Short installment today, as we’re crunching Magic Rises edits. Also the flood fans are going and it’s hard to concentrate. Maybe more on Monday. Enjoy!
The magic tugged on me. Something skimmed the boundary of the inn’s grounds. The pulse lingered, stopped, then flared and lingered again. Someone was knocking.
I glanced at the stairway. Sean had gone to the bathroom to wash the blood off because “it smelled loud and made him easy to track.” Lord Soren still lay on the table. I had sealed him in an oxygen tank that pumped in the optimal atmosphere. The tank was transparent and now he resembled a warped version of Snow White resting in her glass coffin.
The knock persisted. It didn’t feel like a vampire come to rescue one of his own. This was insistent and rude with a kind of mindless efficiency.
I pulled the hood of my robe over my head, took my broom, and stepped out.
The night exhaled in my face, bringing with it varied scents: the damp grass, a hint of distant smoke, and something else. Something foreign. A kind of dry bitter scent. My mind analyzed the scent and my body balked like a rearing horse. This stink was bad. It was an evil, harsh stench, woven with pheromones and magic, and meeting its source was a terrible idea.
I stopped in the shadow of the oak and concentrated.
The magic swirled around me. It came from above.
I looked up.
It sat above me, on top of the street lamp pole, anchored to it by large clawed feet. Blue and green pixelated armor protected its vaguely humanoid body and a helmet of interlocking plates shielded its head, leaving two triangular ears free. It had two legs and two arms and one head, but that’s where the resemblance to Homo sapiens ended. Its spine was bent, not quite hunched over, but curved enough to permit it to easily drop down on all fours. Even with the curve, it was easily seven and a half feet tall. Its neck was thick, its shoulders massive, and its hips protruded at an odd angle. Despite its muscular bulk, it looked limber, like a monkey. It seemed wrong somehow, so alien that the mind stalled, trying desperately to come up with some sort of association for it.
The creature stared at me with two glowing purple eyes. There was no pupil, just the electric violet iris. Looking into its eyes froze me in my tracks. Instantly I knew it was vicious, cruel, and it thought I was prey. My thoughts and my feelings mattered to it not at all. Given a chance, it would hunt me and eat me.
“Target,” I said.
The inn clanged, swinging the massive guns within itself to lock onto the creature.
It scuttled down the lamp post, slid down, and leapt onto the sidewalk just outside the inn boundary. A deep sound, half subdued roar, half a snort issued from its mouth. The hair on the back of my neck rose. My body threatened to lock into a terrified freeze.
I glared at it. I would not be intimidated in my own house.
A small metal plate on its left cheek ignited with deep purple. “Give me the vampire, meat,” the dahaka said.
“Then you die.”
I had to stand my ground. “Come closer and we’ll see who dies.”
The dahaka raised his head, turning it like a dog listening to some odd noise.
I pulled the magic to me. My knees were shaking under my robe. The air between us vibrated with tension.
The dahaka spun about and dashed across the street and down the road.
Behind me a door banged open. I turned and saw Sean on the porch. He was in his human shape. He stared after the dahaka with a single minded determination.
Thunder crashed across a clear night sky. A star sparked above us, plunged down, and exploded thirty feet above the sidewalk, turning into a glowing orb shot through with twisted red lightning.
Sean cleared the distance between us in half a second.
The orb pulsed with red and spat out a man, who landed on one knee on the sidewalk. He wore pure white armor shot through with carmine. His long hair, a golden ash blond, spilled over his wide shoulders onto his breastplate. He held a long spear with the blood-colored banner of House Krahr.
A Marshal. My goodness. He was the military head of his House. Typically Gertrude Hunt wouldn’t even be on his radar.
“They like to make an entrance, don’t they?” Sean murmured. “Hey you! You think you managed to wake everyone yet? Maybe you should bang on all the doors or yell fire.”
The knight raised his head and straightened.
I stared. If you had to cast Lucifer before he fell, he would look just like that. About thirty, he wasn’t just handsome, he was beautiful, but it was beauty with a touch of wicked edge. He had the kind of face that would stop traffic and when the cars finally finished piling up, he would quietly chuckle to himself about it.
“My lady,” the vampire said in a deep, resonant voice. “I’ve come for my uncle. May I have your permission to enter?”