Sidney lumbered up a road to another city square before she staggered to her knees. In turn Wyatt slumped out of her arms and thumped onto the plinth of a soldier statue.
“Comrades!” Corbin exclaimed from down the road, running ahead of the others. “What’s hampering the two of you?”
They slowed down within ten feet, forcing themselves to acknowledge the scene. Sidney was kneeling over Wyatt, one arm drooping at her side, trembling at the waist. Wyatt was not breathing at all, his eyes were half-closed, and light gray dots speckled the back of his hand. Some of the dots turned dark gray, inky black, or pure white. Some enlarged into blurry blotches. His monitor blinked erratic stripes and spikes of those depressing shades.
“Wh-what transpi-spired?” stuttered Gene, pulling at the cuffs of his Gelescents.
Sidney replied in a low, grim pitch, “Hunt down Shemoaniir. Hunt her down right now.”
Penelope moved her away from Wyatt and leaned her back on the statue’s leg. “Don’t get too close to him until we figure out what’s — ” When Sidney nodded tiredly and drew her sweets case, Penelope backed off and turned to the others. “Corbin, Cooper, haul Shemoaniir back here. She can be alive and intact or shredded into a thousand tendons, I don’t care which.” She waited for Cooper and Corbin to leave before she told Gene, “You’re staying here.”
He watched her pinch the wormlike thing of fibrous muscles from Wyatt’s monitor, and he asked, “Pardon, but is that . . . ah, is that one of Shemoaniir’s digits?”
“I don’t know, let me see.” She held it up to her narrowed eyes, wiggled it up and down, and laid it on the ground. Then she hammered it with the butt of her switchgun. “Not anymore,” she said, shaking her head fast at Gene.
As he stepped closer, fiddling with his intraplug through his sleeve, he blanched at the yellowish-golden gleam sticking out of the pinky pulp. Penelope also saw it, and flames raged from her jade green eyes. She picked it up, a purple-veined Gigalek key. Sidney recognized it, too, looking out the corner of her eyes. She turned her head to Wyatt, lips pressing together to restrain the curses that wished to be liberated from her lungs.
For the briefest of moments something unsettling passed over Wyatt’s defined features, an expression of rare voidness. His mouth didn’t move at all, but his voice, one that sounded as if all emotions had been sucked dry, soaked into the agents’ heads. “You were never loyal.”
The agents were speechless until Gene said, “That was not Mr. Durrell’s articulation.”
Bangs, clatters, and Cooper and Corbin’s shouts were thrown out from afar, succeeded by a damp smoke of black, gray, and white spewing out of Wyatt’s monitor. Sidney reached for his hand, but the smoke infused a numbness that sunk into her bones. She pulled back, her fingers crisscrossed with thin indentations and grayish-red bruises.
Then the key that Penelope found in Shemoaniir’s finger leaped from her grip, absorbing into Wyatt’s chest just before the other key — the one she took from him after he came out of the tunnel — wiggled out of her pocket and followed suit. His mouth opened a bit, calmly exhaling.
The cacophony peaked with Cooper’s “Bull livers!” and Shemoaniir’s raspy scream. She flew off the roof of a house in a rolling lurch and slammed into a hut close to the agents. Cooper and Corbin jumped down from the house. Everyone except for the motionless Wyatt reared back when Shemoaniir’s scream echoed from inside the hut. She limped out of the dust cloud, muscle fibers peeling off multiple parts of her body little by little, all her armor gone. She tore off her helmet; her scalp was suffering the same symptom. Even the inside of her mouth was being stripped of its fibers. Clear blood squirted out of her raw skin.
“What the heck’s spinnin’ with her?” Cooper hollered, readying his hammers.
“It’s the fault of my associate,” Saorin chimed in. Multiple people whirled her way as she faltered into the square, holding a hand over the stab wound in her back. Penelope was aiming her switchgun, but the robot held up a hand and smiled easily. “I won’t attack you. Our positions have changed.” She nodded to Shemoaniir. “Including hers.”
Everyone quieted down as the Romuteli dropped to her knees and leaned against the wall, or what was left of it around the gaping hole she had smashed into the hut. “This wasn’t part of the deal, Naazang!” she wailed into the sky, pressing her hand into the raw skin on her neck to stop the blood from pumping out. “I’m heir to your treasures! I need to possess your — ”
“We negotiated these consequences by implication,” spoke the most unflappable tone, more apathetic than Foxer’s. What was truly disturbing was that the voice sprung from both Shemoaniir and Wyatt, the latter’s mouth moving in time. Then a patch of fibers on the side of Shemoaniir’s stomach crumbled apart, and the blood dribbled into a puddle at her mushy feet. Dust from the hut swirled around and around, some of the particles adhering to her head.
“Implications? Naazang, you made me a promise! You can’t stab me in the back — ”
“I distinctly claimed you would inherit my treasures and role as an apprentice to Gargant, the Grimhet Magus, our Faōstol. In no way am I deviating from those words. My treasures have been transferred to your home. My soul is integrating with yours. It seems difficult for you to contain the horizons of my breath. I did expect this from an oozelicker who was careless in masking her plans to betray me.”
“You scheming goblin! Still trying — Gah!” Shemoaniir’s head dipped forward and then to the side, her neck wound still bleeding. “Trying to pin those deals on me? You’re pathetic. I served you without complaint, protected your treasure, given you leads on the most vulnerable planets and moons, while you act as nothing more than Gargant’s puppet. You owe me!”
“I, Gargant’s puppet, owe you.” The pause felt vacuous. “I, Gargant’s puppet . . . owe you. Your views of the universe and your links are . . . thought-provoking. Now, Shemoaniir, you will serve me once more. Thank you for being a gracious figure. Your efforts will be remembered.”
Shemoaniir unleashed a final wail before her head tilted into her shoulder, tore itself off the neck, and thumped into the puddle. More and more muscle fibers shed into a shapeless rim of irregular clumps, leaving a floppy, cartilaginous skeleton. The agents and Saorin backed away. Penelope had to drag Wyatt’s heavy body away from the statue, and Sidney was able to get up by herself, her numbness gone.
Sidney asked Cooper for the heortorr, waiting for him to pop it out of the brassy box he had fumbled from his pocket. She pressed it into the moist smoke on Wyatt’s left palm. Nothing happened, but she stayed there. Cooper watched her for a bit and then pouted at Shemoaniir’s skeleton. A bulb of thick ooze as slate gray as the skeleton sprouted from the neck, shaping itself into a head with high cheekbones and slicked-back hair.
“Come on, Durrell,” Sidney whispered, still pressing the heortorr into his palm, even as the smoke from his monitor pushed back its fuchsia glow in deep, prolonged throbs.
“What are you waiting for, rascals?” said Penelope, firing her switchguns. The air bullets froze inches in front of the skeleton as drops of dusty blood drizzled upward from the puddle, stuck onto the bones, and condensed into a bishop-sleeve suit of shimmering blacks and grays. The familiar pair of sickly yellow eyes finished off the Grimhet apprentice’s features.
“Naazang,” Saorin greeted, stepping forth to deeply bow and extend both hands.
He did nothing but regard the agents with that composed gaze of his. A small side-flick of his hand signaled Saorin to move out of the way. A small forward-flick of his other hand repelled the hovering air bullets to the agents. Corbin threw a hoop, which dissolved the bullets. Naazang shot sludge arrows out of his palms, but Gene’s Gelescent blasts absorbed them. Naazang waited two seconds, then dropped a triangle that fizzled next to his foot and creeped through the ground. Cooper slammed it with his hammers, propelling it back to Naazang in a triangle of mist.
“You are vigorous,” he said in his level voice, clasping his hands behind his back.
Sidney might as well have been wearing a stone mask, squeezing the heortorr tightly into Wyatt’s palm. “Really? That’s all you can say for yourself, after doing this to Wyatt and — ”
“And forced Shemoaniir through the gloomy gates of death!”
“She deserved to die, Mr. Thistle,” said Saorin, shrugging at Gene. “She was scoping the best ways to murder my associate so that she could study Grimhet under Gargant’s tutelage.”
Naazang asked, “Saorin, how much of the heylenorr have your Andropis drained?”
“Ninety-six percent. We’re prepared to escape in the auxiliary pods — ”
“Return to your home base. I will temper our stalwarts.”
“Yes, Naazang.” She flashed her charming smile at the agents. “Goodbye for now.”
Penelope flashed the middle finger as Saorin backed out of the square, swiveled with a hand still on her back, and swept herself up a road. She vanished with a mass of shadows that jumped out from behind a hut. Naazang advanced toward the agents, not making eye contact with any of them. Sidney left Wyatt and the heortorr in Cooper’s care so that she could rush her foe with boomerangs. He deflected them by unclasping his hand and firing triangles from his palms. Small forcefields were built wherever she tried to stab him. Smoke wrapped her wrists and ankles in clear lines and tossed her into a tower. He delayed Cooper, Penelope, Gene, and Corbin in similar fashion. He shook his head at Wyatt, who was lifeless on the ground, then enclosed the heortorr next to him in a blob of rippling ooze.
Naazang blended with the shadows as the agents tottered out of the buildings that he threw them in. Gene closed his shaky, Gelescent-gloved fingers around the blobbed gem, held it up to his bloodshot eyes, read the data in the cuffs of his gloves, and sniffed it with a crinkled nose. “Grimhet semifluid of the purest viscosity. Oh dear, the forbidding fetor.”
“They never smell like carnations and cloves.” Sidney took it away from him and melted it into an arm pocket of her jumpsuit. “I’ve been exposed to this sludge enough. I can handle it.”
Cooper slung Wyatt over his shoulder. “Naazy, why’re you messin’ up Com’dore?”
Naazang emerged from the darkness of a house’s second-story balcony. He jumped down, almost seeming to float to the ground, and hand-flicked a wall of translucent whitish-gray smoke between himself and the agents. It propelled them away with a wave of dust crossing the whole city square. In spite of his shoulder turning numb and his knees sagging under Wyatt’s dead weight, Cooper refused to let go.
Sidney briefly smiled at them. “Take care of him, Cooper.” She looked at everyone. “I know where to catch him. Stay here, okay?” She dashed alongside the grumbling wall of smoke.
“Don’t you dare chase Sludge Jr. without us!” Penelope yelled, starting to run after her. But she slowed to a stop after ten or so feet, growling to herself, watching Sidney disappear into an alleyway. Penelope glanced back at the other agents — Corbin and Gene were pushing Wyatt onto Cooper’s right shoulder after he slipped off the left one — and told them, “Apples’ll need backup. Get your asses moving.” She hustled them across the square, into the alleyway Sidney entered, stopping near a pool of a bleached aquamarine liquid at the other end.
“Ya got” — Cooper paused to make an uggu-gugha noise, trying hard to not touch the ooze and smoke that was creeping up Wyatt’s left arm — “Whaddaya got, Penny?”
“I’m picking up her scent.” Penelope pointed to the pool. “She dove in here.”
Corbin’s right eye twitched. “Did your doctor prescribe you any olfactory boosters?”
“Trust me, I know her scent. She’s smelled like fresh-baked bread ever since she was little. Makes me wanna bite her hand off sometimes.” Penelope pretended to gnaw on one of her switchguns, making Corbin’s other eye twitch, Gene gasp and duck behind him for cover, and Cooper snort. She said, “But if she wants to drive a boomerang down Naazang’s throat — ”
A strangled cry from afar made them bolt toward the source, straight down a road to the Bacatrahe, where Sidney was on top of Naazang, pinning him to the rim of the central pool, thrusting the bright heortorr into his chest. Her jumpsuit was dripping wet with the aquamarine liquid. She shouted, “Let Durrell go!” and drew a boomerang, crunching it into Naazang’s neck. A spurt of whitish-gray ooze flew onto her mask, but she wiped it off with her arm.
“Sidney, what kind of hyena shit are you pulling? Get the fuck away from him!”
Sidney shouted back, “Shut up, Penelope!”
As she pulled the boomerang out of Naazang’s neck and the ooze began to coagulate and fill the deep wound, he told her in his confidently calm inflection, “Sidney, I sympathize with the poison that has infected your soul. You believe Wyatt can cure it, but I know you are mistaken.”
The agents moved closer to Sidney when she pressed the heortorr harder into Naazang’s chest, which caused rings of fuchsia light to spread through his body. Cooper yelled, “Get on with killin’ ‘im! Lotsa gray speckles’re in Com’dore’s saucer eyes.”
Penelope started marching to the pool with both switchguns drawn when Naazang said, “Your tenacity is admirable, but it cannot upset his fate.” With minute hand-flicks he projected a smoke wave to blast her and Sidney into huts at the Bacatrahe’s edge. Further hand-flicks to hold off the other agents gave him ample time to stand up, face the pool, and spread his smoke over it in a revolving fan. It morphed into a moaning whirl of black, gray, and white as he said, “Gargant believed he could prevent you from entering this realm, but I knew better. Now it’s up to me to cleanse your perversions of the light from both Cosmotic and Lunatark.”
“Pardon me, you repugnant phantom of a soul,” Gene said, with small cracks in his voice, “but your choice to view us as hostile antagonists is, at a minimum, fatuous.”
Naazang took two backward steps away from the pool — its vortex spun increasingly fast and gurgled in short bursts — and turned around to regard Gene with those yellowish eyes from ten feet away. “Gene Thistle, in fact, it is your perspective that’s fatuous.” He backed up over the pool’s edge and dropped in feet-first, its gurgles building up into dreary wails. Membranes, eyes, claws, and other appendages of smoke and ooze started to bubble out of the vortex.
After Sidney and Penelope returned to the agents, the former made a wide arm-wave that summoned a hologram of her yellow-and-black cycle, which solidified into the real thing. It was the same one she used on Ovsecuu. “Hand him over,” Sidney told Cooper, lugging Wyatt off his shoulder, plopping him onto the cycle’s front seat. Her mask was off, so the anxiety in her eyes was clearly visible when she stole a look at him. She hopped on the rear seat. Cords appeared out of thin air to secure his arms to hers. Clasps locked his ankles to the cycle’s sides. She sat close to him and stuck her head over his shoulder despite the numbness leaking into her chest and chin.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, where do you think you’re rollin’ to? We’re at the bop-bang-split of a creature crash!” said Cooper, grasping a handlebar to stop Sidney from leaving.
“I’m gonna take care of him. All you have to do is hold off Grimhet.”
Making a tuh! of displeasure, Penelope said, “Fuck that. Sidney, you can’t cure Wyatt by yourself. We need to get out of here and stop Tyrobe from stealing heylenorr — ”
“Sidney’s plan is reasonable,” Corbin interjected, motioning a hoop to the vortex. “We have to restrain Grimhet. Otherwise they will rampage through Lunatark.”
“I hope you can cure Mr. Durrell,” Gene said, his curls of hair seeming to tighten up in response to Wyatt’s worsening appearance. The gray dots in his pupils widened enough to fill them almost entirely. The moist smoke squirmed up his left shoulder. The monitor wheeled around and around in unsteady lefts and rights, slowly dripping reddish-white blood.
“Remember, guys, he is cured, back to normal and as healthy as an Utherwoldian grain mouse.” Sidney smiled at the agents, warmly but uncomfortably, before her mask reappeared. With a twist of the handlebar she zoomed her cycle out of the Bacatrahe.
This left the agents to turn around, facing the vortex as it released a thick, rattling roar that pushed aside the lowest stone slabs in the hovering tower above. Corbin lifted his chin and closed his eyes. “Bestow us with light, Teönor,” he murmured, making the gesture of tracing a circle on the back of his hand and tapping six points in the air.
“Get ready, rascals,” Penelope said, aiming her switchguns at the vortex. And so they waited for Grimhets, and waited, and waited. Gene picked at his gloves. Corbin tapped his hoops together. Cooper itched his head with a hammer. Finally Penelope flared her nostrils and shook a switchgun in the air. “What is taking this thing so long to puke up the beasts?”
“Too many of them pluggin’ up the whirly, I bet. Happens all the time in the shower.”
Gene inquired, “Cooper, what dross descends your drain?”
“Hair, dandruff, sweat, lotsa body stuff. Everyone sheds it.” Cooper clanged his hammers together, making the heads hover off the handles. He shook his own head, letting his bangs puff over his brow. “C’mon now, let’s do this for Com’dore!” He flicked the handles, whizzing the heads directly into the bulbous eye of a Rampa as it bulged out of the vortex.
More than a minute after Grimhets exploded out of the vortex, some of them setting their eyes on the agents, others rushing away onto main roads, the latter group reached the balconies carved out of Arcaipolis’s sloped walls. However, most of them reared back from the stairs and columns with burbles and wails, either falling unconscious or melting into goop. The only ones who tried to clamber up the walls were Rampas; the glowing heat of the stone flung them down without warning, dark pink bruises all over their squishy bodies.
Compounding the fray were the dozens of slabs zigzagging, circling, or meandering over the city, compared to the slabs still fixed to their spots in the tower’s upper half. Some of the floaters grazed the buildings or knocked off spires. Other floaters crashed into each other and lurched diagonally or upside-down. The collisions echoed warbles through the whirring din. A few slabs plummeted into the city with long skids, sending up piles of fragmented rocks.
It was a few minutes later — after a pair of Drakolin separated Cooper and Gene from Penelope and Corbin, and one of the dragons chased Cooper and Gene up a tower, although they quickly trapped it in a Gelescent cocoon and killed it with a hammer thwack to the head — after that, Cooper pointed out that Naazang was standing at the edge of a slab at the top of the tower.
“See how he’s watchin’ us, lookin’ mighty and high?” Cooper whispered to Gene, almost conspiratorially, as if preparing him for an astonishing secret.
Gene groaned uneasily. “Without jet-boots or Enviro-Exos, our flight is limited — ”
“Don’t get your curls frizzed up, Little T. I know a certain whirly-twirly gal — Penny — who can hijack a Drakolin with certain stuff — her switchguns and a basic Warbearer tutorial in Grimhet neuroscience — and fly us up so we can kick a certain villain’s plumpies — Naazang.”
“A scheme that sounds madcap enough to leave us exalted on the pillar of victory. I only enjoy those in books and films.” Gene stopped to tug at the hair on both sides of his head. “In other words, it is splendiferous.”
Squealing into a curved alley, her cycle sploshed over the aquamarine liquid puddling from a crack in the ground, and it slipped a little, but Sidney did not stop. Wyatt kept slouching back into her, a physical embodiment of voidness, but she had to push him forward. Glancing at the side mirrors, her eyes widened at the Betelarks skittering after her, trenching the ground with their fangs, jabbing the air with their barbed pedipalps. She had to crinkle the alarm out of her eyes, and with an extra twist of the handlebar she zoomed up a crashed slab and onto the roof of a forty-foot-long building. She rode along the whole length of it, jumping her cycle off the other end of the roof and into one of the balconies around Arcaipolis. Her rear tire knocked against an X-beam. She screeched into a tight U-turn, bombarding those Betelarks with boomerangs as they cracked open their wings in preparation to fly after her.
After killing all the arachnoid beetles Sidney made her cycle vanish with an arm-wave and propped Wyatt against one of the X-beams. She pressed the heortorr into the numbing smoke on his hand. It took less than a minute for the gem to lose much of its brightness to the damp smoke covering his entire left arm, shoulder, and the side of his chest. She pulled the gem away to rub it fast between her hands, stealing a glance at the grayness that leaked out of his pupils and into the golden specks of his hazel irises, changing into yellow arrows.
“You’re healthy, Durrell, you’re very, very . . .” Her whisper trailed off when the grinding scratches and drumming babbles of Gorulies resounded from outside the balcony. Thinking fast, she cupped her hand over Wyatt’s to keep the heortorr in his palm, hoisted him onto her shoulder, and started grunting up a stairway to the second level. The Gorulies arrived and punched at the thick X-beams, but they didn’t have time to break them apart before Sidney knocked them out with her boomerangs. Only after propping him on the back wall of the third level of balconies did her adrenaline settle down a bit, allowing her to feel the numbness in her arms and shoulder.
For a few moments Sidney studied the back wall that was molded to give a lofty view of Arcaipolis in its youthful years — pristine buildings, Lunatarkians strolling through the streets, slabs floating in an aligned tower over the Bacatrahe. It retained a weakly mirror-like shine, but the bumpy surface made the reflections disjointed. She turned the other way, where you could look between the X-beams to scan the half-crumbled buildings and piles of rubble, Grimhets rampaging through the cracked and aquamarine-splashed roads, and slabs degrading from a perfect floating tower into a Grimhet-interspersed jumble.
Then Sidney drew boomerangs in response to a Hagga slithering over the roof of a hut directly across from the balcony. Its head was shivering. It broke open its lips to show all the molars spiraling around the interior of its long body and unleashed a gunky screech. It lunged off the hut and between the X-beams. Sidney fed its open mouth with a boomerang, but Wyatt’s hand jerked open and fed it the heortorr as well.
“That’s not an edible!” Sidney cried over the terrible, crunchy chewing. The Hagga paid the price, though; chinks of fuchsia light shot out of its crackling skin and pierced the next two Haggas who were about to jump into the cell. Sidney hacked away at the first snake with two boomerangs, and she had to root through a pile of winding muscles and chunky goop in the middle of the body to pick out nothing but some softened heortorr shards. Exhaling a sharp breath, she tried to compact the shards together, but they vibrated away from each other.
She looked a long time at Wyatt. His skin was graying and shrinking into his bones. His hair was done turning from chocolate brown to stripes graduating from black to gray and then to white — a rainbow where the sunlight filtered through sludge. The dots in his ultra-wide pupils looked like yellow gnats darting left and right. Sidney looked out at Arcaipolis, up at Naazang on one of the topmost slabs, warding off a Drakolin that the agents had somehow mounted.
“It’s very, very desperate of you to resort to this, stealing Durrell’s powers for yourself,” scolded Sidney, sitting across from Wyatt, pinching her pendant. She watched his fingers grow so thin that his college ring slipped off, clattered to the floor, and spun into the toe of her foot.
Moments passed before Wyatt’s mouth opened and uttered Naazang’s voice. “No, I would never corrupt myself with his essence. Gargant is the one who respects it, who admires it.”
The outburst of screeches and roars made Sidney look at the Grimhets flailing at the light pink matter shielding the balcony. It had materialized from the heortorr that the Hagga tried to eat. She shook her head and closed her eyes. “Corrupting yourself with his essence?”
Naazang’s voice remained level, but a scowl began to deform Wyatt’s face in addition to the moist smoke crawling up his neck and cheek. “He’s filled with animosity toward his enemies. It’s exhausting. Your passion may be akin to his, but your compassion outweighs his by far.”
Sidney whipped around at Wyatt’s body, her glistening eyes glaring at him. “Hyena shit. You have no right to pick us apart. He’s what this team needs. He’s nothing like what you think he is. As for me . . . well, all the crap I had to shovel ten feet under the dirt, it isn’t astonishing that I’ve become slovenly.” Drawing in some air to restrain her sniffles, she inched closer to him and spoke tenderly, “Wyatt, it’s me. We’re here, your team’s here, for the heylenorr. It’s for Rad-Bio, for the Super Nex antiviral. But you need to push out Naazang.”
“Let him go, Sidney. Embrace his death, embrace the grief, and you will be content.”
She closed her eyes and held her arm over her face to muffle her crying. She breathed into her nose and out her mouth, over and over until she lowered her arm. When the bleariness cleared from her eyes, she looked at her faint reflection in the wall, at the tears dried onto her cheeks and the redness of her nose. She picked up Wyatt’s college ring, tapping it against her pendant, and she said, softly and steadily, “Wyatt is here. Wyatt is here.”
“Your bond with the young man is superficial. You will find others to empathize — ”
“Shut your sleazy mouth, bitch.” Sidney pocketed the ring in her hip, then marched across the cell to the stairs and headed up three steps. She peeked around the wall a minute later, witnessing Wyatt’s chest sinking into his ribcage and his belly hollowing out. The bones of his hands, arms, legs, and feet deformed, compacting and curling until his appendages looked like the old pieces of barbed wire that were still fencing some yards on Vestral.
Naazang’s voice sounded strained when he called out, “Sidney, where are you? I was confident you would never leave him in this state. If you accept his fate, I understand — ”
She bolted out of the stairs on the opposite side and flashed past Wyatt, stabbing her boomerang in his upper right arm with a wink and a mouthed hello. A scream clashing between Naazang and Wyatt’s inflections exploded out of Wyatt’s mouth, widening the cracks in his lips, spraying light gray blood from his deteriorated gums. Sidney skidded to a stop near the end of the balcony on her knee and foot, sending up a dramatic cloud of dust, and ran back to Wyatt.
The moment her hand touched his shoulder, his monitor spun around his wrist with a louder, ghostlier hum. He asked in a half-Wyatt, half-Naazang voice, “Why’d you do that? Didn’t you know it was me?” His body convulsed as the maggots of smoke crawled across his body to swallow his right arm and leg, then moved on to his shriveled face. But a hole burned away the smoke on his chest, around a circle of fuchsia light shining through his clothes.
Sidney tore her eyes away from this, focusing on his murky eyes, removing her boomerang from his arm. “I’m sorry, I mistook you for Naazang. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Wyatt neck tightened, but he choked out, “I’m not Naazang, that much is — ”
She stuck a hand into his jacket, ignoring the smoke latching onto her skin, and clenched her fingers around the warm gem. With a yell of unfaltering effort she tore out her fist and then thrust the second heortorr into his arm gash. Wyatt’s voice edged out Naazang’s in the shout, and then that was drowned out by the monitor as it shrunk into his wrist with a gurgle of gasps, sobbing ooze. It exploded black, gray, and white swirls that stained the floor and blasted Sidney away. It also teetered the stacks of Grimhets who had packed themselves into a wall in front of the balcony, blocking out the sunlight, trying to ram through the pink barrier.
A moment later Wyatt’s eyes blinked once, twice, three times, washing away the grayness and the yellow dots, returning to the hazel-golden layout. He exhaled a wisp of curling smoke, which trailed to the edge of the balcony. Then it darted through the barrier with a shockwave that pushed down more Grimhets again, climbing all the way up the sky.
This left Sidney to wipe away her tears and wait for the grimace of ridges and coils to dig into the smoke on Wyatt’s body until it all dribbled to the floor and dissolved. His arms and legs stretched out, his chest filled up, his hair regained its color, his contortions were dismissed. The monitor enlarged around his wrist with a beaten sigh.
“Sidney?” Wyatt groaned, squinting at her, rubbing his neck. “Are, are you — ”
She started to grab the shivering monitor. “Take this damn thing off already!”
He tore it off, along with a whole strip of skin. He hurled it across the balcony before it exploded in a puff of Grimhet dust. Rolling his shoulders, inhaling his first full breath of air, he looked at Sidney and mumbled, “I’m sorry.” He sat forth and constructed a bandage around his raw, bleeding wrist. “What happened? Is everyone okay? I, I am recalling pieces. Naazang — ”
“He possessed Shemoaniir, unleashed Grimhets, and almost possessed you through the monitor. Interesting stuff, you see.” She peeled the heortorr off his arm and handed it back to him. “You had two copies? I mean, I reached in there, I thought you had something, but it — ”
“Gene found one in Quentin’s cave. But where’s — ” He stopped when he laid eyes on the dim fuchsia shards on the ground close to him. Biting his lip, rubbing the heortorr between his palms, he tucked that and the shards into his jacket. He looked up at Sidney. “Let’s go.”
She held him back and produced her first-aid kit to re-bandage his arm. “This really does need to heal,” she said, right before a distant cacophony of howls and grumbles made her turn around and watch with Wyatt as a growing number of floating slabs either melted into goop or burst into smoke. Grimhets jumped off by the dozens, raining upon Arcaipolis in a suicidal act to spread their goop. Naazang was at the top of the tower, his slate gray body flickering shards of fuchsia and blood pink light. Corbin could be seen throwing two more hoops to force Naazang to collide with a Fiss. Then he rejoined Gene, Cooper, and Penelope on a Drakolin with which they flew down the tower, buffeted back and forth by the ooze and smoke.
“Better get back into the action,” Sidney told Wyatt, standing him up, guiding him to the edge of the balcony. Unclasping his hands from each other, uncurling his fingers, holding out his lower arms — she did this to help him release energy wisps and construct a pair of jet-boots.
Their flight led them to the Bacatrahe, where the others had landed the Drakolin. Cooper punched the air with both fists and hooted, “Ha ha ha! Com’dore and Sid are back in the game! Took ya’while, but whatevs.”
Penelope snapped, “How the hell’d you mess up your arm again?”
Sidney exchanged a furtive sideways look with Wyatt when he said, “I’ll save the story for later. What’s Naazang’s status?”
No one could respond before the final slabs turned into goop and smoke, leaving the rest of it to instantaneously condense into a gargantuan funnel. With a cold moan that grew into the unholy scream of a thousand cursed beasts, the funnel exploded into a mushroom throughout the entire city of Arcaipolis.