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That's Your Card, Mate

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A few more seconds, Larrikin, please. Skulduggery begs as he creeps up behind them. Give me time, give me time, give me time.

The battlefield behind him is chaos - the Dead Men who aren't currently occupied fighting or being unconscious are standing and watching him very quietly, almost too quietly as they wonder what the hell he's planning now, but all he can think about is Larrikin.

His curly ginger hair is matted with sweat and blood and he's beyond screaming, now, just giving choked little moans and feebly digging at Serpine's fingers, tight around his neck, opening and closing his eyes in a daze.

Skulduggery gets a little bit closer and reaches out, going to snap his fingers, but then he realises he can't: he'll be heard for sure. Larrikin will be murdered on the spot. He's surprised Serpine is so caught up in his monologue that he hasn't already noticed him getting closer.

Stretching a hand to the bottom of Serpine's cloak, Skulduggery barely touches the corner with the palm of his hand, thinking beyond friction, thinking he just needs to feel angry enough to do this, because he's done it before, he can, he can, he can

Don't die. Please, god, don't die now. A few more seconds. I can save you.

His palm feels warm and tingly, but he can't tell if it's from nerves or panic or magic or what.

A few more seconds.

Then there's a flash of heat and his hand burns for a second and Serpine is stumbling around blindly, batting his coat, and Skulduggery shoves Larrikin aside with a blast of air, barely turning to look as Nefarian writhes and screams and curses him, engulfed in flames. Then he changes her mind and takes the opportunity to attack again, fire curling up his arms as he jumps and twists and lands heavily, the ground flicking up beneath Serpine and sending him spiralling up. Skulduggery catches him with the wind and pulls him back down violently, steps closer to engulf him in flames once more. His hair catches fire. His right hand points at her, but he feels no pain.

"Stop- stop. Please." Serpine croaks, and he sounds broken. Skulduggery douses him with a wave of water that he knows will sting, and is more than disappointed when Hopeless says,

"That's enough, Skulduggery. I'll finish it."

He hesitates, and then steps back. Hopeless has to wait until Serpine has stopped coughing it up to crouch by his side and press a blade to his throat.

"And I thought- Mevolent's anger knew no bounds." He grimaces.

"Repent," Hopeless says softly, "And I will lay you easily to rest."

"You dare to show me mercy?"

"Nobody deserves to die alone, no matter their actions. Perhaps you should have learnt this lesson earlier on, but it is done now, and they are at peace, as you will soon be." He creeps around him to take his skinless right hand in his own. "Death may be your chance to change. Nobody should die alone and unloved, no matter their actions, no matter my hatred for them." Without another word, he slits his throat, waiting patiently while he bleeds out.

"That was poetic." Saracen grins.

"Let's go." Ghastly says quietly.

***

"You killed him." Larrikin says dubiously. "You set him on fire." His voice is hoarse, but he's breaking out into a massive grin as he speaks. "You set Serpine on fire."

Dexter starts to smile as he feels his energy influencing them all,, young and excited and radiant.

"How?" Anton asks abruptly.

"Sorry?"

"How, though? You didn't click your fingers."

"I did." Skulduggery lies.

"Don't even try it." Shudder hisses, standing, and suddenly he's in his face.

Skulduggery thinks that he can smell the blood on her hands long after it has been washed away.

Everyone tenses behind him, but Skulduggery gazes cooly up into Anton's eyes, and after a moment he relaxes slightly, steps away from him, but doesn't sit down.

"If you clicked your fingers, I would've heard it. Serpine would've heard it. He would've killed Larrikin instantly, and we all know that. It was far too risky for you to try. So what's the deal, and why was your magic so powerful after that?" Anton demands.

"Sit down." Hopeless interrupts quietly.

Anton hesitates, then does as she asks, for Hopeless is a man of few words, but when he does speak, he expects to be listened to and obeyed. He pulls a deck of tarot cards from his pocket. They all look slightly surprised as he flicks them between his fingers, reaching out to their energy.

"That's witch magic." Ravel whispers hollowly.

"It's old magic." Hopeless corrects. "It does the job best. Larrikin, pick a card."

"The Fool."

"Yes."

Yes, that's his card: the Fool, all green eyes and ginger hair, the only humanoid figure in his cards, predicted by the Oracle of Delphi long before he even knew of their existence.

The others look dubious, so he asks him to put it back, shuffles the deck, and he picks it out again.

"That's your card." He confirms. "Do you know what it means?" Larrikin shakes his head, watching with wide eyes like he's about to change his life, young and wild and handsome, just like he imagines the rest of humanity can be.

"The Fool is the only card in the Major Arcana without a number. The rest of the deck tells his story." Hopeless reaches out for his card, taking it back, and it sighs contentedly to him, happy to be back in the deck, back in familiar hands. "They guide him, educate him on morality, conscience, life, karma. He might be considered the... Protagonist of the deck." He shrugs. "In his story, his development is key. In the stories of others, he provides comic relief and a shoulder to lean on. So you see, Larrikin, you're vital to this effort. I don't quite know why yet, but... I'm trying to work out what it is that makes you so important."

"Huh." He grins. "I want that tattooed on me."