Chapter 17: Arguments and Ambushes

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Jane and her sister Sandra were different in almost every way, but they had a few things in common. One of these was a phobia of clowns. Another was that they had never stopped missing their brother, and they both possessed an unwavering belief that of the three of them, Phillip had been—was still—the best.

Said brother lay unconscious on the floor of Uncle Bauer's study. His arm, which had been struck by a fragment of metal during the earlier melee, bled briskly. Jane crouched beside Phillip, trying to stem the bleeding with a towel. Beside Jane, Sandra sat shaking, both hands pressed against her mouth, her eyes brimming with tears of shock and joy.

"You're back. Both of you. I still can't believe—oh my God, I mean... it's really... him..."

Jane secured the towel and dragged her hair out of her eyes. Grime from the temple clung to her face, clothes, and fingers. She desperately needed a shower.

"We should call 911," she said. "Uncle Bauer's not here, and Phillip needs to go to the hospital. I don't know how bad his injuries are. Can I borrow your cell phone? I left mine in Mir."

But before Sandra could do more than fumble in her pocket, Phillip's eyes fluttered open. With a groan, he struggled upright.

"Phillip!" Sandra started to launch herself at him, then paused, as though suddenly realizing throwing herself at someone with a serious injury might not be the smartest move.

Jane nudged her out of the way. "Don't sit up just yet." She put a hand on Phillip's shoulder. "You're injured."

Phillip shook his head. "Need to get up... need to figure out how bad it is..."

Worriedly, Jane helped him sit. Phillip flexed his fingers one by one, wincing, and then moved his wrist back and forth. "No nerve damage," he said.

Jane was hardly reassured by this. A bruise was purpling above her brother's temple, and blood from the gash in his arm was starting to seep through the towel they'd used as a makeshift bandage.

"I'll need stitches," said Phillip, glancing down at his arm, "but we can probably wait until Uncle Bauer returns with his car. Seriously, Jane, don't call 911—an ambulance costs thousands of dollars, and unless US health insurance changed dramatically while I was away, it's not worth it."

"Phillip," said Sandra, hugging him.

Jane wanted to hug her brother, too. Tears sprang to her eyes again. He was really back. A part of her had thought she would never see him again—that he might remain in a coma forever...

Phillip smiled. "It's good to see you, too. Help me stand up and get to a sofa, and then—"

His eyes landed on Nikolay, who still sat in the corner where Jane had left him. Nikolay's back was ramrod straight, his hands clenched, his eyes narrowed with barely-concealed malevolence. Sandra, who had been too preoccupied with Jane's and Phillip's arrival to notice the presence of their guest, gasped.

"Who—"

"I think," said Phillip, "we have some matters to discuss."

~*~

Nikolay was numb.

Perhaps he was in shock.

Thoughts skittered through his head, barely pausing to land before others replaced them.

His powers were gone.

Not just dampened, but gone.

He had never experienced this before. Even in the pit cell back in Sengilach, when his magic had been dampened by the manacles, he'd felt his powers at the edges of his consciousness, caged but still simmering under the surface. But now, there was nothing. He reached for his powers and found only a void: bleak and yawning and empty. His entire body ached.

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