Winter – Chapter 27 – 05

            Christus,” Thordin swore again, letting another arrow fly.  “Damned things are going to tear them to shreds.”
            Then, Phelan surprised him.  He’d feared that the once-druid was well and truly out of shape after his years of moving through the modern world, a world where being a warrior hadn’t been prioritized—hadn’t been necessary.
            Apparently, he’d been wrong.
            Phelan saw the Fury coming and dropped low.  As she closed, he sidestepped expertly and threw his elbow at the creature’s throat.  The Dirae’s screech died with a wet crunch, becoming a high-pitched wheeze as the impact crushed its windpipe.  There was an anger all his won in Phelan’s green eyes, which gleamed with power and emotion.  He swore at the stumbling Dirae in his native tongue and stabbed it through the chest with the blade in his hand before whirling, looking for a fresh target in the darkness.
            It didn’t take him long to find one.
            “What kind of whoresons are you?”  Thordin muttered under his breath, trying to get a bead on another of the Dirae and not have his shot fouled by one of the four men engaging them in combat beyond the walls.  Power—whether from the wards or the men before him, he couldn’t be sure—set the hairs on his arms and on the back of his neck standing straight up.
            He cursed again as a blast of flame from Rory’s hands left him—and likely the rest of the men on the field—temporarily blinded.  Beneath cackling shrieks, he heard the crunch of boots running across the gravel and snow back toward where he stood.  Blinking and trying to clear his vision, he twisted to see Marin coming between the spots dancing in front of his eyes.
            “That was fast,” he said lamely as she scrambled up the ladder partway to thrust a box of shotgun slugs into Paul’s waiting hands.
            “I know where we keep everything.  Are they holding their own?”  She jumped down the ladder and unslung the bow she was wearing across her body, reaching into the quiver that thumped against her hip for an arrow.
            “For the moment.  Can you shoot?”
            “Well enough,” she said.  “Not as well as you or Phelan, but I’m not going skewer my husband or one of my friends.”  With that, she drew the fletching back to her ear, sighted down the arrow’s shaft, and let fly.
            In the darkness, a Dirae screamed.
            Bloody—that’s a little more than passably well.  There was an odd gleam to her eye that Thordin feared he recognized.
            Wanderer, you’re not going to be able to walk when I’m done with you!  Thordin snarled and turned away, sparing only a second longer for his vision to clear before he started firing into the darkness alongside Marin.
            Above them in the watchtower, Paul opened fire.
            “Did we get a count on how many?”  Marin asked between shots.
            “A dozen,” Thordin snapped.  “At least.  No telling how many more may show up.”
            “Bloody hell,” Marin swore.  “We just can’t fucking catch a break.”
            “This happen often?”
            She barked a bitter laugh.  “You have no fucking clue.”
            Thordin growled low in his throat.  Why had Cameron dragged them here, again?
            To everything there’s a reason, he reminded himself.  He drew back another arrow and fired.  The arrow slammed home into the spine of another Dirae, one that Phelan had flipped up and into the air when it came at him.
            Out in the darkness, Cameron swore, then howled a wordless battlecry and threw one of the Dirae into a gout of flame Rory lobbed at it.
            “How many do you see?”  Thordin barked to Marin.
            “I’m counting eyes,” she said.  “Five, I think, but they’re moving too fast for me to get a clear idea.”
            “Six,” Paul yelled down from the watchtower.  “There’s one a little further out, hanging back.  I can see it from here.  It’s just hanging out and watching.”
            “That shouldn’t be happening,” Thordin said, almost too quiet to hear.
            Marin shook her head.  “Things that aren’t supposed to happen typically do around here.  Should we be worried?”
            “Yes,” Thordin said without hesitation.  “We should be very worried.  There’s no reason one of them would be holding back when there’s a fight to be had and targets to take out.  They’re like supernatural assassins.”
            Marin shivered.  “Paul?  Can you get a bead on it?”
            “I can try.”
            “Do it.”
            A moment later, another shotgun blast rang out, echoing off the trees, the buildings.
            As one, the Dirae on the field screamed.
            A woman’s voice rang out over the din, cursing their collective lineage as a bright ball of red-white light turned darkest night into brightest day.  From beyond some brush strode a woman, shorter than any of them men on the field, her dark hair hanging in dreadlocks braided with gold and silver trinkets and wooden and bone amulets.  Blood red lips peeled back from white teeth, blue eyes narrowed dangerously as she strode toward Phelan.  The Dirae dropped to their knees as she came forward onto the field.  The light itself was centered on her, turning the blood that dripped from a wound in her shoulder black as the night itself.
            “You,” Phelan said, spitting the word as if it was an epithet.  “What do you want?”
            “You know exactly what I’ve come for, Wandering One,” the woman said, her voice like discordant music, like an orchestra being tuned.  She looked directly at Cameron, whose hand was pressed against a bleeding wound in his side.
            Thordin swore under his breath.  “Not good.”  His gaze raked over the others.  He saw fresh blood on more than one of them.  “Really not good.”
            “Who is she?”  Marin asked in a bare whisper as she drew closer, her knuckles white around the bow’s grip.
            “The Hecate,” Thordin breathed.  “And she’s pissed and they’re all bleeding.”  He glanced at her.  “Are you all of their blood?”
            Marin’s throat convulsed as she swallowed.  The sudden spark of fear in her eyes told him all he needed to know.
            He shoved the bow into her hands and unslung the axe he wore across his back.  “Stay here.”
            He marched out onto the field.

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