The next day was full of the arrival of more men. OF forces swarmed into the camp, and Gus and Lily got them set up. Jason’s army was arriving too. People were appearing from all over, ready to help fight against Sutherland. Our numbers were growing.
I spent as much time as I could helping to organize everyone, supervising Gus and Lily, and lending a hand with Jason’s new arrivals as well. Gus didn’t challenge me again. Whether it was because the magic I’d used on him was still working or because he was afraid of my messing with his mind, I didn’t know. But I was glad. It made things much easier.
Nancy and Carol showed up with baby Guy in the afternoon. Nancy had had some dreams and was concerned about what was going to happen. They wanted to know if they could help.
I was sure that we could use Nancy’s healing skills, but I didn’t think I wanted her close to the fighting. I did think there were ways they could be of service, however.
We sat at a picnic table in the park. It was a warm day, and I was glad the fight this evening would take place in the dark, when it was cooler. “I don’t want the two of you to be harmed,” I said. “There are probably going to be a lot of casualties, and I can’t risk Nancy being hurt. Her healing powers will probably be needed later.”
“We can’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Nancy.
“Sure we can,” said Carol. “Are you forgetting we have a baby to take care of these days?”
Nancy rolled her eyes. “I’ll be safe. I just need to know what I can do.”
“Well,” I said. “There is something that could be done. There are a lot of small children and their mothers in this camp. Jason’s call has reached out to entire families. I hate the fact that they’re in harm’s way. If you two could take them further out, away from the fighting, that would be really helpful.”
“That wasn’t what I meant,” said Nancy.
“Absolutely,” said Carol. “We’d be happy to do that.”
“Great,” I said.
“A lot of these people are from Columbus, aren’t they?” asked Nancy. “I don’t think they’re going to want to be around Carol and me. At best, they’re afraid of us because they think we’re witches. At worst, they hate us because we’re lesbians.”
“They’ll have to get over it,” I said.
We went to round up the mothers and children. As Nancy predicted, there was a bit of resistance from some of the people from Columbus who remembered Nancy and Carol. But it wasn’t much, and I was able to convince them easily. They knew they were in danger, and they wanted to go someplace safe.
It took time for them to pack up and say goodbye to their families, but eventually, we got all of them to follow Nancy and Carol, who were going to take them back to their farmhouse. I promised Nancy that we would send for her when we needed her healing services.
“If I have any important dreams,” she told me, “I’m coming to find you.”
I smiled. “Okay.” It wasn’t as if I could stop her, was it?
The atmosphere seemed more focused and less worried with the children gone. Squadrons were being formed, points of attack being explained, guns loaded, hiding places for snipers scouted out. I walked among our army, which was larger than I’d imagined it could be. When Sutherland arrived, we’d be ready for him. He wouldn’t be able to get past us. And soon, very soon, I’d have Chance back. But until then, I had to be patient.
There was nothing to do at this point but wait.
It wasn’t even dusk when one of Jason’s personal guards came running up from the river bank. He was out of breath and sweaty, and his clothes were ripped and dirty. There was a gaping wound on his forehead. Blood and sweat were smeared on his face and hands.
Jason went to intercept him immediately, and I followed.
The guard stopped when he reached Jason and bent over, his hands on his knees. He struggled to catch his breath. “They’re here,” he wheezed.
Here? I sprinted away from the both of them to look out over the river. It was full of black boats, crammed with soldiers in uniforms. The boats had heavy artillery, and they were coming across the river in full force. Behind the boats on the water were more boats on the shore and more squadrons of men. The mass of bodies stretched over the horizon. I couldn’t see the end of Sutherland’s army. There were just swarms and swarms of people as far as I could see. My breath caught in my throat. We’d thought we would have hours yet. Were we even ready?
Kieran was behind me. “They’re early,” he said.
Jason yelled for me to come to him, and I did. Kieran was right behind me.
“He’s in the cemetery,” Jason said as soon I was within earshot.
The cemetery? “Who is?”
“Sutherland. He’s got Marlena, Chance, and Hallam, and he says if we wait with him while his army passes, he’ll give them back once he’s clear of our camp,” said Jason.
“What cemetery? And how do you know this?” I said.
“He told me to give Jason the message,” said the guard, who was still out of breath. “His boat docked maybe five minutes ago. We were under orders not to engage, so we let him pass.”
“You did the right thing,” said Jason to the guard. To me, “The cemetery is just outside the park. It’s an old civil war cemetery. There are bunches of graves from the 1800s.”
Jason barked out orders for his men to hold their ground and stick to the plan. I did the same. Then Jason took me by the arm and we were running for the cemetery, with Kieran just a few steps behind us.
The cemetery was overgrown. No one had cut the grass in months. The graves were obscured by high grass and leafy trees. The sun was setting and the whole area seemed quiet, abandoned, and spooky, like in a horror movie. We stopped short at the edge of the cemetery and looked around for Sutherland.
At this point, Jason noticed Kieran. “What’s he doing here?” he demanded.
I grabbed Kieran’s hand. “He’s with me,” I said.
Jason clenched his jaw, but didn’t comment further. Instead, he pointed. Sutherland was standing next to an iron fence that surrounded a group of maybe twenty elaborate gravestones. Seeing him reminded me of the time Lilith and I had run from him outside the church in Shiloh. His feline grin was exactly the same. It gave me chills. He had five or six soldiers with him. Chance, Hallam, and Marlena were sitting on the ground, tied and gagged. They had scabbed-over wounds, stringy hair, and wild eyes.
At the sight of Chance, I took off towards him, screaming his name. I collapsed on my knees in front of him, reaching out to touch him, to make sure he was okay.
“Uh uh,” said Sutherland, and one of his soldiers put a machine gun in my face. I dropped my hands.
“He better be okay,” I said to Sutherland.
“He’ll be fine,” said Sutherland. “As long as you stick to the deal.”
Jason and Kieran came up behind me. Kieran helped me to my feet.
“I know you wouldn’t have any stupid ideas about trying to double-cross me, would you?” asked Sutherland.
Jason crossed his arms over his chest. “Of course not,” he said. “But I think it’s fair for us to make sure you haven’t hurt our friends. Un-gag them. Let them talk to us.”
Sutherland laughed. “I don’t think so. You can see them. There’s no reason for them to talk.”
“Why?” said Jason. “If you remove their gags, will they tell us that this is a trap, and you’re planning to slaughter all our people anyway?”
“Why would I do that?” asked Sutherland. “I know that if I open fire on your troops, you’ll use your little mind tricks to turn them into super soldiers. No thank you.”
“Then why can’t we talk to them?” asked Jason.
Sutherland sighed heavily. “Fine, fine.” He waved carelessly at his soldiers. “Remove the gags.”
The soldiers untied the gags in their mouths. Hallam began to swear as soon as his was off. He threatened to do all kinds of foul things to Sutherland. Good. So Hallam was all right.
Marlena seemed only concerned about me. “What are you doing here?” she asked me. “You shouldn’t be running around like this. It’s dangerous for your baby.”
“There’s no baby,” I said. “It was a false alarm.”
“Thank heaven for that,” she said.
And Chance just seemed out of it. “Zaza?” he whispered.
I turned angrily on Sutherland. This man was pure evil. I hated him. “What did you do to him?”
“He’s fine,” said Sutherland, inspecting his fingernails.
“He doesn’t seem fine,” I said. “He’s a paraplegic, for God’s sake. Have you been taking care of him? He needs—”
“Shut up,” said Sutherland. He gestured to one of the soldiers, who put a gun against Chance’s head.
I balled my hands up in fists. I wished I could just kill Sutherland. Wait. I could. That was the plan, wasn’t it? Why were we wasting time chatting when I could be forcing Sutherland to commit suicide?
I reached out with my mind and let my power brush Sutherland’s mind. I tried to implant anger and hatred and the desire to do himself in. But it was different, somehow. Generally, I just reached inside and there was something that I sort of…I don’t know…flooded.
With Sutherland, when I tried to pour my power into him, I couldn’t. There was a resistance.
Sutherland laughed. “Trying to use your magic on me, Azazel?”
“No,” I said.
“I think you’ll find me a bit hard to influence,” he said. “I don’t have an impressionable mind.”
When my grandmother had told me about her power, which was also the power I’d inherited, she’d told me that it only worked on people with impressionable minds. She couldn’t manipulate everyone. My power was much stronger than hers, and I’d never really encountered someone I couldn’t influence. But if there was anyone with an iron will, it was Sutherland.
Dammit. What were we going to do now?