Home > Magic Forged (Hall of Blood and Mercy #1)(12)

Magic Forged (Hall of Blood and Mercy #1)(12)
Author: K.M. Shea

“Are all the victims killed in the same method?” I asked.

“No.” Bea tossed her rag in her bucket and pressed her lips together. “It seems the vampires have more violent ends—they’re found completely drained and often with grievous wounds. The humans are more peacefully killed—if you can call any sort of murder peaceful.” She shook her head and picked up the bucket, coming to join me. “These are terrible times.”

“Yeah,” I echoed.

“Didn’t you know about the murders before you got here?” Ellie joined us and started in on the statue’s tail. “I’m friends with one of the kitchen assistants. She said you’re a wizard. Wouldn’t that make you part of their society?” She pointed back in the direction of the mansion.

I snorted. “No. Supernaturals don’t mix well. We tend to stick to our own—besides, we’ve got laws to keep us from meddling with each other. And no one wants to bother.” My last few words came out more bitter than I meant for them to, but neither Bea nor Ellie seemed to notice.

“That’s sad,” Ellie quietly said.

I shrugged. “It’s been that way for a long time—at least half a century.” I trailed off as I cocked my head and listened.

It was quiet.

Our voices were the only noises in a forest that had been alive with bird songs just a few minutes ago. They couldn’t have all nested down for the night—the sun was still up. But the last few weeks had, more than anything, only amplified the paranoia installed in me from a lifetime of bullying.

I dropped my brush in the bucket and peered into the shadows of the tree-shaded lane. I heard leaves rustle, and narrowed my eyes.

“Hazel?” Ellie asked.

More leaves rustled.

“I hear something.” I lowered my voice to a whisper as I slowly turned in a circle.

My eyes caught a tiny bit of movement, and I froze. Fifty feet away, looming behind a tree, was a nightmare of a creature. It somewhat resembled a giant, wingless wasp with six sapling sized legs and a stinger that was approximately the size of a dagger poking out of its rear. It was bigger than Bea and stood upright on its back legs, its four other legs moving around it like a spider feeling for a web. It had the serrated jaws of a beetle, and its head and back were covered by a grayish brown exoskeleton. It blended in so well with the forest I would have missed it, if not for the silver, scythe-like claws that tipped its four front appendages and glittered in the fading light.

It had to be a creature from the fae dimension. But what was it doing here?

More importantly, what did we do? There was no way we could fight the thing! And judging by its size and willowy frame I didn’t think we could outrun it. But would help come before it killed us?

I slid my eyes in the direction of Drake Hall, but I couldn’t even see the end of the forested section of the stupidly long driveway. I glanced at Bea and Ellie, trying to gauge them.

“What is it?” Ellie whispered.

Ellie was built like a track runner, but Bea was older—old enough that I didn’t think she’d be able to manage much more than a jog. If we ran, the creature would go for her first.

Bea squinted at me, then followed my gaze to the creature. “Heaven have mercy,” she breathed.

Ellie opened her mouth wide—probably to scream—but Bea grimly slapped a hand over her lips. “Don’t, Ellie,” she warned in a hoarse whisper, then glanced at me. “We should run for it.”

“It will kill at least one of us even if we run, possibly all of us.” I said.

“Don’t play games, girl. I know I’ll be its first target,” Bea said. “Least I can do is run in the opposite direction to lead it away.”

For a moment, I struggled with her offer. Tradition said I needed to survive for the sake of House Medeis. But I believed in doing what was right. Back at the House, my family had made my decision for me. Here, though, I had a choice.

I knew what I had to do.

“No.” I tilted my head back as I mentally rummaged through the battle tactics and strategies I had learned in my tussles with other wizards, and read about in books in House Medeis’s incredible library. “I’ll face it. Both of you run and get help—start screaming as soon as you leave the trees.”

I could last long enough to stop it from chasing them before the vampires could hear them. Probably.

It didn’t matter how grim my prospects were. I couldn’t let Bea sacrifice herself for us. It wasn’t right.

“Hazel—” Ellie squeaked when Bea dropped her hand from the college student’s mouth.

“Now—run!” I barked.

Ellie ran as swift as a deer, pausing occasionally to glance back at Bea—who jogged behind her.

I, also, ran.

But instead of running away, I ran toward the creature.

I barreled through the underbrush in my slacks and dress shirt, perhaps the worst prepared I’d ever been for a fight. Intent on keeping the thing occupied, I started shouting.

The creature had turned in Ellie and Bea’s direction, but when it perceived my…war-cry…it slowly turned back around.

When I had crossed half the distance to the monster, I abruptly turned, shutting my mouth with a jarring click and peeling off into the forest.

It started after me, first following at an ambling, awkward walk before it settled into a lope that was a lot faster than I liked.

In seconds, it was almost on top of me. It clicked its beetle jaws as it stabbed its two front legs at me.

I ducked, barely avoiding its scythe-like claws—which passed so close they stirred my wild blond hair.

I needed cover.

I spotted one of the dragon statues dead ahead, marking one of the many turns of the driveway, and tried to run faster.

The creature easily kept pace, keeping its balance despite its large size by grabbing and pushing off tree trunks with its extra appendages.

My lungs burned, but I made it to the statue, darting around it just as the creature made another lunge for me.

It was almost a miscalculation for me.

The creature was able to adjust its jump at the last minute, so it lashed out around the statue with its four arm-like legs.

Thankfully I had taken the turn so tight I almost fell, so its legs brushed over my head.

Even better, the insect-creature had stabbed its front left leg through a small opening between the dragon’s back and its half-furled wings. But, when it pulled back, the curving angle of its claw made it impossible to slide back through the hole.

It was stuck.

I almost laughed in my light-headed glee. Finally, my luck was changing!

Not being an idiot, I changed my path so I was headed for the mansion and kept running—I could hear Ellie’s hysterical screams, so I couldn’t be that far from safety.

I glanced back at the monster, and my stomach curdled when I saw it plant its legs and then yank hard, snapping its front leg in half.

Its disembodied, claw-tipped foot slid off the statue and fell with a sickening splat.

The creature dangled its injured leg in front of it, straightened, then scanned the forest.

I sprinted as fast as I could, my heart pounding when I heard the monster’s loping gait gaining on me. Rather than look back I stared at the ground, watching my feet and—there! A fallen branch that had lots of dried, shriveled leaves hanging from it.

I snatched it up as I tried weaving around a tree. The insect-creature frog hopped around the trunk, almost landing on top of me.

I held my breath as I snapped my fingers, pulling magic from the air, through my blood, and down to my fingertips, creating a candle-sized flame as my wizard mark burned and surfaced just under my left eye.

The shriveled leaves caught on fire fast, and I jabbed the burning branch up at the creature’s head.

It reared back, but before I could scramble away it curled its abdomen under itself, ramming its stinger in my direction.

I veered to the side, dodging successfully, but my legs slipped out from under me.

Before I could scramble to my feet, it wrapped two of its legs around my ribcage and yanked back, making me choke on my own air. Its blade-like claws sliced through my shirt and stabbed into my skin, creating a hot, knifing sensation.

I struggled and thrashed as the monster pulled me along. Rather than carry me, it let me fall to the ground and dragged me backwards over fallen branches, rocks, and stretches of pavement.

“No!” I pulled uselessly on the appendages which tightened around my waist, and screamed when its claws dug in, shedding dribbles of my blood.

Where were those useless vampires? They had to be able to smell my stinky blood by now!

I tried to grab at tree trunks, chipping my nails and skinning my knuckles when the monster effortlessly yanked me free.

It was hard to breathe in my panic, but I tried to shove it down—if I didn’t keep a clear head there was no way I was going to survive this thing.

I went limp and tilted my head back, trying to figure out where it was taking me. Just up ahead I saw the statue where the monster had yanked its own leg off.

It was headed in a straight line, seemingly intent on dragging me off Drake land.

If the vampires didn’t come before then, I was dead.

I hurriedly calculated its path, my ribs aching as if its claws were resting directly on bone as it pulled me along.

I had one chance. It was going to pass close to the dragon statue…and the monster’s severed front claw.

I leaned to the side closest to the statue, waiting for the flash of its claw.

In one smooth movement I managed to pinch the claw between my feet and toss it up at my head. I caught it and stabbed upwards, piercing the monster’s abdomen with its own claw, which sliced through its tough carapace.

The monster collapsed on top of me.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned for its giant-arse stinger, which stabbed my shoulder when it fell.

I screamed as hot, gut-wrenching pain knifed through my shoulder. The stinger must have been coated in poison, because it felt like my blood was boiling in my veins.

The monster dropped me as it tried to stand, endlessly turning in a circle and thrashing through the underbrush as it tried to pluck out the claw I had wedged in its abdomen.

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