There’s a turning point in every war, but I didn’t expect this one to be in my front yard. Allies of the Fae king have moved against the military stationed in Saint Charles. Our unsteady alliances are threatening to fracture, providing the water witches and vampires an opportunity to strike. With losses on both sides, things are far more dire than we realized, and the return of a long-forgotten enemy has made that clear. Thankfully, I know a very grumpy parrot.
Streets filled with fear and terror and blood. This wasn’t what our home was supposed to be. No matter how close war had come before, no matter what we’d fought on the streets of Saint Charles, we’d always managed to keep the commoners safe.
The tourists weren’t the only beings in danger here. The military had seen too many Fae, too many things they didn’t understand. Now they were targeting our allies, and in that action, they were targeting their own allies. They’d set their sights on the Fae who stood with the commoners.
I raised my hand in a useless protest, too far away to reach anyone in time.
The tank fired.
Flames and death and smoke screamed from the barrel of that awful weapon. Aeros raised his fists, and a u-shaped wall of stone sprang up between him and the shell. The wall cracked in the following explosion, sending waves of shrapnel and debris into the air. Angus had barely escaped, grabbing two of the kids who had been too close to the line of fire, and launching into the air with them.
One of the kids he’d had to leave behind screamed and went down, clutching his leg. Aeros glanced at the child, then turned back to face the tank. The Old God dropped into the earth, vanishing into a circle of green light. The tank adjusted its aim, centering on the wall.
The next shot might take the wall of stone, but it was going to kill the half dozen people sheltering behind it too. If they thought firing on the wall would hurt Aeros, they were wrong.
“No!” I shouted, sprinting forward. If I could get close enough, raise a shield, do something. I wasn’t that fast. No one was that fast. “Run!”
Angus dove back into the panicked crowd.
A loud thunk sounded from the tank, the same sound I’d heard before the first shot. I wasn’t going to make it to them in time. Where the fuck was Aeros?
He answered with a fury, rising beneath the tank. One stony fist grabbed the barrel and bent it toward the ground before Aeros flipped the tank over and slammed it into the earth. Stone flowed over the armored metal shell, and the tank screeched as Aeros tore it apart.
“They are children!” the Old God roared. “My stone will bear your names for all time, and the world shall call you monsters.”
“Aeros, no!” I shouted.
He paused with his fist raised above the exposed soldiers, his eyes flashing between me and the terrified men below him.
“Don’t kill them,” I said.
“He’s dead!” A voice screamed, cracking and rising into hysteria. I turned to see a child tugging at the arm of an older man. The child’s wails were the endless, undefined cries of a survivor. There are the cries of grief, and then there are the primal chords of loss no person can put into words. These were the hiccupping, terrible sobs of lives broken, and a world that would never be the same.
“Murderers.” Aeros turned away from the soldiers and looked down at me. “They should be held accountable. Would you not slay them if they were Fae or vampire?” He walked back toward the screaming boy.
I stepped up onto the flattened edge of the tank. “Okay, look, that’s a big talking rock who wants to kill you now. Congratulations on pulling that off. You also just murdered someone’s grandfather, so fuck you very much. Now …” I called on the dead things around me, let the decayed ruin of the gravemakers flow up from the earth to coat my arms and chest. “I suggest you get your tanks the fuck out of here before I decide to let my friend flatten you like tin cans.”
The nearest soldier’s hand reached for his sidearm. All he found was a mangled strip of metal.
I let the gravemaker chaff close over my head. “Draw that gun, and I’ll eat your soul.”
The man next to him had a smarter approach. He placed his hand on his companion’s arm, preventing any further attempts to draw his weapon. When the first man tried to protest again, the smart one grew more forceful.
“Stop it. Don’t you see the thing standing in front of us? Do you want to hug your family again, or you want to die here?”
The man with the gun stopped fidgeting. I backed away, letting them climb out of the ruined tank. The wails of the child behind me cut through the silence of the men before me.
“Never forget that sound.” I turned away at that point, not wanting to see what the men would do. Or maybe I just didn’t care anymore. How had it come to this in just five days?