Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
Chapter 21: “It is not what we have lost . . .”
All this, Abigail told Rebecca once she had a chance to sit down in Rebecca’s rooms at the Double Eagle and relieve the pain in her knee. She had glanced at the body near the door, but waited until she had finished relating William’s demands to ask who he was and what he was doing there.
Rebecca shook her head dismissingly. “Someone Maverick no doubt enticed to rip the cross from Patty’s neck. The protective spell killed him. Which is what we must do to Maverick next.”
Abigail shook her head. “You can’t, Rebecca. As long as he holds that rope, there is nothing you can do to him that won’t result in Patty’s death. You can’t defeat a spell based on physical contact. It’s just too fast.”
Rebecca stood up, banging the end of the walking stick on the floor. “Well, I just can’t give him the walking stick, either. I’m bound to it.” Her eyes glowed golden.
Abigail had seen that before, and all her worries returned. She flinched.
Rebecca noticed, and asked, “What’s wrong, Abigail?”
Abigail replied, “Your eyes turned golden, like dragon eyes. It’s not the first time it’s happened, Rebecca. The dragon must be gaining more control over you.”
Rebecca was exasperated by Abigail’s comments, and was about to retort when she reconsidered. I know Abigail’s wrong, she thought to herself. The dragon is doing my bidding, not the reverse. But I don’t understand why. If I knew why, I might find a way to free Patty and defeat this William Maverick.
Rebecca stood there, thinking furiously, reviewing all of her dealings with the walking stick. She had hunted with the dragon as one being on the magical plane the first time she had called to it to save Sam Taylor, had ridden it as a separate being the second time at the Devil’s Acre. What had changed? She had to explicitly invoke the dragon years ago to make it do anything, but now it was helping her unasked. What had changed? What had changed, other than time? What had changed with time? In a single shining moment, Rebecca realized that she had finally asked the right questions, and that she had all the answers she needed.
Abigail knew nothing of what Rebecca was thinking. To her, Rebecca just seemed to be looking off into the distance, concentrating on understanding why she had dragon eyes. Her expression gradually changed from one of concentration to a sad smile. Abruptly she focused on Abigail again with a serious expression on her face, and said to her, “Abigail, go downstairs and wait for me. I’ll be down there in five minutes. And then we will go and deal with this Maverick once and for all time.”
True to her word, Rebecca showed up only a few minutes later. She gazed at Abigail’s knee and said, “You have done something with magic to your knee.”
Abigail replied, “It’s been getting worse with all the walking I’ve done tonight. We have a new spell at the Office that can restore full function to an injured limb for a short while, at the cost of a longer healing process. This seems like an appropriate time to use it.”
Rebecca nodded. “Good. Lead the way.”
They walked out of the hotel and onto the street. It was still some hours until the first signs of dawn, and there were no streetlights, so the sky overhead was clear and full of stars. The two women proceeded for a few hundred yards when Abigail asked Rebecca, “What are you going to do?”
Rebecca gave a mirthless laugh. “I am going to give the walking stick to this Maverick, he is going to release Patty, and everything is going to be fine.”
Abigail could not accept this. “He won’t keep his part of the bargain, Rebecca.”
Rebecca gave that same laugh again. “I know. I’m counting on it. Still, it will work out just as I have said.”
Abigail stopped, turned to Rebecca. “I can’t let you do this, Rebecca. Maverick with the power of that walking stick would be far, far too dangerous. Look how many he has killed already.”
Rebecca was much the shorter woman. She looked up at Abigail and pleaded with her. “Abigail, it’s Patty’s life that’s at stake.”
Abigail would not be budged. “It’s the lives of many more if he gets hold of that walking stick and learns how to use it.”
Rebecca tried again. “We have been partners, Abigail. I’m sure I could go to the mill and find this man. But I can’t do this alone. I need your help.”
Abigail’s frustration mounted and she raised her voice. “What is ‘this’ we are going to do, Rebecca? All you are telling me is that you’re going to surrender and that everything will be fine. It’s not enough. If I am really your partner, then tell me what you plan to do.”
“I can’t. It has to be secret.”
Rebecca’s own frustration was at its limits. She had to convince Abigail. And time was running out. She thought, and then hit upon an approach. “It’s about secrets, Abigail. We all have them. You belong to this secret organization. Maverick has been hiding here. My husband tried to cover up when he was unfaithful to me.” Rebecca saw Abigail start at that one, as Rebecca had intended. She had to show Abigail she was being as forthcoming as she could be. “All these secrets, and none of them are any good in the long run. They are all a sign of weakness. My husband wanted to hide his actions from me, Maverick wanted to hide from us, and all of us magicians are in hiding somehow. And none of it works in the long run. The secrecy weakens us.” Rebecca felt she had enunciated some great principle, yet for her it mattered only if she could convince Abigail.
She continued speaking. “Secrets only work in the short term. They only work when they cover up weakness for a short while. And that is where we are, Abigail. We are weak, compared to Maverick, because he holds a hostage against us. I can still defeat him, but I need secrecy because I am in a weak position, I need to catch him by surprise. And you must not know what I have planned, because your reactions might just give him enough of a clue that my plan will be spoiled.” And you also must not know, Abigail, because you would not agree to my plan, Rebecca added to herself.
Abigail knew well that she was not being told what she wanted to know. But Rebecca was being sincere, that much she could tell. Moreover, she had accepted Rebecca as a partner. That word carried a great deal of weight with Abigail. She decided she had to support her partner. So she turned without a word and started walking again toward the mill.
Rebecca joined her and they walked in silence for a few minutes. Rebecca was thankful for Abigail’s support. She wanted to tell her everything, but knew she could not. She struggled to think of anything more she could tell Abigail.
After some thought, Rebecca said to Abigail, “There are two more things I can tell you, Abigail, must tell you, in fact, but you may not ask me any questions about them. Tell me, how much science do you know?”
Abigail did not understand what she was getting into, but she was proud of her education. “I have extensive knowledge in all the sciences, physical and social.”
Rebecca gave that odd laugh again. “And I do not, so you are my better in that respect, Abigail. But I do remember one saying: to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s true in magic, too. It’s the key to everything that has happened, that is about to happen. And you will understand, Abigail, I promise you that.
“That was one of the two things. This is the other. There will come a time, Abigail, and you will know it, when you should take Patty and get away as quickly as you can. And now don’t ask me any questions, but remember both of those things.”
Abigail dearly wanted to ask questions. Nevertheless, she held her peace. She had no solution to their problem. Rebecca did, or at least thought she did, and Abigail would let her play her hand. Besides, Abigail was intensely curious to see how Rebecca would apply Newton’s Third Law to magic.
They arrived at the warehouse and stepped inside. Rebecca could see a man holding the end of a rope, and the other end of the rope tied around Patty’s waist. Patty, she noticed, had been crying. This Maverick, she thought to herself, he has hurt her. I do not regret what is about to happen.
She hailed him. “You are William Maverick, I take it?”
William nodded. “Has Abigail explained the deal?”
Rebecca stopped about twenty feet from him. Abigail took up a position to her left, facing Patty. Rebecca said, “I am to give you the walking stick to keep, and you are to release Patty to us, alive and unharmed.” Rebecca was watching Patty out of the corner of her eye. She’s barely reacting to what is happening, Rebecca noticed. Something has already been done to her.
William smiled. “Those are the terms. I will accept nothing else. Otherwise the girl dies.”
Rebecca paused, and then replied, “I am bound to the walking stick. To let you have it, I must engage in a brief operation.”
William did not like it, but he knew he had nothing to fear, so long as he could threaten the servant girl’s life. “Do what you must, but do not make any move against me, or the girl dies.”
Rebecca offered him a brittle smile. “I wouldn’t dream of threatening you while Patty’s life is at stake.”
With that, she reached into the bag she wore on her belt. In one flowing motion, she pulled out the pistol she had taken from Rev. Wilson, put it to her head, and fired at point-blank range.
Patty screamed. William looked away.
Abigail watched. She watched because she could not believe what Rebecca had done. She watched because she wanted to catch whatever trick Rebecca was pulling. She watched to make sure Rebecca was dead. For even in the first moment after the gun went off there was no question of Rebecca surviving. Her skull shattered, and gore sprayed from it as she fell. The body that hit the ground gave a twitch or two and was still. It was dead. Its magical field was gone. The walking stick had fallen from its grasp, and lay in front of it.
Rebecca, I do not understand, thought Abigail to herself. What action? What reaction? You’ve died. For what?
Abigail did not know what Rebecca had planned, but she saw the walking stick lying there. If I can get to it first, I can at least stand off William Maverick, she thought to herself, maybe force him to surrender Patty as well.
She took a step, but no more, for William’s voice rang out. “Stay away from the stick, Abigail, or the girl dies.” Abigail stopped.
She watched as William Maverick walked over. Pulled by the rope, Patty staggered behind him, as if in a daze. He switched the rope from his right to his left hand and picked up the walking stick with his right. Abigail held her breath, hoping that Rebecca had somehow rigged the stick to kill him. But there it was in his hand, and he was looking at it with the smile of a winner.
Abigail knew her duty. “Release the girl, William.”
William laughed, looked at Patty, and then gave Abigail a condescending smile. “Why should I, Abigail? I admit she’s not much, but she might make a nice plaything for a while. Or maybe I can use her in a sacrifice.”
Abigail tried to command him with magic in her voice, “Let her go, William.”
William laughed again. “Oh, Abigail, you were never powerful enough to command me. While with this walking stick,” and he held it forward like a staff, “I can easily command you. But I think not. I’d rather just see you dead.”
Magic poured out of the walking stick. Abigail thought she was doomed. But then she realized the magic wasn’t directed against her. It was flowing out in every direction. And with it came heat. With a surge of hope, Abigail realized that this was not William’s doing.
Maverick realized it, too, but again he was too late. For a bolt of magic shot across his body from his right hand holding the stick to his left holding the rope. It destroyed the rope and the spell with it, and flung Patty several feet away from William Maverick, and only a few feet from Abigail.
Abigail had expected something, hoped for something. This time she moved fast enough. She jumped in between William and Patty, shielding the girl from her former captor. Abigail had no idea how Rebecca had arranged what had just happened, but she applauded the cleverness of the trick: the one way to defeat a spell based on physical contact was to be in physical contact with the magician. And William was holding the walking stick.
William Maverick knew he had miscalculated. Somehow, although its previous owner was dead and he was holding it, he did not control the walking stick. Still, even without it he was sure he could cope with Abigail Lane. “Get out of the way, Abigail, now. Remember which of us is more powerful. The girl is mine.”
Abigail could feel the air grow thick with the magic and heat still pouring from the walking stick. She could feel sweat beginning to form on her body. She was sure this was somehow Rebecca’s work, though she did not understand what was going on. Knowing that much, she stood her ground. “The girl isn’t yours anymore, William. And judging from what’s going on, neither is the walking stick.”
William roared. “It’s mine, Abigail. And you are going to die.”
And then another voice was heard. “No, the walking stick is mine.” William heard the voice coming from behind him, and turned.
Patty let out a gasp. Abigail could not believe her eyes. For standing there was Rebecca Farnsworth Maxwell, looking just as she had before she shot herself in the head.
It cannot be, thought Abigail. Rebecca was dead.
William Maverick did not understand how Rebecca could be alive, but he knew what he held. “No, it is mine. You gave it up to me.”
It is not Rebecca, thought Abigail. That’s not her magical field, though it resembles hers. And her hair? It has turned brown. It took Abigail only a moment to recall that she had heard Rebecca’s hair had turned brown once before, when she was fighting the werewolf, when she was calling on the dragon.
Rebecca, or whatever it was, gave that same odd laugh Rebecca had given Abigail only minutes earlier. “We had a deal, William Maverick.”
To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, thought Abigail. This must be the reaction. But what is it the reaction to? Rebecca died. Rebecca’s soul has gone to the plane of magic, the plane of magic where the dragon is, and the dragon . . .
The Rebecca-thing continued to speak, “We had a deal. You tried to cheat me. And for that you forfeit the walking stick, the girl, and your life.”
Thinking of the dragon made Abigail recognize just how Rebecca’s magical field had changed. It more resembled that of the walking stick, of the dragon. Rebecca has gone to the plane of magic, she thought to herself, and there must be an equal and opposite reaction. In reaction, the dragon will come from the plane of magic . . . and the dragon will walk the earth.
With absolute certainty, Abigail knew this was the time Rebecca had warned her about. She barely noticed Rebecca’s features begin to transform, to become dragon-like, before she spun around. With all the magical force she could muster, she shouted at Patty, “Get away from here!” She could practically see the magic in the air cut her command to pieces, but enough of it got through that Patty turned and began running toward the door through which Abigail and Rebecca had come.
Abigail started right after her. But she found that the magic in the air had shredded the spell on her knee, and she could only limp. Patty raced on ahead to the door and safety while Abigail strove to keep up.
Every second mattered. Abigail could feel the magic getting even thicker, the temperature rising even higher. She knew she was sweating heavily.
And now the magic seemed to be changing, too. It began calling to her, dragging at her, telling her to look and see the dragon. It was using its magic to lure its victims, Abigail realized, and if she did not get out of that warehouse soon, she would be one of them.
Between the urgency of the moment, and the sweat in her eyes, Abigail did not look carefully enough at where she was going. She passed too close to a crate, and her dress snagged. Abigail was thrown off balance and fell to the floor, slamming her injured knee so hard she cried out. She wasn’t sure how she had fallen, or which way she was facing, but she knew she had to unsnag her dress without looking up. To look up might be to see the dragon, and that would give it more power over her.
Abigail struggled desperately with the crate and her dress, trying to keep her mind focused on it and not on the siren call of the dragon. From somewhere, the thought came: a woman who does magic in a dress is a fool. Abigail was grateful for the distraction, but could have done without that particular observation. She gave her dress a powerful tug that almost freed it before it jerked away from her hands. Momentum caused her head to snap up.
Abigail saw the dragon.
It was gorgeous. It was enormous. It was impossible. The massive coils of its body and tail rose hundreds of feet in the air, as if there were no roof on the building. An ever-changing pattern of light reflected off the scales in all of the colors of the rainbow. The wings were open and extended from one side of the building to the other, brown with golden veins. The dragon’s great jaws were open, with red and gold teeth that glittered in the light. The tiny figure of William Maverick was hardly worth noticing in front of that gigantic mouth. The huge golden eyes were sublimely beautiful. They bewitched Abigail. She scarcely realized that she had stood up, or that her dress tore as she started walking toward the dragon. She could see the fireball forming deep in the rich purple gullet of the creature. She would do it. She would walk into that mouth and be consumed. She would.
It is a fundamental truth of magic that it is easier to spell someone to do something they are already inclined to do. Rebecca had counted on that principle when she used magic to persuade Beth Finch to forget her embarrassment in the garden. Conversely, it is equally true that it requires enormous magical power to make a person act against their knowing and determined opposition. Abigail Lane was hopelessly outclassed in magical power by the dragon, and she knew it. But she would not give up, she would not accept defeat, she would not let another master her. She had never done so before. She would not do so now.
Abigail turned away. Slowly, painfully, she looked away. She turned her body. And she took a step away from the dragon.
Another step. Another. Step by terrible step, Abigail struggled to reach the door and salvation. The pain in her knee was excruciating. Even with much of her dress torn away, it was so hot that her body was slick with sweat that clouded her eyes as it dripped off her forehead. The dragon’s magic still clawed at her, still told her how sweet it would be to immolate herself. She barely knew what she was doing, her mind was so torn and disrupted by the magic in the air about her. The door seemed an infinite distance way. Still, it was her goal, and she took one dreadful and determined step after another.
She had made it to within ten feet of the door when her world went up in flames around her.
End of chapter twenty-one
END OF PART TWO