No wonder all those Skins were big and scarred. To earn their spot in the stands, they’d had to emerge alive from a free-for-all.
I might not have to take Sol out. But I wanted to. What was one more icon?
No, focus! Tick-tock.
Sol waved his hand, and the Bagmen lurched forward. They deposited those crude weapons on the field—pikes, hoes, axes—then returned to the periphery, as if they were being choreographed. The Sun must have control over them, the way I controlled plants! Which made sense—after all, Bagmen had been created by solar radiation during the Flash.
When the sun had shone at night.
Among the Shirts, gazes darted and fists clenched, men readying to fight. When should I strike? Would I have enough spores to knock out a thousand Skins? And what about the Bagmen?
Sol raised his hands, and his body began to . . . glow.
Empower me or burn me up?
All around me the Shirts gasped in shock. Sol’s followers lifted their faces and basked as light radiated from his body—stronger and stronger in intensity. It grew so bright, I nearly cried out. I closed my eyes, bracing myself. . . .
When my glyphs shivered, I opened my eyes. Soon those swirling lights on my skin were shining almost as brightly as Sol. The Sun was supercharging me! But no one noticed; they were all too busy staring at him.
I shoved my hood back, and vines flared behind my head, cobralike once more. My claws dripped with poison. My broken bones and wounds were mending faster, faster. The vines in my sleeve made way for my growing arm as flesh built on itself. Already to my elbow!
Deep within me, the red witch stretched and purred.
The bleacher crops stirred in readiness. I could turn this into a bloodbath if I chose. Jack had been one of my last links to humanity, to goodness. Until I recovered him . . . the red witch might slip her leash.
A supercharged Arcana. With zero humanity. And an icon up for grabs. If only taking down the Emperor could be so easy—
I frowned. Richter. What if he wasn’t invulnerable after all? Maybe . . . I simply needed a portable solar battery. I could take Sol back in time with me on Tess’s carousel. But could I control the Sun enough to keep his powers in check? What was the extent of his powers?
Sol dimmed his light, then he and his two pet zombies took seats on the stage. Suddenly, a game buzzer sounded.
Yelling men ran for those weapons. Fights broke out. A melee erupted around me. The crude weapons made murder a grisly business. Blood spurted, hacked limbs dropping.
Behind me, Pops’s grandson cried hysterically. I tossed a vine toward him and Pops. It branched out in front of them—a shield of green.
Attention back on Sol.
He’d linked his fingers with those Baggers’ on either side. Did Sol care about those two? If so, I could use that. But first I needed a distraction.
As I’d learned to do in the Lovers’ basement, I snatched another vine from my neck and lobbed it in the direction of the Bagmen guards on the periphery. My own grenade; I fueled it from within me. The vine spread, forking out to climb up bodies and spear skulls. Bagmen dropped like dominoes.
Nearby Shirts jerked back from me. Good. I was about to need the room.
I invoked the red witch—and could almost pity my enemies. I AM the red witch, some part of me thought. Evie is a sliver of ME.
Other Baggers mobilized to locate the threat, shoving through the mass of men.
From my cobra’s hood, I straightened the end of a huge vine, another spear. It shot outward, jabbing a Bagger through the eye.
More creatures turned toward me, wailing as they attacked. I speared another one and another. Soon I was using two spears. Three spears. Ten. Like a hydra.
I’d never felt more monstrous. Glowing. Vicious. Claws overflowing with poison.
Shirts yelled and dove out of the way, more afraid of me than anything else in this place. Bandana stared at me with revulsion and fear.
I smirked. But I thought we were gonna date?
One green spear pierced a Bagman, then caught the two behind him. Dead zombies piled up. The stench almost made me retch.
The red witch craved her carnage, demanding total control. But my mission was too important to give her free rein.
Struggling to focus on what mattered, I sent barbed rose stalks creeping toward the stage. Sol didn’t notice as green slithered up his chair and his companions’.
Stalks suddenly coiled around their necks. I used them to lift the two Baggers high into the air.
Sol yelled, “Nooo! Stop!” He clenched the stalk around his throat and pulled, so I tightened all three barbed collars.
The Bagmen on the field ceased their attack. The melee slowed, until everyone was staring at my handiwork.
With a flick of my hand, those terraced plants swelled. The Skins in the bleachers reacted too late; from behind them, a surge of green overran them, my own terrifying wave. The vines snared them, a vast living net. The more the men struggled, the more trapped they became.
A spotlight seemed to shine from Sol’s eyes as he swept his gaze over the crowd to identify his attacker.
I stepped into that light and moaned. God, it felt amazing.
“Who are you?” he demanded, bleeding fingers curled around his collar. “What are you?”
My gore-covered vines cleared bodies out of my way as I strode toward the stage, closer to that delicious sunlight.
Even with all these plants, I’d only been able to regrow half of my arm. Now I raised the stump to his spotlight. My flesh regenerated before our eyes. Even my icons returned.
Gasps and whimpers sounded from all around me.
I flexed my new fingers and claws. Rolled my wrist. With my restored hand, I pointed at Sol. “You’re coming with me.”