“It’s amazing, isn’t it? So perfectly balanced,” the Grigori said as they approached. “But of course, it was forged in heaven. Or hell. I’m honestly not sure what I believe at this point.”
Malachi said nothing, trying to place the blade. He knew he should know what it was. There was something…
“Don’t recognize it? I’ll admit, it was dark in that shit hole of a cistern,” Brage said, flipping the blade from the back of his hand to rest in his palm. “Maybe you couldn’t see it clearly.”
The knife pulsed with power. Its metal was dull, almost black. There was no decoration on it. No leather wrapped the hilt. Nothing to detract from the purpose of such a grim weapon.
“Your silence intrigues me,” Brage said.
Malachi realized that the Grigori wasn’t speaking to him. He was speaking to Ava. And Ava couldn’t take her eyes off him.
“You killed him with that,” she said softly, the air fogging as it left her lips.
“Yes, I did. Apparently it didn’t take.” Brage glanced at Malachi, then back to Ava. “My father wants you.”
“He can’t have her,” Malachi said.
“Was I talking to you, scribe?” Brage continued to stare at Ava, flipping the knife in his fingers. Handle. Tip. Handle. Tip. He didn’t fumble once. “Will you come with me? Or will I have to take you?”
“I’m not going anywhere with you, you creepy asshole.”
Malachi approved of the disdain dripping in her voice. He stepped between Ava and Brage, his knives ready, his heart eager. Her power coursed through him. He could feel her song whisper in his mind.
Brage’s eyes flickered to Malachi. Then they closed briefly as a whisper left his lips. “Boring.”
The Grigori took Malachi by surprise, knocking him off balance and trying to slip behind him, the blade already raised to strike. Ava stuck her foot out and tripped Brage, distracting the Grigori and causing the blade to nick the side of his forearm as he stumbled back. There was a hissing sound as the smell of sulfur filled the air, then the wind swept it away.
Malachi sheathed one of his knives and circled his opponent as Ava braced her back against the brick wall of the stairwell. Brage swept a foot out and punched Malachi’s knee, causing him to slip on the icy bricks. He fell, the snow and slush soaking his back and side.
“Do you even know what she is, scribe?” Brage taunted Malachi as he climbed to his feet. “I’ll admit, I didn’t at first. I’m still not sure of the details. I do know that your kind won’t know what to do with her.”
Malachi rose with him, keeping himself between Ava and Brage. The Grigori’s lip was cut and the wound on his arm seeped a steady flow of blood. It was black and thick. When the snow hit it, it sizzled.
Brage continued to stare at Ava, cocking his head as if he were puzzling over a specimen in a laboratory. Malachi lunged in, hoping to catch him distracted, but Brage grabbed his wrist and pulled, switching the black knife to his left hand and trying to slice up at Malachi’s elbow. He could feel the pulse of magic as his talesm repulsed the Grigori’s strike. Stepping closer, Malachi hugged Brage to his chest and plunged the silver blade into his side. Blood gushed over his hand, but Brage pushed back, pressing a hand to his waist to stem the bleeding but never lowering his knife.
His lip curled. “I was told you lost your talesm.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear.”
Brage lunged again, but his movements held an edge of desperation. Malachi knew he couldn’t let the black knife touch him. The cut on Brage’s arm was growing. The flesh around it was gray and the veins stood out black against his pale skin.
“You’re dying,” Malachi said. “Tell us why Volund wants her.”
Brage only laughed and dropped to the icy brick, sweeping a leg out again, catching Malachi’s ankle with his foot. He brought them both down and scrambled over to him, trying to climb atop Malachi.
The Grigori had the upper hand, and Malachi couldn’t find purchase on the icy bricks. He was close to panic before a clang sounded through the air. Malachi blinked and Brage fell to the side. Ava was standing over him, clutching a copper urn smeared with blood.
“I couldn’t just stand there!”
Climbing to his feet, he almost slipped again, but Ava held him. Brage was shaking his head and blinking at Ava. A frown creased his eyebrows. Still, he persisted.
“Come with me,” he pleaded. “You can change everything. You have no idea—”
He stopped when she threw the urn at him.
“Are you nuts?” she shouted. “Why don’t you just die?”
Malachi ran and slipped across the roof as the snow swirled. There was a scream on the wind. Nothing human or even animal. Brage looked up, past Malachi. Over his head and into the black night. His mouth fell open in horror and Malachi halted.
A great gold eagle landed on the roof, and the snow exploded around it. It stepped forward and grew into Jaron. He glowed with light, and Brage raised a hand, pointing at him.
“You promised! You said you would not interfere!”
Jaron lifted the Grigori up by the neck. “I lied.”
Malachi turned to run to Ava, but found his feet were frozen to the ground.
“No,” he gasped. “Ava!”
His body was frozen. He could not reach her. Malachi twisted his neck around, but could barely catch a glimpse of her over his shoulder.
She stepped closer, her eyes locked with Jaron’s. Her face held no fear, only a grim fascination.
Malachi shouted again. “Ava, no!”
She didn’t turn toward his voice. And she didn’t stop.