Chapter Thirty One
Five minutes. It took Legion five minutes to defeat the greatest Hunter alive.
“Hen…ry…” McGus moaned quietly from the floor. He reached for me with one feeble, shaking hand. “You have…to fight…it.”
I raised Splatsy one more time and brought it down on his head with a gruesome THUD. He slumped to the floor — dead, or just unconscious? Dear whoopie cushion in the sky, I hoped he wasn’t dead.
Legion wasn’t about to let me check for a pulse, though. Putting Splatsy back in my belt, I snatched the Escher Cube off the floor and marched out onto the streets of Mauldibamm. My whole body ached. I was even limping a little. McGus had fought like a wild animal, but in the end he had fallen to Legion just like I had. Inside my head, I was crying. Seeing the strongest klaon I knew lying broken on the floor like one of his mannequins would haunt my dreams forever.
I’m sorry, Master, I wept silently. All he’d ever wanted was to keep my stupid butt alive, and this was how I repaid him. Suddenly, every biting remark I’d ever made, every rebellious stunt I’d pulled, burned me from the inside out. I’m so…so…sorry.
But this wasn’t over yet. Legion turned me around, and my eyes sought out the Grand Lark. Raising the Cube, I gave it a quick spin. Mauldibamm twisted out of existence around me, and then popped immediately back into focus, dropping me right outside the Grand Lark’s doors.
“You can stop right there,” Ombo said, moving to block my way inside.
Clombo joined him. “Your friends just got here. Told us you’d gone crazy.”
Legion didn’t respond. Pulling Splatsy from my belt, I extended her again. A troubled look crossed their faces when they saw the green blood that coated her.
“Went an’ murdered the old man, eh?” Clombo asked.
“The job finally sent her over the deep end,” added Ombo.
I took a step forward, and the twins pulled out nightclubs. Idiots. They knew I’d just beaten McGus, and they still thought they stood any chance against me? Part of me wanted to see these creeps get what they deserved. But not like this. Not when they were all that separated Legion from my friends.
“Come on,” Ombo challenged me, eyes gleaming with cruelty. “Gimme an excuse.”
Clombo smacked the palm of his hand with his stick. “We’ve wanted to teach you a lesson for a long time.”
Just turn around and go, I begged, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. Please.
“Of course she’s scared! She’s a Blue!”
“A worthless little Blue!”
“An embarrassment to—”
I hurled Splatsy into Clombo’s face, cutting him off mid-insult. He flew backwards, hitting his head against the sturdy wooden door, and collapsed.
Ombo froze, his mouth hanging open in shock. “Y- You…You can’t—”
I was moving before he had a chance to react. Darting forward, I grabbed Splatsy off the ground, whirled around, and slammed her into Ombo’s leg. He fell with a cry of pain, and I raised Splatsy as high as I could, ready to smash his head just like I’d done to so many maiams. Desperately, he lashed out at me with his club, a blow that could have easily shattered my shinbones. Instead, I kicked him in the wrist. His fist unclenched, flinging the nightstick out across the Grand Lark’s lawn.
“Wait, stop!” he begged, trying to scoot away on his back. “P- Please! I’m sorry! I won’t say anything ever again! Just please don’t—”
I swung Splatsy like a golf club, hitting him square in the face. The blow was so powerful that it lifted him off the ground a little. When he landed, he went rolling head over heels down the hill.
And just like that, the way into the Grand Lark was unguarded.
No! No, no, no!
I shoved as hard as I could against the doors, but they were locked tight. Not that it mattered. Raising Splatsy over my head again, Legion tapped into my magic, drawing it out of me and pushing it into Splatsy. She lit up with blue light, and I swung her at the doors. Magic exploded out of her, blowing both doors right off their hinges to land on the polished marble floor of the foyer with a deafening BOOM.
The exhaustion rolled over me a second later, but I don’t think Legion even noticed. I made my way inside, footsteps echoing in the quiet room, and fixed my eyes on the second set of doors: the ones that led from the foyer to the council chamber. They would be locked as well, for all the good it would do. Compared to the doors I’d just broken down, these may as well have been made of graham cracker.
To my surprise, though, Legion stopped just outside them and knocked.
“Ethan?” it asked in my voice. “Are you in there?”
I heard movement on the other side, voices whispering furiously to each other.
“Guys?” I said louder. “It’s me! Let me in!”
No, don’t you dare open that door!
“What do we do?” I heard Aesop ask. “What if she’s really—”
“She just destroyed the main door, you dolt!” That was Victoria.
I pounded on the door again. “Guys, seriously, let me in! I don’t know what’s going on. The last thing I remember, I was out on a hunt. Then suddenly I’m waking up in McGus’ house. I…I think…” Legion made my voice crack with emotion. “I think McGus is dead.”
Silence. Then more whispering.
The next person to speak was Grandpa Teddy.
“Henry,” he said from the other side of the door, “if…if you really are Henry…”
“It’s me, Grandpa!” I yelled.
“How can we know for sure?” His voice was strained, like he was having to force every word out of his mouth. I can’t imagine how he must have felt, refusing to open the door for his scared, confused granddaughter. “Your friends tell us that you attacked them.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t remember anything like that!”
“If you’re really Henry,” he said, “then you’ll understand why we can’t trust you right now. You need to go, Henry. We’ll think of something. I promise!”
“Grandpa, that wasn’t me. You have to believe me!”
“Please, Henry.” The pain he was holding back was heavy in his words. “Just go.”
I whimpered, leaning heavily against the door. “Grandpa Teddy, I’m scared!”
Heavy footsteps echoed from the council chamber, and it was Ichabod’s commanding voice that spoke next.
“Henrietta Rider,” he said, “or whoever you are, this is your final warning. Leave now!”
Or what? I thought bitterly. You’ll come out here and fight me yourself? That would almost be worth it.
Legion paused, my face still pressed against the door. Then slowly, I stepped back and raised Splatsy.
“If you won’t open up,” I said, “then I’ll have to let myself in.”
I swung, not even bothering to charge Splatsy this time, and she crashed into the thin wooden door. The whole thing rattled, and the hinges groaned. Aesop let out a girlish scream.
“I’m warning you!” Ichabod roared.
I struck again, this time smashing a Splatsy-sized hole through the wood. Legion considered that for a second, and I stepped forward to reach inside. The hole was just in the right place where I could grab the doorknob and…
A strong hand wrapped around my wrist, and before I knew it, I was being pulled through the doors — while they were still closed. They imploded, showering bits of wood all over the council chamber. Ichabod’s fist had a painfully tight grip on my arm, and he held me so that my feet dangled above the floor.
“What do you think you’re doing?” screamed the normally composed Patricia.
As an answer, Ichabod whipped me over his head and slammed me back down into the floor. Pain exploded in every inch of my body. Splatsy went flying across the room.
“There,” the Red said, putting one foot on my neck while he dusted off his hands. “Nothing to it.”
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. It didn’t matter that I was under Legion’s control, Ichabod was still stronger than me. For a second, I dared to feel hope. Being squashed like a bug under Ichabod’s smelly shoe is probably the most humiliating death I can imagine, but at least that would mean Ethan and the others were safe.
“Get your foot off of my granddaughter!” Grandpa Teddy shouted, storming up to Ichabod.
“Theodore,” Patricia warned him, “don’t—”
He ignored her, marching right up to the big Red, his eyes alight with fury. He was barely half Ichabod’s height, but that didn’t stop him from standing on his toes and thrusting a finger into Ichabod’s face.
Legion took the chance to look around the room. Patricia was still behind her desk, while Victoria looked like she was weighing the risks of running past me — pinned by Ichabod or not — to get to the exit. Aesop and Jade were huddled together on the far side of the room, but where was…
There. Ethan poked his head up from beneath Grandpa Teddy’s desk. It only lasted a second, but a second was all Legion needed.
“If you hurt her, Ichabod Hench,” Grandpa Teddy yelled, face blue with rage, “I will—”
“Are you mad, old man?” Ichabod asked. Even he seemed taken aback by Teddy’s outburst. “Either this isn’t your granddaughter, or Henrietta has suddenly decided to switch sides. Either way, she’s a—”
I thrust my hand out, feeling a surge of magic leave my body. Before I had time to wonder what Legion was doing, Splatsy leaped up from the floor, flew across the council chamber, and crashed straight into Ichabod’s face. Ichabod stumbled backwards a couple of steps, stopped, and blinked stupidly while an ugly red lump swelled on his forehead.
Then he collapsed in a heap to the floor.
I was on my feet in an instant. Grandpa Teddy yelped and fell onto his rump. For a terrifying second, I thought he was going to be next. Instead, I just grabbed Splatsy off the floor and retreated to the far side of the chamber. Not because I felt threatened by any of these people — Legion just wanted some space to think.
My eyes flicked from one person to another. Grandpa Teddy was still on the floor, clutching his hip in pain. Patricia watched everything from behind her desk with intense violet eyes, but didn’t move. Movement came from my left, and I snapped my head around to see Victoria inching toward the door. She froze like a deer in my headlights.
“Y- You stay away from me, do you hear?” she stammered. “If you take one step closer—”
I took one step closer.
With a scream, Victoria spun on her heel, vanishing into thin air. A hidden Corner. You could find them anywhere, but most people were smart enough not to use them. You never knew where you might end up. Buried thousands of miles underground? Floating in the farthest reaches of space? Victoria had just done Legion’s job for it.
“Henry, you have to stop!”
I turned just in time to see Aesop grab Jade’s arm, keeping her from running to me. Legion ignored her, fixing my eyes on the desk we both knew Ethan was hiding behind. I started toward him.
“This isn’t you, Henry!” Jade yelled. “Please, just tell us what’s going on. We can help you!”
I started across the room, making sure to step on Ichabod’s face as I passed him. Grandpa Teddy did his best to scoot away, holding his hip and grimacing in pain from the fall he’d taken. Legion left him alone for now. There’d be plenty of time to finish him off once Ethan was under its control.
Hefting myself up to Teddy’s elevated desk, I raised Splatsy to smash it to splinters. Just as I did, though, Ethan popped up from behind it — and he was holding the crystal spellhammer.
“COGITO ET—” he roared.
I swung Splatsy, knocking the spellhammer out of his hands. His face went pale with horror as he watched it fly across the council chamber, hit the floor, and skitter into the corner.
“Oh, crap,” he whispered.
“Magic twists the natural world out of order,” I said, feeling a burning hatred come from Legion. “Humans like you and we should not defile ourselves with it.”
Ethan looked like he was about to yell at me, but then he blinked. “Wait, what?”
Instead of answering, I reached down, grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, and pulled him to his feet. Shrinking Splatsy down and hanging her from my belt, I pulled the Escher Cube out of my pocket.
“You’re not Henry!” Ethan whispered in shock. “Who are you? What did you do to her?”
I looked him in the eye. “You’ll understand soon, once you’ve joined our little family.”
“No!” Ethan grabbed the hand that was holding onto his shirt and struggled to pry my fingers loose. “Let her go! Let me—”
Ethan and I both looked just as Jade threw something in our direction. It sparkled in the light, a greenish-blueish color, almost like…
Oh, Jade, I thought, my heart breaking a little. Why?
Legion reacted first, reaching out to catch the incoming necklace. But in doing so, it took my eyes off of Ethan — who wasted no time in kicking me as hard as he could in the shins.
“You little brat!” I screamed. For once, Legion had been taken completely by surprise. Ethan shoved me away, sending me tumbling over the edge of Grandpa Teddy’s podium, and then raised his hand to catch the necklace out of the air.
Immediately, Jade exploded into greenish-blue light.
“You hold my heart now in your hand,” she said, her voice becoming all echoey and mystical, “and your every wish is my command!”
“What is this?” Legion demanded as I picked myself up off the floor.
This, I thought back, is called getting your butt kicked!