Ivy’s scream echoed over the lake. Lucia whirled around at the sound to see Brennan collapsed on the ground, blood splattered over his jacket.
“Oh, god, the gunshot,” Lucia said. Through the panic, she somehow hadn’t noticed, hadn’t seen or felt anything. She sprinted back to him, sliding to her knees hard enough to rip through the denim.
“I’ve got it, Ivy, move over.” Gently, she pulled Ivy’s hands away so she could press her own palm against the wound. “Bren,” she said. “Hey, Bren, are you with us?”
His eyes opened, and his body tensed in pain.
“Okay, okay, stay still.” His shirt was plastered to the wound, sticky with blood. She pressed her hands against the surge of blood, trying to focus through the panic.
Carter had already started tearing a long strip off the bottom of his own shirt.
“Show-off,” Brennan murmured.
“Hush,” Lucia said, but she was glad he was conscious enough to talk, even if every breath he took was forced through a grimace of pain. She closed her eyes and concentrated. It was hard for her to sort out what was damaged; everything was overloading in shock and panic. She didn’t think any major organs had ruptured, but something had been hit, because he was losing blood fast.
“We’ve got to call an ambulance,” Lucia said. “He needs a hospital.” She didn’t say there was a chance the ambulance wouldn’t get here fast enough anyway.
Ivy pulled out her phone, fingers trembling. “I…I don’t have service…I can’t get a signal…” She pushed frantically at the buttons anyway.
“Go to the guard tower,” Carter said. “There should be a landline.”
She stared at him for a second, blinking, until Carter said, “Go!” Ivy dashed off, almost tripping over the unconscious guard blocking her path.
“Can’t you stop the bleeding?” Carter asked.
“No,” Lucia said. “I told you, my power doesn’t work like that. I can’t—” Her voice shook, and she took a deep breath to get it back under control. “I can’t heal open wounds. I could speed up the production of new blood, but most of that energy’s going to come from him, and he’s losing it fast enough that I…I don’t think there’s much I can do.” Lucia closed her eyes again, trying to concentrate through the overload. She sent suggestions through the chaos, numbing the pain and shock where she could.
“Did it… go through… my jacket?” Brennan asked.
“You’ve just been shot,” Carter said. “Why are you worried about your jacket?”
“Because,” he said through gritted teeth, “if it went through my jacket, then it’s not still inside me.”
“I can’t…sense anything,” Lucia said. She was far from sure, but she didn’t want to move him to check.
Brennan grunted. “Then I can…cauterize it,” he said. He inched a hand toward his stomach.
“No,” Lucia said. “That’s way too dangerous. You’ll do more damage to yourself, even if you can shed that much heat. And in your condition that’s a bad idea.”
“Can you clot it?” Carter asked.
“What?” Lucia started.
“Can you clot the blood? With your power? Slow the bleeding down until we can get him to a hospital?”
“I—yes,” she said. “Technically. But not enough to make a difference. It would take more energy than he can spare. He needs his strength to fight the shock, and if he gets too cold, he’ll—”
“Can you use mine?” Carter asked.
Lucia met Carter’s eyes. He looked calm, even though she could sense he was just as desperate as she was. Just as scared. “Yours?” she asked.
“When you healed my arm, you said before that I had more energy than normal people. Can you take it? Give it to him?”
“Maybe, but—I don’t know what effect it will have on you. I don’t know how to judge how much to take, and if I take too much—”
“I’ll risk it,” he said.
Lucia reached toward him, brushing her fingers against his arm. “Are you sure?”
“We either do this or you let him burn himself.”
But it was already too late for that. While they argued about it, Brennan had slipped out of consciousness.
“Better do it fast,” Lucia said. Carter grounded his fist against the pavement and took a deep breath. The muscles on his arm tensed. Lucia laid one hand flat on Brennan’s stomach, and gripped Carter’s forearm with the other.
“Ready?” she asked.
Lucia closed her eyes, and reached out with her power.
* * * * *
Molly stopped in shock. Her heart hammered in her chest while she tried to figure out what had just happened. “Brennan!” she heard Ivy scream again.
“What happened?” she whispered. “What happened?”
“Gunshot,” she heard Lucia say.
Oh, god. I thought they were safe. I thought they were safe…
Selena still sprawled on the floor where he’d knocked her down, and even though she was conscious, she looked more than a little dazed. Leveille retrieved the gun from the floor and turned to Molly.
“I’m going to give you the same chance I gave our friend Aaron,” he said. “A little better one, honestly. Come with me, and I’ll leave the cheerleader alone. I’ll leave Aaron alone. I’ll even leave the generators alone.”
Molly swallowed. She thought of the note she’d left for her dad. What would he do when she didn’t come back, and he found it? Would he look for her? Would he think she’d died, or abandoned him like her mother had?
For a moment, Molly just stood there, breathing hard. The question she wanted to ask was on the tip of her tongue, but she didn’t seem to be able to force it over the edge.
“I can’t,” she said.
“Are you sure?” He cocked the gun with a slow, deliberate motion, and pointed it straight at Selena’s head.
“I thought you wanted all of us!” she shouted. “Aren’t you getting paid for us or something?”
“Sure,” he said. “But I have a feeling you’re more valuable than the others. I’m willing to risk it.”
Selena glared at him from the floor. She seemed to have recovered from the hit she’d taken, but she wasn’t in a position to do much about it. I should have taught them disarms, Molly thought. He’s not even looking at her. It would be so easy if she knew what to do.
But she didn’t know what to do, and Molly was fifteen feet away. And if she could end this now, they could go help Brennan…
She let loose a long breath. “Okay,” she said. “You let them go, and you can have me.”
Leveille didn’t smile. He tightened his grip on the gun. “Turn around, sit down, and hands on your head.”
“Fine,” Molly said. But just as she started to turn, all the lights went out, plunging them into darkness.
And she heard Aaron’s voice in her ear. “Run, Molly!”
* * * *
Power pulsed through Carter’s body, like electricity brimming under the surface of his skin. On the other end, Brennan’s body was weakening, leaking energy and strength as he bled out. Lucia anchored herself between the two of them, and reached toward Carter, willing the energy from his muscles to transfer through their connection.
It was intense. Warmth flooded her senses. She felt incredibly alive. Invigorated—like being at the top of a long roller coaster. It was a little like being electrocuted, except it felt really, really good.
Controlling it was like trying to run holding water in her hands, but she managed to fight through it long enough to find her connection to Brennan. He’s so weak. She suppressed the flutter of anxiety, and started channeling energy into his body. She kept the transfer at a trickle, siphoning off more from Carter as she fed it into Brennan. As the energy flowed in, she repurposed it, directing it toward the blood cells around the open wound. At first, it didn’t seem to have much of an effect, but as she poured more energy, the blood started to thicken and slow.
“It’s working,” she breathed. She fed into it more, drawing extra strength to keep Brennan’s body fighting off the shock. Yes, that’s better. He had a chance now. Now, if she could speed up the healing, just a bit more—
“Uh, Lucia.” Dimly, she felt someone tugging on her shirt. Ivy’s voice surfaced. “Lucia, you need to stop.”
“Huh?” Rousing from her trance state, Lucia glanced over to see Carter on the verge of keeling over. He’d laid one hand over hers, pressing it into his skin like he was trying to force more of himself through the connection.
Lucia broke off the link.
With a gasp, Carter let loose all of his strength. His arm trembled for a second before he caught himself.
“Are you okay?” Lucia asked.
“Yeah,” he said, but he was breathing too hard.
Lucia punched him in the arm. “You idiot!” she shouted. “You could have killed yourself.”
“What about Brennan? Did it work?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Lucia said. “But we’ve still got to get him to a hospital. All I did was slow down the bleeding.”
“The power’s off in the guard station,” Ivy said. “I can’t get signal on my phone either. I tried both of yours, too.”
“Just drive him there!” Selena said over the earpiee. “You can get to County in under ten minutes!”
“What about you?” Carter said back. “We—”
“Just go!” Selena shouted over the earpiece. “We can handle this!”
Lucia looked at Carter. “Are you strong enough to carry him?”
“I’ll manage.” He took a few more seconds to steady his breathing, and pushed himself into a kneeling position. “Keep him stable. I’ll go get the car.”
* * * * *
Aaron hurried out of the control room, feeling his way along the wall in the dark. It had been much easier to slip into his power this time—like doing it before had broken some kind of mental block. He didn’t think he could hold it for long, especially as tired as he was now, but it didn’t feel like he was suffocating anymore.
Down by the generators, a faint light broke the darkness. Aaron could just make out Selena’s face, illuminated by the silver flashlight gripped between her teeth. He ran toward her, almost slipping on the wet floor.
She had the panel of the second generator open, and was halfway inside it, leg dangling over the machinery.
“Hey—” he said, tapping her shoulder.
She shrieked, fumbling to catch the flashlight as it tumbled out of her mouth. “Don’t ever do that again,” she said, repositioning the light toward the open panel. He could see the machinery inside—old, heavy metal, dark and still—and the square package attached to the rotor. Selena wedged a foot against the machinery and stretched up, trying to reach it.
“Where’s Mol—Tempest?” Aaron asked, gripping her arm to steady her. “Is she okay?”
“She ran out, toward the water. He followed her.” Her fingers brushed the explosives. With a grunt, she gave herself one last push, leaning on Aaron’s arm for momentum. Her hand closed around the packet, and she ripped it off the wall. “There,” she said, clambering back onto solid ground. “Just one more. Go on, I can handle this.”
“Okay,” Aaron took a breath, and prepared to use his his power.
“Wait—” Selena grabbed his arm to stop him. She dug the earpiece out of her ear and handed it to him. “Don’t do anything stupid, okay?”
“Yeah, like I have a choice.” He shoved the earpiece in and turned to run. In the dim illumination, he saw the long, thin shape of Molly’s wooden sword, abandoned in a puddle on the concrete floor. That could be useful, he thought, snatching it off the floor. He took a deep breath just as lightning lit up the room, shifted time, and ran for the door.
* * * * *
Molly shoved her shoulder into the door and burst into the storm. With the power out, only the dim, orange lamps from the street above gave her any light to see by. She hung onto the rail as she sprinted down the stairs, relying on her sense of the water to keep from slipping.
“Codex, get everyone out safe,” she said.
“What about you?” Selena asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Molly said. “There’s always the river.” Although she didn’t know if she was strong enough to survive the cauldron at the bottom of the dam.
She didn’t make it far before Leveille burst out the door after her. He vaulted over the staircase, blocking her path of escape.
Molly backed away. The river was behind her, a churning reservoir of power, and the rain was coming down heavier than ever. Water assaulted her senses, and she had to fight the urge to give into it. In the back of her mind, she couldn’t stop thinking about the fight in Lartech’s basement, and the security guard she’d almost drowned. Right now, she was holding the flood back. If she let it go, she didn’t know if she could stop it.
The mercenary took her hesitation for something else. “Going to jump?” he asked, stepping toward her. “It would be a rough trip.”
“Fun, though. Want to come with?” Molly asked. She wished she still had her sword. Fighting him again would not be fun barehanded.
“You won’t get any answers that way.”
“I don’t want answers,” she said. “I don’t care about Avalon; I don’t care about my powers. I just want my friends safe.”
“Your friends are safe,” he said. “It’s just you and me now.” He raised the gun lazily, like he wasn’t threatened by her at all. “I don’t want to shoot you,” he said. “But I can hurt you without killing you.”
Molly stood at the edge of the water, breathing hard. It took all of her self-control not to surrender to the storm. She didn’t even have the extra energy to manufacture some kind of crappy comeback. “Go ahead,” she said. Her heel hit the edge of the concrete.
“All right then,” he said, and raised the gun.
Before he could fire, a streak of movement flashed behind him. Aaron appeared, swinging Molly’s sword like a bat. It connected with a solid crack against Leveille’s jaw, snapped his head around and flung him off his feet. The gun skittered away. He rolled to his feet—disarmed and dazed, but not out. Rage twisted his face, and he shifted his attention from Molly to Aaron, who held the sword in front of him like a shield.
Molly didn’t wait to see if he had a plan past that.
She embraced the storm, drawing the water around herself and letting her fear sink under its influence. And she threw it all at Leveille with all the strength she could muster. The pressure blasted him from his feet, and she kept pouring more force into it, washing him across the pavement as the power and adrenaline flooded her.
“Tempest! Tempest!” A hand grabbed her, but she was blind to anything except the rush. “Molly, stop! He’s down!”
She caught sight of Aaron’s face—bruised, cut, and missing his glasses again. Doubt surfaced through the storm.
“It’s okay,” he said.
“I—” Water dropped heavily to the ground, waves splashing over the soaked concrete. The doubt grew to fear.
“It’s okay,” Aaron said again, moving in front of her. He gripped her arms.
“Did I kill him?” she whispered.
“No,” he said. “No, he’s alive. It’s okay. We won. Let’s go—” He started to pull her toward the powerhouse, but she resisted.
“I can’t,” she said.
“Molly, we’ve got to get out of here!”
“I can’t let go.” The storm still raged around her. Through her. It was a struggle to concentrate on his face, to remember her feet against solid ground. Rain swirled around them like it was blowing in a gale. The river churned. And the reservoir…she could feel that, too, like a massive creature waking from a deep sleep. “I can’t stop it,” she said. “You have to run.”
* * * * * *
“You have to run!” Molly said again, panic breaking her voice.
Aaron froze, searching her face with growing dread. “Molly, it’s okay,” he said again. “All you have to do is—”
“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t control it anymore. I don’t know how much longer—”
Aaron was struck suddenly by a memory—the vision he’d had, the first day he’d met Molly. Water. Tons of water. Like a flood, or a hurricane. He’d long since forgotten it, but the memory welled up again, the image suddenly fresh in his mind. How much water could she move? Could she reach all the way to the reservoir? Cause it to overflow?
“No,” he said, alarmed. “No. Molly, that’s not going to happen. You can’t let that happen.”
“Can’t stop it.” Her body trembled, like she was struggling to hold up some enormous weight. “I tried to hold it back, but I saw you in danger and— I’m sorry.”
“Go,” she said. “Get Selena and get out of here.”
Aaron glanced toward the powerhouse. Selena had given him her earpiece. She would be oblivious to what was going on out here. But when he looked back at Molly, he could see the desperate effort she was putting in holding back her power. If she failed…
He braced himself and wrapped his hands around both her shoulders.
“I’m not leaving you,” he said.
Her eyes widened. “Aaron—”
“You can stop this, Molly. You were right about my power. I had to stop fighting it. And I did—and—I think you have to stop fighting it, too.” Her shoulders tightened under his thumbs, muscles shivering with effort. “I know you feel like you’re drowning, but you can find your way back. You can let go of it.”
If anything, the storm got worse. “You don’t know that,” she said. “You don’t know me at all.”
“I know you’d do anything to protect your friends,” he said. “You came for Ivy. You’ve come for me twice. And I’m here for you. I’m not running away.”
Molly’s shoulders shook harder. She clenched her hands into fists and ground them into the concrete.
“Just let go of it,” he said. “I trust you.”
He didn’t say anything else. Water raged around them, but he just held onto her while she struggled with her power. Then, she let out a sudden gasp, and all the tension in her body drained away. Her fists loosened.
Water crashed down, splashing across the concrete. The storm subsided. Then it was just the rain, and the roar of the spillway.
Aaron sighed with relief. “See, he said, releasing his grip on her arms. “No problem.”
Molly collapsed into Aaron’s shoulder, chest heaving like she’d run a marathon. “Yeah,” she said. “No problem.”
He slipped an arm under her shoulder and helped her stand. “Now, uh, we should probably get out of here before the police show up and arrest us.”