How we think the fight will go
How Stacia Kane, creator of Chess Putnam, thinks the match will go:
I am Babcock.
Chess stopped, glanced around the empty alley. Just past two in the morning and the streets were still full, but the dim little shortcut she was taking was abandoned; not even one of Bump’s hookers with a customer shared the space.
So who said that?
I am Babcock.
She’d made it almost exactly halfway through the alley, so turning around wouldn’t do her any good. Nor would giving Terrible a call. Of course he’d stop beating up whomever he was beating at the moment and come to help her, but by the time he got there it would probably be too late. Shit. The magic-infused tattoos that identified her as a witch and the widespread knowledge that she worked side jobs for Bump had kept her relatively safe from most of the creeps, sickos, and psychos who made Downside their home, but safety never lasted and luck always ran out. She knew that well.
Her left hand curled around the handle of the switchblade Terrible had given her and tugged it halfway out of her pocket. She didn’t know what was waiting for her or why she heard its voice in her head, but she was ready.
Something separated from the other shadows about thirty feet in front of her and shuffled into the middle of the alley, a huge lurking form radiating menace like a drunken foster father intent on administering pain. It took one more step to the side, its feet pushing through garbage and dead rodents, until the feeble moonlight caught its face.
What should have been its face; the place where a face must once have been. All Chess saw was a mouth full of teeth, eyes like blazing coals set in pasty skin and smears of what had to be blood on its chin; all she had a chance to do was feel one sharp stab of icy horror in her gut before it leapt.
She managed to jump out of the way, throwing herself to the side; her shoulder scraped against the rusted edge of a Dumpster, pain shooting down her arm and across her chest. Shit that thing was fast, it was so fast—
The Dumpster flew to the left, catching air like it was a plastic bag caught by the wind rather than a however-many-pounds hunk of steel. That was not good. Fear formed a cold knot in her chest, threatened to paralyze her. What was that thing? Her tattoos weren’t tingling, so it wasn’t magical—wasn’t a ghost—but how was it human? How could that thing possibly be human? And how in the world was she supposed to defend herself?
She couldn’t. Couldn’t beat something that powerful, something that reeked of evil and cruelty and looked like it was about to picnic on her innards. She should just give up, let it have her, and maybe it would be faster, easier than—wait. No.
No, screw that.
She was not going to let that thing win. Not going to leave Terrible, not going to leave the first real happiness she’d ever felt in her life just because some creepy asshole with fancy bridgework decided she was the flavor of the night. She hadn’t spent her whole life fighting just to give up now and join the dead in the City of Eternity under the earth’s surface. No way.
Bricks flew; she’d managed to duck out of the way of the man’s fist and he’d taken a chunk out of the wall. She didn’t even want to think about the chunks he could take out of her if he made contact. How could he even do that? Her hands squelched into sludge beneath the rubbish on the ground as she scrambled away, a foul-smelling slime made up of who-the-hell-knew-what.
I am Babcock, I am Babcock…
Cold hands on her skin, a cold body above hers, rotting-corpse-breath making her stomach churn. She punched him in the jaw with all her strength, and was rewarded by agony vibrating through her and nothing else. The punch hadn’t even fazed him. He opened his mouth, wide—too wide, impossibly wide—and Chess did the only thing she could think might stop him before those teeth found her skin. She brought her knee up hard, felt it slam home, and heard his grunt of pain. Ha ha. He may have had a jaw like steel—a body like steel, actually, his flesh didn’t seem to have any softness or give at all—but even the toughest man still had vulnerabilities.
Just like every living thing had vulnerabilities, at least when it came to magic. And she could do magic.
She shoved him off her—he was so heavy—and scrambled away, reaching into her bag. Her Ectoplasmarker was what she needed, her Ectoplasmarker and her psychopomp skull. She just hoped she’d have time to get them, to summon the psychopomp, before he was on her again.
And it looked like she might not have, because he was already regrouping for another jump.
She wouldn’t be able to light herbs, and that would make the summoning much harder. Nor would she be able to cast a circle. That was dangerous; her psychopomp could escape, could roam around and kill people at random. But then, this guy, whose I am Babcock I am Babcock kept grinding in her head like a lawnmower at dawn, didn’t exactly seem to be there for the purpose of spreading light and joy, and hey, she was about to use her psychopomp to murder him. So she guessed it was a lesser-of-two-evils situation, and she knew which evil she preferred. Killing people with her psychopomp didn’t make her happy, not one bit, but she’d think about that later.
Or rather, she’d take a few Cepts to help her forget about it later, to help bury the knowledge down deep inside her with all the other slime.
She grabbed the dog skull, holding her Ectoplasmarker in her mouth so she could unwrap the silk from the cold bone. Ugh, she needed blood to call it, and she had a feeling the sight of her blood was going to send that Babcock thing into an even worse state. Sickos always got off on that kind of thing, like they had some kind of homicidal turn-on checklist they had to run down.
No choice. A faint snick sound as she popped out the blade on her knife, and she made the cut. Babcock sprang at her; he was really starting to piss her off. Again she hit the oozing scum of the ground, again the cold hard body above hers, the snapping teeth and the dripping blood.
But this time some of that blood was hers, and she managed to smear it onto the dog skull as she let it rest on the ground, managed to push as much of her power as she could into it. Her voice didn’t want to work but she made it anyway, forcing it out around the Ectoplasmarker still clenched in her teeth. “I call on the escorts of the land of the death. By my blood and by my power I call you.”
Babcock’s head dipped—another attempt to bite her. She managed to shove the marker into his cheek. A straight line. Wasn’t much of a passport but it would do, and it confused him for a second, and in that second she whipped out her lighter and touched the flame to his dirty collar. He made some sort of awful squealing sound and batted at it, his weight leaving her chest and allowing her to take a breath.
A low growl by her side. The dog. Her psychopomp, the skull rising from the cement, bones forming behind it, skin and fur manifesting along those bones. Its eyes glowed a dull green; the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Behind the dog the air shimmered, the portal to the City of Eternity opening so she saw vague shadows and movement behind it. Yes. Yes, she had him—it—him, she had it, she’d done it. “Take this man back to the place of silence.”
Babcock hesitated, stopped swiping the feeble flame on his shirt as he stared at the dog. The confusion on his hideous face almost made her feel guilty for a second. But only almost. The rest of her was just glad, filled with triumph, as the psychopomp lunged and grabbed Babcock’s soul in its teeth; a second of fear as the dog battled with his hard skin but only a second. She watched his soul rip free of his body, watched his ghost’s eyes widen in fear and grab for her like he could somehow climb into her body instead—or maybe like he could take her with him—before the dog dragged him through the portal and they both disappeared, leaving only the dog’s skull rocking gently on the cement and one hell of an ugly corpse beside it.
She picked up the skull, rewrapped it, and tucked it into her bag. The corpse she ignored. That Babcock creep was playing whatever sick little game he’d been trying to play in the City now, and she had a full pillbox and a shower to take.
Time to go home.
Predicted Winner: Chess Putnam
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON THURSDAY, MARCH 8th, 2012, AT 5 PM, EST
Babcock image courtesy of Ballantine Books. Chess Putnam image courtesy of Del Rey Books
Cage Match fans: We are looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”