9.

 

     The grass prickled his skin.  Kelt pulled himself to his feet and looked at the small rambler style house, a preform job.  The confrontation and sudden coldness of Carol had drained him.  Was she mad?  Or sociopathic–though psychobabble didn’t seem adequate to describe her, to describe any builder or harpy.  Kelt didn’t know how to describe this–this magic, and it scared him.

     The door opened.  Kelt cursed himself.  He had emoted, too wound up from seeing someone as vivacious as Carol darkly twisted by the supernatural.  Now . . .

     Julia appeared at the door.  Kelt didn’t think he rated such a high priority among the builders.  His mind harpy’s empathy picked it up: The woman stank of alpha male aggression and confidence.

     The anima ran down his left eye and began to form his soul blade; he sent a tether into his heart chakra and pulled his reluctant mind harpy from its nest with a sharp urgency.  It never liked to move from its nest when he was waxed.

     His mind harpy left his body, but only landed on his shoulder to peer at Julia quizzically.

     Finally, Kelt’s lost builder empathy combining with the impressions he received from his mind harpy through the tether pierced his fear: Julia was waxed.  All builders weren’t as potent as Carol.  He just realized how inferior Carol had made him feel.  He clamped his jaw shut.  He could take Julia down and take Carter from this place.

     "Hello, Kelt.  I see your harpy.  You want to duel?  We’re both waxed, but I’m far from alone here.  Why are you breaking the truce?  You go mad and looking to suicide?  It wouldn’t surprise me."

     Fear.  Fear slithered under her alpha male bravado.  Kelt stepped toward her and felt another wave of fear from this builder who was supposed to be the toughest of their lot.  They both realized the interplay, the shift of confidence.

     Quickly, Julia parried, "How did Carter make you into such a terror?  What lost builder trick did he put you through to make you a monster?  Will you shred yourself again to shred me, as you did to poor Jax?"

     That stopped him.

     Julia pressed on, her builder empathy sensing an advantage.  "Carter never fought to the death; neither did we.  You violate the truce; you strip the sanity from your opponents.  Is this what it’s going to be?  Are you and that dragonlover Carol his new soldiers?  All out war.  No rules.  No mercy.  Just loss of reality or death.  Won’t Carter be satisfied until we’re all ghosts?"

     Kelt wasn’t going to bite.  Both were waxed; both wanted an advantage.  Kelt wanted to be the one to take it.  He let his ‘ganger blood rush to his forehead, clenched his teeth, and screamed, "You lying sow!  You kidnapped Carter when the truce was on!  Jax was an assassin on your orders.  Your orders!  Before I was even in this war!  See how you like it!"

     His anger slammed Jaxish lenses over his eyes.  That merging still clung to him.  He saw Julia only as a thing, an enemy to be dealt with, an obstacle to be overcome.  And he didn’t fight his Jaxish side.  His sword pierced between her breasts, flowing through the pink sweatshirt she wore.

     Julia didn’t cry out; she had already been waxed.  From what, Kelt couldn’t guess and didn’t care.  He just savored Julia’s anima flowing up through his blade and into him.  The waxed aches and pains, muscle stabbing and morbid depression fled, replaced by Julia’s last dregs of anima, slowly, reluctantly flowing into him.

     Julia was almost unconscious; her eyelashes flickered, but she caught Kelt’s eyes.  "You are Jax."

     Kelt released his soul blade.  It dissipated.  He spoke in a rough whisper, "N-no.  No, that’s not true.  I am Kelt."

     Julia collapsed on the cement porch steps in front of her half open door.  She didn’t try to move.  She whispered, too, but not from shock, from weakness, "It is.  You caught me alone, just when I was waxed.  You have a true assassin’s instinct, like Jax.  You conquered him, destroyed the man.  You’ve been used and mutated."  She stopped to concentrate on her breathing.  Exhaustion constricted all beauty from her features.  "I’m the best, but you’re too much.  A monster.  What every arrogant lost builder’s destined to become.  You’re Carter’s future.  His creature.  Like Foster."

     Julia’s eyes closed.  Her head lolled onto the cement with a soft thud.

     Kelt squinched his eyelids tightly closed, holding tears back.  He didn’t want to look at her slight body, didn’t want to think about her, her words–Jax.

     He bit his lower lip, breathed like an overheated dog and pushed Julia to the back of his mind.  Carter was probably being guarded by another builder hiding in the house.  Kelt looked at his mind harpy, still perched on his shoulder.  "Go!  Find Carter’s harpy."

     The bird didn’t fly into the house, but up into the air.

     Kelt pulled at the tether with his frustration.

     His harpy circled over him in confusion.  It sent a picture of Kelt’s apartment to him through the tether.

     Three white comets streaked through the sunshine, plummeted toward the house.

     Jax’s voice echoed harshly from inside the house, "Kelt, go!  Jacquie, Marc, and Beth are coming.  I can sense it!"

     "Jax?" Kelt asked, "What are you doing–"

     Jax walked outside and picked up Julia tenderly.  "This is my home.  They’re my friends.  I won’t help you against them.  I can’t save you.  I’m too lonely now.  You made me that way.  So burning sweet–to know you’re alone, but to know there’s some ability to share with others, even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s mostly delusion.  It’s something, at least, even if they don’t–can’t understand me anymore.  It’s still sweet.  Go, Kelt, my brother."

     Three naked figures stood silhouetted by the light brown fence.

     Kelt shouted, "I’m not your brother, dammit," and he shot the bridge.

     His first void claimed him, but Kelt didn’t feel the chill.  He plunged through his soul fire with an urgency that slammed him against his light.  He wanted these feelings, these memories alienated from him.  The pleasure from stabbing and stealing anima from Julia revolted him.

     Kelt’s essential self came out the other end of his fire into the outer darkness.  All guilt of his violence, all fear and pity of Carol Foster was only like a photograph, a two dimensional memory without feeling.  His mind harpy gingerly added the new memories to its growing nest.  But his bird kept that violence of his close to the center.  His mind harpy wouldn’t allow him surcease for long.  If it squeezed that memory here, dragons would spring from the outer darkness.

     Kelt pictured his apartment, tethered and ordered his harpy to access that memory.  Kelt descended into the hard world, straight onto his green cloth chair.

     Carter was sitting on the couch as he tossed a pair of jeans at his pupil.

     "What the hell?" Kelt cried, "What are you doing here?"  Surprise and relief merged with frustration.  Strangling Carter and dumping his body in front of Julia’s house might just end the war, but he discarded his childish fantasy and hugged the old man instead.

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