Heads up: the next 3 weeks will be chaotic for us. We will do our best to keep bringing you the updates on the situation at the inn, but life sometimes interferes. However, here is the whole chapter today.
When we last left the inn, the debates were finished, and the
Dominon citizens Book Devouring Horde was busy voting in the polls. Meanwhile, Dina desperately tried to figure out the identity of the assassin targeting Kosandion. Unfortunately, the debates proved less than illuminating.
The Dushegubs stared at me. Stared was a figurative term in their case as their eyes were hidden in the crevices of their bark. They planted themselves, standing straight and stretched their branches to take up as much space as possible. Their limbs slithered and slid over each other, reaching from me like dark nightmarish tentacles, ready to grab and constrict. The wood creaked and groaned as they moved, suggesting the sound of human bones snapping under the pressure.
Sean next to me didn’t seem impressed. I wasn’t impressed either.
Everyone else had already been dispatched to their quarters, including Unessa. In three hours Kosandion would go on his first date, which would be Ellenda, and everyone else would be invited to an early dinner, but until then the delegates would stay locked in. We’d had enough socializing for one day.
The largest Dushegub stretched his branches at me, holding them above me like fingers of enormous hands ready to snatch me off my feet. The translator attached to his bark hissed and spoke in a low male voice. “Proposition. You stop interfering or we kill you and break your house tree. Do you want to discuss?”
This was not my first Dushegub rodeo. “You follow rules, or we kill all of you, go to your planet, and kill your saplings with fire.”
The leader creaked, rocking side to side.
“Fallacy: you do not leave your tree. You cannot go to our planet. Submit or we kill you. Do you want to discuss?”
“I will kill you here. He will go to your planet.” I pointed at Sean.
Sean showed them his teeth. The arena floor parted, displaying a clump of weeds in a flowerbed. Two nozzles shot out from the stone. The first unloaded a spray of hardcore off-world weed killer to the plants. The weeds shriveled. The Dushegubs drew back. The second nozzle clicked and spat out a jet of flame, turning the withered weeds into a miniature torch.
“We kill. You die.” I glared at them. “No need to discuss. Return to your pit.”
The Dushegubs creaked and hissed.
I tapped my broom on the stone floor. A low sound pulsed through the arena, rattling my bones. The Dushegubs were sensitive to vibration and sounds. That’s how they identified their prey.
The trees scooted back.
The Dushegubs moved together into a clump, folding their branches. I opened the floor under them and funneled them down a slippery shoot into their pit.
“Sadly, this isn’t the end of it. They are single-minded assholes. I surprised them this time, but they will come back with something.”
“What happened to their fellow?”
I turned around. The First Scholar was right behind me, while his two apprentices-assistants hovered at a respectful distance. He was supposed to have been escorted home by Gaston, who was nowhere in sight.
“Was it harmed?” the First Scholar asked.
“No,” Sean said. “I dropped her back into the pit.”
Dushegubs were gonochoric, with male and female trees. Telling them apart was pretty much impossible, but only females produced the spore pods.
“Their spore pods aren’t lethal,” I explained. “They cause a temporary stupor. They hurl them at distant prey to knock it out so they can get close and eat it.”
Had the pod landed, Bestata would’ve taken a nap. But then, with vampire metabolism, it might have only slowed her down, and then we would be treated to a stunning impersonation of Paul Bunyan done in knight armor with vampire weapons. A primed blood sword could cut through an adult Dushegubs in two or three swings, and I couldn’t even explain how happy I was that we had avoided that mess altogether.
“We keep all of our guests safe. Even the pesky ones,” Sean said.
“Speaking of guests,” the First Scholar said. “Could the inn accommodate three more? I wish to see how this contest plays out.”
“We would be delighted to have you with us,” I told him. “But what of your lectures?”
The First Scholar sighed. “Steering the development of young minds is an arduous and draining task. One should rest to be most effective, and a few days of self-study and personal contemplation would be beneficial to my students.”
I still had the koo-ko coop in storage, but it would be way too large. I carved a new set of rooms in the observer wing and began shaping them into a small habitat. What was it he liked last time? Millet. That was it. I’d need to let Orro know.
Sean’s cell rang. He took it out of his robe and looked at it. “Marais.”
Officer Marais had been moonlighting as our security guard. He had a ton of leave built up, so he took a week off to guard Gertrude Hunt. He also did not share that fact with his wife. I had a feeling there would be hell to pay.
Sean listened for a few moments.
“I’ll be right there.” He hung up and turned to me. “We have protesters.”
“Some sort of Dominion religious group is protesting in front of the inn. They have an issue with the spousal selection.”
“In broad daylight?”
I pulled the feed from street-facing cameras onto the nearest big screen. Three people stood in front of the inn, just outside of the boundary. They must’ve used skin tints because their skin shades looked terrestrial enough. Their high-tech signs, projected from small metal rods and glowing with neon, did not.
“I’ve got this,” Sean told me.
He took off toward a wall. The inn made an opening for him.
I waved the screen off.
“Is this urgent?”
“No worries, Sean will handle it.” I finished the room and opened a passageway to the observer wing. “Let me show you to your rooms.”
We walked down the hallway. This was my chance to pick his brain. We still had a hidden assassin to deal with.
“What is your opinion of Nycati?”
“Intelligent, eloquent, and well educated,” the First Scholar said. “Alas, not a true philosopher.”
“Nycati shares the same shortcomings as Amphie, although hers are more apparent.”
“I thought she did well.”
The First Scholar shook his head. “She had good teachers. They taught her how to find knowledge and how to retain it, but they failed to ignite the spark of original thought. It is true that familiarizing oneself with the thoughts of those who came before us is the foundation of philosophy, but it is only the first step. The next step is to develop one’s own view. A much more terrifying endeavor.”
“Then Amphie lost?”
“Without a doubt. What question did I ask?”
“What is love?”
The First Scholar nodded. “Exactly. I asked them for their definition of love. Amphie simply announced that love was complex, regurgitated what she was taught about it, and walked us back in a circle to her thesis. She never answered the question.”
“And Lady Wexyn?”
The First Scholar’s eyes lit up. “Such a beautifully concise demonstration of Tessidect’s principle. He was one of the foundational philosophers that came out of the Omega Centauri Cluster about a thousand years ago. Tessidect proposed that love, in essence, is binding. Whether reciprocated or not, it creates a relationship between a being and the object of their desire, forming its own microcosm. A miniature universe of our own making, subverting all aspects of time-space continuum. When you are in love, your perception, your inner equilibrium, even your sense of time and place is altered.”
Interesting. I never thought of it that way.
The First Scholar continued, waving his stick as he walked. “Since every being is unique and unlike any other, so too their love and the microcosm it creates is unique. It cannot be defined, but only experienced.”
True. I had been in love before I met Sean, but my relationship with him was unlike any of the others. It was… It was different, and I couldn’t quite put it into words.
“In two short sentences, Lady Wexyn distilled the very essence of this concept: her love cannot be explained, only felt; it is unlike any other; and she prefers it to all prior loves she has experienced. I should have expected nothing less from the disciple of the Temple of Desire. After all, their education is exquisite.”
There was a lot more to Lady Wexyn than she showed to the world, although a certain long-suffering chancellor would likely tell the First Scholar that he was giving her way too much credit.
“But Prysen Ol is the true find of the bunch. Did you notice he has quoted Sequatist? I know of many scholars who would shrink away from even mentioning that name. A planetphage, a superorganism traveling from planet to planet, devouring all life to support its own, yet aware and tormented by its existence, cursed, reviled, and finally destroyed, and here is this young man who not only had the courage to quote its exploration of one’s purpose, but to expand on it, adding his own observations. I’m almost certain he comes from the Sa Monastery. His arguments have their particular relaxed yet refined approach.”
“Could he be an impostor?”
“Impossible. He must’ve devoted himself to study from a very young age. I have seen scores of young aspirants and this man has put in the work.”
If Prysen Ol was a true scholar, that made him less likely to be an assassin. Not impossible, but not as likely. Right now, my money was on Nycati. But then there was also Lady Wexyn, who had a unique grasp of ancient philosophy, “moved well,” and warranted a visit from Caldenia. And Ellenda, who was now wearing mourning paint possibly because she knew she was about to murder Kosandion and would not survive the aftermath. The candidates were promised to have a one-on-one date with the Sovereign, but it was not a guarantee. A candidate could be eliminated before their turn for the date ever came about. Ellenda was lagging in the rankings, so she put on the mourning paint, knowing Kosandion would recognize it and react. Now she would have her date and the perfect opportunity to target him…
We’d reached the new quarters I had just made. I opened the door. A comfortable room waited for us, not too large, not too small, its walls lined with tree branches offering convenient perch. Three house-nests protruded from the walls in a triangle around the central shallow pool. The middle nest was larger than the others and decorated with colorful pebbles. Three windows, each with an individual perch, flooded the room with sunshine. Two other, smaller rooms branched off to the sides, one a bathroom and the other a study.
“Wonderful,” the First Scholar murmured. He waved his wings at his assistants.
They closed in. One of them gingerly pulled several large pins from the First Scholar’s feathers, the other grasped the headdress and plucked it from the First Scholar’s head.
The older koo-ko sighed in relief, sat at the edge of the pool, and dipped his taloned feet into the water. His feathers fluffed up, puffing him to twice his normal girth.
I opened my mouth to wish him a good stay.
The inn chimed in my head. Someone was trying to open a communication channel from Baha-char.
The inn sprouted a screen for me, and I took the call. A woman appeared, wrapped in a shawl, so only a small sliver of her face was visible. Her skin was variegated, a color pattern you normally saw on a brindled dog or tortoise cat, and dotted with tiny diamond-shaped protrusions. No, not protrusions, thin scales. She was clearly a type of human. I had never seen anything like it.
“Are you the innkeeper?” she whispered, her voice urgent.
“The Sovereign is in danger. One of the candidates is not who they claim to be. Meet me at the glass stall on Curved Street. I will wait for half an hour. No males.”
The screen went dark.
I marched through the inn in my travel robe, a nondescript gray garment, worn and slightly tattered. Sean marched next to me, looking like a thundercloud about to erupt with lightning.
“It’s not safe.”
“I’m bringing my energy whip and my broom.”
The broom, reshaped into a staff for the ease of carrying, was in a Velcro sheath on my back. The energy whip was on my belt under my robe. Squeezing it would release a seven-foot-long filament that could cut a human’s head off the body, instantly cauterizing the wound. I’d been practicing with it, and I’d gotten good enough to not need the glove that I used to wear with it. The glove was the only thing the whip wouldn’t cut, but it also hurt my hand when I wore it.
Sean’s face turned into a harsh mask. “That’s not enough. I’ll go instead.”
“You’ll go and nothing will happen. She said no males.”
“I don’t care what she said.”
“I sense that.”
“You are the only female innkeeper here. If they wanted to isolate you, this is the perfect way to do it. Send a woman who pretends to be scared, so there is no possible way you would bring backup.”
“I am bringing backup.”
The door in front of me swung open and I walked out onto the terrace where Karat, Gaston, and Dagorkun were drinking tea and watching Cookie chase a yellow butterfly in the orchard. It felt like the beginning of a joke. A knight, a warrior, and a spy walk into a bar…
“And here come our lovely hosts,” Gaston said. “Uh oh. I don’t like those expressions.”
The two fighters came alert like sharks sensing blood in the water.
“Is there trouble?” Dagorkun asked. “Please let there be trouble. I have a lot of pent-up frustration to release.”
“Lady Karat,” I said. “Would you fancy a short trip?”
Karat’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of trip? Would it require primed weapons?”
She jumped up. “Let’s go! I’ll get my sword.”
Karat ducked inside, into the common room, and jogged to her quarters.
“See?” I asked Sean. “Backup.”
He growled. “Fine.”
“I must protest!” Dagorkun rumbled.
“Girls’ trip,” I told him. “No males.”
“I should come,” Cookie called from the orchard.
How in the world had he even heard us?
“Cookie, you’re a male.”
Cookie smiled into his whiskers. “A very quiet, very sneaky male that no one will notice.”
A speculative light appeared in Sean’s eyes.
“No,” I told him.
Karat emerged onto the balcony. She wore a long dark cloak that hung open in the front, giving a glimpse of a massive sword strapped to her thigh. She pulled the cloak closed and raised her hood. “Ready.”
Ten minutes later we hurried through Baha-char’s crowded streets. We had about fifteen minutes left.
“Why Curved Street?” Karat grumbled. “Couldn’t she have picked somewhere closer?”
“You’ll see when we get there.”
We passed another alley, turned into the next one, and emerged onto Curved Street. It wasn’t so much a curve, it was a horseshoe, with narrow alleys branching off from both sides. Tall, terraced buildings rose everywhere, connected by breezeways, bridges, and colorful canvas shade sails. Shoppers clogged the alleys.
“I see,” Karat said. “It’s a warren.”
“Yes. Easy to run away and disappear.”
“If she runs, should I chase her?”
“No. We came here in good faith. She will say what she has to say, or she won’t.”
The glass stall sat in the middle of the U, visible from far away because of a tall mast that protruded from the entrance, rising above the street at an angle like an oversized fishing pole. Glass doohickeys in every color and shape hung from it, ornaments, wind chimes, prisms, suspended vases, glittering and shining in the light.
We stopped directly under the mast. Shoppers moved past us in a steady current. Across the street, a group of short hairy creatures that looked like a hybrid of a monkey and a donkey enthusiastically bargained with a Tachi weapon shop owner, climbing onto each other to better screech in his face.
“We’re being watched,” Karat said.
I felt it too, a focused gaze scrutinizing us with desperate intensity.
Moments dragged by.
A spot of light fell on Karat’s cloak and slid toward me. I raised my head.
The building that housed the weapons shop was shaped like a backward L. Its bottom floor was the widest. On the right side, the building rose three stories high. On the left, a large roof terrace stretched from its second story over the top of the remaining first floor. A narrow stone staircase squeezed between the left end of the terrace and the next building, the only access to the terrace from the street.
On that terrace, a lone figure wrapped in a shawl stood by the stone rail, holding a small mirror in her hand.
“We’re invited,” Karat said. “We passed inspection.”
We crossed the street to the narrow stone staircase. The terrace sat forty feet above the street, too far to jump. If we went up there, the staircase would be the only way down.
Karat eyed the stairs. “Your sister informed me that you are not a fighter. If there’s trouble, hide behind me.”
“Thank you for that generous offer.”
“It wasn’t a suggestion.”
She really was Maud’s best friend. They were exactly the same.
The terrace was empty except for the woman with the mirror. As expected, it offered only two exits, the stairs which we took and a door leading inside the second floor of the weapons shop. The door was open, and something stood just inside, hidden in the gloom.
“A combat droid,” Karat murmured.
“How can you know that? It’s too dark to see.”
“I smell the lubricant and cooling fluid.”
Karat halted. I stopped too. The woman watched us for a moment, then approached. She moved very quietly. She came within three feet of us and held out a small tablet. On it a familiar face grinned. The haircut was different, the clothes didn’t match his current image, and his smile had a vicious edge, but there was no doubt.
“His name, his true name, is Cumbr Adgi. His father rules the vagabond fleet of the Muterzen meteorite belt.”
“Pirate,” Karat spat out. “I hate pirates.”
“He was raised in luxury bought with the misery of many others. He’s sadistic and merciless.”
The woman pulled her hood down. Tiny scales sheathed her face. With her large dark eyes and delicate features, she would have been beautiful by any standard. A large scar crossed the left side of her face, stretching diagonally from her nose to her jaw. The edges of the scar were red and ragged. Another scar clasped her neck, old and thick from repeated wounds. It was the kind of scar a dog might get if it strained against a collar with spikes on the inside.
“I was altered for him. To please him. The scales are his fetish. He did this.” She pointed to the scar on her face. “And this.” She pointed to her neck.
Her eyes told me she wasn’t lying. They brimmed with pain and cold anger, a kind of fury that had burned like a fire but had been repressed for so long, it crystalized into ice. This woman suffered in ways I probably couldn’t even imagine. People said the eyes were the windows to the soul. If that was true, her soul was raw.
Karat was perfectly still, like a statue.
“There is a price on the Sovereign’s head. It’s enough to buy a whole fleet.”
His confident smile flashed in front of me.
“But it’s not the money, is it?” I asked.
“No. He wants to outdo his father. This act would bring him great prestige and honor among those he seeks to rule one day.”
“He’s aiming for the pirate throne,” Karat said.
The woman nodded and put her hood back in place. “Now you know where to look. You can verify everything I said. I ask only that you do not kill him. He and his father owe me a debt for the deaths of my parents.”
“Do you think you can collect what’s owed?” I asked.
“All I need is a small window of opportunity. A shot.” The woman barred her fangs. They were long and slender like the teeth of a cobra.
“You know where the door to my inn is,” I said. “If what you say is true, tomorrow would be a good time to linger outside of it.”
“I have no reason to trust you,” she said.
“I know her and her sister. They do not lie. You will have your shot. Don’t waste it,” Karat said.
The woman turned and walked away, disappearing into the building. The door slid shut behind her.
We started for the stairs.
“Do you believe her?” the vampire knight asked.
“Trust but verify,” I murmured. And I knew just the person who could get me the information I needed in a fraction of the time.
A cold nasty feeling bloomed on my spine, as if icy rotting slime dripped onto the back of my neck. Revulsion squirmed through me. I knew this magic.
Karat froze with her foot an inch off the ground.
A creature moved up the stairs. Its long, tattered robe, so much like my own, swept the stones as if it floated rather than walked. Wide sleeves hid its hands, and the inside of its deep hood was darkness.
Karat put her foot down and pulled her sword off her thigh. Bright red light burst from the hilt, running through the veins within the blade. The blood weapon whined, priming.
The corrupted ad-hal emerged onto the terrace and faced us, blocking our escape. The light caught the bottom half of its face, and I saw the outline of a pale, leathery jaw. We had nowhere to go. The staircase and the building behind it were in front of us. The weapons shop was behind us, and I highly doubted the mystery woman would let us in.
The creature raised its right arm. Its sleeve fell back, revealing a monstrous hand clenched into a fist. The corrupted ad-hal opened its long, clawed fingers. A clump of longish hair fell onto the stones, black shot through with gray.
Goosebumps slid up my arms. Wilmos.
“Someone you know?” Karat asked, her gaze fixed on the creature.
“Yes. This thing shoots lightning. Don’t try to block it.”
A phantom wind stirred the corrupted ad-hal’s robe. Fetid magic condensed around it, like a nauseating cloud.
“Is he alive?” I asked it.
The ad-hal didn’t answer.
“What do you want? What can I trade you for his life?”
The magic pulsed, so intense I almost gagged.
Something leaped off the roof of the building in front of us. It plunged through the air and smashed into the ad-hal.
The werewolf woman. Oh no.
She ripped into it, stabbing the robe in a frenzy with two blood-red knives. The ad-hal grabbed her and flung her off. She flew, smashed into the building behind the staircase with a crunch, and slid down.
The creature’s magic sparked, spawning orange lightning between the fingers of both hands. It leveled one ball at us and the other at the werewolf woman.
“Stay behind me!” Karat barked and charged.
The werewolf woman rolled into a crouch on the stairs and leaped at the ad-hal.
The creature hurled the twin lightning balls. I lunged left, Karat lunged right, and the blinding sphere tore between us. The second ball caught the werewolf in midleap. She’d tried to twist out of the way, but it splashed over her side and back in a burst of white flame. She screamed, the sound of pure agony, and collapsed onto the terrace, writhing in pain.
My body remembered being hit with that lightning. It felt like being thrust into the center of a star, drowning in an unimaginable, searing, unbearable pain that set the marrow of your bones on fire. It had almost killed me. The echo of that pain rolled through my body. Fear filled me, pushing out everything else.
Not again. No, never again.
The lightning ball aimed at us, curved, and streaked to me like a heat-seeking missile.
I dashed to the side, spurred by panic, ripped the energy whip off my belt, and squeezed it. The filament burst out in a shower of yellow sparks. I snapped the whip. The tip of it caught the ball of lightning. The impact reverberated through my arm, and I threw myself to the ground.
The orange sphere exploded with white fire. The magic blast wave punched me, pushing me backward across the stone. The overload of revolting magic stomped on my ribs, and my heart screamed in my chest. Pain drowned me. I swam out of it, gagged, sobbed, spat blood out of my mouth, and rolled upright.
Karat sliced at the corrupted ad-hal, insanely fast, her sword an extension of her body. The creature raked her armor with its claws. She roared and kept swinging, fast, precise, leaving it no opening to gather its magic.
The werewolf woman staggered to her feet, gripped her knives, and lunged at the ad-hal, looking for an opening. They tore at the creature from opposite sides. It darted between them like a rag on a clothesline dancing in strong wind.
I wasn’t fast enough to keep up with either of them. If I tried to attack, I’d hit one of them with the whip.
A long streak of blood drenched the side of Karat’s face, wetting her hair. The werewolf’s right side was a mess of holes and smoldering clothes. The black hardsuit she wore underneath showed through the gaps.
Karat thrust. The ad-hal spun, turning its back to her, and her blade missed it by an inch. The werewolf saw an opening, dove in, and slashed with both knives. The ad-hal-jerked aside, avoiding the slash and closed in in the split second her arms were apart. Its clawed hand caught the werewolf just under the sternum. The creature ripped its hand upward, carving flesh and clothes with its claws in a spray of blood. The werewolf screamed.
Karat slashed at the ad-hal. The creature slid out of the way, but the blood blade caught the edge of its robe. A piece of the fabric flew, cut free. Karat grinned, her face a terrifying grimace, and launched a frenzied attack. Left, right, swing, cut, slash, I could barely follow.
The werewolf darted in, stabbing.
Magic spun within the ad-hal’s robe.
“Run!” I threw my arm up, pushing my magic in front of me like a shield.
Karat ignored me and stabbed at the ad-hal.
Magic erupted from the creature like a shockwave from a collapsing star. The foul torrent hit Karat and the werewolf, tossing them behind me like they weighed nothing, and smashed into my shield. The air in front of me flashed with turquoise. Orange lightning smashed at the screen of my magic. It felt like a thousand red-hot needles pierced me in a single moment. My arm went numb.
The fetid magic died.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Karat convulsing on the ground. The werewolf sprawled on her back, making small wheezing noises.
The ad-hal hovered in front of me. A black stain spread through its robe, from the hood to the hem, as if it shed its skin, exposing its true nature underneath.
I felt it. There it was. The corruption. The awful, wrong, cosmic thing that wanted to infect, consume, and smother.
Whisps of orange lightning snaked over the former ad-hal, rising up, as if the creature were caught in an invisible dust devil. This thing with clawed hands and monstrous jaw used to be a person. A human just like me. Now it was a husk, a host for the corruption within, and that corruption would kill me, then it would kill Karat and the werewolf. None of us would get out alive.
Memories flooded me. Fighting a creature just like this one, almost dying, bringing its body to the inn, learning it was my brother’s best friend, and then watching the corruption within it leak out and escape. It crawled inside my inn like some disgusting parasite. It tried to infect Gertrude Hunt and Tony, while I could do nothing, helpless and torn from my own body by the death of the tiny inn I’d tried so hard to save.
I killed that intruder. I purged it from my inn. I was an innkeeper, and I would purge this one. It was my duty.
I pulled the broom from my back and planted it in front of me. Magic streamed around me, spiraling from my body and tugging at my hair.
The corrupted ad-hal snapped its hands up.
I pushed my magic out into the building under me. It streamed through the stone of the terrace into the first floor below, growing from the soles of my feet like roots of a tree.
Twin balls of lightning flared in the ad-hal’s hands, fed by its magic. It clamped them together. The glowing clumps connected, merging into a blinding sphere churning with energy. More lightning clasped it, sliding from the creature’s robe.
“Dina!” Karat yelled behind me. “Get away from it!”
I wrapped my magic around me and the broom like a cocoon, binding us.
The brilliant sphere broke. A beam of orange lightning streaked toward me, mottled with dark magic.
I gripped my broom, pulsing my power through it.
The beam tore at my magic screen, trying to drill through it, scalding, burning, biting… The strain gripped my spine, crushing my vertebrae, so heavy it felt like I would crumple and collapse. The magic tore at me, trying to push me back, but I was anchored. My roots were deep. I would not be moved.
The beam flared with pure white.
Agony vibrated through me, radiating from my chest to my fingertips. I tasted blood and held fast.
The beam sputtered.
I waited, filled with pain.
The lightning died.
I fed everything I had into my broom. The shaft split in my hand, sprouting tentacles of brilliant turquoise. They surged to the creature and gripped it in a vise, wrapping over its robe.
The corrupted ad-hal screeched. Its power flared, coating my tentacles, fighting against me. I gritted my teeth and squeezed. Killing wasn’t enough. I had to contain it. It would not infect anything else.
The lightning dashed up the tentacles to the broom and bit at my hand. It felt like someone flayed me with an electric razor blade.
I didn’t scream. I didn’t rage. I just squeezed, harder and harder, trying to wring it out of existence. Nothing it could do to me would make me stop. If the sky cracked and fell on me, I would keep squeezing.
The creature screamed, flailing. Its magic ripped at me, and I felt the corruption within it rage. It burned with fury and frustration, a torch at its own funeral. It had been thwarted, and it knew it, indignant at being bound.
The former ad-hal jerked, frantically trying to rip itself free. My magic pushed against it, spreading from the tentacles, wrapping it up tighter and tighter. It shrank under the pressure. Its robe collapsed into a clump.
I kept squeezing.
The body of the former ad-hal was gone. It was just a blob of pure corruption now, viscous, liquid, but still bound by my power.
It wailed in my mind, enraged and helpless.
I reached deep within, to the bottom of my soul, and sent the final terrible pulse through my broom. My magic crushed the foul blob in its fist. It burst and rained onto the terrace, splattering the stone and the three of us with foul-smelling goo. Its magic was gone. It was just rotting fluid now.
I pulled the tentacles into the broom and wiped the disgusting sludge from my face. Behind me Karat staggered to her feet.