Bones's blade wavered and skidded across Gregor's back instead of burying into his opponent's heart. I watched, appalled, as Bones staggered backward, his hand going to the knife still buried in his stomach. He pulled it out even as Gregor rose to his feet, his arm and the previously disabling slash in his gut healed. Bones continued to back away, his steps wavering. I couldn't hold back my scream as Gregor yanked the knife out of Bones's hand and kicked him hard enough to leave Bones sprawled onto his back.
Rage and anguish washed over me, so tightly interwoven into my emotions that I didn't know if it was mine or Bones's. Even though the silver knife was out of his stomach, his pain there didn't lessen. Unbelievably, I felt it grow with crippling intensity, smashing over me in waves, until only Vlad's arm around my shoulders kept me upright.
Something was wrong. It shouldn't be getting worse; the silver was out. Why couldn't he move? Get up, I screamed silently. Get up!
Boom. Boom. My heart thundered in my chest as Gregor pounced on top of Bones, who was weaponless. Dimly I heard Annette sob, felt Vlad's hand tighten on my shoulder, but everything else seemed to fade away except the two figures against the dark clay of the earth.
As if in slow motion, I watched Gregor raise the knife. Saw his knees slam into Bones's arms, holding him down as Bones tried to throw Gregor off. Watched the knife begin its descent toward that blood-smeared chest directly underneath it. Felt Bones's despair, bitter as poison. Saw Gregor's glowing emerald gaze flick through the crowd until he found me. And then Gregor smiled.
It was the same smile he'd given me right after killing Rodney. Satisfied. Triumphant. Merciless. Gregor's blade touched Bones's chest, slicing into his skin, and his smile widened.
My vision went red and a single thought permeated through my whole body: No.
Flames shot up Gregor, so fast they covered him before the smile had time to leave his face. I had an instant to smile back - and then Gregor's head exploded. His hands still gripped the knife in Bones's chest, but then his body pitched to the side, nothing but flames left where his head had been.
Next to me, Vlad let out a shocked curse. That's when I became aware that every eye was on me and my hands were engulfed in blue fire.
"She dies," the female Law Guardian said.
NO ONE TRIED TO STOP THE THREE MALE Guardians when they strode forward and seized me. To tell the truth, I didn't try to stop them, either. I was too focused on trying to see Bones, now that there were people blocking my view of the clearing. He hadn't moved since the last glimpse I'd had of him. Had Gregor's knife been stopped in time? Or had it bitten too deep?
"Cat, what have you done?" Vlad rasped. He couldn't stop staring at my hands. The flames were dying down, which I supposed the Guardian's appreciated since they held me by the arms.
"Is Bones okay?" I asked, ignoring that. A weird sort of peace settled over me. I hadn't consciously meant to send that deadly fireball at Gregor's head, but I didn't regret it. Even if I hadn't saved Bones in time, this way, it wouldn't be long until I joined him, and killing Gregor meant freedom for my mother. There were far less valuable things to die for.
Mencheres looked as stunned as Vlad did. He really must have lost his visions of the future since his expression said he'd never imagined things would turn out this way.
My mother pushed her way through the people. Her gaze was still lit up with green, and she punched the first Guardian she came into contact with.
"Get your hands off my daughter!" she shouted.
"Vlad," I said, "please..."
His face closed off, and he nodded once. Then he grabbed my mother, holding her against his chest in a grip she'd never be able to break. I gave him a grateful smile, knowing he'd agreed to protect her for more than just that moment.
"You're a good friend," I said.
That was all I got out. One of the Guardians closed his arm across my throat, choking off my attempted goodbye to my mother, and I was dragged out into the clearing. The blond female Guardian was already in the middle, a long silver knife in her hand.
Quick with carrying out the punishments, aren't they? I thought, mustering up my courage. I couldn't bring myself to look at where people were gathered around Bones. If he was alive, I didn't want him to see this. I was hoping the Guardians would be really quick and it would be over before Bones even realized what was happening.
I recognized Bones's ragged voice, and my heart leapt. He was alive. Please let this be quick, and oh God, don't let him watch.
"She's broken the law," the blond Guardian snapped. She grabbed me, yanking my head back even as Bones staggered into view.
I met his gaze, trying to tell him in that brief instant that I loved him, and I wasn't afraid, when his next words made the Guardian pause.
The Guardian let me go so abruptly that I fell. Bones didn't glance at me again. All his attention was on the female who marched over to him.
"If you're lying, you'll join her in death," she bit out.
Bones pointed at his stomach, where an odd dark swirl was visible in his flesh even under the smears of blood.
"Liquid silver," Bones said. He held out Gregor's knife. "Somewhere in this is an injection device. Gregor poisoned me with that last stab, so I'd be slower and weaker while fighting him. Probably reckoned no one would know what he did once I was shriveled."
So that explained the agony I'd felt from Bones - it had been silver spreading through his veins from that single, treacherous stab. I knew the pain had been too debilitating to be caused by a normal wound. How like Gregor to cheat in such a foul way, once he'd realized he couldn't beat Bones in a fair fight.
The Guardian took the knife, looking it over carefully. She squeezed it from every angle, and when her thumb pressed the very tip of the hilt, a gleaming liquid slid along the blade.
"Clever," she murmured. Then her gaze hardened as she looked at me. "She had no way of knowing about this. Thus her punishment is the same for interfering."
The Guardian's head swiveled toward me.
"I felt the silver burning up Bones inside," I continued. "We're connected, since he's my sire as well as my husband. That's how I knew."
Lucius strode up to me. "He's not your husband, Gregor is!"
Bones arched a brow in the direction of Gregor's body. "She's only got one husband now, doesn't she?"
From the expression on the Law Guardian's face, my explanation wasn't good enough. I stiffened. It was one thing to die to save Bones, but if there was a chance to live...
"Plus, Gregor had shown me a similar knife when I was a teenager," I added. "It was so long ago, I'd forgotten about it. But when Bones acted so strangely after being stabbed, and I could feel his pain spreading even after the knife was taken out - "
"Liar," Lucius shouted. "Gregor never had a knife like that until I picked it up for him yesterday!"
The Guardian's eyes settled on him. Too late, Lucius realized what he'd done.
"You were part of his cheating," she stated. "Take him."
Two of the male Guardians caught Lucius as he tried to run. From how strong they were, I knew Lucius didn't have a chance of escaping. Then again, neither might I.
The Guardian's knowing green eyes landed on me next, suspicion plain in her gaze. "You swear by your blood that you only interfered in the duel when you realized Gregor had cheated?"
After all, it was mostly true. I'd known something was wrong; I just hadn't known what it was. So in that regard, I hadn't interfered until I realized Gregor was cheating. Besides, if Gregor hadn't cheated in the first place, then there would have been no need for me to interfere, because Bones would have eventually killed him.
The Guardian glared at me for a long moment, but I didn't flinch under her gaze. Then she looked around. Bones was giving her a hard stare, as were Mencheres, Spade, and Vlad. Since there was room for reasonable doubt, if she ruled against me, Bones wouldn't accept it and this would turn into a bloodbath. She had to know that. But would it factor into her decision?
Finally, she shrugged. "I have no way to prove if you're lying, and Gregor's guilt is clear, so you are free to go."
Bones grabbed me in the next instant, holding me in an embrace that would have squeezed all the air out of me, if I'd had any. I held him back just as hard, hearing some of Gregor's allies sputter indignant objections. There'll be repercussions, I thought. There would also be repercussions for showing so many people what I could do with fire, even if I didn't know how long I'd have that power, but I pushed those concerns aside for a later day.
"We need to get the silver out of you, Crispin," I heard Spade say over Bones's shoulder.
"Not yet," Bones replied.
I shoved him lightly. "Yes, now. Are you crazy?"
He let out a snort as he released me, intensity lurking in his gaze. "No, luv. You are."
Bones knew I hadn't interfered just because I'd realized Gregor had cheated. There'll be repercussions for that, too, I thought, but first things first.
The liquid silver had to be cut out of Bones, I discovered. It was a gruesome, bloody process that made me wish I could kill Gregor a thousand times over. No wonder something like this was illegal in a duel. I wouldn't use such an insidious weapon against an enemy. Bones had his shields up between us as Spade cut into him, but I didn't need our supernatural connection for it to hurt me as well.
Lucius was executed by the Law Guardians during his process.
When they were done with Lucius, the head Guardian informed us that we owed financial restitution for the theft of a member of Gregor's line - my mother. My mouth dropped at the amount she named, but Bones just nodded and said it would be taken care of. Since Gregor was dead, I wasn't sure who'd get the check, or if it would just go to the Law Guardians, but once again, I filed that away under Future Business.
Mencheres knelt next to us in the bloodstained earth. He held out his hand to Bones, who looked at it for the space of several seconds before he took it.
"You didn't see any of this?" Bones asked Mencheres.
The Egyptian vampire had the faintest smile. "Not a single part. I find I hate not knowing what will come to pass."
Bones snorted. "Welcome to the way the rest of us live."
Spade finished digging out the last of the silver from Bones and sat back with a grunt. "Blimey, Crispin, I hope never to do that again."
Bones let out another snort. "I quite agree, mate."
"Can we get out of here?" Now that Bones no longer had silver inside, poisoning him, I figured it was a good time to leave. Gregor's allies were still giving us very hostile looks, though the Guardians' presence - and Bones's allies - kept them from acting. Still, no need to press our luck. Between Bones and me, we'd probably run through all our nine lives that night.
"Excellent idea, luv," Bones said, rising. "Where do you want to go?"
An ironic laugh escaped me. "Anywhere but Paris, Bones. Anywhere but there."