Khadizroth roared, rearing back on his hind legs and beating his wings furiously. The four of them took the opportunity to bolt in different directions, stumbling slightly with the sudden air currents. McGraw vanished with a faint arcane crackle; the rest of them were stuck with their own legs.
The blast of dragonfire that followed spurred them to move faster.
Weaver hurled himself forward into a roll, vanishing between the spreading roots of an oak tree. He moved with surprising agility for someone who’d allegedly spent the last few years in a library. Also, he wasn’t carrying his guitar case; Joe hadn’t seen him remove it and didn’t have time to wonder about it. Billie simply vanished, skittering off into the dark.
Joe let loose a carefully timed barrage with his wands, not activating their full bolts but sending off tunnels of ionized air, along with the slightest push of kinetic force to get the air moving through them. Sure enough, when he chanced a glance backward, the spray of pencil-thin air channels had become lines of fire, drawing away the heat of Khadizroth’s attack.
Still, the blast hadn’t been aimed at them, but merely a reflexive outburst that went mostly over their heads; Joe’s trick (proud of it though he was) wouldn’t have drawn away anything but the outermost fringes of a full burst of dragonfire.
Khadizroth slammed his front feet back to the ground, stone crunching under his massive talons; even his inhuman face wore a very readable expression. Also, it wasn’t so much as scorched. Evidently, his roar had been of anger, rather than pain.
Joe skidded, turning even while moving, brought up his arms and fired. His aim was true as ever; he would have taken the dragon right through both eyes had his target not moved. The wandshots, powerful enough to pulverize oak and pit granite, splashed harmlessly against emerald scales.
A boulder smashed into the dragon from his right side, followed by a barrage of smaller rocks; McGraw was a will-o’-the-wisp of arcane blue flashes as he teleported erratically through the scattered trees, levitating chunks of the scenery as he went and hurling them. The first boulder knocked Khadizroth off balance, the rest serving to keep him unstable, though he didn’t seem to be suffering any harm from the attack.
Khadizroth staggered to the side, arranging one wing to deflect the stones being flung at him. This placed him very close to a willow tree—not bioluminescent but very out of place in the crater—which suddenly sprung to life, wrapping its trailing branches around the dragon’s form. They weren’t long enough to fully entangle him, but served to pull him further off his center of gravity, then seemed to harden in place. The whole tree, in fact, withered to a blackened husk that, unlike normally rotted wood, appeared much stronger than in its healthy state.
Not strong enough to withstand an irate dragon, of course. Roaring, Khadizroth pulled the whole thing up by the roots and hurled it, fragments of blackened wood flying in all directions.
Joe couldn’t see Weaver, but he had to wonder just what kind of magic the man was using.
Another hefty boulder hit the dragon directly on the side of his head, staggering him. Joe took careful aim and fired both wands, punching considerably more power than normal into the shots; he felt his weapons grow uncomfortably warm. The boosted beams didn’t burn through the scales around Khadizroth’s claws, but apparently gave him a serious hotfoot. His roar abruptly climbed an octave in pitch and he yanked the targeted foot away, causing himself to tumble over on his side.
Immediately a rain of ice slashed down from above, plastering the fallen dragon. Joe kept moving; he couldn’t see any of his teammates and was waiting for his wands to cool before firing them again, so he tried to circle around the caldera, giving the dragon a wide berth while angling to get behind him, and trusting Billie to seek him out when it was his turn in the plan. He couldn’t help feeling a surge of elation. This actually seemed to be working!
Then Khadizroth surged to his feet, pumped his wings and shot skyward.
Reflexively, Joe dived for cover, which in this case was an overhanging ledge of rock. The ground out here was full of such protuberances, for which was thankful, at least until half a second later when he realized how thoroughly he had just cornered himself.
Sure enough, there came a blast of fire from above—though, thank the gods, not at Joe’s hiding place. He wriggled back out, dashing toward a thicker stand of trees and offering a brief prayer for whoever had been the target of that attack. In the next second, he decided to worry about himself instead.
Khadizroth landed very nearly on top of him.
The ground shook hard enough to throw him off his stride; Joe caught his foot in a hidden pothole in the cracked earth and tumbled to the ground, the massive presence nearby filling his awareness even so. He only caught a glimpse of huge claws nearly close enough to touch; he couldn’t see the dragon’s wings, head or tail, but when those legs shifted, the math of it warned him. His mental construction of the dragon found a purpose in that change in position, and he rolled frantically rather than wasting precious seconds trying to get up again.
The spaded tip of Khadizroth’s tail was apparently harder than stone, to judge by the way it punched into the rock right where Joe had been laying a split-second before.
Joe’s roll brought him nearly up against one of those massive claws. Lacking any better ideas, he shot it again.
The dragon actually yelped, staggering away from him.
“Stop doing that!” Khadizroth bellowed, shaking the offended digit and glaring down at him.
Joe managed to roll to his feet, raising both weapons; he was far too close. A blow from that tail or those claws would finish him. If the dragon chose to bite or breathe fire, though, he’d have to open his mouth, which would provide a weak point.
Khadizroth swung around, actually increasing the distance between then, but twisting to bring up that tail in position to launch another scorpion-like strike. Apparently a dragon didn’t live as long as he had by making such obvious mistakes.
Not being given an opening, Joe made his own, by way of shooting at the dragon’s eyes again.
Khadizroth snarled in protest, but twisted his head out of the way. He also went ahead and jabbed with the tail, but it was now a blind stroke which Joe avoided. Barely; he felt the wind of it disturb his coat.
Belatedly, he activated every one of the defensive charms he was carrying, spending the extra power to do so mentally rather than trying to fumble for their various switches. They were intended to deflect, redirect or absorb wandshots; the whole lot of them would be pulverized by one hit from those claws or a good blast of dragonfire, but hopefully they’d give him just enough protection to survive it.
Despite how it had seemed for those tense few seconds, he wasn’t in this alone. No sooner had Khadizroth opened his eyes again than a cloud of grit and dust swept up from the rocky ground blasted him right in the face. Retching and actually coughing up bursts of smoke, the dragon backpedaled, shaking his head furiously and beating his wings to drive away the befouled air. Joe still couldn’t see anyone else, but at least McGraw was still alive and working. Even as he had the thought, another boulder smashed the dragon in the side, right below his wing, followed by a second hail of ice, which almost instantly steamed away to nothing in a clumsy burst of fire.
“What?!” Khadizroth snarled, rearing up on his hind legs again to shake his front claws. There seemed to be something dark oozing over his scales. Joe squinted, trying to get a closer look, and suddenly a hand grabbed his shoulder and the whole world vanished in a sharp flash of blue light.
He was disoriented only momentarily, mostly thrown off by the sudden teleportation, very quickly getting his bearings. He was now behind the dragon and a more comfortable distance away.
“Thanks,” he said feelingly. “I don’t think I was about to get far enough from him on my own power.”
McGraw nodded, panting for breath. “Weaver’s doin’ something… Can you tell what?”
“Not from back here. Looked like something climbing up on him, but it’s too dark…”
McGraw placed a fingertip to his temple, narrowing his eyes, and Joe felt a tingle as the wizard silently invoked a spell. “It’s…bugs,” the old man said, frowning. “No, wait… Bugs and vermin. Dead vermin. Holy shit, it’s all dead stuff. Snakeskins, rodent skeletons, dead bugs, all crawlin’ up on the dragon.”
“Will that…hurt him?”
“Can’t see how, but it’ll upset him. Which is as much as our best weapons are gonna do to him, so that’s as good a tactic as any, I reckon.”
“Why, are green dragons offended by dead things? I know they use life magic…”
McGraw lowered his finger, turning to give Joe a sardonic look. “Son, how would you like to have a carpet of dead vermin crawlin’ over you?”
“Ah. I see your point.”
The dragon went aloft again, bathing his own claws in flame. “I see you, Gravestone Weaver!” he thundered, circling above them. “And I see the chains by which you’ve bound that familiar of yours. You are not the first mortal to seek power over death, and won’t be the last. Those many stories have only one ending! Let’s see how you fare when the creature you’ve entrapped is set free!”
“Uh…should we run?” Joe asked nervously. “I mean, do you know what kind of a thing Weaver’s bound to him?”
“Not a clue,” McGraw replied, “there’s a host of rumors around that man, but no solid facts. It’s not gonna be anything pretty, though. Nothing that uses death magic is.”
McGraw shook his head. “No way we’d get far enough. Wands up, Kid, we may be fighting on two fronts in a moment.”
The dragon had landed, far more gracefully than before—at any rate, he didn’t shake the earth this time. He flared his wings, however, lowering his head to stare at a clump of trees in which Weaver, presumably, was hiding.
Then the world tilted.
Or so it felt to Joe; his sense of forces and numbers told him nothing had changed, but his stomach dropped as if the ground had become a wall and he ought to be tumbling out into space. The light took on an odd, greenish tinge, and seemed to be thicker. As if everything around him were slightly blurred.
“Easy,” said McGraw, clasping his shoulder again. “I’ve seen this, though not often.”
“What’s he doing?!”
“Thinning the barrier, reaching through to subtler levels of… Well, this is the first step toward summoning something, an’ now you know why that’s usually done inside spell circles. Don’t use any magic until it stops if you can help it. Might accidentally burn a hole through the planes, and we do not need random demons introduced into this.”
“Summoning?” Joe said weakly, trying to hold his stomach down. Khadizroth had reached out with one front claw, seeming to clasp at something invisible in midair before him.
“Don’t think that’s what he’s after,” said McGraw. “I think he’s attacking whatever links Weaver to his invisible…familiar. Don’t, kid,” he added when Joe raised a wand. “Magic includes wandshots. You distract him right now and he may lose control of that effect, and then who knows what’d happen.”
“But…Weaver’s in danger!”
“Don’t assume we’re in any less danger,” McGraw said grimly. “Just a mite less immediately, is all.”
Abruptly, Khadizroth released whatever invisible thing he was gripping, letting out a shrill cry. He staggered backward, pivoting around and incidentally giving Joe and McGraw a clearer view of him from the front. Distant as they were, he was large enough that they could clearly see something had cut him. The slash across his chest was bordered by broken, blackened scales, as if something had burned through the nigh-impervious dragonhide.
No, Joe realized, peering closer at the discoloration. It wasn’t an even or sharp effect, and the scales near the wound were deformed in shape as well as darkened, festering. Not burned. Rotted.
The good news was that the disturbing effect of Khadizroth’s reaching across the planes diminished sharply, restoring Joe’s vision and sense of equilibrium, though the sky above seemed still to have a green cast.
Khadizroth yelped again, twisting aside, and another black slash appeared across his cheekbone.
“That wasn’t a chain, you unbelievably pompous jackass,” said Weaver’s voice from out of the darkness. “It’s a relationship. Y’see, some of us don’t have to brainwash kids from the cradle to get competent help. I don’t think my ‘familiar’ appreciated your little rescue attempt,” he added smugly as a rip appeared in the edge of the dragon’s wing sail.
Khadizroth backpedaled frantically away from whatever invisible thing was attacking him, rising into the air again. Joe and McGraw watched, fascinated, uncertain whether to try to intervene.
Moments later, Weaver himself appeared beside them, limping slightly.
“Not to pry into your business,” said McGraw by way of greeting, “but what manner of thing, exactly, is he fighting up there?”
“Something not usually found on this plane of existence. Something that could seriously hurt him,” the bard said in a tone of malicious satisfaction. “See how he’s constantly backing up? Trying to get space to finish canceling that dimensional effect, not fighting back. It’s not the sort of creature you can kill.”
“Uh, okay,” said Joe. “Should we press the attack? I don’t think we’re ever gonna see him this vulnerable again.”
“Hold it, kid, we’re just here to keep him diverted while the plan plays out,” McGraw said firmly. “Let’s be honest, nothin’ we got is gonna do more than distract and annoy that dragon. He’s already plenty distracted; I think we’re better served takin’ the opportunity to catch our breath.”
“What’s the matter, old man?” Weaver asked, grinning. “Little too much exertion for you?”
“I get that it’s probably a waste of breath to ask you not to be a jerk,” said Joe, “but this isn’t the time.”
“And speakin’ of time, you’re up!”
All three men jumped at Billie’s voice. She popped up next to them, grinning.
“Wh—that wasn’t nine minutes,” said Weaver. Joe kept his mouth shut. It had felt like considerably longer, but a quick replay of events in his head suggested it had actually been quite a bit shorter.
“Yeah, I had to do less tinkerin’ than I’d figured,” said the gnome. “Had the tripods all ready to go, just had to detach ’em from another project and screw in the portal focus stones. Also, I’m feckin’ awesome. Here ya go!” Beaming, she handed Joe a wallet-sized leather bag.
“Um…are you sure this…”
“Oh, honestly, boy, ain’t you ever seen a bag o’ holding before? You have to have, they’re flippin’ everywhere. Trust me, what you need’s all in there. Now it’s time to back up your boasting.”
“Right,” he said uncertainly, then squared his shoulders and added more firmly, “Right. Okay, just keep him off me. I’ll make it as quick as I can.”
“So, what’s our boy doin’ up there?” Billie asked, cocking her head to peer up at the dragon who was flapping in ungainly circles around the caldera, causing sudden outgrowths of plant life below him as he threw fae magic around, healing up the wounds inflicted by Weaver’s mysterious familiar.
Joe didn’t bother to listen to any of the responses, peering around the caldera. He could see the shape he’d need to set up in his mind. Like a nautilus shell. The network of portals would have to be arranged with exquisite precision, each turn at precisely the right angle, spiraling outward from the initial launch point, the space between them increasing as the angle widened. That was the easy part. It had to fit in the space available; the spiral had to be arranged with the portal points near the ground so as to establish the tripods, there couldn’t be any obstructions between them, and he had only half the space of the caldera in which to work, given that it had to fire Khadizroth toward the spot Mary had indicated near the center. He slowly turned in a circle, mentally shifting the invisible spiral this way and that, trying to find a place where it could align properly. The darkness didn’t help; what light there was came from the eerie vegetation.
Joe was moving at a run as soon as the mental diagram clicked into place. He skidded to a stop next to the starting point of the portal and reached into the bag, pulling out the first tripod.
Billie’s handiwork was starkly utilitarian, but sturdy. The portal stone was an oval amber gem, a faint light swirling within; Joe had never seen one in person, but they were amply described in the enchanting literature he’d studied. The tripod was a collection of steel rods, hinges, rubber stops, braces and springs. It was intimidating to look at for a split second before everything mentally snapped into place for him. All the parts were exposed; seeing how they fit together was as good as an explanation for their use.
Very carefully, he arranged the tripod’s adjustable legs against the ground, twisting and pushing at the whole thing with increasing annoyance. He could see the angle, see just where it needed to go to fit in the spiral diagram, but the realities of putting it there slowed him down. The ground was uneven and its composition irregular; Joe had to repeatedly readjust things as the legs first shifted in loose dirt, then caught on a piece of rock he’d failed to see.
When it hit the right spot, though, it clicked in his mind; he could almost see the lines and angles he’d painted on the backs of his eyes light up when the portal stone settled in exactly the right position. Hardly daring to breathe lest he disturb the perfection of its placement, he touched the activator runes on each of the tripod’s legs, triggering the sticky charms that affixed them firmly in place.
It had likely been less than a full minute, but that was still frustratingly long. Finally, he stood, brushing off his hands on his coat, and turned toward the next spot, setting off at a careful run. It wouldn’t do to break his leg stepping in a hole; this turf would have been poor ground for running even in broad daylight.
“Where do these portals lead to, that makes them such useful power amplifiers?” Weaver asked, jogging alongside him.
Joe gave the man a sidelong glance. “Nowhere. They’re unstable portals; that’s what causes the effect. Think of two portable holes fixed back-to-back.”
“…that gives me a headache just to imagine.”
“Yeah, the feedback it causes is what amplifies the shot. Also what makes this dangerous, and why you’ve probably never heard of the maneuver; it’s not something people do unless they’re desperate or a little crazy. What’re you doing, exactly?”
“I’ve been designated your bodyguard,” Weaver said with a grin. “The other two are going to draw the dragon’s attention away once he finishes with… Yeah, that’s likely to be any moment, he’s making headway. All he needs is an uninterrupted second or two to finish nixing this dimensional effect and then my partner can’t touch him. So…chop chop.”
Joe ignored this last comment, having already slid to a stop on his knees to begin placing the second portal rune.
He actually managed to get that one placed and was in the middle of affixing the third when the light changed again. Joe didn’t need Weaver’s warning to understand that Khadizroth was done being inconvenienced by the backfire of his own dimensional rift.
The distance between portal points increased with each one placed. It was nerve-wracking, having to count on his partners to keep the dragon occupied while he worked to arrange a portal stone in just the right spot, but he had longer and longer periods in which he only needed to pick his way to the next position, and then could spare the attention to glance up at the others. Billie and McGraw appeared to be doing their job well, insofar as they were keeping Khadizroth well away from Joe. The dragon’s bulk was unmistakeable, even when partially obscured by trees, but all he could discern of the action was roaring, flashes and thumps, interspersed with other spell effects and Billie’s taunts.
Joe had just stood up from placing the fourth stone when Khadizroth, who had been circling aloft sending fire blasts at a series of decoy flickers McGraw had launched to hide his teleportation, suddenly diverted, settling to the ground and tilting his head, peering at something there. Joe’s stomach plummeted. The dragon was looking right at the first of his carefully-positioned portal stones.
Would Khadizroth even know what it was? He was a green dragon, not a blue, and portal stones were arcane. They were also a relatively recent invention, and it was a well-known weakness of older immortals that they tended not to keep up with developments that were outside their specific interests. And even if Khadizroth knew all that, could he possibly anticipate their plan? The plan was crazy enough that even Joe could hardly believe they were trying it, and it had been his idea.
It was a moot point, of course. Khadizroth, whether or not he knew the significance of the portal stone, had to know who had placed it there and that they meant him harm. He slammed his claw down, obliterating it.
Weaver drew in a breath through his teeth. “Well, there goes that,” he spat.
“No,” said Joe, calculating rapidly in his head. “No…plan’s still on.”
“What? Boy, you’re not thinking of—”
“Plan is still on. I can adjust; this can still work. Get to Billie and McGraw, tell them so, make sure they don’t surrender or something. And keep him too busy to go looking for the others!”
“I don’t think that gnome knows the meaning of the word ‘surrender,’” Weaver muttered, but he took off without further protest. Joe noted that the man moved much more deftly across the darkened terrain than he himself did.
He had no more energy to devote to wondering about the bard. He could still make this work…maybe. There were unknown and unknowable variables; he could increase the output of the shot easily enough. His original calculations had presumed it would be a standard wandshot launched at the first portal, and his wands were versatile enough to put a lot more power into it. The first portal jump was the sharpest angle and represented the weakest increase in the longshot’s power. But still… Exactly how much energy did it take to daze a dragon? Khadizroth had been shot, iced, entangled, bashed and even wounded by a vengeful spirit, and the sum total of it had done nothing more than anger him.
And, of course, if he found and destroyed any more of the stones, the whole thing would be over.
He forced that worry out of his head, did his best to ignore the sounds of battle not far away, as he carefully placed the fifth—now fourth—and final portal stone.
That done, Joe stood and bolted toward where the first had been put, the spot from which he would now have to make his shot.
McGraw teleported next to him just as he arrived. The old man immediately hunched forward, leaning heavily on his staff with one hand and resting the other on his knee, gasping for breath.
“You gonna be okay?” Joe asked worriedly.
“Yeah,” McGraw panted, nodding. “Jus’ a sec.”
Joe turned to study the scene of battle. Billie and Weaver were both pelting the dragon with wandshots, apparently having given up on trying more complex magics. Khadizroth’s scaly green hide seemed to suffer no ill effects from repeated lightning strikes, though he did twitch his head aside when one came too near his eyes. The dragon was mostly focused on a third figure, though, a glowing blue knight with a shield and sword of light. As Joe watched, the dragon bashed the knight out of the way with a sweep of his tail, which would have utterly pulverized any human being. The figure simply bounded back to its feet and charged again.
“Nice summon,” Joe commented.
“Been savin’ it,” said McGraw, straightening up. “You know how it is. You cling to a rare and valuable piece that’s only got one use, always afraid you’ll need it just after it’s gone. End up takin’ it to your grave. At my age, a man starts lookin’ for reasons to spend that savings.”
“Got your breath back?”
“Don’t you worry about me, I’m good to go.”
Joe nodded. “And you can sense the focus stone locations?”
McGraw grinned at him. “Ain’t my first rodeo, son. Just might be the craziest, though.”
Joe himself felt the crackle of energy as each of the four remaining stones came to life. He couldn’t see the portals; they didn’t give off light. He felt them, though, and had a strong suspicion that he wasn’t the only one. Whether or not he was attuned to arcane magic, Khadizroth was too magical a creature not to be aware of the energy those unstable portals were suddenly putting out.
He was almost in the right position. The dragon absently swatted the glowing knight away from himself again, lifting his head as if to sniff the air. His gaze turned toward the closest portal.
Billie and Weaver, having maneuvered around, unleashed a concerted barrage, blasting his entire left flank with lightning. The dragon snarled, turning to face them and letting out a burst of fire. The flame, strangely, dissipated in midair, no doubt due to an effect one or the other of them had thrown up.
It was a good bluff, Joe thought as the dragon turned and stalked toward them and the two fled. The attack looked like they’d been trying to herd him in the opposite direction, but they had positioned themselves so that Khadizroth’s pursuit was drawing him closer to the sweet spot.
If “pursuit” weren’t too vigorous a word. The dragon moved like a prowling cat, either sensing trouble or just drawing out his approach.
“Time’s a-wastin’,” McGraw grunted, his voice tense with effort. “Longer these portals are up, more likely one’ll go nova on us…”
“I know,” Joe said tersely. “Just a few more seconds…”
Khadizroth slowed, then stopped, just short of the right position, turning his head to stare directly at Joe and McGraw.
“Oh, come on,” Joe protested.
Then the glowing knight, charging from behind, stabbed the dragon’s tail.
Khadizroth let out an embarrassing yip, bounding into the air and whirling to face his attacker. The motion swiveled him so that most of his bulk was right in the line of fire.
Joe was already forming the angles in his mind, had already positioned his body in a slightly awkward pose so that his wand was aligned with the center of the first portal at precisely the right orientation. He drew deeply on the power crystal, judging to the finest iota the precise amount of power the wand could channel at once without blowing up, and fired.
The beam was brighter than any he had ever shot. And that was just on the first leg of its journey.
Moving at nearly the speed of light, there was no dramatic buildup, just a sudden angular spiral of light blazing across the floor of the crater, between trees and boulders, growing hugely in intensity every time it shifted direction. The massive beam which burst out from the final portal smashed into the dragon with titanic force, bearing his mighty form to the ground.
Khadizroth let out a screeching, inhuman wail of pain as he was pinned to the rock by a column of sheer destructive force. Only for a second, though; as swiftly as it had come, the light vanished.
Joe’s wand was so hot in his hand it was nearly painful to hold. At his side, McGraw actually slumped to his knees, hanging his head and laboring for breath.
“YEE-HAW!” Billie screamed, leaping spastically into the air and pumping both fists. “Eat science, bitch!”
The rim of the crater blazed with green light.
Like ripples in a pond spreading in reverse, the circle rushed inward. Joe felt his hair try to stand on end as the wall of light washed over him, collapsing to the point at its center where the stunned dragon lay. It reached Khadizroth’s prone body, then soaked into him.
The dragon shrank down to his elven form, leaving him only a slim, sad figure sprawled insensate on the rock. Mary’s spell had done its work.
“Well, good night in the morning,” Joe said aloud in awe. “We actually pulled it off.”
The only warning he got was the sudden and inexplicable collapse of every one of his shielding charms.
Joe straightened up, looking around in alarm, and something slammed into him from behind. Despite all his senses, physical and arcane, he hadn’t heard or felt anything approach.
Then he became conscious of the pain. Something had struck him hard in the back, but it wasn’t a blunt kind of pain. He suddenly understood it a lot better when the knife was yanked back out.
He lost his balance, stumbling to his knees. The agony…every beat of his heart was like being stabbed anew. Joe’s unnaturally precise senses had never been turned inward that he could remember, or perhaps he was just too accustomed to the workings of his own body to pay them any mind. Funny how that completely changed when the body was no longer working as intended. He was precisely, excruciatingly aware of the spread of fluid in his chest cavity where fluid should not go, of the tortured twitching of the muscle pumping his blood—or trying to, having now been punctured.
A figure stepped around into his field of view, calmly wiping off the wicked-looking hunting knife with a lace-trimmed handkerchief. Of all the preposterous things, it was an elf in a pinstriped suit.
“Impressive,” the man said to him with a pleasant smile. “I mean that sincerely, kid, that was mighty fine work. Sorry about killing you, and all. Just business.”
If he said anything further, it was drowned out by the roaring in Joe’s ears. That, he though distantly, would be the shock and blood loss setting in. My, but it came quickly. He noted the way his view was reorienting itself, indicating he’d fallen onto his back. He could barely tell anymore with the blackness creeping up on his vision. The sound of wings was impossibly loud, even through the noise in his ears.
His last thought was of her face.