At first the difference between the latest arrival and the previous monstrosities wasn’t obvious. It looked a great deal like the humanoid monsters, bipedal and generally human in shape, but with a twistedness to its body and a speed to its movement that no human could match. No one really noticed it at first. They were too busy with the creatures that had already reached us, keeping things under control.
But I noticed. I was watching the wreckage more than the fight, for this specific reason.
“Watch out!” I shouted. “Vampire incoming!”
Apparently said vampire heard me, because it stopped pretending to be even remotely close to human. It had been maybe a hundred and fifty feet when I shouted, far enough away to give us a comfortable amount of time before it reached us at its current pace.
It covered that distance in all of three seconds, and jumped over our front line entirely, landing somewhere behind our entire group.
I spun to face it, reaching for weapons and snarling curses.
I was just in time to see it land, a few feet behind the ranks of gunmen. They’d heard my warning, and some of them managed to turn and start shooting before it could move from where it landed.
It didn’t seem to matter. The vampire rushed forward into their midst, and I thought most of them missed, unable to compensate for the sheer speed with which the thing moved. The handful of rounds that did hit it didn’t have a noticeable effect. Gaping holes appeared in its flesh, but it didn’t slow, didn’t even seem inconvenienced by the damage.
The same could not be said for the gunmen. The vampire moved forward into their midst, laying about itself with all four limbs as it ran forward, and every blow sent a person sprawling, if not flying. It wasn’t using a weapon, but I couldn’t really think of anything that would have helped it anyway. As fast as it was moving, a gun would have just gotten in the way, slowed it down. As hard as it hit, a knife or sword would have just slowed it down for no reason.
Within a handful of seconds, it had cleared a large area around itself. Gangsters and soldiers, it didn’t seem to make a difference; everything it hit went down, and the ones that were standing back up weren’t doing so quickly.
And then it stopped, and looked at me. I’d gotten to within the area it had cleared for itself, and I was holding Tyrfing.
“Ah,” it said. “And the jarl stands for himself at last. It took you long enough.”
I didn’t say a word, just threw myself at it, slashing straight for its center of mass. It tried to dodge out of the way, but I’d aimed where I did for a reason. It had to move half its body sideways to avoid the sword.
Normally, it could probably have done it. Normally.
But it was still broad daylight out here. While this vamp was apparently old and powerful enough to function in the sunlight, I had no doubt that it was functioning at less than its best. It was barely faster than I was, where before when I’d fought vampires they’d left me so far behind that it wasn’t even close to being a fight.
The end result was that it dodged the worst of the blow. I didn’t cut it in half, the way I would have liked to.
But it lost its right arm from the elbow down, and I cut halfway through its thigh on that side as well. Blood gushed out of its body momentarily from the stump, before slowing to a trickle. It took another few steps to the side, stumbling a little, and then stopped and stared at me.
I lifted the sword to a ready position and smiled at it behind my helmet. The vamp hesitated only a moment before rushing forward again, one hand snapping out at my face.
I dodged aside, only to realize at the last moment that it hadn’t been aiming for me.
It snatched the raven off my shoulder, and crushed it between its fingers in a heartbeat.
Instantly, I was blind again, and reeling from the pain I felt transmitted from the raven’s mind in the last instants of its life. I scrambled for other ways to piece together an image of my surroundings, focusing my magic to find another animal to look through, or enough awareness of air currents to track motion.
The pain made me slow and clumsy. I hadn’t gotten anything together when I felt a heavy impact to my abdomen. It didn’t penetrate the armor, but it picked me up and threw me backward. I landed hard on something soft.
I laid there for a few seconds, getting my head in gear and figuring out how to see. After a couple of seconds I managed to get a solid connection to the werewolves.
It gave me an odd, kaleidoscopic view of the battle. I was connected to the pack, rather than any individual, and the difference was incredible. I was simultaneously processing input from Kyra, Anna, Ryan, and Daniell, and they were all looking in different directions. I’d never have been able to manage it if I hadn’t been practicing handling multiple inputs, information from multiple animals at once, and even as it was it was a little dizzying.
Ryan was still watching the battle below. He’d been one of the ranged combatants this time around, using his submachine gun, and he had the ingrained discipline to keep to his role even when there was a fight with a vampire raging behind him.
Through his eyes, I could see that the mass of ghouls and monsters was still contained. They weren’t being shot nearly as much now that most of the soldiers and gangsters were down, but the barrage of gunfire had done enough to slow them down and weaken them that the housecarls could keep things under control. Some of them were injured, but I didn’t think any were down entirely.
Kyra, on the other hand, was in the thick of things, fighting beside the jötnar. In the moment I made contact, she was biting a ghoul’s shin. She bit down hard enough to crack the bone, then twisted, pulling the bone to pieces. When she let go her teeth pulled chunks of flesh loose, and the ghoul had barely been free for half a second when she lunged upward, catching it a little higher on the leg. She repeated the process three more times over the next couple seconds, pulling the monster down and leaving its leg as little more than shredded meat.
I didn’t see as much from her angle. But I did gain a renewed appreciation for what a werewolf was capable of in a melee.
Next was Anna. She’d been hanging back a little, taking a breather, at the moment that the vampire had attacked, and as a result she’d been free to turn and watch. At the moment she was mostly watching me, so I could see myself from the outside. It was a little strange, but it let me figure out where I was. I’d landed a short distance away from where I’d been standing, on top of a pair of downed gangsters. It was hard to say whether they were alive or dead at a distance and I didn’t have time to check myself, but they weren’t moving.
And last of the werewolves was Daniell. Like Anna, she’d been watching what happened behind the lines, but her focus was more on the vampire than me. She was running up to it now, running even faster than it had. Smart choice, given that she was one of the very few people quick enough to pose a meaningful threat to it.
I was still trying to stand when she jumped on it, biting and tearing. It tried to swat her away with its remaining arm, but she twisted aside with almost unbelievable agility, falling to the ground and then lunging forward again. She caught its already-wounded leg and bit deeply, tearing away another large chunk of meat.
Apparently the vampire had had enough of that, because it jumped again, a freakish fifteen-foot-high leap that carried it right over Daniell’s head.
The werewolf spun just in time to watch it come down in the midst of the mages. Once again, it didn’t hesitate a moment before lashing out. It caught the independent mage who’d been providing the force magic with its sole remaining hand and ripped his throat open to the spine, then swung its fist into the side of Doug’s head hard enough to cave the man’s skull in.
The force mage was dying, obviously and rapidly. But his face was locked in an expression of grim determination, something almost frightening to behold, and he was still standing. He threw his magic at the vampire, and I could smell it from here, disinfectant touched with the scents of blood and death. He landed only a glancing blow, I was pretty sure, but it still smashed the monster to the ground hard. The next hit visibly shattered most of its bones.
Some part of me was aware that this was magic on a scale I’d seldom seen. His attacks on the ghouls had been powerful, but nothing like this, and he should have been getting tired, not building up steam. He was using blood magic, had to be, throwing his life behind his magic. Made sense, I supposed; he was dying anyway.
The rest of me was too busy staring at Doug as he crumpled to the ground. I’d never been too close to him; he was nice, and a genuinely good person, while I could claim neither. But I’d gotten to know him fairly well while we were working together, and I’d liked the big guy. He was a decent sort.
And now he was dead, as fast as that. That kind of brain damage was the sort of thing that killed almost instantly, and there wasn’t anything much I could do about it. Not even magic was going to fix this. He was gone.
The force mage let out a final gasp and then collapsed. He’d bought some time with his life, but the vampire was still moving. Even with most of its bones broken, it was still trying to stand.
Mac was the next closest mage. She watched the force mage die. She spent a long moment staring at Doug, or rather at Doug’s corpse.
And then I saw something I’d never expected to see.
I saw Mac use her magic offensively.
She stretched out one hand towards the vampire, her mouth set in a hard line. A gentle white light glowed around her hand, twining between her fingers like streamers of luminescent cloud. I smelled her magic as well as I started to jog towards the scene—I wasn’t quite up to running just yet, not without risking an embarrassing fall.
There was something odd about it, though. The normally mild scent of her magic was touched with something darker this time, something very much akin to blood.
In fact, it smelled uncomfortably similar to the tone that had been in the force mage’s magic in the instants before he died. It smelled an awful lot like blood magic.
The vampire slowed dramatically. It was still moving, but there was less purpose to it now, less focus. It started to stand, then slipped and fell again.
I was moving as quickly as I could, but Aiko was closer, faster on her feet, and not blind. She reached the vampire before I was even close, and thrust her katana squarely through its neck.
It collapsed back to the ground as she severed the spinal cord. A moment later she pulled the blade out and thrust again, stabbing it through the heart this time.
It took only a few seconds for the last of the ghouls to be mopped up. A handful of the jötnar were injured, none of them seriously. The werewolves and shapeshifters were untouched by the battle, to all appearances.
I took the time to decapitate the vampire completely, and doused the body in holy water just to be careful.
Lieutenant Delaney found me there. Anna was standing beside me, providing me with eyes. She turned to watch as he got close. I didn’t bother. I didn’t need to with her watching him, and this would help my image.
“That was a vampire?” he asked quietly, watching me.
“Yep,” I said, dumping the last of the holy water on the body. I couldn’t have said whether it was working, but it probably didn’t matter. It was decapitated, and the heart was completely destroyed and removed. That was enough to kill even a vampire.
“Are they always that tough?”
I snorted. “Usually they’re a hell of a lot worse than that,” I said dryly. “That’s why we’re doing this in the daytime. It makes it easy.”
He stared. “Jesus motherfucking Christ,” he said. “That thing killed half my men. That was it being easy?”
“Yep,” I said. “I know it’s hard to believe, but it was. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some people I need to talk to. Preparations to make.” I started walking away.
“Preparations for what?” he asked, hurrying to keep up.
I didn’t glance back, although Anna did, giving me a look at him anyway. “You didn’t think this was over, did you?” I asked. “We’re going to finish the job. I’ll understand if you don’t want to participate any more.”
He paused, then nodded. “There are more of those things here,” he said. “This city won’t be safe until they’re dead.”
“Good,” I said. “Glad to have you with us. Go and take care of your people, get ready. We’ll be going in in about fifteen minutes.”
He left, and we kept walking. Aiko found us within a few moments, and we walked up to the mages together.
They were gathered in a clump around the bodies of Doug and the force mage. It looked like half of them were in mourning, and the other half were pissed.
I was pleased to see that second group. It was selfish of me, maybe, but I couldn’t help but think that pissed was good. I could use pissed.
“Hey,” I said. “Who here’s good with fire?”
Jimmy raised his hand without looking away from Doug. A moment later, so did another mage, one of the independents.
“Good,” I said. “Come with me.” I walked away without waiting for an answer.
At the wreckage of the house, the housecarls were dousing things in accelerant under Kyi’s direction, while the werewolves stood guard. They carried jugs of gasoline and kerosene from the cars and splashed them generously on the building. Kjaran set a crate on the ground and then started pulling out water balloons full of gasoline and holy water. He tossed them onto the wreckage in places that the housecarls couldn’t get, or threw them through windows.
“We’re going to torch the building,” I said needlessly. “I want you two to make sure it burns fast, and it burns completely. In fifteen minutes, I don’t want there to be anything here but ashes. Are we clear?”
Jimmy nodded, a wide pyromaniac’s grin on his face. After a moment, the independent mage followed suit.