Home > Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1)(17)

Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1)(17)
Author: Ilona Andrews

People cheered. Elara dug her fingernails into his arm. He nipped her lip on the way out and let her go.

She looked like she would claw him bloody.

He turned toward the crowd, his hand in hers, grinned and waved. She turned with him, smiling like today was the happiest day of her life, and waved. He had to give it to her. The woman could control herself.

Magic flooded them as a magic wave hit. His breath caught in his throat, then power came pouring in.

A woman caught his eye. She stood completely still in the middle of the reception area, away from the crowd. Middle-aged, dishwater blond hair.

He heard the sharp intake of Elara’s breath.

The woman raised a knife with both hands and buried it in her own stomach, twisting the blade. Magic exploded in the middle of the reception area. Hugh couldn’t see it, but he felt the blast. He grabbed his sword out of Stoyan’s hand. By the time the blast of magic flared into a churning knot of darkness, Hugh was already moving.

The crowd surged in the opposite direction. Elara’s people grabbed the children and fled to the back, to the altar. He didn’t need to look to know that behind him the Dogs were breaking into a charge.

The darkness split. A beast spilled out. It towered above the reception, thirty feet tall, a hairy thing of long matted fur, hide, and bone. It hunched over on all fours, its limbs disproportionate and long, almost level with its head as it squatted. Its long skull ended in horse-like jaws holding a forest of crooked fangs. Above the teeth, two small black eyes stared at the world, and above them the fur flared into a dark mane between two wildebeest horns. The stench washed over Hugh, the sour acidic reek of rotting manure. A tikbalang. Not the modern shapeshifter version but the primordial ancient creature from Philippine nightmares.

The tikbalang’s magic drenched Hugh. It wasn’t his own brand of power, or Roland’s orderly manipulation. This was foul and wild, a sucker punch to the lizard brain. Witch magic gone corrupt.

The tikbalang screamed. Eight smaller versions of the beast popped into existence around it, each the size of a small sedan. They saw the fleeing crowd and gave chase.

The first leaped over the table toward Hugh. The wedding cake exploded, and the dark body hurtled toward him. He sidestepped and swung, putting the entire power of his momentum and weight into the swing. The sword cleaved through the tikbalang’s neck. The beast’s head rolled off. Thick red blood gushed from the stump in a torrent, as if the creature were a canteen filled with it. The stench turned his stomach.

Hugh vaulted over the table. Another beast sprinted at him from the side. He sidestepped and carved a gash across the creature’s shoulder as it tore past.

The Dogs charged past him, aiming at the bigger beast.

His smaller tikbalang whipped around and bore down on him. Hugh dodged and sliced a gash across its right legs, severing the tendons.

The massive beast screeched again and slapped a body in black. A woman flew past Hugh. Gina. He snapped his magic, healing her broken ribs before she landed, dodged again, spinning, and buried his blade between the beast’s ribs. He felt the brief resistance as the sword slid into the tough muscle of the creature’s heart, then the muscle released, and he jerked his sword free. Blood splashed him. The tikbalang fell at his feet with a moan.

All around Hugh battle raged. The training kicked in, the way it always did, and the battlefield turned crystal clear. He saw them all, his mind cataloging where every one of his people was on the field.

The Dogs had broken into teams, covering the six remaining beasts. At the far right, Bale was beating one to a pulp with his mace, while his team stabbed it. On the left, Barkowsky clapped his hands together and shot lightning at another creature, while Beth, one of Elara’s women, circled it, a bloody katana in her hand. On the edge, Savannah stood, her hands raised, chanting something under her breath. Thick vines had sprung from the ground under her feet and wound around the nearest beast, keeping it still as his Dogs hacked at it. Stoyan and about thirty Iron Dogs were attacking the largest creature. It bled, drenching the grass, but it didn’t slow down. It was too big and not easily panicked. They couldn’t take it down with one blow, so they would cut it to pieces, methodically and carefully, until it bled out.

Hugh ran at the giant, snapping magic around the field to spot-heal those nearest to him.

The Dogs sliced and ducked, darting close to the beast to land cuts to the legs and arms, and running away. The tikbalang raked the ground with its claws, trying to grab them.

Hugh got there just as the massive monster went in for another pass. The Dogs scattered out of the way. To his left, Sam slipped on the blood. Clawed fingers closed over him. This required precision. Hugh lunged at the hand and sliced at the rough flesh of the furry forearm. The hand fell open, clawed fingers limp. He’d severed the flexors.

The tikbalang screeched.

Sam landed on the ground. Hugh grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved him backward, out of the way.

The tikbalang backhanded him. Hugh flew, tucking himself into a ball, and hit the grass. The impact rattled his ribs. Blood from the puddle on the grass splashed on his face. Hugh rolled to his feet.

Four of the remaining six creatures were dead. The reception lawn was a hellish mess of blood and corpses, and when he saw the figure in the white dress, it almost didn’t register. Elara was walking toward the tikbalang. Blood, bright, alarming crimson, drenched the hem of her bridal gown, climbing up the white fabric as it soaked through.

Hugh sprinted to her.

She walked between his people and stopped in front of the massive beast.

The tikbalang dove at her, jaws open.

Magic snapped out of Elara, lashing Hugh’s senses, a focused torrent unlike anything he’d felt before.

The beast tried to abort its attack, but it was too late. Her power touched it. The colossal creature reared, as if hit, swayed, and collapsed on its side, motionless. The two remaining tikbalang dropped dead.

Hugh halted in front of her. Elara turned, her face unreadable, picked up her blood-soaked skirt with her right hand, and waded through the gore out of the battlefield to her tent.

Silence reigned.

Elara ducked into her tent. All around them Elara’s people were staring at the carnage. He saw pain on some of the faces, fear, sadness. He didn’t see surprise.

“Start the cleanup,” Hugh ordered. “Keep whatever we can scavenge from the beast, take blood and tissue samples, burn the solid remains, salt the blood, and hose this mess down. And get us another damn cake. We’ll have the reception at the castle.”

His voice snapped them out of their inaction, and by the time he reached the tent, everyone was moving.

Hugh walked inside. The tent stood empty. A red-stained gown lay on the ground. He caught a hint of movement behind a screen to his right and crossed over to it.

“Were your people hurt?” Elara asked from behind the screen.

“Nothing that can’t be fixed. Want to tell me about this?”

“What do you want to know?” She sounded tired.

“Who did this, why, and will it happen again.”

“The Remaining. They think it’s a real marriage.”


“They’re afraid I might have a child.” She gave a short, bitter laugh. “They will do everything they can to stop it. So, yes, it will happen again, and when it does, I’ll handle it. We both have baggage. You have Nez and I have them.”

Elara fell silent. Hugh stood by the screen, feeling something he couldn’t quite identify. A new troublesome feeling that pulled on him. He felt an urge to fix things somehow, and it irritated him that he couldn’t. He looked at her bloody dress and that irritated him even more.

A few years ago, he would’ve enjoyed the fight. Something fun to break up a boring ceremony. Right now, he would be celebrating a win, halfway into his first drink with a girl on his lap. Instead he was standing here, feeling whatever the hell he was feeling.

The void carved a path through his bones.

“It was a nice wedding.”

“Was it?” she asked quietly.

“It was.”

He walked out of the tent. She was a fucking harpy, but she just married a man she hated and had to walk through blood and kill instead of cutting the cake at her reception. She needed a few moments of privacy, and he would give them to her. Even he wasn’t that much of a bastard.

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