Behind the Fomorian horde, Morfran stood on a small knoll of garbage. He thrust an enormous, double-edged axe to the sky.
The Fomorians bellowed.
A hundred roars answered them from thick furry throats: wolves snarled and howled, jackals yipped, hyenas laughed, cats growled, rats screeched, all at once, and through it all, unstoppable and overwhelming, came the lion roar.
The Fomorians hesitated, unsure.
Morfran thrust his axe straight up. He pretty much seemed to have one sign for everything: poke a hole in the sky.
The front ranks of the horde started forward, first slowly, trudging, then faster and faster. A stretch of trash-strewn ground as long as a football field separated them from us. The ground shook from the pounding of many feet.
"Hold!" Curran snarled.
A low chant of female voices rose behind us. The magic moved and shifted, obedient to the power within the voices. The ground quaked like a giant drum being struck from within. Vines burst before the Fomorian front ranks and slunk along the ground, twisting around their feet, tripping, binding. The demons halted, tearing themselves free.
A witch screamed. Guttural cries answered her. The sky came alive with glittering shapes. The Stymphalean birds took to the air and plunged at the demonic horde. Feathers whistled through the air and howls of pain echoed them as the razor-sharp metal sliced into flesh. Here and there the demonic forms went liquid. The cauldron would bring them back to life. I remembered what Bran screamed while watching the fight in the Oracle's turtle. He screamed, "Maim." If we could maim a large number of them, incapacitating them but not killing, it would work better than dispatching them only to be reborn. We needed to engage their attention, to occupy them and to thin their ranks to buy Bran safe passage.
The demons had untangled themselves from the vines and started forward again, a roiling mass of flesh and teeth and horns.
My cue. I ran forward, light on my feet, farther and farther away from the shapeshifter line. Ahead, the Fomorians swelled before me.
I dropped all the guards. All the leashes, all the chains, everything that ever restrained me through the discipline and fear of discovery, I let all of it go. No need to hide. Magic flowed through me, intoxicating, heady, seductive. It mixed with my bloodlust and I realized that's how my father must have felt when he led his armies into battle. I was raised by Roland's Warlord. I'd dropped my shackles and they would bow to me.
Magic sang through me. Drunk on its strength, I held nothing back and barked a word of power.
The magic erupted from me like a tsunami. The ground shook as hundreds of knees hit it in unison. The Fomorian ranks collapsed to the ground in a spray of blood and crunch of broken leg bones, as if a giant had stomped an enormous bloody footprint in their midst. My pain was so slight, I barely noticed it. The pressure of magic within me finally eased.
Faced with its vanguard writhing on the ground in pain, the horde halted in horror. I saw Morfran across the field, his disgusting face distinct before me with preternatural clarity, his eyes shocked. I drank that shock in. I reveled in it and I laughed.
"Bring your army, little god! My sword is hungry!"
He jerked as if whipped, and I knew he'd heard me. The axe thrust, pointing at me. He screamed and the horde started forward again. I was still laughing, giddy with so much magic spent so quickly, when the shapeshifters swarmed past me onto the crippled demons.
A hand jerked my shoulder and Derek's face thrust into my view. "Kate! Snap out of it! Kate!"
I laughed at him and unsheathed my swords. Scabbards hit the ground and then I was running.
What happens here, stays here.
A roar arose as the opposing lines of fighters collided like two great ships ramming each other. The first demon swung a blue axe at me. I disemboweled him, almost in passing, and moved on to the next one.
I sliced and cut, my blades biting like two steel snakes with hungry mouths, and no matter how much Fomorian flesh they consumed, it failed to satiate their hunger. I saw nothing, I felt nothing. All melted into the scent and warmth of blood, the scorching heat of the sun, and the liquid lubrication of my own sweat.
They kept coming, enclosing me in a tight ring of flesh. I killed without comprehension, not knowing whom I had dispatched to the cauldron's depths. They were shapes, obstacles in my way to Morfran, and like a well-tuned machine, I mowed them down, unthinking, unrepentant. Every maneuver I tried worked. Every cut found its victim. A curious elation came over me - they were so many and I hoped they wouldn't end. This was what I was born for.
I could go on killing forever.
The ground grew slippery with the fluid of Fomorian death. Slowly a ring of carcasses began to grow around me: we had overloaded the cauldron of rebirth, slaughtering the Fomorians faster than it could regenerate them.
Suddenly the Fomorians broke and fled the gluttony of my swords. The field opened before me. The combatants crashed against each other, thrown back and forth, the lines between attackers and defenders no longer clear. Mad shapeshifters ripped into monsters, their eyes crimson with rage. Witches howled, loosing spells and arrows. The air steamed with blood. The clamor of swords, the pain-laced cries of the injured, the screams of shapeshifters, and groans of the dying melded together into an unbearable cacophony. Above it all the merciless sun blazed, bright enough to blister the skin. This was hell and I was its fury.
I raised my sword and killed again, with a smile on my face.
WHEN I SAW THE SUN AGAIN, IT HUNG ABOVE THE horizon, bleeding crimson onto the sky, puffy clouds soaking in red like bandages on an open wound. We had fought for nearly two hours.
A pair of vampires landed on the mound of corpses.
"Golf Tree, big mob two o'clock, kick lift?"
"Golf Too, Roger."
The vampire on the left grasped the undead on the right, spun and hurled it like a discus. The undead cleared twenty-five feet and landed atop a giant with a shark's head. Claws sliced and the Fomorian went down.
Vampires. That meant Bran had made it.
A body flew past me. I turned and saw him. Grotesque, enormous, he strode through the field, just yards away.
To the left a scaled Fomorian hurled a harpoon. It shot through the air, hit Bran square in the gut, and bounced off. The monster that was Bran grasped the harpoon with a shovel-sized hand and tugged the chain, jerking its owner off his feet. As the Fomorian flew through the air, Bran kicked him like a soccer ball. The blow caught the harpooner's gut and sent him flying.
The Fomorians fell on him four, five at once, and he scattered them like a flock of birds, swinging back and forth, lopping off heads and stomping the bodies like a toddler rampaging in a field of dandelions. As he chased after them, breaking backs and crushing skulls, his upper body began to glow red like a dying coal.