Home > Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles #4)(4)

Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles #4)(4)
Author: Ilona Andrews

Someone grabbed her cloak and jerked at it. It came loose as it was designed to do, buying Maud an extra second. She dropped to her knees, buried her dagger in the nearest vampire throat, rolled off the table to avoid an incoming mace, and slashed across a raider’s face with her sword. He bellowed in rage, and she sank her blade into his side, in the gap between ill-fitting armor sections.

Maud twisted, checking on Helen. Her daughter had dropped to all fours and was crawling under the tables to the exit. Good girl.

Dina was screaming something. Maud spun, trying to parry and keep her in view, but the raiders closed in on her, locking her into a ring of bodies. Too many…

A deafening roar tore from behind the raiders. Bodies went flying like they were made of straw. The huge female vampire in front of her collapsed, blood spray flying from her ruined skull, and the Krahr knight burst into the ring, his fangs bared. He brained the raider to her right with a vicious swing and hammered a savage uppercut into the stomach of the one on her left. The faulty armor cracked with a sound of crushed nut shells. The raider doubled over, and the Krahr drove his left elbow into the back of his neck. The blow swept the raider off his feet, sending him to the side. One moment there were two bellowing vampires. The next there was only the Krahr knight, brandishing his mace.

The raiders stared, awestruck for a moment, and Maud used every fraction of it to stab and slice as much as she could. The ring around them widened and suddenly she found herself back to back with the Krahr.

“My lady,” he said in that deep cultured voice. “I apologize for not arriving sooner in your time of dire need.”

Hell would freeze over before she would owe another vampire. “Not that dire, my lord. Please don’t bestir yourself on my behalf.”

She dropped, spinning, kicked a vampire’s legs from under her and stabbed her in the throat on her way down.

He smashed his mace into the shoulder of a raider with a bone-snapping crunch. “I insist.”

She parried a swing that nearly made her drop her blade and drove her dagger into the raider’s groin, punching through the damaged armor by pure luck. “No need.”

He struck at the vampire on his left, took a hit to the shoulder from another, grunted, reversed his swing, and hammered a devastating blow to the new opponent. The vampire bent forward from the impact and the Krahr drove his fist into the back of his head.

“Please, allow me this small diversion. I’m but a guest on your planet. It was a long trip and I have sat for far too much of it.”

Argh. He out-mannered her. As absurd as his claim was, he backed her into the role of the host and the laws of vampire hospitality dictated that the guests were to be indulged.

Wait, I’m not a vampire. Why does it even matter?

A male vampire kicked. She stumbled back, bounced off the Krahr’s broad back and threw herself into the fray.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Dina fighting her way to the exit, the orange energy whip hanging loose and sparking on the floor. Helen was in her arms. What was she doing? Helen’s best advantage was in her size and speed. Now neither of them could move.

She doesn’t know, Maud realized. Her sister had no idea what kind of a child her daughter was.

The werewolf thrust himself in front of them and began carving a path to the door.

“My lord!” Maud called. “We’re leaving.”

He grunted. “I’ll be there shortly.”

“My lord!”

“I’ll cover your retreat.”

Dina and Helen were only a few yards from the door. Maud charged at the remaining vampires. In two swings she was through the gauntlet.

“Arland!” the werewolf screamed, his voice cutting through the noise of the Lodge.

So that was his name. Maud looked over her shoulder and saw him, drenched in blood, mowing down bodies.

“Arland!” the werewolf snarled.

The Krahr turned, saw them, and began backing up toward the door.

The heavy metal doors swung open. Dina ran out, clutching Helen to her, and the werewolf followed. As Maud sprinted through the doorway, she saw the barkeep waving at her with a small surreal smile.

A narrow black shuttle waited on the landing strip and they ran toward it. The doors slid open. Maud leapt into a seat and plucked Helen from Dina’s arms. The werewolf landed in the pilot’s seat and started the pre-flight check, his fingers flying over the controls.

Where was the Krahr? If he didn’t emerge in the next ten seconds, she would go back in and get him. He fought for her and her daughter. She owed him that much.

A ball of bodies rolled out the door and collapsed into eight individual fighters. Arland appeared, fangs bared, face splattered with blood. It was like something out of one of the Anocracy’s pseudo-historical dramas—a lone hero on a strange planet, standing against impossible odds, roaring his rage to the heavens.

Arland swung his blood mace. It smashed a female fighter’s skull in a gory explosion of blood and brains. Before the swing was finished, the Krahr knight turned, grabbed the one to his left by his throat, shook him once like a rag doll, and tossed the dead body aside. The perfect blend of sheer brutality and efficient precision was beautiful to watch.

The Krahr knight kicked a huge raider to his left, driving the full power of his armored leg into the vampire’s knee cap. The man dropped, and Arland backhanded his jaw with his mace, almost as an afterthought, turned and sank the head of the mace into the ribs of the raider on his right. A hammer landed on his back. Arland shrugged it off as if he’d been smacked with a flyswatter, spun, too fast on his feet for a man of his size, and slammed the mace against his attacker’s right arm. The arm went limp. The vampire turned and ran. Arland hurled his mace. It soared through the air and bounced off the vampire’s smaller back. The armor, already dented and hanging together on a prayer, cracked, and the raider flew into the side of the building, bounced off and fell to the ground.

Wow.

Vampires took pride in ground combat; her husband was one of the best, but this, this was on another level. Where did House Krahr even find him? What did he do for them?

She turned to Dina and pointed at Arland. “Who the hell is that?”

“The Lord Marshal of House Krahr,” Dina said.

Oh sweet galaxy, he was the military head of his House. How in the world did Dina manage to rope him into this rescue?

The two remaining raiders charged in concert. The Marshal braced himself for the attack, roaring a challenge. When one of the raiders got close, he stepped to the left, crouched, and dove low into the charging vampire. The attacker had no time to react to the sudden shift in the center of gravity. The momentum carried him forward while the Marshal drove him up and over his shoulder in one smooth movement. The raider fell on his head. His neck snapped with a dry crunch. The Marshal scooped up the dead vampire’s hammer and brained the last remaining raider with it.

Maud remembered to breathe.

The Marshal sprinted to the shuttle.

Sparring with him would be amazing. She could go all out without holding back.

In a couple of breaths, he jumped into the cabin and landed in the seat next to the werewolf.

The door of the Road Lodge slid open and a mob of vampires tore out, snarling and roaring.

“Do you even know how to fly, werewolf?” the Marshal growled.

“Buckle up.” The werewolf pulled a lever and the slick craft sped into the sky.

Gravity sat on Maud’s chest. It was real. They were leaving. She hugged Helen to her.

“What happened?” Dina asked. “Where is Melizard? Where is your husband?”

“Melizard is dead. He led a revolt against his House. They stripped him of all titles and possessions and sent us to Karhari. Eight months ago he crossed the wrong local and the raiders killed him.”

“We killed them back,” Helen said.

“Yes, we did, my flower.” Maud smiled at her and petted her hair. “Yes, we did.”

It was over. It was finally over.

The Marshal turned around and looked at her. He seemed shell-shocked, as if her existence somehow upset the structure of his universe and he couldn’t quite reconcile the two. She’d seen that look before. None of the vampires expected a human to know which end of the sword to point at the enemy, let alone wear their armor. Dina must’ve told him something, so he’d expected a human, but he hadn’t expected her, and she clearly blew his mind.

Maud met his gaze. Shockingly handsome. His features were strong and masculine, carved without any weakness, yet neither crude nor cruel. His thoughtful eyes, a deep intense blue, took her measure, noting her armor and lingering on her bloody sword. He looked back at her face, and Maud saw surprise and respect in his eyes, an admiration of a fighter appreciating a peer’s skill.

Something forgotten and repressed stirred inside her.

“Well fought, my lady,” he said quietly.

“Well fought, my lord,” she answered on autopilot.

“Are you or your daughter hurt?”

“No, my lord.”

“All is well then.”

He smiled at her. He was handsome before, but he was impossible now.

No, she told herself. No. You tried before, you tried your best for years, and they threw you and your child away like garbage. She wouldn’t become involved with another vampire again. She wouldn’t even entertain that idea, no matter how hard he fought or how much admiration reflected in his eyes when he looked at her.

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