It seemed to take forever for a boat to arrive. When it did, it was full of Wardens, and Lewis was the first to step off the craft and onto the rocks.
He didn’t exactly rush to our aid. He looked ill, and almost fell as he made his slow, careful way over the rocks. He wasn’t the only one. All the rest of the Wardens looked just as bad.
“What’s happened?” I asked. “Lewis?”
He coughed, as if something was broken inside. He wiped blood from the corner of his mouth and leaned his weight against a boulder as if he was too weak to keep standing.
“When the portal leaked, you and David took the hit. You absorbed it and stopped it from going any deeper into the earth. If you hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here right now.” He stopped to cough again, and this time I wasn’t sure he’d stop. When he finally did, his voice was scratchy and thin. “But because you were joined when you took the hit, the shock bounced both ways. Through the Djinn, and through the Wardens.”
Oh dear God.
“How bad is it?”
“It’s turned this whole part of the ocean into a giant black corner,” Lewis said. “We’ve got to get under way. If we run the engines hard, we might make it out of the dead zone before the Djinn start to die.”
David raised his head for the first time. “Won’t help us,” he said. “You and me.” He nodded to me, and I knelt next to him, my knees digging painfully into the edges of the stones.
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “What about us?”
“The blast—had to shift everything away to keep us alive—”
Lewis was getting it now, that bad feeling. I saw it as he straightened and looked more intensely at the two of us. “What is he talking about?”
David grabbed my arms. “Our powers are gone,” he said. “Had to destroy them. Had to.”
I wasn’t sure I could even dare to speak. I finally, slowly shook my head. I wanted to reject this. I wanted to believe that we were just wounded, maybe, temporarily stunned.
“You mean the impact left the two of you human,” Lewis said. “No powers. Nothing but—human.”
David nodded, relief flooding over his face. He hadn’t been able to put enough words together, in his shattered state, to make sense out of it.
The two of us.
I was suddenly aware of him in ways I’d never been before—of anxiety that I’d never felt before.
And I couldn’t protect him, or myself, from anything that could fly at us—weather, fire, earth. Demons. I couldn’t even bat away a simple tornado.
“No,” he whispered, and put the warmth of his palm against my face. “No, think it through, Jo.”
It was hard to push past the fear, the knowledge that we were so much at risk, but I looked into his eyes for a long moment, and then I saw what he meant.
We were both human.
We could have a life together. A normal life.
We could have children of our own together.
“But—” My trembling fingers touched and traced his lips. The same lips, and different. “But you used to be—”
“I used to be human,” he said. “Long, long ago. And if I have to be human now, I can’t imagine a better partner for my life.”
He kissed me. It was a real, human kiss, intimate in ways that even our most amazing kisses hadn’t been, somehow. Bordered by our own awareness of mortality.
“Hate to interrupt this tender moment,” Lewis said, “but we’re fucked if we stay here. And by the way, your powers aren’t gone. They’re still out there, somewhere. Basic conservation of energy.”
We both looked at him. I saw a weary flash of utter hatred in David’s face. No, being human hadn’t taken away any of that antipathy. Definitely not. “Someone else inherited our powers.”
“The problem is we don’t know where they went,” Lewis said. “Or who’s got them. If we survive outrunning the black corner, we’ve still got to find out where your powers went. Worst-case Warden scenario—someone just woke up with enough power to destroy half the world and hasn’t got a clue what to do with it.”
“And the Djinn?”
“Ashan,” he said.“Worst-case scenario is that Ashan is now the sole Conduit for all of the Djinn, and he’s going to be very, very pissed off about Wardens in general.”
I pulled David to his feet, and realized that I could barely walk. My left leg and arm were covered with the scars that hadn’t had time to heal since the battle. Nothing was bleeding, but everything hurt, and hurt badly. I fought back tears and braced David as he took careful, halting steps.
He stopped, breathing hard, shaking his head. Overwhelmed.
“Hey,” I said, and grabbed his face in both my hands. “Don’t you give up on me now. We’re alive. We’re together. Don’t let him get to you.
worst-case scenario is that we end up together. Human. Alive. That doesn’t sound so bad, right?”
He nodded, and a convulsive shudder went through him. He put his arms around me, and his head rested on my shoulder. The last of the Wardens boarded the rescue craft, and then it was our turn.
I didn’t want to let go.
he said. “I said that, didn’t I? To get you back in time to save both of us?”
“I will always trust you.” I kissed him gently on cheeks that tasted of sweat and sea. “And I will always bring you home, my love.”
Now I had to make it count.
As always, I had plenty of musical help to get me through the complicated journey of
. Enjoy . . . and please, support the artists by buying the music—otherwise, they might have to stop making it.
About the Author
is the author of more than twenty novels, including the Weather Warden series. She was born at White Sands Missile Range, which people who know her say explains a lot. She has been an accountant, a professional musician, and an insurance investigator, and still carries on a secret identity in the corporate world. She and her husband, fantasy artist R. Cat Conrad, live in Texas with their iguanas, Popeye and Darwin, and aMali uromastyx
named (appropriately) O’Malley. Visit her Web site atwww.rachelcaine.com
, and look for her on MySpace, LiveJournal, Facebook, and Twitter.