Blood Feud Page 34

She crumpled.

I leaped to my feet. Later, I’d feel bad I’d had to kil her. Right now, my mother’s training was too strong, stronger even than the gentlemanly courtesies the rest of my family had instil ed. I might wear frock coats and recite poetry better than sports stats but I knew the rules: you fought, you survived. And Hel-Blar took no prisoners.

Jen was proof of that.

I had time only to turn and the Hel-Blar she’d been fighting took her legs out from under her and buried the sharpened end of a staff in her chest.

“Son of a bitch,” I yel ed, using Jen’s borrowed sword to cleave his head right off his shoulders. Then I stabbed him in the heart, pushing through his rib cage. But Jen was reduced to gray ash in a cup of primrose petals and clothes patterned with the Drake crest. I couldn’t even stop to mourn her or hate myself for being the reason she was here in the first place.

Isabeau was tiring. I could see it in the arc of her sword arm, stil deadly but infinitesimal y slower. Magda was limping, holding herself up on a stolen broadsword, her hair matted with blood. We couldn’t keep this up much longer.

“We have to get out of here,” I said to Isabeau. “Now. Up into the trees maybe.”

“Charlemagne can’t fly,” she said, and I knew that was the end of that half-formed plan. Isabeau would never leave her dog. She’d lie down and get staked first.

“Fine,” I said, grabbing Jen’s sword from under her empty clothes and surreptitiously slipping a bottle of blood into my shirt. “Then we do it another way.” I stepped out of the safe ring Isabeau, Magda, and I had formed. Isabeau hissed at me.

“What are you doing?”

“Saving your very cute ass,” I hissed back. Then I smirked my most arrogant smirk at the Hel-Blar. “Did you know royal blood tastes sweetest?” I dragged the blade across the inside of my forearm, biting back a curse. In the movies, no one ever mentioned how much cutting yourself open real y freaking hurt. I held up my arm, blood dripping down to my elbow and spattering over the ground. Most of the Hel-Blar paused, turning to stare at me hungrily.

For this to be a rescue mission and not a suicide mission I was going to have to move fast.

“Come and get it,” I shouted at them before throwing myself into the shadows between the trees, away from Isabeau and the mountain caves. I heard her litany of curses, al in French and al at the top of her lungs. Most of the Hel-Blar fol owed me, driven by bloodlust. They weren’t stupid exactly, just mindless when it came to feeding. Only a few stayed behind to fight the others, which I felt certain they could handle.

I made sure my blood dripped everywhere, leaving a trail a blind puppy without a sense of smel could fol ow. Damn waste of blood, too. The Hel-Blar moved so fast I could barely hear their footsteps. I could hear them skittering though, like insects.

They were real y good at tracking.

So I’d just have to be better at escaping.

I pushed my legs as fast as they would go, until the forest blurred into smears of green and black on either side. The stench of rot hung heavy in the warm air. When I was sure they were wel and truly distracted by my flight, I bent my arm and pressed the inside against my bicep to stop the flow of blood.

The cut was already tingling warmly, which meant it was healing.

I didn’t want to leave a trail anymore though; it was time to get the hel out of here.

I slowed down slightly, in the interest of precision. I tossed the bottle aside, making sure it rol ed in the undergrowth, spil ing its bloody contents. Then I went in the opposite direction. I zigzagged a little until I was sure I was out of sight of any of my pursuers and then scrambled up an oak tree. I swung into the next tree and the next before finding a large enough branch to stand on with some confidence. I peered down into the shadowy green, searching for blue-tinted skin and needle teeth.

There were at least three Hel-Blar moving through the tal ferns. Acorns and twigs crunched under their feet. They weren’t trying to be quiet anymore. Their teeth flashed. One of them stopped, sniffed the air in a surprisingly delicate way.

“He’s here.”

I tightened my grip on my sword and shifted slightly. I could probably leap down and land right on his head if I timed it right.

Instead, he gurgled and turned to ash. A stake dropped into the grass where he’d been standing. His companion whirled and also crumpled. Isabeau pushed through the bushes, stopped under my tree. She looked up at me, her face unreadable.

“Don’t do that again.”



I’d never seen so many dogs in my entire life.

Even though I hadn’t known what to expect, this stil wasn’t it.

There were several cave entrances, the main one guarded by two Hounds with Rottweilers. The Rottweilers were happier to see me than the Hounds. They hissed at me but they bowed their heads to Isabeau with respect.

Inside was a wide opening leading to the back and several more doorways carved into the rock on either side. Some of these were barred with black iron gates, the kind you find in old wine caves in Europe.

“Private homes,” Isabeau explained, her tone clipped. Her brow was furrowed with worry. She hurried down the main hal , down a few steps and then out onto a narrow rock ledge.

It was beautiful.

Everyone spoke of the reclusive Hounds as if they lived in holes and burrows in the ground, like badgers. But this main cavern was straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie set and it fit the name they cal ed themselves, Cwn Mamau. Lit torches and fires kept the damp away and caught the amethyst and quartz imbedded in the wal s, flickering like lightning bugs in a jar. Red ocher paintings of dogs and people with antlers and raised hands leaped in the torchlight. On our right, a waterfal fel like glass down into a pool of milky blue water. There were at least two dozen dogs, who al lifted their heads at our approach. We took the uneven stairs, which carved into a meandering trail. Isabeau practical y leaped the last few steps, running to a woman lying on a bed of furs by the underground pond.

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