A bullet whined over Gale’s head, others colliding with the leaves and bark of trees around them. From somewhere close behind came angry voices, cursing and shouting. Looking back, Gale caught a glimpse of dark skin and fatigues moving amidst the trees.
“They’ve caught up!” she wheezed, increasing her speed.
For Deb’s part, fear and adrenaline seemed to have given her the winged sandals of Mercury, as she now pulled Gale along after her. Her breath hissed through the tube in the demon mask’s mouth.
They broke through a tangle of vine-like undergrowth and emerged into the open. An expanse of tall, dead grasses and withered saplings rode low hills to the horizon, waves upon a sea of poisoned weeds. The sky overhead was glutted with dark storm clouds. Here they found it even harder to run, the grass wrapping around their legs as though trying to hinder them. Before they had covered more than a couple hundred yards, a trio of Selivanov’s soldiers emerged from the periphery of the forest. A shout from one of them apprised the women of their presence. They raised their guns.
“Down!” Gale shouted, diving, pulling Deb down after her. They sank into the tall grass as bullets pierced the air above them. “Crawl!” Gale said, weeping and near hysteria. “We have to crawl!”
The soldiers plunged into the clearing after them, spraying the waving grass with gunfire. Several bullets struck close to Gale and Deb, sinking into the dry ground, cutting through the tall stalks. Gale collapsed onto her face, sobbing. Deb grabbed a handful of her hair to force her up. They crawled as fast as they could.
The soldier in the lead of the pursuit stopped with a curse, grabbing his calf.
“What is it?” demanded the one behind him.
“Something bit me!”
“Stirred up a nest!” He fired down into the grass around his feet.
“Got me again!” The first man danced in a circle as he peppered the grass with bullets. The third man, having entered the clearing, retraced his steps.
Gale and Deb saw none of this, nor did they see a panting, purple-faced Charlie Drenth stumble from the woods out into the open, flanked by another pair of soldiers. They continued to crawl in defiance of their exhaustion, their torn and bloody hands and knees. Gale clasped her side, ignoring the stabbing pain of her overexertion. Deb blew mouthfuls of spittle from the hollow tube, sucking air. They kept going.
Charlie stood at the edge of the swaying grass. He scowled down at the men on the ground, their legs already swelling from the snakebites. He spat, wiped sweat from his
“Torch it!” he said. “Let’s see if they can outrun a fire!”
The men around him spread out, setting fire to the grass at several points. In an instant, a wall of flame rose up and began to march across the clearing, leaving scorched dirt in its wake. “Burn, bitches, burn!” Charlie said.