Hvs.tCF 73:2/Text

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Jojo peered at him. "You think she started the inferno intentionally?"

"I doubt it. With no move, that would've been suicide, pretty much," said Parson, thinking back to how close he'd come to dying in that blaze himself. You wouldn't set an inferno in a city you couldn't leave. "But in a big battle, with reds teaming with greens? Accidental fires were pretty likely."

Jojo narrowed his eyes. "Did you have any pinks? To put the fires out?"

Parson tilted his head. "Yeah, we had pinks."

Now the Carnymancer nodded knowingly. "She set it herself, I'd wager," he said. "She thought she was immune to fire."

Parson looked at Maggie. There were units that had an immunity to fire, like the red dwagons did, but he didn't think warlords could have that special. "Was she?" he asked.

Maggie raised an eyebrow. "It seems not, Lord."

Jojo smiled sadly, looking down into the purple flames in the firepit. These were only Foolamancy, of course; the firepit was a Changemancy apparatus like Janis' cauldron, which used powerballs as fuel. But Parson saw Jojo's face through the flames and remembered the soldiers who'd saved his life in the burning Portal Room, where Charlie had him trapped.

Jojo had been a part of that plan. He felt sorry for the guy, but he was keeping fact in the front of his mind.

"Why would she think that, Jojo?"

The Carny looked up at him. "Fate is so terribly tricky, my friend," he said. "I'll tell you. Really. The truth. So that you will understand what I said to you in the tunnel that day. There is free will. Fate can be fought. But it can also be bought. I struck a bargain with it, for Sylvia's life."

Parson glanced at Maggie, whose eyes were locked on Jojo as he spoke. "You can parley...with Fate?" he asked incredulously. "Is there...like a Fate hotline I can call or something, if I want to negotiate a prophecy?"

Jojo smiled. "Nothing that straightforward, I'm afraid. You see, I came to understand that Sylvia was Predicted to croak in the fire that I'd saved her from. You know that Carnymancy lies upon the axis of Fate, yes?"

Parson nodded.

"I used Carnymancy to subvert Fate's, ah...connection, or intention, or...the word simply doesn't exist. I did not 'parley.' I cast. It wasn't easy, but by casting over several turns, I swapped the stuff of Prediction around and subverted her destiny. I named a different agent of her destruction, arranging it so that she could not perish, as Fate wanted her to, in flames. This left a kind of hole in the Predictamancy. Sylvia could not perish in a way that would fulfill Fate's intentions, so it kept her alive. In all of those battles she fought, she must have noticed this happening, and thought that she was immune to danger. Especially fire."

"Huh." Parson thought it over. All those tough battles where she'd been unbeatable, with Wanda attributing it to Fate...if Jojo's story was true, then Wanda had been exactly right. "I guess coming back from the dead was her first clue," he said.

Jojo's eyes flashed. "Oh yes, indeed. When she croaked in flames at Gobwin Knob, Fate returned her as Decrypted. Quite a good cheat. An admirable hustle." His voice had gained back some of its lilt.

"But she finally did die, and in flames," said Parson. "So is Fate gonna find a way to bring her back from that again?"

Jojo's face fell, and he looked sad again. "No. And that is my fault, I think," he said. "I named, as agent of her destruction, the fair Lady Sylvia herself. I thought I was being clever."

There was a long silence, at the end of which Parson said, "You...wanted to doom your lover to commit suicide?"

Jojo raised his head and stared at Parson. "I wanted to preserve her from all harm," he said. "But you know, self-destruction is an act of free will, one we cherish here. It's something that sets us free casters apart from you. If ever she wished to end herself, then my bargain left her that power. For who am I to take it?"

"Oh."

"I never considered that overconfidence might lead her to recklessness, and to become the agent of her own end by fire," said Jojo softly. "So...Fate got what it wanted for her after all. It copped me good."

For more than a minute, nobody spoke. Parson considered again this idea of destiny as an active agent. Jojo thought he had "subverted" Sylvia's destiny, but in the end, hadn't he only added a layer of complication to it? When the time was right, the original Prediction came true, as well as Jojo's own.

"Then, um...maybe you can't fight it after all," he said at last.

Jojo suddenly sat up, and found a bit of his barker persona. "Oh no! No, my friend! Fate is simply the ultimate Carnymancer. It doesn't play fair. And therefore, neither should we!"