I knelt for a few minutes beside Ezra, and would have liked to stay longer, but continued gunfire and explosions from the far side of the house reminded me that I had other friends who needed help. I placed Ezra’s hands together on his chest. Robin snorted at me, then her ears pricked up and she ran back into the house. The backyard sounded like a warzone, and I didn’t like my chances going that way unarmed (I tried wielding Ezra’s sword in my left hand, but it was too awkward to be of any use), so I headed for the front of the house. My freshly sprained ankle gave me a slight limp, but thanks to whatever potent drug Nils had injected me with, I felt little pain.
Peeking around the front of the house, I saw most of the front wall was still standing. Six vans were parked around a white tepee a little way down the hill, while at the top of the driveway the gigantic blade stood upright, humming and creaking and rippling with waves of red light. Between me and the blade, about a hundred dead fish lay on the ground, and more continued randomly dropping from the sky. Beneath the blade, crushed like a tin can, was LaShawn’s truck. I could see no enemies.
I made my way along the front of the house, keeping close to the wall. Halfway along, the ground trembled and the gigantic blade became bright, burning red. It screeched and sent a shockwave that knocked me back on my rear end, and then it rose into the air. I remained there on my backside, half-stunned at what the rising blade revealed. Behind LaShawn’s flattened truck stood an old lady. She was short, even for an old lady, and broomstick-thin except for her big, sagging belly and breasts. Sparse strands of grey hair hung from her scalp like cobwebs, framing a gaunt face that appeared almost insectoid. A tattered black dress draped from her bony shoulders. In a slow rhythm she swayed, while her hands moved before her in odd circular motions. As I slowly got to my feet, the old lady swept her arms upward, and the blade above the house surged forward and out of my sight. The old lady flung her arms down, and from behind the house came a roaring crash, followed by a scream and yelling. The gunfire was non-stop. I retreated to the side of the house and turned around the corner, running straight into Nils.
“Ah sh**, man,” I gasped. “You scared the hell out of me. Wait…”
I looked him up and down. It was Nils, no doubt about it—the Nils I had talked to last night and shared the guest bedroom with—Nils, youthful, clean-shaven and without a blemish on his shiny scalp—Nils who seemed to watch me with a hint of suspicion. He stood there in front of me, serious and sweaty and grease smeared. His chest and waist were locked in some kind of bulky body armour, the shape of which might have suggested it was a flotation device, had it not been constructed of metal and adorned with blinking electronic lights and fiery red thrusters.
“Ezra’s dead,” he said urgently.
“We have to go, Miles. I have to get you out of here.”
I peered at his face.
“Miles, can you hear me? We have to go. Rory sent me to get you.”
“It’s over, mate. That bloody great thing in the sky, a f**king navy seal team running about—we’re done. Rory made the call to evacuate.”
A whiting bounced off Nils’s armoured shoulder.
“Evacuate?” I said. “Rory?”
“Miles, are you listening? We have to go! I can take you out of here on the jetpack.”
“Are you a clone?” I said.
“Are you a clone?”
He gave me a weird, slightly annoyed look. I didn’t care.
“I know there are at least two of you,” I said. “I was with the other one ten minutes ago. Here was there with me while Ezra was dying.” I felt my chest heaving. “There are Rorys all over the place, my foot is cloned and shouting abuse at me, and I know you’ve been cloned too. I can’t keep track of it all.”
Nils’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean you were with the other me?”
“Just before,” I said. “He’s you, but he has a beard and a scar on his head. He’s got a bloody bullet-proof Batman cape.”
“Oh sh**,” said Nils. His eyes widened and darted about. “Old Nils is here. Do you know where he is?”
A small stingray dropped and slapped the ground between us.
Nils grabbed me by the arm. “We don’t have time to get into it, but the other me you met—that’s me ten years from now. It wasn’t a clone, it was me in the future. Old Nils.”
I stared at him.
“Miles, do you know where he is now?”
“Um… Uh, he went around back. Said he had to help Rory.”
Nils nodded. “Okay, well that changes things. Was he armed? What weapons did he have?”
“Uh, he had a thing on his wrist that shot electric string or something.”
Nils nodded. “Jellyfish gun. Anything else.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t see anything.”
“We have to go help them,” he said.
“Come on. Grab hold of the jetpack and we’ll fly over to them.”
“No,” I said. “We have to kill the witch.”
I took a deep breath. “All the fish, and that giant sword smashing everything—Ezra said it’s because of a witch. I saw her. Around the front there’s an old lady. She’s controlling the sword in the sky.”
“But… are you sure? I mean, how do you know that?”
“Ezra said he saw it in the crusades, there was a witch. You have to kill it with an arrow.”
“Wait,” said Nils, shaking his head. “Ezra was never actually in the crusades.”
“Bullsh** he wasn’t!” (I understood what Nils was saying, and he was right, but I was emotional and offended, and I was convinced that Ezra knew what he was talking about.) “There’s a witch, as sure as I’m standing here.”
Nils nodded and raised a conciliatory hand. “Look,” he said, “I wasn’t having a go at Ezra, okay? But you know there aren’t witches that can move giant objects in the sky, right? It’s some advanced technology.”
“What kind of technology do you think they had in the crusades?” I said. “It’s a damn witch, and we have to kill it.”
Nils went to speak but stopped himself and shook his head. He took a breath. “Okay,” he said. “If there is an old lady out there—”
“Of course there is,” I said. “See for yourself.”
He sighed, nodded, then had a look around the corner of the house. I stood next to him and looked as well. The old lady was still in her trance. Her cadaverous arms lifted like a ballerina’s, then flung down again; the ground shook and another crash sounded. We moved back behind the wall.
“Bloody hell,” said Nils. “She is controlling it.”
He shook his head in wonder. “But… How? I don’t get it.”
“She’s a witch,” I said.
He scowled. “She’s not a witch, but we have to stop her.”
“Ezra said you need to dip an arrow in goat’s blood and then shoot her through the heart.”
Nils bit his lip. He smiled impatiently then said, “If it’s all the same, I think I’ll find a gun.”
“You can’t shoot a witch with a gun,” I said. “It has to be an arrow—dipped in goat’s blood.”
“Are you an expert on witches?” he said.
“No, I’m not an expert, but Ezra said—”
“What did Ezra know about witches? I’m sorry mate, but I’m just being real. That stuff was all in his head. Besides, do you even have an arrow?”
I reached around with my left hand and took the mysterious arrowhead from my pocket. I carefully peeled back the Blu-tac wrapping. The arrowhead glowed dark red.
“What is that?” asked Nils.
“Where’s the rest of the arrow?”
“I don’t have it, but—”
“Do you have a bow?”
“Okay, well that rules out shooting her with an arrow, doesn’t it? Where would you even get goat blood?”
“Well, it’s not ideal,” I said, “but I saw some lamb chops in the freezer in the basement.”
Nils’s mouth hung open for a few seconds, then he said, “You aren’t serious… Right?”
I stared at the strange, pointed fragment in my hand. “I have to try. I can’t explain.”
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