God, that smell. It was almost enough to make me stop thinking altogether, it was just so awful, the smell of flesh and other organic matter set on fire. All I could do was keep running and hope that it wasn’t anyone I cared about that was on fire, that some wildfire wasn’t all of a sudden threatening our lives and the space we’d carved for ourselves out of the ruins of our former lives.
I ducked between the last pair of sheds and into the open ground in front of the gate and found myself bearing witness to organized pandemonium.
Something huge and foul was beyond the gateway and it was burning, screaming. Phelan stood in the center of the gateway’s gap, power as green and pure as springtime or evergreens twisting around him, making my heart beat a little faster as waves of it crashed over me. Thom was next to him, shouting orders, coordinating the gun volleys.
Whatever the screaming, burning thing was, it wasn’t dead yet and we were still trying to make it die. It clearly didn’t want to.
“What’s going on?” I yelled up to Jacqueline, who was perching with Paul in the watchtower.
“What are you doing here?” she countered. “You were going to stay put. You promised.”
“That was before something started screaming,” I snapped, glaring at her. “What’s going on?”
“Dammit, Marin.” Thom had finally noticed me and was glaring over his shoulder, one hand still in the air as he got ready to signal the others to fire. “What are you doing here?”
“Making sure you’re still breathing,” I shot back. “Now will someone tell me what’s going on?”
“The big green ugly began to spontaneously combust,” Rory snapped, sweat beading on his brow as he directed a line of flames toward the burning, screaming thing. “Unfortunately, that’s not putting it out of its misery.”
“I can tell,” I snapped.
Thom snarled and let his arm drop. Shotguns erupted again and he took two steps toward me and grabbed my arm, yanking me toward his chest. “What the hell are you thinking?” he hissed. “I was fine when I didn’t have to worry about you getting hurt.”
“I’m not going to get hurt, you guys lit the thing on fire.”
“And it’s not dead yet,” Thom retorted. “What do you think that’s doing to me and the rest of us? Go back.”
“Too late,” I said, grasping his arm. “I’m here now. Just tell me how to help.”
“Get up in the wa—”
Phelan’s voice interrupted him.
“Marin,” he rasped, sounding as awful as I’d ever heard him. “Get over here and take my hand and do what I ask. I know what it is and I think I’ve figured out what we need to do.”
I looked at Thom even as Phelan reached out a shaking hand toward me, through the swirls of green power that welled up around him from the ground beneath his feet.
“Go,” Thom whispered. “If he knows how to stop it, he knows how to stop it. Go. Do it.”
I nodded, then grabbed him and pulled his face to mine. Thom was startled by the kiss for a moment before he relaxed a fraction and began to kiss me back, but he was still the one to push me away.
“Hurry,” he said, his voice low. “Let’s finish this, then we celebrate.”
I offered him a watery smile and took Phelan’s hand.
The maelstrom of power swirling around him sucked me in and took my breath away. The only thing that felt solid and real for a moment was Phelan’s vise grip on my hand.
“Breathe,” he muttered. “Just breathe, Marin. I need you to anchor me for this, that’s all. Ground yourself and breathe.”
I looked up at him, brows knitting and heart starting to beat faster. “What the hell are you going to do?”
“End this once and for all,” he said through gritted teeth, “the only way I know how. Endgame style.”
“You’re not going to—”
“I don’t have any intention of dying today, leannán.”
Good. “But what are you going to do?”
“Bind it and kill it, I dearly hope. Now ground yourself and pray that this works.”
I swallowed hard against the lump that had begun to build in my throat and cast my own senses down toward the ground beneath us, through the wellspring of power that surrounded our feet. I found the deep currents of the world and tried to bind myself to them at least temporarily.
“Ready?” Phelan murmured through a clenched jaw.
“Ready,” I confirmed, swallowing again. I don’t know what you’re trying, Phelan, but I sure as hell hope it works.
Green light exploded all around us and abruptly, I stopped being aware of anything at all.
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