Dragomir knew it was a bad idea the second he spotted one of The Baron’s little ghosts whipping past his head. He didn’t have enough time to say it, though, before they were launching themselves towards Eve.
“No!” Dragomir reached for one of the ghosts, the last of the ghosts, as it sailed past his head and into the tower. But his arms had lost most of their mobility, and his body was just too weak, and his fingers only brushed the ghost’s streaking tail. The ghost, a miniature The Baron, stuck its tongue out at him -
- and vanished in a quick puff as Eve wrapped a gauntlet around its translucent body. Green steam seeped out between her fingers.
The other ghosts, twelve in all, fared no better. All of them seemed to be aiming for the darkness of Eve’s hood, trying desperately to get at her mouth, perhaps to capitalize on her ragged breathing in a bid to give The Baron control again, but it was no use. Eve plucked each one of them out of the air with frantic ease, turning the inside of the tower a hazy Non-green each time one exploded. The Baron sent another batch from his vantage point in the hallway, and Dragomir could hear him panting heavily at the exertions.
“STOP!” Dragomir turned so quickly to yell at The Baron that he felt something tear in his back, and his whole body drooped a little. Pain exploded in his head, and he struggled to figure how the two parts were connected. “S… STOP! LEAVE HER ALONE!”
The Baron said nothing. The ghosts kept coming. It sounded as though he was backing down the tower, each laborious step a little softer.
Eve didn’t waste time on the second wave of ghosts. Launching forward so deftly that she almost knocked Dragomir over, she tore into the hallway and down the stairs. Dragomir heard The Baron cry out, and as the swarming ghosts around Dragomir faded from view Eve brought him into the tower, clutching him by the neck. She pinched the fabric of his robe so tightly that it fell away from his mouth, exposing the ragged hole and skeletal jaw The Baron had worked so hard to conceal. The Baron’s face went red, then blue, then purple, as he struggled for breath.
“You… hate… you… so… much…” Eve struggled to stand upright, staggering back on her bad foot as she glared up at The Baron, and as she spoke the hood fell away from her own face. “Ruined… my… life…”
The breath left Dragomir’s lungs. His daughter, ever the victim of rapid aging, had moved beyond the beautiful womanhood she’d enjoyed for the last two years. Her face wore the ragged, wrinkled expression of an old woman, with vast bags under her eyes and prominent cheekbones poking out of her withered flesh. Her hair, once blonde, then silver, was now as white as Bora’s - though it looked threadbare and coarse, with large, bald patches revealing rapid hair loss. The only things still identifiably Eve were her eyes, a pair of white pinpricks swimming in wonderful seas of vibrant emerald.
The Baron brushed Eve’s arm with his hand, fingers spasmodic. “E… E… E…”
“Eve, please, put him down,” Dragomir pleaded, stepping towards his elderly child. It was more difficult than ever, and it felt like his leg, the leg Bora had replaced, was starting to fall apart. “Please, Eve, please. Put… put him down.”
“He… ruined… me…” Eve licked her thin lips, lapping up the blood dribbling down her chin. “He stole… everything… from me… before I was… daddy, he… now all I can do…”
“I know,” Dragomir soothed. He struggled towards Eve, wanting desperately to give her a hug. He hoped his spare arm would hold out that long. “You don’t need to kill him, Eve. Let him go. Let it all go. Daddy’s here, now, so you don’t need to kill anymore. Okay?”
“Can’t… can’t…” Eve’s fingers tightened on The Baron’s throat. Foam began to run from his mouth. “Have… this is what… I have…”
Reaching his daughter after an agonizing journey across less than ten feet of ragged floorboards, Dragomir touched his daughter’s face, doing his best to ignore the dying man in her hand. He ran a loving finger along her cheek, trying to smooth the wrinkles back into a more familiar expression, and as he did his daughter smiled at him. It was a pained but warm expression, full of joy, the likes of which Dragomir had only truly seen once before.
Dragomir softly touched Eve’s wrist. The moment he did, she released The Baron. He bounced once, leaving a deep crack in the floorboards, and coughed spasmodically as he lay on the ground, clutching his throat. His jawbones clicked loudly with each shuddering heave. Dragomir was surprised that the old man remained conscious, and also grateful.
“Get out of here,” Dragomir insisted, apathetic to The Baron’s struggles. He continued to stroke Eve’s cheek. “You’ve done enough. Go on. Check on Traveller, he’s probably hurt.”
The Baron struggled to right himself, unable to speak. He stretched a hand out to Dragomir, shaking his head, but Dragomir nudged him away with his leg. A small chunk of the leg came loose at the gesture, and with dull, resigned horror Dragomir realized that this was his good leg, not the bad one. It seemed enough for The Baron, and after a moment of struggles the old man got to his feet, stared at Dragomir a moment longer, and made for the stairs.
“Bye,” Dragomir said. “It was fun.”
The look on The Baron’s face as he turned the corner threatened to break Dragomir’s heart, and he couldn’t tell why.