Home > Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)(14)

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)(14)
Author: Kevin Hearne

“Damn you, Atticus, what are you playing at?” a familiar voice said as my bike came to an abrupt halt and then got tossed half the distance back to me.

I felt my face relax into a brief grin. “Leif!” I called, and he could not help but hear the relief in my voice. “I’m glad you’re here.” I had forgotten I’d asked Hal to send him as soon as the sun set. “I hope you’re dressed for a fight.”

“A fight? Is that what I hear coming down the road?” My vampire attorney stepped from the shadow of the porch into the dim glow of the streetlights. A white mane of hair floated around his pale face, which was scowling at me above an impeccably tailored suit. Not dressed in his fighting togs, then.

The Fir Bolgs rounded the corner, and the noise of their approach became intimidating, even without the senses of a vampire.

“I didn’t intend this, Leif,” I said. “But if you don’t help me now, you might not have your favorite client around anymore. There’s two glasses in it for you.”

“In addition to my fees?” he raised his eyebrows.

“No, one glass is your fee, the other is off the books for your help in this fight.”

There was no time to negotiate. He nodded once and said, “They do not look very tough.”

“They’re giants using glamour, so don’t trust your eyes. Use your other senses. What does their blood smell like?”

They were almost upon us, but it was a worthwhile question. Leif’s eyes widened as he caught the scent of their blood. “They are strong,” he said. “Thanks, Atticus.” He grinned, his fangs lengthening as he smiled. “I have not had my breakfast yet.”

“Look at it like an all-you-can-eat buffet,” I said, and then there was no more time for talking. Not one to be shy, Leif launched himself in a superhuman leap against the leading Fir Bolg, far above where his head was according to mortal eyes. That’s because the giant’s neck was actually about three feet higher, and the Fir Bolgs slowed down when they saw their leader taken down by a guy in an English business suit. But slowing down wasn’t the same thing as stopping.

Go, Oberon! Good hunting! He loped away and I drew power from my front lawn, exulting in the feeling as it coursed through my cells after channeling through my ancient tattoos. The intricate knotwork traveled from the sole of my right foot, up the outside of my ankle and right side, until it snaked over my right pectoral muscles and around to the top of my shoulder, where it fell like an indigo waterfall to the middle of my biceps; there it looped around five times until it threaded down my forearm, ending (if Celtic knots can be said to end at all) in a loop on the back of my hand. The tattoos were bound to me in the most intimate way possible, and through them I had access to all the power of the earth, all the power I would ever need, so long as my bare foot touched the ground. In practice, that meant I would never, ever tire in battle. I suffered no fatigue at all. And if I needed it, I could whip up a binding or two against my enemies or summon up a temporary burst of strength that would allow me to wrestle a bear.

It had been a long, long time since I had felt the need to summon so much power. But then again, I hadn’t been in a scrap like this since I’d waded into the mosh pit at a Pantera concert. Nine Fir Bolgs—well, eight now—were a few more than I had been expecting.

I moved to put my mesquite tree behind my back as an obstacle in case any of them were thinking about surrounding me. Then I pointed my finger at the first Fir Bolg to set foot on my lawn and said, “Coinnigh”—literally, hold or detain—and the earth moved to do my will. It gave way and then re-formed around the Fir Bolg’s feet, rooting him abruptly and very firmly to the spot. To say he was surprised would be putting it mildly. With so much forward momentum, his bones had no choice but to break above the ankle when his feet were suddenly and inflexibly held in place. The bones ripped out through the back of his calf, and he flopped facedown in front of me, sans feet and screaming. That was not the way I had envisioned things working out. I had hoped he would brace himself, keep his feet, and serve as a wall between me and the fellows behind him. No such luck. His buddies kept coming, enraged rather than cautioned by their comrade’s fall, and I now had to deal with three spears thrusting at my vitals.

Real fights don’t look as pretty as the ones you see in movies. Those are choreographed, especially the martial arts ones, to seem so beautiful that they are practically dances. In true combat, you don’t pause, pose, and preen. You just try to kill the other guy before he kills you, and “winning ugly” is still winning. That’s what Bres failed to understand, and that’s why I got rid of him so easily. Fir Bolgs have none of that pretentiousness—and even if they did, they would have lost it quickly after seeing Leif take down their leader in the street and then another one lose his feet in my lawn. No, these lads were betting that I wouldn’t be able to dodge three spears thrust at me from a height from three different angles. I might be able to deflect one and dodge another, but the third one would get me. If I jumped straight up or back, I’d get tangled up with my own mesquite tree. If I rolled forward, beneath their thrusts, they’d just stomp on my dumb ass. I was guessing these guys were pushing six hundred pounds, so I didn’t want to be in the middle of their clog dance. That meant I had less than a second to do some impossible shit. The ones on the left and the center had solid footing for their thrusts, but the one on the right had to plant his foot squarely on the back of his fallen, screaming, footless friend, so that was the one I was willing to take my chances with. I leapt to the left, leaving the ground, which they obviously did not expect. Since the lad on the right was out of reach, I slashed at the spearheads of the other two and was gratified to see Fragarach cleave through them easily. But it was too easy: The cut was so clean that, while the heads careened off at an angle, the shafts continued on course, and so both of them caught me full force—one in the shoulder, one in the gut. They threw me backward to crack my back painfully against the trunk of my mesquite tree. And I had been planning such a graceful tuck and roll too.

The Fir Bolg on the right had missed completely, his thrust stabbing the air where I had been, but he was stepping off his screaming friend’s back and preparing for another thrust. “Coinnigh,” I said, pointing at him, and he unexpectedly found himself immobile. While he tried to figure out what to do about his captured feet, I returned my attention to the first two giants, who were now holding long wooden staves. I assumed that the other four Fir Bolgs were anxious to get at me too, but perhaps Leif and Oberon were keeping them busy. I saw nothing beyond my own personal battle. The one who had been the center attacker decided to steal the spear of his footless friend, since he wasn’t doing anything except bleeding to death. As he bent down to retrieve it, the one on the left decided he would try playing golf with my head. Well, that was easy enough to deal with. I held out Fragarach in the path of his swing, and then I was able to spend a couple of seconds concentrating on the pain my tumble had caused. The blow to my shoulder had deeply bruised the muscle, and it wouldn’t be much use until I healed it. The shot to my abdomen was much more serious: It had penetrated, though not through to the intestines, and I was bleeding freely. As for my back, I was damn lucky I had not broken it. It was probably a chiropractor’s wet dream as it was.

I wished I could do one of those ridiculous fairy-godmother routines, where you just wave a wand, some sparkly lights fill your vision, and then everything is all better, but my magic doesn’t work like that. I can start the healing process and accelerate it, and I can force my body to ignore pain, but I cannot simply make damage disappear. So I did what I could in two seconds: I activated the healing charm on my necklace, which blocked pain and put me firmly on the mend, and then I had to move. Golf Boy was getting ready to take another swing, his first one shortened a foot or so by Fragarach. The lad from the center now had his footless mate’s spear and was ready to skewer me with it; the immobilized one had decided to throw his spear at me, off balance though he might be. It was time to take the offensive.

I gathered myself into a crouch and then leapt, but this one was more like Leif’s: I put some earth power behind it, so I was fairly launching myself at the Fir Bolg’s would-be Phil Mickelson. He saw my intent and raised his shield, but that was what I was counting on: I slashed down from right to left and followed through as I arrived, cutting cleanly through both his shield and his skull before crashing my right shoulder into the remainder of his shield and sliding back down to the earth with his crumpling body.

The Fir Bolgs get my highest marks for battle savagery: The slain giant’s fellows spared him not a single thought but only looked for vulnerabilities my attack might have exposed. I had to whip Fragarach back up across my body to deflect a thrown spear from the immobilized one, then back down to neutralize the thrust of the other.

“” I said once more, and now the latter was frozen in place too. I could safely move away to confront other threats and come back to finish them off later. Another of the Fir Bolgs had tried to flank me, but in doing so he had strayed too close to my house and activated the wards. He was busy fighting off some tangling bougainvillea vines that were trying to bring him to ground, and he wasn’t enjoying the thorns.

I spun around to the street, trying to get some perspective on the remaining foes, and saw that two more were down in the street. One was dismembered, and another had Leif attached to his neck and drinking deeply.

There was one more, and this one was spinning around clumsily, counterclockwise, and stabbing at the ground at something unseen. It was Oberon, harrying the Fir Bolg’s legs.

I could not bear it if my friend was lost, so I sprang to help. I lopped off the giant’s spear arm at the elbow the next time he spun around, and then I thrust Fragarach underneath his ribs to end it.

"Thanks," Oberon said as the giant fell heavily into the street. "They have tougher skin than I thought. All I was able to do was tick him off."

That was enough, my friend. Stay here while I take care of the stragglers. I cast camouflage on myself and my sword, and then I crept up behind the two immobilized Fir Bolgs and stabbed Fragarach up into their kidneys. Cowardly? Bleh. Tell you what: Let’s debate the meaning of honor and see who lives longer.

The last Fir Bolg died in a mess of vines and blood, and only then did I relax the bindings of my lawn, allowing the earth to spit the giants’ feet back up. I dropped my camouflage and swept the area with my eyes and my other senses, looking for additional threats, but all I saw were nine massive corpses and a whole lot of blood. The Fir Bolgs’ glamours had died with them, leaving me with a colossal cleanup problem.

I didn’t want to ask the earth to swallow these guys; I had asked so much of it already, and besides that, I doubted there would be time. I wasn’t as fast as Flidais when it came to moving large amounts of earth, and I imagined someone had called the police by now.

As if on cue, I heard sirens in the night air, and that drew my gaze to the parted living-room blinds of my neighbor across the street, whose large round eyes were staring fearfully at me as if I somehow was the bad guy. Great.

“Leif?” I said. “Hey, Leif, aren’t you full yet?”

“Ahhh,” my lawyer said, tearing himself away from his breakfast and belching softly. “Very full, thank you.”

“Well, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, perhaps you could help me here? The police are on their way and we have a lot of evidence to hide.”

“Oh,” the vampire said, seeming to remember suddenly that his job was to keep me out of jail. He looked down at his tailored English business suit, now stained with copious amounts of blood, and then back up at my shirt, which was rather bloody as well. “Yes, it would appear that there is a lot of evidence to hide.”

“Go inside and change real fast. There’s a suit in my closet, and you can grab me a fresh shirt,” I said, pulling mine off and handing it to him. “Then come back and do your freaky memory thing with my neighbor across the street. He’s the source of our police problem.”

Leif moved with all the speed at his disposal. He knew we had a couple of minutes at most, probably less, before the police would arrive. In that time we had to make it look as if no one had died here tonight. I went back to my lawn and summoned some more power. It allowed me to drag six-hundred-pound giant bodies quickly to the east side of my lawn, farthest from my driveway, and stack them on top of one another. The ones in the street would have to be Leif’s problem: The power stored in my bear charm would drain quickly if I tried to handle them alone. But what I could do was cast camouflage on all the bodies and the spreading pools of blood. Oh, and maybe I should conceal my sword too. Nothing to see here, coppers. Move along.

Leif returned in a minute, wearing a suit I had bought at the Men’s Wearhouse. “So did you like the way you looked wearing this?” he said, mocking the commercials as he tossed me a fresh T-shirt. It didn’t fit him perfectly: It was tight across the chest, and he was a little longer of limb than I—he was a bloody Viking, after all.

The sirens were awfully close. “You need to get those bodies out of the street and put them over there,” I said, pointing to the pile I had made. “And then take care of my neighbor’s delusions.”

“No problem,” he said, and then he zipped out into the street and started tossing giants, being careful not to get blood on his hands. I pulled on the clean shirt and kept my eyes on the blinds across the street. My neighbor, Mr. Semerdjian, had always been the snoopy sort. He had held me in deep suspicion from the day I moved in, because I did not own a car.

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