We didn’t have time to give anyone from Jasontown the herb that Edgar had found. We had blessed it and were putting handfuls of it into bags when we heard the first gunshots. And the first screams.
Jason dropped his bag and took off at a sprint for his house.
I hesitated for a second, shoving a bag of the leaves into my pocket, and then went after him, careening through the forest. Branches whacked my face. Barbs clawed at my exposed arms and legs.
Edgar was right behind us.
When he reached the house, Jason threw open the door and rushed inside. He paused only for a minute, to throw guns to Edgar and me. Then he was out the front door.
Out of breath and smarting from the small wounds I’d received crashing through the woods, I wanted to rest for a second. But the staccato drum beat of gunfire spurred me to action. I took off after Jason again.
Once outside, I caught a glimpse of Jason running down the path towards the river. Jasontown was laid out on a hill, with most of the houses at the top. It was late afternoon, and most of the people had been down in the fields, tending to the crops. They’d been pretty neglected since the trials, and everyone had been concerned with making sure the harvest wasn’t ruined.
So right outside Jason’s house was empty and still. I could hear the screams and explosions of guns coming in the distance, though, down on the flood plain across the river.
As I trotted after Jason, I realized that the people down there wouldn’t have even been armed. No one was in Jasontown, except the guards. The people were defenseless, probably being slaughtered.
I sped up.
Behind me, I could hear Edgar huffing as he followed.
The path down to the flood plain curved. It was dotted with trees. As I rounded the curve, still running at full speed, the smell of gun smoke hit my nostrils. Somehow, the smell was familiar to me, even though I didn’t know why.
I could see the flood plain now. It was swarming with men in army uniforms.
In between the rows of corn and tomatoes, I could see bodies on the ground.
I felt sick.
A loud crack echoed through the air. Another gunshot.
Someone grabbed me by the arm and yanked me behind a tree.
Jason. He glared at me. “Muscle memory, huh? You’re going to get killed.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but was interrupted by a thud and a cry.
He had fallen in the path. He was crumpled over, his arms around his stomach.
“Shit,” muttered Jason. He dove onto the path, skidding on his stomach, his arms extended as they clutched his gun.
Even before he hit the ground, he was squeezing off shots.
I saw the closest army men falling to the ground below Jason. Every shot he took found its target. He was good. I watched in awe.
“Get Weem!” Jason yelled at me.
Oh. He was providing cover. I dashed out from behind the tree and knelt by Edgar.
His face was ashen as he looked at me.
“Get up!” I told him, tugging on his arm.
Edgar managed to get to his feet. With me supporting him, he stumbled behind the tree with me.
Jason swore. His right arm was bloody. He’d been shot!
But Jason shook his arm out and gripped his gun again. He kept shooting. That was right. He healed quickly.
The force below Jason had tripled since the last time I’d looked. Jason was still killing the men, but not fast enough. More bullets hit him. I watched as three ripped into his flesh.
Jason jerked at the impact of each, but kept shooting.
Then he pulled the trigger and nothing happened.
He was out of bullets!
Jason swore again. He began inching backwards. Several more bullets drilled into him before he made it back behind the tree.
Edgar Weem coughed, and blood spewed out of his mouth.
Jason had been gritting his teeth and examining one of his bullet wounds in his shoulder, but he turned all of his attention to Edgar. “How bad is it?”
Edgar gasped. “Jason.” He coughed up more blood.
“Don’t talk,” Jason said, moving Edgar’s hands away from his chest, where Edgar was clutching himself. “Crap. I think they hit his lung.”
“Jason, I want you to know,” Edgar said. His lips were stained red. “I’m sorry–” He coughed again, more blood spilling from his mouth.
“Shh,” said Jason.
“I’m sorry for all of it,” Edgar coughed. “I never–” But he gasped again. A gurgling noise came from his throat. “I love you.”
Jason bit down on his lip. “Don’t try to talk.” He squeezed Edgar’s hand.
Edgar smiled weakly. “I’ll always…be proud…to be…your father.” He coughed again. This time it was like he couldn’t stop. He coughed and coughed and coughed, blood spraying everywhere. And then…he stopped.
Jason put his hand on Edgar’s neck, feeling for a pulse. He swallowed. He shook his head.
I reached for Jason’s hand. “Jason, I’m so sorry.”
He kept shaking his head. “I should have been watching him.”
“Jason, you can’t–“
A bullet ripped through the air just above our heads. We jumped, looking around.
There were at least ten OF men with their guns trained on us, not more than a few feet away. A young guy in a t-shirt and jeans stood in the middle of them, his arms folded across his chest. He was grinning.
“Cameron,” Jason growled.
“It’s over, Jason,” said Cameron.
Jason started to get up.
The barrel of a gun prodded me from behind. It settled at the base of my skull. I yelped.
“I wouldn’t if you don’t want to be wearing her brains,” said Cameron.
Jason glowered at Cameron.
“Surrender?” Cameron asked cheerily.
It took about an hour and a half to drive to Jasontown, where we were meeting up with Cameron and the OF forces he’d gathered to fight Jason. Because we were preparing for a possibly big fight, Eve convinced me it would be a good idea to leave Chance back in Bramford with one of the older couples in town. I felt a little nervous about being away from him, but I also knew that a bloody battle was no place for an infant. All of the able-bodied members of the coven came. We were a caravan of cars heading east. Eve and I had a car to ourselves.
Eve drove while I sat shotgun and watched her. She was so beautiful. She was quiet for most of the trip, leaving me to my thoughts.
As we drove, I contemplated the irony of the fact that Azazel had been so close to me the entire time. Overall, though, I guessed it was good. My distance from Azazel had helped me see that she and I weren’t right for each other. And it was totally appropriate that, even without her memories, she’d gone straight to Jason. He was clearly the guy she wanted, anyway. Towards the end of the trip, I spoke up. “It all worked out the right way, I think. I found you, and I think you were what I was looking for all along.”
She looked embarrassed. “I’m nothing special, Kieran.”
“How can you say that? You’re absolutely amazing.”
She blushed. “You’re the only guy who’s ever said anything like that to me before.” She glanced away from the road at me. “You’re so genuine. You’re not using me for anything.”
“Of course I’m not,” I said. “And you’re not using me. Azazel was. She only wanted someone to help her forget Jason. What we have feels so much more real.”
We were driving down a road flanked by leafy trees. Their branches hung down over us like a canopy. To our right, I could see glimpses of the river. Something about all of this seemed familiar to me, like I’d seen this place before.
Eve chewed on her lip. “Kieran, I have to tell you something.”
“Sure,” I said. “Tell me anything.”
We emerged into a clearing. There were no trees anymore. On the left, I could see dilapidated houses. To the right, I could see the river. Ahead of us, the road stretched out, cracked asphalt with weeds breaking through the jagged pieces.
“When I agreed to do this, I hadn’t even met you,” said Eve. “And I didn’t know what you were like. I didn’t know how I’d feel about you.”
“Agreed to do what?” But I wasn’t really paying attention. Where had I seen this place before? I felt like it had been recently… Oh. My dream about Agnes and the severed heads. This was the river. I felt a sense of dread wash over me.
“I do care about you, Kieran, and I’m not sure if it’s even the right thing to do. So, I should probably tell you.”
“Tell me what?” A note of apprehension had crept into my voice.
“Well,” she said, “for starters, Cameron isn’t actually gay.”
My eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
Jason and I were both tied up on the stage. We were surrounded by ten or twenty men with guns. They were all aiming at me. Jason had a panicked look on his face as his eyes darted back and forth. He was searching for a way out of this. I knew it.
Cameron knew it too. He was shifting his feet in front of us, his arms draped over a rifle he’d slung over his shoulders. He seemed calm, collected, and sure of himself. “You can’t escape, Jason. Not unless you want to kill your girlfriend. And I know you don’t want to do that.”
Jason eyed him darkly. “I thought the whole point was to kill us.”
“Eventually,” said Cameron, “but first you’ve got something that I want. And I need you cooperative until I can get it.”
“I don’t have anything left,” said Jason, his eyes sweeping the ruins of Jasontown.
Cameron laughed, throwing his head back. “See, that’s where you’re wrong. You have exactly one thing left. One very important thing.”
Jason fixed his gaze on me, looking despondent.
“Not her,” said Cameron. “You’ll never guess, so don’t try. You have no idea what I’m planning.”
“You already said you wanted to kill us,” I said. “So don’t act like it’s a big surprise.”
“Shut up,” Cameron snapped at me. “See, the problem with the two of you is that you never had any vision. You were always so narrow-minded, only focusing on each other. Neither of you could see the big picture. But don’t worry. I’m going to fix your mistakes. Soon.”
The sound of cars coming down the road interrupted him. He set down the rifle and turned to face the road. “Aha. They’re here.”
Several cars began pulling over on the side of the road. Cameron told the army men to watch us both closely, and he started across the grass toward the cars.
Eve had pulled the car over and was taking the keys out of the ignition. When she put her hand on the door handle, I stopped her.
“Wait.” I put my hand on her arm. “So you were in a relationship with him?”
She avoided my eyes. “I was. But I don’t think I want to be anymore.”
“Anymore?” I said, feeling incredulous. How could she drop this on me now?
“It’s not like the coven controlled your mind or anything. All that was in the wine at the ritual was a little aphrodisiac. You did want me. And I wanted you. I still want you, Kieran. Do you believe me?”
“But you did seduce me on purpose, and you did it because Cameron told you to.”
She nodded. “That’s what I said.”
I knew she’d said that, damn it. But it didn’t make any sense. “Why?”
She looked out through the windshield of the car. “He’s coming. I don’t have time to explain.” She turned and gazed deep into my eyes. “Whatever you hear me say to him, know that I am on your side. I promise. And, please, Kieran, watch out for him. He’s going to try to–“
But Cameron had reached our car and was opening the door for Eve. “Hey babe,” he said.
And then she was kissing him.
This book is being posted on Mondays and Thursdays between 7/4/2011 and 9/5/2011. To access other chapters, check out the Between Posts Archive, here.