(chapter continued from previous post)
Hermia and Melanippe, back to back, were ringed by three. The focus seemed to be more heavily on the foreigners, though. Madoc and Mirren did their best to stay in front and buy time for Tyrel to use his throwing knives and Kaveri whatever other pottery she could reach. Tyrel injured two more before the battle was in too close and he had to switch to those odd weapons of his with the triangular blades and the hilt that ran crosswise instead of parallel to the blade. Kaveri had a limited supply of ammunition accessible, even with fruit and belt-knives, though she put that to good use: Lysandra thought it kept the invaders too broken up to mob Madoc and Mirren en masse. When she ran out, she began to use her weighted cord; she wasn’t as good at being lethal, but she could certainly interfere and keep attackers busy, and at least once disarmed someone.
That immense bird stooped again, this time on Kieran as he backed up a step from his bloodied victim. Kieran spun around and mostly evaded the attack, and the talon-cuts across his back closed and vanished in heartbeats, leaving him fully fit to lunge upwards at the bird. It shrieked again, battering at him with enormous wings, and surely those blows must be terrifically powerful, but Lysandra could still hear Kieran’s snarls past the flurry of feathers.
More greengold blood, but this time it was Madoc’s—and that healed instantly, moonlight filling it and washing it away.
The man who had just sliced Madoc’s arm open from shoulder to elbow in vain fell back a step in shock. “You’re like us!”
“And we’re healing in the moonlight,” Madoc retorted. “You aren’t. What does that tell you?”
“Yegor! You didn’t tell us…!”
“Stop thinking and kill them!” bellowed one of the attackers, possibly the tallest and probably the most fair of hair and skin. “Phoibos, change and help Garvey with that damned wolf!”
Yegor? Garvey? Those were alien names, as odd as those of the Peacock’s friendly strangers and their own in-house protectors.
“But they’re like us! And the moons are on their side!”
“I said kill them! No matter what they are, they’re enemies who already killed two of us!”
While Madoc’s opponent continued to hesitate, Kaveri solved his dilemma by cracking him on the back of the skull with one of the rapidly-swinging lead weights. He fell where he was, and stayed there.
One of the men backed up, letting his sword fall to the rooftop. He skinned out of his tunic, untied his loincloth and bent to deal with his sandals.
Kaveri caught him in the head with another cup, now that she could reach more from her new position. It dazed him briefly, knocking him to his knees. That bought Kieran enough time to drag the great bird down, with his teeth clamped relentlessly on its throat, violet blood streaking its feathers. It wasn’t screaming anymore, maybe lacking the breath to do so, though the wings continued to flail frantically.
Usually Kaveri’s missiles connected; sometimes it was enough to deflect a blow or make someone falter or draw minor distracting blood, sometimes it just made the footing trickier over intact and broken and shattered cups and dishes. Lysandra had never thought that something so humble and prosaic could make a difference. There were only a finite number of objects to throw, however, and she was rapidly running out.
The naked one’s form blurred into pale silver-blue light, and reformed into a lion with a thick dark mane; the feline must, Lysandra was sure, mass twice what Kieran did. But then, he’d fought a great bear that was much larger, so surely he could handle this? As soon as he dared let go of the bird?
Kaveri, recklessly, madly, darted in and grabbed the lion’s tail, jerking on it as hard as she could; it spun around with a roar, one golden paw swiping at her. She dropped flat and it went over her; rolling to her feet, she crouched in place, lion and woman each daring the other to move next. The lion’s tail lashed in outrage—but maybe also uncertainty, wondering what other surprises there might be, and whether it dared attack?
Kieran’s teeth tore long blue furrows in the lion’s tawny hip; it roared again and whipped around to face him as the more dangerous foe. Behind Kieran, the bird lay flat and unmoving, wings spread limply.
Bird’s down, one, two, three, four, five others down, make that six, Hermia just got that one, and there are two, four, seven still fighting, against our six, not counting the lion and Kieran. And one of those is one-handed and bleeding badly thanks to Madoc and that curved thing of his. Well, those are better odds, at least, and they’re almost all injured, so have ours been but ours are healing as fast as they’re hurt—except Hermia and Melanippe, but they’re the only ones trying to actually defend themselves at all and they don’t look hurt badly… with the moons on our side, maybe we’ll all live through this?
At which point Mirren cried out, a sound cut off mid-note as she collapsed, the heavy-bladed sword of one of the attackers buried deep in her chest. Her own short sword and dagger clattered to the roof.
Madoc kicked them back out of reach of their adversaries, behind him and Tyrel; he said her name once, questioningly, but got no reply.
But Mirren will be back, right? The way Kieran was? Sanur’s waxing…
Will anyone human be left when she does?
“You may be healing, but you still die,” the fair one Yegor said gloatingly.
“Looks that way,” Tyrel said, blocking a sword coming at Madoc’s head with his smaller katar so it slid along the length of the blade, and thrusting forward with the larger one. Blood, aquamarine, his opponent clutching his side and barely clinging to his sword. “If you surrender, we won’t kill you.”
“Surrender or not, you’re all dead!” Yegor said.
“Maybe why the moons are playing favourites?” Madoc suggested.
The injured one with the blue-green blood faltered, backed up a step.
“Don’t you dare, Fridulf,” Yegor snapped.
Injured Fridulf’s sword clanged to the rooftop. He backed a few further steps away from both the fight and his weapons, then knelt.
Lysandra caught Narcissa’s wrist and dragged her back, against resistance.
“He surrendered, so he’s in our care!” Narcissa protested. “And he needs a healer!”
“Let Sahen look after him until the fight’s over! Look, none of them are vanishing, and shouldn’t they be by now if they were really dead? They don’t come back, so maybe the moons are compromising so this fight won’t go on until sunrise—don’t heal them immediately, but don’t let them die?”
“You should listen to your sister,” Thaleia said. “You’re the primary target. They got a big bad surprise, four moonblood instead of four humans, and Kieran besides, and the moons taking sides, and the quick clean massacre they must have expected is in ruins. If you go out there, they’ll probably all go after you so they salvage something out of this mess.”
Narcissa bit her lip, visibly torn—which meant Lysandra had no intention of letting go of her. She made no immediate further attempt to go to the man’s aid, at least.
Injured Fridulf stripped off his tunic and wadded it up over the wound in his side. Lysandra watched him warily, but he seemed to genuinely have removed himself from the battle.
The one whose hand was nearly severed by a curving slice most of the way around his forearm, violet blood running freely from parallel cuts on his face and other arm from Madoc’s claws, dropped back a step, looked at Fridulf and then at Madoc, and tossed his sword aside. He retreated to kneel beside Fridulf, wincing as he untied his belt and stripped off his tunic to wrap around his arm.
Are we actually winning?
Yegor said something Lysandra didn’t understand, but he sounded furious. He fell back a couple of further steps behind the actual battle line, peeling off his tunic, then his loincloth.
The huge stag shook sandals off his hind hooves irritably, and lowered his head, wide antlers with an alarming collection of points aimed at the noncombatants.
Long ago, before everyone had given up, Narcissa’s brother Agathon and several companions had dragged an unwilling Evander along on hunting trips, trying to elicit a properly masculine response; they’d been disgusted by his indifference to the thrill of the chase. The stag charging at them now was familiar from those trips: not one of the small fallow or smaller roe deer, but a mature red deer stag, its shoulders as high as those of a man, bearing a tremendous set of antlers that could wreak havoc.
Tyrel deflected a blow meant for Kaveri and tossed his head towards the stag in a suggestion to respond to it, but she was too far away. The roof offered little traction for hooves, but the stag was moving more rapidly than two feet could.
Lysandra pulled the ends of the bow securing the drawstring of her full skirt, and wriggled it down over her hips with a couple of twitches. With the waistband in her free hand, she used her grip on Narcissa’s wrist and her full strength to heave her sister as far back as she could, then darted around Thaleia and into the path of the charging stag.
Who snorted and made no attempt to veer; if anything, he lowered his head a trifle further.
She heard Narcissa cry her name, almost a scream.
At the last instant, she flipped the skirt up so it spread across the stag’s antlers, hanging down over his face, and threw herself to the side. The roof was hard enough that she suspected she’d have bruises, but she rolled out of the way before raising her head to look.
The stag shook his head violently in an attempt to dislodge the thin rosy fabric that was fluttering across his eyes and obscuring his vision.
Thaleia ran in; her knife was too short to hit anything vital, but she drove it hilt-deep into his shoulder, and slashed downward as she jerked it out.
The knife wasn’t entirely clear of the hide before Kaveri’s belt whipped through the air at knee-height, and tangled around the stag’s hind legs, the weights continuing to wrap them more tightly. The stag bellowed and dropped his head further, spinning and bucking blindly.
Thaleia watched coolly, and sprinted in a second time. This time, her knife lodged in its muscular neck, and was torn out of her hand. The stag’s head slammed into her, knocking her back and off her feet, and the sound she made was sharp and rather strangled.
Lysandra was too close for comfort, with the stag’s increasingly berserk behaviour. She scrambled to her feet.
The restrained back hooves, though with the binding coming gradually loose, kicked out together. One caught Lysandra squarely in the side. She was sure she felt her lower ribs crack, before the blinding pain doubled her over, clutching vainly at her injured side.
What did it hit?
Vaguely, she was aware of a female shriek of rage, and of the stag bellowing again, but the struggle to suck in enough air for the next breath, and then the next, overwhelmed anything that far away. She felt the surface under her shudder, something heavy striking it hard.
“Surrender. Now!” That was Narcissa’s voice, and she sounded furious. “Drop them immediately or you lose the option!”
But how could her sister be somewhere over there, and only a single laboured breath later be kneeling beside Lysandra, gently pulling her hands away from her side? Lysandra moaned and tried to curl up more tightly to hide from the pain that was turning the world into a black ocean of ice and fire.
“Shh, I’m sorry, but I need to look. Who can get to the hospital fastest? We’ve got three life-threatening emergencies, too injured to walk. Maybe four, if Clytie…”
“Going,” Kaveri said.
And then, with no time between, or maybe a thousand years of Narcissa stroking her hair and talking to her, but if it had meaning it was lost in the battle to keep breathing, there were more people there, and hands lifted her onto something, and the pain spiked so high that consciousness lost out.