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Illustration by Abby Brown

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Illustration by Abby Brown

     It never got easier to hear, bolt wings snapping back in the Port. Raines stood with his back to the flames of Quincy's anointing festival.

     "You've come a long way from breaking dance protocol." The weight of his deeds, condemning and redemptive, and the finality in Raines' voice was enough to ground Quincy where once he might have run.

     "Give yourself some credit. You made it from ballroom chaperone to terrorist headhunter," Quincy found it in himself to say. Raines laughed while he strolled forward.

     "Raines," he said, "I'm Christophe Raines. I never had a chance to say."

     "Quincy Famino."

     "I thought the night we met was your last. I never pictured our little chase would bring us both here," he said between tight, military steps.

     "Raines... like the youngest Ranger Captain ever, Raines?" Mabel mumbled.

     "People say all sorts of things about you now," he stopped three feet from them, eyes on Quincy, "That you single-handedly decommissioned a Ranger Captain. That you faced off against Bragg in the streets of Silvereach. Next it'll be how you brought down half the Avalon Spire. But I know the truth." Raines' eyes glinted with malice.

     "Well, don't be a tease, Raines," Quincy dared.

     "We are who we are. Nobody changes in this Tower. No matter how far we've come, I'm still the law and you're still just a scared kid with a paint can." Raines' wings snapped up. The sound made Quincy shiver. It also made him reach for something in his belt. His lungs filled with brisk forest air.

     "You may be right about people changing, but first you have to know who you are. " Quincy snapped open his telescope blade.

     "Let's get acquainted, then," said Raines. Quincy's heart froze between beats. Lightning cracked the sky, with a war-drum of thunder. Rain hissed across the forest seconds before it became a dueling ground. The Tribunal wouldn't hear Quincy now, even if he screamed.

     His heels sunk in mud when Raines rushed him. Quincy dodged the first swipe, but the second came too fast. He deflected the wing at the ground. Raines eyed him with manic surprise. He pushed the front with a slicing onslaught. Quincy's mind emptied but for an iron number, clinking higher with every parry. Six, seven- Raines' wings were strong, on top of his immense muscle, but Quincy bounced with the momentum it gave him- he counted nine before an edge clipped his ribs.

     "Footwork, Quincy!" Raines barked, "You may not have Academy training, but you've been here long enough!" His wings snapped back and forth with his strikes to launch Quincy's blade twice as hard. His next streak shortened to three before Raines cut the seam of his shoulder. An arc of blood jumped into the rain. Raines hesitated for a second when he saw the steady pulse of red down Quincy's sleeve. For a second, his body loosened. The skin around his eyes wrinkled in search of a reason to hate his opponent. "What happened? Burning your envy at Roseyard wasn't enough? You had to wreak vengeance on innocents down here!?" Raines leapt with new rancor.

     His strikes were wilder, harder to deflect, but easier to slip past. Quincy shuffled back and strafed sideways. He tapped Raines' wings for the semblance of defense. When his back touched wet bark, he dropped. One of Raines' wings snapped into the tree just above his head. Quincy stepped past him, slashing through his side. Raines wrenched his wing free and spun to Quincy, five feet away through a veritable tempest. Lightning lit the ground between them.

     "You think Roseyard was about envy?" Quincy screamed, "It was a mistake! I thought I was doing right!"

     "Right? By who?"

     "By throw-aways like me!" Raines took a few deep heaves, whether to calm his fury or work one up Quincy couldn't tell. It reminded him of the moment in his living room, with Percy, right before he tipped his king. "Raines..." For a second, Raines looked like he might listen. Then he squinted through the rain and lunged.

     Raines' assessment of Quincy's  recent experience had been accurate, in part. If he'd learned one thing, it was how to take a hit. Because he knew the sting of zip-gun hooks, wolf bites, and wing cuts, he stood his ground until his arms were numb. Quincy snuck in a riposte after slipping Raines' swing. He missed his mark, which gave them both a chance to readjust. They clashed again at full-strength, which sent Quincy reeling back into another tree. Raines' charge was broken by a dash from a large stone across his cheek. It hurt enough to turn his head at the thrower. She was already posed with another.

     "Bragg wants you alive, Mabel, but he hasn't given me much incentive to follow his orders," Raines menaced while he turned course towards her. "All I care about is what gets those kids their medicine."

     "Raines, wait," Quincy stumbled for him, "We want the same thing-

     There was another, though, faster and stronger who made it between Mabel and Raines first. Alma lumbered from darkness on her massive arms. She bashed Raines off his feet with both of hers. From there, everything became a rainy haze.

     Raines leapt up, dazed and rightfully mortified. When Alma went for him again, he slashed her arm. That's when Quincy started running, but Mabel was closer.

     "Don't you hurt her!"

     When she grasped Raines' shoulders, his counter strike was instinctual. His wing cut Mabel through, just above her waist. She clutched the gushing seam of her two halves, too stunned to fall. What Quincy assumes was a gunshot cracked the sky, but the storm has calmed. Corman came through the trees, one arm around the little owlet, the other on a smoking handgun. Alma fled, Raines, bleeding, only moments behind her. That left Quincy just enough time to get to Mabel when her legs finally gave way. He knelt in sludge and blood to cradle her listless frame.

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