Alinore Valmont. Satday, Libra 3rd, 2353 AA. 5:58 AM. Arroyo Athenaeum (Archives – Incanter Lab).
Lin woke to the sound of her symphone vibrating on the desk.
After speaking with Azmuir last night, she had called in every favor she had accrued among her classmates to cover her morning classes. Then she went to the incanter labs in the Archives and started searching for information on how half-fae could tell lies. Apparently, she had passed out on top of her notes. She didn’t even remember laying her head down.
She wiped the drool from her chin and slapped at her phone. She didn’t recognize the number calling. Let voicemail get it. But when it started ringing again, she decided it was better to pick up than risk missing something important.
“Hello?” Lin said.
A hysteric, choked off cough replied.
“Who is this?” Lin asked.
‘Sit?’ Citri! Lin woke instantly and completely.
“Citri? Citri Whitmore?”
Coughing. Wet and thick.
“Citri, what’s wrong?”
Another coughing fit followed by a single intelligible word:
“Citri, hang on. Breathe. Just breathe, okay?”
Lin stood and stuffed her papers messily into her satchel, then started running. She’s choking. Or poisoned. Something is very wrong. At this hour, Lin figured Citri was likely still at the upper-class girls’ dorms.
More pained hacking came through the receiver.
“It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay. Don’t try to talk,” Lin said. “I’m coming to help, okay?”
But I won’t make it in time. It would take her at least ten minutes to reach the dorm from the Archives by car. Lin stopped the first person she found in the hall, a young, sleep-deprived-looking Archivist:
“Call an ambulance—Somebody is choking at the upper-class girls’ dorm!”
The archivist blinked stupidly and opened his mouth to ask a question.
“Get a fucking phone and call nine-one-one!” Lin bellowed.
The archivist hastily reached into his robes and pulled a symphone, nearly fumbling it. Lin started running again and called:
“Send them to five-seven-five South St. Jahn’s Avenue! Tell them to find Citri Whitmore!”
She put her phone back to her ear and spoke again:
“Citri, stay with me. Help is on the way.”
But the line had gone silent. Lin kept repeating herself, trying to will Citri to stay alive. But there was no more noise until Lin reached her car, at which point she heard a muted shriek, far from the receiver, followed by another voice calling out to Citri.
— 6:04 AM | Westridge (Upper Class Girls’ Dorm) —
Lin stayed on the line as she drove, occasionally shouting at the top of her lungs, but nobody ever answered. As she violated every traffic law in existence, she reviewed what she had researched last night.
There were plenty of stories of half-fae learning to lie in storybooks and modern fiction, but precious little hard information. After an exhaustive search, she stumbled across an index of artifacts that mentioned something called a Briartruth Ring. It was an enchanted artifact that allegedly allowed half-fae wearers to lie for a limited amount of time. But the book describing it was old, written in the inter-amagiate period, just before the First World War, and it stated the ‘fabled’ ring dated back to Chaucer’s time. It was hard to tell if the book was a proper record of historical objects, or just a collection of legends.
The entry stated that the ring would temporarily repress a half-fae’s natural compulsion to speak the truth. The problem was, after a certain amount of time, the pain—and harm—from lying would catch up to the wearer. And if the wearer told too many lies in a brief period of time, the results could be fatal. Telling lies was similar to touching black iron, only the ‘rash’ that afflicted the half-fae would originate in their lungs and throat, spreading outward throughout their body.
Shit, shit, shit! I should have gone back to the dorm last night and at least try to interrogate Citri. Citri wasn’t wearing a ring, but any other magic that had a similar effect would likely have the same constraints. Meaning it will only allow her to lie for so long. If I questioned her, I might have been able to find a way to prevent this. Fuck!
Lin arrived just in time to see an ambulance pulling away from the dorm, accompanied by an amagiate escort. She hesitated for a couple seconds, wondering what to do next. There might be evidence in Citri’s room, and people may have seen what happened to her… But if there’s any possibility of my information helping Citri, I should follow them to the hospital. Maybe I can do something to help.
—6:13 AM | Remington Memorial Mediclave—
“I have information about a patient who was just admitted,” Lin said. “Her name is Citri Whitmore.”
The receptionist eyed her carefully.
“Are you family?”
Lin hesitated a second too long to lie. The receptionist caught it and shook her head regretfully:
“I’m sorry, honey, but I can’t discuss any of our patients without their permission.”
“I think I know what’s happening to her! I might be able to help the doctors save her life!”
The woman hesitated, then pushed forward a piece of paper and a pen.
“Write down your name and phone number. I’ll try to find her doctor. But I’m really not allowed to do anything else.”
Lin slashed her number on the notepad and slid it to the receptionist.
“Please find them as soon as you can. It’s urgent!”
The receptionist chuckled, nodded, and respectfully urged Lin to calm down.
“Urgent is all we do here, honey.”
After staring at the woman for a couple seconds, Lin bowed her head and relinquished her place at the front of the line. She spent a moment pacing the ER waiting room, then thought better of it. I need to be family. It’s the only way they’ll take me seriously or let me talk to her. Unfortunately, I’m the former archon’s daughter. And my name is on my fucking uniform.
If I talk to the Keepers, they may stonewall me or detain me as a POI. And Lin wanted to be able to move. I think I’ll have a better shot of finding the culprit myself by asking around the alchemy labs but… If there was the slightest chance of saving Citri by giving the doctors more to go on, she had to take it.
A thought occurred to Lin and she ran out of the emergency room. When she got back to her car, she used a water animus to cast a contract. It wasn’t the ideal spirit for the job—sonic or even would have been worlds better—but the only other orb she had on hand was a kinetic animus. I have no idea how convincing this will be, but I’m out of other options.
Lin took her time with the contract. She neglected the physical properties of water with mind and wyrd in favor of its symbolic and metaphysical attributes. Make my voice deep. Create a filter across my mouth that makes my voice sound deep as an ocean. I must sound clear and human, but I need a deep voice.
The spirit haggled her. It could sense that she was both safe and desperate; a dangerous combination when bargaining with elemental magic. But after performing a complicated sequence of mudras with her hands accompanied by a rhythmic arcane chant, the animus acquiesced.
As soon as she felt the spell slip into place—a sensation like an enormous, semi-firm bubble appearing in her throat—she used her symphone to call the emergency room. It felt like an hour before somebody picked up. The same woman Lin had spoken to before.
“Remington ER, can you hold?”
“No!” Lin said, surprising herself with her newly masculine voice. “No, I’m sorry. I’m looking for my sister. One of her classmates told me she was just admitted in an ambulance. Can I speak with her doctor?”
“What’s your sister’s name?”
“Citri Whitmore,” Lin said, and then felt compelled to add: “I’m Ryan Whitmore.”
‘Ryan?’ What the hell kind of name is Ryan, Lin? Sounds made up.
The line clicked to some obnoxious hold music. Lin practically counted the seconds. After fifteen minutes, she was on the cusp of hanging up and calling them back when a voice answered the phone.
“Mr. Whitmore?” A male voice asked.
“Yes,” Alinore said, trying not to trip over her still-transformed voice.
“Are you with your parents, son?”
“No. I’m going to call them as soon as I know what’s going on.”
There was a long pause.
“Can you come to the hospital?”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can, but I’m out of state,” Lin said.
The doctor sighed.
“I am very sorry to have to tell you this, Mr. Whitmore, but your sister died before she reached us. We tried to resuscitate her, but… We still don’t know exactly what happened. It appears—”
Lin hung up, threw her symphone in the back seat, then stoked her car to life. She tore out of the parking space and narrowly cut off another driver, not even hearing the horn. She raced through the parking structure. Fury had fried her brain.
If you had just fucking talked to her—if you managed to tell her she might be in danger—you could have saved her. You should have done something different. Again! You fucked up again. Lin’s reasoning to avoid talking to Citri seemed pathetic in hindsight. You told yourself you wanted “more to go on” before you started making accusations. But that was just an excuse for avoiding an uncomfortable conversation. And now another person is dead for your poor judgement.
Fortunately, there were no cars blocking Lin’s exit to the pay gate, and by the time she hit the actual street, her brain had started to recover. Think, Lin. What’s the next step? She took a deep breath and looked at herself in the mirror. What do you know?
Lin considered racing through the red light, but managed to breathe and think better of it. Citri was an alchemy aspirant. If she was the criminal herself, she would not have called me. She also would know the risks associated with whatever she did to lie.
“What does that mean?” Lin asked herself aloud.
The light turned green. It’s more likely that somebody else gave her a trinket, or a potion—something—and didn’t tell her about the associated costs. She wasn’t just covering for somebody else. Somebody was using her… Then it clicked.
Lin gunned it back to campus.
—6:35 AM. Arroyo Athenaeum (Alchemy Labs)—
There was a mob at the inventory counter. Nearly twenty students stood waiting with vials to drop off, or requisition orders. The only person manning the desk was a frazzled girl with freckles and a ponytail. Lin cut to the front of the line and flagged the girl down. She gave Lin an exasperated look and gestured for her to get in line.
“This is life and death!” Lin said sharply. Her contract expired at that moment, warping her voice so that it was not merely deep, but vaguely demonic in intonation.
Everybody in line took a step back and the girl at the counter looked terrified. Lin apologized to both the students in line and the attendant, then stepped forward.
“I need to find Renair Grant. Have you seen him?”
The girl’s surprised expression turned irate again.
“No shit. He was supposed to start his shift with me at five. Didn’t arrange a replacement, didn’t leave a note. Won’t answer his phone. Plath keeps asking me where he is—” the girl shook her head. “If it’s life and death, I hope the bastard dropped dead.”
Lin’s heart did a dance in double tempo. She had a hunch that he might be involved based on her exchange with him and Citri yesterday. But if he suddenly goes MIA on the same day she died… He’s either a victim himself, or he knows something about.
“Look, if you find him, please let him know I’m fucking dying over here,” the girl said. “And if you’re done, I’ve really got to get back to the line.”
Lin turned away from the girl and called loudly:
“Does anyone know where Renair Grant is?”
Blank stares and head-shakes all around. Fuck! Lin bowed her head to excuse herself, apologized and thanked the attendant in the same breath, then stormed out of the lab. Where do I go next? The upper-class boys’ dorms? She shook her head. No. I need a fresh approach. How do you find a fugitive student without any assistance or resources?
She drew a blank. But Carroll would have an idea. She hastily dialed Carroll as she started toward her car again. The phone went straight to voicemail.
“Fuck!” Lin snapped.
She didn’t bother with a message. She didn’t want to waste time. At a loss, she dialed Pensey. Maybe Pen saw him. Maybe she will have an idea. At the very least, I can get a second pair of eyes searching for him.
—Hace Matthews. 6:35 AM. Arroyo Athenaeum (East Dining Hall)—
Hace arrived at the East Dining Hall, famished and breathless from his morning training routine. Drav had to teach a class, so his usual conversation partner was absent. Maybe I can make up the study time I lost yesterday.
“Hey,” a familiar voice said.
Hace turned to see Pensey standing behind him, beaming. He couldn’t help but smile back. Her positivity wasn’t only infectious, but implacable. You’ve come so far from that nervous, quick-to-cry girl who had arrived at the Athenaeum nine years ago. In some ways, it made Hace feel self-conscious. I’m not sure I’ve grown up half as much as she has.
She was also gorgeous. Hace had been with over a dozen women, and to his eye, each seemed more beautiful than the last. Needless to say, he was rarely intimidated by appearances. But Pensey Hayes surpasses most fae. She’s probably the most breathtaking woman on campus. He mentally slapped himself. Stop it. Your reputation as a man-slut is bad enough as it is. Besides, I’m sure Valmont has already poisoned that well and salted the surrounding earth.
“Hey,” he said.
“Want to eat together?” she asked. “I promise not to bring up Homecoming stuff.”
“We can talk about Homecoming if you want to. We probably should if there are still details that need to be worked out.”
Pensey shook her head.
“All taken care of. Photographer, DJ, caterer, and rentals are all paid up and booked.”
Hace offered a high-five, which she enthusiastically met. All the tables were already occupied, so they made their way to one of the counters that rimmed the dining area and sat down together.
“So, if not Homecoming, what do you want to talk about?”
Pensey opened her mouth to answer and apparently came up dry, then laughed. Again, he felt a warmth spread through his chest and laughed with her.
“Smalltalk, I suppose. I dunno, meals just feel more filling with conversation. Lin and I try to eat together when we can, but she didn’t come back to the dorm last night.”
“Huh. Everything okay?” Hace asked.
“I’m sure she’s just pulling another all-nighter,” Pensey said.
“Hace Matthews?” A male voice interrupted.
Hace turned in his seat and looked up at an exceedingly lanky guy with sandy hair and glasses. His uniform read ‘R. Grant,’ and his pins distinguished him as an eleventh-year alchemy student.
“That’s me. Err, have we met?” Hace asked.
“Hey Renair,” Pensey said.
“Oh, hey,” he said, though he seemed to only half hear her. “I’m working on a project involving Veil-affected reagents and I was wondering if you could answer a couple questions for me. About Akrasia.”
“I don’t know shit about alchemy, but I’ll tell you what I can.”
Renair looked from Hace to Pensey, chuckled nervously and then said apologetically:
“It’s… uh, it’s kind of private. Can we talk outside?”
Hace narrowed his eyes. I swear to God if this is another joke about what happened with Adarcia, I’m gonna break this clown’s jaw. He excused himself from Pensey with a polite gesture and an apologetic emanation, then stood to follow Renair.
As he started walking after Renair, he noticed the older boy had an odd gait. It wasn’t exactly a limp—it wasn’t consistent enough. But he stumbled frequently, like he wasn’t used to walking with his own legs. And his wyrd had a strange quality to it. I don’t sense an animus, so it’s not a contract. But it is tinged with something. Dust maybe? Is he high?
Renair led him to the east exit of the cafeteria and turned to lead Hace under the balcony that looked over the west-central arroyo. This is where Corton and Jrett beat the shit out of Glem. And where I beat the shit out of them in turn. So do I actually have a bad feeling about this, or is it just déjà vu? Hace stopped walking and said:
“I think this is private enough, yeah?”
Renair spun and drew a gun faster than any normal person could move. If Hace hadn’t smelled the bullshit, he would’ve been dead to rights. He had started his sidestep as soon as Renair turned. Hace grabbed Renair’s gun arm and yanked his body forward into an elbow strike. It was a good hit. The point of his elbow struck Renair square in the jaw.
And goddamn did it hurt.
It was like hitting a brick wall. Hace’s elbow went numb and he flinched, giving Renair time to drop him with a single, savage pistol whip. He struck the ground before he processed what had happened. What the hell? Hace’s thoughts came slow. His head swam.
“That one’s on me,” Renair said, then spat and wiped the blood off his jaw. He knelt and pressed the barrel of his Plato against Hace’s temple. “That’s a reasonable response. You didn’t know I was enhanced, so I’ll give you a second chance. But if you try anything else, believe me when I say I will put a bullet in your head.”
Hace pretended the blow disoriented him more than it did as he tried to come up with a solution.
“What the fuck do you want?” Hace demanded.
“Take me to the Faed, Matthews. Autumn Court.”
Damn. Hace growled. This is a tight spot.
— Pensey Hayes | 6:39 AM—
Pensey sulkily ate her oatmeal. Damn it. Finally had a chance to talk to Hace alone and of course somebody comes and steals him away. She furrowed her brow. Something seemed off about Renair. Normally, he was more friendly. Less brusque. But he barely acknowledged her, and his expression struck her as unusually tense for inquiries about a project.
Her symphone started ringing. She knew it was Lin without looking at the screen, as nobody else called her this early—even her parents.
“Did you get any sleep last night?” Pensey asked chidingly.
“Pen, I think I know who the alchemist is. Citri Whitmore died this morning. She used some kind of magic to lie to the Keepers, but the price caught up with her and it killed her.”
“Whoa, Lin, slow down—”
“There’s no time! Renair Grant is going to get away with murder unless we can find him. It may already be too late.”
Renair? Pensey glanced over her shoulder to see him leading Hace out of the cafeteria. Lin’s tone plucked a chord of dread in heartstrings.
“Renair is here,” Pensey said, confused.
“He was just here, I mean. I was eating with Hace and Renair came to ask him something about akrasia and reagents.”
“Shit! He’s going to try to use Matthews to get into the Faed. Pen, can you shadow them without being seen? I’m on my way.”
“Shouldn’t you call the Keepers?” Pensey asked, abandoning her breakfast to jog after Hace and Renair.
“They’re my next call. Pensey, be extremely careful. Do not put yourself in danger, okay?”
Pensey gulped and nodded. Lin hung up.
She went out the east exit and looked around the balcony. No sign of them. As she descended the stairs, she heard a grunt and the sounds of a scuffle somewhere below her. Oh no. Oh god. She cautiously crept around the corner leading to the underside of the balcony, and saw Renair pinning Hace to the ground. With a fucking gun!
Her body moved before she could think better of it. Pensey mustered every ounce of sorcerous power her wyrd could muster and launched herself at Renair like a missile. As the two of them went sprawling across the gravel, the gun released a deafening report that echoed beneath the balcony.
And before Pensey could get her bearings, Renair managed to reposition himself, grabbed her by the arm, and plugged his gun against her temple. He was moving too fast to see. Affected by some kind of enchantment. Oh fuck.
“Let her go!” Hace demanded with menace, standing up.
“No way. Now all three of us are gonna take a trip,” Renair said.
“I’m sorry, Hace!” Pensey said.
“Shut up!” Renair hissed, voice hot and harsh against her ear.
“Akrasia is not like flipping a switch,” Hace said. “I could kill us. I am still learning how to bring other people through the Veil.”
“Funny. I heard you brought Adarcia through without even meaning to.”
Hace snarled. Renair pressed the muzzle of the gun into Pensey’s right temple and twisted the gun like a screw, making her flinch.
I have to do something or I’m going to die. Pensey tried to rack her brain for her self-defense training. In the end, all she could do was thrash and hope to give Hace an opening to undo the mess she made. Renair tightened his grip on her arm and smashed her brow with the butt of the pistol grip, painting her world white with pain.
Despite the ringing from the gunshot, Pensey could hear voices from above and boots descending the stairs. People will be here any second. But will it make matters better or worse?
“I’m not playing Matthews. She’s dead on the count of three.”
Pensey felt like her guts dried up. Oh god. What can I do?
“Look—” Hace began.
“One!” Renair growled
“I don’t know what you think—”
“Two!!” Renair bellowed.
“Alright!” Hace said raising his hands in surrender. “I’ll take you through!”
“So fucking do it!”
“It’s not that simple! I need to touch both of you!” Hace explained.
Renair cursed and gestured for him to approach. Hace complied, face quivering with rage. He put his hands on Pensey and Renair’s shoulders. There was an awful instant where Hace seemed to hesitate, searching for some way to separate Pensey from Renair. In response, Renair jammed the muzzle against Pensey’s temple again, harder.
“Do it now!” Renair shouted. “Now! Or she dies!”
— Hace Matthews | 6:35 AM —
Fortunately, there were no onlookers yet, and the area beneath the dining hall balcony was fairly neglected, meaning the Veil was thinner than it would be in other, more public places. He took a deep breath, synchronizing his wyrd with theirs.
Can I just take Pensey? Fitz might be able to manage it. But it’s too dangerous for me to try. Renair was touching too much of her. If I don’t take them both, I risk tearing her in half. Then an idea occurred to Hace. He grinned and said:
“You asked for it.”
He focused his wyrd on himself and Pensey, thoroughly suffusing her body, and the parts of Renair that were touching him. But Hace was deliberately lax with bringing Renair’s back half through with them. The Veil was crisp, cold, and jarring, but they were through it in a snap.
As soon as they emerged, Renair howled in pain and hacked blood on Hace and Pensey. Hace shoved the gun away from Pensey head with one hand, grabbed her with another and launched a powerful kick at Renair’s chest.
“Are you okay?!” Hace asked Pensey, frantic.
Pensey nodded quickly and quietly. The two of them turned to see Renair laying on the glowing platform where they had emerged. His uniform was torn, and it looked like somebody had flayed his back. Serves you right, fucker! Hace took three steps forward and kicked the older boy in the chin as if he were punting a tackleball. Renair dropped his gun, and Hace snatched it off the ground.
Taking stock of their surroundings, Hace could tell from the ether that they were deep in Autumn Court territory. The predawn haze had been replaced by the dead of night, lit by city lights. They stood on a large, plaza made of translucent amber, or some sort of hardened light. It was supported by the boughs of a skyscraper-sized tree wrought from gold, silver, and bronze—just one of an immense, dense metal forest. The trees had windows, and their boughs supported other smaller buildings and a nexus of glowing roads. Fae passersby had stopped to look at the newcomers. This is Glitterglade. The Faen equivalent of Newam.
“We need to get out of here,” Hace told Pensey.
She nodded. But before they could move, Renair managed to push himself off the ground.
“What did you…” Renair began, then hacked up a gout of blood. “What did you do to me?!”
“I was a little careless bringing you through the Veil,” Hace said. “If I had to guess, some of your organs might be fucked up. Damn shame. I was hoping to sever your spinal cord.”
Renair’s face turned white with rage as blood continued to stream from his mouth. He collapsed again, and a strange odor like burning moss radiated from his body.
Hace probed the faen city and searched for a soft-spot, staying between Pensey andRenair who continued to heave. Then Renair’s body started shuddering almost rhythmically, and Hace realized with horror that the wounds on his back were rapidly closing. His flesh knitting itself back together and growing back like a time lapse. Healing magic? He’s regenerating?!
Renair couldn’t breathe properly at first, but after a moment, the retching stopped and gave way to peals of laughter. He stood up wearing a hysteric, bloody smile.
“Well,” Renair said. “It was a valiant effort, Matthews, but I feel fine now.”
Pensey looked to Hace nervously, who stood baffled. He gently pushed her behind himself and raised Renair’s Plato.
“No closer,” Hace warned.
“Faen alchemy really is something…” Renair said. He grinned at Hace and Pensey’s shocked expressions. “Decocted troll liver. I can regenerate nearly as quickly as a werewolf. And as you probably noticed, I’m faster and stronger than you as well.”
That explains it. But my god. There are good reasons why people don’t use faen decoctions. Half the time, they would kill you outright. On top of that, every species of faen flora and fauna had volatile properties that would induce distinct effects on people. Troll products tended to lead to mania, psychosis, and extreme aggression. I need to get out Pensey out of here.
“Look Renair,” Hace said. “I brought you here, just like you wanted. Let me get her out of here, and then you can do whatever dumb shit people do in the Faed when they don’t know any better.”
Renair started laughing again.
“‘Just like I wanted?’ You tried to fucking kill me, Matthews! And if you think I’m going to let you walk away from that, you’re mentally stunted.”
Hace matched his sneer.
“You want to square up? That’s fine with me. I swear on my wyrd I won’t leave until you’re satisfied. But let Pensey go.”
Renair looked past Hace at Pensey and smirked.
“Is it him?” He asked her. “Is Matthews the one you’ve got your heart set on?”
Pensey scowled and raised her hands in a fighting position. Renair shook his head and scoffed:
“Of course. I mean, how could you resist? He’s so handsome. Females always fawn over a pretty face. And he’s a Peacekeeper! A proper man in uniform. Does he make you feel safe, Pensey? Does he make you touch yourse—”
Hace shot him in the face three times, grabbed Pensey’s hand, and started running through the amber plaza. Over his shoulder, he saw Renair rock backward on his feet as his head regrew and pulled itself back together.
Most of the faen onlookers—a briar elf couple, a mixed group of gnomes and goblins—took cover in the surrounding metal buildings. A pair of orcs lingered, watching with amusement. One of the metal tree boughs at the far end of the plaza was carved into the shape of a bridge, and somewhere beneath it, Hace could sense a thin patch of the Veil.
“The soft-spot—the exit is that way! Wait for me at the bridge!”
Pensey nodded and started to run. But Renair had recovered. He launched himself into the air with a single powerful leap, flew over both of them, and landed in Pensey’s path. Hace swung Pensey back behind him, and again raised the gun at Renair. Not that it will do a damn thing.
Renair answered with a deranged smile, reached behind his back, and extracted another phial from his back satchel. He flicked the cork off with his thumb, and drank its glowing blue contents in one gulp. Then he shuddered and his wyrd seemed to explode.
Hace could tell that his effective urdic range and strength had skyrocketed. What the hell did he drink this time? Is he mad? Mixing alchemic potions—especially fae-heavy ingredients, or anything else that transumed into one’s wyrd—was incredibly reckless. Those additives tax your body, mind, and wyrd. You could get quirked, go mad, or poison yourself.
“Ahh yeah,” Renair sighed. “That’s the good shit.”
Then Renair was in front of him. Hace had not blinked. He had not looked away, but Renair had closed the distance between them. Hace could barely conjure his wyrd to defend himself from Renair’s punch. The impact of the hit rattled his brain so bad that he blacked out for a second, and when he came to, he was on his back, nearly three yards away. His lungs had stopped working.
Breathe! Breathe, goddammit! After several heaving, impotent breathes, Hace managed to suck in air, at the price of a stabbing pain in his chest. Shit. Did I break a rib? He hits like a goddamned cannon. Hace had lost the Plato when Renair struck him.
“Renair, stop!” Pensey shouted.
“Or what?” Renair laughed. “You think you have any kind of leverage here, bitch?”
Hace placed his hand on his chest, and set his broken bone with sorcery, crying out in pain. Immediately after, he cast a reflex enhancing contract on himself with a kinetic animus. Renair seemed amused, and gestured for Hace to do his worse. I have another animus in my right cuff, but I can’t remember what kind… Hace grinned as he reached to it with his wyrd.
The Autumn Court was the Court of Earth. And in a city like Glitterglade, the effects of a spell would be turned up to eleven. Hace took his time casting his Strength of Stone contract. It was a fortification that would harden his skin, enhance his muscular strength. It will also hold my broken bone in place. For a few minutes at least. And with the environmental assist, it was one of the strongest spells he had ever cast. As long as I am quick, I can win this fight.
Hace settled in a fighting stance and beckoned for Renair to approach.
Renair moved on him again, but this time Hace could keep up. He deflected Renair’s first, sloppy punch, followed up with a hard jab, then a sorcerous hit to the back of his head, and finally, a powerful sorcery-and-contract-assisted uppercut. Renair’s neck snapped with a sickening crack, and the alchemist dropped, temporarily paralyzed. Hace fashioned his wyrd into a blade, preparing to cut off Renair’s head. Decapitation is one of very few hard counters for regeneration. But Hace hesitated. He’s not fae. He’s a human.
A blast of urdic energy struck him square in his chest, forcing him on his back foot. Jesus. His wyrd is nearly as powerful as mine on the edge of exus. What the hell was in that potion? Hace shook his head. He’s also as strong as an ogre, and nearly as fucking tall. Hace had plenty of practice fighting bigger opponents thanks to his frequent sparring matches with Drav, and various run-ins with creatures in the Faed, but Renair was roughly seven feet tall to Hace’s six-two.
Renair unleashed another shockwave of power as his neck finished regenerating, but Hace managed to dodge this one. Fortunately, he has shit technique. Hace used his wyrd to blur his body amidst a trio of clones. They advanced on Renair, beating him and shadow boxing from every angle. Renair unleashed expanding domes of force to dispel the illusions—normally that kind of broad-wave attack was too energy inefficient and weak to be effective, but with his juiced-up strength, it was still enough to buy him breathing room.
Hace unleashed a brilliant green and red stream of sorcerous fire. The other hard counter to regeneration. I will char your fucking bones faster than you can regrow the flesh around them. Renair howled and panicked for a second, swatting the flames on his body. Hace followed up with another colossal ball of fire, directed directly at Renair’s guts.
Renair managed to block the attack with his own colossal wyrd. And before Hace could close the distancer Renair extended his hand toward Pensey, gathering power for a heavy hit. He’s gonna kill her!
Hace pivoted mid charge and dove to block Renair’s lance of force. He managed to intercept it at the cost of taking the shot to the chest. The pain against his rib was blinding, but it held in place. He staggered back, breathing hard.
“Nice try, white knight,” Renair said. “But I’m bored of this now—”
Hace answered with a fire-ball. It was intended to be a feint. Hace made it bloated and scary-looking—more ash-bomb than explosive. He expected Renair to at least try to dodge, but the arrogant bastard took it on the chin.
And that suits me just fine. Hace burst through the smoke, put both hands on Renair’s head, and used his wyrd to blast him with sedative energy. Final counter against regenerators is to knock them out. And gods-willing, that did the trick. But Renair smiled. He’s so fucking juiced by that stim that I can’t knock him out!
“My turn,” Renair said.
Renair punched Hace square in the gut, and when Hace doubled over around his fist, he triggered another urdic explosion at point blank range.
Again, Hace blacked out, either from whiplash or the pain in his rib. His contract held fast, but it did nothing to dull the sensation of the impacts against his broken rib. And pain will get the best of you in a long fight. The blast had knocked him sprawling again, though this time he landed on his ass instead of his back, so he could at least breathe. And Renair had bought him space by sending him sprawling. If you knew what you were doing, I’d be dead. As it is…
Then there was a sudden etheric ripple followed by a tearing in the Veil. Another human had entered the demesne. Akrasia? Fitz? Renair turned away from Hace to face the newcomer.
Alinore Valmont had appeared about five feet away from Pensey, hugging something to her chest. Is that a cat? Sure enough, a small black kitten bounded out of Lin’s arms and padded over to Pensey, who seemed equally astonished.
“Sorry I’m late,” Lin said haughtily. “You still alive, Matthews?”
Valmont? How did you even get here? He snickered. Doesn’t matter. Aside from Fitz or an actual venture, she’s the best backup I could ask for. Now we have a fighting chance.
“He’s juiced to high hell. Speed. Strength. Wyrd. And he can regenerate like a goddamn troll.”
Renair looked over his shoulder, then fully turned to face Lin. Hace was still too weak to take advantage of the opening, but he managed to force himself into a crouch.
“Valmont? Where the hell did you come from?” Renair asked, stupefied.
She settled into a fighting stance and cast a reflex enhancing contract on herself.
“Doesn’t matter. I’m here now, and you’re done.”
Hace grinned. Time for the next round.