They roam among us, human, but not not quite. Healers on the one hand and Ravagers on the other, a Yin and Yang bound to each other in an eternal war. When Kat is ordered to assist the Russian government suppress a Ravager-backed uprising in St. Petersburg, she uncovers a secret that will change how the world sees her kind, forever.
Chapter 4: The Secret
I look at the faces of all the radical insurgents and wonder which one of them is the Ravager. They all look the same from here—tired but alert, waiting for an attack they know is coming. They look mean, but maybe that’s just my bias. Though I can’t imagine any of them being willing to negotiate safe passage across the bridge. In any case, we’re outnumbered more than three-to-one, and we’re outgunned. Plus, I’ll have to fight the Ravager at some point, assuming I stay alive that long. The whole thing’s starting to seem like a suicide run.
I’m beginning to regret becoming an Archangel. It was my brother’s whole idea in the first place. He’s the one that pushed me into the Foreign Corps’ recruiting office. I was flying off to training before I even knew what was happening. And now, here I am, six quick months later. Stranded in the middle of Russia with nothing but a pistol and a power bar to help me out. Sure, I’ve got the squad, but I don't even know these people. We only had two days of unit integration before getting shipped off—just us healers and the squad—and now that Cody’s gone…well, I just feel alone.
My dad was in the Domestic Corps. He got to stay in our home town and treat his neighbors and friends. Sure, there was the occasional conference and emergency call, but he was always around colleagues he’d known for years, and definitely never around tanks or Ravagers. Maybe that sort of life would have been better for me. Something quiet. Something normal. The world may see me as some sort of fantastical enigma, a great being with mystical healing powers, but I still feel like just some kid from Kentucky, fresh out of college.
A bolt of light zips across the road and collides with one of the tanks, ripping through its armor as if it were made of paper, turning it inside out with a jarring blast. A plume of black and orange pulses outwards, spewing thick smoke and molten metal high into the sky. I gasp as the shockwave hits me, but my lungs instantly fill with the bitter taste of burning fuel, forcing me to muffle the ensuring coughing fit with my arm.
Gunfire rings out not a second later as team one begins their assault, a high-pitched collection of pops and cracks that snap at the radicals’ defenses. The bullets strike the barricades by the bridge and ricochet off the pavement at a relentless frequency, but the radicals refuse to be intimidated. If anything, the attack only entrenches them further. Then, the second tank grumbles to life and swings its turret around to face the museum. With a single shot from its main cannon, the entire side of the building comes crashing down in a thundering roar. It’s an awesome and terrifying sight, a testament to the magnitude of our opponents' destructive capabilities, and if this were any other unit, we’d have turned back a long time ago. But that’s not an option for us.
We emerge from cover in a single file line and make our way towards the enemy defenses, linked together with hands on shoulders. They don’t see us yet, but it won’t take long. The gunfire from team one is weaker now, almost non-existent. We can’t count on them to come to our rescue now.
Suddenly, I’m overcome by a horrible, sickly feeling, and the soldier in front of me drops to the ground, dragging me down with him. I push myself up with one hand and extend my senses, searching for a wound, but I can't feel anything. So I try imbuing some of my life into his body, but nothing happens. He's dead.
My heart drops to the bottom of my stomach as I put the pieces together. No detectable wound. Instant death. A silent killer. There’s only one way to explain it all. I look up, but I already know what I’ll find. About twenty yards off stands a smug, wild-eyed radical. No rifle. No weapon. Not even armor. Just herself, right there in the middle of the road. She stares directly at me, her hands held up with traces of residual energy still lingering on her palms.
With a twist of her wrist, she sends a glowing bolt of energy in my direction. I lift my arms in response, and my own invisible shield deflects the attack. She sends another, and another, a rapid salvo that pushes me onto my back, but each time I barely manage to fend it off. "Spread out!" I order the three remaining soldiers on my team, making sure to extend my shield as they obey.
The Ravager pokes at my defenses with another few shots, but I remain firm. As long as the team keeps their distance, we’ll be fine. Ravagers can kill with a single touch, draining their victims of energy, and there's nothing I can do about it. But they can still be shot by conventional weapons, though, if we're quick enough.
Just as I'm about to order the team to take the shot, a bullet catches the grenadier to my right, and he drops to the ground. I hurry to help him, but I’m stopped by a sharp thwack in my leg, and I cry out in pain. I look down and see blood pouring freely from a bullet wound onto the pavement below. "No, no, no," I mumble in panic. Blood is my source of energy, my ability to heal people and to fight. I can't afford to lose any of it. Even now, I sense the life draining out of me, and the world begins to tilt ominously to the side.
I watch helplessly as the Ravager capitalizes on my disability and sprints towards one of the last remaining soldiers before I can react. He fires his rifle at her, but it's too late. With hands outstretched, she grabs him by the arm and throws him to the side. He's dead before he hits the ground, his life force sucked dry. The Ravager then turns on me, a victorious spark in her ice-blue eyes. She throws a bolt of energy in my direction and I knock it out of the way, but my strength is close to depletion. I don’t think I can block the next one.
My thoughts begin to deteriorate as a confused haze fills my head, but at one point I recognize someone tugging on my armor, dragging me away off the street. At first, I think I’m imagining it, but then I’m pulled through an open door, into a dark living room, and dropped unceremoniously to the ground. I attempt to heal my wound, but I just don't have enough energy to seal the breach in my artery.
A soldier falls to my side and rips a tourniquet out of his shoulder pocket, then hurries to apply it to my leg. I recognize the soft face of Specialist Toole, I think. It’s hard to tell. But then something changes inside me. The world becomes clearer, and I realize I'm gaining energy, somehow. I’m returning to full strength. It's the same feeling I get when energy leaves me, but just the opposite, like a battery charging.
Could Specialist Toole be a Healer, and we didn't know? I dismiss the thought; Healers can't give energy to other Healers. It's just not how we're built.
There's a blast outside the door, and a whole chunk of the wall comes crumbling to the ground. The Ravager and two other insurgents then come charging through, the soldiers with their rifles raised, the Ravager with her palms. My heart drops. I'm still in the middle of knitting my artery back together. Even with the added boost of energy, I can't spare the effort to defend against the Ravager. But then Specialist Toole spins around and—to my utter astonishment—sends streaks of luminescent energy flying across the room. All three of them fall limp without another thought.
I scamper backwards deeper into the building, leaving a smeared trail of blood behind me. Toole turns to me, but I raise my hands in front of my face in defense. "What are you?" I spit.
"You're one of them! You're a Ravager! A spy!"
"If you'd give me a second to explain," he begins, advancing towards me with cautious steps.
I pull out my sidearm and point it at Toole's head, a move that stops him in his tracks.
"Please, you wouldn't. You can't. You're a healer."
"I'd have every right," I snarl back. "These people trusted you. They were your family!"
Tears well up in his eyes, threatening to stain his dirt-smeared face. "I know."
"I should have known," I chastise myself. "I should have recognized the signs of a Ravager."
"I'm not a Ravager," he says, taking another step forward. I pull the pistol’s hammer back and he stops again. "I mean, not like you think?"
"Yeah? How am I supposed to think, then? Huh? Where did you learn that neat little trick back there?"
"Didn't I just help you? Didn't I save you?"
"Probably so you could take my energy for yourself before I died."
Specialist Toole puts his hands on his head then drops to his knees in a sign of surrender. "Just because I share their abilities, doesn't mean they're the same as me. You have to believe me. I wouldn't hurt you. This is how I've always been. I discovered it when I was in the second or third grade, and I've never told anyone ever since. Because I knew what people would think if they found out I was like them. They'd probably do what you're doing right now. And how could I blame them?"
My pistol wavers for half a second, and in that time, the smallest bit of doubt slips in-between the cracks of my conviction. "And just now? You can heal too?"
"That I don't know. I've never been able to do that before. It was more of a Hail Mary."
Can what he's saying be true? If so, this would be one of the greatest discoveries of our era. A Ravager in America, but not a Ravager? One that's been living in secret his whole life without detection? And then there's the fact that he can transfer energy to me? What if there are others?
A large explosion outside reminds me that we're still in the middle of a battle, one that we're losing.
"So, you aren't going to kill me?”
Toole runs his hand over his heart in a cross pattern.
I have no choice but to trust him, and it's true he could have killed me a dozen times by now. I lower my pistol and holster it again. Toole rushes to my side in a single bound and helps me up, then moves over to the hole in the wall and peeks through.
I stare at his hands, imagining the power they're capable of, imagining what they could do to help our side. If Ravagers take energy, and somehow Ravagers like Toole have the ability to give energy to Healers, then Healers could take that energy and use it to cure the masses. We wouldn't be limited to our own stores of energy or those awful energy bars, we could pull little bits of energy from multiple living energy banks—enough to be useful but not enough to kill the host—crowdsourcing the healing of millions. Now that my emotional guard is down, and I have the chance to actually think about it, it's like Ravagers and Healers were always supposed to work together, like some sort of yin and yang.
But what about the Prophecy?
Ever fated to fight and fall, save one arise to rule them all…
Save one arise…
Thus reasons one is more than two, while one less one is nothing, too…
One…without the other is nothing.
I join Toole at his side. Three more radicals are making their way down the street, taking cautious steps in our direction, and I can hear the tank drawing nearer around the corner. I can't fight a tank on my own. I could maybe make a shield big enough for the two of us, but to have it last long enough for us to get across the bridge, I would need more energy…
The fettered bond will liberate. The selfless gift remunerate…
I take Toole by the arm. "I need you. I need your help,” I say.
He looks over to me, somewhat surprised at my touch, but then nods. I describe to him my plan, which now that I say it out loud seems like a massive stretch, but he agrees to it and shoulders his weapon.
"Are you sure you're willing to do it?" I ask.
Toole moves his head solemnly in the affirmative and takes me by the hand with a smile. Now that our connection is intentional, I really feel the energy flowing through him into my body. I’m more alert than I've ever been in my entire life, giddy almost, if that’s the proper word. It's such a strange and invigorating feeling. I've never felt more powerful.
I turn to Toole—who looks limp now and close to passing out—and I grab him by the waist.
Only then can one be more. Only one can win the war.
We take a step out into the street, and I raise my palm.