either sidling out from between two of them faster than they could react, or even leaping overhead to land some yards distant. Never could they manage to attack him in more than pairs-or, if they were truly lucky, a trio-before he found a way to disengage. Thanks to their inhuman speed, Widdershins and Ferrand had both landed the occasional blow, and even Evrard had gotten in a good thrust while the creature was distracted, but none of the wounds had lingered. Iruoch appeared as healthy, and as fresh, as the moment he arrived, whereas the humans-even drawing on each other's strengths, to say nothing of Olgun's-were growing tired.

The grass around them was trampled flat, the dust kicked up in hovering puffs. Anyone who observed the ground afterward would have believed a pitched battle with dozens of soldiers must have taken place here. But for all they darted to and fro, parried back and forth, ran and twisted and slashed and lunged, it remained meaningless.

Iruoch and the chorus of ghostly children never ceased their cackling and giggling.

Evrard slashed, the creature sidestepped, and Widdershins abruptly dived. Rolling beneath the aristocrat's arcing sword, she came to her feet only inches from Iruoch, thrusting her own blade clear through his belly. For the first time in what seemed forever, the laughter ceased. A twitch of pain racked his face, but Widdershins had no time to savor her victory, however minor. While she easily ducked below the swipe of fingers that she knew was coming, neither she nor Olgun were fast enough to avoid the knee that followed. Her head ringing, blood coursing from a split lip and one nostril, Widdershins tumbled back to fetch up against the side of a tombstone. Iruoch moved as though to follow, but Evrard and Renard closed in, weaving a wall of steel, buying her a moment to catch her breath.

She glanced up, puzzled, as Ferrand reached out a hand to help her rise. “I'm not much good while you're out of it,” he reminded her, smiling through a purple-mottled jaw.

Blinking to clear the spot and splotches from her vision, Widdershins took in the scene before her. The two swordsmen were falling back, step by rapid step, scarcely able to slow Iruoch. Julien and Igraine had reloaded their pistols, searching in vain frustration for a clear shot and all too aware that it wouldn't help even if they found one. Sicard held his silver Eternal Eye amulet before his face in a trembling fist, breathing heartfelt and ever more desperate prayers across its surface.

Widdershins watched the bishop's mouth moving just beyond the icon, as though entranced. Then, as if abruptly unaware of the urgency of what was happening around her, she turned toward the tombstone against which she'd been hurled. It was very similar to all the others in the cemetery-very similar to the one Iruoch had, abruptly, pulled away from as he approached.

Much was embossed in the hard granite: names and dates, of course, ivy and leaves and growing things… And the symbols of the various gods to whom the fallen had been most closely devoted.

Whether it was the mystical link between them or a more mundane understanding, Ferrand nodded sharply. “Will it be enough?”

“Bet it'll slow him down, at least,” she said.

“Will we be enough?”

“The three of us will. Olgun?”

She swore she could sense the god taking a deep breath, bracing himself against-against whatever spiritual surface he might have had to brace himself. “On three,” she told Ferrand.


The two of them laid their hands upon the headstone, one on each side, gripping as tight as the broad and relatively smooth surface would permit.


They burned with the surge of Olgun's power, infusing flesh, muscle, bone. Between the two of them, the heavy granite rocked easily within its shallow foundation of soil.


The tombstone wrenched free of the earth, dripping dirt and beetles and strands of root. Again, Olgun's power flared within them and they were running, faster even than they had before, when unencumbered by hundreds of pounds of stone.

Widdershins felt Ferrand's exhaustion as a lapping tide against her calves even as she struggled to repress her own. A quick glance his way, and she nearly dropped her side of the stone; his cheeks were pale and hollow, his brow glistening, as though he'd gone for nights with neither sleep nor food over the span of the last minute. She wondered if she looked half that badly off, if she'd even feel it if she were.

Iruoch saw them coming, of course. But just as he began to step back, Evrard and Renard redoubled their attack, pinning him into place for an extra few seconds…

With a twin scream not entirely dissimilar from the creature's own voice, Widdershins and the monk slammed the makeshift battering ram into the creature, leading with the holy symbol of Geurron along the topmost edge.

Bone and granite cracked in an ear-rending duet. The phantom children gasped and fell silent, even as Iruoch screamed. Widdershins pushed forward, onward, until her enemy collapsed, pinned to the earth beneath the weight and sanctity of the carven stone.

“Now! While he's down!” She struck as she cried out, thrusting with the tip of her blade, aiming for the face, the neck. Around her, the others did the same with sword and staff, struggling, hoping, praying that they could actually kill the damned thing before it had the opportunity to recover.

They failed.

Continuously shrieking, his face coated with the dried powder that might or might not have been his blood, Iruoch tensed, bringing his knees up and his elbows down. The tombstone cracked across the center and fell away in two distinct halves. One tumbled to the earth with a dull thump as the fae twisted to his feet. The other, lacking any of the symbols he found so agonizing, he clutched in a single inhuman hand.

“My turn…”

Ferrand reached out, trying to hook Iruoch's arm with the curved end of Sicard's staff-and Iruoch spun and drove the chunk of stone down, shattering the monk's knee into a mangled wad of torn flesh, ripped tendon, and splintered bone.

With so horrific an injury, even a normal man might well have succumbed to shock. Already under the strain of the bishop's spell, laboring to channel a divine strength that was never his, Ferrand's body simply surrendered.

He fell limp to the blood-soaked grass. And Widdershins felt her throat trying to rip itself open from within as she screamed.


Fire and ice warred for dominance in the nerves of her leg, making the entire left side of her body lock up in agony. Sparks burst inside her; her own thoughts stabbed at her; her memories singed the edges of her mind. Her vision-or what little she could make out through the blurring and twisting of the inner fire-constricted, a tunnel, then a pinprick in a field of black. Through it, all she could see, now, was Ferrand's slack face, and she knew without a doubt that the spell was dragging her down into death alongside him.

Except it didn't. She felt the grass under her cheek, little things crawling in the soil, the sun beating down on her neck. She heard the swish and clatter of blades, the grunts of exertion, the bishop's broken voice calling Brother Ferrand's name.

Her leg ached, but it was a dull, distant sort of pain, the last lingering remnants of an old injury. And where she'd felt that peculiar connection, that strange echo of Ferrand's memories lurking just behind a thin curtain of concentration, she now sensed only…


Despite his lack of anything resembling a head, she sensed what could only be a nod.

“You cut the link?”

Another nod, along with an emotional gust suggesting, in no uncertain terms, that it hadn't been even

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