"Don't bite!" Dumbass. Perfect wolf for you - isn't happy until he's got poisonous shit smeared all over his teeth.
The vamp had backed the last reeve flush against the trees. "I can't help but point out that they don't deliquesce."
The reeve hissed. Claws broke through her knuckles.
"They melt like the wicked witch of the west when the magic's up."
The vampire glided closer to the reeve. "So you say."
Why wasn't he killing it?
A shiver ran along the bloodsucker's flanks. It hugged the ground. The reeve hissed again and froze, petrified. Convulsions rippled down her long legs.
No. He couldn't possibly.
"You're out of your mind."
"We're only a mile from the Casino. Well within my range." Ghastek's voice sounded distant like it came from the bottom of a barrel. The reeve and vampire shivered in tandem.
"You can't navigate them both!"
"We shall see."
No, we won't. I headed for the reeve, saber ready.
The reeve swayed on her feet and slashed at the vampire. Scarlet lines swelled across the vamp's chest and sealed.
"I'm so glad you decided to play," Ghastek's voice said from the vampire's mouth.
"Hey, would you look at that shit?"
I turned on my heel. The patrons who'd fled at the first hint of trouble had come back and were enjoying the spectacle.
"Clear out!" I barked.
They paid me no mind. Asshole innocent bystanders.
The reeve's mouth gaped open and Shepherd's voice issued forth, dry and sibilant, full of echoes of dead leaves crushed underfoot. "Surrender, human."
"Bolgor the Shepherd, I presume?" The vamp reared.
A spasm gripped the reeve. She crashed to her knees, her shoulders trembling. The Shepherd rasped. "You cannot stop us. The gate of the Otherworld yawns wide. The Great Crow leads the host. Look into the darkness, human, and you will see your death riding to greet you!"
"That's a lovely speech. Almost Shakespearean." Ghastek's vamp rocked forward and the reeve mirrored its motion.
Magic drenched us. Instantly the bodies littering the ground melted into sluice.
The black mass of the reeve's hair snapped. Thick cords bound the vampire, squeezing its throat. The bloodsucker made no move to resist. I was almost to them.
The puddle to the left of me shrunk, evaporating at a record rate, but before it vanished completely I saw it shake and felt the ground kick my feet.
A loud thud came from the right. A rickety wooden wagon at the northern intersection rocked and crashed onto its side, splintering into shards. A hulking figure emerged from the wreck: eight feet tall, green, moving ponderously on columnar legs, his head topped by a horned helmet. At least one hundred pounds of chain mail wrapped around his torso. His shoulders would've made Andre the Giant weep. A long meaty tail hung from under the chain mail, shaking as he ran.
"Kneel before Ugad, the Great Crow's Hammer!" The Shepherd hissed in triumph.
Ugad the Hammer, huh? "You've got delusions of grandeur. 'Bubba' would've done him just fine."
The juggernaut stomped toward us. The spectators scattered like so many mice. Stunned into sudden silence, the fetish vendor gaped at the approaching monstrosity. He fumbled at his charms and shook a small circle of ribbon at the monster. Ugad paid it no mind. His right thigh brushed the cart, spinning it onto the sidewalk. Bright charms spilled in a calico mess on the pavement.
The monster accelerated. With a shock I realized he wore no helmet. Those were his horns, growing from the skull covered with swirls of tattoos.
Behind me the vampire hissed. I glanced at it. The reeve had backed away. The vampire sat alone. Ruby-red eyes glared at me full of hunger, unleashed, unchained, all consuming. No navigator rode this mind.
No answer. Ghastek had lost him.
The vamp gathered like a coiled spring, leaped at me, claws poised for the kill...
A shaggy body rammed the vampire in mid jump. With a snarl, Derek dragged the bloodsucker down. The vampire sank its fangs into his shoulder.
Ugad bore down on me.
I dodged left and sliced at the tendon in the back of Ugad's knee. The cut should've taken him down, but instead he spun around. A huge tail swung at me, the meaty protrusion at the end whistling like a club hurtling through the air with great speed. I jumped aside and sliced at the tail. The monster moaned and backhanded me. I saw it coming, but caught between his tail and the hand, I had nowhere to go.
The blow swept me off my feet. I flew and landed hard on my shoulder, sliding across the asphalt. The impact numbed my back.
I jumped to my feet and rolled, just as the tail swung over my head. A huge foot chased me and stomped the asphalt where my head was a moment ago. Ugad bellowed in frustration, making the thick network of veins on his neck bulge. So many places to cut. If only I could make him shorter, so I could get up there.
Another stomp. I leaped back.
Ugad swiped at me. I stood still for him. Whatever it takes to get to the target. A shovel-sized hand closed about me, pinning my sword arm, and dragged me up, off my feet, toward Ugad's piggish eyes. My bones groaned in protest.
The monster's face swung into view. His dim eyes lit up with cruel glee under the tangled mess of tattoos on its forehead. The tattoos...
The jagged lines etched on his scalp suddenly made sense, flowing into a word of power. Pain exploded at the base of my skull and drowned the world in a bright fiery splash. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't scream, I felt nothing. Caught in a typhoon of pain, I wrestled with the word. I had to make it mine or it would fry my mind. I had to say it.
A clump blocked my throat. My voice refused to obey. Pain shot and twisted through my body, as if tiny needles pierced every cell of me. The pain burst and I screamed the word to escape it. "Osanda!"
It hurt so much.
I am dying.
The reality rushed at me with crystal crispness. The monster's knees hit the asphalt. White shards of broken bone thrust through the ruptured muscle. Ugad moaned, a sound filled with bewilderment and pain.
Kneel. The word commanded the target to kneel. I had been hoping for "eat dirt and die."
Ugad crushed me, shaking me with the last of his strength. Compared with the pain of the power word, the steel vise of his fingers felt almost weak.
Never mind comparing - kill now, compare later.
I passed Slayer into my left hand and slashed across Ugad's thick neck, opening a wet, red second mouth under his chin. Red and gray blood gushed. The monster's maw gaped open in one last, silent scream. He released me and toppled forward, breaking into liquid as he hit the ground. Greasy fluid splashed me. My lips burned from contact with an alien magic.