Valorie did not land lowly or gracefully. She landed in the canal. She realised a millisecond before it happened, and then she was plunged into icy water.
She gasped, and her mouth filled with water. She swallowed. The water was slimy and rancid, and she struggled to the surface. Her head broke free. She spat out water and algae.
Trying not to think about what might be swimming around down there, she doggy-paddled to the nearest ladder. With difficulty, she hauled herself out of the water. Her clothes were heavy with water. Her muscles ached.
The top of the ladder. She pulled herself over, fell onto the pavement. She welcomed the firmness of it, lying there for a few minutes.
What had just happened?
Of course. She took the black rod from Adam. So where was it now?
She glanced into the murky water. She must have dropped it when she fell in.
Valorie relaxed. Never mind. It could stay there. Nobody could find it now.
Valorie examined her surroundings. This was the place she had met Christophe. So that was about a fifteen-minute walk away from the Common, where the battle was still continuing. She heard cheers and screams.
She decided to walk. She was in no hurry to return, and besides, Adam didn’t have his rod any more. That would probably slow him down.
By the time Valorie got there, Adam Quinn was dead.
He lay on the grass, eyes closed, mouth slightly open. He had blood trickling down from beneath his fringe. Valorie stared down at him for a minute or two, expecting him to abandon his pretence, leap up and shout, ‘GOTCHA!’
But he never moved. He was undoubtedly deceased.
There was a humming overhead, and Charley’s many insects appeared. They buzzed around her head for a second, and then swept over the battlefield, presumably to go home.
She looked at the field before her. The burning was beginning to stop. She could make out assorted Wizards, their palms out, spraying the flames with water. The tree, as far as she could make out, had been burnt down to nothing more than a blackened little stick.
Then Valorie gasped. There were other bodies out there, half hidden by the grass. Adam had not been the only one to die. She could see at least twenty corpses. One of them was Christophe. He was splayed on the ground, his clothes soaked in mud, and he was holding his cousin in his arms.
Valorie fought back a sob. She ran over to him, knelt beside Christophe’s unmoving body, willing him to wake up.
‘I’m sorry,’ a familiar voice said.
She turned. It was Charley, walking towards her.
‘This is the reason I didn’t want you to come,’ he said softly. ‘I didn’t doubt your powers at all, but the aftermath of the battle might have been too terrible for you.’
Valorie wiped her face. ‘It’s pretty terrible, yes. Um… so Adam’s dead.’
Charley nodded. ‘As you took his rod, he poured out the majority of his power. I believe it is still contained in the wand. What did you do with it?’
‘I threw it in the canal.’
‘Oh good. Well, after you disappeared, Adam was effectively powerless, and wasn’t difficult to overcome after that. So we killed him. There was a little more punching and kicking than I would have liked, but…’
Charley’s voice sounded curiously clear on the night air. The battleground was now quiet, except for a few Wizards still picking themselves up from the ground.
‘What are we going to do with the bodies?’ she asked.
Charley nodded. ‘I thought you’d ask me that. I’d actually thought it through carefully. Everyone gave me the addresses of their families, so we can call them soon and… well, inform them.’
She sniffed. ‘It’s so sad. They didn’t deserve to die.’
They passed a moment in silence. Valorie took the opportunity to glance over at Adam again, who still lay motionless on the grass.
‘How are the others?’ she eventually asked. ‘Ruby, Eddie, Simon…’
Charley looked at her. ‘Eddie escaped with only a few cuts and bruises. So did Ruby, although she’s still in shock. We have doctors trying to calm her down.’
‘And the others?’
Charley hesitated. ‘Simon was completely unharmed,’ he said. ‘Hermes, unfortunately, was not so lucky. I blame myself. I tried to blind Adam, he deflected it and it caught Hermes instead.’
‘He has lost the use of one of his eyes. We’re doing all we can to help, but it doesn’t look good.’
There was more silence.
‘It’s a shame I didn’t find out who these people were,’ Valorie said to herself. ‘They’ve all been very brave.’
Charley seemed unable to answer this. Valorie dug in her pocket, and fished out the copper coin.
‘Christophe asked he to pick this up for him,’ she said quietly. ‘He doesn’t like touching metal.’ She looked at the coin sadly, and pocketed it again.
‘You’ve been very brave yourself,’ Charley reminded her. ‘You were obviously scared by what you’ve seen tonight. But you fought well. I’m very proud of you.’
Valorie looked down at her feet.
‘We’d better help some of these people,’ he said, looking out across the Common. ‘Coming?’
He began to walk away. Valorie followed, keeping an eye out for anyone that might need their assistance.