There were six of the things in the little pack, and they’d gotten him surrounded. The claws of one ripped a gaping rent in his sleeve before he jerked his sidearm free of its holster and shot it in the face.
The thing reeled backward, howling and shrieking in pain, but it didn’t go down.
Damn. His eyes widened. I don’t have enough bullets for this.
Another came at him and he dove sideways, rolling again into a crouch, heart already beginning to hammer like a drummer on a timpani. What are they?
It didn’t matter. They’d attacked him, and they didn’t seem very inclined toward reasonability.
Every roll brought him closer to the edge of the road, toward the trees through which he could see a lake beyond. Maybe he could lose them in the woods…
One shrieked and jumped at him. He tried to sidearm it off of him, only to topple backward under its not inconsiderable weight. He mentally cursed and tucked his weapon against the thing’s chest and pulled the trigger.
It jerked and tumbled off of him. Another came at him, but this time he had enough time to bring up a booted foot and kick it back, turning its own momentum against it.
The force of its impact against his foot shivered through his bones and he grit his teeth against sudden pain.
Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, he thought as he scrambled to his feet. The fact that it hadn’t been a good idea slammed home as his leg folded beneath him and he stumbled to regain his balance, favoring his injured leg.
That was when the sword skittered into his sight, into reach of his hand.
“Use it, damn you! That gun isn’t going to do the trick!”
He went momentarily rigid, recognizing the voice. Then one of the things was on his back, claws digging into the flesh of his shoulders. He let out a rather unmanly yelp, dipped to grasp the sword, then whirled, hoping to shake the creature off. The slash in his arm already burned like he’d been raked with hot irons.
The thing’s claws just dug in deeper as he spun. Apparently, it wasn’t keen on giving up its prey.
“Hold still!” Her voice barked. He saw her then, out of the corner of his eye, an arrow notched and bowstring drawn back to her ear. She was aiming—at him?
No, at the thing that’s—
The arrow whistled past his ear and suddenly the thing on his back was screaming, howling, then simply gurgling as it dropped like so much dead meat from his back. He didn’t even have time to thank her before she yelled again.
“Eyes front, lieutenant!”
Another of the ugly hags loomed before him and he took a swing at it with the sword that filled his hands and yet felt oddly right in his grasp. The first hack glanced off the thing’s arm, but it hissed and backpedaled all the same, as if the blade’s substance burned it. Cameron’s breath caught in his throat.
Hell’s belles. What are these things?
“Stop thinking and just fight, damn you!” She shouted from behind him. Her bowstring sang again and something else died, he could hear the death-scream, thump, and rattle.
You’re about to be saved by a girl you left a hundred miles behind you, MacKenzie. How the mighty dragon will hath fallen. He could hear his late wingmen jeering him all the way from here.
He set his jaw and tried for a second swing. This one fell more true, catching the hag across the shoulder and scything downward, slipping through jointures like a hot knife through butter. The pilot felt a little thrill of excitement, relief and elation mixing as the thing sluiced off his blade and he realized it wasn’t going to get up again. It was like the first time flying, but much more immediately dangerous than maneuvering a several-ton hunk of alloys and plastics through the air.
Instinct began to take over. He shifted his weight to his good leg, pivoting toward the remaining three hags, arrayed between him and the girl, who calmly notched another arrow, took aim, and let it fly.
Another of the creatures screamed in pain and he limped forward, broadsword flashing in the dying light. He was almost captivated by the look of silvered steel, razored edges catching the light, but then remembered himself and began to hack away at the nearest hag. Dark tinged in red nibbled at the edges of his vision as sweat set his wounds on fire.
That hag got one more solid hit on him, adding a rent to his shoulder to match his arm and his back before he ran it through on the second try.
And then all was quiet except for his blood pounding in his ears and the ragged rasp of his breath. He leaned against the blade she’d thrown at him, staring at her across the slain.
She shook her head slowly, dark blue eyes narrowing as her dark brows hooded them. She was the epitome of Black Irish to his eye, though seeing her with that bow in hand and how easily she’d taken down four monsters to his two had him quickly revising his earlier estimation of her as part tough girl exterior, part damsel in distress.
“You could have easily gotten yourself killed, Cameron,” she said sternly as she picked her way through the bodies, yanking arrows free from corpses and inspecting the tips for damage. “Why didn’t you run?”
He didn’t answer her, just watched her move. What’s she doing here? I thought she was going east. Did she follow me? Am I hallucinating this?
She tossed three of the arrows away, disgusted. “Still, you were pretty handy with that sword. Have you ever used one before? No, of course not. No one today plays with swords.” She reached out a hand to steady him, eyes suddenly drawn to the bloody rents in his uniform. “Cameron? Can you even hear me?”
“It’s good to see you, too, Neve,” he managed to say before he collapsed.
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