From behind me, I heard the sound of a seatbelt clasp clicking open. After a few footsteps, Rod pushed his way to the front between Amy and me.
“Hey,” Cassie said, but Rod ignored her.
“The Graffiti Knight. Rumor in the magical community is that the Council got some guy to wear that armor. I heard that it’s cursed or connected to an old god or something. There’s a price for using it, so they only get it out for emergencies.”
“So, it’s got powers?” I glanced over at Rod, and he nodded.
“I don’t know what they are.” He watched as Vengeance stepped toward Philo.
Chin down, Vengeance addressed the bloated head of The Thing That Eats, “We know what you are, and we know how to trap you. Surrender and we’ll banish you to another world. Fight us, and we’ll keep you in a cave for thousand years.”
The Thing That Eats laughed. “Your councils have been trying to trap me for more than one thousand years and you’ve yet to succeed.”
It grinned, making me think of a fleshy basketball with teeth.
If Vengeance was scared, he didn’t show it. “You’ll find that we keep on learning new tricks.”
The Thing kept on grinning. “Who do you mean by ‘we’? The team of outcasts and murderers you’ve assembled? Or, do you mean Reliquary? He succeeded in removing me from his psyche, and he’s coming here. Unfortunately, he’ll find he’s incapable of assisting thanks to this wonderful prison you’ve constructed around us.”
Vengeance froze as The Thing mentioned Reliquary, but not for long.
Over the comm, Marcus said, “Outcasts and murderers? What have they got? A magical Suicide Squad?”
Amy said, “Close—”
Vengeance interrupted her though he had no way to know it. “Don’t pretend you’re more than you are. You’re just one more threat. We’ve taken down half a dozen this year. I don’t like your odds.”
The Thing grunted. “I don’t think you’ve ever fought anything exactly like me. If you had, you’d be dead and there’s a good chance your world would be dead as well. No. This is no time to bluster.
“You need to listen to my proposal. My needs are simple. I lived for hundreds of years in solitude, feeding when I needed to, taking a body when the one I had wore out, guiding humans when they needed assistance… Small things. Simple things. Let me pass from this place and I’ll find a small, obscure spot where I can live happily. Should your supervisors need one, I can even provide a believable death. I’m naturally talented in that respect.”
Vengeance mouth twisted. “No. We’re not going to release you on some unsuspecting city and let you feed off them and ‘guide’ them. I’ve read our records and I know what happens to places where you live. Over time, you rule them in all but name.”
The big head nodded. “Yes. You’ve read about me in your records, but do your records contain any stories about what happens when I’m feeling hungry or when I’ve been cornered, much as I am right now?”
It didn’t wait for Vengeance’s reply, smiling and then talking again.
“There’s a reason. It’s because when I’m hungry I lay kingdoms to waste, and when I’m cornered, I care for nothing but survival and gaining the power I need to survive.”
The Thing’s smile had grown as it talked, and it seemed to reach all the way across its face.
“This place you’ve penned me in has all the power I need to escape, and from what I’ve seen, you don’t have the power to stop me. So, it’s a simple choice, let me go now, or watch a city die.”
The woman whose hands released smoke that glowed white, gray, and, somehow, black said, “Maybe we ought to think about it?”
Not taking his eyes off The Thing, Vengeance said, “No.”
Graffiti Knight, the man in the silver armor, slammed his staff against the grass. It sank in. Wrenching it out, he said, “Never.”
Amothel, elf, half-elf, or whatever she was, put her hand on her sword, sweeping the area in a look that took in all of The Thing’s infected associates. “Necromancer, don’t listen to its words. Leave that to the Council’s Champion.”
“Necromancer?” I looked over at Amy as Vengeance, his people, and The Thing talked more. “Is that her code name?”
Amy frowned. “In Double V, sure, and they’re not wrong about magic for once. That’s what she is. For all they say about not trusting blood magic, she practices one of its offshoots and they’re willing to let her use her skills.”
From the comm Marcus said, “Betcha they wipe whatever record she has due to public service. That’s too cool.”
“Only if you like murder,” Amy said, watching The Thing and Vengeance talk.
Kid Biohack’s voice came over the phone. “You said Alden’s there. Is he okay?”
With a look that said, “Who’s this idiot?” She leaned forward and said, “I can sense magic. He’s infected. He’s not okay.”
If Kid Biohack replied, I missed it because The Thing had started talking.
“Banishment?” It dribbled moisture from its mouth. “There’s a being I wish to find, and I believe it to be on this world. There’s no hurry to find it, but I won’t go until I find him or know that he’s left.”
“What if we found him?” Vengeance kept his gun pointed at The Thing’s midsection. “Would you go?”
It laughed. “If you found him, you’d die and he’d hide better. I’m afraid we are at an impasse. I declare this parley ended.”