Chapter 40

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"No." I fall back another step.

Dimly, I register Meg's horrified gasp and I remember that I have to save her. I need to get her off the Palace roof and find a way to disarm the Vane before the storm gets too powerful. I know that our lives and the fates of countless others hang in the balance but as Will stalks closer I find myself incapable of doing anything at all.

"Stop!" Meg cries out. "Call him off!"

"Please," I add my whisper to her frantic shouting. "Don't make me do this."

Will swings his arm and I duck, nearly collapsing when my legs refuse to straighten.

"What's wrong, Runner?" Cruel laughter rises above the rushing in my head. "Aren't you pleased to see your true love again? Isn't he just as you remember?"

Instinct is the only thing that saves me when he lunges, his blade falling again and again, each hit landing with devastating purpose. Blow by blow I am pushed back, the sound of our clashing weapons sending painful shockwaves through to my core.

"Don't—" The words die when I catch his unfeeling eyes. The spark that ignites their familiar grey depths isn't the fire I remember. No, this isn't my Will.

He comes at me again, swinging his sword in a wide arc and bringing it down on mine with enough force to rip it from my hands. I can only stare at him in shock, frozen until a sudden punch expels the air from my lungs. The floor rushes toward me and I land in a puddle of frigid water. I spin onto my back, wheezing as I grope blindly for a weapon and Will winds up again. My fingers close around something small yet solid and I'm able to block his attack but vibrate from the unnatural force of impact.

It's not him. I know that this vessel isn't really my Will.

Except it's hands are Will's hands, it's face is Will's face and—oh, gods—even it's smell is his. The trace hint of sandalwood assaults me as I sweep his legs out from under him and he comes crashing down, landing heavily with barely a grunt.

He recovers almost immediately. We are locked in close combat, the horrible metal gear grafted to his chest crushing me against the floorboards. I shuffle backwards, swinging the mallet I grabbed from a nearby toolkit. As I make desperate attempts to fend him off an argument seeps in through the cracks of our battle.

"Why are you doing this?" Fear laces Meg's voice.

"She knows why." The Madam fires back. "Your Runner has systematically destroyed everything I ever worked for. I gave my life to create rain and at each turn she has been there, derailing our progress and stealing my glory. It's her fault that your City is in ribbons, Princess. If she could have just left well enough alone or—better yet, had the common decency to die—then she could have spared all of us a great deal of suffering."

I shove Will back and try to crawl out from under him but an iron hand clamps down on my leg, holding fast. Kicking out in blind panic my blows are blocked easily as he grabs my other leg and flips me over. I know it's not him...I know it isn't but that doesn't stop the broken pleas falling from my lips.

"Will," I jerk to the side, wincing as his armor-plated fist smashes into the floor next to my ear. "Come back. You can fight this, please I know you can."

Will straightens, tilting his head at me. Hope flickers and dies as he reaches over his reinforced shoulder and slowly withdraws his sword from it's scabbard.

"No—" My protest is ignored and I raise the mallet, deflecting him by some miracle but losing another weapon in the process. Searching through the gloom I spot the toolkit it came from and the seeds of an idea begin to take root.

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