It was like hanging from the back of a speeding train. Bronwyn was terrifying: She bellowed like a barbarian, the veins in her neck bulging, with Millard’s blood smeared all over her arms and back. I was very glad, in that moment, not to be on the other side of the door.
As we neared the lighthouse, Bronwyn shouted, “Get behind the wall!” Emma and I grabbed Millard and cut left to take cover behind the far side of the lighthouse. As we ran, I saw Bronwyn lift the door above her head and hurl it toward Golan.
There was a thunderous crash quickly followed by a scream, and moments later Bronwyn joined us behind the wall, flushed and panting.
“I think I hit him!” she said excitedly.
“What about the birds?” Emma said. “Did you even think about them?”
“He dropped ’em. They’re fine.”
“Well, you might’ve asked us before you went berserk and risked all our lives!” Emma cried.
“Quiet,” I hissed. We heard the faint sound of creaking metal. “What is that?”
“He’s climbing the stairs,” Emma replied.
“You’d better get after him,” croaked Millard. We looked at him, surprised. He was slumped against the wall.
“Not before we take care of you,” I said. “Who knows how to make a tourniquet?”
Bronwyn reached down and tore the leg of her pants. “I do,” she said. “I’ll stop his bleeding; you get the wight. I knocked him pretty good, but not good enough. Don’t give him a chance to get his wind back.”
I turned to Emma. “You up for this?”
“If it means I get to melt that wight’s face off,” she said, little arcs of flame pulsing between her hands, “then absolutely.”
* * *
Emma and I clambered over the ship’s door, which lay bent on the steps where it had landed, and entered the lighthouse. The building consisted mainly of one narrow and profoundly vertical room—a giant stairwell, essentially—dominated by a skeletal staircase that corkscrewed from the floor to a stone landing, more than a hundred feet up. We could hear Golan’s footsteps as he bounded up the stairs, but it was too dark to tell how far he was from the top.
“Can you see him?” I said, peering up the stairwell’s dizzying height.
My answer was a gunshot ricocheting off a wall nearby, followed by another that slammed into the floor at my feet. I jumped back, heart hammering.
“Over here!” Emma cried. She grabbed my arm and pulled me farther inside, to the one place Golan’s gunshots couldn’t reach us—directly under the stairs.
We climbed a few steps, which were already swaying like a boat in bad weather. “These are frightful!” Emma exclaimed, her fingers white-knuckled as they gripped the rail. “Even if we make it to the top without falling, he’ll only shoot us!”
“If we can’t go up,” I said, “maybe we can bring him down.” I began to rock back and forth where I stood, yanking on the railing and stomping my feet, sending shockwaves up the stairs. Emma looked at me like I was nuts for a second, but then got the idea and began to stomp and sway along with me. Pretty soon the staircase was rocking like crazy.
“What if the whole thing comes down?” Emma shouted.
“Let’s hope it doesn’t!”
We shook harder. Screws and bolts began to rain down. The rail was lurching so violently, I could hardly keep hold of it. I heard Golan scream a spectacular array of curses, and then something clattered down the stairs, landing nearby.
The first thing I thought was, Oh God, what if that was the birdcage—and I dashed down the stairs past Emma and ran out on the floor to check.
“What are you doing?!” Emma shouted. “He’ll shoot you!”
“No, he won’t!” I said, holding up Golan’s handgun in triumph. It felt warm from all the firing he’d done and heavy in my hand, and I had no idea if it still had bullets or even how, in the near darkness, to check. I tried in vain to remember something useful from the few shooting lessons Grandpa had been allowed to give me, but finally I just ran back up the steps to Emma.
“He’s trapped at the top,” I said. “We’ve got to take it slow, try to reason with him, or who knows what he’ll do to the birds.”
“I’ll reason him right over the side,” Emma replied through her teeth.
We began to climb. The staircase swayed terribly and was so narrow that we could only proceed in single-file, crouching so our heads wouldn’t hit the steps above. I prayed that none of the fasteners we’d shaken loose had secured anything crucial.
We slowed as we neared the top. I didn’t dare look down; there were only my feet on the steps, my hand sliding along the shivering rail and my other hand holding the gun. Nothing else existed.
I steeled myself for a surprise attack, but none came. The stairs ended at an opening in the stone landing above our heads, through which I could feel the snapping chill of night air and hear the whistle of wind. I stuck the gun through, followed by my head. I was tense and ready to fight, but I didn’t see Golan. On one side of me spun the massive light, housed behind thick glass—this close it was blinding, forcing me to shut my eyes as it swung past—and on the other side was a spindly rail. Beyond that was a void: ten stories of empty air and then rocks and churning sea.
I stepped onto the narrow walkway and turned to give Emma a hand up. We stood with our backs pressed again the lamp’s warm housing and our fronts to the wind’s chill. “The Bird’s close,” Emma whispered. “I can feel her.”
She flicked her wrist and a ball of angry red flame sprang to life. Something about its color and intensity made it clear that this time she hadn’t summoned a light, but a weapon.
“We should split up,” I said. “You go around one side and I’ll take the other. That way he won’t be able to sneak past us.”
“I’m scared, Jacob.”
“Me, too. But he’s hurt, and we have his gun.”
She nodded and touched my arm, then turned away.
I circled the lamp slowly, clenching the maybe-loaded gun, and gradually the view around the other side began to peel back.
I found Golan sitting on his haunches with his head down and his back against the railing, the birdcage between his knees. He was bleeding badly from a cut on the bridge of his nose, rivulets of red streaking his face like tears.
Clipped to the bars of the cage was a small red light. Every few seconds it blinked.