"That wuddn't magicide, Janis. Y'want me to show you what magicide looks like?"
"I drafted the terms, Buck. Are you arguing with a *huff* Signamancer about Signamancy?" said the Hippiemancer, sweatin' and holding her chins up in the air. "Or are you saying Signamancy doesn't matter any more, because you're *huff* holding a gun?"
Joe Spade bit his lip and watched the two of 'em tangle.
Spade was a go-with-your-gut kinda guy, but his gut was all tied up in knots right now. He had about five, no six things to be seriously scared of at one time.
When he'd ran up here to tell Buck about Wanda, he only had three. One, that the Croakamancer was gettin' away. Two, that Ivan was Decrypted and he could work bedrock. And three, that Buck was gonna be mad as a mangled mountain mokey at him.
Now there was the Temple boom to think about, and whoever or whatever'd made it go boom. And maybe a boom was about to happen right here, right under their feet.
Almost as bad, what if the boom was just the start? Maybe Wanda Firebaugh was gonna Decrypt all those Thinky-dinks and use 'em to take over. Guns were great and all, but the Thinkamancers already showed they could stop a gun fight. If that was the plan, maybe all the casters in the Kingdom combined couldn't stop her.
Either way, they really didn't need a Hippie here right now, tearin' up the plaza with weeds and arguin' about ceremony.
Buck looked pretty impatient, too, like he was thinkin' the same thing. "No, I'm sayin' it wuddn't magicide 'cause he wuddn't alive. I didn't croak nobody. Mister Sing-song was Decrypted. I dusted him. It duddn't matter how I did it."
And right there was why she could stand there naggin' and accusin' Buck like that. It was why Pinkie'd stopped Spade from shootin' the prisoner, too. Peace in the Kingdom was kept by Signamancy. The free casters had rules. Not a lot, but some. And when folks quarreled or had differences, they Signed an agreement.
That's what Buck done with the guns. The Dirtamancers only took the guns because the trial was here. They needed to defend the 'mansion. Some casters didn't like that. Some people said the Rockers might try and use 'em to take over, which was stupid, since they were the good guys. So they'd Signed an agreement promising to follow all the stupid rules about the trial and the executions.
As a Qualified caster, Spade respected the rules. Seriously. The Qualified helped keep the rules and keep the peace. But he'd been willing to risk losing his Qualification to shoot the prisoner, because his gut told him it was about time to chuck those rules down the nearest hole, before Wanda escaped down it.
"Buck, we ain't got time for this," he said, using his most serious, in-charge voice. "She's gettin' away."
"No spit," Buck nodded to him. "Ai'ght. I'm gonna count to three, Miss Hippie," he said, theatrically taking aim at the Grand Abbie. "And then I'm gonna spray 'em all. Right down the line. Brrrap!"
He made a motion with the rifle in a line that followed the hedge Janis Atlantis had summoned in front of the prisoners. "I don't think you know what automatic fire looks like. Yer little bush ain't gonna stop it, and neither's yer big ol' squishy belly. So I wouldn't be standin' there at three. One!"
"Free casters! If he shoots me, you must croak him!" Janis shouted. She was talkin' to the dozens of witnesses and jurors who stood by in the plaza. They'd been keeping their distance, and in his Dirtamancers' tunnel-vision (which wuddn't helped by bein' blind in his right eye), Spade had almost forgot the three of them were surrounded. "Or accept him as your king. Because he'll shoot you, next! He will shoot the witnesses!"
She held her arms at her side and stared at Buck.
Buck held the rifle steady, squinting down the barrel. "Two!"
"Decide!" Janis called to the crowd. "Casters, are we free? Or are all classes ruled by the Dirtamancers now?"
So... now Joe added another thing to be scared of. Or a couple things. He didn't want Buck to shoot Janis, 'cause that prob'ly would be magicide. And how could things get un-weird and go back to the way they were, after that? But also, it seemed like maybe some fool or two in the crowd here might panic and start throwin' Shockmancy this way. He hefted his broken rifle, as if that'd help, and one-eyed the crowd.
They was all standin' stock still, except for Roger, who was still back there on the pavement, losin' his marbles over losin' his Minds. Nobody looked particularly inclined to stop Buck from pullin' the trigger.
After a moment, Janis turned her head. "I'll see your answer from the sky," she said, just loud enough to be heard by everybody.She locked eyes with Buck. "It's three, King Buck. Say 'three.'"
Give him credit. Buck was cool. Almost like they'd only been having a normal conversation to this point, he shifted his stance, lowered his rifle, and shot Janis with a glare instead of a bullet. "Do you even know what's goin' on, you moon mushroom? Huh?"
"Wanda got out, I assume," said Janis. "You said so."
"And the Temple just got blowed up." Gripping his rifle by the handguard, Buck used it to gesture toward the southeast. "And for all we know, you're part of their plan." He leveled the rifle at her again.
"I'm not..." Janis shook her head in confusion. Her stonewall expression started to crack. "What do you mean about the Temple?"
"She came here directly from Spacerock!" somebody yelled from behind, in a deep, throaty voice.
Spade turned around again. Roger'd got up on his feet. His face was all wet with tears. He shrugged off that Carny witness who'd been makin' a big show of sympathizing all over him (man, they never stopped workin' the crowd, did they?), and started walkin' over this way.
He lowered his voice as he got closer, speaking directly to Buck and Spade. "That was Marie Lavraie, the Predictamancer whose physical remains were left in Janis' charge. The Decrypted caster escaped the park, through a newly generated portal. We do not know what side it is from, yet."
Spade tsked. What was that, eight...nine things to be totally terrified of, now? Seriously, he'd lost count. "I mean, what?"
"Why am I only hearin' about this now?" Buck growled.
"We didn't see a significant threat in it," said Roger, his voice gettin' wobbly. "I guess... we couldn't have been more wrong."
"Roger, I'm so sorry. But I didn't have anything to do with...with whatever happened," Janis said. She started walking over, too. Nobody was supposed to even be this close to the prisoners. They were gonna have a mob scene here, pretty soon. "I only went to Gobwin Knob to give them final word on the verdict, before their portal is sealed. I was saying goodbye to Sizemore Rockwell. I came back here to perform my part in Wanda's execution."
"Right! Sure!" Buck snapped at her. "N'what about your girlfriend? Huh?"
The Hippiemancer shook her head again. "I was as surprised as anyone else to see her. I don't know what she's doing."
"How was Marie Decrypted, Janis?" Headmaster Roger asked, pointedly. "She was in your charge."
Buck aimed his rifle casually at her once more. "Where's the Arkenpliers, Janis?" Now his voice was low, with a mean sort of calm to it. "Does Wanda have 'em?"
"No." The Grand Abbie's face was serious as a stone slab.
"How do you know?" asked Buck, in the same tone.
Janis closed her eyes. "They're in Spacerock. I saw them when I was there. Sizemore has them."
"Buck, we gotta seal that portal now," said Spade. "I mean, we gotta run. She's like, gettin' away right under our feet, man."
Buck eyeballed all the other casters huddled around them. He grabbed Spade's shoulder, pulling him close. His breath was sour with beer. "Seal it how? If they can dig bedrock?"
Okay. Well. That might just've been number ten, right there. Spade opened his mouth, but no words came out.
"Would that even do any good?" said Varius Sundry. Buck gave him a who-are-you-and-how-dare-you-start-yammerin' look, but the Weirdomancer only shrugged and looked around at the other jurors. "I mean, who's to say she's even going to her own portal? Gotti ran through one at random. You might inconvenience her, but I'd say escape is laughably easy at this point. Or were you going to seal everybody's portal?"
Buck looked ready to drop Varius to the stones with the butt of his rifle. But he didn't say any a word. For a couple of moments, nobody did.
There wasn't nobody standing there whose attention he didn't have. He didn't look too happy about that, either. "Look, I know about Marie," he said, very softly. "Not all of us agree with what she's doing. I think... what's that, Punky?"He held his pet rodent up to his ear, and seemed to listen to it. His eyes flashed. "Ah. Yes. I think that we would like to help you stop her. We know exactly where Wanda Firebaugh will pop up next."
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