The voices scraped against the inside of his brain, like fingernails on a chalkboard, like sandpaper against stone. Rory tried to ignore them, but they made his skin prickle, tried to ruin his concentration.
Ruining his concentration wasn’t something he could exactly afford at the moment. He was skating along the razored edges of his control, holding onto an ability he didn’t quite understand yet and had never really wanted to.
He was glad to have it, though, as he elbow-checked a Grey in the face as it advanced on Jacqueline, who still knelt over Kellin, a strange glow surrounding them both. Jacqueline was wavering on her knees, face as pale as Kellin’s blood-streaked one. They were both oblivious to everything around them. It made them the perfect target.
End them, Old Soul. End them!
Rory flinched, spinning away from the women, putting his back to them before his arm lifted to strike.
Get out of my fucking head, you crazy whatsits!
His lips curled in a snarl, a shudder running through him. The heat beneath his flesh built even higher. He forced it back down again to manageable levels, scything his gaze left and right to look for more threats heading toward his self-appointed charges.
J.T. plunged into another pack of Greys, which started to scatter in his wake. One started to go after Carolyn, then jerked and fell as if it’d been tripped. Either her small, winged friends were watching out for her, or she had more guardian angels—or abilities—than they were aware of. Brandon was swinging a branch wildly in front of him, backing slowly toward the tent proper and the bonfire at the other side, clearly unable to see anything headed toward he, Matt, Angie, and Stasia. Drew was making a beeline for Marin, Thom moving faster than should have been possible in the older man’s wake.
Where are Davon and Paul? Rory wondered with a start. He looked around quickly, seeing no sign of either man.
Join us, Old Soul. Come to us. It would be so easy…
I told you to shut up and leave me alone!
He heard the voices laugh and he shuddered again.
Something slumped against his legs. He turned to see Jacqueline sliding to the muddy ground, hands as bloody as Kellin’s shirt.
There wasn’t a rent across her throat anymore, though—whatever that glow had been surrounding Kellin and Jacqueline, it’d dealt handily with the claw-slash. The only sign of its passage, other than the blood, was a raised line of scar tissue across Kellin’s throat.
Rory sucked in a breath, staring at Jacqueline at his feet. What did you do, Jac?
End them now, Old Soul. End them now before they turn on you.
“Shut up, damn you!” He growled aloud. “And leave me alone.”
It would be so easy for you, Old Soul. Join us, like the first one did. Join us and you’ll never have to worry again.
He swallowed bile.
It all came together. Kellin had been right, someone had been screwing up the wards, but it hadn’t been nearly as innocent as they’d hoped. Someone had been deliberately disrupting them, probably knowing that what they did was going to leave all of them exposed to…to…
But who could it have been?
He shook his head slowly. “No,” he whispered.
Something shrieked, an angry, highly pitched sound. A shadow tossed Brandon and Stasia aside as if they were toys, then advanced on Matt and Angie. He could see the tears on the girl’s face as she clung to Matt’s leg, but she was silent. Matt looked around wildly for the source of whatever had just thrown Brandon and Stasia.
He seemed to see the shadow at the last moment before it knocked him sprawling.
“Angie!” Paul shouted from somewhere inside the tent, “get down!”
The girl dropped flat against the ground as Paul emerged, a shotgun leveled at the shadow-creature.
“Leave my sister alone,” he growled.
The shotgun went off, and all other sound was momentarily obliterated by that and the sound of the shadow creature screaming.
It went down hard, twitching and writhing as if Paul had just dumped a vat of acid over it, wisps of smoke rising from its body.
Its screaming built into a howl between Rory’s ears, loud enough that he started to see spots in front of his eyes. He grabbed his head, hunching with a moan for a moment.
The howl abruptly turned to laughter, scraping, clawing laughter that seemed to come from somewhere to his left.
Rory looked and saw a shadowed, cloaked man advancing toward Marin’s back. One clawed hand shot out from under its cloak and grasped her by the back of the neck. She went rigid as it lifted her, one-handed, then turned slowly toward where Rory knelt.
The seers will die. And so will all the rest of you.
Marin clawed at the hand that held her. Thom shouted, running full-tilt toward the creature. It looked at him, then stared at Rory.
You’ll regret your choice, Old Soul.
It flung Marin like a rag doll. Stars exploded behind Rory’s eyes and he crumpled. The last thing he heard was Thom’s anguished cry before blackness stole his consciousness away.
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