Author's Note: Thanks to Tiger, who looked over this chapter for me. Your comments really helped a lot! (Of course, any goof-ups in here are mine.)
She turns to him when he utters the word, just as she always has. But this time she knows from the sounds of the raging combat, from the hoarseness of his voice, that something is different. She turns in the same moment that he falls, his little blades scattering from his pocket.
The Gate is so close to opening; she is so close to being safe from this poisonous world. But he needs to be healed now, so she leaves her spot and kneels by him. Her fingers hesitate on his cheek. It's not the blood that disturbs her, but the absolute stillness. He doesn't stir at her touch-he doesn't even seem to be breathing.
She wants him to look at her, to reassure her that he's all right. Whenever he wanted her to look at him he would call out a word, a special word that meant her and only her. So there must be a special word for him and only him, right? He would have given it to her, she knows, but she can't remember it.
No...that's not right. That day on the bridge, which seems like a dream now, he said he would call her "Lady". And right before that, he said something else: "People call me Killer."
And it's true. The brown-haired woman called him "Killer". So did the dwarf.
"-call me Killer-"
And when she thinks about it, Lady realizes that even though she has never spoken-has never needed to-she can tell how the sounds are formed, how the breath moves past the tongue and through the lips to form those two bursts of sound-
Her lips open, and she breathes his name. To her ears the odd sound of her own voice gives the word a mystical quality, like the incantation of a spell.
But not all spells are successful. She knows it was the right word, but he will not open his eyes. For as long as he has been with her, he has always been watching her. Always. If he will not look at her now, when she has made it clear she wants him to, then it must be because he cannot.
Lady feels a swift pain pierce her body, and the second sound she ever makes is a pathetic whimper that horrifies her more than the inexplicable hurt. Because she knows she is not actually injured, and even if she were it would be nothing, nothing compared to his bruised and broken flesh. How can she be so weak when he has gone through so much agony? He is dead because he protected her-and this time the phantom stab is sharper, crueler.
The Malice...if she could only open the Gate, the Malice would give him life once more. But she has no time to wait for its opening. So Lady pours out some of her own Malice out to the Gate as an offering, willing it to open, and the stone begins to move and shift. The Gate opens, and from the world beyond pours out Malice a thousand times stronger than her own, battering their bodies until Lady raises a shield.
The dwarf is saying something. There's laughter in his voice. Whatever he has to say doesn't matter; he was useful at times, but he has only animosity for Killer. Lady slips her arms under the lanky body and rises, cradling him close to herself. He's warm, so warm she can almost think for a second that he is still alive. The illusion lasts a scant few seconds; then she feels the full weight of his corpse on her arms.
Other beings of Malice emerge from the Gate even as she enters. Lady thinks them fools; the world they enter has little of the red light, little to nourish and little to warm. It was blue, and cold.
The best thing from that world was Killer, and others from that world killed him. They will come to kill her, too, but she will deal with them later. She has no time for them now. So when she reaches a narrow part of the path with the trunk of a tree splitting beneath the ground and reuniting over it, she passes through and then places her hand on the rough bark. With a small touch of Malice the tree's branches come to life, twitching as they drag over her body, caress Killer's face. Even the gap in the tree fills with the red light, forming a barrier that will hold those people back.
It will not hold them forever though, and she knows Killer's weight is slowing her down, so when she comes to the next arch of aged and warped wood, she turns that, too, into a barrier with the slightest touch of Malice, and the one after that. She starts feeling an unusual sensation: fatigue. Her foot wobbles just slightly when she puts it down on the ground, but it's enough to make her fall forward. She lands with Killer's stomach cushioning her head, and slowly she shakes her head, rises with him still in her arms, and resumes walking.
She knows she has reached her goal when the trees grow thick around the path, and now they are alive, each branch shivering with reverence as she passes through. This is where she belongs, in the thick of the Malice, and it is here, with her power at its height, that she will give Killer life once more. She places him on the low, wide altar, its surface just large enough to rest his body, and kneels beside him. One hand smoothes the tousled hair as her other hand rests on his chest, supporting her weight when she leans to kiss his lips.
She can't feel his desire like she had in the kisses he'd given her. There is not even a hint of tension in his body, like there'd been when she'd first kissed him. There is...nothing, nothing but the pounding of her heart. She kisses him again, this time longer, but there was still no response. And now she grows frustrated and leans down further, both hands holding his head, her breasts skimming his chest as she presses her lips to his, willing her tenseness (even if it is only from fear) to pass into his muscles, her breath (even as it comes in gasps) to fill his lungs, her Malice (even if it will weaken her) to reanimate his body.
But there is nothing, nothing, no twitch of the lips nor sigh, and she pulls away from his still form. The strange pain returns, duller but still strong. Why can't he live? The Malice overflows, she can feel it seeping steadily into her limbs; but he will not receive any of it.
And she thinks of one other time she felt this ache in her heart, and of the boy immersed in red light; he would not move, either, not even stirring with life. But he is alive, now, despite being poisoned by Will. If she only knew why, she could fix Killer.
Her eyes are wet, like there is something lodged in them, even though there is nothing. Lady lets the tears come down without bothering to wipe them away. She has no idea how to fix Killer. He is dead, and she is alone.
She does not know how much time has passed when they finally come. The woman she kissed asks a question. Lady hesitates-why not give them a chance to attack, to maim, to kill?-and then she turns to face the people who slew Killer, her lips pressed together in grim fury.
But the blond boy approaches her with no sign of fear. He does not even have his weapon out. "Are you...crying?" he asks. There is no anger in his face, only an upward quirk of his eyebrows. Killer once had an expression like that, when he asked if she was hurt. How can this boy have the audacity to mimic Killer when he is the reason Killer is dead?
She reaches up to her eyes, feels the tears, and then snatches them away. She rises to her feet, glaring at the blond-she will not let him mock her, she will not let him mock Killer-and then she raises her arms and screams, unleashing all of her Malice in that terrible sound. She calls out, but even she does not quite understand what will answer until she sees a sphere like the setting sun approaching. The waves of Malice washing over her grow stronger, steadier, resolving into whispering voices of fear and anger, envy and hate.
But even with such Malice, she does not have the strength to win. Or rather, she has the strength-she knows she is stronger than any one of them, even the boy who can change into a man of Malice-but victory requires something else. It takes numbers, the way her enemies split up so that she cannot simply kill all of them in one blow, and cooperation. Even through the haze of red light, she can see how they move in unity, in a pattern they know well and she struggles to decipher. And Lady wonders at what she could have accomplished, if she had done this with Killer; but she had never before realized that this coordination was possible, all moving as if they were the limbs of a single body and mind.
Defeat comes slowly but surely; the orb of Malice shudders under the steady assault, cracks forming in its shell. It ends in a hail of bullets, more than one of which pierce the sphere's core, and the orb falls apart, each piece dissolving into Malice which seeps into the ground. Lady knows that she has lost, but there is no escaping now. So she raises her arms once more and screams, expelling all her Malice in a wave that tears through the air. And she sees two of the men stagger, and the vampire is knocked down by the sheer force, but the blond man is already running at her, his weapon poised to strike. Lady falters when he reverts to his boyish form, and before she can move to defend herself the Malice slashes through her chest.
The force is powerful enough to stop her heartbeat, and she totters on her feet, staring at the boy. There is fatigue and bitterness in his face, yet he still looks sad. As though he didn't want to kill her. But then, why would he-why has he? Because when she crumpled to her knees, Lady realizes she can live no longer. She will meet the same end as Killer.
At this thought, she forgets the boy and turns to the altar where Killer's body still lies. The chaos of the fight has passed over him for the most part, and when she sees his peaceful face, she smiles. He is a little colder now, but it will not be long before her own body loses its warmth. All she can do is hold onto him and wait.
Death does not come the way she expects. She feels Killer's body pressing against her as it rises, and she clutches him, tighter, even as she feels herself rising with him. She looks at him with wonder and utters his name once more, and this time he answers. His face tightens with concentration before his eyes open, and when he looks at her she smiles and presses her face to his chest. She thinks, just before they disappear into wisps of Will, that she might be crying-but this time, it is a good pain. She is not alone.