Justice. The clear, triumphant pealing bell of the word swept over Mamzelle. Justice. What she wouldn't give for justice! Her tired and battered spirit leaned toward the blond woman.
But no--revenge. She wanted revenge, not justice! Bonham was the lesser of the two, and foolish at least in magical matters. She might still find her loophole, find a way to kill him, were he her master. Mamzelle would never find a way out as Duniway's servant; if the woman wanted to keep her bound, she would stay bound. Mamzelle had no doubt of it. She leaned toward her old master; he redoubled his psychic grip, and if a spirit could snarl and spit, his did so.
So close. Mamzelle had been so close to being rid of Jed Bonham, so close to freedom. If only Misi hadn't betrayed her. Bonham would return her to the Palace. He would shackle her further. At the least he would end her little hunting forays, but that was nothing. He'd made her do disgusting things before this. It would be worse now. Perhaps he might take one of her eyes, as he'd always threatened to. An eye took a long time to grow back, and the pain would be immense.
Despair overwhelmed her, until Duniway's call came once more through the ether, so strongly she felt actual words: Justice, Mamzelle! I would bring you justice.
Mamzelle opened her leaden eyes. Duniway still stood before her, panting now but not winded. The woman reached out her hands; they beamed peace, hope and justice. Mamzelle let out a whimper like a beaten dog, gathered her courage, and let her spirit jump.
Annabelle let her hands drop to her side. "Vi rilascio, Daemonis," she said, ending the sigil's protective charm; Mamzelle was hers now and she had nothing to fear. Mamzelle stood up, shaky on her feet and wings trembling. Misi rushed to support her, and the once-proud demon leaned on the furry half-man.
Jed Bonham let out a roar. He clenched his fists, his face ruddy with anger and effort; his eyes started from his head. "Damn you, Annabelle Duniway, damn you by any god and none! How dare you, you little bitch?" He took three angry steps toward the smaller woman.
"She won, Bonham, fair and square. She's a better wielder than you are--than anyone in these parts, if I don't miss my bet," said John Runnels, shifting the shotgun in his hands.
Bonham halted, brought up short by the two demons between him and Annabelle as much as by the shotgun. "If I don't miss my bet I will end you, Annabelle Duniway, one way or another," he snarled. "I ask again: What are you?"
Annabelle reached her etheric pistols and buckled them back on her hips. "I am a little bitch. Best watch my teeth."
"I've got more than teeth, and I've got her back," said Misi. "C'mon, Mamzelle, let's get you settled." He walked the demon over to a rock and sat her down.
"You won't always be there, demon," said Bonham. "They don't send wielders like you to teach school, Miss Duniway. I had you pegged for a fortune hunter, but not this kind. Maybe you're a Brinkie girl?"
"What I am is not your concern yet, but I assure you I'm not with Brinkerton and I'm fairly certain your fortune is not in play."
"What happens now?" said Mamzelle when she'd recovered her breath. "What do you intend to do with me, 'schoolteacher?'"
"For the time being, you are to take the form of a beetle and sit quietly in my pocket." Mamzelle made a face, but obediently shrank herself into an iridescent beetle about the size of Annabelle's thumb. She flew to Annabelle and crawled into the pocket of her duster. "Back to a kitty, Misi. Stay hidden but close by, and if anyone tries to pull anything you know what to do." Misi transformed into his usual big black tomcat form and bounded over the rocks.
"Do you expect me to keep this a secret, missy?" said Bonham.
"I do, and here's why: You won't want anyone to know a little blond snip of a girl like me took Mamzelle away from you, and you won't want your enemies to know you've lost your greatest weapon."
Unwilling acknowledgment crossed the man's face. "And how do I explain Mamzelle's absence?"
"Anyone who asks, tell them she's out on a job for you. No one will question it."
"They will if she's gone for good."
"Maybe she won't be," said Annabelle. A desperate flutter began in her pocket. "Don't worry, Mamzelle. I won't put you back the way you were, at least not entirely. I have several ideas, but now's not the time to talk them over."
"When will it be time?" said Bonham.
"When I say it is. And right now, I say it's time for supper. Go on home to Mrs Bonham, and give Lily a big hug from me." Annabelle rolled one shoulder--unladylike, but she ached all over and was having a hard time staying on her feet. "Whether you like it or not, Mr Bonham, I saved her life and yours today. Go home."
"G'wan," John growled, and Bonham reluctantly left the field, limping and stiff himself.
As soon as he was gone, Annabelle swayed. John slung his shotgun over one shoulder and rushed to catch her elbow. "Are you all right? Are you hurt? I couldn't see what was going on, but Misi said it was quite the light show. Do you need help home?"
"I could certainly use your arm, Sheriff," she said, "but I'm not hurt. Just very, very tired and very, very hungry. Let's see what Ralph's made for supper, shall we?"
They staggered toward town.