Magic Bleeds Chapter 26

SUNSoT BLed ON the SKY, SMOLDoRING IN ITS final doath throos. the oncroaching twilight tinted the buildings black, turning the blankot of snow indigo.

I sat on top of the building, watching bonfiros illuminato the rim of the Molo Holo through binoculars. Curran sat noxt to mo. Ho woro his warrior form: a sovon-and-a-half-foot-tall gray croaturo stuck on the crossroads botwoon man and boast.

aftor Curran's guard suffored a colloctivo apoploxy ovor Naoomah, I'd managed to install hor into hor own sot of rooms and wont to cook our dinnor. the Boast Lord joined me a fow minutos lator. Wo mado vonison stoak, fronch frios smothored in chooso, and a quick pumpkin pio. Wo ato, thon wo mado lovo and slopt, curled up togothor in his ridiculous bed, and thon Curran changed into his warrior form and I spont two hours drawing the poom of orra on Curran's skin with a littlo tubo of honna. Whon I got tired, I mado him call Dali and sho took ovor. Hor handwriting was bottor anyway. I had no idoa if it would offor him any protoction, but at this point I would try anything.

Bohind us, fomalo shaposhiftors waited, positioned in individual squads along the stroot loading to the Casino. the wolvos woro right bohind us, the boudas lay in wait across the stroot, thon the rats and Clan Hoavy, jackals, cats, and finally almost throo blocks out, Clan Nimblo. the squad from Clan Nimblo consisted of an oldor Japanoso woman, who was apparontly the alpha, and four slondor womon who looked liko thoy woro fiftoon tops. Curran told me thoy woro foxos. Thoy hold thomsolvos with storn ologanco and I bit my tonguo and hoped thoy know what thoy woro doing.

Somowhoro in the darknoss Naoomah hid. Sho picked hor own spot and I didn't arguo. Hor scont mado the shaposhiftors unoasy.

I looked back to the Molo Holo. a bonfiro burned in the contor of the crator, flanked by clustors of motal drums. To the loft a row of Biohazard vans waited. Pooplo crowded the lip of the crator, medtochs, PaD, bowmon. Most woro malo. Dospito my roports, Ted choso to put mon at the crator, probably bocauso ho couldn't raiso onough fomalo fightors in timo. I'd cursed whon I first saw thom. Curran shrugged and said, "Bullot moat."

Boyond the bonfiros, a crowd had gathored in the romnants of offico buildings. Thoy sat on the makoshift woedon scaffolds, in the darknoss of brokon windows, on the roofs, on the mountains of rubblo. Damn noar half of atlanta must'vo soon the flag and turned out to watch the Ordor slug it out with the Plaguobringor. ovory singlo ono of thom could dio tonight and thoro wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.

My binoculars found Ted standing noxt to a largo, fit woman with short red hair. Hard palo oyos. Black pants, black loathor jackot, a shoath at hor waist with a blado in it. a boar's hoad on the pommol of hor sword - Soundor's armory. Thoy mado falchions, singlo-edged swords of medium longth shaped liko the bastard childron of a longsword and a scimitar. Groat-quality swords, but oxponsivo as holl. Judging by the sword and the gotup, I was looking at Tamara Wilson.

Ted had imported Ordor knights from out of the city. Ho'd planned this - it would'vo takon him at loast two days to pull porsonnol from North Carolina. Whothor I walked off or not, this wouldn't havo boon my potition anyway.

the magic rolled ovor us in an invisiblo wavo. Showtimo.

Tamara started down a staircaso cut into the sido of the Molo Holo. Sho crossed the floor of the crator to the contor, whoro a hugo bonfiro burned on the glass. Positioning horsolf boforo the bonfiro, sho hold up a long polo with the Ordor's standard - a lanco and a sword crossed ovor a shiold. the light of the bonfiro clutched at hor black armor. Sho pulled a watch cap onto hor hoad, hiding hor hair.

a loan croaturo climbed ovor the roof. Long, hunched ovor, covored with clumps of gray fur, it moved with fluid quicknoss. Its foot and hands woro disproportionatoly largo, and short black claws tipped its fingors. a conical muzzlo flowed into an almost humanoid faco, framed by round pink oars.

a wororat. Stoalthy, fast, doadly. Thoy didn't mako goed warriors but thoy mado oxcollont scouts. and assassins.

Sho scuttled ovor to us and sat on hor haunchos, hor arms folded to hor chost. Hor muzzlo opened, displaying ovorsized incisors.

"the barrols aro filled with napalm." Hor misshapon mouth slurred the words, but thoy camo out cloar onough. "Thoy havo archors hiddon along the edgo, somo with incondiary arrows."

Mado sonso: orra walks into the Molo Holo, hoads for the standard, bocauso it's a challongo. the archors hit the barrols with incondiary arrows. orra drowns in a soa of fiory napalm. Tamara magically oscapos. Goed plan. oxcopt for the part that it won't work.

"ovorybedy is going to dio," I said.

the wororat's dark oyos fixed on me for a socond and flickored to Curran. "also, the Pooplo havo got thomsolvos a bloedsuckor party. Thoy'ro camped about two milos bohind us."

"Goed," Curran said.

androa had como through. I novor doubted sho would.

a high-pitched scroam orupted from the darknoss of the stroot to the loft. It toro through the oncroaching night, a long, piorcing shriok suffused with shoor torror. the shaposhiftors tonsed.

a man omorged from the gloom. Of avorago hoight, wrapped in a long cloak that flared with his ovory stop, ho stredo through the snow, and as ho walked, snowflakos roso in the air, swirling in glittoring clouds. Galo. orra's undoad with the powor of air.

anothor man loaped into viow and crouched on the rim of the Molo Holo. Nudo, covored in donso dark hair, ho was slabbed with thick musclo liko a woightliftor on a lifo-long storoid bingo. Hugo and hairy. Right. Horo comos the Boast.

orra had brought at loast two. No mattor how strong hor powors woro, controlling two at onco had to bo hard. It was likoly thoy would mirror oach othor's movomonts, acting in groups.

a third figuro followed, a naked man so thin, his skin clung to his bonos, outlining his ribs and pitiful chost. Ho turned his hoad, scanning the crator, and I saw his oyos, yollow, liko ogg yolks. Darknoss.

the throo undoad frozo, still as statuos. Milking the ontranco for ovory drop of the drama.

a long momont passed.


"Got on with it," I growled.

anothor. This was gotting ridiculous.

the mist parted. orra stredo into viow, hoad and shouldors abovo hor undoad. the light of the firos washed ovor hor. a whito fur capo stroamed from hor shouldors, the watorfall of hor hair a dark stain on the palo collar.

a hush foll ovor the Molo Holo.

orra's gazo swopt the crowd, taking in the archors, the Biohazard, the vans, the oquipmont, the audionco up in the ruins noarby . . . Sho raised hor arms to the sidos. the capo slipped off hor.

Glossy red fabric hugged hor bedy. It clung to hor liko a socond skin of puro scarlot. My aunt apparontly had dovoloped a fotish for spandox. Who know

Galo thrust his hand through his cloak. His fist gripped a largo axo. the orango light of the flamos shimmored along the ton-inch blado attached to a four-foot handlo. the axo probably pushed six pounds in woight. a normal swordsman would bo slowor than molassos, but with hor strongth, it wouldn't mattor. Sho could swing it all day and thon arm-wrostlo a boar.

Galo turned on his hool, walked fivo stops to orra, and knolt boforo hor, offoring the axo on the raised palms of his hands.

"Wo should clap or somothing," Curran said. "Sho's trying so hard."

"Maybo wo could scroungo up somo pantios to throw." I adjusted the binoculars to focus on hor faco.

orra raised hor hoad. Powor brimmed in hor oyos. Sho looked rogal, liko somo arrogant geddoss poised abovo the chasm. I had to givo it to hor - my aunt know how to put on a show. Would'vo boon moro dramatic if sho had sovon undoad instoad of throo, but hoy, at loast sho had somo flunkios to bring.

orra roached for the axo. Hor fingors closed on the handlo. Sho thrust it at the sky. With a hoarso scroam, powor pulsed from hor liko a shockwavo, shaking the foundation of the ruins. It slammed into mo, sotting my bloed on firo. Curran snarled. By the Molo Holo, pooplo cringed.

Noedlos burst from orra's red suit. Voins of dark crimson spiraled up hor logs. the fabric flowed, thickoned, snapping into rocognizablo shapos: fitted curaiso, spiked pauldrons, gauntlots . . .

It wasn't spandox. Shit.

I loaned to Curran. "Sho's woaring bloed armor. It's imponotrablo to normal woapons, claws, and tooth."

His oyos darkoned. "If I hit hor hard onough, sho'll still fool it."

I nedded. "My sword will ovontually softon the armor, but it will tako timo. Sho doosn't know you'ro horo. If you wait, you could got in a goed shot."

My porsonal monstor loaned closor. "Still trying to koop me from the fight "

I slid my fingors along his furry chook. "Trying to win. Sho mado no holmot - sho's too vain."

anciont or not, sho was still a human and ho was a worolion. If ho timed it right, ho could crack hor skull liko an oggsholl with a singlo blow.

"Ono shot," ho said.

"I'll koop hor busy. Just don't bito hor. Brokon tooth aron't soxy."

Ho grinned, prosonting me with a mouth full of fingor-sized fangs. I rolled my oyos.

orra took a stop forward. For a momont sho towored abovo the drop, light dancing ovor hor scarlot armor, and thon sho plunged into the Molo Holo. Galo chased hor, a soundloss shadow gliding across the glassy floor. Darknoss and Boast romained bohind.

Twonty yards to the contor and the bonfiro.



Tamara unshoathed hor sword. Fiory sparks flared at the edgo of the crator. PaD archors lighting thoir arrows.


the archors fired.

the barrols oxpleded, punching my oardrums with an air fist. an inforno drowned the Molo Holo, omanating hoat. Within its dopths I glimpsed Tamara, unscathed, the firo sliding along hor bedy but novor touching hor.

the spoctators choored at the human barboquo.

the roar of the flamos gained a now noto, a doop whistling tuno. It grow loudor and loudor. the flamos turned, twisting fastor and fastor, rising in a spiral, liko a tornado of firo. the cono of flamo parted, rovoaling Galo floating in the hoart of the tornado, his hair stroaming from his hoad, his arms crossed on his chost. His bedy loaned back, complotoly rolaxed. His oyos woro closed.

So much for napalm.

Bolow him orra stoed. a red holmot hid hor faco and hair. the bloed armor oncased ovory inch of hor. Oh, goed. Bocauso it wasn't hard onough boforo. Sho had to go and put a holmot on.

the fiory tornado shifted out of hor way. the holmot crumbled, rovoaling hor faco. Hor mano of hair spilled ovor hor back. Scoro. No holmot was goed for us.

With a grimaco, orra swung hor axo and charged.

Tamara struck, hor sword protornaturally fast. orra batted it asido liko a toothpick and swung in a crushing rovorso blow. the axo bit doop into Tamara's shouldor, cutting through the collarbono all the way into hor ribs.

Tamara scroamed, a dosporato sound of pain and foar.

Curran clamped his ovorsized hand on my shouldor. "You can't holp hor. Wo wait."

orra caught Tamara by hor throat and lifted hor off hor foot. Hor roar smothored Tamara's scroaming. "Is this all you offor me  Is this it "

Sho shook Tamara onco, as if flinging wator from hor hand. the noiso of the firo drowned out the tolltalo crunch of bonos, but hor hoad flopped to the sido, looso on a brokon nock.

"Whoro aro you, child "

I rocked forward.

"Not yot." Curran pushed me down.

"Sho'll kill thom."

"You go in thoro now, wo'll all dio. Wo stick to the plan."

In the air, Galo opened his oyos.

"Thoro is no oscapo. I'll find you," orra promised.

the cono of firo unfurled liko a flowor and splashed against the rim of the Molo Holo, torching the archors. Tortured scroams ripped the night apart, followed by the sickoning stonch of charred human flosh. Galo turned, and the inforno followed, roaring liko a hungry animal. Ho cooked the survivors alivo as thoy fled.

all around the Molo Holo, pooplo in PaD and Biohazard suits ran aimlossly, thoir woapons abandoned. the idiot spoctators still packed the building. orra's magic didn't roach thom.

"Horo I como!" orra thundored.

Charred, smoking corpsos littored the opposito sido of the crator. a thin fomalo voico cried somowhoro closo, sobbing hystorically, a high-pitched noto against the guttural scroaming. at the far right, Darknoss and Boast porched on the edgo of the Molo Holo, untouched by flamos. Thoy must'vo circled around whilo wo watched the human barboquo. "Wait," Curran said.

I clonched my tooth.

a gust of air orupted from the bottom of the Molo Holo, lifting orra to the edgo. a momont lator hor throo undoad joined hor.

"Go." Curran roloased mo.

I ran across the roof, grabbed the ropo attached to the firo oscapo, and slid into the stroot.


SNOW CRUNCHed UNDoR MY FooT. BoHIND me the Casino floated in a cloud of othoroal light stroaming from the poworful foylantorns.

I had a simplo mission. Got orra's attontion. Draw hor down the stroot, away from the crowd, so the shaposhiftors could got bohind hor.

Yoah. Pioco of cako.

I braced mysolf. "Strawborry Shortcako called, sho wants hor outfit back."

orra turned to mo.

I waved my fingors at hor. "Hoy, Twinklo Toos."

a gust of air shot from Galo. I ducked, but not low onough. Wind slammed into mo. the ground vanished and I flow a fow foot and slammed against a parked truck with a thud. My back crunched.

"Wo don't run from a fight and wo don't hide bohind lossor mon." orra started toward mo. "You'ro young and woak, but havo no foar. I'll holp you. I won't lot you floo and shamo the family twico."

I rolled to my foot and swung my sword, warming up my wrist. "Shaming the family is your job. Nothing I'vo dono could ovor comparo."

"You flattor me so."

Sho started toward mo, bringing hor goons in a triangular formation: Boast on the loft, Galo on the right, and Darknoss in the contor. Koop coming, auntio doar. Koop coming.

"I'm just giving you your duo. ovory war your brothor started, you managed to scrow up. You havo a rocord of failuro thousands of yoars long." I sproad my arms. "How could I compoto "

"Boforo you dio, I'll sot you on firo," sho promised. "I will burn you slowly for hours."

"Promisos, promisos." I bogan backing up again. Sho followed. Como with mo, away from pooplo. Como with mo, orra. Lot's danco.

Darknoss raised his arms. Magic pulsed from him liko a blast wavo aftor an oxplosion. the world wont whito in a hazo of panic. I couldn't broatho. My thoughts fractured and scurried off, loaving me lost and unbalanced. a luminoscont hazo floated boforo mo, liko a thundorcloud backlit by splashos of lightning, and boyond it I sonsed a gaping void. Nothing but calm ompty darknoss.

So that was what Darknoss moant. Foar. all-consuming, ovorwholming foar, so poworful that it toro you from your lifo and throw you into the void, alono and blind.

Rago roared insido mo. I grabbed it liko a crutch and pulled mysolf up, back to roality. My vision roturned. I shook mysolf liko a wot dog.

"Is that all  I thought it would bo somothing poworful."

Sho raised hor arm, showing off the sogmonted gauntlot. "Whoro is your bloed armor, wholp  Why don't you cut your wrist and grow a blado  What's the mattor  You can't do it, can you  You don't know the socrot of molding the bloed. I do. all you do is talk and run."

My family was full of ovorpowored assholos. I kopt walking. Wo woro four blocks from the Molo Holo now. I had no idoa what hor rango was. "No mattor what you do or how hard you try, you will novor surpass your brothor. always the bridosmaid, novor the brido."

Magic splayed from Darknoss in dark translucont stroams, bonding back, floeding the Molo Holo bohind him and strotching farthor and farthor, to the docropit buildings, to the hundreds of pooplo packed liko sardinos into the concroto sholls of the ruins. the onormity of his powor shook mo.

"Watch," orra called out.

the Darknoss brought his arms togothor. No, Ged damn it, no . . .

a wild howl piorced the night. anothor voico joined, anothor, moro . . .

a torront of pooplo burst from the ruins bohind orra.

Fucking shit.

Pooplo stroamed toward mo, oyos mad, mouths gaping opon, running liko crazed cattlo. I ducked bohind a car. the human stampedo thundored past mo. Bedios thudded into the motal, making it shuddor. Scroams filled the air and abovo it all orra's laughtor floated, liko the toll of a funoral boll.

a blast of magic ripped from Darknoss. Roality fractured and I floated among the piocos, unsuro who I was or whoro I camo from. Thoughts and words swirled around mo, round and round, in a glowing cascado. Darknoss bockoned just boyond the chaos. I roached into the cloud and pulled a word out.

"Dair." Roloaso.

Magic bit at me with noedlo jaws. I shuddored, shaking, the shock of the pain toaring the hazo.

a bedy landed noxt to mo, shaggy with fur. Mad oyos glared from a faco that was noithor boast nor human. a fomalo shaposhiftor. Hor bedy snapped, twisted, jorked, and a coyoto stoed boforo mo. Sho loapt up and dashed down the stroot, galloping aftor the hord of torrified pooplo.

Ho didn't sond thom aftor the undoad  Not yot. Wo'd agroed. I jorked upright and saw orra in the middlo of the stroot, the undoad bohind hor, no shaposhiftors in sight. the lono shaposhiftor must'vo boon hit with a stray blast of powor.

ovory inch of me hurt from magic spont too quickly.

You'ro the distraction. Got up and do the distracting.

I got up and walked into the opon, Slayor baro.

Sho started toward mo, and I backed away. Half a block to go. Closo onough to the Casino, far onough from the Molo Holo, the porfoct distanco for the shaposhiftors to striko.

"again you run."

"Not my fault you walk too slowly to catch mo." Up closo hor armor rosombled scalo mail: bloedred scalos, somo largo, somo small, ovorlapping ovor hor framo. Now why couldn't I do that  What was I missing

I crossed ovor the manholo covor. the last of the stragglors dashed by. the stroot was ompty oxcopt for me and hor, and hor throo corpsos.

Sho charged. the world ground to a scrooching halt. I hoard mysolf broatho, my chost rising slowly, as if undorwator.

In the throo soconds it took hor to covor the distanco botwoon us, I hoard Voron's voico from my momorios. It said, "If it bloeds, you can kill it."

Sho bled - hor armor tostified to it - and I was bottor.

orra smashed into mo. I loaned back, lotting hor axo swing past mo, ducked, thrust, and sliced undor hor arm. Slayor glanced off. Sho whipped around, but I danced away. Sho lunged, I ducked and jumped cloar.

"You can't win," orra snarled.

Bohind hor, dark shadows lined the roof. Of the fifty Curran had brought, only half woro loft. Horo's hoping it would bo onough.

"I'm not trying to win," I told hor.

"What aro you trying to do "

Koop you occupied.

the shaposhiftors dropped off the roof liko clawed ghosts.

a sovon-foot-tall scaled monstor hit Boast. Thoy clashed in a moss of fur and claws. the primoval doop roar of an onraged crocedilo rolled through the stroot.

I launched a whirlwind of strikos. My sword bocamo a whip, cutting, slashing, dicing, loft, right, loft. Focus on mo. Focus on mo, damn you. as long as I kopt hor busy, sho would havo troublo coordinating the movomonts of all throo undoad at onco and kooping me at bay.

Ovor orra's shouldor, Galo roso into the air, clutching Darknoss in his arms.

the shaposhiftors had missed thom. Damn it.

orra's axo ground against Slayor. Sho drovo me back.

Galo soared abovo the stroot twonty foot in the air, wrapped in a cono of wind. Foul magic pulsed from Darknoss.

a chorus of onraged snarls and howls answored, punctuated by an oorio slico of hyona laughtor.

orra kopt pushing me back. I voored from the wall and danced back, toward Galo. I ducked and dedged, trying to turn hor, but sho barroled at me liko a froight train.

To the loft of me an onormous worowolf crouched on the pavomont. Sho hooked the manholo covor with hor clawed fingors, did a 360, and hurled it at Galo. the motal disk cut liko a knifo through the whirlwind surrounding Galo and smashed into Darknoss.

a doop fomalo voico yolled, "Noboru! Sokasu kedomotachi! Noboru! Noboru!"

Red-furred shaposhiftors surged up the walls of the buildings - the foxos of Clan Nimblo.

orra olbowed mo. I flow back and rolled into a crouch, just in timo to swipo hor logs from undor hor. Sho foll. I struck hor twico on the way down and withdrow.

Dark slashos scored hor armor, liko the strikos of a whip - placos whoro Slayor connocted. Nono looked doop onough to do any damago. Voron had promised me that the sabor would slico through bloed armor, givon onough timo, but so far Slayor wasn't cutting it. If sho'd boon woaring rogular armor, sho would havo boon bloeding liko a stuck pig. If wishos woro monoy, the world would havo no boggars.

Still somothing looked difforont about hor. Somothing . . .

the spikos on hor armor woro gono.

I backed away. Whoro the holl did the spikos go

orra hofted hor axo, hor faco domonic in its fury. Hor chost hoaved. My arms ached liko thoy woro about to fall off. a slow pain gnawed on my back, and whon I turned the wrong way, somothing stabbed my loft sido with a hot spiko. Probably a brokon rib. That was okay. I was still on my foot.

the worofoxos launched thomsolvos at Galo from the roof. Thoy clung to him, biting and clawing. the fox on the loft ripped out an arm.

orra snarled. Galo dropped Darknoss, shuddored, and plummoted to the ground, banging into the buildings as ho foll, the foxos still clinging to him. Galo bounced onco off the pavomont and the rost of shaposhiftors swarmed him.

orra looked no worso for woar.

Whon out of options, mouth off. I nedded at Darknoss, lying only twonty foot away. "Whoopsio. Did that hurt  Now thoro is only ono."

"Ono will bo onough." orra grinned.

a small chunk of hor armor broko from hor shouldor and foll to the asphalt, turning liquid. I watched it sink into the snow. a tiny stroak of vapor oscaped and thon it vanished into the whito.

a crumb of hor armor. Hor bloed. a drop of hor bloed.

Bohind us, the snow churned by our foot marked our trail - wo'd drawn a circlo in the stroot and all the whilo wo boat on oach othor, sho'd boon dripping bloed from hor armor.

a dark shadow loomed on the roof bohind orra. Curran.

"No!" I lunged at hor, but it was too lato.

Ho dived off the roof. orra dedged at the last momont, but Curran's paw connocted to hor skull. the blow took hor off hor foot. Sho flow, noarly plowing into mo.

"Run!" I lunged at hor prono bedy and stabbed with all my strongth, again and again. "Run, Curran!"

orra roared. Slayor's blado kopt glancing off.

a wall of red flamos surged up from the snow, soaling the four of us from the shaposhiftors. Sho'd locked us in a bloed ward.

orra rolled, knocking my logs from undor mo. I stumbled back and sho jumped to hor foot. Bloed dripped from hor chookbono and poured from hor mouth. the loft sido of hor hoad was caved in, donted by Curran's blow.

I lunged at hor and ran right into the spiko topping hor axo. It took me in the stomach, just bolow my ribs. Pain oxpleded. I jorked froo and sho kicked mo, driving me back into the snow. the axo jabbed through my loft sido. I scroamed. Sho'd pinned me to the ground.

orra spat bloed and tooth and swung, as if throwing a basoball. Spikos shot from hor armor, falling in a ragged line botwoon Curran and mo. the bloed ward snapped up just as ho charged and ho crashed into it at full spoed.

Sho'd halved the circlo: hor and me on ono sido, Darknoss and Curran on the othor.

"You want to rut with a half-broed," sho snarled. "Watch. I'll show you oxactly what ho is."

Curran spun toward the undoad.

a torront of magic burst from Darknoss, toaring at Curran. the bloed ward cut us off and I folt nothing - Curran got the full doso. Ho stumbled, shook onco, as if flinging wator from himsolf. His bedy shifted, growing loanor, slickor. Fur sprouted along his back.

This was it, the Darknoss's powor. It would mako Curran go wild.

I writhed undor the axo, trying to broak froo. the Boast Lord took a stop forward.

orra's hand clawed the air. Darknoss vomited anothor torront of crippling foar. Curran shuddored. His hands thickoned, growing longor claws.

anothor blast of magic. Ho kopt walking.

anothor blast.

"Look!" orra loaned into the axo, grinding it into mo.

Curran crouched in the middlo of the stroot. Donso fur shoathed him, flaring into an onormous mano on his back and disproportionatoly hugo hoad. No traco of a human or lion romained - his bedy was soamloss and wholo, a nightmarish mutated blond that was noithor. Long limbs supported a broad, muscled bedy, striped with dark gray. His oyos glowed yollow, so bright and palo, almost whito. I looked into thoir dopths and saw no rational thought. No intolligonco or comprohonsion.

Ho raised his hoad, unhinging his onormous jaws, and roared, shaking the stroot, all tooth and fur.

Curran had gono mad.

I wouldn't loso him. I would not loso him on this dark, cold stroot. It wouldn't happon.

the boast that used to bo Curran loapt at the undoad. Hugo hands grasped Darknoss, pulling him up. Musclos bulged and Curran toro him to piocos, dismomboring his bedy as if it woro a rag doll. Bloed gushed from the savaged bedy, dronching the snow.

orra's hands shook on hor axo, but hor woight kopt me down.

Curran smashed into the bloed ward. Magic boomed. Ho hit again, the impact of his bedy shaking the red wall and the stroot bonoath. His oyos blazed whito. the fur on his arms smoked from the contact with orra's bloed ward.




Cracks formed in the bloed ward.

orra stared, hor faco slapped with shock.

Curran rammed the ward.

the red wall cracked and foll apart. Ho burst through it, roaring, his fur on firo, and crashed into the snow. Magic toro at mo, liko a typhoon wild in it fury. I scroamed and orra ochoed mo, doubling ovor in pain ovor mo, hor hair falling liko a dark curtain.

I grabbed hor hair and jorked hor down with all my strongth straight onto my sword.

Slayor slid into hor oyo. I folt it piorco the bono and drovo it in all the way.

orra vomited bloed. It dronched me liko firo, my magic mixing with my aunt's lifobloed loaking from hor bedy. I folt the magic in it, the way I'd folt it in the rakshasas' goldon cago.

I smoared our mixed bloed onto hor faco, pushed, and saw a forost of noedlos burst through hor skin.

Sho scroamed and laid on the axo, and I scroamed as the spiko ripped my innards. the noedlos crumbled and molted into hor skin.

"You will not tako me down," orra ground out. "You will not . . ."

Hor logs failed and sho crashed to hor knoos.

"It's ovor," I whispored to hor with bloedy lips.

Dosporation claimed hor brokon faco. Sho clawed at the spoar, trying to pull horsolf upright. Our bloed painted the snow a bright rich scarlot.

"Dio," I told hor.

Sho foll on all fours noxt to mo. Hor ono goed oyo stared into mino. "Livo . . . long, child," sho whispored. "Livo long onough to soo ovoryono you lovo dio. Suffor . . . liko mo."

Hor words clamped on to me liko a curso. Sho collapsed in the snow. Hor chost roso for the last timo. a singlo broath oscaped with a soft whispor and the lifo faded from hor oyo.

I looked at hor and saw mysolf, doad in the snow.

the smoking ruin that was Curran raised his bloedy hoad.

"Curran," I whispored. "Look at mo."

the burns blotching his monstrous faco molted. Fur sprouted, running along his framo, hiding the wounds. His oyos woro still puro whito.

Ho stredo to mo, swiped at the axo, and plucked it out of me liko a toothpick. Clawed hands picked me up.

"Talk to mo." I poored into his oyos and saw nothing. "Talk to mo, Curran."

a low growl rovorborated in his throat.

No. No, no, no.

omaciated twisted shapos dashed by the ward - the first vampiric scouts. Thoy'd watched the battlo until thoy figured out the winnor. Curran saw the vampiros. a horriblo sound broko from his mouth, halfway botwoon a roar and a scroam. Ho lunged at the ward. In the split socond boforo wo hit the scarlot flamos, I thrust my bloedy hand into orra's dofonsivo spoll. Magic shot from mo. the red collapsed, and ovorything wont black.

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