Okay. That can be arranged.
I started down the walkway. Two vampires vaulted out of the trenches in front of me, fangs bared. Oh look, it’s a party and everybody is invited. Good. I liked parties.
I unsheathed Sarrat. The blade sang as it sliced through the air. It slid through vampire flesh like a knife through a crisp apple. The first vampiric head rolled off the stump of its neck. I buried my sword inside the second vampire’s heart, ripped it with my blade, and freed Sarrat.
Four vampires leaped onto the walkway. This was a test. He wanted a show of my power. I had no choice about it.
The vampires charged.
Four was too many.
I dropped my magic shield and grasped the four undead minds. The minds of their navigators tried to hold on, but I tore them away from their navigators. The effort hurt, but it was the most efficient way. I grasped the four undead minds and squeezed. Four skulls exploded, spilling the red mist of their blood onto the pale floor. Someone gasped. I kept walking, crushing the undead minds in front of me like peanut shells crunching under my boot. My magic churned and boiled around me. If it had a voice, it would be roaring.
The bloodsuckers leaped at me from the trenches and fell back, broken and twisted. The trenches ran with red. The stench of undead blood saturated the air. I felt the navigators bailing, disconnecting half a second before I reached for their undead.
The last vampire fell onto the floor. I stepped over it and kept walking.
A woman leaped onto the walkway from the trenches. She had a strong, harsh face and dark hair, and wore dark brown leather with a dagger on her waist and a katana in her hands. Hibla.
In my mind I saw Aunt B snarling in pain and Hibla’s sword severing her neck.
Hey, Aunt B, look what I found. I smiled. I couldn’t help myself. There was nothing holding me back and there were so many things we needed to discuss. I had a score to settle and if I lived, I would tell Aunt B’s gravestone all about it. Hell, if I could, I’d bring her Hibla’s head.
Hibla bared her teeth. She was some sort of shapeshifter. She claimed to be a jackal but nothing that came out of her mouth could be believed. Enhanced strength, supernatural speed, and judging by the way she held her sword, a great deal of training.
On my list of people to kill, Hugh occupied spot number two and Hibla took up spot number three. My father wasn’t willing to throw away Hugh, but Hibla was expendable. He wanted a demonstration of what I could do with the sword, and he must’ve known I couldn’t resist this bait. Very well. I would oblige.
Hibla raised her katana.
I charged. She struck from above, and I caught her blade with Sarrat. She pushed, trying to bring my sword down. Shapeshifter strength. How fun. The pressure of Hibla’s katana ground on Sarrat. I dropped my guard, she jerked her sword up to cleave my neck, and I sliced across her chest. My blade came away bloody. The blood soaked into the pale bone-metal. Thin tendrils of smoke rose from Sarrat, which was fed by my rage. My sword was furious and hungry.
Hibla stumbled back, her eyes wide. Hurts, doesn’t it?
She lunged at me, her blade fast like a striking snake. I blocked, letting her sword slide off the flat of mine. She pushed me back across the walkway, each blow hard. I would tire out before she did, but she had no idea how much anger I was carrying inside.
Strike, strike, strike. She lunged at my leading foot with hers. I shifted my balance, knocked her blade aside and smashed the heel of my left palm into her nose. Cartilage crunched. Blood gushed over her lips.
She punched me. No time to dodge. I turned into it, ducking, and took the hit on the shoulder. My left arm went numb. I kicked out at her knee. It crunched. I spun and kicked her in the head. The kick took her off her feet. She rolled back, shook her head, jumped up, and I slid Sarrat between her six and seventh ribs. My saber’s tip scratched Hibla’s heart. Not yet. No, not yet. I pulled the blade back.
She kicked at my stomach. I saw it coming and tensed, and her foot smashed against the shield of muscle. The blow knocked me backward. It felt like someone had slapped my gut with a burning hot iron. I grunted and straightened, and Hibla raised her sword. She was good and fast. But I was better.
“I’ll kill you and bring your head to Hugh,” Hibla ground out.
Not in your wildest dreams. “You’re good, but not my level of good. If you trained all your life, you still wouldn’t be good enough, because I really want to kill you. You murdered Aunt B. She was my friend.”
Hibla attacked. I blocked and sliced across her chest from left to right. She whipped about, thrusting, and I sliced her arm, severing the muscle and tendon. Hibla screamed.
“You didn’t have the decency to face her or to give her a quick death.”
I reversed the blade and stabbed her in the stomach. Hibla gurgled blood.
“She died in agony. I cared for her.”
Her leather armor was in my way, so I cut a piece of it off and tossed it aside.
“This won’t be quick. This will be painful for you. But if you ask me now, I’ll end this fast.”
“I’ll rip your heart out and eat it while you die.” She stabbed at me. Her sword grazed my side.
“Cute.” I drove her back across the walkway, slicing bloody chunks of leather off her. “I want you to understand me.”
I thrust. She moved to block but missed, and I slid the blade of my saber against her inner thigh, cutting through her femoral vein.
Her sword grazed my side and I drove Sarrat’s pommel into her face, gouging her left eye. The eyeball burst and the white of Hibla’s eye slipped onto her cheek. She stumbled and I pulled her dagger out of its sheath on her belt. Oh look, I have two blades now. The better to hurt you with.
“This isn’t vengeance.”
She shuddered and dropped her sword. Flesh spiraled up her bone. She was trying to shift. I lunged forward and sliced across her midsection, one, two, three. Her flesh smoked. Hibla’s top half careened.
“This is punishment.”
They said you couldn’t bleed a shapeshifter to death. They didn’t say anything about cutting her apart.
She lunged at me, a huge hulking monstrosity with her claws out. I ducked between them and slid Slayer through the bottom of her chin up into her deformed muzzle. Talons raked me, but I didn’t care. I plunged Hibla’s dagger into her lower abdomen, jerked it out, and broke free. She roared, baring her teeth. I swung my saber and sank into a smooth easy rhythm. The world narrowed to my blade and my target in front of it. A cut. Hibla’s hand slid off. Another cut. Another piece of flesh. She backed away, and I followed her, relentless, precise, paying her back for Aunt B, who would never see her grandchildren; for Andrea and Raphael, who had to watch her die; for Andrea’s unborn baby, who would never know his or her grandmother; for my fucked-up nightmares . . .