Kendall ascended the courthouse steps. The double doors were open and waiting for him, letting in the high altitude winds. The air was a little thin.
Once through he traveled the hall down towards the center court, taking his place. Panoramic windows above flooded the room with natural light. To his left, at the next stand, stood Porter. He hadn’t seen him months. Not since he’d effectively ended Kendall’s career.
Doesn’t matter at this point, he thought. Don’t need them.
Aku announced him. “Kendall Blackthorn, Magus, now present.”
He stifled a grin. He’d passed his trials only two months ago. That’s why he had no need for him. His studies had gone far enough on their own.
“Barely punctual,” the presiding high councilwoman said. She looked over the screens in front of her, reviewing Porter’s testimony. Kendall had missed it for a long conversation with Christopher. He was finally clued in. In on shadowy shit.
This today would be a defining moment in history.
The old woman continued. “Just to summarize, Mister Blackthorn, Porter has alleged that your misplaced conjuring has threatened the planet’s security.”
“Not threatened,” Porter corrected. He was dark under the eyes. “He warned of an impending disaster. Not necessarily… related to himself.”
The woman glowered at him.
“Please do not correct the judge,” Aku warned from above.
“Irrespective of that,” the councilwoman continued, “We would like to ask you about the threat levels posed by these individuals. You would know best, correct?”
“I would. Do. I do,” Kendall confirmed, the full courtroom assembly watching. And Aku. Aku would know if he was lying. They would see it on his face.
See his doubt right now.
I’m the expert, he told himself. It was true.
Porter was staring, unblinking, at Kendall. He knew, just to get under his skin. They were the only two here with an inkling of what was going on. Kendall from Christopher, Porter from his insight.
“So then, Mister Blackthorn, are you aware of the situation?”
“And what would you advise the court?”
“Give me a team-”
Porter laughed loudly the moment Kendall made the suggestion.
The councilwoman demanded order. Kendall reiterated, “give me a team. I still have some connection to them. I can track them down and contain them myself, frankly. But you deserve oversight. A team could help me.”
This was not what Christopher had told him to say. Christopher had instructed him to urge the court into a reaction, to talk about Doran’s nature and threat… But Porter hadn’t told them. He’d never mentioned that they were dealing with a Primordial. And multiple cosmic threats.
Why? Why’d he stay quiet?
It didn’t matter. Kendall would avoid an inquisition at all costs.
He looked to Porter, expecting a rebuttal, but none came. Was Porter content to let things go Kendall’s way?
“In my judgment… I can see no better alternative than to enlist Magi Blackthorn to track down the threat within the city… and contain it. Within the information given, total evacuation would be a massive overreaction, yes? Let the assembly vote on the proposal.”
The crowd voted by voice, a chorus of ayes sounding.
“The proposal is accepted. You’ll be presented with a list of candidates and can commence your search within twenty-four, most likely. It of course-”
A thunderous crash came from down the court entrance’s hall. Kendall and everyone looked, but only he and Porter placed to see. A second bang and the doors came falling in. Kendall’s eyes going wide.
“Aku, emergency!” the councilwoman shouted.
“No emergency detected?” Aku said back.
“It’s a shroud!” Kendall bellowed, stepping back and down from the stand.
The figure came stalking down the hall, screeching metal following her.
“Overriding detection contingency.”
Blast doors fell down over the windows and the doors, locking Odessa in the hall. Red emergency lights lit the court as screams echoed.
The councilwoman slid back in her chair, staring terrified at the door in Odessa’s way as it dented inward. Several metal on metal clashes and the door was near to giving way. Kendall looked to Porter who hadn’t stepped off his stand.
“Help?” he asked.
Porter grimaced and gave his answer by cutting off his hologram. He was never there. It was only Kendall.
Can’t put these people in harms way. Can’t let them see me, either.
Kendall ran for the failing door. Just as Odessa’s sword broke through, he flooded through the crack, bending the metal back together as he passed. He washed, as a shadow, over her, materializing on the other side.
Odessa slowly turned to face him, her expression cold in the weak, red light.
He thought about saying something, trying to reason with her. He only had to look her in the eye to know that wouldn’t work. She was regressing. He was all she wanted. After a short staring contest, she tightened her grip on the massive sword. She waited for him to make the first move.
When he didn’t, she did.
She spun, raking her sword over the walls of the narrow hall as she brought her blade around. Kendall easily dodged, simply stepping back. She followed up with two slashes, bringing the second one down into the floor.
Kendall stretched out his powers, testing and loosening his restraint on his form. He willed the power, the lights, and the cameras to go out. Hide it.
Odessa swung wildly as the darkness solidified. Kendall broke loose, his clothes folding out and the sound of wingbeats filling the hall. He continually backed up as she tore the walls apart hacking at the air.
Suddenly, she felt talons bite down on her shoulder. She skewered the freak as he tried to draw his teeth close. His hot breath smelled of death on her face.
A demonic roar hit her at point blank. Odessa grit her teeth, bracing her feet, then pushing with all her strength. Kendall’s feet scratched against the tile, scrabbling for grip as he lost all traction. Claws gashed at her face and neck, drawing blood, but she didn’t stop. She gained speed, Kendall lifting entirely off the ground with her sword, Odessa screaming into a charge.
At full speed she rammed Kendall through the metal of the court’s doors, falling down the steps. In the daylight, he instantly combusted. In a ball of shadow and flame, he rolled off the sword and down the steps, skidding to a stop on his side, fully human. He stood, shaking the ash off of his flame retardant clothes, smoothing back his long locks.
Odessa forced herself up, blood streaming down from her scalp, matting her hair and obscuring her vision. She lifted her sword, leveling it at the bastard.
Kendall, shouting as the wind kicked up, “Come on!” He took several steps back, towards the railing. He beat his chest, red eyes furious.
Odessa jumped. She landed at the base of the steps and swung.
Kendall vaulted straight over her, kicking her in the back with both feet and landing on his side. She was launched straight into and over the railing.
He got up and leaned over, watching her plummet down to the city below.
He took two deep breaths. He knew he had to follow.
Fuck it. Geronimo.
Kendall jumped. He sailed after Odessa who was carried leftward on the wind. She’d fallen somewhere in a residential area. Kendall braced for the last few seconds of his drop, knowing he couldn’t stop himself.
A car crunched beneath him, glass exploding everywhere. It smashed into the ground, it had been hovering. Kendall dug himself out of the crumbled steel, rolling off onto the hard concrete. He pushed himself up, blood dripping from his fingers. He would heal.
I’m fine, he had to remind himself. My well is deep.
He could feel a different form crawling beneath his skin, trying to break the surface, flooding to the wounds. He scratched at his neck, then looking at his arm. The gash there was gushing worms.
“Dear Lord, fucking hell!” he looked away, trying to steady his pounding heart. Can’t look. He fought to calm himself, slow his breath. When he checked back the wound was completely gone. He sighed deeply.
“By the divine honor!” Odessa cried, stumbling through the open door of an apartment building. She was covered in rubble and blood. He hadn’t noticed until now how faded she looked. Colorless. “You will burn!”
She stabbed her sword into the sidewalk. There were only three other people on this road, one standing closer to her. Time slowed for Kendall as he watched a metaphysical command expand outward from Odessa. The man ignited, as did the car between them. Kendall’s mind raced.
It passes through objects. Can’t outrun it. Can’t-
The spell hit him. He was tossed limp across the street and through a food truck. Into the side, on fire, and then lodged in the machinery. The battery went. Odessa watched as the entire car ripped open with the force of an explosion. Fire and battery acid spewed across the street, along with black flesh and ichor.
She fell to her knee and rested against the flat side of her sword. Casting her eyes up to the sky, she felt a sudden elation. She finally felt something.
Even from the depths of hell, her god had delivered her.
“You think that could do it?” Kendall called. He crawled out from the smoldering wreckage, dropping to all fours. He fought his way up, limbs and clothes reforming out of meat and tar. Every detail returning, not a hair out of place.
Faster than Odessa could see, he covered the distance and shoved her. She’d flown, parting from her sword, into the building, her image shattering.
Before Kendall could grab ahold of her sword, Odessa’s ghost had already reformed. She headbutted him, sending him to the ground. Then she levied her blade, over her shoulder, and down onto his head. Bones crackled and tore as he broke loose, headless, to punch her in the stomach.
As weak as she was, Odessa couldn’t sever her blade from the rock. Kendall, again fully healed, beat down on her. He beat her back against the blade, then to the ground. She held on by just one hand reaching up, her body hitting the ground. He forced her down with his knee, again hitting her. Beating her.
She looked up through darkened eyes at her fingers slipping from the hilt.
His fist kept coming down, blackening her vision, knocking her head into the asphalt. Odessa, slipping her left hand free, battered his ribcage, eliciting loud cracks. He grimaced, bracing through the pain. Kendall locked his arm down on hers, grappling her free hand. Then with his, he hit her again, shattering the ground beneath with the impact.
“My god,” she said.
Kendall grabbed the hilt and forced her hand away. Her arm fell limp and her head rolled over. Odessa exhaled with the weight of him pressing down on her chest. She didn’t inhale. Her white eyes froze.
Kendall fell back, ripping the sword up from the ground and landing on the car behind him. He slid down to sit, not letting go. He stared at the body.
How the fuck did I get here?
Odessa was dead, her corpse right there.
He remembered making her. Overseeing the reforging of the sword they’d found in hell. Nobody else had wanted it, the spirit was too far gone they’d said. He’d poured his own blood into the metal. He’d brought her back. Built her up. Their connection hadn’t faded, even through hell. And now he’d killed her. He’d just killed a part of himself.
Now it was only him. Alone on the street, her blood all over him.
This wasn’t what he’d envisioned. Not for his future.
He sat there, watching the body. He didn’t feel like standing.
How did I get here?