The gun pressed up against Nicholas Romanian’s head, pushing it against the ground. “I crippled the last Green Man,” the gun’s wielder said. “But I never was able to kill him.”
“Do your worst.”
Winter Wolf paused. “You can’t imagine what my worst is. “ The villain sighed. “I had been hoping for a good game, you know. One last hurrah from out of my retirement. And instead you give me this piece of shit barroom brawl. I was looking for a cataclysm, kid. The wrath of God raining down on me, and I get you, instead.”
The man stood up and kicked Romanian in the stomach. Romanian doubled up on himself, groaning. “What was his idea, passing on his Mantle to a spineless brat like you? I thought he was biding his time for all of these years. Waiting for somebody worthy to pick up the legacy.” Winter Wolf kicked him again. “And instead I get you."
Romanian didn’t know it either. Even now, with access to impressions and fragments of personality that had been passed on from the previous bearers of the Green Man’s Mantle, Romanian wasn’t sure what the old man had seen in him.
“I…” Romanian struggled to say. “I win…”
Winter Wolf snorted. “My men should have thorns ripping up their bodies right now. There should be branches growing out of their throats. This building should be a slaughterhouse of green and red and what do I find instead? You’ve never killed a soul. You would have done it by now if you had the guts for it.” He crouched down beside Romanian. “I never dared to get this close to the Green Man. I knew what he would have done to me.”
It was true. Romanian had seen photos of it, and there were memories of it from previous Green Men. But the Mantle was not so old and they were not too strong. They were influences, nothing more. He could resist them.
He didn’t know why he de Hautdesert had passed the Mantle on to him, or why the Mantle itself had accepted him. But he knew—he was determined that it be so—that that part of him which added to the Mantle would only accept someone like himself. Someone who would rather die than commit murder.
There would be no more green killing fields.
“You still aren’t going to… kill the Green Man,” Romanian said after he recovered. “Just me. Someone else will pick it up. And someone after that. And we’ll get tougher every time. We won’t have to kill you to stop you.”
The villain regarded him with a different air this time. “I could keep you alive, you know. If you aren’t dead then you have to be there to pass it on. I could stop this silly dream of yours.” Winter Wolf put the gun against his head again. “But I accept your terms. Let’s play this game.”
Romanian died before his brain could register the gunshot.