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brightly Shining sun –

Sunlight shining so bright from the corner that they lift their hands to shade their eyes in the otherwise darkness, turn away as they sink to their knees, and the Chariot lowers her gleaming head, and the Axle ducks behind his grimy collar, and Luys, the Mason, stares at the swords in his hands as their blades grow much too bright, and Sweetloaf up on the stoop isn’t looking away, he’s blinking rapidly as all that sunlight swells and leaps a sudden soundless shout so bright it burns away the shadows in the foyer behind him, and the Mooncalfe knocks her forehead against tiny gleaming tiles, and the Trident empty-handed sags against the muralled wall, so bright it washes out the neon colors through the arch behind him, revealing the glass tubes held in place along the floor by uneven strips of grubby tape, and the Shield kneels over his useless fauchon beside them, and the Stirrup blinks gormlessly in the doorway to the cavernous room beyond, so bright it banishes any dimness that might’ve lingered in the stalls to either side, and swallows cold fluorescents in a prismatic flare that sheens the lazuli lapels of knights stood over clenched and squinting coveralled domestics, and all those bright swords drooping, those lowering clubbed-up fists, and the brilliance zeniths as it lights on a wooden tub in the middle of them all, still overflown with mounds of golden dust that shine a dawnlight yearning up to blazing downcast noon, and the Bullbeggar turns from it shoulders draped with fur, and Anna blinks behind her narrow black-rimmed glasses, and Gloria Monday in her black high-waisted gown lifts hands against this absent sun, and the Dagger in his pearly suit squared off against the Sapper in his navy, they straighten from their crouches, lift away their hands, and more domestics dun and olive, khaki and umber past them, and more knights in denim and slate, midnight and cerulean, all recoil, prostrate, gawp, the Anvil on one knee, Biscuit beside him, and Miriam black tie unclipped, the Guerdon behind her, under the big main overhead door rolled all the way up, the sword in his hand a-shine with the light that shines over all of them, through them, past them all, out onto the loading dock, discarded lengths of cyclone fencing woven wire starkly bright, and a blue struck from the glossy black of the SUV parked at an angle there, and the Axehandle scrabbles around the fender of it, falling to his hands and knees in what should have been shade but the light, the light, the dusty asphalt bright below him all the tar-black leached away to gleaming mica, ancient motes of broken glass pressed by the weight of countless tires into pavement-dazzling sparks that fade, that stretching dim, and he looks up, sits up, shaking his white-locked head as shadows spill to pool in hollows left by that retreating brilliance, and the streetlight above once more begins to make a difference about him. He lifts his phone to his ear, “Mason!” he barks. And then, “Shield? Is the Mason there?” Pushing himself to his feet. “Was that,” he says, “was that her majesty?” And then, hushed, “Do you have her?”

A footstep, snap of gravel, chime of chainlink.

He turns abruptly, lowering the phone. The figure stood there, halfway up the gentle rise of the block, shapeless grey coat, something saggy lolling from one hand.

“Sister?” says the Axehandle, Agravante.

She lifts what she holds up over her head to yank it down, a limply flopping oblong swallowing her cloud of white-gold hair in a rubbery goggle-eyed horse’s head. He looks about, over the hood of the SUV, but the loading dock’s empty, and no one’s under the overhead door anymore, “Cetera?” Uncertain laughter within, a brief scuffle, nothing serious. “Jamie!” calls Agravante, sharper now. He seizes the handle of the door of the truck. She’s stepped out in the middle of the street, striding toward him, lifting an arm out to one side, an arm improbably lengthening, somehow slender, a bat slipping down to her palm. He clambers into the SUV, “Luys!” he’s shouting at the phone in his hand. “Fall back! Come to me, now!” Fumbling about, the steering column, the sun visor, the padded compartment between the seats.

Her first swing’s a brusque overhead chop that dents the glossy hood, pops the corners, a bang that makes him jump and drop the phone. She steps back, horse-head a-wobble, shifting her grip on the bat.

“Marfisa,” says Agravante. “Wait.”

Her second blow crumples the front of the truck.

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