Runebinder (The Runebinder Chronicles #1)(5)

He sees her. He sees her hand. He sees her hand from where he stands in the doorway. It droops from the shed, a finger cocked. Her fingernails red. Fingers red. Red, red—

Tenn curled against himself. Curled against the memories.

Nothing else moved in the world.

Just the rain.

Just his breath.

Just his blood mixing with the dead.


HE DIDN’T KNOW how long he lay there. The wind and rain were a constant roar, but their sound was distant compared to the throb of blood in his ears, the roar of memories in his head.

His house is empty. Too empty. He walks. The gun is gone. His hand is covered in blood. Blood, like the blood streaking the walls. Where is the gun? Where are his parents? He shakes. He walks. Water roars within him, a tide that drowns the screams outside. His house is too empty. His house is too silent. He shakes as he walks and the blood-streaked halls tilt. He shakes, and the back door swings. He walks, and his silent house bleeds.

Something brushed his cheek. Frayed nerves snapped to life, and his eyes fluttered open.

Katherine knelt beside him. Blood stained her skin, and long gashes webbed across her in leaking lines.

“Are you okay?” she asked. Her voice was angelic, if only because he had been certain he’d killed her.

Tenn could only nod. There were tears in his eyes. He couldn’t force them away. He was hollowed out. Raw. Earlier, he’d wanted to break the world, but the world had broken him.

Even as the memories ebbed, the pain and the sadness lingered in his lungs. Tears leaked from his eyes unchecked.

“You’re bleeding,” she continued. “Badly.”

He tried to sit. His muscles wouldn’t cooperate. He felt it then...or rather, he felt the lack of feeling. The numbness leaking through his limbs as blood leaked to the soil. His wounds would kill him. Just as her wounds would kill her.

“So are you,” he managed. He bit back a sob. The world was spinning. Fading. Fast.

“You’ve already broken orders,” she said, without the slightest hint of sarcasm. “We might as well live to face Derrick’s wrath.”

Tenn closed his eyes and reached deep into the pit of his pelvis, to the place where the Sphere of Earth rested. It was the second and last Sphere he’d been attuned to. He coaxed it awake and sank his focus into the rich soil of it, to the heavy power that rooted him to the earth. Energy filled him with green light, with the warm, calming sap of gravity and flesh.

He didn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t. Just as he couldn’t move his arm to meet hers, to start healing. His fingers twitched, and she placed her bloodied hand in his. Energy connected, a snap of power, and slowly, painfully, he began his work.

She winced as flesh knitted itself back together. There was no shortcut—he had to heal each wound one at a time. If his connection to Earth had taught him anything, it was that dying was easy; healing was the painful part.

“So like you,” she muttered. “Healing me before yourself.”

He laughed. It hurt like hell, but he didn’t let his concentration break. Even when something warm dribbled from his lips.

“You’re the pretty one,” he whispered, and choked down a sob of pain or despair, he couldn’t tell which.

When her wounds had closed, he turned his attention to himself. Arcs of fire lanced across his skin, seared through his bones. He didn’t grimace. This pain, this physical hurt, couldn’t hold a candle to the hell that Water had dragged him through. This was just a reminder that he was still alive.

After what seemed like hours, he closed off to Earth.

The Spheres all had a backlash as unique as their power, but Earth’s was, in many ways, the most dangerous. Earth was like a drug: when you were on it, you felt invincible, high, immortal. The moment it left you, you were sharply reminded just how weak and mortal and close to death you truly were.

His limbs, though healed, shook as he forced himself to sitting. His heart raced and his stomach wanted to eat itself, but at least he hadn’t used so much that he passed out. Or lost a chunk of hair. Again. He just hoped that nothing would break when he moved.

Together, the two of them hoisted each other up to standing. Katherine wouldn’t meet his gaze; she stared out at the creatures littering the ground around them. Limbs and carcasses were splayed everywhere and, even with the rain, the stink was atrocious. Blood pooled dark and thick like an oil spill.

“Michael?” he asked.

She shook her head and continued looking off into the distance. The rain hid whatever tears she might be shedding. He bit back an apology; apologies wouldn’t bring the guy back. Idiot or no, he had still been their companion. He was still important.

For a while, they stood there, looking out over the massacre. Tenn’s heartbeat didn’t slow, but it was no longer just the blowback of Earth. It was the fear. The fear of what he’d done, or what Water had done. He’d jeopardized their mission by using magic.

Rather, the magic had used him. How? And where the hell had that power come from?

“How did you do that?” Katherine asked.

He started, wondered if he’d spoken aloud. Then he realized that of course she would ask that, because no one could use that much magic and live. At least, no one he’d ever met.

“I don’t know,” he replied. His voice rasped.

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