“Next time you volunteer us to go help look for someone, make sure you ask if they’re in the ravine first,” Davon grunted as he hauled Jacqueline up over the muddy lip of the ravine. “And if they are, tell me before you volunteer us.”
“Oh, stop whining,” she grumbled as she dusted herself off as best she could and looked around at the thick mist surrounding them. “You didn’t say no.”
“No, I didn’t say no.”
Jacqueline frowned. She could hear something faintly beneath the rolling thunder.
“But I should have said no.”
“Shh!” She waved a hand to shut him up, squinting through the mist and listening harder. What is—no. Oh no.
The air around her turned to ice and something swatted both of them down into the mud, she half on top of Davon.
“What the hell?” Davon shouted, mostly at her.
Jacqueline scrambled to her feet. “Someone’s screaming.” She slipped in the mud as she pitched forward, stumbling the first few steps until she hit a dead run.
“Screaming?” Davon said, slipping as much as she was. She scrambled across the mud until she hit less sodden ground, working her way through the churning mist toward the tents.
It was like she couldn’t move fast enough, something urging her to get there faster, knowing in her pounding heart that something wasn’t right. “Yes,” she shouted back at Davon as she ran, “screaming.”
After that, she saved her breath to keep on running.
She could almost feel a sense of oily blackness licking at the very edges of her perceptions, skin crawling, prickling as the mist writhed and churned around her. Those mists parted almost reluctantly as she dashed toward the blue and white tent, opening a clear path a few feet ahead of her at a time.
Jacqueline tripped over a pile of rocks and went down. The feeling of pins and needles shot through her foot and calf as fell.
She blinked in surprise, glancing toward the now-scattered pile of rocks. I don’t know what that was, but it was something.
Davon caught up with her and hooked his hands under her armpits, hauling her back to her feet. Jacqueline nodded her thanks and started running full-tilt toward the tents again.
Someone screamed and she uttered a rare curse under her breath.
A man was shouting, too, among the screaming. Then there were other sounds, sounds she couldn’t quite identify.
Whatever they were, the sounded mean.
“What the hell is going on up there?” Davon shouted.
“Don’t know!” It was wasted breath, and she almost regretted it. They were so close now…
A short, gray blur blindsided her, plowing into her hip. She stumbled sideways into the mist, half spinning around and going down to one knee. Behind her, Davon cried out and hit the ground with a thud, struggling against something she couldn’t quite see.
“Get off!” Davon shouted as he struggled.
She couldn’t see anything there, and from the look in his eye, she could tell he couldn’t see anything, either.
Something clouted her over the ear so hard she saw stars. Darkness nibbled at the edges of her vision and something started trying to shove her all the way down to the ground.
The mists surged around them, shrieking.
The pressure vanished. She came to her feet again and pounded onward toward the tents.
Huge, ugly shadows that felt wrong were near the tents, moving with speed shadows never had.
What are those?
She heard another scream, saw the source. Marin and Kellin were facing those shadows, just shy of the tent’s perimeter, being slowly forced back to back, and surrounded. Kellin was yelling something to Marin that Jacqueline couldn’t quite hear as she kept on coming.
More shouting came from the far side of the tent. Jacqueline could recognize J.T.’s voice, now, along with Matt and Thom’s and Carolyn’s.
Then one of the shadows struck Kellin. Her cry of pain and surprise ended in a gurgle.
Everything went into slow-motion.
Marin whirled toward Kellin as she collapsed.
J.T. came barreling toward the shadows, waving a claymore that once upon a time only saw the light of day during Renaissance festivals. Their circle scattered, though only slightly, refocusing on J.T. and the others running to the rescue.
And from the back came Jacqueline, breath burning in her throat and heart pounding so hard and so fast she thought it was going to burst right out of her chest. She skidded to a stop and dropped to her knees next to Kellin, whose shirt was already covered in blood, her mouth moving as if she couldn’t draw air into her lungs.
Marin’s hands were plastered over Kellin’s throat and her frightened eyes met Jacqueline’s.
Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap. Blood welled through Marin’s fingers.
Kellin stared up at them both, panic and resignation in her eyes.
No. No, not here, not now, not when we still need you! So help me god, this isn’t going to happen today.
Jacqueline shoved Marin’s hands aside. “I’ve got this! Go help the others.”
Marin blinked mutely at her for a moment, then scrambled to her feet and was gone.
The wound was deep—she could feel that much under her hands—and bloody. Whatever had cut it had gone deep. A killing wound, but not instant. Not deep enough for that.
A bleed-out, then, or suffocation. Whichever happened first.
Jacqueline shuddered at her own clinicism. But it was forcing clarity on her, which she needed.
Not on my watch. Please, God, help me now. I’ve never asked for anything like this, so I hope you’re listening now. Please help me do this. Please.
Kellin’s lips were moving now. Jacqueline strained to make out the words as she felt warmth growing inside of herself, from her heart and spreading out through the rest of her.
“Let me go,” Kellin was saying.
“Not today, Kel,” Jacqueline said as light chased down her arms toward her friend’s slashed throat. “Not today.”
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