“You need to do something life affirming.” Daisy peers at me from behind her bottle of cold brew. The afternoon sun is high and as I watch, two deer make their way from the treeline to drink on the far shore of the lake. “Come play cards with us this afternoon.”
I grimace, “I will lose. My Luck is gone.”
“Your luck can’t really leave you, you know that, right?” The saint uses her best mom-voice.
I shake my head, try to explain, “If you turn your back on Lady Luck, then you lose her favor. Like throwing away a winning hand… the only time you do it is if you’re playing a bigger game. A longer con.”
“If you can’t win with luck, then win with skill.” Chance tells me later as he offers his condolences. I laugh, and then I ponder.
“Ynk, Death was looking for you.” They call it out so casually as we approach the door of the Kennel, delivered in the same tone you might use to say ‘You got a letter.’ or ‘Dinner’s ready‘. We both freeze mid-step, exchange looks.
The Kennel comes together to construct plans, farces of sleeping arrangements, traps, attacks… but without the Professor there our plans feel paper-thin. I balk at them all, it falls too firmly in the domain of Fortuna, and she and I already aren’t on speaking terms.
Word comes that the armies of the Aysea are on the move. I stand at the crossroads and watch Mickey show Dross how to knock a man out with one hit. Dusk is fast approaching and I find my fear approaching with it. Tonight Death will hunt again and this time we know who he is coming for. Will it be my turn tonight, to watch him die in front of me?
If you can’t win with luck… win with skill.
“Death is on the field!”
The cry swells across the assembled armies and back to where I stand with the medics. I turn to look out across the blood-soaked grass. Dross is limping away from the healers with a splint on his leg. His fists are still strong and undamaged though. I catch his eye.
“What do you want to do?” Ynk is watching me closely.
“Let’s finish this.”
The three of us strike out across the grass, skirting the clusters of intense fighting to get closer. I know the instant Death recognizes me, his face splits again into that fanatical grin. Swiftly he closes the distance, and the glee in his eyes says he’s ready to sink his blades into me once more. In an blink he is in melee range and I block the heavy flurry of blows with my knife, stepping inside his guard. Dross is mere steps behind me, but Death’s eyes are locked on my face with a terrifying fixation.
It’s hard to explain, but I know the instant Dross swings, those fists like sledgehammers flying directly towards my head from behind. I fall to my knees, twist my hands in Death’s tattered, bloody shirt and fling him solidly into the heavy overhand punch with the weight of a freight train.
“Oof.” I hear Death’s air whoosh out of him as he crumples to the ground, confusion writ large on his blood-smeared face. Dross hoists him over his shoulders and runs for the edge of the battlefield. A captain of the Aysea moves to pursue and Ynk steps smoothly to intercept and cover our retreat.
In the high grass, Singer smashes Death’s knees dispassionately. He is waking up, breaking through the bonds I have tied around his wrists. We murder him brutally and efficiently then, knuckles and blades coated in his flesh and blood.
It feels good.
Singer and I carry his limp, ruined body back to Mpyre’s Gatehouse and dump him into the chair. Asher is screaming at us. They want his head and heart. Death tore their child from their body.
“You need to go grieve.” I tell them, “Body parts will not bring your baby back.” Do they not know how many others Death has taken? It is he who collects trophies from us.
Asher flees into the night and Singer tips Death’s head back. An eerie rattle emerges from his throat and we all have our blades out in an instant. Even Ynk, standing behind Death’s chair has his knife at his throat, he who has never taken a life that was not raider or undead abomination. Death has pushed us all to our limits.
But it is only the involuntary sound of lifeless breath fleeing the broken body. Together, we lay him on the floor and wait for the Gravemind to reclaim her own .
“You pray, don’tcha Rajah?” Singer invites me to join her in her eulogy. Her Hedon prayers seem fitting for this High Saturday funeral.
“I do…” O’ Fortuna, hear me now.
I push down on Death’s shoulder, watch the tendrils of corruption curl around his limbs. I whisper into his deaf, dead ears.
“May Lady Luck watch over you. May she take from you my Luck which you have stolen, and redistribute your winnings to those who deserve them”
Death disappears into the earth and I…
I go to do something life affirming.
“Here. This belongs to you. I don’t need it anymore” I adjust the Ace of Spades so it hangs over the glowing pulse at Ynk’s throat.
I remember the words from Don Sebastian’s sermon. Keep your family close, and Lady Luck is on your side. We survived one more day. I add another hashmark onto the hood of the Iron Rosie and pat the red paint fondly. Soon the crew will be altogether again. Tes, and R, and Chum, and Ynk and I… Our little gang of survivors.
Death will return, I know this. In the end, he comes for us all. But today…today the fires of the Burning Season are subsiding and there’s a small town called Bravo that’s missing their Councilwoman.
It’s time to go Home.