As Carrow ran for Ruby, Malkom faced off against the intruders at the neck of the peninsula, waiting for them to reveal themselves.
She'd just reached Ruby at the beach, snatching the girl into her arms, when the creatures swarmed into their sanctuary, a ravening tide of fangs and insatiable hunger.
Wendigos. With their dagger-like claws and emaciated bodies, their clothes ripped to shreds. Already their rancid stench pervaded the area.
There were scores of them. More than La Dorada had with her. Their sheer numbers overwhelmed Malkom's traps. How could there be so many of them?
The answer came to her as Malkom roared, charging them with a breathtaking ferocity.
They'd infected others, increasing their number.
To keep the beasts away from Carrow and Ruby, Malkom met them in the sun. Would he know they were contagious? "Don't let them touch you, Malkom!"
One scratch or bite...
"Help him, Crow!" Ruby's eyes were gleaming as she frantically tore at her collar. "We have to help him!"
Though he battled the Wendigos savagely - snapping their necks while dodging their claws - the sun was taking its toll on him. Soon he was surrounded.
I can't draw them over here, can't risk Ruby. "Stay here!" Carrow ordered her as she unsheathed her sword.
One of the beasts twisted its head toward them. It loped forward, fangs dripping. Twenty feet away, ten...
When it launched itself at Carrow, she ducked and sidestepped, swinging for the back of its neck. She beheaded it, but more turned toward them.
"No!" Malkom yelled. "No, here!" He provoked them to attack only him, yet still half the tide veered in Carrow's direction.
"You stay behind me, Ruby! If I get into trouble, run for the calm beach and get into the water. Do you hear me?" Carrow glanced back when the girl didn't answer. Ruby was slack-jawed.
A vampire had appeared behind Carrow - one with red eyes. Reeling in shock, she raised her sword. Just as she was about to swing, she realized he looked familiar. But she couldn't tell when he was shading his face, recoiling from the intense sunlight.
"Mariketa sent me to retrieve you. I am Conrad Wroth," he grated as his skin began to blister. "For hours, I've searched this island." He looked it, was sweating and dirty as though he'd traveled for miles. "I'm to tell you about the Mardi Gras float you hijacked?"
"Ah, Hekate, you're legit."
"Who is he, Crow?"
"He's been sent by Mari!"
The vampire's fangs had lengthened, his eyes darting. He hissed in pain as more blistering appeared. "I can't ... stay much longer, witch. And the beasts near."
"We can't leave without that demon over there!" Carrow pointed, but Malkom was so overrun they could barely see him. "Just bring him to us, vampire! Please." When he shook his head in a twisting, deranged kind of way, Carrow screamed, " Malkom!"
"Demon, over here!" Ruby cried.
As more Wendigos neared, Carrow raised her bloodied sword again, glancing over her shoulder. "Vampire, take the girl back to Mari! Send help to us if you can."
Another twist of his head. "I'm to return with you." Conrad snagged Carrow around the waist, picking up Ruby with his other arm.
At that moment, Malkom turned, caught sight of them. His eyes went wide, and he bellowed, "No, no!" He plowed toward them, but he was besieged....
"Malkom!" both she and Ruby cried.
Carrow reached for him, yet Conrad held her tight. When he tried to trace, she resisted him. "Malkom, hurry!"
The vampire's skin smoked, then caught fire completely.
Mariketa glanced around at the crowd that had gathered in the meeting hall at Andoain - a collection of factions from the fey to the Valkyrie, from the Lykae to the nymphs and more. Just about every species from the Vertas side was represented.
In the three hours since Mari had dispatched Conrad to retrieve Carrow, all these beings had heard about it. News traveling at a supernatural speed. Now anyone with friends or family thought to have been abducted had teleported, portaled, or driven here.
The gathering reminded her of a Super Friends meeting, except instead of the Hall of Justice, they'd descended on Andoain, with its ornate old couches, altars for tables, giant hearth, and even bigger karaoke stage. Nothing matched except for the coven's four professional-grade poker tables - and the spoof cauldrons.
This was the first time in ages they'd used the hall for anything but girls' night out.
Dozens of beings lined the walls or sat stiffly on the anti"uated settees. One couple sat atop a woofer.
With so many different creatures here rubbing together - some allied only through ties with another common faction - Mari was pleasantly surprised at how well everyone was behaving. So far only a few nut up or shut up-type ultimatums had been issued.
Of course, she'd taken precautions in case things got ugly.
"How much longer until the vampire is expected to return, witch?" Sabine, the "ueen of Illusions, demanded imperiously, every inch the sorceress, from her crimson mask and elaborate crown to her claw-tipped gauntlets. Her husband, Rydstrom - another of Mari's good friends - had his big hand splayed possessively over her hip.
People "uieted to hear Mari's answer, gazing at her. Among them were Bowen's cousin Garreth and his Valkyrie wife, Lucia the Huntress, both looking exhausted. Mari knew they'd been searching nonstop for Regin all over the world. Garreth was also here because his cousin Uilleam was missing.
Myst the Coveted and several other Valkyrie sat on the settees, awaiting news of Regin the Radiant as well.
The demons, the Lykae, the Valkyrie ... all of them were expecting Mari's magic to, like, work. After all the years when it hadn't, she was having stage fright. There was a reason she'd been called Awaited.
"Uh, soonish," Mari answered, though she had no idea how long. She'd thought he would be back by now. Have I sent Conrad on a suicide mission?
She glanced over at Neomi anxiously pacing, shifting from her pretty and vivacious corporeal form to her pale, ethereal phantom state.
Had Mari just widowed her?
Bowen sensed her nervousness and looped his arm protectively around her shoulders. "Doona worry, witchling. This will work out."
More minutes passed. More rumblings sounded. "How much longer will it take?" "How do we know the witch's magic will work? The captromancer can't even face a mirror." "Where is Nix? She should be here. ..."
Bowen turned to the crowd. "Any more lip, and I'll toss you out on your arses. You're here now only because Mariketa wills it."
Mari gazed up at him. Gods, I adore this wolf. He was the Keymaster to her Zuul. She couldn't think of a better guy to have in her corner -
"Wait!" Mari straightened. "I feel a disturbance." The air began to diffuse. "Something's coming."
"I smell smoke," Bowen muttered. "Whatever it is, it's comin' in hot."