Dust flexed his fingers, his other gun resting comfortably between his hands. It felt damn good to hold it and not feel like a five-year old picking up his pa’s weapon. And it felt even better to have used it to rip apart a cult of the Triangle.
“I’ve destroyed everything you’ve worked for, haven’t I?” he asked.
The Faustian – the geniuses’ word, not his – smiled, his wild eyes crinkling above his mask. “Almost everything. But not Penelope. And not an important alliance,” he said. His eyes moved toward the chamber’s exit.
Dust indulged him, looked across. At the stairway was Naismith. Swaddled in cultists’ clothing, blood dripping down her hands, she was trying to sneak away when the Faustian called attention to her. Dust hadn’t recognised her in the heat of battle but he now realised she’d been part of a threesome enjoying itself so much that it hadn’t noticed the slaughter of their brethren. When they had ceased, he had assumed Godly Claw had killed them. Clearly not.
There was a strong taste of magic about her. Panic rose in him as he wondered how the cult had turned her so quickly. Then he realised it wasn’t possible to convert someone so rapidly.
She jumped, then turned and smiled away her shock, a wicked grin on her young face. Blood-dipped hands clasped together, spraying a fine red mist. Her hair was loose and she looked relieved and relaxed. “Dust. I guess you had to find out. It would not have been fitting otherwise.”
Dust’s heart fell to the floor when her sleeves rolled down and revealed, inches above her elbows, the tattoos of a follower of Omnis. “Oh fuck.”
Naismith followed his gaze then laughed. “Yes, yes, I am Omnis’.”
“How did you hide it?” Shadows Fade shouted. Dust would’ve turned but he couldn’t take his eyes off Naismith.
“Oh. It can talk. Well, pardon my crudity but fuck you, you red-skinned bitch.”
Shadows Fade growled back.
The Faustian then launched himself at Dust, dark magic flaring across his pale skin. He’d only pointed Naismith out to distract Dust and the tactic proved successful when his fist smacked against Dust’s chin. The magic tried to bury into his skin but Resistance didn’t let it, flared counter-magic without Dust having to ask.
It wasn’t enough to stop the Faustian knocking him into the air. Dust crashed down, skidded across the ceremony chamber on his shoulder and only stopped when he smacked against the central altar.
“Well, you three just enjoy yourselves with… him,” Naismith shouted, joy tingeing her voice. “I shall never see you again but I just want you to know; you all sicken me more than you could possibly comprehend. Bye bye!”
With that, she ran upstairs and escaped.
“Sickening bitch, isn’t she?” the Faustian said with another smile. His voice had returned to is regular softness but mania danced on its edges still.
Dust stood, his shoulder hurting. “Yep.”
“And you let yourself get captured for her? That’s got to hurt.”
It did. Badly. He hadn’t trusted his instincts, had let her in, treated her as a partner and a warrior and she had spat on him for doing so. Just imagining her brought a fire into him, a great conflagration he was almost scared of. He couldn’t indulge it or consider what this treachery meant for the Solution; for now, he had to concentrate on rescuing Penelope.
“It hurt more than your little tickle,” Dust replied, lightly rubbing his chin.
The Faustian laughed again, hollow and whistling.
“Shadows Fade?” Dust asked, unwilling to take his eyes off the Faustian again.
She paused. In the silence, the Faustian walked forward, his magic slowly waltzing around his form. “She is almost too far gone. I will prevent her falling completely but it is not something I can maintain.”
He cast his senses back to judge how long he had. Shadows Fade would cope for minutes at most; he felt in Penelope the same magic as was in the Father’s Word. She was being invested with a piece of That Which Sins and the warrior was not powerful enough to hold it at bay.
“It’s an Avatar you’re after?” Dust asked, deciding to move to the offensive.
That slowed the bastard. “How did you know that?”
It was Dust’s turn to launch an unexpected attack, firing a shot between the Faustian’s widened eyes. The dark magic surging across his body deflected the shot but its strength was lessened by the blow, robbing the bastard of one destructive surge at least.
The Faustian took a deep breath and charged, moving at that incredible rate. Whole again, Dust could meet him properly; he spun his other gun around and struck it against the black material of the bastard’s shirt. Both attacks were hay-makers. Their magics, the strengths of their wills, clashed and the flare blocked out the chandelier’s light.
For magic was really the application of will, the strength of your character and your desire to achieve your aims. Everyone has a pool of magic they can call upon with training but it’s how much you want to use it that matters. The principle applied even more for magic which wasn’t yours, magic begged, borrowed or gifted from the gods. So when the Wanted Man and a Faustian of That Which Sins clashed, both convinced they were in the right, whoever wanted it more would win.
In the instant between them coming together and their magic flaring, it proved there was nothing between them and both were knocked back. Dust landed on an unused altar behind him and crushed it, winded instantly. Whereas the Faustian landed on the other side of the room with his neck at an awkward angle, one that would have killed someone who didn’t have his rubbery physique.
Dust pulled himself from the remains of the carved altar, marble dust and debris dropping from his clothes. He took deep breaths as he moved, letting his connection with Resistance rebuild his bruised body. At the same time, the Faustian rolled over and set his neck back between his shoulders like a pale gem. He cricked his head from side to side and stood.
Without talking they clashed again, grey gunmetal against white flesh. They struck each other over and over, their magics flaring like caustic fireworks. The cast-off power struck them both, singeing Dust’s skin and tearing at the magic surrounding the Faustian.