Ryder was edited over the past week to reduce background information and refine it. The updated draft is up. Edits were slight. Chapter 5 probably got the most extra stuff and you might want to glance at the end of the scene with the little girl, which explains a bit of Julie’s mindset. Comment Images were again enabled and promptly disabled as they crashed the site. 🙂
I was four feet from the doorway when I heard the jingling. It was an odd, disconcerting sound, as if someone had sharpened some metal coins and was now shaking them in a sack. Ice rolled down my spine in a cold, slow drip. I’d heard this before.
The jingling came again, insistent.
All the years, all the training fell away, like a child’s blanket snatched away, and I was a scared thirteen-year-old kid climbing into a hellhole behind Kate because my birth mother was missing.
The doorway waited, flooded with light.
I didn’t want to go through it. I’d do almost anything to not.
Jingle. Jingle. Scrape of metal on metal, sharp enough to make you cringe.
I clenched my teeth and made myself move forward.
All the faithful had fled. A huge dog paced in the middle of the terrace, thirty-five inches at the shoulder and slabbed with monstrous muscle. His chest was so deep and broad, that his hindquarters looked like an afterthought. He gripped the ground with paws the size of melons. A single hit would crush a human skull. His head with wide oversized jaws sat on a neck thicker than my thigh. Long metal spikes thrust from his skull, running all the way down his spine to the long tail. His fur was a forest of blueish metal needles.
A Honeycomb hound.
The beast saw me. His turquoise eyes focused on my face. He opened his cavernous mouth, flashing four-inch fangs, and snarled. The spikes snapped erect with a metallic screech. The thirteen-year old inside me flinched, trying to make herself small.
The dog took a step toward me and halted, brought up short by a thick chain wrapped around his throat.
The man who held the chain was seven and a half feet tall. He was built like he punched through solid walls for a living: huge shoulders, barrel chest, weirdly long arms bulging with muscle. He wore stained camo pants tucked into giant yellow boots and a brown tank top that left his shoulders bare. A three-and-a-half-foot wooden club hung from his belt. Every inch of his visible skin was covered with dense red body hair, matching the greasy mane hanging from his head. His brutish face sported a permanent sunburn, except for the spots covered by his beard. A second chain stretched from his other fist behind him to something I couldn’t see.
He turned toward me. He moved like a man half his size. Big and fast. Not good. With that club and those gorilla arms, his reach was at least as long as mine. No, longer by about half a foot. With magic up, he wouldn’t have been a problem. But magic was down, and he outweighed me by at least a hundred and fifty pounds.
The “local” eyed me. “You look like a good breeder.”
“You look like your parents met at a family reunion.”
“Keep thinking. It will come to you.”
He bared yellowed teeth at me. “Mouthy bitch.”
“Did you finally get it? Don’t be ashamed. It’s hard to be the son of Sasquatch.”
Honeycombers rarely left their screwed-up chunk of Atlanta. Their neighborhood used to be mobile park retirement community until magic warped the trailer homes and splintered reality into pieces. The double and singlewides multiplied, growing on top of each other like grapes in a bunch. Outsiders never went into the Honeycomb without a guide. It was a place where people walked through walls and never came out.
Someone must have hired this guy. That someone knew how to find him, knew the cost of luring him into the city, and didn’t give a damn who knew it or what got wrecked.
The Honeycomber yanked the chain in his left fist. A small body flew through the air and landed in front of him with a thud.
The street kid, the one who first ran up to me. His face was a single ugly bruise, eyes swollen shut, split lips, broken nose. A trail of blood ran from his left ear.
The world turned red in a single furious instant.
The Honeycomber yanked the chain, lifting the child three feet off the ground. “This her?”
The asshole shook the chain. The boy dangled like a broken doll.
“I said, is this—”
The dog rushed me from the right, his huge paws scrapping the stone in a shower of sparks. The top of Dakan was already in my hand.
Ten feet. Eight…
The hound was almost on me, snapping his jaws. Fangs flung spit into the air. The cavernous mouth opened wide…
I stabbed Dakan into that gaping maw. The spear bit into the soft tissue inside the throat, slicing through muscle, cartilage, and bone into the brain. I jerked the spear free. The dog stumbled, his charge suddenly aborted. Blood gurgled, gushing from his mouth.
I dashed past the beast. Behind me, metal clanged, as if a giant bag of coins fell to the ground and broke.
The Honeycomber roared. Both chains hit the ground. He ripped the club off his belt and swung at me.
I ducked under the swing. The club whistled over my head to the right. I stabbed at his gut, aiming just above the navel at the abdominal aorta. He spun out of the way. The spear ripped a bloody gash in his right side. Shit.
The shaft of the club smashed against my back.
I flew, rolling into a ball, hit the ground hard, and came up to my feet. The Honeycomber bore down on me, swinging, eyes bulging. I shied left, then right, avoiding the club, and yanked the lower half of Dakan out of its sheath. He kicked out. I dodged left and ran across the terrace, buying time. If even a single blow connected, I was dead.
He chased me, way faster than he should have been.
I twisted the two halves of Dakan together into a single spear and kept running.
A shadow loomed over me. I threw myself to the right, rolled, and came up in a crouch.
His sprint carried him slightly past me, buying me a precious second. He turned and stomped toward me, his boots thudding on the stone, mouth stretched in a twisted grin. I let him get within seven feet and thrust, forward and up, putting the power of my legs behind it. Dakan stabbed into the Honeycomber’s groin. I pulled it free, slicing his left thigh on the way, and rolled out of the way.
The Honeycomber bellowed and stumbled back, clamping his groin with his free hand. Blood wet his fingers. A dark stain spread over his left pant leg, so fast, blood had to be gushing from the cut and running down his leg into his boot. Hit the femoral vein. Good.
He hurled the club at me. I jumped left. It bounced off the stone with a sharp crack. The Honeycomber barreled at me, arms outstretched. I spun the spear to pick up power and drove it into his lower chest. He gasped, impaled like a boar on a hunter’s lance.
With a guttural grunt, the Honeycomber lunged forward, the spear shaft sliding through his body. I let go, but not fast enough. One massive fist grazed my left cheek. Pain blossomed in my skull. The world swam.
I danced away and pulled my sword.
He was still coming, stumbling toward me.
I lunged forward, dropped into a crouch, spun around him, and sliced the back of his knees. He went down to his knees. I straightened, gripped his chin from behind by the coarse beard, yanked it up, and cut his throat.
He toppled forward and lay still.
I took a deep breath and pulled Dakan out. The left side of my face burned. A dull ache throbbed in my right knee. My back felt on fire. I touched my cheek gingerly. My fingers came away clean. No blood. Dodged a bullet.
I unsnapped Dakan and limped back to the body of the boy. The chain looped under his armpits. I pulled it free and lifted him up. His right eye opened to a narrow slit.
Alive. Thank you, Fate.
He saw me and jerked in my arms.
“Hang on,” I told him.
Movement on my left.
I looked up. Bishop Chao and three people with a stretcher were running toward us across the terrace. I let them take the boy and watched as they carried him into the church.