"That's a hell of an insult. Did you think of it all by yourself or did you have to ask your god for help?"
The volhv pointed at me. "Now, don't you blaspheme. That's not nice. Tell me what the witch said, hmm? Now, come on, you know you want to tell me." He winked at me. "Come on, share. You tell me, I don't kill you right away, everybody's happy." I pulled Slayer out of its back sheath.
The volhv blinked. "No? Don't want to tell me?"
"Step away from my vehicle."
"I didn't want to do this, but fine." He raised his staff and struck the pavement. The thick wood at the top of the staff flowed, morphing. A vicious wooden beak emerged from the shaft, followed by savage round eyes.
"Safety's off," the volhv said. "Last chance to tell me what the witch said."
In my head I charged, Slayer ready to strike. But my knee popped with a dry crunch, my leg snapped, and I rolled onto the pavement just in time to see the end of the volhv's staff as it punctured my chest. Great. No running. Doolittle had performed medical miracles and the knee didn't hurt, but I didn't want to take chances. I needed to save the leg for the close-up fighting. I'd have to rely on magic until I got within striking range. And if I did kill him, I'd have a volhv stampede on my doorstep. They'd race each other to take a shot at me. I'd start the war between the volhvs and the Pack and kill Adam Kamen with one fight. Oh goody.
I strode toward the volhv, broadcasting as much menace as I could muster. Maybe he'd panic and drop to his knees with his hands in the air.
The volhv watched me. "Hurry up. At least put some effort into it!"
"For the likes of you? Why bother?"
The volhv spun in place, his staff slicing through the air. The wooden beak gaped open with a creak and belched a swarm of tiny black flies. Probably poisonous. Great. This fight was in the bag.
I jerked a bag of rosemary powder from my belt and ripped it open, chanting under my breath.
The swarm shot to me.
I tossed the dust into the air. My magic clutched it and it hung motionless like a cloud frozen in midmotion. The swarm pierced it. For half a second, nothing happened and then the flies and rosemary rained to the ground.
Sweat drenched my hairline. That took a wallop of magic. I kept walking.
The volhv planted the staff into the pavement and let go. It remained upright. He jerked a twig charm off his belt, snapped it in half and tossed one part into the street, clutching the other in his fist. The twig exploded into thick black smoke and coalesced into a mastiff-sized dog. Rivulets of smoke slid and curled along its sable fur. Pure white eyes stared at me, like two stars caught in a storm cloud. I fed magic into my saber. The opaque blade shimmered slightly and hissed, perspiring. Thin tendrils of smoke rose from the blade.
The volhv's eyebrows rose. He snarled a single word. The dog's maw opened, releasing glowing fangs. The smoke beast charged.
It came at me, massive paws pounding the pavement. I stepped into its charge and sliced. Slayer's blade severed the dog's neck in a clean precise cut. No resistance. Shit.
The smoke along the cut swirled, sealing it. The dog snapped at my left leg, but I was already moving. The glowing fangs barely scraped my jeans just above the knee. A thin line of pain cut my thigh, like a hot wire. Wet heat drenched my skin--blood. I spun and sank Slayer's blade into the dog's molten eye. The enchanted saber slid halfway in. Nothing. I jerked it and danced away as the dog's fangs clicked closed a hair's breadth from my arm.
If only I had a portable fan with me, I'd be all set. Maybe if I huffed really hard, it would disperse.
A hot dark stain soaked my left pant leg. I was bleeding like a stuck pig.
The volhv moved his fist. The dog backed up, snapping its teeth. He was controlling it like a puppet with the other half of the twig in his hand.
"Ready to talk?" the volhv asked.
"Not a chance."
The volhv jerked his fist. The dog rushed at me, smoke paws striking tiny wisps of steam from the pavement.
I stuck my hand into the cut in my jeans. It came away slicked with crimson. My blood's magic prickled my skin.
I had only a fraction of a second to pull this off.
The dog leaped. I shied right and stuck my hand deep into the coils of smoke on its side. Magic pulsed from my hand, bristling my blood into a dozen sharp needles. Crimson spikes pierced the dog. Across the street the volhv screamed, cradling his fist with his other hand. The twig rolled from his fingers. The smoke collapsed on itself, sucked into a small twisted branch on the ground. I stomped on it, crushing it into pieces.
The spikes shriveled into black dust and fell off my fingers, melting into dust. My hand felt like I'd stuck it into boiling water.
"Fuck, that hurts." The volhv bared his teeth at me.
Twenty feet between us. I ran. He spun his staff, chanting.
Ten feet. I flipped Slayer in my hand, reversing the blade.
The volhv swung the staff, aiming to hit me from the left. I blocked the strike with my sword, grabbed his right wrist with my left hand, forcing the staff sideways, and smashed the dull edge of Slayer's blade into his right side. Ribs crunched. I bashed the volhv's right arm with the flat of the blade. He dropped the staff. I let Slayer slide from my fingers, dropped into a half crouch, pulled my arms to the sides of my body, and straightened my knees, driving both fists up into the soft underside of his jaw. The volhv's head jerked back, his body wide open. I sank a punch into his solar plexus. All of the wind rushed out of his lungs in a single, painful breath. The volhv doubled over, and I grabbed his left arm, jerked him forward, and swung my right arm in a wide arc, smashing my fist into the back of his head. The volhv's eyes rolled up and he went down.
I danced back on my toes, light and ready, in case he decided to get up.
The volhv lay still. His staff snapped its beak at me in impotent fury.
It was over. I still had all this anger to work out, but it was over. Damn it.
I stopped dancing and felt his pulse. Alive and well. Sleeping like a baby, except babies didn't usually wake up to a world of hurt.
I swiped Slayer off of the pavement. "Sorry."
If the sword resented being used as a stick, it didn't say anything.
The magic drained from the world. The ferocious monster on the volhv's staff faded back into ordinary wood.
I raised my arms and stared at the sky. "Really? Now? Would it have killed you to end fifteen minutes ago?"
The Universe was snickering at me.
I sighed and headed to my Jeep to get medical supplies, rope, and gasoline. My blood was all over the street, screaming my identity to anyone who'd cared to listen, and I needed to set it on fire.