Breathing was difficult; the scent of death filled the air, sticking to the inside of my nose. I rubbed the back of my hand over my mouth, fighting the churning roll of my stomach. Around me, bodies were strewn about on cots, like dolls tossed from a child’s toy chest, scattered without care.
A tight band circled my chest, the anxiety I’d fought for the last six months surging upward, choking off my air. There was no way we could help everyone, no way to stop the raging plague. I walked as if in a dream, my eyes taking in what was in front of me for the first time in a long time. Seeing what was truly happening.
Pustules littered the bodies, moans rumbled in rattling chests, pale, thin skin pulled tightly from the inability to swallow around the pox inside the throat. Yet we weren’t here to try and save these children, not really. We were here to make sure they didn’t become possessed.
They were the ones the demons would take over in a few short days. That was if they didn’t die first.
They laid on their tiny beds, pitiful in their pain, tears trickling from their swollen eyes. Nurses moved between the beds, here and there a parent sat with a child, yet there was nothing any of them could do.
Dressed as a volunteer with my yellow nametag, I moved to the child closest to me and laid a hand on her head.
“Hello, my name is Pamela.”
She barely registered I was even there, her body fighting the disease as best it could. I wondered if she had any family left. That was how bad it had gotten. The world was being decimated at a rate the World Health Organization couldn’t keep up with. Ebola had nothing on this plague.
A resurgence of smallpox had spread, as only a demon driven disease could. At least that was what Deanna said, and I had no reason not to believe her. The demons had started it, sent it forth, and even though most of them were locked in the deepest level of the veil, they had gotten the ball rolling. The demons who’d been cut off and stuck on this side of the veil were keeping the disease alive and well.
A flash of movement stopped my musing and brought me to my knees. Between the children in front of me was Liam, a sad smile on his lips, watching me, seeing through me. I closed my eyes, counted to ten, and opened them again. He was gone and I could breathe once more. I knew it was just in my head, but it felt real. And it scared me.
The little girl in front of me groaned, her cry turning into a pitiful whimper. Healing was not my strong point, yet Deanna asked me to keep trying even though it was the smallest ability I had.
She kept pushing me to try and do things that I either couldn’t, or didn’t want to learn. I stroked the little girl’s head, focusing my magic on repairing the damage within her body, trying to bring her back into balance. I yanked at the magic, forcing it to do my bidding, stuffing it into the little girl. Within seconds, the effort brought sweat to my face.
“Damn you, Deanna, I am terrible at this. Why would you make me heal?” I whispered as the little girl’s skin lightened to a healthy pink, and the pustules faded to tiny scars. I slumped against the bed, breathing hard. I could throw fireballs all day without feeling a hint of fatigue, but healing sucked me dry in minutes. And that was if I could manage it at all. Anger flared through me, but not at Deanna. “Damn you, Rylee, for leaving us here.”
At first, I’d been glad she’d left. I’d been so afraid to face her for what I’d done to Liam. But as the days, weeks, and months passed, I began to hate her. For leaving us, for letting us face this hell on our own. But more than anything, because I needed her.
I needed someone strong enough to help me. The darkness Giselle had said would make a bid for me . . . she’d been right, and now the moment had come. But someone had stepped up to help me, probably the only person who could. The only person as strong as me, and with far more experience.
Milly would be the one to help me turn back the darkness, not Rylee.
Shouting erupted outside in the main ward, someone going psychotic with pain and fear, no doubt; it wasn’t the first time. Nurses ran out, not even seeing me. I stood, wobbling, and moved to the next child.
I repeated the process, bringing the worst of the children back from the brink—barely. I couldn’t do any more, the magic flat out ignoring me when I tried to help the final child in the row. My body and heart were drained of everything I had to give. I lay my head next to the child I’d just healed—another girl—and closed my eyes. “I will just rest for a moment.” That was what I said, but that isn’t what happened. I fell asleep, fatigue from the continuous work sucking me under.
Hands scooped me up, startling me, and I automatically wrapped my arms around his neck. The ward was dark, the glow of the monitors and machines the only light. Doran held me, his face lit by the tiny blinking lights. Seeing me watching him, he gave me a wink. “Come on, little witch, you’ve done your duty today.” He smiled, and I relaxed until he laughed. “What, are you finally tired enough to not demand to be put down?”
I struggled, but it was a half-hearted effort. “I can walk.”
Having the leader of the vampire nation pack me around was a strange thing. Yet, there he was, doing just that. He took me out of the hospital and gently lowered me until my feet touched the pavement. I stumbled away from him, jerking from him when he went to steady me.
He held his hands up. “Prickly witch.”
I turned my back on him.
All around us, triage was set up. Deanna and what was left of her druids were healing people as best they could without the humans getting suspicious. They would take those who were just showing symptoms and clear them of the plague, stopping at least a few points of infection. To me, it was more than futile. It was a waste of resources. I shook my head and carefully made my way to my tent that flapped in a sudden gust of warm night wind.