Part 50 - Blackbird

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Huntsman's lollipop tasted like raspberries and pain relief. He sucked fentanyl citrate for precisely four minutes while he tended the puncture wound in his side. The polymer clotting agent he applied burned like Hell, which was bad news and good: The quartermasters hadn't acquired the newest, non-exothermic version-another reminder that, for all of its theatrics, Lodge's resources were finite-but Huntsman hadn't overdone the fentanyl. Pain kept him sharp. He wrapped a field dressing around his abdomen like a cummerbund and another around his hand.

He groaned. In battle, Huntsman locked pain, fatigue, sore joints, and age in the same overstuffed psychic glovebox that held his emotions. Now that the fight was over, the glovebox popped open. He'd taken a beating, but that was to be expected; no human escaped an encounter with the enemy unscathed. Except Huntsman hadn't escaped, he'd triumphed. He allowed himself a smile.

His foe lay on his back with his arms at his sides and his feet turned outward. No one would mistake Lumley for a sleeper. One of his eyes had sunken into his cheek and swelled shut. His other eye lay open, unblinking. Fractured metacarpals protruded from his palm. Blood seeped from his shattered face and the back of his skull, pooling around his neck. Purple handprints still clutched at his throat.

Huntsman choked targets with their own clothing, with an improvised garrote, or bare-handed and without leaving a mark, blocking their carotid arteries to put them to sleep in painless seconds. Crushing the windpipe was unprofessional, because it gave the target time to struggle. But the boy had earned an unprofessional death; he had willfully betrayed humanity, and he deserved agony and fear.

There had been a light in the boy's eyes, surely born of the belief that someone would come to save him. Huntsman had enjoyed watching it dim.

But the time for unprofessionalism had ended. Huntsman felt Lumley's neck with his index finger and listened for breath. The boy had gone five minutes without pulse or oxygen. Satisfied, he gathered his belongings. Cleanup was unnecessary: The boy's death would not be investigated, and even if it were, his body would never be found.

A crow perched nearby and began to sing a faintly familiar song. Another settled on a branch on the opposite side of Huntsman, and more and more joined, until there were twenty-three in all.

He placed the song. "'Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye. You realize that crows are not blackbirds?"

The song stopped. One of the crows said, "You may be tempted to view this figuratively."

Huntsman drew and fired his pistol. The speaking crow dissipated in a puff of black smoke. He counted again. Twenty-two crows remained.

A sound--a branch breaking?--came from the direction of Lumley's body. Huntsman fired at the crow closest to it. Another puff of smoke.

"The abstract is not life," another crow said.

"Enough," Huntsman said. "I may not be able to kill you, but you've already lost."

"Are you content to die like this?"

Huntsman nodded towards Lumley's body. "The boy is dead. We've won. It doesn't matter what happens to me."

The crow spirit took the form of a petite woman in a smoking jacket and high heels. "This grows tedious." She raised her black-taloned hands and anger filled her voice. "You cannot refute the song of sixpence."

The boy's body slumped onto its side. Huntsman frowned. Had one of the crows gone looking for a meal?

He closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose. "I can see through your tricks." The hound within him opened its eyes of yellow agate. It had her scent. He fired over his shoulder at one of the crows, piercing its wing.

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