Sixth Chapter: Borders

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Down winding roads, past rows of candles, in the sea-soaked air Iris ran. With a gale-force roar and a lightning aura, the spirit followed.

Iris had a plan. Almost. The original plan had been to lure the spirit into the charmed crossroads circle she had set up and then use her bottlebell to beat it into submission until it vanished or the sun rose and it was banished. But the spirit was too strong for the candle circle, and Iris had nowhere else to contain it. So the plan for now was to keep it distracted while she thought of a way to bind it.

But it was hard to think when your feet slammed against stone and your throat burned bloody and raw. Hard to focus when a creature beyond mortal ken kept calling out misery behind you.

Iris whipped around a corner only to see people at the other end of the alley, dressed in oranges and yellows for the moon festival. Protecting them was her first priority, so she skidded to a halt and turned around. Eyes narrowed in concentration, Iris whistled, the note shrill and loud. It was enough to stop the spirit, who gazed at her with a tilted head and midnight eyes. Iris whistled again, three clear notes, and raised her bottlebell, which glowed with a ragged red light. She advanced towards the spirit slowly, who didn't move as it watched her approach. Her senses were wide open, painfully so, but she focused and tried to block out the murmurs of the crowd behind her and search only for the three small sparks she was waiting for.

After a few seconds, her mice jumped onto her from the roofs, glowing and growing as they fed on her adrenaline and fear. The spirit tensed, as if to attack, and in that moment Iris rang her bottlebell and commanded the first mouse to jump.

The mouse twisted in mid-air, riding the energy from the bottlebell and morphing into something predatory. The spirit cried out in a voice that tore the hood back from Iris's head and echoed in the alley. Undeterred, Iris took a step forward and sent the second mouse lunging at the spirit. By her third attack, the spirit had become the pursued and Iris the hunter. Her eyes glowing gold and her face twisted in a savage grin, Iris ran.

There was a primal joy to the chase, with an edge of fear turned triumph. Her feet were fast, but so was her mind, racing to find a way to bind the spirit as she and her spirit-mice ran him down. She needed a vessel to bind him to, but she doubted she had time to find the traditional oil lamp or clay-sealed bottle. But what, then, could she use?

The answer was so absurd, that Iris laughed high and hysterically when it occurred to her. She whistled again, and her mice, looking more like hunting hounds, helped her corral the spirit towards a side street where she knew the perfect vessel awaited.

But the thrill of the hunt was dissipating, and Iris could feel exhaustion seeping into her limbs. Each step weighed down her legs more and more, and her bottlebell was becoming unbearably heavy. When she turned the corner and saw the vessel just a few paces away from the spirit, a final dose of frantic energy flared through her. She knew she only had a few minutes and no room for error. This was her first, last, and only chance.

***

Later, as Iris kneeled down by the river that cleft the city in two, her hands shook and she felt a sudden surge of all the fear she had ignored during her battle with the purple spirit. She shivered, and tears dropped onto the carved pumpkin in her hands. Through the stained glass in every orifice, violet light flickered from the angry spirit writhing within. She could still hear his screams echoing in her head, still feel the lashing winds scoring her face raw and red. The battle was over, and yet she still felt as if she were trapped in unceasing struggle against the spirit, or against some larger malignant force she couldn't understand. The battle was over, but her heart was thudding as if it had just begun, as if this entire night had been just a prelude.

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