The bonedrinker’s remains blackened and sizzled: a monster that had taken Baelin’s class everything they had to kill had been destroyed with a single blast from Claygon’s fire-gems. Their power seemed to have grown since Alex implanted them in the golem.
And Claygon wasn’t finished.
Following the last order from Alex as it came rushing to protect him, the golem raised its left palm toward the garden: red light and heat built up in the fire-gem embedded in its palm.
Another beam ripped out.
The second bonedrinker—farther back in the garden—tried skittering out of range, but the beam caught it in its side. Steam poured from its mouth and eye holes as its snail-like flesh cooked in a flash. Its bone blackened, then burst apart like crushed glass.
Flame ripped out over the gardens, setting both monsters and plants on fire. Screaming muupkaras and gorgers frantically rolled on the ground, desperate to extinguish their burning flesh. Some scrambled away from the heat and fled, scaling the walls to escape into the night.
As the hordes’ savage rush turned into a mixture of reluctant attack, retreat, fear and confusion, some of the magic wielding defenders cast their spells to channel water from the fountain through the air then into the hungry fire, drowning it.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
The golem continued its unstoppable rush toward Alex and their enemies.
There was a snap as four massive hands coiled into enormous fists.
In the few moments that his two attackers paused to process what this new threat was, Alex danced away from the pair, drew his Potion of Haste, and drank it down.
Its power hit him in a wave. A surge of energy washed over him, sending a pleasant tingling coursing from his stomach to his fingers, toes and even his head. As the potion’s effect reached his mind, the world suddenly slowed down.
All seemed to move at half the speed of earlier—and combined with the sensory enhancement potion—Alex took in his surroundings in an instant.
The monsters hadn’t actually slowed, but their movements no longer seemed to be a blurring of claws, teeth and impending death.
Now he had time.
Now he could think
Now he could adapt.
He threw a glance in the direction where Theresa was fighting the scarred monster. It had also paused when Claygon appeared, and the huntress had used its distraction to punish it by opening a long gash across its arm. That brought its focus entirely back to her. She had managed to slash it a few times during the fight and things were starting to grow more even, but—alarmingly—its wounds looked shallow: the creature’s hide seemed hard to penetrate.
That one needed to die.
Alex shot one of his Wizard’s Hands toward the scarred beast.
The other two monsters finally recovered from their shock—though without the effect of ‘Haste-time’ they probably had only paused for a few heartbeats—and rushed for Alex again.
Boom. Boom. Scrrrrp.
Claygon reached Alex’s side and skidded to a halt beside him. Four giant fists lashed out at once.
Alex felt the air shift as those colossal blows shot past him; the monsters dodged. Their speed was still frightening, but Claygon was faster than he looked.
And Alex Roth didn’t play fair with monsters who were trying to kill him.
As the pair leapt out of the way, he noted which one moved slower: the leaner one.
Alex rushed at it with his hands rising up.
Slipping past its claws, he reached up and caught its arm in an iron grip, his powerful muscles flexing as he pulled in the opposite direction to where it was heading. Not to harm, but to slow it. Despite all of his strength training, he couldn’t match its strength, but he could still slow it for a heartbeat.
A deadly heartbeat.
One of Claygon’s fists came at it like a battering ram.
The strike clipped the monster’s arm.
A shriek of pain ripped through the air.
The lean one’s limb snapped like a dried twig and it went spinning, rolling on its side as though flung from a catapult. With its agility, it was back on its feet in an instant, but now one arm dangled uselessly at its side.
Claygon focused on the other monster, while Alex turned his attention to Theresa and the scarred one. He could see that the monster had cut her several times, though none of the wounds seemed to be too deep. Her speed and agility was keeping the creature from overwhelming her, but Alex could see the strain showing on her face. She was tiring.
He shot his Wizard’s Hands down.
Swooping them behind the scarred hunter, he tried to bring them in from its blind spot, but it reacted with almost supernatural reflex, popping one of the spells with a single sweep of a claw.
But, the other spell had gotten through: the magical Hand clamped over the creature’s eyes, blinding it.
It tried to rip the Hand away, giving Theresa precious moments to down the Potion of Haste. Her expression went full ‘death stalker’ as the magic rushed through her; she surged toward her opponent in a wave of steel and power.
The creature finally freed its eyes from Wizard’s Hand, crushing the spell in its grip.
But, its eyes went wide.
Then it was scrambling away, fighting to defend itself.
In breaths, cut after cut laced its arms as it fought Theresa, but her sword slipped through gaps in its defences.
It was bleeding badly.
A screech brought Alex’s attention back to the two monsters menacing him. The uninjured one clambered away, dodging Claygon’s fists. Its lean companion was leaping back into the fight—trailing its broken arm—and trying to get through the golem’s barrage to reach Alex.
The young wizard rushed at it again. While a Potion of Haste was powerful, it wasn’t long lasting: he needed to hinder these two as much as he could before the magic faded.
Stinger-like teeth snapped inches away from his hand, but he moved too quickly, reaching around to seize his attacker by the shoulder and spin the creature like a dancer at some bizarre monster’s ball.
It spun to the side, losing balance and—with one arm broken and one eye missing—it teetered, struggling to regain its footing.
Alex reached out to Claygon.
One of the golem’s arms snapped out in a powerful backhand.
The monster tried to raise its good arm to defend itself, but it was pulverized against Claygon’s power.
The lean monster’s face twisted in pain and shock.
That expression was immediately replaced by a big clay fist.
Alex’s attacker’s head was caved in as its chest collapsed. The crushed body flipped through the air, soaring over the line of defenders and monsters to slam into the garden wall and splatter like a swatted fly.
A chilling scream erupted from the direction of Theresa’s fight. The scarred monster was cradling a deep wound in its side; its movements clearly weakening.
Alex’s other attacker scrambled back from Claygon’s fists, looking between its scarred sibling and Alex. Its eyes narrowed.
Then it did something Alex did not expect.
“I will hunt…you,” it spoke, in perfect common tongue. “I will hide, and watch, and I will hunt you. You and those around you.”
Alex’s blood ran cold.
The voice coming from it wasn’t its own: it was one that Alex knew intimately. It was hisown voice. After uttering the unnerving words, it turned and began to flee, giving an inhuman call toward its scarred companion.
Alex’s mind whirled. He didn’t know why the three creatures had piled onto him: whether it was because he was a threat to their forces, or for another reason, but—much like the mana vampire—it had threatened to keep coming for him.
But this time, Alex wouldn’t let a threat escape.
He sent Claygon a mental command to pursue, but the scarred monster jumped away from Theresa and moved to position itself between Claygon and its escaping companion.
Alex ordered his golem to advance.
Claygon rushed forward and trampled the obstruction into the stones, crushing the creature beneath his massive feet. Driven, the monster fought to get up, but Theresa stopped it where it was, slashing its throat open.
“Theresa! We have to get the other one! It can’t get away!” Alex ran after Claygon, charging after the fleeing monster, keeping his eyes focused on it. For a moment, he was afraid the creature would climb over the garden wall and escape.
Instead, it turned, rushing around the side of the manor. Alex, fueled with his Potion of Haste, continued to chase it with Claygon close behind—being careful not to get too far from his golem. It occurred to him that the monster fleeing might be some sort of trap.
But it didn’t matter. A trap laid right now would be less of a danger than one laid months from now, when he’d have no idea when or if claws would find him on any dark night.
Theresa had started to run after Alex but quickly slowed, panting. Much of her dress had washed red; he didn’t know how much of the blood was hers.
“Theresa!” He cried, breaking off his chase to go to her.
“No! Don’t worry about me!” She waved him off. “I’m okay! Go after it, go after it!”
“No!” she insisted. “Get that bastard!”
Alex grimaced, caught between his worry for her and his trust of her. In the end, trust won out: she was a warrior, and if she wanted him to bring down their attacker—which he also wanted—then that’s what he would do.
“Someone! Help her!” he shouted to the defenders. “She needs help!”
“Go!” she shouted, sinking to one knee. “Don’t die!”
“You don’t die either!” He ran on, catching up with Claygon as the golem continued chasing the monster.
The first hunter could not understand how things had gone so wrong. They had executed each part of their plan successfully, one step after the next. The monster horde had distracted the mortals as they were charged to do, and it and its siblings had flanked the defenders. Their quarry had stepped out and caused more damage to their forces than they had thought it would, but in doing so, it had left itself exposed.
Their group attack had been perfectly coordinated. Its lean sibling losing an eye had been unfortunate, but it could still fight. They had set upon the quarry, and overwhelmed him with the weapons and fierceness granted by their master.
Their prey had resisted more than expected, but they would have brought it down. The female warrior had interfered, but its scarred sibling had distracted her and the kill had been only moments away.
Then that statue—spewing mana that had an odd familiarity—had ruined everything.
Now two of its siblings lay dead.
But, this was only a setback. A hunter—tasked by The Ravener—did not give up, no matter how many times success eluded it. Victory could be snatched from the jaws of disaster. The hunter glanced behind its shoulder.
Good. Its quarry still followed, foolishly thinking that it had become the hunter. The Ravener’s assassin increased its pace, rushing past the side of the human’s large stone building. More of their monster horde were still attacking from the front of the building, and two magic users fought them alongside human warriors. One shot crackling lightning at its army while the other sprayed clay and spiked stones.
The hunter kept moving, glancing around.
Several buildings lay open before it.
Its eyes narrowed at the building that exuded the scent of grain.
Rushing through the open doorway, it passed among bags of powder and slashed them open with its claws. The more bags it sliced open, the more the powder flew into the air, filling everything with an obscuring dust screen.
It held its breath so that it would not cough from the rising dust clouds: it could do so for far, far longer than any mortal could.
The hunter continued to quickly tear bags open, working its way deeper into the shadows of the building. It would hide here—among the dust—and take its prey when it followed.
It would not fail its master.