I gained my feet. Not trusting his offspring, Bono was keeping them on a short telepathic leash.
Beyond the line of furry backs, the bonedragon bit at Nick. Crusader ducked and hurled something into the gaping mouth of the zombie. I waited for the loud boom, but none came. Nick's grenades wouldn't work. The magic here was too thick.
Far to the left, Curran and the upir battled. Bono moved fast, matching the shapechanger in both speed and agility. His wild hair flying, he leaped and spun like a dervish. His weapon was a blur in his hands, forming a wall Curran had trouble penetrating. A long laceration marred Curran's back, swelling with blood. It wasn't healing - the spearhead had silver in it.
Bono fought Curran and held his children in check. A man of many talents.
Time to jam a stick into his wheel.
I surveyed the horde before me and picked a thick, bald beast. It stood on disproportionately thin legs, staring at me with dull eyes. Its fat gut hung low, almost reaching the ground.
I flicked my wrist. The heavy round head rolled to the dirt in a gush of blood. The beast's heart pumped a few times, not knowing that the creature was dead, and more blood bubbled from the stump of the neck, saturating the air with a sharp metallic scent.
The horde trembled. The beheaded carcass crumpled to the ground and the ring of beasts around me nodded in tandem, mesmerized by its fall. I slashed the beast's gut and a clump of tangled bloody intestines spilled into the dirt.
I cut a piece of steaming entrails, speared it with Slayer, and dipped it in a puddle of blood. The horde's eyes fixated on the flesh. I raised it on the tip of my blade and held it before Arag's nose.
"Blood," I told him.
Arag's baboon nostrils flared. He sucked in the scent. Thick tongue rolled from his mouth, greedily licking the air. The quivering piece of intestine beckoned, dripping blood to the ground. I moved back a step and Arag moved with me, his gaze glued to the slimy morsel.
I took another step. Arag followed and jerked, checked in midmotion. The bloody, tender piece of flesh hung before his nose, so close that he had only to lean forward to touch it. And he wanted it. He wanted it very badly. Yet Arag did not move.
Bono's hold on them was too strong. There was nothing I could do to break it. Every moment I delayed was costing Curran and Nick in blood.
The twisted monstrous horde looked at me, seeming so pitiful.
I flicked the piece of flesh from Slayer's blade, sending it arching high into the night air. Arag died before it hit the ground.
Bono had never seen me kill before. I cut them down one by one, quickly, methodically, working with mechanical precision. Some fought when threatened, others just stared stupidly as the smoking blade sliced into them, cleaving muscle and tendon. In three minutes time it was over and I ran across the yard to Curran and Bono.
The bonedragon charged to intercept. Its skeletal tail swept at me, and I rolled to the side as the dragon pounded its enormous paw into the ground, blocking my way. The zombie snapped at me, jaws clanking inches away. I leaped to my feet and slashed at the rotting paw. Slayer sliced through decaying tissue in a spray of putrid sluice. The dragon's tail smashed into me. Pain exploded in my side as if I had been hit by a truck. I flew through the air and fell into the carnage I had wrought.
I leaped to my feet and slid on the blood of Bono's children, sprawling head first onto their corpses. Where the hell was Nick?
The dragon closed in for the kill. Huge teeth reached for me, and I pushed away from a corpse, sliding on my back across the bloody mess. The skeletal jaws dug into the spot where I had been a moment earlier.
The dead orbs of eyes swiveled, focusing on my new position and the dragon attacked. I squirmed to the side. Great teeth scraped the ground next to me and I jammed Slayer into the undead beast's cheek, sending a jolt of magic through the point where its jaws met. The dragon jerked its head up, taking me with it. I hung twenty feet above the ground as the zombie's jaws opened and closed, trying to crush my sword. The stench of decay choked me. Through the gaps in the dragon's teeth, I saw a ribbon-thin, half-rotten tongue flailing against the cage of fangs.
Slayer ate through the undead flesh, liquefying gristle and muscle. The dragon shook its head like a dog gripping a dead rat in its mouth. Something within its skull popped with a light crack. The enormous mandible broke free and crashed to the ground, taking me with it. I flipped in the air, trying to land on my feet and fell onto the jagged teeth. A sharp bone shard jabbed through my ribs. I cried out and pushed myself off the bones. Above me a clawed foot replaced the sky. I dove to the side and the dragon's paw crushed its broken jaw.
It didn't matter. I could hack it to pieces and it would still keep coming at me limb by limb.
I clenched my teeth, fighting the fire in my side and saw Nick above me pulling himself onto the roof of the building. He was aiming for the far end, where several silhouettes crouched by a vent. The navigators.
The dragon bounded after me. I backed away, almost stepping into a fire.
Nick sprinted across the roof to the clump of figures. It would take several navigators to pilot the dragon. If Nick knocked one of them out of the lineup, the zombie might collapse. Or break free.
I grabbed a branch from the fire and hurled it at the dragon. It arched across the sky and splashed across the undead chest. The rotting tissues failed to ignite. The dragon kept coming, undaunted. I ran around the blaze, keeping the flames between me and the dragon.
The beast snapped at me, but stayed away from the fire. Above me, Nick smashed into the beings on the roof and a shaggy body tumbled to the ground, screaming out its life on the way down.
The dragon skirted the bonfire, forcing me to move. I dug my fingers under my T-shirt as I ran. They touched broken bone, sending a shock of blinding pain through me, and came away slick. Not good.
The dragon hesitated and twisted away from me, huge head rising on an impossibly long neck to reach the roof.
A distraction. Lord, please, let the dragon's pilot be a coward. A couple of minutes, that's all I need.
I began to chant low, under my breath. The magic surged to me, coalescing about me, stalking my tracks like an opportunistic cat smelling tuna. I plunged Slayer into the ground and put my other hand against my ribs. Warm blood coated my palm and I thrust my hands into the fire. Flames licked my skin and blood hissed, evaporating. I kept chanting.
On the roof Nick struggled with something tall and clawed as the dragon snapped, trying to skewer them both with its fangs.
Magic grew, flowing into me and through my blood and flesh bonding with the fire. My hands blistered as I paid the fire for its service.
"Hesaad," I whispered to the flame. Mine. Suffused with my blood, the fire flinched like a living thing, no longer a simple reaction of oxidation but a force alive with the power it borrowed from magic. "Amehe." Obey. "Amehe, amehe, amehe..."