The man in the robe lurched forward as Lowell drove the blade home, twisting it viciously. Then the man turned, swinging one arm wildly while the other clutched at the wound.
Lowell leaned away, ducked, then slashed. The blade parted cloth at the base of the man's hood, but missed the delicate flesh hidden beneath it. The stranger opened his mouth-
-but instead of words, blood gushed from between the man's teeth. Oscar Bartleby's sword sank into the man's exposed back. It was a clumsy strike, but the still-dazed Oscar placed all of his considerable weight behind it, half-falling onto the hilt to push the blade into... out of... the stranger's torso.
Impaled, the stranger staggered away from the men. His eyes flickering wildly from one attacker to the other.
Lowell didn't like the look in those eyes. There was no fear. There was pain, yes... but no fear. Or even surprise. Instead, an expression of calm expectation stared out from the robed man's eyes as he dropped to his knees... slowly...
"NOTHIN' TA SAY NOW, EH!?" Lowell howled as he threw himself at the man.
"NO!" Oscar shouted after him. "WE HAVE TO-"
Lowell plunged his knife into the center of the man's throat, and snarled satisfactorily at the resulting fountain of red. The stranger fell back and lay crumpled at Lowell's feet.
"Dammit, Vern!" said Oscar. "We coulda asked him who else was with him! Asked him where that fella with the knife went! This might not be over so easy!"
"Oh," said Lowell. "Yeah, yer right. Too late now, though."
"It's over enough!" said Fenton Barney. Barney was still on the floor, though the enormous serpent was gone now, replaced by an ordinary staff. Barney kicked the staff away with one foot, then grabbed the other leg with both hands.
"...damn thing broke my leg. I... I don't think I can get up."
"Well that's convenient," said Lowell. He stepped over the corpse and held out one hand to Fenton. When Fenton reached for it, Lowell kicked the man in his injured leg.
"YOU WERE GONNA TALK! YOU WERE GONNA TELL HIM THINGS HE SHOULDN'T KNOW ABOUT!"
"NO I WASN'T!"
"I HEARD YOU!"
"I WAS SAVING YOUR LIFE, YOU FOOL! I DISTRACTED HIM! GOT HIM TO TURN AROUND! I WASN'T GONNA TELL HIM ANYTHING!"
"MMhmm. Didn't sound that way to me!" Lowell spat. He glanced at the stranger's body. "Guess we'll never know, eh?"
"I'll know." Fenton sneered. "Shouldn't you be off finding that boy!"
Lowell grunted. Behind him, Oscar was retrieving the weapons from the stranger's body. He took the opportunity to rummage through the folds of the blood-soaked robes. There were several mysterious lumps in the cloth, but he could find no way to get at them. The pockets were well hidden within the seams. Oscar gave up.
"He's got nothin on 'im. You think it means anything that all this is still here?"
"This..." Oscar looked around. The house was still there... all around them. It looked slightly less solid than it had before, but the activities of years before were still unfolding. Lowell was using rope to tie up what remained of Thomas. He looked up from his work when a younger... and less human... Fenton Barney stumbled in.
"...where's the boy-"
"Somebody hit me. Kid got away."
"Dammit! Oscar, we're after the boy! C'mon!"
"Well, GO ON then!" Oscar's grunt from the other room was barely audible above the sounds of rhythmic violence and muffled screaming. Lowell and Fenton left, their loping, inhuman shapes barely fitting through the ghostly doorway.
"So what were you doin' back there?" Lowell asked.
"Tyin' 'er up."
"She fought back."
"Uh-huh. Gimmie that knife and let's go get the boy."
"What about ME!" said Fenton. "Yer not even gonna help me up!"
"You stay here," said Lowell. "Watch him," Lowell nodded to the stranger.
"What the hell FOR!? He's dead enough!"
"To keep YOU out of the way!" Lowell replied as he followed Oscar out of the house. He thought about the look that the stranger had given him at the end. "Besides... he might still need watchin'."