Dax swung at his first attacker, trying to ward it off, but the blow went wide. The leader jumped at him, talons bared, and hit him high in the chest. Dax shouted with pain as the talons tore through his shirt and into the flesh underneath. Struggling, he managed to grab the leader’s face and keep the gnashing teeth off his throat, but the weight of the Earthborn carried him to the ground. Dax could see nothing but that shattered and terrible jaw, could only smell the bloody breath steaming only inches away.

The rest of the pack came baying, snapping at his kicking legs, but it was all Dax could do to keep the leader from tearing his face off. With a mighty effort he brought the iron bar up again and jammed it sideways against the beast’s throat, meaning to choke the Earthborn if he couldn’t get it off. The pack leader recoiled and then attacked afresh, talons swiping at Dax’s eyes. Instinctively Dax pulled back and his head cracked against the ground, hard.

The migraine exploded in dark stars, across his vision and inside his head, and he felt the iron bar drop out of his hand. The leader, talons sinking into Dax’s shoulders, let out a hiss of triumph. Baring its teeth it came for him one last time, to finish off its wounded prey.

It sprang -

– and was knocked aside by a dark blur that came from nowhere and hit it with an almost casual blow. Through the haze, Dax saw someone land in a crouch amongst the Earthborn, a human figure wearing a dark cloak with a hood that hid the face beneath. Angry snarls went up on all sides – he tried to shout a warning, but it died in his throat.

The figure stood up and knotted up its fists. Then – there was no other word for it – the slim bare forearms shifted. In a second, along the outside of the bone, the skin darkened to grey and four curved spines, like those on some undersea creature, seemed to knit themselves out of the dark air.

One of the Earthborn growled furiously and lunged at the figure from behind. Without looking, the stranger swung a fist outwards in an arc. The spines hit the Earthborn in the throat, ripped downwards and tore it open. Blood splattered on the concrete. The creature was dead before it hit the ground.

The figure turned its head and looked around at the rest of the pack. The leader, having rolled to its feet, roared what could only be an order. Three Earthborn reacted at once, attacking from three directions at once. Gracefully, the stranger spun, just as the beasts came within range. Two swings took out two of the Earthborn – the third was caught in a scissoring strike that caught it midair, almost cutting it in half. Struggling to get back even with a concussion, Dax recoiled as blood pattered across his face.

The pack hissed and muttered, even as the leader strode up to face the stranger, not caring about Dax in the face of this new enemy. He saw them squaring up, sliding into unconsciousness, and only then did the details of his dream come back to him full force. Especially the final moments.

She always kills me at the end…


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