He may as well have slammed into the stone wall of the tumbled-down hovel. One moment he was wheezing for breath as he slammed into the rim of his shield, and the next he was tumbling backwards, through the air, the little breath that was left leaving in a rattle as he hit the ground flat on his back. He saw the furred bulk of the werewolf step through the doorway, massive arm raised, blotting out the few stars winking through the trees overhead.
“You get away from him!”
Its arm’s downward swipe wavered, as it gave another pained howl. Jasna came out of her roll, deep red droplets of blood spattering away as she raised her knife.
The werewolf thought better of swiping at her as it turned, favoring the leg the girl had slashed.
“That’s right,” Jasna said. “Me and my knife might be little, but we can both bite!” She feinted, and the hulking wolf-man dodged a half-step back, claws raised to ward off the strike.
Jasna dropped, as Brynne’s staff whistled through the air where the girl had been readying to spring at the werewolf.
Another clambered through the doorway, and the taller girl’s staff caught it on the tip of it’s gaping jaws, snapping its head back.
“That won’t stop it for long!” Katarin called.
“Well it’s all we’ve got!” The words came through clenched teeth, as Brynne brought her staff around, within a finger’s breadth of the beast’s nose.
Katarin closed her hand around the red stone pendant. She reached a trembling hand towards Brynne, hooking and twisting her fingers. Red light welled up between the weaver’s fingers, and the tips of Brynne’s staff burst into fitful golden flame.
Those flames leapt, spattering as she connected again with the werewolf’s snout. This time, the creature yelped, rather than snarled, and stumbled backwards, beating at the singed fur.
The other wolf shied away as well, stepping away from the staff’s backswing. Its bloodshot eyes glanced at the arcs of fire cut through the air by Brynne’s staff, and at the gleaming knife in Jasna’s hand.
Which allowed Petra to leap on its back, barely able to clasp her hands together as her arms circled the thing’s great neck.
It howled again, wrenching its shoulders this way and that, but Petra only tightened her grip. She sank her teeth into the thing’s ear for good measure.
“That’s right,” Jasna said, as if remembering something. “Biting is Petra’s thing.”
“Are all of your kind so stubborn?” the shrike asked. She gestured again with her open palm. “If you do not wish them to die, give me the stone!”
Morana glanced from the still-gleaming stone, to where the three other girls fought desperately to keep the hulking werewolves away from their friends.
“Fine,” she said, thrusting the green stone into the shrike’s waiting hand. “I’m only lending it to you. You will give it back.”
“Once we are safe. You have my word, Last.” The siren wound the golden chain about her wrist, letting the rest of the length dangle loose. She dashed with barely a musical rustle of her gown to where Justin was pulling himself to his feet. The tip of his sword was in the dirt, and he leaned heavily on it, hands clasped about the pommel.
The shrike closed her hand around the hilt, then drove her elbow back into the young man’s chest, sending him to the ground with a wheezing gasp.
“Stay down!” she ordered. A flick of her wrist spun the blade in a tight circle as she tested its heft. The golden chain twined about the crosspiece, and she caught up the chain again with her fingers, trapping the large green against the back of her hand.
She drew the free fingers of her other hand down the length of the blade, the clear stones wound in her golden gauntlet flaring to light as her fingers reddened and blistered. Green light blended with the white-gold as the shrike kindled Morana’s gem to light.
“Ris!” she hissed. Frost crackled down the blade, following the lines her fingers had traced, spreading to sheathe the steel in a rime of ice.
Cold vapor trailed in the sword’s wake as the shrike brought the blade around, slapping a wild swipe of the werewolf’s great paw up, away from where it would have connected with Jasna’s head.
The creature howled, the blood from the cold-blackened wound falling away as deep red shards of ice.
Petra’s whoop of excitement cut short as the thing’s other hand found purchase on her cloak. Her face went red, her grip around the werewolf’s throat dissolving as she reached for her own.
The monster heaved, and sent the young thief over its shoulder, slamming into Jasna and sending them both tumbling head over heels.
The shrike barely gave the two girls a glance, stepping into the cleared space and taking full advantage of the extra room to bring Justin’s sword into a vicious arc, the tip of the blade gauging a black and steaming furrow along the beast’s forearm.
It stumbled back, snarling, wrenching its head away from a blazing strike of Brynne’s staff. It barked something to the other wolves crowding at the doorway.
Their replies to its order came as a series of yips and whines. The voice of one rose mid-yelp, into something between a snarl and a scream.
A long, dark shaft of wood shattered against the doorway, causing Brynne to stumble back, her attack interrupted as she brought an arm up to shield her face from the splinters.
“Be careful, you fool!” The woman’s voice came from the edge of the clearing, followed by two more hissing black shafts. The wolves yelped again, and broke away from the doorway, racing into the night.
They were joined a moment later as the pack leader retreated through the doorway, its form roiling and shifting as it went from a two- to a four-legged dash.