Concetta raised a hesitant hand. “I was on the Net before the warning came.” Lower lip trembling when everyone focused on her, the shy empathy ducked her head.
Rabbit ran over to nuzzle at her leg in an attempt to help. Aware the other woman was afraid of her pet, Ivy went to call him back, but to her surprise, Concetta bent down to very carefully stroke Rabbit.
“Well?” one of the men urged.
“Can it, Chang.” Isaiah walked over to crouch next to Concetta, his next words too low to carry.
Nodding, the tiny blonde allowed him to gently tug her to her feet. “I was looking at the infection, and” – she locked her fingers together, flexed, unflexed- “I saw the leading edge of a power wave smashing through the Net, like during the anchor collapse in Australia, but this was worse.” Her amber eyes stark, she shook her head. “I expected to go down under it, but I haven’t felt anything.”
Neither had Ivy. It took a split second for her to guess why. Oh God!
“The Arrows,” Jaya whispered as Ivy glanced frantically around the compound. “They must’ve protected us.”
“Where are they?” she asked, unable to see a single black-clad figure. “Where are the Arrows?” Vasic! Answer me!
The other scattered in a rush of pounding boots over snow.
Abdomen twisting as she thought of the blank absence when she’d reached for Vasic, Ivy fought her nausea to bend down to her loyal pet. “Rabbit, where’s Vasic? Find him. Find Vasic.”
Her dog took off toward their cabin. Racing after him, she saw her Arrow seated against the far wall, his open eyes bleeding ruby tears, and his hands fisted so tight, she could count each tendon and bone. “Vasic!”
Collapsing to her knees in front of him, she sucked in a breath. No iris, no pupil, his gaze was the pure black that denoted a massive use of power. A vein pulsed dangerously on his temple, drops of perspiration rolled down to his jaw, his breath ragged but present. When she touched her finders to his wrist, she found his pulse was running so fast, she couldn’t count the separate beats.
Dawning horror in her veins.
The incident, whatever it was, wasn’t yet over. Vasic was holding the shield that had protected her and the other Es.
Jaya, have you found Abbot? she asked, telling herself she could give in to the clawing panic inside her after Vasic was safe. Is he conscious?
Yes, but I can’t reach him, Jaya replied, her mental voice shaky. Isaiah’s Arrow was with Abbot, and he just lost consciousness. Isaiah’s checking his vital signs.
One hand on Vasic’s rigid leg, his muscles strained to the breaking point, she touched base with the others. The news was not good. Six Arrows are down, she telepathed to the group once she’d heard back from everyone. That leaves only Vasic, Abbot and Mariko to hold the shield. I know Vasic told us to stay out of the Net, but we need to help them.
Already on the PsyNet, Ivy ignored the ferocious turbulence beyond the transparent black of the Arrow shield, forced thoughts of her parents aside, and talked the others through how to merge shields. The resulting creation was ragged but effective.
It was also….different.
Where the Arrow shield was a hard dome, the one below it rippled with the kind of hazy color seen in a bubble of sunlit water, and appeared as thin and as fragile. Yet when part of the Arrow shield cracked, Abbot losing his battle with unconsciousness, the empathic shield didn’t collapse under the strain. It simply flowed with the storm surge until there were no more waves, the PsyNet quiet.
And still Vasic’s jaw remained clenched, his blood crimson against the gold of his skin.
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