The ground beneath their feet vibrated with its footsteps, growing worse as it came closer, came quicker. He could see it now, big and sickly green and ugly enough to turn the stomach.
He knew this one.
Stay in control, Phelan. Stay in control.
He sucked in a breath and as he exhaled, the ground before the firbolg’s feet erupted, earth and roots geysering from the ground. Phelan’s knuckles were white against his staff. The trick wouldn’t delay the enemy for long.
“Where the hell did you learn to do that?” Greg blurted from alongside him.
“Why haven’t you ever done that before?” Thom asked in the same moment, sounding vaguely betrayed.
Phelan set his jaw. Now was not the time for explanations. “Get ready on the shotguns,” he roared, ignoring both questions. “Paul, up top now!”
“Already there!” the shepherd shouted from the watchtower. “Just say the word.”
“Fire at will,” Phelan said, voice quiet and deadly, but he didn’t need to speak any louder than he had. They heard.
The sound of shotguns left his ears ringing. Next to him, felt Rory gathering power, then felt the heat, smelled the brimstone and ash of his fire as it at first dripped, then shot from his fingers.
The gout of flame hit the firbolg in the chest as it staggered back from the onslaught of shotgun blasts. Like a living thing, the flames rippled and crawled up the creature’s body and for a long, aching moment as the fire eclipsed their view of it, all was silent.
“Is that it?” J.T. whispered, shouldering his shotgun in the sudden silence. “Did we just—?”
“No,” Greg said, voice bleak. Phelan knew he was right—he could feel it straight down to his bones.
The firbolg roared.
• • •
“You’re fucking crazy!” Thordin shouted at him as Cameron forced the horse to scramble across the broken concrete, leaping gaps and somehow scaling inclines.
“You’re the one that’s following me!” he shouted back, one arm locked around Neve’s waist, his other hand clutching the reins in a death-grip.
“Hurry,” Neve whispered. “We don’t have much time.”
They leapt the last gap and hit solid pavement again just in time to hear the firbolg’s voice again.
“Oh Wandering One, I hear your cry,
Just settle down and wait to die!”
“Dammit,” Cameron growled, kicking the horse into a gallop. “Dammit, dammit.”
“What the hell is going on?” Thordin asked, voice booming like thunder over the sound of the horses and the blood roaring in Cameron’s ears.
“It’s the firbolg who did this to Neve,” Cameron snapped. She’d twisted in the saddle, wrapped one arm around his waist to free his other arm. “Now it’s down there threatening the place I’m supposed to find.”
He knew it, now. Knew it straight to the core, with every bone, every fiber. This was where he’d been drawn to—but he still didn’t know why.
If that firbolg reaches whoever’s down there, I’m never going to know.
He hauled sideways on the reins, jerking his mount’s head to the left, turning at a full gallop to pass under a weathered copper arch above the road. Thordin came after.
“Wanderer’s here!” Thordin shouted.
“He’s in trouble,” Neve whispered into Cameron’s chest. “They’re all in trouble.”
They came around a pile of rubble in time to see the ground explode, see the shotgun fire, see the jet of flames. Beyond the firbolg, facing it, stood a red-haired figure glowing with bright green light, hands locked around a staff. Flanking him in the gap between walls were a dozen others, young and determined. He could tell even this far away.
“Phelan,” Neve breathed, staring at the man.
Cameron felt sick to his stomach. “Slide off the horse, Neve.”
She went rigid, eyes flicking up to his. “What did you—?”
“I can’t fight that thing if you’re mounted with me.” Caliburn rasped softly as he drew the blade. “Slide off.”
She stared at him, swallowed once, then did as he was asked, landing awkwardly with a wince and hobbling toward a half-destroyed bush. “I’ll be right here when you come back.”
He nodded. “Thordin, stay with her.”
Neve’s bow sang, three arrows narrowly passing next to Cameron’s head as they flew toward the firbolg.
“Thinking not, Highness,” Thordin said with a grin.
The firbolg howled as three arrows sunk into the flesh above its ear, whipping its great bulk toward the trio.
“Now or never,” Thordin said.
Cameron lifted Caliburn and charged.