Episode 52: The Devil You Know | Scryer's Gulch
Sheriff Runnels stood back a ways from the sigil and did his best to stay alert, scoping the area for potential threats--more of Bonham's goons--but it was hard to keep from doing anything other than stare at Annabelle and Bonham, though he couldn't have said why; they were doing nothing but facing one another across Mamzelle.
A hand touched his arm, and he jumped, jerking his shotgun around. "Settle down, Sheriff, it's just me," said the demon cat-man.
"Yeah, well you take some getting used to," John grunted, turning back to the two wielders. "She planning on telling me about you any time soon?"
"I was her ace in the hole. It wasn't time to play me yet."
John shifted his weight from side to side. "You can't help her out here, can you?"
"Watch it, friend. You have no idea what I'm capable of."
"Oh, I have a better idea than you might think." They lapsed into silence again until the air filled with an energy that set the hair on his neck and arms straight up. He glanced at the cat demon; his fur stood out in a halo around his body. "So what exactly is happening?" said John. "I mean, I can ascertain…something in the air, but I don't know what it is, and I can't see anything."
"I can. It's like clouds of power pouring out of them both--it glows. Pity you can't see it, it's really rather pretty." Misi shook out his crackling mane. "Anyway, it's like this. A wielding duel is a contest of wills. Basically, they both pull at Mamzelle, until one of them gives. Like a tug of war with a rope. One of them'll get dragged over, and the prize'll go to the one left standing. It all depends on which one can focus that cloud of energy the best. I feel sorry for Mamzelle--this has gotta hurt. She's a tough cookie, but that Bonham's put her through enough to break anyone."
"I find it hard to feel sorry for something that's killing innocent people."
"You been down to the mining camp? Those guys aren't innocent."
"You understand my meaning, demon."
Misi muttered something under his breath. "This may come down to Mamzelle."
"Mamzelle? What can she do?"
"Lean to one side or the other, make it easier for one of 'em and harder for the other--sorta choose who she wants to go with. If they're evenly matched, it might decide things."
"I should think she'd want to go with Miss Duniway."
"She doesn't want to go with either of them, and besides, she doesn't know Annie. Sometimes you choose the devil you know."
Annabelle chewed at her lip. Binding a demon was one thing; they never wanted to be bound and fought hard. She'd been through that twice before and won. But this was fighting both the demon and another wielder, a man much stronger than she'd anticipated. In the end, she thought she was superior unless he was holding back a bigger reserve than she was. She'd given it almost everything she had already.
Sweat was pooling on her body, chilling her in the cold air. Bonham's face shone worse than hers, though, and had turned ruddy. He was breathing harder than she was, too. It might just be an endurance match.
But Mamzelle was fighting her. The demon was fighting Bonham, too, but less resolutely. Realization dawned: Mamzelle was afraid of her, more afraid of her than of Bonham. She had no way of persuading Mamzelle with words. She could talk or she could wield; she couldn't do both. The only way she could get through to the demon was in changing her fighting tactics. She switched from focusing on Bonham to focusing on Mamzelle.
Bonham let out a surprised, triumphant gasp; his pull on Mamzelle increased as Annabelle's slackened, but Annabelle held Mamzelle in place, never letting him gain an inch. She poured concern over the battered demon, as healing a balm as she could muster--a coaxing, persuasive, reassuring energy filled with unworded promises. Mamzelle's energy wavered, then redoubled its resistance.
Still Annabelle focused on her, sending wave after wave of energy. She thought of Misi, the bond between them, how much she truly loved him, and how much she knew he loved her. She thought of Espinisollo, the first demon she caught when she was twelve--Sollo, so old and wise, who she missed every day even though she'd let him go when she turned fifteen and their work together was over.
Mamzelle's energy perked up as Annabelle thought about Sollo. Why? What was it about her emotions around her time with Sollo that interested Mamzelle? If Annabelle could figure it out, it might be enough to tip the scales. She sorted through them all, ignoring Bonham's increasingly desperate pulling, trying each emotion one by one, until she hit on it.
Justice. She and Sollo had found justice together.