If it hadn’t been so cold that day, the bodies might have started to smell already. I tried not to look at their faces—at the faces of the dead, of the men we’d killed to defend ourselves.
Is it going to get easier someday? I hoped it didn’t, not really. Killing should never be easy.
Matt slid his arm around my shoulders as we watched Rory make a slow circuit of the pile once, then again. My brother shifted his weight and winced slightly.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
He shook his head. “A little sore. Got peppered during the fight.”
He shot me a weak smile. “Edge of some birdshot from one of their rear rifles. It’s nothing.”
“Did you bleed?”
One shoulder hitched in a slight shrug. “Yeah.”
“Then it’s not nothing.” I shrugged his arm off and turned to look at him. “Where did it get you?”
He gestured to his left side, the side opposite the one he’d tucked me against. “It’s not serious,” he told me, nodding toward Phelan. “Phelan looked at it. He’s seen it. Tell her.”
Phelan turned toward me from where he stood several paces away, between us and the pile. “Matt, don’t lie to your sister.”
“Traitor,” Matt muttered. Phelan only laughed. I glared at them both.
“Spill. How bad is it?” I wasn’t quite sure which one I was asking. Phelan answered.
“It’ll probably heal without someone looking at it, but I told him that either he was going to have Jac look at it or I was going to take tweezers to it myself.” He shook his head a little. “I’d just be worried that there’s little bits of shot that we can’t quite see. It can get a little dark up at the forge when the sun’s at the wrong angle.”
“After this is over, you’re going to go see Jac,” I said to Matt, my tone firm, brooking no argument.
He made a face, then nodded with a sigh. “Fine.”
“Good.” I looked back toward Rory, who was studying the pile. After another moment, he turned to look at us.
“I think I’m ready,” he said, his voice only a little shaky.
If he wants to back out, I’ll let him. I’d rather have him be ready, be sure this is something he wants to do rather than force him into it just because he offered. “Are you sure about this? You don’t have to do it. We can find another way.”
“No. I want to know if I can do this.” He took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “And what it’ll do to me when I do.” He shot me a crooked smile. “Wish me luck.”
“Luck,” I murmured, then crossed my arms tightly across my chest.
Rory stepped forward, closer to the pile. He lifted his hands slowly, fingers splaying as he aimed them at the pile. The air around him warmed instantly, enough that I could feel it even from a few feet away, and the hum of energy around him set my hair on end.
“Christ,” Matt muttered next to me, his eyes widening. “I can feel that.”
My hand found his, our fingers knitting together. “Wait a second and you’ll see it, too,” I said softly.
The first spark was weak, ember-red and fell a bit shy of the pile. It landed on what was left of the asphalt of the parking lot and died there with the faint smell of burning rubber and brimstone.
Rory’s muscles bunched—his jaw, his shoulders, everything knotting—and then the fire began to flow like water from his hands.
Blue-white with hints of gold and red, it spilled from his hands like a waterfall, spattering against the ground before he gained more control. He raised his hands slightly and the fire spattered toward the pile of bodies, finally resolving itself into a fluid line cascading toward the pile.
The bodies caught in a heartbeat and began to burn.
“My god,” a voice said softly behind Matt and I. “What’s he doing?”
It was one of the prisoners we’d rescued, a woman with dark hair, college-aged and slender. She hugged a borrowed jacket around her shoulders as she edged closer, the fire’s light turning hazel eyes golden. There were traces of fear in her expression, but they were mostly hidden behind slack-jawed wonder.
I smiled faintly. “Magic.”
She looked at Matt, Phelan and I sidelong. “I didn’t think it existed.”
“Now you know it does,” Phelan said, his voice impossibly gentle. He extended a hand to her and she took it, stepping closer to the three of us, her gaze drifting back to Rory.
“Burning all the way over on this side, too,” Greg called to us from the other side of the pile, where he and Drew were stationed. It was starting to get very warm standing near the pile, and my nose was starting to close up against the charnel-house smell.
At least the wind is blowing north, away from all of us. I squeezed Matt’s hand.
“How does he know how to do that?” the girl asked.
“Instinct,” Phelan said. “Practice. Trial and error. How do we learn how to do anything?” He eased around her, so she was suddenly sandwiched between him and Matt.
Matt looked at her. “For someone who wasn’t sure that magic existed, you sure seem ready to believe it.”
She laughed. “What was it that Sherlock Holmes said? When you eliminate the impossible, whatever’s left, however improbable, must be the truth.”
“Sounds like you don’t think magic’s impossible.”
She smiled at Matt. “There’s too many stories about it for me to think that.”
He watched her for a long moment before he finally nodded. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.”
I looked past them toward Phelan. He winked and we shared a secret smile that neither of them noticed.
Things falling into place indeed.
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