I lunged forward, drawing as I struck. The head pirate saw me coming and raised his arm to ward off the strike. Slayer's blade cut through the flesh and bone of the narrow wrist like a knife through warm butter. The hand fell to the deck. The pirate clutched the stump of his arm and screamed, a high-pitched, ear-piercing shriek. I buried my sword in his gut and disemboweled him with a single rip.
The pirates swarmed me. Behind me the shapeshifters snarled, in a terrifying chorus: the deep roar of the father-and-daughter Kodiaks mixing with the howls of the wolves and the pissed-off snarl of a jaguar, laced with hyenas' psychotic cackle.
I carved the closest attacker's chest, then slashed the side of the second one open and dropped him with a cut to the neck. The smell of blood filled the air. Behind me Derek moved, breaking the necks and limbs of the bleeding pirates before they had a chance to recover.
I sliced a gaping mouth across a weredolphin's groin. He dropped, snapping his teeth at me, and through the gap in the bodies, I saw Curran pick one of the pirates off the deck and break his spine over his knee. He tossed the limp body aside. His giant lion mouth gaped. Next he bit someone's shoulder. Bones crunched, followed by a blood-chilling desperate scream.
To the left a large weredolphin charged forward, shoving shapeshifters out of the way. The crossbow bolt whined, cutting the air, and sprouted in his eye. The weredolphin spun and the seven-foot-tall striped nightmare that was Aunt B lunged at him, slicing his stomach open. She buried her hand deep in the wound and yanked out a handful of pale guts. I kept moving, carving my way through the gray, shiny bodies.
Teeth bit my arm, ripping into the muscle. I reversed my sword and stabbed Slayer deep into the weredolphin's neck. He gurgled. Blood poured from between his teeth, burning my wound as the magic in my blood reacted to the Lyc-V in his. I twisted the blade, ripping through his throat. The pirate went down. To my left, two weredolphins rammed Eduardo at full speed and dove off the deck.
Crap. In the water they had an edge. I reversed my course, trying to cut my way to the side.
Another pirate blocked my way. I thrust. He turned into my strike, and the blade pierced the thick hump of his neck. The dolphin screamed and smashed into me. The impact took me off my feet. I flew a bit and hit the cabin with my back with a solid thud. Ow.
The dolphin dived at me, too fast to avoid, too heavy to impale. I raised my left leg. The body hit me, the full weight landing on my leg. Crooked dolphin teeth snapped at my face. Heavy sonovabitch. I grunted, bending my knee more, and slid him right onto the point of my sword. Nice and easy.
He jerked, flailing on the blade, as if shocked with a live wire, his weight pinning my legs. I pulled my throwing knife out with my left hand and stabbed it into his side, turning his innards into mush. The dolphin convulsed. Teeth ripped at my clothes, scratching my side. I stabbed him again and again. Blood wet my hand, spraying on my face in a hot mist. The pirate screeched, the high-pitched desperate shriek turning into a gurgle, and sagged on top of me. The four-hundred-some pounds pinned me in place. I strained. The body didn't move. Damn it.
Suddenly the weight was gone. The dolphin hovered three feet above me and was tossed unceremoniously aside. A gray monster stained with blood crouched by me.
"You're taking a nap? Come on, Kate, I need you for this fight. Stop lying around."
You sonovabitch. I rolled to my feet and grabbed my sword. "You must think you're funny."
A weredolphin threw himself at us from the right. Curran tripped him and grabbed his shoulder, pulling him back, and I sliced the pirate's throat and punctured his heart with two quick strikes.
"Just saying, you have to pull your own weight. A hot body and flirting will only get you so far."
Hot body and flirting, huh. When I'm done killing people . . . "Everything I do, I learned from you, boy toy."
Another pirate rushed us. I dropped, slicing the tendons behind his knee, while Curran headbutted him and ripped out his throat. The pirate fell.
"Boy toy?" Curran asked.
"Would you prefer man candy?"
The deck was suddenly empty. Blood painted the ship. Gray corpses lay here and there, torn and savaged by claws and teeth. A huge shaggy Kodiak bear prowled the deck, his muzzle dripping gore. The last pirate still on his feet was running toward Andrea and Raphael near the bow. Andrea raised her crossbow. She was still in human form. Raphael stood next to her, light on his feet, his knives dripping red. A trail of bodies led to them, bristling with crossbow bolts. The pirate rushed her. She sank two bolts into his throat. He gurgled, his momentum carrying him forward. Raphael let him get within ten feet and cut him down in a fury of precise strikes.
Past them a black panther the size of a pony slapped a weredolphin with a huge paw. The shapeshifter's skull split, crushed like an egg under a hammer.
On the left a humanoid creature crawled onto the deck, lean, furry, with a round head and short round ears. Disproportionately long, sharp brown claws protruded from his oversized fingers. He strained and heaved another, much larger body onto the deck. It landed in a splash of water and a shaggy pile of brown fur, turned over, and vomited salt water from a half-human half-bison muzzle. Eduardo.
The reddish beast sank next to him, baring sharp white teeth. His bright red eyes, the color of a ripe strawberry, had a horizontal pupil, like that of a goat. They made him look demonic. I knew of only one shapeshifter with eyes like that-Barabas.
"Why don't you know how to swim?" His diction was almost perfect.
Eduardo unloaded more water on the deck. "Never needed to."
"We are crossing an ocean. It didn't occur to you to learn?"
"Look, I've tried. I walk into a pool, I thrash, and then I sink."
Ahead the flotilla of boats fled behind the island. Bodies littered the deck. I counted. Fourteen. None of them ours. We were bloody, hurt, but alive. The pirates weren't.
What a waste of life.
And I'd loved it. I loved every second of it: the blood, the rush, the heady satisfaction of striking and seeing the cut or thrust find its target . . . Voron had succeeded. I was raised and trained to be a killer, and nothing, not even happy peaceful weeks in the Keep with the man I loved, could change that. I'd come to terms with what I was a long time ago, but sometimes, like right now, looking over the deck strewn with corpses, I felt a quiet regret for the person I could've been.
Curran, naked and covered with blood, wrapped his now-human arm around me. "You okay?" he asked quietly.
I nodded. "You?"
He grinned and squeezed me to him. My bones groaned.