Unable to comprehend the scale of the death in front of her, she watched Vasic walk through the street to another Arrow. With his razor-straight black hair, slanted eyes, angular bone structure, and a more slender but still muscular build, she recognized Aden at once. He was a medic, she remembered. Of course he’d be here. Right now, he was using a handheld scanner to examine one of the dead.
Vasic crouched down beside his friend.
And she remembered how long Vasic had been fighting, how long he’d been walking in the darkness. “We should go check the bodies.” Giving up was simply not an option, even if she felt bruised black-and-blue by her spectacular failure, her faith in her ability a hollow shell. If she did quit, then Vasic would have to do this over and over and over.
No, she thought, just no.
Her Arrow had earned a life that wasn’t drenched always in blood and death, and if she had to try and try and try again until she figured out how to fix this so he wouldn’t have to step back into the shadows, that was what she’d do.
When Jaya didn’t rise with her, she reached down to squeeze her friend’s shoulder. “There might be something we sense that they can’t.”
“What’s the point?” Jaya’s tone was flat, her face drawn. “They’re dead. They’re all dead.”
“Hey”—Ivy changed position to stroke sweat-damp tendrils of hair off the other woman’s elegant, lovely face—“you said it yourself; we did help, even if it was only a little.” The reminder was as much for herself as for Jaya. “It’s a start.”
The younger empath didn’t respond but followed when Ivy headed down the steps. A uniformed member of Enforcement would’ve stopped them from crossing the yellow tape, but Aden waved them in.
Skirting the blood that splattered the road, Ivy went to where Vasic and Aden hunkered beside the body. “Why this one?” she asked, not ready to look at the victim.
Aden was the one who responded, though Vasic curled his hand around her calf in an unexpected and welcome expression of support. A single contact, and already she felt more steady, despite the continued opacity of the fog in her brain.
“Her skull is still whole.” It was a statement pitiless in its practicality. “She was stabbed through the gut and collapsed slowly rather than falling, so her brain wasn’t damaged by a blunt-force collision with the ground. An examination of the tissue may give us more detailed answers as to the progression of the disease.”
“I-I ca—” Sobbing into her hand, Jaya ran back the way they’d come, Abbot heading after her.
Ivy wanted to escape the carnage, too, but she focused on Vasic’s touch, tensed her stomach muscles, and forced her eyes to what remained of a woman who appeared to have been in her early sixties. Her black winter coat was open, revealing a dress of simple blue wool over tights. It was rucked up around her knees and bloody and torn at her abdomen; the skin of her face was marked by deep gouges that said someone had come at her with their bare hands.
“Are you sure she was one of the infected?”
Vasic squeezed her calf. “Yes. I saw her while she was alive.” You’re feeling better?
It was all she could do not to throw herself in his arms and burrow into his strength. Yes. Jaya had a much more debilitating response—I think she’s still in quite severe pain. Crouching down between the two men, she touched her fingers to either side of the woman’s head, though she didn’t hold much hope of sensing anything.
The dead, after all, didn’t feel.
And yet . . . “I can almost sense something,” she said, trying to push through the blank wall of nothingness.
Strong hands clamping on her wrists, jerking her away without warning. “You’re bleeding again,” Vasic said, touching the pad of one thumb to below her ear. It came away dark red.
A rustle sounded from behind Ivy at the same instant.
“Sorry for before.” Jaya came down beside her on that husky whisper, her blue-eyed Arrow standing watch at her back. “I felt her death agonies, her confusion and shock, and it was like I was dying.”
Biting back her questions, Ivy shifted to create some space, Aden steadying her with a hand on her back when she might’ve become unbalanced.
Beside her, Jaya tugged down the woman’s dress with gentle hands, tears rolling down her cheeks. “She suffered terribly at the end.” A statement so hoarse, it was barely recognizable as Jaya’s voice. “The echoes of it are trapped in her brain, and the pain, it wasn’t just from the stab wound, but from the horror inside her mind.”
Ivy held her breath, unwilling to break the other empath’s concentration.
“The darkness was trying to become part of her,” the younger woman said. “But it didn’t fit. There was no place for it, so it stole space, and it broke her.” She fell back into a sitting position in a jerky move, sobbing into her hands. “It hurts to die from the infection. It hurts so much.”
My dear, gorgeous, scary smart Z2—I love you and will into eternity. I know you know that, but I wanted to write it down. Things . . . they’re changing so much, and I never ever want you to wonder. Silence might quiet the whole world, but it will never quiet this heart that beats only for you.
And Z, promise me this—even if something bad happens, even if we’re separated for some reason, you’ll continue to fight for our people. We are better than this fearful cowardice, and I know you have the courage to show others that truth.
I’m sorry for sounding so melodramatic, but I just have a bad feeling deep inside me. It’s so cold, my love.