The backlash of the ward-line snapping shot shivers down Thom’s spine, though he wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to acknowledge the feeling. It could have been just his imagination.
That’s what he kept telling himself until he caught the barest glimpse of something gray in his peripheral vision and felt Carolyn tense at his side.
“They’re coming,” she hissed, stepping away from his side. “They broke through. Stay behind me, Thom.”
“I’m better with a sword than you are,” he reminded her none-too-gently.
“When you don’t have broken ribs and a bad ankle, yeah,” Carolyn snapped back. “Besides, you can’t see them right now, can you?”
Thom bit his tongue. The truth was, he couldn’t. Any ability he’d had to see them before was something he’d lost now. He couldn’t be sure what had done it. “I can see them well enough to fight back.”
Carolyn’s blade flashed. Thom felt a burst of cold from in front of them, saw the vestiges of something falling to the ground.
“Right,” she said. “Just as well I promised Marin I’d look after you!”
He felt his hackles rise. She did what?
“Don’t give me that look,” Carolyn said, glancing back over her shoulder at him. “You’re lucky she let you on the line at all.”
Thom swallowed his next protest. She was right, of course, though he’d never admit to that.
He drew his sword and straightened. “Just point,” he growled. “I’ll try not to let anything past us.”
Carolyn stepped away from him faster than he anticipated, angling toward another flash of gray just at the edges of his perception. Thom’s heart started to beat faster.
If I focus, can I see them? Or do I just need to stop looking?
Something caught him full-on in the belly and knocked him sprawling, the wind knocked out of him. Whatever hit him was frigid, and he swung wildly with the blade in his hand.
It hit something solid that screamed, sending vibrations through him and the blade. Something cold splashed across his face, his clothes, then immediately began to steam
Something gray and translucent, looking insubstantial lay bisected on either side of him. His heart quickened and he sucked in a breath.
“Get up, Thom!”
Ribs protesting, he shoved himself upright, stumbling to his feet, using the blade for leverage. The toe of his sneaker caught against one half of the body; it was solid, much more solid than it looked. “What the hell are they?” he asked, trying not to wheeze.
“Phelan called them gremlins. Mar and Drew called them Greys. Can you see it?”
“Now that it’s dead? Yeah, a little.” Thom swallowed bile. His blade wasn’t that sharp, was it? Goddamn. Is it? He looked bleakly at his sword for a moment.
Carolyn eyed the body grimly for a moment. “Well, that’s something at least,” she muttered, then looked back ahead of them, toward the lines. Thom could hear Marin shouting again over the sound of screams that hovered just on the very edge of his hearing.
Is this what it’s like to live in a haunted house? He wondered. Everything just barely on the edges of your perception, so distant and ephemeral that you’re not quite sure they’re really there?
Except that he knew they were there—at least his instincts did—but his conscious senses refused to cooperate with his instincts.
Carolyn tensed again. Thom set his jaw, bracing for another impact.
“Two. Go left when I say go.”
Thom nodded. “Right.”
She waited exactly three seconds. “Go!”
Thom moved to their left, leading with his sword. The impact shivered along the blade, which went icy in his grip—so cold his fingers spasmed briefly and he nearly dropped it. He added his other hand to gain a better grip, more leverage, then tried for a backhanded swing at whatever hit his blade.
The sword sliced through open air and he stumbled, crying out as he came down harder on his bad ankle than he intended.
Carolyn’s fingers closed on his arm and jerked him back upright. As she hauled him straight again, he saw the Grey clearly for a brief moment.
He lunged, aiming the tip of his sword for its neck.
It went in clean, then stuck as he buried it to halfway down the blade. He let go of the sword, stumbling again. Carolyn caught him against her chest and held on for a moment, steadying him. They both gasped for air as they watched the Grey fall gracelessly to the ground.
“Are you all right?” Carolyn asked between breaths.
Thom mentally checked himself. Pain was distant, though it was there—he’d pay for this fight after the rush wore off. He swallowed, sucked in a couple more breaths, then nodded.
“Yeah,” he said, still feeling breathless. “Yeah, I’m okay. Are you okay?”
She nodded, chest still heaving as she let go of him and turned back toward the front line.
The screams were ebbing, the strange light from the Greys hitting the wards dying down.
“Do you think it’s over?” Thom asked, trying to wrest his sword out of the dead gremlin’s neck.
“I don’t know,” Carolyn said, taking a few tentative steps forward. “Maybe.”
Thom jerked his sword free.
Ahead of them, a ragged cry went up, sounding like victory. He could hear Marin’s voice above it, yelling for someone to go get Kellin from the other end of camp so they could patch a hole in the lines.
His heart skipped a beat. She’s okay. Thank god, she’s okay.
He wiped his sword on the grass and started for the front line.
He waved Carolyn off. “Go get Kellin and bring her to the wards. Sounds like one of them went down. I’m going to Marin.”
Carolyn stared at him for a moment, then nodded. “Right. Tell Jay I’ll be there as soon as I round up Kellin.”
Carolyn and J.T., huh? He smiled briefly and nodded. “I will. Go on, hurry. We need to be ready just in case this is a lull and not an end.”
They parted ways. Carolyn jogged off for the far end of camp as he limped forward, feeling sore but strangely alive.
Marin stood amid a pile of bodies, Drew next to her. Rory picked his way through the piles, translucent gray corpses disappearing as he touched them. Thom swallowed bile again.
What the hell? His eyes met Rory’s. There was a bleakness in the other man’s gaze, almost pain. Thom started to say something, but the words died on his tongue. He just nodded.
Rory nodded back, turning and heading deeper into camp. Thom headed straight for Marin.
“What are you doing up here?” she asked when she spotted him, eyes widening slightly.
“Clear on the back line, so I came to you.” He picked his way to her, reaching for her arm when he was close enough. She took half a step toward him, then turned away, staring back toward the ravine.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Phelan,” she said. “We have to find him. He’s down there somewhere.”
Thom touched her elbow. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “But I’m not sure I want to find out, either.”
He followed her gaze and swallowed hard. He wasn’t sure he wanted to, either.
Thom lifted his blade. “I need five volunteers!” he shouted. “We have a man down in the ravine and we’re not going to stop looking until we find him.”
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