Poisonwell Page 1

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The snapping sound of a branch was Tyrus’s only warning.

He managed to sidestep as the creature hurtled past him, but its claws raked his arm as it passed, opening slits with its razor-tipped points and unleashing searing pain. The beast landed, coiled like a spring, and launched back at him again, its fangs snapping toward his throat. Tyrus managed to catch its thick ruff of fur and then channeled the fireblood into it. The blue flames made it shriek with pain before snuffing it out in a plume of ash. Pain shot through Tyrus’s arm down to his wrist, but he did not have time to dwell on it. Three more of the creatures were coming at him.

Tyrus’s mind was frozen in time, all things slowing to the syrupy texture of dreams, his senses as sharp as the claws of the beasts. The sound of battle raged all around him as the survivors fought against the onslaught that came like an avalanche. He could hear the whistle of blades, the spray of blood from fur, barks and whines, and the almost-giddy chuckle of men driven past the point of exhaustion.

He tried to dodge the next creature as it swiped at him savagely, misjudging the blow and feeling it score his leg. Another turned into ash from the fireblood and Tyrus knew his hold on sanity was starting to slip. With all his heart he wanted to unleash it fully, to blast the relentless demons into whatever oblivion awaited them. Control—he had to control his anger and desperation.

One of the catlike creatures landed on his back, knocking him off balance. Tyrus nearly fell from its weight, but managed—if barely—to keep upright. His knees knotted with pain as the weight drove on him. The cowl of his cloak was wrenched aside by sharp teeth as the creature prepared to sink its bite into his neck. Tyrus swiveled, blasting the third Weir full in the chest with the fireblood just as it launched at him. The flames guttered out as the creature slammed into him, knocking him backward. The interruption may have saved his life, for he landed on the creature still clinging to his back and it let out a hiss of pain and surprise. Glowing yellow eyes shining with madness loomed over Tyrus and he summoned the Vaettir words again.

Too late.

A swipe of the claw raked Tyrus’s face, slashing his lip and chin as he tried to jerk away from the blow. Pain and blood drowned him, and again he nearly lost his self-control. He throttled the beast by the throat and sent flames streaking down its body until it vanished.

With a jerk of his shoulder, Tyrus twisted away from the creature pinned beneath him, its limbs thrashing to free itself as well as to attack him. Tyrus pressed his weight against it, slamming its head into the crackling nest of desiccated leaves. He pounded on the creature’s head again and again, his fist glowing blue with the fireblood. A terrible fury rose inside of Tyrus’s soul. He felt his own teeth bared with hatred and wondered whether he would start biting the demon next.

The creature lay limp and still as Tyrus managed to stagger to his feet. Howls filled the air, coming from far away. Mopping his bleeding face on the back of his hand, Tyrus turned to see who was left, who had survived. The baying sound signaled retreat. They had experienced it before.

The catlike creatures loped into the woods, vanishing like quicksilver, their hide glittering with dusty frost that made them turn invisible when they were not attacking. Fear began to replace the fury. The demon-spirits were cunning and deadly. The Druidecht Merinda had called them Weir. It was from some lore she had been taught.

One by one the creatures slipped away, leaving the remnants of Kenatos to bleed.

Tyrus tried to still his breathing and subdue his mounting panic. Why had the creatures run off? He could discern no pattern in their attack or retreat. They seemed to have no reason. Perhaps a more cunning intelligence controlled them?

He looked down at his hand and saw the smear of blood. His mouth and chin throbbed with pain, as did his leg and arm. He clutched the wound on his arm to try to stanch the bleeding and started to hobble, seeing who had survived.

There was Merinda, face ashen, her untamed red hair clotted with leaves. Her fingers still burned blue as she rocked back and forth, not sure if the reprieve would last. Her eyes were lucid. That was good. She was hunched forward protectively, elbows in. Sweat mixed with the mud on her cheek.

Standing just behind her was the Bhikhu. Tyrus was so grateful that Aboujaoude was there. The Vaettir-born Bhikhu were all dead. Nothing had prepared them for the ferocity of the attacks, and their instinct to preserve life had defeated their chances of survival. Aboujaoude was Aeduan, trained in the Bhikhu Temple in Kenatos. Street fighting was natural to him. Survival was an instinct he did not lack. He had shed his Bhikhu sensibilities after the first attack of the Weir. So far, their threatening time in the Scourgelands had revealed he was an efficient killer. As Tyrus panted, staring at the man, he realized the Arch-Rike would make Aboujaoude a Kishion when they returned.

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