Chapter Sixty-Eight

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The old man leaned forward, his watery, jaundiced gaze pinning Guin to the spot like a Gorgon's stare. "You..." He ran a thin, pale tongue over his lips. "You're the sneakin' little brat who's been tryin' to steal my mind from me."

Guin blinked. "Steal?"

He nodded, neck waddle flapping like a turkey. "Yes. Yes. You. Thief." The final word came out as a wet hiss.

Guin looked down at the notebook, then back at the old man. "I'm not stealing anything. I'm saving something. Big difference."

The old man cackled. "Save? You can't even save yerself," he wheezed. "You been runnin' about in my creation, you—you been—" he broke off in a fit of coughing that doubled his frail body over for several seconds before he could speak again. When it was over, he wiped the spittle from his chin with the back of one hand and continued, "You think I didn't notice you? Like a fly buzzin' in my ear. I tried t'squish you," he balled his boney fingers into a fist and squeezed, "but you're slippery, you're a tricky one, oh yes, an' you kept gettin' away."

"Yeah, I noticed," Guin shot back. "In Östlor, and again in Alavard—you kept trying to smother me."

He sneered, all gums and and sagging flesh. "Yes."

Lorn, looking a bit lost, asked, "So, you have been aware of Guin—of our quest—the entire time?"

"Boy, I've been watchin' you," the old man growled. "Th'minute you brought this—" he gestured at Guin, "—this girl into my creation, I've been watchin'. I was sleepin', but you, boy, you woke me up."

"And then the Fog sped up... Matta fell ill... Guin's world, your 'Earth', became entangled with Ther..." Lorn shook his head. "Stars. All my doing. All because I brought you here, Guin." He turned to her, face ashen in the bright sunlight. "What have I done?"

"You did what you thought you had to do to save people," Guin insisted. "How the hell could you know, Lorn? Seriously? There's no way you could have. No way at all." She turned to glare at the old man. "You, on the other hand, are a rotten old bastard. I don't care about your tragic backstory, 'Kevin'. You traded in all of your pity cards a long time ago."

On either side of the bed, the young man and the boy with a weeping girl in his arms were silent and still, watching Guin converse with their ancient present and future self. They seemed transfixed, yet somehow frozen, almost faded—as if by waking, the old man was slowly absorbing them draining their life back into himself. They were only parts of him, after all; slivers of his past.

His toothless snear became a snarl. "I don't want no pity," he spat. "No pity. Not from a brat like you, buzzin' fly, little meddlin' bitch!"

Lorn took a step toward the bed, hand moving to his belt. "You call her that again, filth, and I'll—"

Guin laid a hand on Lorn's arm to halt him. "Call me what you want," she said. She realized she'd begun trembling. Tears of rage and frustration stung her eyes. "Call me anything! It doesn't matter. Your words are meaningless. I'm not the one who killed people for fun!"

"You'll kill plenty, in time," the old man replied. "You'll kill. You 'ave already. There'll be more, an' you'll say 'It was for good!'..." He chuckled. "Only difference is, I made what I killed. They're mine. All o'them are mine to do with as I please."

"No," Guin said. "No, that doesn't give you the right. It never did." She held up the notebook. "You started a story, but it's not yours anymore. And you're right, Kevin—I am going to steal it. You don't deserve to have power over anything."

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