Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(43) by Ilona Andrews
The lizard current split, both streams turning and pooling, as the beasts assessed the battlefield.
The nearest lizard, a big brown creature mottled with black, opened its mouth. A deep voice came out, the word torn by the sharp rows of teeth. “Meat.”
The second lizard spat an identical voice. “Meat.”
Animals didn’t speak. Either these were really, really advanced mythological creatures, or someone was controlling the entire horde, piloting them the way navigators piloted the undead. Either way, this just went all the way from bad, past worse, straight to we are all going to die.
The air shuddered as hundreds of reptilian mouths repeated over and over, “Meat . . . meat . . . meat . . .”
“Don’t run!” I called out.
Cruz turned and shoved Alix down, sinking all of the strength of his powerful muscle into it. You sonovabitch. The push took the smaller merc to the ground. Alix caught himself on his hands as if doing a push-up, gripped the pavement, and stayed completely still. Cruz spun and ran for the Guild.
The lizard heads snapped in his direction, drawn to movement like sharks to blood in the water. A small solid-black lizard darted into his way. A fringe of brilliant vermilion spikes snapped up in a crest along its spine. Cruz swung his machete.
The black lizard opened its mouth, studded with sharp teeth, belched, and spat a jet of foamy slime straight at the merc. Cruz screamed. His skin stretched like molten wax, tore, and slid off him, revealing bare bloody muscle underneath. Cruz crashed down, his voice cut off in midscream. The reptiles dove after him, the spot where his body fell a churning whirlpool of scaled bodies.
“Meat!” the rest of the horde roared. “Meat!”
The teenagers ran. The lizards charged, scrambling after them. Across the parking lot, people screamed as the front wave of the reptiles tore into the first responders.
I sprinted forward, Sarrat out. My head screeched in protest, the headache pounding my skull.
Alix jumped to his feet and charged after the kids.
A tall gangly kid stumbled over a brick and fell. The rest tore past him and past me.
Alix sprinted full force, arms pumping. The nearest pursuing lizard snapped at his feet, its teeth rending empty air less than a foot from Alix’s calf.
I lunged in front of the kid on the ground. The first lizard reached me, and I cleaved its head from its neck.
Alix dashed by me, yanked the boy to his feet, and dragged him with him. Too slow. They would need time to make it to the building. If they needed time, I would buy it for them.
The lizards swarmed me. I stabbed and sliced, backing up. The nausea was overwhelming now, the hot, nearly blinding pain in my head threatening to block out everything else.
A din of human screams rose above the Guild’s parking lot.
Cut and back up. Cut and back up. I just had to walk myself right out of here and not get torn to shreds by the endless reptile beasts.
The lizards advanced in a ragged semicircle, trying to surround me. Too many . . .
A black shaggy body smashed into the lizards. A jet of corrosive slime shot past me and fell wide, spilling harmlessly on the ground. An enormous black dog clamped his jaws onto the lizard’s neck and shook it like a terrier shakes a rat.
Grendel. Curran must’ve brought him with them.
The lizards froze, shocked.
The massive dog spat the lifeless body and grinned at me, showing huge white fangs. Blue fire rippled on his fangs and danced along his shaggy fur.
Grendel parked himself on my left side and snarled.
The headache singed my brain again. Vertigo clamped onto me and acid burned my throat. Screw it. I bent over and vomited. Endorphins kicked in and for a brief moment the headache retreated.
The lizards hesitated, their pupil-less eyes glowing with cold hungry fire. So me killing them wasn’t scary, but a black shaggy mutt was clearly outside their frame of reference.
“Meat,” a lizard mouth roared.
The others caught the cry. “Meat . . . meat . . . meat . . .”
The lizards rushed me as one. I carved and sliced, kicked, thrust, and stabbed. Bodies fell around me. Grendel and I retreated, fighting for each inch. Fangs snapped at me. A lizard caught Grendel’s flank in its mouth. He snarled and I buried Sarrat in the lizard’s back. Claws raked my legs. I spun and sliced another beast. An arrow sprouted in its throat. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Alix behind me, his bow in his hands. He drew and loosed the arrows in a smooth fast glide that looked as natural as breathing.
“All hands, fall in!” a woman roared across the lot, somewhere behind the lizard horde. “Form a perimeter! Melee to the front! I want a mage here and a mage there. Light them up. Archers, form up on mages. Give me intersecting fields of fire. Act like you’ve been to a party before.”
A foot. Another foot. We kept going. My breathing evened out. My mind cataloged the injuries and ignored them. Grendel bled but he still fought, ripping into reptilian bodies. The horde tightened the ring around us. They were keying on Grendel now, judging him the easier target. They wouldn’t get my dog as long as I breathed.
I chanced a glance over my shoulder. Twenty yards to the Guild. They would be a hard twenty yards. I was about to throw up again.
A lizard crashed in front of me, its body broken.
To the right the reptilian bodies flew up and aside, as if bulldozed. Someone strong and very motivated was tearing down the battlefield.
“What the hell is that?” Alix said.
“That’s my honey-bunny.”
Curran burst into the open, a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall monster clothed in steel muscle and gray fur. Faint stripes crossed his limbs like dark whip marks. Blood dripped from his clawed hands. On the left side, a patch of his skin was missing, muscle exposed and raw.
He grabbed the nearest lizard, twisted it with a loud snap, and tossed it aside. “Hey, baby.”
“Hi.” I beheaded a lizard. “Where are the kids?”
“With the MSDU.” He disemboweled a beast with a quick swipe of his claws. “You’re having all this fun without me.”
“I’m not doing much. Just having tea and cookies.” I cut at another lizard. “Thinking deep thoughts.” I love you.
“Then I’ll join you.”
He loved me, too.
We backed away together. The Guild doors loomed behind us.
“Down!” Ken barked.
I grabbed Grendel into a bear hug and dropped. Curran landed next to me, his arm over my back.
A jet of foul yellow steam tore above our heads and slashed into the front row of lizards. They convulsed, their scale hide blistering, and died. I jumped to my feet and ran the last ten yards to the Guild. Grendel dashed between the metal doors, I was next, and Curran was the last. He and I spun around and blocked the narrow gap between the doors. With only twelve feet between the doors, the lizards couldn’t come at us more than three at a time. Juke took position next to us, her spear in her hands. Behind her Alix drew his bow.
Curran put his arm around me and I hugged him, gore and fur and all. The feel of his body wrapped around mine was indescribable. There were few moments of true happiness in life. This was one. I hugged him harder, enjoying every moment of touch.
“Get a room!” Juke growled.
We broke apart in time to see her jab the first lizard.
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