Episode 12: The Spy
Parker was so shocked, it was all he could do to utter his name. His legs felt weak, and he barely managed to keep himself steady as he sank to the ground. "I... I thought you were my friend..."
"Yeah? Well, so did I," the conman quipped back. "Up until recent events proved me wrong."
The wizard was stunned into silence, unable to cope with this sudden treason. Artemis, however, readily stepped forward, eyes narrowed and sword drawn. "You realize you're giving me ample reason to kill you now."
Alistair laughed. "So? As if you haven't been working on reasons already..."
Snow's query was so soft, it could have gone unheard, but she stared at him so desperately it was impossible not to notice. Parker might have been shocked, and Artemis angry, but she was hurt, and seeing him beside the very warlock they'd been tracking... all she could do was mutter her question again. "Why?"
The smile seemed to twitch ever so slightly, but it didn't fade as Alistair turned to address her, singing bitterly: "Just see how virtue repays you: you turn and someone betrays you. Betray them first, and the game's reversed." He briefly flashed her a glare, baring his teeth while he suddenly frowned. "Reciprocity, love. Simply returning mistrust and fear with the same. You've all made it clear you want nothing to do with a monster like me..."
"A shame, a shame," the warlock interrupted, stepping forward again. He gave them another deranged grin, eyes alight with some sort of madness. "But my offer, my offer! This young man refused," he said as he gestured towards Alistair, who gave a small bow, "but noted his talents were better suited to gaining me more subjects than becoming perfected himself. How humble, to decline improvement to his his feeble, human self so that others might receive this glorious blessing!"
"What in God's name are you talking about?" Artemis asked. He glanced worriedly at Parker, who was still sitting on the ground, shaking his head in a daze, completely unaware of what was going on around him. The warlock giggled hysterically.
"Perfection, sir. Perfection! The apex of strength, beauty, and power no mere human can ever hope to achieve. The gift I offer you is this: forsake your worthless human flesh to become one of the beasts. What magnificence there is in nature, too long rule by such frail things as man. I will make you great, better than you are now! I will make you perfect creatures!"
Snow could barely shake the twisting in her gut, especially after Alistair's response. She forced herself to focus her pain on the warlock. He was their main target, the original threat. The siren's treachery could be dealt with after him. Mustering up every ounce of confidence she had, Snow held her chin up and scoffed at the warlock's offer. "Foolish man," she sneered. "The blood of the fae runs in my veins. I am Winter Court. I am already a perfect creature."
"Poor, misguided soul," he muttered in return, pouting, almost childlike in his disappointment, rocking from side to side as he turned towards Artemis instead. "And you? Perhaps you are much wiser and can see how clearly your current form is weak. Imagine it: the strength you could gain, the prowess, all the power you could have if not for your human flesh. You could be a real force to be reckoned with!"
Unlike Snow, the Warden did not answer immediately. In fact, he seemed to relax his stance, as if he was seriously considering the man's offer. Alistair gave him only one glance before he placed his hand on the warlock's shoulder, the smile slowly returning to his face.
"You see, my friend?" he asked, gently patting his arm. "Didn't I tell you the right words at the right moment were all you would need?"
From his seat on the ground, Parker seemed to have been affected by something he'd said and stopped rocking. "My friend," he muttered. "He only calls them ‘my friend,' when..."
"Yes, yes!" The warlock grinned, but tried to keep in his excitement. "But what of the others? They do not seem as impressed."
The conman's smile was outright devilish now. "Perhaps," he offered, his eyes beginning to glow. "I can convince them."
He moved so quickly, the warlock had no chance to avoid the dagger that suddenly tore into his side. Everything went so fast: Snow didn't hesitate to use the distraction to cast her binding spell, no matter how confused she was by Alistair's abrupt return to their side (if he had ever betrayed them at all, which she was starting to doubt now); Artemis, remembering his senses, rushed up and surrounded both men in a circle of flames, trusting neither of them now. When the warlock finally realized what had happened, he was barricaded, bound, bleeding, and very, very angry, and with only one person within range, that rage quickly focused on the one beside him. "You traitor..."
"Traitor assumes I was on your side." Alistair was trapped where he was, and he didn't dare get close enough to attack again, instead bracing himself for the retaliation he knew was coming. He prayed he was prepared. "I was never on your side..."
The ice binds began to crack as the warlock began to change, slowly growing. One arm broke free as his skin darkened to black, his eyes turning a bright, luminous green while he reached his hand out towards Alistair. A sickening, verdant fog gathered in his palm like a swirling storm, and he snarled, tusks suddenly jutting out from his jaw as he flung the spell into the conman's chest. Alistair screamed, pain shooting through every nerve in his body, the fog lifting him from the ground and hurling him through the fire and across the room. The flames singed his skin, doubling the pain even before he crashed into the ground beneath the wolf skull, landing with a disquieting thud as skidded to a stop under the sculpture's chin. His body rolled once, leaving him on his stomach with his limbs splayed at awkward angles, his unblinking gaze staring blankly back at his former allies. He didn't move. He didn't breathe.
He was gone.
"No..." Snow couldn't believe it, refused to believe what had just happened, but couldn't deny what she had seen with her own eyes: Alistair had never betrayed them, had risked his life trying to give them an edge, and had paid dearly for doing so. And they'd wasted that opportunity and lost him. "No!"
Her scream was matched by a familiar growl. Out from the open mouth of the wolf skull leapt Guy, the cheetah vaulting over the flames to tear into the quickly transforming warlock. The beast had nearly doubled in height and had freed his other arm, but Guy clamped down firmly on one of his ears, tearing it away while his claws in turn raked through his chest. The warlock let out an inhuman squeal, looking less and less human and more and more like some monstrous boar. From the recesses of the chamber started to emerge more creatures: muscular, deformed, snarling wolfmen.
Snow pulled herself together enough to draw her gun. She almost went for her wand, but was determined to end this bastard without resorting to magic. He was going to pay for what he had done, and focusing her pain, she fired a clean shot through the warlock's eye. She was so focused, she didn't even notice the wolfmen moving in, didn't get a chance at all to defend herself as one grabbed her from behind and pinned her arms down.
Parker had only just come back from the shock of seeing Alistair flung across the room, he almost missed the wolfmen too, but the instant one was close he drew his Bowie knife and threw it, felling the creature with a direct hit between the eyes. After that, he was back on his game, drawing his bow and firing arrows at any wolves that came too close. He'd let the other deal with the warlock and focus on keeping his weaker minions at bay. The fighting would keep his focus away from losing his friend.
Artemis was the only one less shocked by what had happened to Alistair... and more by his part in it. He couldn't help the dread that crawled up his spine, realizing the man had been thrown through his spell, and there was no way to tell what had done the final damage: the warlock, the fall, or him. The Warden couldn't shake the fear that he had broken the First Law, even if inadvertently, and to that end, he had to cover his ass. The warlock was almost free of Snow's spell, and he had to kill him before anyone else made the same realization he had. It could have been the warlock's spell, right? It had to have been. It just had to have been. Artemis braved his own flames to get close enough to cut into the warlock with his sword, deepening the wound started by Alistair.
The warlock roared in fury and pain, swiping down with hands like mallets, knocking Artemis aside like a ragdoll. The Warden was flung back through his own fire, which he quickly dispelled to avoid the flames, but was still sent sliding across the ground and over the edge of one of the pits in the room. His sword was flung from his grasp in a desperate attempt to keep hold while the warlock -- now an enormous porcine monster -- at last broke free of Snow's spell and trudged forward, grinning down at him wickedly. "Stupid, weak human," he growled, lifting one of his cloven feet to stomp on him. "Now you can die with the rest of them!"
Parker, having taken out most of the wolfmen, redirected the shot he was going to fire at the one holding Snow towards the warlock instead, eyes dark as electricity crackled around the arrow he loosed. It flew true, striking the monster in his remaining eye, sending him reeling back. It was the perfect opportunity for Guy, who pounced on him again, this time tearing out his throat, silencing the last of the creature's screams of pain as the warlock shrank back to his original, human size, very bloody and very dead.
The sole remaining wolfman (the few Parker had yet to attack seemed to have mysteriously fallen dead as well) was the one holding Snow, and the instant the warlock expired, his ferocious exterior was shed in a slosh of ectoplasmic goo. The man underneath, however, seemed no less intent on letting go now that he was human again.
"Get your fucking hands off of me!" Snow screamed at him, still struggling to free her arms. She thought about attempting to shoot him in the foot, but didn't get the chance. Suddenly, there was a sick gurgling sound, and she felt the spray of hot blood on the back of her head and neck. The man's arms went slack and he released her, his body crumpling in a lifeless heap behind her. When she jerked around, she saw why.
Standing there, casually wiping the blood from his dagger, was Alistair, singing quietly to himself. "Everything that kills me makes me feel alive..."
"Oh my God! You're alive!" Snow didn't care if they were both covered in blood. She immediately embraced him, hugging him tightly just to reassure herself that he was really there.
Alistair was only slightly startled when she tackled him, pleasantly surprised by the gesture. Her carefully tucked his blade away and gently rubbed her back. "Yeah. So I seem to be."
Snow almost laughed at him, letting him go for a moment to punch him in the arm. "Don't you ever scare me like that again!" she scolded, still smiling as she hugged him again. Guy changed back into his human form and jogged over happily, eager to share in the joy until Alistair raised his hand to stop him.
"Thanks, but I think I've got enough here. At least get yourself dressed first."
Guy pouted, but shrugged and got a quick hug in anyway before he went to get the clothes from his pack. Parker just stood there, shaking his head while he watched them.
"How the hell did you survive that?" he asked, walking over once Snow had released him again. He put his bow away and searched his friend's face. "And what the hell were you thinking?"
"What?" Alistair asked with a half shrug. "You mean why in the world would I side with that nutter? Tactics, Parker. Look how quickly we have taken him out. If I hadn't convinced him otherwise, you would have met him in his full transformation. He was ready to kill you all on sight. I talked him into trying to reason with you to join his side." He rolled his eyes. "Didn't go exactly as planned, but at least I was prepared for that possibility..."
"Uh, guys? A little help here?"
Artemis was having trouble pulling himself out of the pit, but before anyone else could come to his aid, Alistair was already making his way over. He bent beside him, grabbing him by the collar and yanking him up from the hole, but he didn't set him down on his feet. Instead, he held him there, watching him with a scowl on his face. "I couldn't have asked for you all to fall for my ruse any better than you did, but I was hoping for at least a little faith. Did you really think I would turn my backs on all of you so quickly? Like I said, you've just been waiting for an excuse to kill me, haven't you?" He tightened his grip. "I have half a mind to kill you now for what you tried to do."
The Warden coughed, but returned the glare. "Then I'm grateful for the other half."
He felt Snow touch his shoulder, and looked back to see her frowning with concern. "We all know Artie is a moron. You're alive, and that's what's important. Please, Alistair."
The siren drew a deep breath, but carefully lowered the Warden, placing him back on solid ground. Still, he frowned at him, and sang through his sneer: "He'd seen how civilized men behaved. He never forgot and he never forgave..."
"Right, I get it," Artemis drawled, retrieving his sword from the ground. "You're letting me off easy. Still, you haven't answered one question." Relieved he was alive, but not even more worried, he raised an eyebrow. "How did you survive being blasted directly by one spell and thrown through another? Magically inclined or not, even a full-fledged wizard couldn't have survived that."
Again, Alistair shrugged reaching into his pocket. He pulled out the shattered remains of one of the glowing crystals. "I snagged it up before I got to this chamber. It worked precisely as I had hoped, negating the first magical attack made against me. I figured, once he found out I was a spy and not an ally, he wouldn't hesitate to try and kill me with a spell, so I took the precaution." He couldn't help the smirk that spread across his lips. "Though whether it was his spell that destroyed it or yours is debatable."
Artemis grew pale. The gargoyles. They would be very pissed. "We have a problem."
"No," Alistair corrected, pointing at him. "You do."