Kara jogged down the street toward the train station, cursing and furious, trying to convince herself that if idiot children wanted to go fight a demon or some such it was their own lookout, and not really her fault. She clenched dirty, paling knuckles around the silver spectacle case in her hand and drew up her coat collar against the rain that had begun to pelt down. She was miserable, tired, and still feeling a bit off. A ringing filled her ears, and a kind of roaring from somewhere. Air beat suddenly down on her, but no rain. Kara didn’t even have time to look up as something pulled her up abruptly into the sky. With one powerful wingbeat, then another, Kara was over the buildings of the city, held in the powerful arms of Doctor Corin Blackfeather.
“I’m sorry, Kara, but I don’t have much time,” the low, accented voice spoke in her ear. “My daughter is unconscious again and I need to find her. Show me where they are.”
Kara, watching rooftops go past under her trailing boots, found that flying was amazing, scary, and glorious. Better than riding on the top of a train, better than anything. “Yes, sir,” she said. She pointed in the direction she’d been avoiding turning back toward.
Doctor Blackfeather banked sharply, swinging them round in an arc that made the gaslight below flow like candles in a river, and brought an ornate clock tower nearly close enough to touch. Kara laughed delightedly, watching rooftops and gardens below her dangling boots. In a matter of three wing-beats, Kara spotted the Derdrien roof. As she was pointing it out, two crackling bolts of lightning flashed down in front of them, striking the building and illuminating it with eerie blue.
“I believe we’ll be arriving in the middle of a fight,” Doctor Blackfeather said.
“All the better for saving the day, sir,” Kara said. She tried to feel properly terrified, but it wouldn’t take. She had her bronze sword from last summer at her belt now, and she drew it out to have handy.
“We may need to crash through a window,” he cautioned.
“I would like that, sir.” Kara heard herself speak without any irony. It was, in fact, a lifelong dream of hers. Like flying.
She felt Doctor Blackfeather’s surprise in the grip around her shoulders, and heard a smile in his next words. “Hold tight, then, when I tell you.”
The cracked glass roof of the Derdrien was very close now, looking like an eggshell one tap from falling to bits. Three molten shapes hurtled out of the sky, hissing close beside them, crashing down through the glass, scattering flame.
Wrapping great wings suddenly close around her, Corin Blackfeather dived along with them. Kara whooped as they plummeted out of the sky and down through shattering glass.
For a moment everything was chaos, broken glass and flames, rising steam, glowing symbols and changing shapes. She saw in one moment clear of dark feathers and streaming flame that most of the Blackfeathers and their friends were gathered in a tight circle on a stair landing, surrounded by a pale circle of sand. The floor was singed right up to the edges of it, and the sand seemed to glow. Jon had a wildly glowing hand upraised, Tam was trying to wake an unconscious Anna, and Djaren was lifting an equally lifeless Ellea out of something that looked like a copper eggshell. Lady Blackfeather looked as though she were directing something across the room and the scarred Professor was pouring more sand into copper piping with less than steady fingers.
People in robes floated in formation above glowing symbols on the floor, which was smoking from several craters, and seemed to have sprouted copper vines made of plumbing pipe in the oddest places. Varden floated highest, wind whipping his coat and hair around. Light seemed to dim near him and his eyes were pitch black, not like Kara’s, but all black, even the whites. She recognized the cold feeling as they dove past him. Everyone stopped and looked up at them, the robed people throwing up arms to shield themselves from falling glass.
The rest of the room was a mess of cracked stone, metal tablets scrawled with symbols, people in robes, and loads of growing and floating copper. Kara had one moment to take everything in, and then Lady Blackfeather looked up at her husband, nodded, and began to shout out orders. The copper cylinders that the Professor had been filling rose into the air and spun out in separate directions around the room, tilting as they flew to spill arching streams of white sand. They made a shape that overlaid the one on the floor, a four pointed star. Tam and Jon climbed down an oddly placed copper pole at the circle’s edge, and Djaren slid down along the bannister of a broken, smoking staircase.
“We need to make four points,” Doctor Blackfeather told Kara. “Make sure my son arrives safely at his.”
Kara hefted her bronze sword. “Right, sir.” She found herself dropping, but not dropped, half flung, half sliding down a curtain of black, toward Djaren and the point of the star he was running for. Pistol shots rang out. Varden was shouting. Bullets bounced off dented copper, then off Jon’s silver shield, then right through insubstantial folds of black cloth and melting feathers, to hit wall and glass. Kara jumped and knocked Djaren right off his feet to skid backward over stone and metal as shots flew in their direction. She willed them forward to the right spot, shoving at the ground with her boots to give them an extra few feet. They slid to a halt just at the point of the star, one shot rushing right over Kara’s hair as she ducked down close and found herself crushing into Djaren.
“Ouch,” he remarked, his breath touching her ear. Kara shifted back at once, only to see that he was smiling. “Hello again,” he said. “Can you move your elbow, please?”
Kara moved her elbows off his stomach and rolled away, careful not to crack him across the chin with the sword. He rolled up too, touching his back gingerly, where he’d skinned it skidding over the rough floor. Kara kicked the weak point of an old brazier close by. It cracked and tilted just enough to block more gunfire. The shots now seemed to be aimed at the winged man who had crashed through the ceiling with a sword made of burning emptiness, and glowing green eyes.
“What are you?” Varden said, in an odd voice, looking at Doctor Blackfeather. “When has a Shaper left its work to take to the battlefield? And how has the world changed to twist one of your kind to be able to wield that?” Varden indicated the burning sword.
“Perhaps you needed to be there,” Doctor Blackfeather said. “But we would all rather you weren’t. I have come to bind you, Kesh.”
“It took a battalion armed with holy relics to defeat me when last I fought,” Varden, or Kesh, said. “And you would face me alone, with a weapon that looks like it was made by one of my own kind? Was that formed from the bones of a Shaper? How fascinating. I look forward to taking it from your severed hands.”
Djaren pressed a bloodied palm to their point of the star, looking up to see that the group at the top of the stairs was ready. Lady Blackfeather gave them a look and a nod and, wrapping her arms around the Professor, floated down to the floor on a circular platform of copper filigree that appeared out of the swirling air.
“Are Jon and Tam in place?” Djaren asked.
Kara peered around the brazier to see that Tam had just smacked a Pumphrite in the head with a mallet, and Jon was kneeling to touch his ordinary palm to the sand. “Yes. What are you doing?” Kara asked.
“A binding ritual. We hope. Are all the Pumphrites in the star?”
“No,” said Kara, watching as a Pumphrite creeping toward Hellin was struck by a pretty copper rail and fell limply to the floor within the star. “Now, yes.”
“Help me, then.” Djaren looked up at her. “Please, I mean,” he said, placing one hand on the star point and reaching out the other toward her.
“What? Me? Why?” A glance showed her Tam and Jon working together, at their point. Tam’s hand covered Jon’s ordinary one on the star point, while Jon’s glowing hand raised silver curtains of light to protect them. Silver white light glowed all around them, pushing back against the dark. A rich warm copper light rose brightly about the scarred Professor and Lady Blackfeather, where they knelt to touch their mark in the sand. Their platform was a spinning shield of filigree fan blades now, circling round them.
Djaren took Kara’s awkwardly offered hand and their fingers laced together over their point of the star. Held against the sand, Kara’s hand tingled and itched like before, but not unpleasantly. Dark threads suddenly spread from under her fingers, unfurling black, like the veins that had come from the hand of the rotting man one night a summer ago. Kara opened her mouth in astonishment, but she didn’t say anything. Djaren was watching his father and didn’t seem to notice.
Doctor Blackfeather dived, landing at the final point of the star in a sudden bright column of glowing green flame. At once the Professor, at the first point, called out. “I see you, Keshkenarr the murderer, and bind you where you stand.”
“You are too weak a power to think of—” Kesh spun in midair.
Behind him, Doctor Blackfeather spoke. “By the One who made all wills free, I banish every demon from the minds and bodies they have claimed.”
Jon called out next, his high voice firm, “Light from light, first light of all the lights, draw out and reveal your true forms.”
Blackness began pouring out of Varden’s mouth, surrounding him in a cloud. Mist was streaming from the other robed figures too, in thin tendrils.
Djaren cleared his throat and called out, “By the One who gave Land life, we call you out and bind you. You have no power here, and no shelter to which to flee. We seal you forever.” Kara seconded that with a hard nod, willing the words true as strongly as she could. Sleek, shining blackness like ink poured from under her palm, but instead of pooling, it spread outward into words, letters, incomprehensible and intricate, floating up at the edges as if written on invisible parchment.
Djaren paused, and Kara’s throat caught. Had something gone wrong? Was it because of her? “Oh. Uh, Father,” Djaren said, “what are we sealing them into?”
“Anything,” Doctor Blackfeather called. “Wait, no, it has to be something sturdy, something that will last.”
“Nothing valuable or made of gold this time,” Lady Blackfeather added.
“Quickly!” the Professor cried. “He’s trying to break out!”
A pillar of blackness was pulsing and swirling wildly around Varden’s sinking form, thrashing against invisible walls.
“Got it!” yelled Tam. “Go on, quick!”
Jon’s voice rose, shaky. “Keshkenarr, by the light of the One, I bind you for eternity into this your new form.” Djaren, Jon, the Professor, and Lady and Doctor Blackfeather all spoke one phrase together, in a language Kara didn’t know, and light flared, silver, copper, and fiery green, while a labyrinth of words fluttered around her own point, glistening iridescent black. The light rose to blinding.
The blackness was sucked down suddenly, like smoke out a chimney flue, leaving just the other columns of paler smoke. One was larger than the others, rising from Pumphrey.
“I got another,” Tam said. “Want to?”
“Urubil the scribe!” Jon called. “By the light of the One, I bind you for eternity into this your new form.”
That column was sucked away, too.
“I’m all out. What now?” Tam asked, standing in his stocking feet. Two lightly smoking gumboots lay thrown in the center of the star.
“I have marbles,” Jon said, pulling them out of his pocket.
Together they bound roughly two dozen minor fiends into marbles, a hairpin, and one of Anna’s pencils. Once it was all over, there were just odd objects and limp forms all over the floor, with ordinary rain falling in through the shattered roof, washing ink, blood and hieroglyphs all away. The lights and colors had faded now all the magic seemed past, though Jon’s hand was still bright whenever it waved over the strange collection on the floor.
Doctor Blackfeather unfolded great black wings and flew to Ellea, bringing her down into the waiting arms of Lady Blackfeather. Together they bent their heads over the small girl.
“Is she going to be all right?” Djaren asked, rising from his place and limping toward them.
“Don’t shout. I have a headache,” Ellea’s voice threaded over.
Djaren grinned. “You have a headache? You shouted so loudly before I’ll hear it for a week.”
“I wasn’t shouting for you,” Ellea grumbled, lifting her arms to be picked up by her father, who obliged.
“I’m here now,” he said, holding her close. Her mother closed in the hug on the other side, stroking her daughter’s hair carefully.
Kara looked away, embarrassed by them, or by some other emotion harder to name.
Tam shimmed up the copper pole to where Anna was stirring, although she was sitting up and able to give him a hand by the time he got to the top. “I’m all right,” she assured him. “II seem to have missed quite a bit of excitement though. What’s happened to all the Pumphrites?”
The voice of a small boy came from the balcony above. “Varden!” A messy-haired boy in a suit scrambled down the iron staircase and ran across the room to where Varden lay. “Varden, you’re here!”
Varden moved, raising his head with a look of great confusion, and propping himself up on an elbow. “Morly!”
Morly hugged Varden tight, knocking him back over. “I was scared, but I knew you’d come. I just woke up, and you had come, and everything is in bits and wet. What happened?”
Varden sat and surveyed the room in complete bafflement. Doctor Blackfeather’s wings were suddenly nowhere to be seen. However, there were lots of other inexplicable things to look at, like the scorched ground, the craters, and some very odd copper piping. He looked up at Anna, who was dangling her feet off the scorched balcony while Tam collected the Professor’s books and things from the sand circle. “You were being an ass,” she reminded. “But I’m glad to see you’re yourself again.”
“I have no idea,” Varden said, sitting up, “what you are implying.” He looked about and saw his pistol lying near. “Oh. That. I remember something about paying a visit to your hotel.”
“We toured the sewers, remember?” Anna asked.
Varden reddened. “Ah. Yes.”
“Did you shoot somebody?” Morly picked up the pistol with some excitement.
Varden took it back from him carefully, found it no longer loaded, and looked about at the unconscious Pumphrites, aghast. “Did I?”
“Not for lack of trying,” Kara said.
“That wasn’t you,” Djaren said.
Kara saw the Seal of Kesh on the floor, and kicked it across toward Varden. “You wanted that. There you go. All yours.”
It wasn’t cold any longer, and didn’t suck at the light. One of the gumboots on the floor did, though. Kara stared at it, then abruptly laughed.
Varden picked up the seal and looked sharply up at Kara. “I still say you are the worst thief I have ever met.”
“Everything you took from Narmos is probably here somewhere,” Kara said. “Along with everything Pumphrey took. I don’t want it. Steal it yourself if you feel like.”
“That’s what led me back here,” Doctor Blackfeather told his wife. “I found that someone had been illegally transporting large artifacts out of Narmos, that it was a man named Pumphrey, and that he’d been shipping them here to Germhacht. I came back as fast as I could. I was afraid . . . and rightly so.” He looked up at the mess of the rooftop.
“I don’t remember coming here.” Varden frowned.
“Where am I? What’s happened?” A panicked, shrill male voice spoke up, across the room. “Oh dear. Oh dear.” Mr. Pumphrey was sitting up and tugging at his rain-sodden reddish robe with some surprise. The other people were beginning to wake, too, with a few exceptions. Tam, just now back on the floor, dropped his mallet, looking abashed.
“We didn’t know if they could be people again,” Jon comforted him, taking an armful of the books and scrolls. “And they couldn’t have been if we hadn’t managed to make the ritual happen. Let’s see what we can do about helping them out now.”
Anna walked carefully down a little set of new copper stairs with help from Lady Blackfeather, and they joined the boys at tending to and gathering former Pumphrites.
“I imagine some authorities will be arriving soon,” Doctor Blackfeather said.
“Things were a bit noisy here,” Djaren agreed.
“The house is on fire,” Kara said, noticing the fact belatedly. Coals from the brazier she’d knocked over earlier had apparently burned a hole through the already scorched and weakened floor.
“Good thing about the fire ladder then,” Lady Blackfeather said, nodding to the roof edge where a beautifully made copper ladder led down.
“You are amazingly handy in a crisis.” Doctor Blackfeather smiled at his wife.
“I’m handy all the time. In crisis I merely become amazing.” She smiled back, and threaded her arm through his. “Shall we go?”
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