Khalik gasped. “Theresa! Brutus! Get away-”
Mana blasted toward the huntress and cerberus in a telekinetic wave.
Brutus yelped as it slammed into him, pushing the massive cerberus back along the cobblestones; his nails scraped the uneven surface. His entire body shook as he tried to clear his heads.
“Brutus!” Theresa cried, spinning out of the worst of the wave and darting forward, thrusting her great-grandfather’s curved blade.
The mana vampire tried to leap back, but steel found its side, slicing the flesh in a push-cut and drawing blood. It shrieked.
Disturbingly red blood oozed, but did not remain red for long.
The monster warped back into its true, hideous form, sending screams erupting through the crowd. When the city guards realized they were finally seeing the thing they had searched for for months, they were stunned into inaction. They stood gaping at the mana vampire before finally trying to push through the press of panicked civilians, while frantically blowing their whistles. Many of the sky-gondoliers took to the sky and fled, but others remained hovering at a safe altitude high above, watching the battle unfolding below.
“Dammit!” Khalik swore. “We have to get out of the-”
It was too late. The crowd rushed toward the group of young wizards, the press of bodies separating them.
“Alex!” Selina screamed as her hand was nearly pulled from his grip, but he bent and quickly scooped her up, holding her close.
“I’ve got you!” he shouted. “Hold onto me! Hold on tight!”
Alex felt little hands grasp his clothes as her arms wrapped around him as tightly as they could. He grimaced as she screamed near his ear. The rest of the group was forced apart, caught up in the stampeding crowd.
Grimloch went charging around the mob, looking to flank the mana vampire.
The shapeshifting monster shrugged off its clothes and scrambled back from Theresa, but the huntress was leaping into its guard.
It looked panicked.
While Alex—enhanced by Thundar’s spell—and it had been evenly matched in speed, Theresa was faster than either of them. Her sword flickered at it—flashing in the eerie light of the sky-gondoliers’ lanterns—and the creature only barely escaped losing a limb, or being disemboweled.
More and more cuts appeared on its flesh, and they were healing far slower than when it had fought Khalik, Alex and Thundar in the alleyway. Repeatedly, it tried raising its hands to blast Theresa with mana, but each time the huntress’ blade swung out to punish it for taking the risk.
And from one of her strikes-
-the creature shrieked as a tentacled finger was sliced off its outstretched hand. The digit flew through the air, spurting blood.
Growling, Brutus recovered from the telekinetic blast, and the enraged cerberus charged around to flank it.
With a shriek of panic, its entire body turned to mist, and both cerberus jaws and steel blades passed through it. It swirled, quickly shimmering back into solid form, then rushing toward the fleeing crowd.
Alex felt mana shift in the air, and suddenly, the glow from its blood dimmed.
“Theresa!” Alex shouted. “It’s using its sleep magic!”
The mana vampire’s magic washed out of it in a wave.
Brutus suddenly collapsed and Theresa stumbled, shaking her head to clear the exhaustion. Even Grimloch—coming closer to the battle—fell to the ground.
Others in close proximity to the creature crumpled in sleep. Those with them—lucky enough to be untouched by the magic—reacted with horror and fear, shouting incantations in retaliation.
“No, don’t!” Alex shouted, but his words couldn’t penetrate blind panic.
Magic bolts shot at the mana vampire, while the creature’s lightning-fast limbs snatched them from the air. The spells disappeared: sucked into its hands.
Its blood glowed brighter.
Stronger now, its wounds began closing as it leapt upon its victims, quickly draining their mana. They shriveled like ancient corpses. The guards were still fighting their way through the panicking masses, and the crowd was too thick to chance firing crossbow bolts at the feeding monster.
“Najyah!” Alex heard Khalik. He saw the plaited head of the prince rising above the crowd. “Go, wake Grimloch and Brutus!” He shouted in Tekish.
The massive eagle shot toward the shark man and cerberus. Alex began conjuring a forceball; it might be able to help wake people as well. As he guided his thoughts through The Mark to better his aim, he could only watch as the mana vampire continued to drink its fill until finally, the guards burst through the crowd.
Theresa recovered and charged it, but the creature had regained much of its strength. With seemingly little effort, it hoisted a sleeping victim up, continuing to drain him as it used the poor fellow as a living shield.
The guards halted, and the mana vampire heaved its victim at them then lashed out with another invisible wave of sleep. Most of the guards instantly collapsed and Theresa stumbled.
It whirled on her, and its tongue lolled out of its mouth. Alex looked at its broken arm, realizing that it had healed, along with most of the other injuries. Its hands warped in shape.
Alex’s heart stopped. “Theresa! Watch out!”
Claws burst from its finger-tips—each at least a foot long—and it lunged at the recovering huntress. Theresa parried its rush of claws, but now she was on the defensive. Alex watched as mana poured out of its skin and out-lined its flesh, just like a body enhancement spell.
The creature’s reactions quickened.
Theresa concentrated, her speed growing as well.
The young huntress and the monster fought evenly for a time—with blade clashing against mana-hardened claws—but time was on the young woman’s side.
The crowd was finally dispersing from the square, giving Alex, Khalik, Isolde, Nua-Oge, Shiani, Angelar and Caramiyus room to maneuver.
Najyah had landed beside Grimloch and was pecking at the shark man to wake him, while Alex had finished casting his forceball. He shot it straight to the sleeping cerberus, nudging Brutus gently to wake him.
The mana vampire hissed when it saw more attackers. Another wave of sleep slammed out. Najyah slumped onto Grimloch, and both he and the cerberus stopped moving.
Alex cursed as Theresa fought against its conjured exhaustion. She warily parried a flurry of claws with her sword and hunting knife, while shaking off the sleep spell. The creature drove her back with another quick telekinetic blast then rushed toward more sleeping victims.
“Get back, monster!” Khalik shouted, shooting a swarm of sharp rocks toward the thing. Leaping out of the way of the stones, it glared at Khalik then scanned its surroundings.
Alex’s eyes narrowed.
‘You can drain the magic from spells,’ he thought. ‘But you’re not immune from physical objects if they actually hit you even if they’ve been conjured by magic, are you?’
Theresa moved between it and the closest escape route.
Alex conjured a rock from the elemental plane of earth and gripped it tightly.
“If you’ve got anything solid to conjure and throw at it, use those kinds of spells!” he shouted to his companions.
The creature glared at him and began to charge.
Alex gasped, backing away, holding tightly to Selina.
Theresa went pale and charged after it.
Then their companions stepped in.
The creature stumbled to the side as Shiani abruptly shot a spear of hardened obsidian at it, then it ducked low as Isolde launched a pair of conjured iron spikes.
They missed and it straightened up.
The monster yelped, stumbling backward as Nua-Ogre smashed it in the chest with a chunk of frozen sea-water the size of one of Thundar’s fists.
“Ek-u-Dari curses you, monster!” Nua-Oge roared. “She curses you into the depths of a maelstrom!”
The creature healed itself, hissing at her.
The hiss turned to a screech.
As its healing was complete and it prepared to charge again, Theresa caught it, her blade slashed across its back.
The mana vampire dropped to all fours and scrambled away; its limbs moving unnaturally, like some sort of humanoid crab. The wound on its back was healing quickly, but Alex could see that now its blood was losing the glow as it retreated from Theresa; the stolen mana was waning.
It had to spring away from a swarm of sharpened rocks Khalik shot at it. But, one found its target, piercing deep into its side. It shrieked and stiffened, grabbing its side. The huntress darted in close, her blades raised to take advantage.
Suddenly, its hands shot up, blasting another wave of telekinetic force.
Alex and Selina screamed. Khalik, Isolde, and the other wizards cried out in alarm.
Theresa was catapulted through the air and crashed onto the cobblestones. Her sword flew from her hand. The mana vampire ran straight for her, and pounced-
-right onto the point of Theresa’s hunting knife.
With boths hands gripping the hilt of the large blade, she let the creature’s weight do the work, sliding onto the steel as it came down. Its eyes flew wide as its mouth let out a wail of agony. Wasting no time, Theresa shoved it aside, then followed up with a heavy kick to the knee that sounded like the crack of a firework.
The mana vampire gurgled and choked, rising up quickly and easing the blade from its belly; it dragged its shuddering form away. The stomach wound began to close, but the glow of its blood dimmed further.
“That’s it!” Alex cheered. “Get him, Theresa! Beat him down!”
Hearing the changing sounds of the battle and Alex’s cheer, Selina turned her head around.
And she watched.
The mana vampire was panting now; two fights in one night and being hunted was eating away at its mana.
It looked around in desperation as Theresa got up—with death in her eyes—and stalked toward it, looking at her fallen sword.
Even though it still had its deadly claws to attack with, it continued to limp away from her, focusing on healing itself. Another invisible wave of sleep drifted from it, but this time, Theresa merely dismissed it with a shake of her head and kept advancing.
Its focus was narrowed on her, ignoring its surroundings. Alex looked at the stirring forms of Brutus and Grimloch, awakened by his forceball a safe distance from the range of the sleep magic.
Oblivious to everything but the approaching Theresa, the mana vampire placed all of its attention on its pursuer, swiping at her, trying to keep her at bay, and then-
One of Isolde’s iron spikes pierced its back, and the impact spun it around. Shiani’s obsidian spear then slashed it across the side. Its blood dimmed further as it desperately concentrated its stolen mana on healing.
Its focus left Theresa for an instant.
She darted within its guard, her fist driving out.
To bury itself in the monster’s gut. It doubled over in pain.
Her knee shot up, smashing squarely into its chin.
The mana vampire’s skull whipped back, flinging it backwards. Now she went to retrieve her sword and knife, leaving it for a moment. The creature rose to its feet, taking the moment to try for escape.
It turned and hobbled…right into Brutus’ waiting jaws.
Two of the cerberus’ mouths snapped down on an arm, and the sound of shattering bone as well as its scream ripped through the square. Brutus shook the thing like a dirty rag, snapping the jaws of his third head at its other arm to keep its flailing claws away.
Shrieking and dripping dimming blood, the mana vampire fought to get away from Brutus.
Its arm tore off.
Blood sprayed through the air, dimming until there was barely a glow left. The wound feebly worked to heal, trying to keep it from bleeding out in the town square.
It moved away from the cerberus and a re-armed Theresa, turning to get to the nearest street, but Grimloch—twitching with rage—was rushing toward it, cutting off its escape.
It changed direction, running awkwardly from all of them, yelping in fear; it was still naturally fast and the last of the mana enhancing it had yet to fade. But, it was barely managing to keep ahead of them.
Alex gasped: the path it was on was bringing it right toward the line of young wizards from Baelin’s class.
“Move!” Khalik cried and they scattered, but Alex—carrying his sister—moved a half-step slower.
The creature’s eyes glinted with malice and recognition when it saw him. It charged directly for him...and Selina.
Panic surged through Alex. The thing was smart. It knew how to press any advantage it could find. Seeing him with his mana and a child-
His blood froze.
A child who also had mana.
It would drain them both.
Its pursuers wouldn’t get to it in time. Khalik was yelling something.
Theresa was screaming. Selina was screaming.
His classmates were shouting.
His mind moved quickly.
What did he have?
The rock. He still had the rock gripped in one hand.
Concentrating on the idea of throwing, he activated The Mark, which called up memories of throwing objects all the way back to when he’d tossed coins to distract the crowd at the gates of Alric.
Focusing on the motion and maximizing its precision, he lightly tossed the rock forward. It missed the mana vampire, rolling on the ground before it.
But he wasn’t aiming for it.
In its headlong rush toward food and salvation, it stepped directly on the rolling rock. The monster lost footing, falling forward and crashing onto the cobblestones.
It tried scrambling to its feet as Alex stepped back, holding his little sister and looking at the creature closely. “Try looking up,” he advised it.
A massive shadow fell over the monster.
It froze, turned and almost reluctantly, looked up.
Grimloch loomed above it; his massive fist was cocked back. His shark lips parted in a toothy grin. “Smile, you son of a-”
His gigantic fist crashed into its head like a falling star.
Its skull slammed into the cobblestones so hard that it actually bounced. Then Grimloch’s other fist fell.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
The shark man smashed its chest and shoulders into the cobblestones again and again, driving the breath from it, bruising flesh and snapping bone. Then Theresa was on it, stomping on its legs until they cracked and turned at crooked angles. Brutus swept in and savaged its remaining arm, tearing it apart from the elbow down.
The wizards watched grimly—even Selina—as they beat the creature within an inch of its life. With a quick command to Brutus, Theresa and the cerberus backed off of it, and Grimloch followed a moment later.
At last, the creature that had terrorized Generasi for months was brought down and captured.
It hadn’t fallen to some brave hero’s flashing longsword, or a hunter’s spear or a clever archwizard’s ingenious trap. In the end, the mana vampire was brought down by a bunch of angry young wizards, and a good and well-deserved beating for their friend it had tried to kill.
Alex nodded grimly at the creature. “Sleep well, you scum-sucking leech. You’re in for a bad night. And it’s only just beginning.”