Zaman dropped his scimitars and lunged to catch her. Shep moved to follow when Thorn leapt from the stall roof, her boots hitting him square in the chest. He sprawled on his back. When his head cleared he saw the tip of a crossbow bolt less than an inch from his nose.
Thorn leered. “The Master Supreme wants you kept alive for some reason, Shepherd.” She laughed. “But, you know, I just don’t think I can resist pinning your head to the ground.”
Shep’s boots came up, propelling Thorn over his head. He rolled and threw himself to one side. A crossbow bolt hit the cobblestones where his head had been a moment before. He looked up to see Thorn yank another bolt from the quiver on her hip.
He scrambled to his feet and glanced at Zaman. The Shashiran held Arra in one arm, Shep’s sword in the other.
“You be needing this!”
Shep caught the thrown sword just in time to deflect another bolt. He marched toward Thorn, arm moving almost of its own will as it batted aside two more bolts. He could see the desperation on her face. Still, she didn’t back down.
“You’ll never beat us!” She shrieked as she loosed one last bolt. “Black Blood will always be there, hiding in the shadows until they can’t hold us! Sirin will never-”
Shep sidestepped the hasty shot and darted in close. Thorn swung the crossbow at his head. He sliced it down the middle, the edge of his blade catching her face. Her agonized wail deafened him. She staggered away, clutching the ruins of her left eye as her other eye filled with terror. With a scream, she turned and fled into a black alley.
Shep made no move to follow. He bowed his head and pictured Sharon’s sweet face.
“You were right all along, my love. Thank you.”
The face in his mind changed into one of pure light. Opalescent eyes gazed at him, full of joy inexpressible. From far, far away, Shep heard clear notes playing. They filled his heart like no music he had ever heard before.
A hand gripped his shoulder. “Captain?”
He looked up at Zaman. “My friends call me Shep.”
“Shep.” Zaman smiled.
Thin arms wrapped around his neck. “I’m sorry!” Arra sobbed. “I’ll never complain about being the doorkeeper again!”
He held her tight for a long moment.
“We should be getting back to the Sanctuary.” Zaman pulled Arra to his side.
Strengthened by a newfound certainty, Shep shook his head. “I will not be coming with you. My garrison and my men have struggled without their Captain for too long. Though I do not care much for my noble, I have a duty to them and to the innocents we can protect.” A corner of his mouth turned up. “Not all of us soldiers are evil, you know.”
Zaman extended his hand. “Then this be goodbye.”
Shep took it and laughed. “You are not getting rid of me that easily. Aside from training those boys back at the Sanctuary, I thought I might follow the profession I am named for and round up a few Lambs for you from time to time. If you will have me.”
He watched the Shashiran scan his face. “You . . . be all right then?”
“No.” The admission felt good. “I will not be all right for a long, long time. But I think healing has begun .”
The next thing he knew, he was a foot off the ground, wrapped in a crushing bear-hug.
“Brother!” Zaman laughed.
Arra’s head spun back and forth between them. “I, I don’t . . . what just happened?”
Shep rubbed his ribs and coughed before looking at her. “Do you remember that time we talked about candles?”
Her eyes widened.
“Well, I think I am finally ready to light mine.”