Coming slowly to her senses, Sofie found herself lying on a hard wooden floor, with her hands tied behind her back. She remembered having been taken prisoner. And she knew the urgent voice wasn't Stroud's or Justin's.
She would have identified it in another second, but she didn't have to. "It's me, Jonesy. You okay? Hold on, hold on - don't move." He was untying her bonds. Momentarily dazed, she lay quietly and let him do it.
Then she remembered the stunning revelations she'd received, here in this wretched shed. That Justin Crowe was indeed her rapist father - the man she'd sworn to kill, if she ever met him - and that both Justin and she herself possessed supernatural powers. I passed out, she realized. And it's dark now. Hours wasted, damn it! I know I could have gotten my hands free and escaped, gone after that son-of-a-bitch.
Better late than never.
Jonesy helped her to her feet. "Let's get you outta here. C'mon...that's it." Guiding her out of the shed, he warned, "Watch your step."
She looked down, and stepped carefully over an unconscious Varlyn Stroud. A gun lay beside him. A gun he'd undoubtedly brought to kill her, on Justin's orders.
Jonesy will try to stop me. He'd never understand. If I give him a chance, he'll drag me back to the carnival.
She didn't see him as a man who was risking his life to save hers - for the second time. To her, he was a patronizing "protector" she didn't need, never had needed. She was beginning to feel - to revel in! - her own power. And he was in her way.
Jonesy muttered, "Shit. Keys," and went back to retrieve a key ring from the shed door, where one of the keys was still in the lock.
She bent and scooped up Stroud's gun.
Jonesy turned, saw her, and went rigid. "Sofie - don't!"
She shot him without batting an eye. Then she stepped over his prone form as easily as she had Stroud's, claimed the keys, and headed for Stroud's car.
If Ben wants to kill Justin, he'll have to get in line.
Daybreak found her lurking near Justin's huge revival tent, where she'd spent most of the night. Only a few feet from the edge of the cornfield.
Terrified New Canaanites had told her what happened. They'd described Ben's healings, Justin's murderous rampage with a scythe, and his pursuit of Ben into the cornfield. Neither man had emerged. But a cataclysmic lightning strike on the landmark tree, and its consumption by fire, were taken as proof that Justin had been killed by the outsider.
Sofie knew that interpretation was correct. All she felt now was a sense of letdown. She didn't resent Ben's having been the one to kill Justin, much as she'd wanted to get to him first; if Justin had killed Ben's father, his grievance was as valid as her own. She blamed herself for having passed out, lost all that time.
And she regretted having shot Jonesy. I can hardly believe I did that. My God, it didn't even gain me anything! And it means I can't go back to Carnivale - not sure I'd want to, but now I can't. Samson knows me so well that he'd see through any lies I might tell, and realize what I've done.
Whether Ben was still alive was anyone's guess; no one dared venture into the cornfield to find out. Sofie had considered going in herself, but decided against it. Guiltily, she acknowledged the reason: Ben knows me too well, too. But his having performed healings proved he was a Being of Power. That gave her hope that he'd survive until he was found by his friends.
With daylight, she didn't have to wait long to see that happen. Samson led a group of carnies into the cornfield. They found him, and she heard Samson call out excitedly, "He's alive!" Gabriel lifted him off Justin, and after what Sofie guessed was some discussion about applying pressure to his wound, a solemn little procession bore him out of the cornfield.
Now I wonder how long they'll wait for Jonesy?
Samson undoubtedly believed the carnival would be in danger if it lingered until the New Canaanites' shock wore off. Only another half hour passed before the trucks began pulling out.
When the coast was clear, Sofie emerged from the shadow of the tent. She had no doubt Justin was dead. But having failed to kill him herself, she wanted at least the satisfaction of seeing him. So she headed straight into the cornfield.
As she made her way, unerringly, to the body of her hated father, she glimpsed something on the ground. A dagger - or rather, the hilt of one, with only part of the blade attached.
Ben's weapon, she realized. Justin had a scythe.
Would Justin's death be investigated as a homicide? A rumor had circulated in the carnival that Ben was an escaped convict - that he'd been wearing a leg iron when they picked him up near Milfay. If that was true, his fingerprints were on file somewhere.
I'm sorry I couldn't risk coming to help him while he was lying in here, wounded. Now there's something I can do for him - hide that dagger. I'll pick it up before I leave.
But where's the rest of it?
She looked down at the dead Justin. Blue blood?
Shaken as she was by seeing that, she made herself look for the fatal wound.
Damn. With so much blood, it's hard to see where the actual wound is. But the blade was almost certainly driven into his chest. It may still be in there.
Could Ben's prints be on that, too? And recoverable?
She feared the answer to both questions might be yes. So she dropped to her knees beside Justin and laid her hands on his chest - feeling for the wound, hoping she'd be able to grip the blade and pull it out.
She was hit by a wave of vertigo. Stunned, she tried to wrench her hands away. But they were stuck fast in that infernal blood.
Justin's eyes opened. The demon eyes she'd seen the previous day, black as pitch. He looked up at her, and his lips curled in a malicious smile.
No! This can't be happening! She tried to scream, but no sound came.
Suddenly, rather than pulling something out of his wound, she felt herself being drawn into it.
And yet...she couldn't be inside Justin's wound, because she was still able to see what was happening around them. On all sides, corn was dying.
What was being drawn into Justin was not her entire being, but her power. The newly discovered power she'd been so proud of - and never had a chance to use.
Justin sat up, shaking her free of him as easily as he would have brushed a speck of lint off his cassock. She collapsed, limp but still conscious. Gasping, sobbing.
She heard distant screams...which receded into the farther distance. Everyone who'd been nearby was, wisely, running away.
Justin rose, then prodded her with his foot. "Up on your knees, girl!"
Terrified, she somehow managed to obey. She had a fleeting memory of legends in which a vampire was brought back to life by the stake's being pulled out of his heart. Could I possibly -?
No. She was sure she'd never touched the dagger blade. And now, as she looked up at Justin, he confirmed that by plucking it out himself - an act that seemingly caused him no discomfort. Bending, he toyed with her by taking her chin in one hand and drawing the blade across her cheek, not breaking the skin. He hissed in pleasure at her distress. But after he'd established his dominance, he flung the weapon away - sent it soaring, shining in the sunlight, over the ruined cornfield. She saw it disappear in midair.
Along with all her hopes.
"It's most fortuitous that you are what you are," he told her. "Or rather, what you were." He smirked. "And that Brother Varlyn didn't succeed in killing you.
"But then," he continued thoughtfully, "I suppose there was never a chance he could succeed. It was all preordained. Your being what you were, and your being here when I needed you."
Finding her voice at last, she whispered bitterly, "I don't understand. It isn't fair."
"Oh, but it is!" She was struck by his sincerity - and noted that his eyes had reverted to normal.
"I've only now come to understand what I truly am," he went on, with a faraway look in those azure eyes. "It's not what I would have chosen. But I can accept it, precisely because it's fair. Extremely fair.
"You see..." Focusing on her again, he said solemnly, "Long ago, God broke the rules. He intervened personally to raise one of His Prophets of Light from the dead. Jesus Christ." She heard the hint of a sneer in his voice. "Jesus didn't do much with his second chance. Couldn't do much, because he was too kindhearted to replenish his powers by draining a younger member of his House. He appeared to a few of his disciples, that was it. The future would have unfolded in the same way if they'd just made false claims that he'd risen. But God had broken the rules to let him do it.
"Fairness required that Satan be given an opportunity to raise one of his Prophets from the dead as well, at a time of his choosing. He made a much wiser choice of time. And, as I mean to prove, of the man." He smiled down on her, and the smile chilled her to the bone. "Another 'JC,' if you haven't noticed."
"Ah yes, the corn." He gazed out over it, and she thought she heard a faint sigh. "Are you familiar with the Gospel of John, my dear? It tells us that the tomb in which Jesus was laid was surrounded by a garden. Mary Magdalene went there after he'd risen - knowing his body was gone, but believing it had been stolen. She found him in the garden. He'd presumably come back to await the arrival of his disciples. But well as she knew him, she initially mistook him for the gardener.
"And now, for the first time, I understand why. He was turned away from her, totally absorbed in examining the garden itself.
"When he was laid in the tomb that garden had been in a sorry state, more dead than alive. The disciples were too distracted to pay any attention to its condition, then or later. But Jesus was enthralled by it...because as he emerged from the tomb, he'd seen it erupt in a riot of life! I don't know whether it was a riot of blooms or of beanstalks. But either way, it symbolized his return having brought the promise of life to the world."
"The promise of life," Sofie whispered. "So...your return has brought..."
"Yes." Before he looked down at her, she knew what color his eyes would be. "The promise of death."