Chapter Sixty-Five

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Of course Wyndam hadn't shown up alone.

Of course he had filled the woods with his agents.

Of course this was how it all had to end.

Agents flooded from the woods toward the cottage. There was no time to think, only defend. May fired charge after charge, aiming where agents clustered together. She couldn't tell if she was actually hitting—or possibly even killing—anyone, but it wouldn't have mattered if she did. She was so full of blind rage that she didn't care how much damage she did.

Em couldn't be dead. She couldn't be. But with every beat of her heart she thought it might burst straight through her chest because what if it was true? What if she'd already lost it all.

People on both sides of the imaginary line drawn between the parties ducked and dodged for cover. Connor was like a machine, firing his rounds and reloading in seamless, fluid motions. Priva, with her limited supply of hunting arrows, had to be a bit more discriminate with where she fired. Lucky for them, she was an excellent shot.

Jeremy prowled around between them. Whenever a Loyal got too close, he would dart forward, slashing at them with his knives. He was vicious and relentless, fighting like something wild.

"May, move!" he cried over the chaos.

She barely had time to register a flash of motion from the corner of her eye, twisting to her right as a shot rang out. The agent had been so close that the gunshot rang in her ear. A sharp sting ripped across the flesh of her shoulder, only grazing her instead of burying itself into her head. Jeremy was on the agent in an instant, slashing from his right and catching the Loyal in the face with his blade. With a swift kick to the gut, he sent the agent toppling backward before drawing a second knife and leaping in to finish the grisly work.

May's breath heaved. The adrenaline pumping through her system kept the pain in her arm at bay for the time being, and she willed herself to look away, even when she felt the warm stream of her own blood trace down her arm.

Suddenly, Priva let out a startled cry. May whirled around to find her locked in a struggle with another agent who had managed to get too close. Her bow was knocked aside, and the agent had grabbed an arrow from the quiver to use against her. Priva strained against her grip, barely managing to keep the arrow's sharp point away from her throat. Meanwhile, a pair of agents wove toward Connor while he was reloading. He dropped the ammo and swung the rifle at them like a club instead. And still, the agents kept coming.

For a fleeting second, May and Jeremy's eyes met. She could tell he was thinking the same thing she was: they were outnumbered. They were going to lose this fight.

A new sound, strange and out of place, captured May's attention. She looked up into the night's sky; something up there was cawing.

The agent who was grappling with Priva let out a terrified scream, which was followed immediately by a savage snarl and the snapping of teeth. May's gazed swiveled back to the scene and grew wide at the sight of a massive wolf closing its jaws around the agent's throat.

"Lety!" May screamed, half relieved and half horrified. As if in reply, Lety pinned the agent beneath her paw and raised her head to let out a howl. The call was met by a corus of others as wolves, too big to be natural, bound from the woods.

The thunderous roar of vehicles tore up the laneway — a caravan of motorcycles, with a man May recognized as Grant at the head. He brought his bike to a skidding halt, kicking gravel at a trio of agents who scattered to get out of his way. They didn't make it far before the ground cracked open beneath them. Thick tree roots rose from the earth, ensnaring them like animals, and pulling them out of sight. It was then that May noticed Dom in all his forest spirit glory emerge from the darkness. He bellowed, shaking the night with a voice unlike any sound she had ever heard. He thrust a branch-like hand forward, from which a woman leaped down. She landed with grace and took off toward the flaming wreckage of Wyndam's car. To everyone's surprise, she dove headfirst into the inferno with a rasping laugh, and when balls of fire began shooting forth, May knew exactly who she was: Lenore, the dragon mother from the Cirque she and Em had once turned to for refuge.

It was the backup Lety and Dom had left to summon: they had come after all.

This filled May with a second wind and renewed sense of purpose. Now the fight was even, and she had a good feeling about their chances.

She was just about to arm the cannon again when a spectacular golden light filled the battlefield. May turned and gaped at the cottage, where the light was spilling upwards from the roof. It shot up like a searchlight; a shimmering pillar that seemed to reach right to the heavens.

"It's working!" Connor shouted as the air whipped around them. "Rue's made a connection!"

Invigorated, May turned to the others. "We're almost there! Just hold on a little bit longer!"

Again came the cawing sound, a unique voice amid the cacophony of noise. This time, May spotted Fargus as he flitted down to rest atop the SUV. The raven hopped around, agitated, snapping his sharp beak in the direction of a rear tire. There, using the vehicle as a makeshift blockage, crouched Wyndam. Melanie's body lay crumpled and unmoving at his side, but he wasn't paying attention to her. Instead, his gaze was fixated on the light ascending from the cottage, his expression a grotesque mix of awe and fury.

"Get in that house!" he shouted to the agents nearest his hiding place. "The astromancer is calling for the Council! Get in there and stop her!"

May didn't realize Jeremy had been standing at her side until she heard him growl, "I don't fucking think so."

Before she could stop him, Jeremy launched himself forward. He sprinted around Loyal agents, cutting a straight line through the carnage toward his father. May ran after him, all but dancing around any agent who tried to stop her. She pulled back the cannon's charging cartridge, just in case.

Jeremy let out a primal yell. Covered in blood, a giant knife in each hand, he looked like a warrior. Wyndam must have seen it too; his face fell as the color drained from beneath his skin. May noticed his hands a fraction of a second too late. They were shaking, fumbling with something small and dark that glinted in the firelight.

"No!" she screamed as he lifted his hands and the gun—the same one Melanie tried to use on her—and took aim. "Jeremy, stop—"

The shot rang out at the same moment Jeremy reached back, ready to strike. The bullet hit him in the chest, jerking his body back.

He hadn't even hit the ground before May pointed the Star cannon, clenched her fist, and fired.

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