Carter finally made it home by late afternoon. As soon as he opened the door, Fiona and Pepper lifted their heads to look at him, smiling as they rushed to embrace him. “We thought you were dead,” Fiona said, giving her father a peck on the cheek. “Where’s Steven and Simon?”

     “They’re fine,” Carter said. He gazed nervously toward the door before pulling her aside. “Hey, I’m dying for something to eat. Mind going up to Mindy’s and grabbing us dinner?”

     “No problem, Dad,” Fiona said.

     “Take Pepper with you,” he said.

     As the two of them headed out, Carter saw Roderigo standing in the kitchen doorway, sipping a cup of coffee and studying Carter’s face intently. “Hey,” Carter said, “it’s not that bad.”

     “I’m just wondering why you were in a hurry to get rid of them,” Roderigo said.

     Carter headed toward his office, waving him along. “We can talk as I change into something dry.” He shut the door behind him, and Roderigo propped himself against the door frame.

     “So how did it go?”

     “Fine. Steven’s cleaning up at Simon’s place, and Simon’s probably grabbing a few more boxes of ammo.”

     “You were gone for a good while.”

     “Well, it was bigger than we thought. We managed to weaken it, but it sunk the Oceanus. I lost Carlton’s slug gun as well, but there’s a very happy group of white tips finishing off that thing’s corpse.” He paused. “I really hope it doesn’t kill them.”

     “Don’t see why it would,” Roderigo said. Are harrows toxic? he thought. They very well could be. “Back to my first question,” he said. “Why did you chase off Fiona and Pepper?”

     More silence. After a moment, he heard Carter say, “I don’t think this is the win we were hoping for. It was a bad plan, and I’m concerned that we might have pissed her off. I don’t want them getting caught in the crossfire. Let’s hope whatever happens, happens soon.”

     Probably right, Roderigo thought, although if Blades comes, we’d be better off with Steven here.

     A sharp crack came from the kitchen. Roderigo whispered for Carter to stay in the office. He grabbed the White Flame off the end table and moved toward the kitchen, taking care to place each step as silently as possible. He held the sword readied by his side as he placed his hand on the doorknob and turned it.

     Roderigo’s heart began to race. Please, he thought, please let it be Blades behind this door.

     He shoved the door open, holding his sword tip-outward, readied for a quick thrust. When he saw Blades checking his tie, he felt the urge to grin. “Well, aren’t we confident?” Blades asked.

     He casually drew his saber and began to circle. “You only caught me off guard last time. That won’t happen again.” He lunged and slashed, but Roderigo pulled back, and as soon as the blade struck the floor Roderigo lunged and thrust his blade, ripping through Blades’ neck.

     Blades choked. Undeterred, he grabbed the White Flame and ripped it free. The sword sizzled in his hand, but he gripped it tightly and grinned. “This is nothing,” he said as blood spurted from the corner of his mouth. He pulled Roderigo toward him. “I’ve felt worse.”

     Roderigo said nothing. He ripped the sword free from Blades’ hand, slicing the fiend’s fingers to the bone. With a quick upward slash, he tore through Blades’ suit and sent a spray of blood into the air.

     Blades sneered and swung sideways, but Roderigo quickly parried the slash and counterattacked, bringing the White Flame down across his opponent’s left hand, tearing it off above the palm.

     Gritting his fangs, Blades lunged, aiming the tip of his sword at Roderigo’s face, but Roderigo quickly weaved out of the attack and slashed Blades’ shoulder. To his surprise, Blades dropped his scimitar and placed the remains of his weak hand on Roderigo’s gut. A sharp pain tore through Roderigo’s insides. He looked down to knife a knife protruding from Blades’ wrist. Both fighters’ blood dripped onto the tiles.

     Blades’ face twisted into a maniacal grin. Before Roderigo could react, Blades ripped the dagger sideways, grabbed his Scimitar and impaled him to the doorframe. “That was fun,” Blades said with a maniacal grin. “I haven’t had a fight like that in a while. But I’m sorry to cut it short; it’s the doctor I want, not you.”

     “Like hell.” Roderigo grabbed the blade of the sword, but before he could remove it, Blades twisted the weapon, leaving Roderigo stuck to the wall in agony as he made his way toward the door. As Blades stepped into the living room, Roderigo desperately ripped the sword from his chest and tried to pull himself toward his foe.

     He failed.

* * *

Blades knew would probably be a while before Roderigo recovered. With what remained of his hand dripping blood, he made a mental note to learn from that fight, to turn Roderigo’s style against him the next time they met. When he reached the door, he stopped for a moment to sigh in apprehension. Instead of breaking it down, he knocked. There was no reply.

     “I know you’re in there, Doctor,” he sneered, but still no response. He swore under his breath and with one swift motion he grabbed the knob and kicked the door open.

     To his surprise, Carter was sitting at his desk. He looked bored, gazing with disinterest at the intruder, his chin tucked against his knuckles. “I guess he put up a fight,” Carter said. “She probably should’ve warned you.”

     “It made things interesting.” He showed Carter the blood-soaked dagger that still protruded from his arm. “I can’t exactly hold you still, but I can kill you. But the beast wants you alive, and it’d annoy her if I snuffed you out. Probably wouldn’t piss her off too bad, though, considering she can still have your soul.”

     “I don’t mind,” Carter said. He rose, placing his hands into his coat pockets, and stared with a disappointed gaze down at the floor.

     From the movement of the cloth, Blades could tell that Carter was clenching his fists. He was apprehensive of course–no one wanted to die, especially not the way he was going to. “After you,” he said, motioning toward the door with his good hand. When Carter reached it, he stopped and leaned against the wall with a coy grin. “Oh, come on. I’m not going to bite.”

     “I was just hoping you’d hold out,” Carter said.

     Blades snickered. As he began to step outside the door, he saw Carter remove his hands from his pocket, a metallic glint catching his eye as one fist whipped toward the side of his head.

     The first punch struck him in the face, smashing his jawbone. It spun him into the other fist, and with a swipe the steel blade ripped through his cheek while the edge of the knucklebow shattered his eye socket. Blades raised his hand to slash his attacker, catching only a glimpse of the instruments of his newfound pain: two trench knives with cast iron handles, the blade held opposite the thumb and facing the body of the wielder–weapons he’d last seen over half a century before in the hands of a hapless British commando.

     Carter swung down toward Blades’ neck, and the creature grabbed with his hand, the blade jamming into the remains of his palm. Carter’s response was to drop and twist to the side, using his shin to swipe Blades’ feet from underneath him. As the fiend fell Carter slammed his shoulder into Blades’ chest, cracking his ribs and tearing the stuck blade free.

     As soon as Blades hit the floor, Carter was on top of him, his knees pinning his foe’s arms. Carter launched a relentless barrage of powerful blows, each aimed squarely at his adversary’s face. The sickening sound of cracking bone filled the house. To the outsider, it was a strangely focused fury, as each punch spattered the walls and floor with clotted blood and torn flesh.

     When Blades finally stopped screaming, Carter stood, his fur and coat drenched in blood. He took a few steps back and sunk to his knees, exhausted. It’d had been more than thirty years, and while he still had the strength to end a fight, it took more out of him than it once had.

     As Roderigo stepped into the room, he saw the once menacing figured laying in a pool of his own blood. For a moment, he stared speechless at the broken devil, but this gave way to an uneasy feeling as Carter grabbed Blades’ feet and dragged him out onto the front porch. With a trail of dark blood following him, Carter pulled the body across the road and to the cliff, unceremoniously rolling Blades down to the ocean below.

     Carter looked back at the bloody trail before making his way back to the porch. There, he grabbed an old garden hose and began to wash the blood away.

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