“Jared,” she gasped. “The web. Nothing else matters but the web. Everything’s keyed to you.”
Her hand flailed. Her fingers found his hair. Curled. Tightened. Yanked hard.
Jared grunted in surprise.
“Hold the web,” Lia said in a voice that had an eerie quality to it.
Jared lowered his forehead until it touched hers. It didn’t matter now. It was too late now. He wouldn’t tell her that. But now, when they only had a few moments left, he would tell her something else.
“I love you, Lia,” he whispered. “I’ll always love you.”
“Remember to say it when it counts,” she replied tartly.
Stung by her tone of voice, Jared raised his head.
And watched gray eyes change to frosty green, watched the illusion of Lia’s face disappear.
He felt something gathering, gathering. Heard a roaring.
“Mother Night,” he whispered.
The link between Garth and Brock had worked so well because Garth’s Birthright Jewel was the same as Brock’s Jewel of rank.
Like Lia’s and Thera’s.
Nowhe understood the tartness in Lia’s psychic scent when he’d kissed her, why she and Thera had stayed so close to each other, why Lia had tried to avoid physical contact as much as possible.
Thera had linked their psychic scents together to hide the fact that Lia . . .
The roaring grew louder.
Power gathered, gathered, gatheredbeneath the Red .
Everything keyed to him. Keyed to his blood.
He looked at Krelis and knew the Master of the Guard heard the roaring, too. Felt the power gathering.
He looked at Thera.
She bared her teeth in a smile that was pure malice. “Checkmate.”
“Mother Night!” Jared whimpered. He threw himself on top of Thera, pressed his face against her neck, and closed his eyes.
The inner part of the web was still a strong red color, but the outer threads had faded, the power had retreated.
How much time? Jared wondered as he began sending the Red back into the web. He’d forgotten Lia’s warning about ignoring what he thought was happening and letting himself get drawn into the trap she and Thera had laid for the Hayllians, letting himself get distracted from his task.
Steady. Steady. If he flooded the web with power, he might shatter the minds it was meant to protect. But if he wasn’t in time, his carelessness would cost them the strongest.
The roaring got louder.
Almost had them all. Almost.
Steady. Steady. There! He had Randolf. Blaed.Talon !
Unleashed in one wild, raw, uncontrolled blast, Lia’s Gray strength hit his inner barriers hard enough to make him scream before it flowed around him and the psychic web keyed to him.
He heard men scream.
He heard sharp cracks, like tree limbs snapping.
He heard squelchy sounds, like overripe melons being dropped on a hard floor.
With his inner vision, he saw the web glowing bright red in the eye of a violent gray storm. He saw the dark circle of Hayllian minds flare and flare and flare until it shattered. He saw that other circle change to solid Gray.
Gasping, he poured more strength into the web.
A circle of Gray to contain the storm of power. When the unleashed Gray hit that Gray wall, the backlash would be as bad as the initial strike.
The thought had barely formed when the backlash hit him. He held on, drawing everything he could out of his Red Jewels.
It would return to its source. Whatever wasn’t absorbed as it roared through the Hayllians’ minds and crashed against their Jewels would return to its source.
Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful! Did Lia know enough to shield herself? She would be as vulnerable to the backlash as the rest of them.
The ground shook.
Wind howled through the streets of Ranon’s Wood.
Lightning tore the sky apart.
He felt the land embrace the power of a Queen that was being fed into it as what was left of the Gray flooded back to its source.
And then he felt the silence.
Thera punched his shoulder weakly. “Getoff me. I can’t breathe.”
Jared’s head jerked. What had he been thinking of, lying on her like that? He rolled off her but immediately reached for her belly.
Nothing to do for her. Even a Healer as good as Reyna had been couldn’t have helped her.
Groaning, Thera sat up. She looked over his shoulder. What color there had been in her face fled.
“Mother Night,” she gasped before she got to her hands and knees, crawled a couple of feet away from him, and became violently sick.
Jared twisted around to see what had frightened her.
He recognized the badge worn by a Master of the Guard.
That was all he recognized.
Too numb to look away, he stared at the torn, pulped mess.
It would have been all of them. Without the web protecting everyone connected to it ...
He shook his head, breaking the trance.
He wouldn’t think of it.Couldn‘t think of it.
Thera’s continued retching brought him back to the immediate.
He crawled to her, slipping in the trail of intestines.
Gathering up the hair that had escaped the loose braid, he put one hand on her forehead to support her, closed his eyes, and tried with all sincerity to convince his stomach to stay put.
Then he frowned. How could she be retching when chunks of her stomach were strewn all over the road?
Thera finally sat back on her heels. “Shit,” she said weakly, “it smells.”
She fumbled with the torn tunic, trying to widen the tear. “Help me get it off. It smells.”
“Thera . . .”
Swearing under his breath, Jared ripped the tunic in half.
Thera immediately swiped at the remaining guts and started tearing at the gauzy material wrapped around her middle.
Jared stared for a moment. He pushed her hands away and ripped the material. Tossing the gauze aside, he gingerly wiped her belly with a piece of her tunic.
No shattered bones. No torn flesh.
Jared leaned back. His hands curled into fists. “You sneaky little—You tricked us!”
“I trickedthem ,” Thera snapped. “Youwere supposed to ignore it.”
“I was supposed to ignore it?” Jared said mildly as anger started to heat his blood.
She eyed him. Grabbing the tunic, she scrubbed at her belly. “We figured you were going to be a little upset about this,” she muttered.
Even his teeth felt hot. “Upset? I thought I saw Lia get ripped apart right in front of me, and you figured I’d be alittle upset?” He paused. Thought. Exploded. “YOU IDIOT! Do you realize how lucky you were that whoever unleashed that Jewel didn’t go for your heart or your brain?” He shook her hard enough to make her squeal. “You could have been killed! Who—”