The flames detached from the refuse that served as its fuel. An enormous fireball hovered before me. With a wave of my hand, I released it. It streaked across the yard, roaring with fury, and smashed into the dragon's jagged spine. The impact broke the dragon in two. The back half fell, burning, while the front, lacking support, sagged to the ground, the huge head stretching helplessly, still trying to reach the combatants on the roof.
The flames consumed the undead flesh. It was so tempting to sink to the ground and watch them, but if I did that, I would not get up again.
I gripped Slayer's hilt and the skin on my right hand split. I cried out and let go. The pain was too much. My charred fingers found a vial of anesthetic in my belt. Numb. I had to make my hands numb. The belt wouldn't release the vial and my ruined fingers were so clumsy. Tears wetted my cheeks. Finally the vial came free and I gripped the cork with my teeth, pulling it out. I spat the cork to the ground and shook the vial, throwing a cloud of dust into the air. I walked into the dust, my hands before me. The world swayed, growing distorted, and numbness came.
I watched myself reach for the sword and grip the handle I couldn't feel and pull the sword free. Turning I walked across the yard to where Curran still fought with the upir.
A piercing howl cut through the roar of the fire, a scream of pure towering fury, so potent it could only be human. Two bodies plummeted to the ground from the roof. One of them wore a trenchcoat.
"Good-bye, Nick," I whispered, as the bodies smashed into refuse. The Crusader's scream died with him. The dragon shuddered and melted, decomposing before my eyes into a pile of bone and ooze. The abomination's pilot was dead.
I dragged myself across the yard. I could see the bloodstain on my T-shirt now. Not that much time left.
I saw Curran, exhausted and bleeding from a dozen places. Bono's body looked misshapen, as if he was missing pieces of himself. It looked like whole sections of muscle had been torn from his body and his skin had simply closed over them.
The upir spun the spear off his neck, catching it with ease and rammed its point into Curran's thigh. Curran snarled and ripped into the upir, tearing great chunks of meat from Bono's chest. The upir cried out and danced away. His skin knitted itself over the wound.
My legs failed me and I fell. The poison sphere rolled out of my pocket beyond my reach. Nice going, Kate. Nice going.
I bent my neck and watched the battle upside down, unable to flinch when their blood splashed me.
They were tired. Both of them. There were no taunts, no showy roars. Just fighting, grisly, bloody, and painful.
Once again Bono danced away, light on his feet. Curran snarled low and saw me. His gaze locked on me for a moment and I knew that this was it.
Bono lunged. Curran knocked away the spear, ripping at the upir's leg and missing, deliberately too slow. The spear came back in a shiny arch. Bono thrust. The razor-sharp point slid into Curran's stomach and out his back, pinning him to the ground. But Bono had leaned forward, putting all his strength into the thrust. Curran's massive hands gripped him by the shoulders. Enormous muscles strained. A horrible snarl ripped from Curran's mouth. Bones broke, muscle snapped, and I saw light through Bono's chest, as Curran tore his torso in two. For a moment the two halves of the chest were upright, the head and neck on the left half sticking out at a strange angle, and then the upir lost his balance and tumbled into the dirt.
Curran sagged against the spear. Blood poured from his mouth and his face went slack. "No," I heard myself whisper. "Please, no."
The upir's body jerked. His mangled chest shuddered and slowly he rose to his knees. He remained upright for a moment, fell again and pushed himself forward across the soot-stained ground toward me.
I watched him crawl, his body straining to mend the damage. His head came level with mine. I could see the red sack of his heart pulsing through the gap in his chest half-hidden by ruined spongy lungs.
"Nice fight," he said through the bloodstained lips. His right eye wouldn't stop blinking. "Something to remember on our honeymoon."
I jammed the bone blade into his heart.
Bono screamed. His unearthly howl shook the prison and the windows exploded. His hands flailed, trying to reach the dagger, but failed to find the small blade. He clawed at my neck, but I couldn't feel it. It didn't matter. That final thrust had taken everything I had.
There was nothing left to do but to lie here. I'd see him die before I did. That would be enough for me.
Bono lay on his back. "I don't want to die," he whispered between short, hoarse breaths. "I don't want to die..."
His body began to smoke. First a thin sheen of indigo fog coated his skin and then it grew, curling into long tendrils and escaping into the night sky.
"My power... leaving me," Bono rasped. The smoke thickened and the upir began to whisper in the language of power. His words made no sense to me. He chanted feverishly, trying to hold onto life or simply praying, I wasn't sure which.
A shudder troubled his ruined body. His speech faltered. His heels dug into the ground. The blue smoke vanished, like the light of a candle snuffed out by someone's breath. The upir's unblinking eyes stared into the night. It was over.
I wished I could push myself farther and reach Curran. Maybe I'd have someone to fight with in the afterlife if we went together.
It was a hell of a kiss...
Darkness claimed me.
HELL LOOKED A LOT LIKE MY HOUSE.
I lay under what appeared to be one of my blankets on what appeared to be my bed. A dull gnawing pain chewed on my ribs. Do people still feel pain in the afterlife?
There was a glass of water sitting on the night table next to the bed. Suddenly I was very thirsty. I reached for the glass and discovered that both my hands were heavily bandaged. I stared stupidly at the bandages then at the glass.
A hand wearing a cutoff glove picked up the glass and offered it to me.
"For a second I thought I might actually be alive," I said, looking at Nick's unshaven face. "Now I know - I've gone to Hell and you're my nursemaid."
"You're not as funny as you think," he said. "Drink the water."
I did. It hurt going down.
He took the glass away from me and got up, trenchcoat brushing the edge of my blanket.
"Careful with the germs there," I said.
"My germs are the least of your problems," he said. He reached over, swiped his fingers across my arm, and studied the glow. "Doesn't usually shine this bright. Or last this long." He turned slowly, surveying my place: the old, beat-up couch, the scratched night table, the ancient rug, the basket full of clean laundry, all threadbare jeans and faded T-shirts, and waved his shimmering fingers. "See? Still going."