Still something looked different about her. Something . . .

The spikes on her armor were gone.

I backed away. Where the hell did the spikes go?

Erra hefted her axe, her face demonic in its fury. Her chest heaved. My arms ached like they were about to fall off. A slow pain gnawed on my back, and when I turned the wrong way, something stabbed my left side with a hot spike. Probably a broken rib. That was okay. I was still on my feet.

The werefoxes launched themselves at Gale from the roof. They clung to him, biting and clawing. The fox on the left ripped out an arm.


Erra snarled. Gale dropped Darkness, shuddered, and plummeted to the ground, banging into the buildings as he fell, the foxes still clinging to him. Gale bounced once off the pavement and the rest of shapeshifters swarmed him.

Erra looked no worse for wear.

When out of options, mouth off. I nodded at Darkness, lying only twenty feet away. “Whoopsie. Did that hurt?

Now there is only one.”

“One will be enough.” Erra grinned.

A small chunk of her armor broke from her shoulder and fell to the asphalt, turning liquid. I watched it sink into the snow. A tiny streak of vapor escaped and then it vanished into the white.

A crumb of her armor. Her blood. A drop of her blood.

Behind us, the snow churned by our feet marked our trail—we’d drawn a circle in the street and all the while we beat on each other, she’d been dripping blood from her armor.

A dark shadow loomed on the roof behind Erra. Curran.

“No!” I lunged at her, but it was too late.

He dived off the roof. Erra dodged at the last moment, but Curran’s paw connected to her skull. The blow took her off her feet. She flew, nearly plowing into me.

“Run!” I lunged at her prone body and stabbed with all my strength, again and again. “Run, Curran!”

Erra roared. Slayer’s blade kept glancing off.

A wall of red flames surged up from the snow, sealing the four of us from the shapeshifters. She’d locked us in a blood ward.

Erra rolled, knocking my legs from under me. I stumbled back and she jumped to her feet. Blood dripped from her cheekbone and poured from her mouth. The left side of her head was caved in, dented by Curran’s blow.

I lunged at her and ran right into the spike topping her axe. It took me in the stomach, just below my ribs. Pain exploded. I jerked free and she kicked me, driving me back into the snow. The axe jabbed through my left side. I screamed. She’d pinned me to the ground.

Erra spat blood and teeth and swung, as if throwing a baseball. Spikes shot from her armor, falling in a ragged line between Curran and me. The blood ward snapped up just as he charged and he crashed into it at full speed.

She’d halved the circle: her and me on one side, Darkness and Curran on the other.

“You want to rut with a half-breed,” she snarled. “Watch. I’ll show you exactly what he is.”

Curran spun toward the undead.

A torrent of magic burst from Darkness, tearing at Curran. The blood ward cut us off and I felt nothing—Curran got the full dose. He stumbled, shook once, as if flinging water from himself. His body shifted, growing leaner, slicker. Fur sprouted along his back.

This was it, the Darkness’s power. It would make Curran go wild.

I writhed under the axe, trying to break free. The Beast Lord took a step forward.

Erra’s hand clawed the air. Darkness vomited another torrent of crippling fear. Curran shuddered. His hands thickened, growing longer claws.

Another blast of magic. He kept walking.

Another blast.

“Look!” Erra leaned into the axe, grinding it into me.

Curran crouched in the middle of the street. Dense fur sheathed him, flaring into an enormous mane on his back and disproportionately huge head. No trace of a human or lion remained—his body was seamless and whole, a nightmarish mutated blend that was neither. Long limbs supported a broad, muscled body, striped with dark gray. His eyes glowed yellow, so bright and pale, almost white. I looked into their depths and saw no rational thought. No intelligence or comprehension.

He raised his head, unhinging his enormous jaws, and roared, shaking the street, all teeth and fur.

Curran had gone mad.

I wouldn’t lose him. I would not lose him on this dark, cold street. It wouldn’t happen.

The beast that used to be Curran leapt at the undead. Huge hands grasped Darkness, pulling him up. Muscles bulged and Curran tore him to pieces, dismembering his body as if it were a rag doll. Blood gushed from the savaged body, drenching the snow.

Erra’s hands shook on her axe, but her weight kept me down.

Curran smashed into the blood ward. Magic boomed. He hit again, the impact of his body shaking the red wall and the street beneath. His eyes blazed white. The fur on his arms smoked from the contact with Erra’s blood ward.

Again.

Again.

Again.

Cracks formed in the blood ward.

Erra stared, her face slapped with shock.

Curran rammed the ward.

The red wall cracked and fell apart. He burst through it, roaring, his fur on fire, and crashed into the snow. Magic tore at me, like a typhoon wild in it fury. I screamed and Erra echoed me, doubling over in pain over me, her hair falling like a dark curtain.

I grabbed her hair and jerked her down with all my strength straight onto my sword.

Slayer slid into her eye. I felt it pierce the bone and drove it in all the way.

Erra vomited blood. It drenched me like fire, my magic mixing with my aunt’s lifeblood leaking from her body. I felt the magic in it, the way I’d felt it in the rakshasas’ golden cage.

I smeared our mixed blood onto her face, pushed, and saw a forest of needles burst through her skin.

She screamed and laid on the axe, and I screamed as the spike ripped my innards. The needles crumbled and melted into her skin.

“You will not take me down,” Erra ground out. “You will not . . .”

Her legs failed and she crashed to her knees.

“It’s over,” I whispered to her with bloody lips.

Desperation claimed her broken face. She clawed at the spear, trying to pull herself upright. Our blood painted the snow a bright rich scarlet.

“Die,” I told her.

She fell on all fours next to me. Her one good eye stared into mine. “Live . . . long, child,” she whispered. “Live long enough to see everyone you love die. Suffer . . . like me.”

Her words clamped on to me like a curse. She collapsed in the snow. Her chest rose for the last time. A single breath escaped with a soft whisper and the life faded from her eye.

I looked at her and saw myself, dead in the snow.

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