Bran gasped. His body went rigid in my hands and I felt the last of him fluttering away.
I clasped onto that last shiver of life. With all of my magic, with all of my power, with everything I was I held on to that tiny fragment of Bran and I would not let it go.
Magic churned around me. I sucked the power to me, driving it deeper into his body, holding on. It streamed through me in a flood of pain and melted into Bran's flesh.
I'm not letting go. He will live. I won't lose him.
"Foolish girl!" A voice filled my mind. "You can't fight death."
The spark of Bran's life slipped deeper. More magic. More...Wind howled, or maybe it was my own blood filling my ears. I no longer felt anything except pain and Bran.
I pulled harder. The spark stopped. Bran's eyelids trembled. His mouth opened. His eyes fixed on me. I couldn't hear what he was saying. His heart had stopped and it took all of me to keep him.
He looked at me with ghostly eyes. His whisper floated to my ears, each word weak but distinct. "Let me go."
"This is how undeath is made," the voice said.
And I felt deep within me that she was right.
I would not become what I loathed. I would not become the man who sired me.
"Let me go, dove," Bran whispered.
I severed the magic. The line of pain within me snapped like a broken string. It whipped back into me. I felt the spark of Bran's life melt into nothing. Magic flailed in me like a living beast, trapped and tearing me apart to break free.
In my arms Bran lay dead.
Tears burst from my eyes, and streamed down my cheeks to fall on the ground, carrying the magic with them. The soil soaked in my tears and something stirred beneath it, something full of life and magic, but it didn't matter. Bran was gone.
A Fomorian crept behind me, her blade ready to bite into my back.
I rose, moving on liquid joints, turned, and thrust in a single move. The tip of Slayer's blade punctured the Fomorian's chest. It cut her green skin and sliced smoothly through the tight sheet of muscle and membrane, scraping the cartilage of her breastbone, sinking deeper, driven by my hand until it found her heart. The hard, muscled organ resisted for a fraction of a moment, like a clenched fist, and then the blade pierced its wall and bathed in blood within. I jerked the sword up and to the side, ripping her heart to pieces.
Blood drenched my skin. I smelled it. I felt its sticky warmth on my hand. The Fomorian's eyes widened. Fear screeched at me from the depths of her cobalt eyes. This time there would be no rebirth. I had killed her. She was dead, and the realization of her own fate made her terribly, painfully afraid.
It was a moment that lasted an eternity. I knew I would remember it forever.
I would remember it forever because in that instant I knew that no matter how many I had killed and no matter how many I would kill before the day was over, none of it would bring Bran back. Not even for a moment.
I ripped the sword free. Grief saddled me and rode me into the foray. I raged across the field, killing all before me. They ran when they saw me coming, and I chased them down, and I killed them before they could take someone else's friend away from them.
THE NIGHT HAD FALLEN. THE FOMORIANS WERE dead. Their corpses littered the ground, mixed with human bodies of the fallen. In death, witch, shapeshifter, or regular Joe, they all looked the same. So many bodies. So many dead. This morning they spoke, they breathed, they kissed their loved ones good-bye. And now they lay dead. Gone forever. Like Bran.
I sat by Bran's body. His midnight eyes were closed. I was very tired. My body hurt in places I didn't know existed.
Someone had made a funeral pyre. It glowed orange in the oncoming darkness. Thick greasy smoke tainted the night.
I had taken Bran by the hand and dragged him back to humanity, back to free will and choice. And it, no, I, had gotten him killed. The fire had left his eyes. He'd never wink, he'd never call me dove again. I didn't love him, I barely knew him, but God, it hurt. Why was it that I killed everyone I touched? Why did they all die? I could have fixed almost everything else, but death defeated me every time. What good is all the magic if you can't hold back death? What good is it, if you don't know when to stop, if all you can do is kill and punish?
Someone approached and tugged on my sleeve. "Kate," a tiny voice said. "Kate, are you okay?"
I looked at the owner of the voice and recognized her face.
"Kate," she said pitifully. "Please say something."
I felt so hollow, I couldn't find my voice.
"Are you real?" I asked her.
"How did you get here?"
"Bran brought me," she said. "I awoke in a lake. There were bodies everywhere and a woman. He pulled me out and gave me a knife and he brought me over there." She pointed back to where we had originally formed our lines. "I fought." She showed me her bloody knife.
"Stupid girl," I said. I couldn't muster any anger and my voice was flat. "So many people died to save you, and you ran right back into the slaughter."
"I saw the reeves eating my mom's body. I had to." She sat next to me. "I had to, Kate."
I heard a faint jingle of chains. Then a crunch of metal under someone's feet. A tall figure came through the smoke.
Nude, except for a harness of leather belts and silver hooks, her hair falling around her in black dreads, she stood smeared with fresh blood. The dark red rivulets mixed with blue runes tattooed on her skin. Her presence slapped me: glacial, hard, cruel, terrifying like a wolf's howl heard at night on a lonely road.
"It's her," Julie whispered. "The woman by the lake."
Her eyes glowed, streaked with radiant sparks. The sparks erupted into amber irises, suddenly as big as a house, all consuming, overpowering...The black bottomless pupil loomed before me and I knew I could sink into it and be forever lost.
So that's what the eye of a goddess looks like.
She looked past us and raised her hand to point over my shoulder. Chains clanked. "Come!" I recognized the voice: I had heard her in my head.
Red peeled himself from the pile of trash. I had known he was there for a while. He had crept in when the fight was almost over, followed me, and waited there in the garbage, while I sat by Bran, numb. Probably biding his time for a good chance to stab me in the back.
Julie startled. "Red!"
I caught her by the shoulder and kept her put.
"You desire power..."
Red swallowed. "Yes."
"Serve me and I will give you all the power you want."