“Yes. It’s . . .” A shake of his head, the silken black strands of his hair gleaming in the midmorning sunlight. “You’ll have to see it for yourself.” He touched her lower back when a passing male smiled at her. “I’ll take you to it.”
Delighted by his touch, by the quiet but unmistakable display of possessiveness, she said, “He doesn’t shield it from view?”
“No, though getting close isn’t recommended.” A speaking glance. “Especially for too-curious empaths.”
Ivy felt her stomach somersault, her breath catch. He kept doing that to her. Right when she thought she was used to the sheer potent masculinity of him, he’d look at her with those eyes of stunning winter frost, and she’d remember the things they’d done together, the things they planned to do.
Ivy. It was a gentle admonishment, the ice of his voice a shivering caress inside her. You can’t look at me like that on a public street.
Flushing, she ducked her head. “I can’t help it. You’re—” Ivy froze, every tiny hair on her body rising to prickling alarm.
She turned on her heel, stared down the street.
“What do you sense?” Vasic asked, his jacked-up vigilance intense.
“It’s happening.” Her voice shook, blood curdling at the shriek of violent insanity surging to the surface about ten feet away. It was as if a line had been drawn in the sand. Those anchored beyond the line would go viciously insane, those on this side would be fine.
She jerked at the telepathic cry. Jaya, where are you?
In the apartment. I can feel it, Ivy, feel their twisted confusion, their compulsion to bludgeon and murder.
Ivy heard the first scream on the heels of Jaya’s words, and all at once, a panicked horde ran wild-eyed in their direction. Bags were dropped, datapads abandoned, designer heels left on the tarmac. Ivy knew what she’d find behind the living mass of terror, but it was still a kick to the gut to see the infected armed with knives, blunt weapons, hands fashioned into claws. Blood rushed to burn Ivy’s skin, her own terror visceral . . . but this was the battle for which she’d been born.
She didn’t shrink from it, didn’t run.
Vasic took position in front of her and slightly to her right. Can you see? he asked as he began to shove back the insane so the uninfected could escape.
Yes. Chaos continued to reign around them, but what Ivy saw within it gave her hope even in this darkness.
Screaming, crying children were scooped up by strangers when they stumbled, a frail older man was lifted up in the arms of a burly construction worker, two teenagers—a boy and a girl—stopped to haul a businessman to his feet when he fell, while a third grabbed the hand of a woman who’d gone motionless in shock and hauled her forward out of danger.
The teen looked at Ivy as he ran past, the whites of his eyes showing. “Run, lady! Those people are f**king out of it!”
“I’m fine!” Ivy cried out. “Go!” She took hold of the back of Vasic’s leather-synth jacket with one hand to make sure they wouldn’t be separated as more and more people streamed past.
Blocking out the hysteria using the shielding techniques Sascha had taught her, though she couldn’t do the same with the chilling screams that filled the air, Ivy took a deep breath and reached out with her mind. But when she attempted to grab hold of the infected so she could calm them, her ability simply slid off, like water off slick plas. Jaya, can you reach them?
No, but I’ll keep trying.
Ivy did the same, but as horrific violence broke out on the street, a number of uninfected caught in the midst of the carnage, she knew neither one of them was having any effect. “Go.” She pushed at Vasic’s back. “Go, help! You’re more use than I am!”
He didn’t budge an inch. “I won’t leave you unprotected.”
“I’ll go inside that shop,” she said, the grocer wide-eyed beyond the window. The elderly man, his hair snow-white against his mahogany skin, had locked the door, but when Ivy caught his attention, he motioned for her to come inside. “I’ll be safe.” While others died around her.
The bitter knowledge of her uselessness was bile in Ivy’s throat.
“I thought you said never to give up.”
Vasic’s words might as well have been bullets, they wounded so much. “I don’t know what to do!” All her plans, her ideas, and she had no practical knowledge of how to put them into effect. “There’s no manual, no training! Even Sascha—” Her mind cleared for a single, piercing instant. “Wait, wait.”
Shuddering, she thought of the chapter in the Eldridge book that spoke of empaths controlling crowds, of the experiments Sascha had done with volunteers from her pack. Ivy had nowhere near the cardinal E’s level of expertise, but what did she have to lose? She used Vasic as a focus and visualized the apple orchard in spring behind her closed eyelids, the bright green trees, the endless sky, the crisp, clean air.
Her mind rippled, settled, a tranquil sea.
Exhaling, she sent that feeling outward, as if she was snapping out a sheet to dry. She didn’t know what she’d expected, but it wasn’t what she saw in front of her. The infected looked up at the sky, and then, one by one, began to sit down.
It was beautiful and perfect, her body and mind flawlessly integrated into the empath she’d been born to be . . . for the ten seconds it lasted.
Ivy cried out as a vicious blade of pain rent the peace, sending blood dripping out of her nose and her body to her knees.