CONTENT WARNING: This update contains descriptions of violence and self-harm.
“Well?” Gen asks, looking expectantly up at Landis. “Aren’t you going to do it?”
“Shut up,” Landis says. A bead of blood rolls down the tip of his nose, dripping from his face onto Gen’s. He flips the dagger around in his hand, and presses the flat of the blade to her throat. She’s just trying to get you talking so she can stall. You’re better off ending it now, before she can do anything else. You don’t know what kind of magic she’s still got up her sleeve.
Gen laughs. “What’s the matter? Don’t have the stomach for killing anymore?”
“Shut up,” Landis growls, and presses down a little harder on the dagger’s hilt.
Gen makes a small, shocked gasping noise, a sound that makes unpleasant images float unbidden to the forefront of Landis’s mind. Wes’s throat opening up with a single, fluid motion, spraying warm blood with unexpected force. An imagined - or not - glimpse of Jeremy struggling underwater, fighting to break the surface as something on the bottom dragged him down. Danton’s body going limp, his head bouncing off the porch steps. Mal’s neck blossoming with bruises.
Why did you think you could do this? a snide voice inside of him asks. His insides feel white-hot, his side throbbing steadily with pain. You couldn’t even kill Abbie when Mal’s life was on the line. You fucked up, and he had to save you. Why did you think this would be any different? Just because you hate Gen for what she did doesn’t mean you could -
“You can’t do it,” Gen says, in a high, sing-song voice. “I knew you couldn’t. You shouldn’t have tried to step in and save your little boyfriend.”
Landis smacks her across the face with his free hand. The sound that rings through the arena is satisfying enough, but Gen starts to laugh again, and Landis can feel the anger flooding back into his body. Her body is shaking with mirth underneath of him, and she reaches up to wipe a tear from her face. The gash on her palm looks scabbed over - Landis has a small moment of panic where he remembers the knife in Gen’s pocket, but with the way he’s kneeling over her, there’s no way she can reach it.
She can’t do blood magic unless she’s bleeding. Otherwise, why would she have cut herself? The thought makes him shift the position of the dagger slightly, so she can’t force her head down onto the blade. Of course, there’s always the chance that she could bite through her lip (or tongue), or force her nails into her skin. But Landis is reasonably sure he’ll notice before she gets there, given how close they are. Besides - she’s still laughing.
“I can’t believe it!” Gen gasps, finally. “I used to think you were so scary, someone who took on a demon twice, and lived! Someone who sacrificed all those people without going insane! But you…you’ve gotten soft, Landis Holliday!”
Landis snorts. “I’ve gotten soft? You’ve never killed anyone. You don’t know what it’s like.”
“I know what it’s like to watch a friend die right in front of you,” she says defiantly.
Oh yeah. That other witch - the lake absorbed her. Landis grimaces as another unpleasant memory surfaces.
“That’s different,” he says.
“Is it?” Gen holds Landis’s gaze, her eyes shiny with some crazed emotion he can’t place. “Is it really so different? You still play it out in your head over and over, trying to figure out what happened, what else you could have done.” She grins. “I used to think that you and me were the same, Landis. That you were the only one who could understand what was happening to me, the only other person who’d had his life touched by a demon like that.”
Landis fights through the pain in his side, tightening his grip on the dagger when he notices it start to slacken. “The other witches -”
“Trash,” Gen snaps, cutting him off. “Tagalongs. They didn’t even really expect Crocell to show up. They just wanted to fuck with you, to see if the urban legend they liked so much was true.” She turns her head and spits onto the ground next to her. “Aster and I told them not to come if they weren’t serious, if they weren’t going to help with the binding ritual. We told them it would be dangerous, if we didn’t bind the demon right after we summoned it. But they came, and they didn’t even try to stop Crocell from taking Aster. They didn’t even stop Crocell from taking your friend. Cowards.”
Landis smacks her across the face again. “Don’t talk about Otter.”
“Oh?” Gen raises an eyebrow. “Still sensitive about that, huh?”
“That was - what happened to him was your fault, and you know it. You don’t get to pass the blame like that. I don’t care what the other witches did - you were the big mastermind or whatever behind summoning Crocell, so you’re the reason Otter got possessed. At least take a fraction of the blame.” Landis leans down, still eye-to-eye with Gen. “Crocell made him cut off his own brother’s foot, after that. They almost killed Austin. In the body of his fucking boyfriend. I don’t know if you heard about that, but that’s on you, too.”
Instead of replying, Gen just smiles at him, sending a new wave of rage washing over Landis. He tries to lean closer to her, to press the knife harder against her throat, but suddenly and unceremoniously finds himself gasping for air. It only occurs to him when Gen throws her weight against him and sends him rolling, his back painfully slamming into the ground, that Gen must have kneed him in the stomach. He tries to keep hold of the dagger, but it slips out of his hands and clatters to the ground.
You really would have to be an idiot, to let her get you talking for that long. Landis groans as Gen kneels over him, grinning into his face. He can hear the audience shouting, but tries to tune it out, dulling it to a low roar.
“This has been fun,” Gen says cheerfully, “but I’m bored now. And Kesi won’t finish up Aster until I kill you, so we might as well stop beating around the bush. I hope you said goodbye to your friends before you came out here.”
She digs into her pocket, fishing out her knife. She digs the blade into her leg, tearing the fabric of her leggings and leaving a long gash in her thigh. The blood fans out of it elegantly, collecting in a thin, rectangular blade roughly the length of Landis’s forearm. As it raises in the air, high above Gen’s head, Landis realizes with dawning horror that it’s a guillotine blade.
“Finish up Aster?” he asks, trying to use Gen’s own trick against her as he reaches for the dagger. It’s just barely too far to grasp without alerting her to what he’s doing. He can feel the weight of it pressing against his leg, and his fingers just barely brush the tip of the blade, but to no avail. “What do you mean? Is that part of your contract?”
“Hadn’t you figured that out by now?” Gen asks smugly, one hand held high above her, controlling the guillotine blade. “I summoned Crocell to try and…negotiate for Aster, but Kesi came instead. He said the real Crocell was gone.” She tilts her head at Landis. “I assume that was your doing.”
“They would have killed the whole town if we hadn’t done it,” he grunts, straining to pull the dagger closer to him.
“Regardless,” Gen goes on, “I made a contract with Kesi to bring Aster back to life, instead. He even helped me with the ritual to summon her body back. Of course, Aster’s still…well, she’s not conscious, but Kesi said he’d finish his end of the contract after I finished mine. Fair’s fair, really.”
“Sounds like your demon’s trying to cheat you.” Landis says, through clenched teeth. His shoulder almost hurts more than the wound in his side, with the way he’s straining it, and he manages to drag the dagger upwards just as he starts to worry that he’s about to dislocate something. It’s slow going, but soon he has the blade in between his fingers, delicately maneuvering it in his hand, careful not to cut himself before he can grab the hilt.
“Cheat me? Hardly.” Gen grins a little wider. “He’s just motivating me to kill you and win the duel. Demons are cruel, Landis, but they’re predictable. You’d know that if you were a proper magic user.”
“Sure,” Landis says.
“Anyway,” Gen says, “you and I have talked long enough. Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
I sure hope this works, Landis thinks, as Gen slices her arm down through the air, the guillotine blade coming with it. He doesn’t have time to think anything else. His hand swings the dagger up reflexively, slamming it into the guillotine blade, which explodes in a fountain of blood that drenches both him and Gen. Gen screams in surprise and reels backwards, losing her balance and landing on her backside in the sand.
“You know what?” Landis says, spraying blood out of his mouth. He uses the edge of his shirt to wipe his face, mostly just spreading the blood around, but succeeding in getting it out of his eyes all the same. Slowly, he levers himself up to his feet, holding the dagger out in front of him as though daring Gen to attack him again. “I don’t think I’m ready to get it over with just yet. How about a Round Two?”