I spat, trying to wipe away enough goo to open my eyes and only getting more goo onto my face. I tasted blood sharp with my magic on my lips. A nosebleed. Shit. I fumbled for the gauze, or I'd have to set the whole scene on fire to hide my magic. I pulled it blindly from my pocket and wiped my face, finally clawing my eyes open.
The bloodsucker lay broken, its chest a mess of crushed ribs, a trail of wet, soft clumps that used to be its heart leading from its body to Derek, who sprawled on his back, unmoving.
The reeve hovered over Derek's prone form. Her hair bound his throat. At least forty feet separated us. I would not make it in time.
The Shepherd's whisper emanated from the reeve's mouth. "Surrender or it dies."
I dropped the gauze and slid my hand up my thigh to the throwing dagger on my belt.
"It dies!" the Shepherd hissed.
I hurled the dagger. The blade bit into the reeve's head, popping her eye like a ripe grape. The impact knocked her back and I threw the shark teeth at her, one after another. The short triangular blades punctured her throat and cheeks. She rocked forward, stared at me with the gaping hole of her eye socket, and broke into water.
I ran to Derek, and I put my head on his chest. Heartbeat. Strong, solid heartbeat.
The vamp's blood smeared his whole head. I couldn't tell if he was hurt.
"Derek! Derek!" God, whoever you are, I'll do anything, please don't let him die.
His eyelids trembled. Monstrous mouth opened. He sat up slowly.
"Where does it hurt?" I nearly slapped myself. Only the most accomplished of the shapeshifters could speak in half-form. Derek wasn't one of them.
"Everrrryear." The word came out mangled but recognizable.
He nodded. "Okray."
He nodded again.
I wanted to cry with relief. My chest felt heavy like it was full of lead. "You can speak in half-form."
"Yeahhh. Veen praaasing."
"Been practicing. That's good." I laughed a little. "That's real good."
He grinned. Bloody shreds of vampiric meat stretched from between his crooked fangs, wet with drool, and I nearly lost my lunch. "Come on, pretty boy, before this place swarms with People, or we'll never get out of here."
I found my gauze, grabbed the horses, and we took off down the street just as the first smear of necromantic magic announced the arrival of the vampiric scouts.
DEREK FAVORED HIS LEFT SIDE. HIS HORSE REFUSED to bear him. I couldn't blame the horse. I wouldn't want his demonic, undead-blood-smeared, wolf-smelling ass riding me, either. But it made us slow.
Three blocks away I commandeered a rickety buggy from an old woman. Commandeered was too strong a word - I flashed my ID and promised her far more money then I had at my disposal. Considering that I still had my sword out and my hair and face were decorated a lovely brown shade of drying blood, she decided arguing too much wasn't in her best interests. In fact, she told me I could have the buggy if I didn't hurt her.
I told her to bill the Order, packed Derek into the buggy, hitched the horses to the back, and drove the big dappled draft horse to the Order.
Within five minutes Derek fell asleep. His skin split, shivered, and a huge gray wolf lay in his place. The beast-form took a lot of concentration to maintain. Left to its own devices, a shapeshifter's body went either man or animal in a hurry. I guess with the flare, the animal must've taken less energy. And that was the trouble with shapeshifters. They were psychotic, fanatically loyal to the Pack, and they needed a nap or a dinner every time they exerted themselves.
But then if I went up against an aged vampire gone berserk, I'd want a nap, too. He killed a vampire. By himself. No help, no magic, just his teeth, and claws, and raw determination. Bloody amazing. I had the next wolf alpha in my buggy. Here's hoping he'd remember me when he made it into the big leagues.
The sunset burned down to nothing. The magic crashed again, hard. Not a trace of it remained, yet the city knew it was there, waiting like a hungry predator in the night, ready to pounce.
My head pounded. My ribs ached with every breath, but nothing seemed to be broken. Thank the Universe for small favors.
Gradually my brain started up, at first slowly, like a rusted watermill, then faster, trying to sort through the nonsense the Shepherd spouted. He had said something about the Great Crow leading the host. A host of reeves could do a lot of damage. I didn't want to dwell on the full implication of that mental picture.
So a host of reeves with the Great Crow in the lead. The Great Crow could stand for Morrigan, except that Bran turned a reeve by the pit into a porcupine, and Bran served Morrigan. Only a man worried about offending his patron goddess would've balked like he did at the idea of swearing by her name.
So Morrigan and Bran on one side, and the Fomorians and the Great Crow on the other. So far we had stayed strongly in the realm of Celtic mythology. I couldn't recall any Great Crows in Irish mythology other than Morrigan. Esmeralda had all those books in her trailer...maybe one of them would mention this Great Crow.
It would only take fifteen minutes to detour to my apartment. Derek's breathing was even, he wasn't bleeding, and he didn't seem in distress. I wanted to check on Julie, but fifteen minutes wouldn't make that much difference.
Why did the Fomorians attack me in the first place? That was the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. First they attacked Red, who had stumbled onto them, or at least so he claimed. Then they attacked Julie. Now they attacked me. Why? What would make them risk a confrontation with a vampire and a werewolf, not taking into account the fact that I had already made three reeves into wet and smelly spots. Revenge? The Shepherd didn't strike me as a hotheaded, "revenge at all costs" type. He was more of a calculating, "friz-ice in his veins" kind of enemy.
I replayed the chronology of the events in my head, trying to find some form of connection. First, Red got jumped by reeves and had his neck scratched. Next, he and Julie went to look for her mother at the Sisters' gathering place. From there, I took Julie home. Red followed us and gave Julie a monisto. The reeves attacked Julie. Then I left Julie in the vault and the reeves attacked me.
That last bit made no sense. An attack on me and Julie in my apartment I could understand. Then, the odds were clearly in the Shepherd's favor. But attacking me the second time, when I had a werewolf and a vampire with me? And out in the open? It's almost as if he had been desperate.
And how did they find me? They didn't track me by scent. Atlanta's streets are too polluted to provide a good scent trail. They didn't track me by sight, either. They would've had to be close to do so, and Derek would've smelled them.