Day Two, 1:23 pm-
“Is this real?” Grace was sitting next to Fin, flipping through the delicate pages of the book. She brushed a stray, blonde strand of hair aside, tucking it behind her ear.
“It looks so old.” Xander scratched at a page, bits of parchment and ink flaking onto his chipped fingernail. “It wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t real, though. The archivists are very particular about what they keep in here.”
The illustration of the pale figure with flaming red hair stared at them from the page. Fin could feel the coldness of the those black eyes staring into him, the same half smile as it had created a Thief out of the ash and vanished. “It is strange. There are creatures and magics I’ve never heard of. And the Soulless are right here with them.”
Grace’s brows furrowed. “How did this get into the archives? Different magic? There aren’t any other kinds of magic. Just us.”
Xander grunted, sitting down. He pulled the book toward him. “Well, let’s see what it says, and if anything lines up with what we do know.”
“Here.” Fin pointed. “The Soulless are former humans, typically Conduits, that used Soul magic.”
Xander shrugged. “Everyone knows that. Wait, what the hell is this?” He pulled the book over. “There’s a note in the margin: Soul magic. What a bloody twisted sack of lies. They wanted people to burn their souls.”
“They…wanted? What the hell?” Grace slumped back in her chair.
Xander flipped the page. “There are more notes in the margin! Look at this!” He slid the book over to Grace and Fin.
Conduits. Bloody idiots. Self-righteous with those mercurial alloy swords. It’s a lightning rod for a bloody nuke. Too much energy, and the sword just burns. The soul with it. But they’ll be damned if they tell the Conduits that. No—more bloody fuel for the shit storm they’re brewing.
“This is a joke, right?” Grace was brushing her hair with her fingers, over and over. “Why the hell is this book in here?”
Xander snatched the book back, flipping through the pages. “This whole thing seems like shit. Another damn dead end.”
Fin stared at the table. Meteors rained in his mind, and he remembered his sword burning red hot in his hands. So hot, he couldn’t hold on to it, and he had to stop the spell. He placed one hand on the book, stopping Xander’s rough page turning. “Maybe not,” he whispered.
Grace’s violet eyes locked onto Fin, and she stopped playing with her hair. “What?”
“There’s some truth there. I almost did this yesterday. Summoning the meteors.” Fin leaned back, the chair creaking as he stretched his legs and ran a hand through his hair. “My sword burned so hot I couldn’t hold onto it anymore.”
Xander stood, a low, grinding sound emanating from him. His mouth was drawn and his eyes were closed. In a blur, he punched Fin, connecting with a solid, wet smack, against Fin’s chin. “You goddamned idiot! What in the freaking hell were you thinking? You didn’t think this was important enough to tell us? That you almost burned yourself out and became one of them?”
Fin held his chin, head swimming. He tried to stand, but his feet were unsteady. “But I didn’t. I stopped.” He tried to keep talking, but his mouth refused. It wanted to be silent and immobile so it didn’t hurt.
“What makes you so different from the bloody idiot with a sword? You think you can’t burn? Fin, I…” Grace stopped, turning away. “We can’t afford for you to make mistakes like that. There are so few of us already.”
“Grace,” Fin gently placed a hand on her shoulder, but she jerked away, like his touch pained her.
She turned, hair hiding her face, as if to speak. But she didn’t. Instead, she nodded at Xander, and walked away.
Xander waited until Grace was gone, and then he sat next to Fin. “I swear, it’s like you have a death wish. And don’t give me anymore of this oath bullshit.” Xander glared at Fin to keep him silent. “We all made the same oath. It’s not noble what you’re doing anymore.”
Fin slammed a fist on the table. “Noble? I’m not being noble, Xander. I’m making up for my failures.”
“Do I need to beat the shit out of you? Cause that’s bullshit, and you know it. Getting yourself killed doesn’t atone you for anything. And it does nothing for Grace.”
“What does Grace have to do with any of this?”
Xander threw his hands up and pushed his chair away from the table. “Goddamn are you dense! She has everything to do with this! If you could just stop feeding yourself bull for once.”
“Fine. So I enlisted with the Conduits because she did. On my first mission, I was so concerned with impressing her that I screwed up!” Fin buried his face in his hands. “I screwed up bad.”
Xander looked at Fin, his face softening from the hard lines and scars it was normally composed of. “That? That’s what this is all about? It was a freaking golem! The intel was wrong, and there was a no way a couple of recruits could have done anything.”
“Being incompetent doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Xander sat down and leaned in toward Fin. “You know what else doesn’t make you feel any better? Getting yourself fucking killed.”
Fin almost smiled as he reached across the table for the book.
“Hey, go find Grace. Talk to her. She likes you too, you know. It’s pretty freaking obvious.”
“In a minute, I just want to check this…”
Xander kicked Fin’s chair, sending it screeching away from the table. “Seriously. This can wait. Go talk to her.”
Fin smiled and nodded. He got up and started walking after Grace.
“Holy shit! Fin, you’ve got to see this!” Xander grabbed the book and ran toward Fin, shoving the book into his hands.
Another note. If you are feeling bloody stupid enough to take on the Soulless, just know that Soul magic doesn’t work on them. They heal almost instantly. Conventional weapons also have no effect. Except for pissing them the hell off. Trust me. You don’t want to see one of these bastards pissed off. When they’re mad, they like to play. Your best bet, (you must be really bloody stupid) is magic from a different school. Or, trying to do as much damage as you possibly can, and killing them, only to take their place because you’re bloody stupid and burned. Or nuked your bloody city. –Brandon Jacobus
“Oh my god.” Fin looked into Xander’s face, and saw a mirror of his own. Mouth open and eyes wide.
Xander just nodded.
“We have to go find Grace.”
They took off running, coats streaming behind them like twin black clouds as they dashed out of the archives. They didn’t have to go far. Grace was sitting just outside the doors, head between her knees and silent.
“Grace! We need to talk.” Fin knelt down in front of her, resting the book on her feet.
“Not right now. Just…leave me alone, please.”
Fin sat down, crossing his legs, and he reached for her hands. She didn’t recoil this time, but she still didn’t look up. “I’m sorry. I’m an ass and I’ve only been thinking about myself. And I really want to talk about this,” he glared up at Xander, who was smiling a little smugly, “but there’s something more important right now.”
Grace looked up. Her eyes were red and moist. “There’s always something more important, Fin.”
Fin squeezed her hands. “I will change that. After this. This is really important.”
Grace glanced at Xander. He nodded.