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Embry launched another fireball at the narrow entrance to the generator room. Someone screamed. They returned fire, and she sank back down behind what remained of one of the big turbines. No human could tolerate the residual heat from the explosion, and even Embry was sweating. Her body shook with fatigue. In this real world test of just how far her powers could go, she felt like she was losing. She’d expended too much on the generators themselves. Instead of being able to simply seal off the entrance to the room with a wall of flame, she was reduced to answering their volleys of bullets with fireballs.
She’d killed men. Burned them. But more kept coming, and the siege went on. And on.
She fired off another round, knocking a soldier who’d dared to cross the threshold back into his comrades.
Surely by now she’d drawn the attention and fire of every unit in the base.
Something moved behind her to the left. She led with flames as she whirled to face the threat.
He caught them, tossing the ball of fire from hand to hand like a football, as he gave a familiar, if bloody, lop-sided grin. “Got a light?”
“Dad!” Relief surged through her, and with it came a welcome surge of hope. She threw herself at him.
He fired off the round and caught her, grunting a little as she squeezed. “Good to see you, Spitfire.”
Embry pulled back, conjuring enough light to survey his injuries. He was covered in soot, sweat, and blood. Scrapes and scratches ran the length of his limbs. One eye was purpled and swollen mostly shut. The rest of his face was mottled with bruising, new and old. He was shirtless, and Embry noted additional splotches of livid purple over his ribs.
“You look like shit.”
“Well, Gage had to make it look convincing.”
“Gage? He fought you?” Before he could respond, her brain kicked into gear. “You. You were his opponent for the exhibition match.”
A spray of bullets whizzed above her head. She and her father answered with a volley that drove the front line back a good ten feet into the hall to escape the heat.
“Where is he?” she asked.
“Somewhere back there. I tried to Walk us both through, but the shadows couldn’t hold him. I dropped him in the middle of the fighting in the hall and came straight to check on you.”
Embry felt her blood run cold as she imagined him, defenseless by Mirus standards, fighting amid the dozens of soldiers with guns and knives and who knew what. Steeling herself, she resumed a defensive stance. “My position is stable. I’m not going anywhere, but they can’t come in either. He needs your help. He doesn’t have any of his abilities.”
“We need backup,” said Adan.
“So tell me something I don’t know. Unless you’ve got a small army hiding out here… Wait. The other prisoners. Would they fight?”
“Most of them probably would,” he said.
“Can you get down to the detention level to release them? I don’t know if anybody got out when I took out the power.”
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“I can hold my own,” she insisted. “We’re not gonna get out of here without help. See what you can do to snag Gage and get him out of harm’s way, then go release the cavalry. And pray to God they’ve got something here that can walk through iron walls or teleport.”
He embraced her again. “Be careful.”
In an instant he was gone, swallowed up by the shadows.
Time ticked past, measured by the syncopated rhythm of gunfire and explosions, punctuated by screams. From time to time, she ceased fire to draw the next line of soldiers in, hoping to draw more of them to her, to give Gage a chance.
Please, dear God, let Dad have gotten to him in time.
Her father’s words echoed through her head. The shadows couldn’t hold him. What if her father couldn’t carry Gage away from danger? Why the hell couldn’t the shadows hold him? The only creatures that couldn’t be carried in sustained shadow were of the light. Creatures like her elemental mother. Gage was a Shadow Walker. Or at the very least human.
She flashed back to the night before, lying sated in his arms, feeling the beat of his heart and of her flame inside him.
Rising up, she sent out a stream of flame to heat up the guns the front line men held.
In her mind, she saw the dojo, saw the stream of her power shooting inside him. What have I done?
The guns glowed a vicious red. Palms blistered, the men dropped their weapons just before the rounds inside exploded. The shrapnel drove them back. And for a moment no more soldiers came to take their place.
What the hell? They can’t be falling back.
Embry crept forward to the remains of the next generator to get a better look. A series of unsteady tremors rocked the facility. Almost like . . . footsteps? Men screamed. More soldiers took position in the doorway, but not before she saw two others fly into the wall at the junction down the hall. The men in the doorway looked over their shoulders, and Embry took advantage of their distraction to knock them back.
Something roared, a high, vibrating screech somewhere between a T-rex and a banshee.
No way. Not possible. Surely the human military hadn’t managed to find and imprison one of the Drakyn. The dragon-shifters had gone deep underground during the modern era. There hadn’t been a reported sighting in over a century.
But something big kept coming, and whatever it was, it was drawing fire away from her. The cavalry, such as it was, had apparently arrived. She’d take all the help she could get.
With a spark of hope freshly lit in her chest, Embry stood to let off another volley of fire. And she saw him.
Emerging from around the bend in the hall, Gage fought amid a half dozen armed soldiers. He was bloody, favoring his left side as he systematically disarmed them with fists, feet, elbows. One went down a victim of the butt of his own gun. Two more were distracted by another roar of the Drakyn, but the remaining three converged on him at once.
Embry fired off a quick succession of charges, but not before one of them managed to dislocate Gage’s shoulder. He didn’t make a sound as he went down to his knees. He scissored his legs, dropping his assailant to the ground. Gage swarmed over him, using his one good arm to get the guy in a choke hold. As his face purpled, his hands clawing frantically at Gage’s arm, the others took aim.
“No!” Panicked terror had her stepping out from cover, fire flying from her hands, rippling over the rest of her body as the rage took her.
No one would take him from her again. Not like this.
The fireball hit the three soldiers. When the smoke cleared moments later, nothing remained but the blackened stumps of their legs. But more were coming. The endless stream of soldiers always kept coming.
Gage was on his feet again, already swinging. But he was slowing down. With no opportunity to reseat his shoulder, how much longer could he last? Without his abilities as a Shadow Walker, what chance did he have to escape? She had to fix this. She had to undo the botched attempt at protection she’d made a decade before so the shadows would take him back.
She lifted her hands, focused on the pulse of energy she could feel inside him. It beat like a second heart, calling to her.
She hesitated. What if it didn’t work?
She generated energy. Expelled it. Unlike other firecasters, unlike her father, she didn’t draw from sources outside herself. She was too much elemental for that. But what was inside him originated with her. It was still a part of her, so shouldn’t she be able to control it?
There were no rules, no guidelines, no training for this. She’d never heard of another case like his. What if she did more harm than good? What if I kill him for real this time?
The pain bloomed bright and hot in her chest, a shock to her over-taxed system. And she understood that the time for indecision was over. It was now or never, or neither of them would walk out alive. Body swaying, she lifted her hands and called to the light.
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