2.29: Consequences, part 3

Henry regretted his decision all the way down. He landed with a thud in the middle of the madness in the street, and for a long moment there was stillness. Neither the wolves nor Emmaline moved a muscle. Then as one they turned, to regard the strange newcomer, and without warning the chaos resumed. All the world around him became bloody snarls, leaping fur, and great gusts of raw power issued from the dead woman’s quick hands.

He fell onto his hands and knees, and crawled. Paws danced around his head. Bodies thumped against his back. Claws scraped over his skin, and jaws closed around his legs, but each time the charm on his neck burned bright, and the assailant was rebuffed. In time he drew up beside a downed wolf—a sleek mountain grey with a twisted leg—and laid his hands upon it. The beast reared back and snarled at the touch, but then paused and caught his eyes. They stared at one another. Power coursed through his body, streaking down his ruined arm, and spilled from his fingertips.

The wolf leapt up, and resumed its snarling, but this time at any creature who came too close to Henry. In this manner they navigated through the madness of the fight, and he helped several more from the ground. Soon a pack of five stood around him, creating a yelping and snipping buffer zone.

Emmaline blasted one last wolf off of its feet, and paused. The wolves hung back, wary eyes regarding either her or Henry in turn. Leia was still shouting something from down the block, but that sounded as though it was a lifetime away from them. Emmaline swept in a complete circle, and stopped facing Henry. Her empty eye sockets did not stare.

Henry held the locket up, and walked forward. Sweat dripped down his back. His heart beat in his throat. He could not feel his left arm. At any moment Emmaline could have sent him flying through the air, but she did not. Her skull rocked curiously on her spine.

“You want this?” he asked.

She inclined her head.

“Then you’ll have to follow me.” He turned to run, and got a single step away before a bolt struck him in the back. The concussive force sent him stumbling forward, but he managed to stay on his feet. 

Howls filled the air, and the fight resumed. Wolves leaped in to defend Henry. Wolves leaped in to attack the dead woman. Wolves leaped in, it seemed, just to be involved in the fray—and now there were human bodies as well. Taylor whirled through the chaos, issuing sparks and weak gusts of force from his palms. Leia followed close behind, trying to seize his wrists. Emmaline rent through the mass once more, but this time she was not defending herself. She was giving chase.

Henry weaved to the right and left, trying to move unpredictably, barely escaping bolts of asphalt-tearing power. He made it down the block before his luck ran out. A blunt force hit him in the back of the head, and his charm burned into his chest. Another hit him in the small of his back, and his charm seared through his flesh. Then a third struck his calf, and he spun out. The ground came up to meet him, and he rolled to a rough stop. His charm hung loose and cold around his neck.

Noise surrounded him, but it was a tangled cacophony which he struggled to straighten out. Shouting. Thumping. More gunshots. Bones dragging along the street. A revving engine. “Are you okay?” Disbelieving, Henry looked up into Niles’ frowning face. The man sat astride his cherry red motorcycle, hand outstretched. “Need a ride?”

Emmaline had momentarily turned aside. The mountain grey wolf had hold of her tailbone in its mouth, and she was busy knocking it loose. Henry seized Niles’ hand. “To the old graveyard. Slowly.”

“How slow?”

“Enough that she can follow. Not so much that she can hit us.”

“Hit us?” As he asked the question, Emmaline flourished her bony fingers, sending another bolt in their direction. Niles nodded, and gunned it. “Understood!”

They led a strange convoy through the village, occasionally impeded—but never fully stopped—by the incidence of one of the wolves breaking through to tear at Emmaline’s legs. Bringing up the rear, curious villagers followed along, themselves trailed closely by Leia and her deputy trying to convince them to go home.

“What’s the plan here?” Niles asked.

“The Cass headstone was never meant for protection,” Henry said. “I should have realized when I was talking to Clair. It was designed to imprison her.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Call it a strong hunch.”

When they hit the dirt, the wolves gained the advantage. Their claws dug into the earth, and they moved with terrifying speed. Niles slowed the bike, swerving around boulders and trees. Emmaline walked backwards between their two factions, issuing streams of destructive magic in wide protective arcs. 

They met Teresa and Clair in the thinning undergrowth surrounding the old graveyard. Teresa saw Henry first, and her eyes were drawn to his shoulder. “What happened?”

He had forgotten that he was topless. Most of his arm had gone black, as if with rot, and it limply flailed back and forth against his side. He opened his mouth to answer, but by then she had spotted the circus which was following them. “What have you done?” she cried.

“It’s a lot to explain. I need to know if you can activate these sigils.”

Teresa looked up at the monument, whose unearthly glow was near blinding in their proximity. Its orange light lay on the short grass like a diluted shadow under the yellow of the sun. “Why?”

In the distance, wolves yelped in pain. A tree came crashing to the ground. “Please, trust me.”

“As a rule, I do not partake in experimental magic.”

Henry anxiously scanned the tree-line. “But you’ll make an exception because you like me?”

“I’ll make an exception because I think that if I do not, you will be killed by a skeleton.” She raised her hands, and closed her eyes. The world stilled. A wind rose around the graveyard. Dirt picked up in eddies around her feet, spreading in miniature dust devils which inevitably spun into grave markers and broke apart. The symbols on the Cass monument sparked to life. Like fresh tattoos they flashed stark and black against the orange glow of the spire. “These sigils are old,” she said. “They’re… strange. I can’t tell what I’m doing.”

Human and canine cries alike sounded in the woods, punctuated with the occasional crack of a rifle or the snapping of a branch. “We need to hurry.” 

“I’m going to have to activate everything here, all at once.”

“That’s fine,” Henry said.

Niles and Clair eyed on another. “Is it?”

Teresa’s arms, stuck out at her sides, went rigid. Her fingers curled. Her head lolled back, her mouth fell open, and her feet lifted off the ground. She rose into the air as Henry had only seen from one person before, and began to twirl. An orange light emanated from her hands.

From the forest, a second figure joined her. Emmaline appeared above the canopy, ensorcelled in the same orange glow. Her skull hung loose to the side. Her legs were struck, caught in a running pose. She hovered there for a moment, and then began floating in their direction.

“Can you hear me, Teresa?” Henry asked, looking skyward and shielding his eyes. The woman did not reply. “You have to get her into the grave.”

Emmaline drifted over their heads—inanimate as a corpse once more—and lowered toward the headstone which bore her name. Her toes grazed the dirt, and the sounds from the forest died away. The orange radiance dimmed, and the world regained a more natural light. Henry could once more bear to look in the direction of the headstone. What he found was the hollow grey abyss of Emmaline Cass’ eye sockets. They were not looking at each other. Looking required eyes. Just as speaking ought to have required a tongue. 

You owe me fealty, child. Much has been paid. Much more is yet owed.

Henry couldn’t tell if he was hearing the words out loud. The voice was youthful and clear; it rang in his mind like a bell.

I am the protector of the abandoned and the lost. I am the watcher of the tides. I am the chooser, and so I have chosen.

“How are you doing this?”

All power must one day fade. Tortus Bay must not be allowed to follow.

“I don’t understand.”

Are you a traitor?

Teresa twirled in graceful arcs back toward the ground, clothes streaming about her like silk streamers. Henry could not take his eyes off of Emmaline. 

I brought you here. You heard my call, and you followed. But this place is mine, and you will obey.

Teresa landed, and with a sigh the magic thread was severed. Emmaline fell. Her remains were once more remains: A pile of bones, laying inert in an excavated grave. The four of them gathered around its edge.

“What do you guys think of putting a bell on her this time?” Clair asked.

One by one, onlookers emerged from the trees. The first amongst them was Sofia Bramble, who took one look at her mother and burst into tears. Then came Tod and Lucy, heading up a good showing of the TBHWAS. There was Taylor with a flushed smile, and several older folk with rifles resting against their shoulders.

“What happened to the wolves?” Niles asked.

Lucy smiled at them. “Vanished,” she said, “the second that… was that Emmaline Cass?”

“Yes, it was.”

“When Emmaline was lifted into the sky, they vanished. Like they’d never been here in the first place.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Leia Thao was the last to join them. Drying mud streaked her sagging sweatpants, and blood flecked her face. She allowed her gaze to pass right over Clair, looking long and hard at Henry. “Well,” she said, “what do you figure we do now?” 

His eyes widened. Someone had been hurt. “Kara.”

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