to her. That identity reshaped her, concretizing and constraining what was once abstract and infinite.

Humanity continued to develop new tools. They had mastered sorcery, contracts, and artifice, and when the crusades came to their cataclysmic ending, Evitria was bound for the first time. All of her might was constrained to a vessel; a perfume bottle of all things, and to this day, the scent of jasmine filled her with rage. She languished for nearly a century in a Catholic witch-hunter’s hoard, long after the mage who bound her had perished. She spent nearly a full century alone in the dark. Unable to die, and unable to escape the warded piece of glass, even though no master held claim over her.

Evitria shrieked inwardly. “How dare you dare tread upon my memories, you chattering ape! I will survive this, and I will peel your soul apart, strand by strand—”

A shot from Averael slapped her in the face, leaving her open to another melee assault from Forsythe. But he was reaching his limits. His blows came slower and softer and his breaths were heavier. And finally, desperation got the better of him. He opened himself up to a reckless charge, and Evitria capitalized on the mistake, pinning his blade arm’s shoulder to the floor with one of her razor-sharp legs. Glee ignited in her heart as she drew her other leg back to decapitate the insufferable amagia. “Die wretch!”

But there was a smile in Forsythe’s eyes as he shouted what was supposed to be his last word:


We forgot about her, didn’t we? Lin thought at the djinn.

Evitria turned just in time to see Fitzgerald standing despite her torn tendon. No, not standing. Levitating with sorcery. Evitria prepare a counter attack, but the master had already thrown her chain weapon like a bola, getting it to spin at its full extension. Pinned to the ground with her leg, she didn’t have enough time to escape, and just before she could shapeshift, the middle of the chain struck her ankles. The blade and bludgeoning counter-weight did two laps up her legs, once again preventing her from transforming.

Now is my chance!

Lin fought against the djinn with everything she had. She pressed her mind against Evitria’s psyche until it felt like she would crush herself with sheer force of will. If the ifrit held fast one second longer, Lin’s morale may have failed her. But the implacable, wall-like force that held her hostage began to quiver. Evitria was weakening. And that was the only sign Lin needed to keep fighting.

“Forsythe! Her name is Evitria!” Averael shouted as he drenched Evitria with another torrent of blessed water.

Names were perhaps the most powerful and poisonous weapon humans had inflicted upon entities of magic. Definitions gave magi pathways to domination. And weak as you are right now, a little bit of leverage is all we need. As Averael’s caustic holy water burned away at Evitria, Lin managed to partially thrash free from her body. And this time, Forsythe was ready to capitalize on the opportunity.

He slashed his sword perilously close to Lin’s chest and stomach, but managed to cleave her lower body free from Evitria’s physical form. The djinn thrashed wildly, fading at the corners as if she were trying to escape through the veil, but Fitz’s chain continued to hold her to reality.

She fell to the ground before Forsythe, pleading:

“Mercy, amagia!”

Forsythe answered with a commanding tone:

“Evitria, Ifrit of the Firstborn Djinn. I bind you to this vessel and command your obedience.”

Lin, drenched with ectoplasm and delirious with pain, looked on in awe. Forsythe reached into his rear waist pouch with his free hand, and thrust something at Evitria’s writhing, wailing form. The crystal plates that defined her limbs started cracking, and the sinuous-smoke flesh within began to spin into a funnel, drawn toward the small, rectangular slate in his hands. Wait. Is that a symphone?

“Damn you! Not again!” Evitria shrieked.

The ifrit redoubled her efforts, lashing out at Forsythe with molten glass claws and tongues of fire. One of her right crystalline shoulder plates shattered. Then another on her bicep. Then her left arm broke apart completely. Cracks snaked through her torso crystals. A second later, the glass mask that protected her head shattered, revealing the beautiful red woman who had first appeared in the chamber. Her eyes wept fire, wide with fear.

“Mercy, Amagia!” she repeated. “Vanquish me! Send me to any hell of your choosing! Do not make me a slave!”

With a final surge of effort from Forsythe, the remaining glass shattered, its shards sucked into the vortex coming from Forsythe’s vessel. Oh my god. It is a symphone. With a hiss and snap, the last of Evitria was sucked into the device. Forsythe dropped his sword to the ground and dug into his back pouch once more, pulling out a roll of rune inscribed sealing tape. He wrapped the phone in several layers of the tape and replaced both objects back in his pouch.

Lin looked around, still disoriented from her possession. It felt like somebody had stretched her out from the inside. Despite the slimy quality of the ectoplasm, her skin felt as stiff and tight as paper against her flesh. That bitch gave me a full body sunburn. She noticed that Fitz had passed out with her final exertion. Forsythe stood to Lin’s left, while Averael stood several paces to the right.

“Well,” Averael said. “Now you’ve got a djinn on speed dial.”

“Indeed,” Forsythe said. “Though we shall have to come to terms before she’ll be of any use.”

“Good luck with that,” the angel said, gesturing futility.

Forsythe considered Averael in silence. The angel sighed and shrugged:

“Look, my work here is done. Crisis averted. Pensey Hayes is safe for the time being, at least so far as I can see. So. I’m going to let her go now.”

“What’s so special about the girl?” Forsythe asked.

“I’ll let your people try to figure that out.”

Averael knelt to the ground, and Pensey’s body gently phased out of his, laying on the concrete. Pensey looked around in a daze, then beamed at Lin.

“We did it, Lin,” she said, happy but weak.

Lin teared up, rushed to her friend, and hugged her.

“You’re okay! Oh Pen, thank God you’re okay,” she said, squeezing her tight.

“You too…I’m gonna go to sleep now,” Pensey said deliriously and promptly passed out.

“I’m willing to leave things here for the time being, Forsythe. Seeing as we just saved each other, how about you release that locus binding you put on me, and we just… go our separate ways?”

Forsythe plucked his sword from the ground with sorcery. “While I am truly grateful for your assistance, you are delusional if you think I can afford to let you saunter off into the sunset.”

Lin’s heart sank. More fighting? We need to help Fitzgerald and Elroy! Averael’s mask would gradually degrade without a host to pin him to this plane, but he was still powerful enough to last several days. Longer, if he assumed a less powerful form. I don’t care how strong you think you are Forsythe, he’s still an angel!

“Don’t make me do something we both regret, Forsythe,” Averael cautioned.

Forsythe reached behind his back, and tore off the white ribbon securing his mane of black hair. As the ribbon fell to the floor, it darkened. And Forsythe’s jet-black hair rapidly turned bright white, from tips to roots. The entire world seemed to compress around his lithe body. And then there was an explosion of urdic pressure that knocked Lin back on her ass. The pressure continued to buffet her, interfering with her own wyrd’s ability to respire. What the hell just happened?

Even Averael’s tremendous presence seemed markedly diminished after whatever Forsythe had done to himself. That ribbon wasn’t making him powerful. It was holding him back. The Keeper snatched his sheath to his free hand with telekinesis and leveled his blade at Averael with a flourish.

“On your guard, angel.”

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