Winter – Chapter 19 – 04

            A magic sword?  A bloody magic sword?
            Goosebumps rose along his limbs, not born of any draft driven into their shelter by the storm, but by what she’d just said.
            “A magic sword,” he repeated, mouth almost too dry to speak the words.
            Neve winced, withdrawing slightly even as she grasped his forearms, fingertips digging painfully.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have said that.”  Her voice was a bare, desperately frightened whisper.  “Now you’ll be too afraid to touch the damned thing and that’s not right.  It chose you.”
            Now I know we’re both crazy.  A sword can choose someone?  He tried not to shiver.  The worst of it was that he believed her.
            I believe in a bloody magic sword that my girlfriend gave to me.
            Déithe agus arrachtaigh, Cam.  Say something.”
            “What does that make you, the lady of the lake?” he croaked.
            She went whiter than the snow falling outside and jerked back, turning away.  His stomach dropped.
            What the hell did I say?
            “Neve—”
            A shrieking cackle echoed in the distance.  His heart leapt into his throat as Neve gave a startled gasp.  His fingers closed around her arm.
            Dirae?” he asked in a whisper.
            “I need my bow,” Neve said.  “In case they find us.”
            You’ll never be able to draw it in your state.  Cameron swallowed his protests, scrambling for their packs and the weapons resting among them.  “Is there any chance that they won’t?”
            The wind rattled the lean-tos and he saw Neve swallow in the firelight.  He pressed her bow into her hand.
            “No,” she whispered.  “I don’t think there’s much chance that they won’t.  But we can hope the weather will be our ally.”  She slid her hand into his and squeezed.  “And failing that, we have to hope there aren’t that many.”
            We have to hope.
            The next cackle-shriek was closer.
            “Stay behind me, whatever happens,” Cameron breathed.  “Whatever happens.”
            “They won’t find us,” she said, but her words lacked conviction.  She wanted to believe them, but she couldn’t.
            I want to believe they won’t either.
            The way his skin began to crawl, his hackles rising, told him they probably weren’t going to be that lucky.
            The next shriek sounded like it must have been only a few feet away.
            Cameron started to get up.  Neve grabbed his arm.
            “Don’t,” she said, her voice almost too soft to hear over the wind and the fire.  “Wait.”
            His heart quickened.
            Something scraped against the ground outside.  He squeezed his eyes shut.  The blade’s hilt was warm and heavy in his palm.  It felt right.
            “What’s its name?” he asked in Neve’s ear.
            She looked up at him, swallowed once, then said, “Caliburn.”
            Cameron nodded.  He kissed her once, then threw himself out into the snow.
            Four pairs of red eyes glared back at him through the driving snow.
            Four.  I can take four.
            He threw himself at the first and realized that it wasn’t what he thought it was.
            The creature was slightly bigger than he was, black-winged and ugly, its chest broad and black and well-muscled, covered in a fine fur.  Snow caught in that very fine fur, melting slowly.  It let out a soft, whistling hiss as it sidestepped his strike, extending one arm and one wing as if to grab him on the way past.
            Caliburn tore into the leathery part of its wing as Cameron ducked low and then rolled to escape the grasping of two-inch claws.  He ripped it free, sending a spray of red-black blood spattering across the snow.
            “Not dirae!” he shouted to Neve as he rolled up to one knee.  Though whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I’m not quite sure.
            The creatures, almost as one, turned toward him and began to close.  Cameron lunged toward the nearest.  The blade bit deep into the creature’s belly.
            It screamed so loudly that the sound left his head ringing.
            Pain seared hot across his shoulders.  He yanked the blade back and clear of the creature’s belly, whirling toward the second creature, the one that had just ripped open his shirt—and the flesh of his back.
            As he threw himself at the second creature, the one with a bleeding wing, all he could hear was the ringing in his head and the pounding of his heart.
            What the hell are they?  One grabbed for him and he danced back and out of the way, almost tripping over the creature he’d stabbed in the belly.
            An arrow flashed past him, burying itself in a third creature’s eye.
            Neve stood at the corner of the lean-to, her lips white, body trembling even as she held the bow steady, implacably notching another arrow. 
            Just stay behind me.
            Cameron wrapped both hands around the blade’s hilt and swung it with all his strength at the first creature.  It hit with a wet thock, sinking into its flesh at least four inches.  He hauled back again, working the blade free as the creature sprouted an arrow in its breastbone.
            “—hind you!”
            He turned in time to jerk back half a step.  Claws that would have taken his spine instead scraped against his collarbone.  He stumbled back, one hand spasming.
            The blade almost fell from suddenly nerveless fingers, but he dipped just in time, catching it before it hit the ground.
            Both hands curled around the wire-bound sharkskin of the hilt.  He twisted, coming up as hard and fast as he could, swinging with all his might.
            A clawed fist grasped the blade and held it for a brief moment.  The creature snarled an oath and for the barest of moments, Cameron thought he saw a human face buried deep in the shadows of a hood.
            Then the creature released the blade and vanished in a profusion of black smoke.
            He realized he was short of breath a moment later and stumbled back, glancing down to see red spreading across his chest and blooming along his side.  He turned toward Neve.  Her face was as pale as the driving snow.
            Then he fell face-first into the cold whiteness beneath his feet.

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