Now! With a roar, I plow into the chaos. Grunts and groans. Limbs fly, some with purpose, a target in sight, others because they’ve been severed. The scent of blood saturates the air and zings with tension. Determined, I swipe up a sword.
The weapon is ten times heavier than I expected, and my arm shakes as I assume a battle stance.
“Stop,” I shout. “Troikans love, forgive. Let’s walk away and save lives. No one else has to die today.”
I’m ignored. Deacon was right. A speech will never penetrate this blood-haze.
One of the Troikans notches an arrow and aims at Killian. I scream, diving at him, intending to shield him. As weak as I am, I fail to go the distance and hit the ground, useless. Killian doesn’t need my help, anyway. Lightning fast, he uses the spear to block. The arrow pings, falls.
No time for relief. Other soldiers rush at him, trampling me in the process. Combat boots—
Miss me? Yes! I’m in spirit form while the soldiers are in Shells. We’re intangible to each other.
Reeling, I climb to my feet. At warp speed, two other arrows hurl at Killian; he’s fast enough to block both.
Behind him, a Troikan is coming in hot, a Stag aimed.
For a Shell, a Stag is the worst of the worst. A single dart traps a spirit inside its Shell, preventing any sort of mobility and rendering both defenseless.
I have no idea what a Stag will do to a spirit without a Shell, and I don’t care. I put more pep in my step and jump. This go-round, my timing and efforts pay off. The dart flies through me and slows, giving Killian a chance to duck.
Agony sears me, and I scream. Seizing, I drop. Bolts of lightning set all of my organs ablaze.
The girl who pulled the trigger stares at me in horror. She just shot one of her own, and I just saved the enemy.
Her distraction puts her at a disadvantage, allowing a Myriadian to race in and swing a sword. Target: her head.
“Nooo!” Another Troikan shoves her out of the way. The sword slices through his shoulder, removing the arm of his Shell. Lifeblood spurts from the wound.
My horror mirrors the girl’s. Shells and spirits are connected. Is the boy’s spirit now missing an arm?
Above me, Killian whirls his spear, preventing several arrows from finding a new home in my chest. He kicks backward, nailing the Troikan sneaking up behind him.
“I told you to go, Ten.”
I...can’t. I can’t leave him. Part of me fears I’ll never see him again...and what you fear, you welcome into your life. I know it as surely as I know my name.
I try to stand, fail.
He ducks, avoiding the swing of a sword. Remaining low, he takes out his opponent at the ankles.
“If she’s killed today,” he says to Deacon, who is fending off a Myriadian soldier, “I’ll blame you, aye. I’ll retaliate by killing everyone you love.” He is cold, merciless. And he’s not done. He all but spits daggers at me after he clears the crowd around me and helps me stand. “Say yes to Deacon. From this moment on, every death I deliver is on your hands, not mine.”
Contact is just as painful as before, but what’s worse? My sense of disappointment. In his words. In my failure. In what this means for our future.
“Don’t let me go.” My knees are like jelly, yes, but I think the other part of me, the girl who hopes for the best, expects him to whisk me away. No more fighting, no need to choose between a home and a boy a second time.
I couldn’t be more wrong. He holds me up with one arm and uses the other to quickly and brutally stop the next Troikan who challenges him.
A contingent of MLs rushes over. Killian defends me from his own people, adding to his list of crimes.
My heart shrivels into a tiny ball of self-recrimination. By staying, I’m doing far more harm than good, aren’t I?
“Yes,” I shout at Deacon. “Yes, yes, yes.”
The TL finishes off his newest attacker, closes the distance and drops his weapon to pull me from Killian’s side and cradle me against his chest.
Killian holds on to my hand as long as possible. I cling to his.
Is this goodbye?
This can’t be goodbye.
Deacon runs. He’s injured, Lifeblood gushing from a wound in his shoulder and soaking his shirt. My shriveled heart aches. I’m not the one who wielded the sword, but I’m the one who placed him in its path.
Never slowing, he says something in a language I don’t know but have heard him use with Archer. A special Troikan language the Myriadians can’t understand.
My gaze locks on Killian. He pauses, the battle forgotten. He’s so beautiful and strong, but he’s haunted. A fallen angel with a thousand and one regrets.
He reaches for me. I extend my hand to him.
A beam of Light slams into me. I blink, and I’m standing atop the parapet of one of the guard towers with Deacon. TLs border us on every side, at the ready. Killian is gone. I swallow a whimper.
No future with Killian. No present with Archer.
“Stop thinking about everything you’ve lost,” Deacon commands, “and start thinking about everything you’ve gained.”
He’s right. This isn’t the time or place to break down. “Is that why you’re so calm about Archer’s death?”
“That, and I know there’s a chance I’ll see him again.”
What? Surely I heard him incorrectly. Archer entered into the Rest. The end.
Questioning him isn’t an option. Myriadians materialize, circling us, shadow-tipped arrows notched...and soon arching through the sky. Troikans use fiery swords to block, and the arrows burn to ash.
As the opposing forces leap together in a vicious tangle of limbs and weapons, Deacon drops me. I crash-land, still too weak to stand on my own. Scowling, he yanks a small vial hanging from his neck and throws it at me.
“Every drop,” he insists.
I uncork the top, already knowing what swirls inside. Liquefied manna, everything a spirit needs to heal and thrive. The sweet scent teases me. I drain the contents.
Deacon stabs an ML, turns, and stabs another.
I begin to strengthen.
Two MLs rush at Deacon in unison. He throws himself at the taller one. I roll to my back and kick out my legs, knocking the shorter guy’s ankles together. Deacon is there to finish him off before hefting me to my feet.