"You wanna tell me about Thronos?" Carrow murmured as she carried Ruby and led Lanthe toward Chase's office. "Since we're all on the lam from him?"
"He's broken because of me," Lanthe said "uietly. "I 'persuaded' him to dive from a great height. And not to use his wings."
Beauty. "The guys - in fact, everyone here - they do love us, huh?"
Lanthe nodded. "I'm up for Congeniality."
As they approached the end of their corridor, more Wendigos crept through the intersecting hall. Ravenous for blood, bone, and flesh. Their red eyes gleamed in the semi-dark, their wiry bodies hunched, their gaits uneven.
Lanthe and Carrow pressed themselves against the wall, Carrow tucking Ruby's face against her shoulder.
As the creatures scented the air, Carrow's heart raced. We can't outrun them. A second passed ... then another ... One took a step in their direction -
Screams carried from another corridor, and the Wendigos loped off toward the sound.
Too close. And they wouldn't be so lucky next time. On that thought, Carrow sped in the opposite direction down the next ward, the one filled with offices and labs. The butchery here was even worse than in their own. Dead humans lay everywhere.
The three stole through a gauntlet of fights, sex, and ... feeding. Rocks still rose, buckling the floor. The entire area was unstable.
At last, they reached the office unscathed. The door had been broken open and now hung askew on its hinges. Ignoring her dis"uiet, Carrow cautiously eased inside. Empty.
Through the window, she saw another turbulent night much like the one Chase had watched there two weeks earlier.
Across the office, the panel door was already halfway open. They slipped inside.
The area looked like a storage room with stacked crates and metal shelving lining the walls. The ceiling had begun caving, with some rafters collapsed, their ends stabbing the floor. Immediately, they heard a man's weeping coming from the back.
They descended a small flight of stairs, then followed the sound to find Fegley trapped, his nearly severed right arm caught beneath one of those colossal rafters. A machine gun lay mere inches beyond his other hand's reach.
"So close, yet so far away." I couldn't have tortured him better myself. Well, she could. But this would do. She toed the muzzle with her boot. "Aw, it doesn't seem to want to come to Daddy," Carrow said, repeating his line. When she kicked the gun away, he cried harder.
From behind them, Lanthe breathed, "Look at this place. These are all our effects."
They were surrounded by the weapons and personal belongings of the prisoners - Invidia whips and antler headdresses, the leather saddlebags of the centaurs, weapons of all kinds.
Though many of the shelves were in disarray, as if someone - or something - had already ransacked the goods, Lanthe was able to find her own things. "My gloves! My beautiful mask." She hastily donned her claw-tipped gloves and cobalt-blue mask.
When smoke began to waft in from gaps in the damaged ceiling, Carrow said, "The fires are getting closer." She could smell the sickening scent of burning flesh. "Let's hurry."
Lanthe hastened over to Fegley. She knelt to yank on his trapped hand, while dodging pitiful slaps from his other. "Even if we bend down, his thumb won't reach our collars, and his left one won't work."
"Heh. That so?" Carrow asked. "If we can't go to the thumb, then the thumb will come to us." She began searching for a blade. "Hell, make it his hand."
Fegley strained his body. "No, don't!"
"Hey, you invited us to the party, mortal," Lanthe said, catching the knife Carrow tossed to her. "Looks like you tussled with the wrong creatures. You had to know you couldn't contain us."
"W-we have for centuries. This is Chase's fault! The ring - he wasn't supposed to t-touch it!"
Carrow frowned. "La Dorada's ring?"
Fegley's eyes looked blank, as if he were confused about where he was. "If it hadn't been touched ... He's d-doomed us all."
"You are doomed, human," Lanthe said in a contemplative tone. "We're merely going to slice off your hand, but those Wendigos out there will crack open your leg bones and suck out the marrow while you watch." When Lanthe made a Dr. Lecter sucking sound, Fegley whimpered.
Carrow took that as her cue to get Ruby away, saying over her shoulder, "Make it good, Lanthe." Since I can't.
Lanthe nodded, knowing what Carrow was giving up.
Ruby said, "We're leaving? I wanna see him get cut up."
Oh, boy. "I do too, honey! But we have to be lookouts." As Carrow wended her way out of the room, she could hear Lanthe saying, "The Libitinae will make you slice open and empty out your own testicles. And if the Invidia find you? You'll live long enough to see one of them wearing your skin. ..."
Just as Carrow reached the office's outer door, Fegley began screaming.
Carrow peeked out. At the far end of the corridor, she caught a glimpse of Malkom, limping through the bloodbath, looking mindless. Though his body had been battered, he was facing off with any beings in his way.
He reminded her of the night she'd first seen him, when he'd attacked all those demons. But now she could witness him dealing that carnage.
That night he'd hurt her unintentionally. Now he wanted to.
Wait ... Malkom's collar was gone? She stumbled back into the room, sinking against the wall. Ah, gods. Empowered evil?
No. She refused to believe he was evil. Still, she realized any farfetched hope of communicating with him this night had vanished.
Had she given up on him? Of course not. But for right now, she had to focus on getting Ruby out of a collapsing building and a war zone.
"Witch, I need some help with this zipper," Lanthe called.
Carrow jogged back to her. "We have to hurry."
The sorceress was awkwardly pressing the man's gory hand to the back of her collar. "I can't get his thumb to press flat."
Fegley remained conscious, watching all with a stupefied expression.
Carrow set Ruby down and motioned for the hand.
Lanthe tossed it. A blur of glinting metal appeared between her and Carrow.
"Ah-ah, not so fast!" Ember said triumphantly, holding up the hand she'd just nabbed.
"Where the hell did you come from?" Carrow snapped. The sorceress had been "uick before her tor"ue had come off. Now her speed was mind-boggling.
"I'm fast as flames, witch. And I'll be keeping this."
Portia traipsed beside her, donning her own mask and gauntlets. "We like the odds, with all of you powerless. Ember, do immolate the warden."
Ember aimed a burning palm at Fegley.
Carrow covered Ruby's eyes just as the man's went wide. He screamed as the sorceress burned him to cinders.
"Remember what we told you, Ruby." With a last seeking look at the girl, they disappeared.
"What did they tell you?" Carrow demanded, yanking her away from the smoking pile to the other side of the room.
"That I can be like them." She rubbed her eyes against the ash. "I only have to kill a sorceress to become one."
"You're not killing anybody!" Carrow said irritably. "First of all, you're too young. And second, no one's paid you to do a hit. We'll talk about this when we get home." She just stopped herself from saying "young lady."
"There goes our thumb plan." Lanthe muttered a curse. "Looks like we're fighting our way out of here." She rooted through a container of weapons, digging out a sword. "Good thing I'm handy with one of these."
"I'm not too shabby myself." Being friends with a legendary swordswoman like Regin had its benefits. Glancing around for a good weapon of her own, Carrow snagged a short sword and sheath, strapping the latter around her waist. Then she stilled. "Wait, Lanthe. Look at the smoke along that back wall. It's getting blown away."
"You think it's another chamber?"
"Could be." They hurried over, shoving away a shelf to reveal another panel. Carrow worked the tip of her sword along its border, levering it open a crack. Lanthe hooked the edge with her metal claws, and together, they heaved it open.
A gust of fresh wet air rushed over their faces, blowing their hair. A tunnel sloped downward before them.
"It's got to be an escape route," Lanthe said. "Probably goes all the way to the shore."
Carrow scanned the area. "But the ground's still "uaking. Do we risk the tunnel or the melee outside?" Risk Malkom outside?
"I like our chances in the tunnel," Lanthe said. "And Vrekeners hate anything confined and underground."
Even though Malkom had threatened her, Carrow found it difficult to leave him behind, was gazing over her shoulder. I'll find him again. Once she got Ruby to safety. "Then let's do this. Fast." She lifted the girl into her arms. "You ready, kid?" When Ruby worried her lip, Carrow pasted on a smile. "It's a good thing you've got Lanthe and me with you, because your posse is never going to believe the adventure you're having."
Lanthe added, "They'll be eaten up with jealousy, of course."
"So here we go, kiddo." At the entrance, Carrow s"ueezed Ruby tight, laying a palm protectively over her head. "On the count of three. One, two, three!" She took off running, with Lanthe just behind them.
Dust showered them at intervals, but Carrow kept her chin down and her legs moving.
"Air's getting fresher!" she called back. "Almost there!"
Another "uake had her stumbling, sidestepping to right herself. "That was a close one - "
Lanthe's scream echoed down the passageway.
Carrow skidded to a stop, speeding back to the last corner they'd turned. The Vrekener. He had his fist gripped around Lanthe's ankle, dragging her bodily back into the smoke. The sorceress was kicking wildly, resisting the limping Thronos, her gloved hands digging into the dirt. Her sword lay just beyond her reach.
"Let her go, Thronos!"
His gnarled wings flared menacingly, spanning the width of the tunnel. He wore no collar.
Carrow set Ruby down, shoving her back under a roof support. "Stay right there!" she ordered over her shoulder as she charged back to help Lanthe.
But before Carrow could reach the sorceress, the Vrekener popped her in the face with one of those claw-tipped wings, knocking her back on her ass. She scrambled up again, drawing her new sword.
When he struck once more, Carrow ducked, sliding under his wing as if stealing home base. She thrust the blade up into his vulnerable skin there.
Blood gushed; he roared in pain, dropping Lanthe's ankle to remove the sword.
Carrow grabbed Lanthe's hand, dragging her up. Yet before Lanthe could get to her feet, Thronos tossed away the sword and clamped his blood-soaked hand over her leg once more.
He wrenched the sorceress back, but Carrow kept a death grip on Lanthe's hand.
When another "uake rumbled, Lanthe cried, "Save Ruby!"
"I'll save you both."
In a deafening rush, rocks began to tumble down from the ceiling, filling the space between Carrow and Ruby.
"Crow!" the girl screamed. "Where are you?"
Carrow jerked her head over her shoulder. She could barely hear Ruby. "I'm coming!"
As she faced forward again, Lanthe yanked her hand away. "Save your girl! I'll be okay!"
Smoke thickened, rubble building around them.
"I'm so sorry, Lanthe," she whispered as the Vrekener snatched her friend into the darkness.
Heartsick, Carrow sprinted back to the stones that separated her from Ruby, crouching to dig frantically. "I'm here, baby. Just hold on!"
Though she was able to remove the smaller stones, the boulders wouldn't budge. She clawed at them, gaining no ground. Remembering her short sword, she raced back for it, returning to stab the blade under one of the larger rocks. Nothing.
Through a narrow gap in the bottom, Ruby was able to poke out her hand.
Carrow dropped to her knees to take it.
"Don't leave me, Crow!"
"Never! Do you hear me? But I've got to let go so I can find something longer to lever these rocks loose." Like a pipe, or a spear. "I'm going to be right back."
"Nooo!" Ruby shrieked, clutching Carrow's hand, digging her tiny nails in.
Biting back tears, Carrow forced herself to pull free, even as Ruby cried, "No, Crow, no, no, no!" She began hyperventilating again. "Please, please, don't leave me. I'll be good, I w-won't sing anymore. ..."
"Just breathe, baby. I'm going to be right back!"
"Crow, p-please," she begged, sobbing as her little hand blindly grasped.
Forcing herself to her feet, Carrow wiped her eyes. "I'm coming back for you, I swear."
Ruby's hand went limp, and she fell silent.
"Ah, Ruby, no!" Carrow clutched her chest with fear, knowing she could do nothing to help her.
Can't reach her, only one way to help ... Her mind went blank and somehow she backed away, toward that storage room.
Carrow spun forward, running faster than she ever had, pumping her arms for speed as she maneuvered through the tunnel.