KT flicked through the pages of a book as the SUV hurtled along the road. They had driven a short way north until Jearl had pulled into a clearing where they could sleep for the rest of the night. As soon as dawn had broken they were back on the road. KT wondered how far they were from the burnt out ruins of Aife’s Lodge. So much had happened since that night and there still was no end to the madness in sight. Fear clutched at her heart at the thought of her family being hurt but the idea of travelling around with Déaþscúa and battling monsters was growing strangely pleasant to her.
“How do you even know that your sword will still be at the fort?” Kai asked, cutting across KT’s chain of thought. “You said the place will be crawling with Annis’ minions so surely they’ll have taken it already.”
“There’s a chance that’s the case. It was buried under an awful lot of rubble though. Even if they were actively searching for it, they have only had a few days worth of excavation. It’s more likely another trap.” The way Déaþscúa said that was as though they hadn’t almost been killed repeatedly in previous traps.
“I’m getting sick of walking into traps,” Kai sighed. “It feels like that’s all that we’ve done since joining you.”
Déaþscúa shrugged. “We have a vampire with us this time. Vampires don’t get taken by surprise. They can smell a trap a mile away.”
“Wasn’t she captured by a regular businessman when she went to see him?” Kai pointed out blandly.
“Hey! I knew it was a trap. I simply underestimated it!” Ailia protested.
“We just need to be smart,” Déaþscúa told them with pure confidence. “And you know what they say about smart people: ‘The smarter you are, the more high grade explosives you carry.’” He turned his attention to Jearl. “Pull up just ahead so we can prepare.”
“Aye aye, Captain.”
The SUV stopped and Déaþscúa struggled out, limping around to flick the boot open. The others gathered around him. Déaþscúa pressed a section of the lining and the base of the boot rose up to reveal a hidden space below. This section was filled with rocket launchers.
“Drive-by rocket assault, anyone?” Déaþscúa said happily. “It’s a twenty minute drive to the fort. We’ll wait here until evening so we can best utilise Ailia. There’s food in one of the rucksacks.”
They ate and amused themselves until the sun began to lower in the sky. KT’s hand still felt numb and her body was tender and stiff. She had a sense of eagerness to rush onwards to help her dad, but at the same time, she was all too aware of how much strain the back-to-back battles were putting on her body.
She noticed that Kai was regularly nursing the back of his head, even after Elizabeth had done what she could with her lotions, and Ailia looked like a shell of herself. Elizabeth had no magic and every movement still seemed to bring Déaþscúa crippling pain. They were one hell of a rescue party, she mused idly.
Finally it was time to move. Déaþscúa instructed everyone to take the rocket launchers into the car with them once they were ready to leave. They maneuvered the bulky tubes into the SUV with care. Room really was sparse now. Jearl started up the engine and they set off through the forest, hurtling past trees faster than KT imagined was safe for such rough and densely packed terrain. Déaþscúa used this time to outline his plans.
It wasn’t long until the crumbled remains of the corrupted fort came into view. It looked little more than a sunken pile of rubble now. The tunnels beneath it had been collapsed, reducing the land around the stone shards into a desolate and fractured mess of earth. Déaþscúa had been right about the site being searched. Goblins scurried through the rubble, digging through it and carrying stones away like disorganised ants. A single man stood atop what was left of the fort and seemed to be commanding the goblins. Larger creatures moved among the goblins too, ugly, brown skinned humanoids who carried rocks bigger than a person with seeming ease.
Jearl revved the engine loudly, alerting all of the searchers to the SUV’s presence. The goblins dropped their stones and scrambled for weapons while the larger creatures simply stared at the car with an unblinking gaze. The man scowled at it, his hands beginning to glow with a red energy. The SUV started forward, its tires throwing up dirt in great torrents. It sped forward, targeted straight at the ruins without showing any signs of slowing.
The man laughed and pointed his hands at the car. “Are you insane, Death Shadow? You’re a fool to come here. I’ll reduce you to dust and take your shattered body back to Annis. I will-” All four windows of the SUV opened, as did a panel on the roof. A girl in a long coat jumped up on top of the car with a large black tube on her shoulder. Similar tubes protruded from the windows. It took a moment for the man to recognise them. “No! No! Fu-”
Rockets decimated everything in front of the SUV. Dirt, rocks and broken goblin bodies cartwheeled through the air. The SUV skidded to a halt as the dust cleared. Creatures still lived but none were making a move toward the car. Figures either fled or writhed in pain. The larger creatures still stood motionless, their eyes fixed firmly upon the black tinted windows. A glowing light surrounded the enemy leader which blinked away to reveal that he had taken no damage.
“Ailia, search for my sword. Your senses should find it quick enough. You know its aura. KT, Kai, take care of that sorcerer. I’d wager his strength lies in defence so just keep pressing the attack. Stay away from the big things. They’re Viimetus. Stone-like skin and a taste for flesh. When they see you they’ll do anything to kill you. We’ll keep them out of your hair. Mostly.”
Ailia nodded then left the car at a run. The Viimetus didn’t budge at her presence. “She’s a vampire. Dead. Not very tasty,” Déaþscúa explained. “Now go!”
Kai opened the door and stepped out with his shotgun held before him. As one, every Viimetus head turned to him. They opened their wide mouths, showing hundreds of needle sharp teeth, and began a gurgling roar that turned his blood to ice. KT stepped out a moment after her brother. She blinked and the Viimetus had suddenly covered half the distance between them. The SUV cut between them, clipping the first Viimetus and blocking the others.
KT could hear Déaþscúa’s voice from the still open windows. “Elizabeth, climb onto the bonnet.”
“What?” she shouted. “You can’t expect me to-”
“Jearl is driving and I’m crippled now get on the bonnet. They need to see flesh to chase us.”
“I am not bait!” Elizabeth protested but all the same she climbed up out of the roof panel.
The Viimetus saw her and sprang at the car, their jaws opening so wide that they dislocated, their eyes so far back that they stared skywards as the needle filled maws sped for Elizabeth’s flesh. The SUV turned and tried to open up a gap between them and the monsters. Déaþscúa leaned out the window and began to open fire.
KT and Kai tried to ignore the terrifying creatures as they ran at the sorcerer. Kai had taken out his pistol and was taking unsteady shots while KT sent a barrage of small missiles at the man. He was blocking everything with bright barriers or quick beams of energy but Déaþscúa had been right about him not attacking back. She aimed lower, blowing away the chunk of rock that the man had been standing on. He fell back but managed to right himself only to receive a shotgun blast to his chest. A moment later the shotgun itself followed after Kai threw it. The sorcerer batted it away on instinct, allowing Kai the time to grab his axe and dive at the man.
KT joined the melee, attacking from the other flank as they had done against the Spartron. The sorcerer sweated against the onslaught, his shields only just managing to hold off their attacks. He attempted to release small blasts of power and whips of energy but could not spare the magic to make them a threat. Then his power simply flickered out. He sagged where he stood, lurching back when Kai drove the butt of his axe into his gut. He fell to his knees panting.
KT looked down at the man. What were they supposed to do with him now? A monster they could have killed but a human, whoever he fought for, was something completely different. If she had killed him in battle then that was that. Looking at the pathetic and groaning shape at her feet made her feel uneasy. She had no way to tie him up but she didn’t know how long until the man could use magic again.
KT stepped back, leaving Kai to decide what to do with the sorcerer. She took the time to glance around. The goblins had all fled into the forest. The SUV still circled around the clearing with the Viimetus in pursuit. Several rips in Elizabeth’s dress suggested the creatures had come a little too close on occasion. KT searched for a moment then found Ailia digging through the stones. The vampire disappeared for a second then stood up clenching Déaþscúa’s oversized sword. The shining blade, bone guard and twinned dragon handle were all undamaged.
KT turned to tell Kai that they could return to the SUV and screamed. Kai was stood as still as stone, a thin sword held to his throat by a tall man in a white suit with black hair that spilled down his back. Stood at the swordsman’s side was the hulking, red furred lycan who they had fought in the chamber below where they stood now.
The lycan stepped forward and reached out. Rather than grabbing Kai like KT had feared, the monster took hold of the sorcerer instead. The other man never took his eyes from Kai.
“No! I did everything that was asked of me. You can’t do this to me! Without my shield they’ll kill me,” screamed the sorcerer, terror spilling from his every word.
“That’s rratherr the point,” the lycan said, his canines flashing in a gruesome grin. He spoke in a beastlike growl.
The lycan threw the sorcerer like an American football. He hit the ground hard, the sounds of bones cracking audible, right in the midst of the Viimetus swarm that had been chasing after the SUV. The monsters converged on the man instantly. He screamed his throat raw as the seething mass of creatures tore into him, their needle teeth ripping chunks of skin and flesh from his still writhing body.
Ailia had seen their situation and ran at the swordsman with Déaþscúa’s sword clenched in her hands. The lycan blindsided her, its giant hand enveloping her head while its jaws clamped into her shoulder. She kicked at it and smashed her free fist into its gut. The swordsman didn’t glance in their direction.
“The witch has plans for you both.”
Kai was breathing heavily. A snarl played across his lips. “You can take that sword… and shove it… up your arse!” He pushed himself forward, swerving his neck just enough so that the blade sliced across the side instead of driving into his jugular. One fist struck a kidney blow followed by swinging his head back around into a headbutt.
KT didn’t waste a second before stabbing out at the man with her doublesword. He parried it with a single hand while punching Kai below the chin with an uppercut using his other. KT span, putting all of her strength into a horizontal slash. The man knocked Kai away in order to block the attack with his own blade held in a twin grip. The swords clashed together and the man easily forced her back. No sooner had he done this than Kai grabbed him from behind in a bearhug like hold. His muscles strained to keep the older man’s movements in check.
KT lunged. The man kicked back and caught Kai in the crotch. The teen released his grip fractionally for half a second but it was enough for the swordsman to wrench his sword arm free and stab out. The blade passed by KT’s doublesword and slid straight into her chest through the valley of her breasts. Her momentum drove it further until she came to a stunned halt.
“KT!” Kai screamed. The man pulled the blade from KT’s chest like a reverse viper strike, slamming the pommel into Kai’s temple in one fluid motion. He swayed then dropped to the ground in a heap.
The sounds of an engine pushed to its limits roared through the clearing. The SUV was speeding straight at the man like a metallic bull. Déaþscúa was leaning out of the window, his face a mask of fury. He fired at the swordsman who flicked the bullets away with ungodly flicks of his sword. Ailia flew at the car, slamming into its side with enough force to make it veer away.
The swordsman sneered down at the teens. “I had intended the girl for Annis. Too bad.” He picked up Kai and threw him over his shoulder. The lycan returned to his side as he drew out a red sphere.
“Don’t you dare run, you bastards!” Déaþscúa roared. “Fight me!”
The suited man offered him an expressive shrug and grimaced. Then both he, Kai, and the werewolf were gone. The SUV slammed to a stop where they had been a moment later. Déaþscúa all but fell out of the SUV in his haste to reach KT. Elizabeth beat him to her and had the girl’s t-shirt pulled up to examine the wound when Déaþscúa dropped to his knees beside them.
Elizabeth’s voice was grave and her eyes were dull. “Two inch long wound straight through her body which has severed her spine and a major artery. Déaþscúa, even if I still had my powers I couldn’t heal this.”
Déaþscúa grabbed KT’s head with both hands. Green light flared and her eyes shot open and she gasped for breath but more blood pumped from the wound and she fell back motionless.
“Damn it! Keep breathing, damn you! Keep that damn heart beating! You hear me? Don’t you dare let go! Help me get her in the SUV. We have to get her to the MacFeelans. I won’t lose anyone else!”
Together they managed to carry KT and lay her across the back seat of the SUV. Elizabeth felt at her wrist.
“Her pulse is slowing rapidly. She won’t last until we reach the MacFeelans. It’s a wonder she still clings to life at all. I don’t think her body could take the strain of a faegate.”
Ailia joined them with a passive expression. She looked down at KT, her eyes intent as though she could see beyond the clothes and skin. Her pale fingers went to KT’s equally pale throat then moved down to touch the bleeding wound.
“Her body can survive for another minute and forty seven seconds and no longer no matter how strong a will she possesses. She’s a corpse in denial.”
“Shit!” spat Déaþscúa, the word brimming with anger and frustration.
Ailia pursed her lips thoughtfully. “I could keep her body alive long enough to get to the MacFeelans’ new camp. It probably won’t work but the alternative is certain death.”
“You mean to turn her?” Elizabeth stated coldly.
“Temporarily,” the vampire answered. “The virus takes a short while to develop and can be cured in that time but will still seek to keep its host alive until it can claim the body. The dead cannot be turned.”
Déaþscúa nodded. “Do it.”
“Is she a v-”
“Just do it. She’s dead either way so roll the dice and hope.”
Ailia leaned over KT and brushed the black hair away from her neck. The vampire moved her head closer, warmthless breath drifting across the girl’s skin. Using the nail of her thumb, she punctured KT’s jugular. Blood began to drip down her neck. Fangs would have made the whole process much cleaner. She placed her mouth over the wound and stayed like that for several seconds then rose, licking the blood from around her mouth.
“She has a strange taste. How I would like to drink her dry.” She shook her head to clear her senses. “It’s her battle now to win or lose.”
“Get in the car. We have to reach the MacFeelans quickly. Better she died than lose herself to vampirism.” Déaþscúa said grimly as he suited his words by reclaiming his sword then clambering back into the SUV. Ailia and Elizabeth followed. Even before the doors closed, Jearl had kicked the SUV into motion.
They drove in silence for a while. The SUV shook and bounced as Jearl drove it through the forest with an urgency that took his driving from reckless to plainly suicidal. Not long into the journey, KT had begun to buck and scream. Her body writhed as though on fire, each jittering movement bringing more blood from the puncture in her chest. Her breathing rattled and rasped whenever she could manage to draw breath between shrieks of agony. Elizabeth did what she could to close the wound but it was a losing battle.
“What about the boy?” Ailia asked. “I was beginning to like him.”
Déaþscúa’s fists were clenched. “I don’t know. We try and save him like the others.” His head was lowered and his voice quiet. “I just can’t work out how Annis has gathered such support. She’s always worked alone. The local creatures I can understand but Viimetus, sorcerers, blood lycan and that swordsman?”
“Things are stirring,” Jearl said aloud. “When you were injured I saw how tense everything was getting. The Grand Moot seems to be going through some internal conflict about something and powered creatures are gathering all across the world. Something is pulling at the threads that bind us.”
Déaþscúa nodded. “I can feel it. We need to investigate it but we deal with Annis first, this time once and for all.” He looked back at KT who had fallen silent. Sweat drenched her skin. Her breathing was shallow but still there. He took out his phone and held it to his ear.
“Niall, we’re on our way to you now. Yeah. Right. Give us twenty minutes. Make sure that you’ve got a healer’s tent set up with some anti-vampirism tonic. KT has been stabbed. Fatally. The vampirism is keeping her alive but I want it gone as soon as we get there. Right.”
The SUV fell back into silence other than the steady groans from KT. Déaþscúa stared forward with eyes that burned with intensity. He ran his fingers along the length of his sword that rested between his legs. Elizabeth had her hand on KT’s forehead, a deep frown marring her features.
“She’s still fading. The wound is closing itself but the strain is killing her as effectively as the injury itself.”
“Her body is fighting the vampirism,” Ailia explained, interest tinging her voice. “She really is a resistant then?”
Elizabeth sighed. “Being resistant to magic has its disadvantages. It’s harder to heal them. Most die from wounds that could be cured in others.”
“I’ve healed her easily enough before,” Déaþscúa told them. “I never picked up on anything special about her.”
“Your powers don’t constrain themselves to conventional laws of magic. I imagine that her skill is developing though. She is growing more resistant to magic the more she is exposed to it. If I’m correct then you won’t be able to help her any more, even if she did survive,” Elizabeth suggested.
“We’re here,” Jearl announced as the SUV began to slow.
Niall and a handful of his brothers greeted them when the car came to a stop. Their mood was bleak but they looked anxious to save the girl’s life after allowing so many of their own to perish. Together they quickly bundled KT off into a nearby tent and laid her out on a fold-up table. Tools and bottles filled boxes that lined the tent’s walls. It all looked very shabby.
Niall was stony faced as he looked upon the girl. He already looked years older than the last time they had met despite it being only a matter of days. “We’ll do what we can for her, Déaþscúa, but most of our supplies burned and our best healers were caught in the massacre. Not-That-Mad Willy is our battle-healer.”
He beckoned and a clean-shaven man approached them. He wore a plain apron over his plaid clothes and had a slighter build than most of the other MacFeelans. One of his eyes were blue while the other was a dark brown. Saws and scissors hung from his belt and bulged out of his pockets.
“Ye like te push me, Déaþscúa, that ye do,” the man muttered as he circled the girl. “Ye bring me a pretty wee corpse tee stubborn te stop whimpering and want me te perform miracles. Not-That-Mad Willy is a damn miracle worker if nothin’ else though.” In a flurry of movement, the man buzzed around the tent like a hummingbird. “What blood-type is she?”
“Unknown,” Ailia answered. “I know my blood by taste and hers tasted different. Sweet.”
Not-That-Mad Willy grunted something unintelligible but never stopped rummaging through the few supplies that were left. With his arms full of plants and vials he strode back to KT. Carefully, with help from Elizabeth, he stripped her down to her underwear and examined the wound closer. He went to unfasten a necklace from around her neck but Déaþscúa stopped him. He eyed the metal with a furrowed brow. His hand reached out to touch it until he shook his head suddenly and moved away. Not-That-Mad Willy continued as though he had never been stopped.
He busied himself around KT with a series of liquids and tools, muttering to himself constantly as he worked. His hands flashed through a rainbow of colours as he worked. “Right, we pour this vial inte the wound te accelerate tissue growth, shove some o’ these leaves in there te help with the blood and numb the pain and this nasty smelling liquid down ye throat. Come on lassie, head up. Be glad ye are unconscious as it tastes worse than a goblin’s sweaty ballsack and believe me, when you’re hungry you’ll try anything so I ken.”
He grabbed a handful of thin wooden skewers from a chest then began to rub a gel in small dots across her entire body. Once he was satisfied he started to stab the skewers into the glistening patches. He continued this until a dozen of the wooden spikes jutted up out of her. These new injuries did not bleed but the wood slowly began to darken, almost as though the wood was withering and rotting before their eyes.
“Lizzy, look in that box over there. It has all o’ me apothecary gear in it. Brew me up a milk based regenerative solution with extra goat horn and a healthy shot o’ scotch. No painkillers,” Not-That-Mad Willy ordered briskly. Even as he spoke, the glow around his hands grew brighter, one settling on a green colour while the other turned purple. He placed the purple hand on KT’s forehead while the green hand rested over the hole in her chest. Both started to glow with a fiery intensity that lasted for several long minutes until sweat drenched No-That-Mad Willy’s face and clothes.
The lights faded away. Not-That-Mad Willy stepped back. “I’ve done all that I can. I’ll give her Lizzy’s concoction once it’s done but there is nothing more. She’s still alive, which is a miracle itself. From here on out it’s all on the poor lass’ shoulders alone.”
“Understood,” Déaþscúa replied quietly.