“You’re a normal human—physically, at least. Mentally, no…” She shook her head again. “But that doesn’t matter. If I’m that far gone, I’m not going to be able to control what happens when I’m offered what I need to fix myself.
“When the Bloodlords created the Bloodmaiden to protect our land, they borrowed ideas from the Elders. They were a lot like vampires, but they were alive. Their hunger for blood lives on in the Bloodmaiden construct, but also in all the noble families of my world because we’re partially descended from them. Some people believe it’s why we can use magic.
“You can’t trust the Bloodmaiden construct if I’m dying. Find me an animal or let it happen.” She stared at me, waiting, I assumed, for my response.
“Okay,” I said. “I get it. I wasn’t going to do that exact thing again anyway.”
“Good,” she said, glowering at me.
“Glad that’s settled,” Lee said.
He stood next to Vaughn. In my HUD, I could see that Amothel watched him uh… like a hawk that currently looked like an elf, or maybe an elf who could turn into a hawk? Whatever.
I said the first thing that came to mind. “How did you get here?”
A corner of Lee’s mouth twitched. “Easy. Bloodmaiden managed to catch a bit of me in all of your wards, so I was already here. I just stepped through. Oh, and by the way, all your wards have turned to dust.”
Now that he mentioned it, I could feel the dust in my suit. I’d have to vacuum the inside once I got back, or put it into cleaning mode.
He eyed Amothel and Amy. “It’s my hope that you’ll do your best to keep what I said secret.”
Amy raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t going to tell anyone anything.”
To my left, Amothel met his eyes. “I don’t know what you are, but I’ve heard stories about you that go back thousands of years. I know better than to cross you.”
“Excellent,” Lee said. “It’s a rare wizard who has the sense not to experiment when they have the opportunity.”
Amothel smiled, but not with any real joy. “The stories about those who have experimented with you are often quite short.”
She stepped back from us and her brown and gold flecked cape turned into wings. “My thanks to the Heroes’ League for their work, but I have matters to attend to.”
Her wings flapped and she turned fully into a hawk by the time she was over our heads. She made a quick circle above us and flew into the night.
“Hey,” I said. “So you could have turned them to dust at any time?”
“You intended us to use the wards to attack it, and maybe even for me to use a sword.” A quick look around me showed that the sword was gone.
Lee put his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. “I meant you to use whatever you could handle. The Thing That Eats needed to be put down and I couldn’t do it, but I’d already given you the tools to take care of it. So, I let you. You have to know when to let go, right?”
“Except that you saved the Rocket,” Amy said. “Not that I mind, but it’s not exactly letting go.”
Lee put his hand my shoulder, or the Rocket suit at any rate. “I put a lot of work into him and besides, The Thing That Eats was dead. Plus, it was easy.”
As he let go of my shoulder he added, “Don’t forget how the sword worked. You may need it again someday. Oh, and one more thing, there might be a problem.”
My eyes widened as I thought about the obvious problem. “What? You don’t think it managed to tell… uh… people.”
Lee smiled. “Maybe. Probably not, but it’s okay. I’ve got a plan. I’ve already started on it in a few other universes. I’m going to be leaving new false trails in a few different spots. For one of them though, I’m going to have to hitch a ride on your spaceship. Fortunately, you’re going that way anyhow.”
Vaughn crossed his arms and looked at me. “He is? When is he doing that?”
Nodding, Lee said, “After exams in the spring. He’ll probably miss a bit of Stapledon, but it’s time to find out what citizenship in the Xiniti nation means.”
I blinked. “I’d mostly forgotten about that. What about Captain Commando? Oh, and for that matter, Accelerando? I didn’t think to mention it to Lim, but while she may not have killed the Xiniti, she made it possible for us to do it.”
Lee nodded. “Captain Commando’s going too. I’ll pass along what Accelerando did the next time the Xiniti and I talk. We’ve been setting up a job or two for me and it looks as though this might all fit in the same trip.”
I glanced toward the night sky. Somewhere up there, past the clouds were the Xiniti, the Hrrrnna (horselike aliens that probably hated me), and multitudes of humans modified into super-soldiers by the Abominators.
It looked like I’d be seeing them soon.