Authors: Nina Smith
Pierus yelled in fright and vaulted onto the table. “Get it off!” He swiped at the spider and missed. Fluffy Ducky hung onto his long hair by two back legs and waved two front legs in front of his eyes.
Hippy scrambled onto the table and scooped Fluffy Ducky off Pierus’s hair. “Bad Fluffy Ducky!” she scolded. “What are you doing? Pierus is a nice muse, not a
Fluffy Ducky squatted low in her hand. A tremor ran through his body. He waved a foreleg at her.
“Put it away,” Pierus said. “For Shadow’s sake. Dreadful thing.”
Hippy’s lip trembled. “He’s really very nice when you get to know him. Here, just let him sniff you.” She stuck out her hand.
Pierus backed away and almost fell off the table. “Put it away!”
Hippy shrugged, scratched Fluffy Ducky under the chin and secured him in her pouch.
Pierus wiped a hand across his sweating forehead and uttered two ragged words. “Bloody Fairies!”
A distant, terrified shout split the quiet outside the tent.
A discordant, metallic crash followed the shouts. Pierus leaped from the table.
A muse stumbled through the door and dropped to his knees in a motion that could have been a bow, but looked more like a collapse. Nikifor’s lips moved in a bloodless face, but he was unable to form a word.
Pierus grabbed his hair and jerked his head back. “Out with it boy, what is it?”
Pierus grabbed a curved knife from a low table and stuck it through his belt. “How many?”
Pierus said a very, very bad word and glanced at Hippy, quite as though he’d forgotten who she was. “Protect the fairy,” he said. “Don’t let her leave. I’ll be back.” He strode away.
Hippy checked her fairy dust and made sure Fluffy Ducky was safe and sound. When she was satisfied, she slid down from the table, approached the young muse and clicked her fingers in front of his face. “Hey. Hey you, snap out of it. It’s just a few vamps.”
Nikifor buried his face in his hands.
Hippy shrugged and started searching the tent for a good weapon, since she’d left her spear at home. She thought the big statue might do in a pinch, although it would be a pity to break something so shiny on a vamp’s head.
“What are you thinking?” Nikifor’s voice was ragged.
“I’m thinking this mirror lady’s head would probably do more damage than her feet,” Hippy said. She hefted the statue.
“No.” Nikifor shook his head. “I mean, what were you doing on the table? What’s going on?”
“Fluffy Ducky mistook Pierus for a vamp and jumped on his face. I think maybe he’s scared of spiders, because he jumped on the table.” Hippy considered the possibility Pierus might be mad if she broke his statues and put the fighting lady down. She found a stout metal staff with an axe head at one end leaning in a corner. There, that was much better.
Nikifor breathed what sounded distinctly like a sigh of relief.
“What did you think was going on?”
He cleared his throat. “Nothing.”
Hippy screwed up her nose. “Ew! You’re as bad as my sister!”
“What? I said nothing!”
“Same nothing she said.” Hippy leaned against the staff and scowled at him. “You people all have filthy minds. I’m here to fight vamps. That’s all.”
Nikifor got to his feet. He paced up and down the tent, throwing increasingly nervous glances at the door. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You just seem so very young.”
“I’m twenty!” Hippy took up a guard position at the door and watched the muses outside gathering weapons and strapping on armour. They were grim, but not in nearly the state Nikifor was in. “Aren’t you going out to fight the vamps? How come you have to look after me? I can kill any vamps that come in here.”
The pacing sped up. “Yes. No. I don’t know!”
Hippy scowled. “What do you mean?”
Nikifor spoke so quietly she had to move closer to hear him. “
My father fought the vampires at the borders of the Darkness for more years than I have been alive. I went out there one night as a child. I saw how he lost himself in the battle, how when he was done, vampires lay dead around him for miles.” He curled one hand into a fist and pressed his knuckles into his own forehead.
Hippy flattened herself against the door, unsure whether to pat him on the shoulder or run away.
I knew the moment he died,” Nikifor said. “I felt the knife that stabbed him in the back as though it stabbed me. I felt his power leave him and come to me, just as though his death meant nothing. As though he meant nothing. And if I am the Champion now, if I am the one with all the power, then I am nothing too. Nothing but a vessel for death!”
frowned, bewildered. “What are you doing in here if you have that much power? You should be out there fighting!”
He flung himself away from her. “Don’t you see? I can’t! I can’t lose myself like
he did! Of course the vampires must be driven back, but I don’t want to kill. Not them. Not anybody! My father was-” he fell against a wall. “He was a monster, and I must do what he did. I am afraid of myself, Fairy. They laugh at me. A muse afraid of his own shadow.”
Hippy took a tentative step closer. “It’s not so bad.”
“I’m a Bloody Fairy who’s terrified of blood.”
Nikifor looked back at her. The corner of his mouth quirked up. “Really?”
“Tell anyone and I’ll take out your kneecaps.” Hippy returned to the door and peered out, trying to make out words in the distant shouting. All the muses had gone. The darkness was lit by an orange glow in the direction of the fairy camp. Her heart thumped at her ribs in sickening certainty about what might be on fire out there. She started from the door.
Nikifor hurried after her. “Come back! Pierus said you were to stay here!”
My home is on fire!” Hippy threw the words over her shoulder and ran.
The darkness crawled with muses running for the outer fortifications in rigid, square formations that bristled with spears. Hippy gave them a wide berth and headed for where flames leaped from the walls of her village into the sky. She dodged the rapidly decaying forms of three dead vamps on the ground.
Knots of fairies fought hand to hand with vamps around the gates. Hippy took stock quickly. There weren’t that many vamps here, just enough to be a pain in the rear end. The boys had the bulk of them pinned. Ishtar fought two at once under the walls, but they were pushing her dangerously close to the flames.
Hippy bolted over, swung her staff in a wide arc and buried it in the nearest vamp’s back. Blood exploded into the air. Her stomach revolted. She jumped out of the way in time to avoid being splattered.
Ishtar impaled the other one on her spear. Then, with barely a pause for breath, she grabbed Hippy by the front of her tunic. “Where in Shadow have you been?”
“With Pierus. What’s going on?”
Ishtar let her go. “I knew it. I just knew it! What’s going on is the entire vamp army is out there with siege weapons. Some of them already got in and set our camp on fire. Obviously. And they’re throwing things at us!”
A ball of flame sailed overhead, fell in a graceless arc and pounded into the ground between the two camps.
“Ishtar listen to me,” Hippy said. “You mustn’t tell anyone else. Pierus and I are going to find something that will drive out the vamps. It’s our only hope.”
Ishtar’s habitual scowl deepened. ”What is it?”
“I don’t know! You’ve just got to hold them off until we get back, okay?”
“No!” Ishtar grabbed her wrist. “Your place is with us. Let him get it on his own.”
“He can’t, he needs a fairy! He needs me!” Hippy yanked her wrist away. “Just do it, alright? Hold them off.”
“You’ve no more sense than a bearfly in winter, Hippy Ishtar!” Ishtar hefted her spear and charged back into the fray.
Hippy remained where she was. There was another shape in the darkness behind Ishtar, someone in a cloak and hood. The spy!
No time to pursue him. Hippy ran to the outer fortifications and peered through the first murder hole she could find. Her jaw dropped. The vamp army was vast. It was more than vast, the vamps stretched to the horizon like a legion of pale, hideous ghosts. When the fairies on top of the fortifications sent a hail of arrows over them, they raised their shields and returned fire with more balls of molten metal from the enormous trebuchet that squatted like a giant amongst them.
A pair of bright red eyes peered at her through the hole. Hippy squeaked and scrambled back. She really, really hoped this treasure thing wasn’t going to be difficult to find. She ran for the muse camp. The whistling of fireballs deafened her. Flashes of light in every direction confused her until she couldn’t remember which way she was going.
A whistling sound went overhead, followed by a loud roar. Hippy looked up. Wow. She’d never realised fire could be shiny. It had such pretty colours when you watched the flames get closer and closer and closer.
A hand grabbed her by the back of the tunic and dragged her out of the way. The fireball slammed into the ground where she’d been standing.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay put?” Pierus demanded.
Hippy pointed at the fairy camp. “They set our walls on fire.”
His voice was low and angry. “I know. Come on.” Without letting go of her, he started walking.
Hippy ran to keep up, since she didn’t fancy being dragged. “What’s going on? Why are there so many?”
“They’ve been breeding. We have to go get the Apple of Chaos right now.”
“What’s the Apple of Chaos? Will an apple stop the vamps? They don’t eat fruit-”
Pierus jerked her aside when another flaming ball slammed into the ground directly in their path.
Hippy yelped. They all but ran the last few yards to the tents. She glanced over her shoulder before they made it, just in case she never saw home again.
Home was a wall of flame
s. Shadows struggled in a background of leaping fire. Tall, pale shapes dogged their every step. “We’re not alone,” she said.
Pierus said a bad word and yanked her into the tent.
Nikifor sat by the door, curled into a ball. He was so white he looked like he was going to faint.
For Shadow’s sake.” Pierus prodded him with his shoe. “Get up, boy.”
“I’m sorry my king,” Nikifor
whispered. “I just can’t.”
“Your father would turn in his grave if he knew his son and heir was a coward and a weakling.”
Pierus went to a corner table and slammed a glass onto it. He picked up a bottle and poured from it a stream of smooth, clear green liquid. “
If he had a grave,” he added after a thoughtful pause. “We couldn’t find anything to bury when the vampires were done with him.”
Pierus a glare. “You don’t have to be so cruel to him.”
“Don’t interfere, Hippy. I don’t know you fairies raise your young, but I don’t believe in mollycoddling.”
Pierus took the glass to Nikifor.
Nikifor looked at the glass as though it might be poison
and shook his head. “I will not go down that path.”
Pierus thrust the glass in his face. “You are needed out there
, and this will help. This will free you. Drink, damn you!”
Nikifor stared at the glass for another long minute. Then he took it and drained it in one breath. When he finished, the glass slipped from his fingers and smashed on the floor. His eyes closed.
“Is he okay?” Hippy reached out to shake his shoulder.
raised his head and looked through her. He sprang to his feet like a feral cat scenting a fight. His sword sang from its scabbard, and he left without another word.
Finally. Valentin never gave me this much trouble. We have to leave.” Pierus hurried from one table to another, gathering up small crystals from each. “I need five minutes, Hippy, to open a door to the right place. Can you hold them off?”
“I’ve got enough Bloody Fairy in me for that.” Hippy barred the door with her staff.
“Good. When I call, you must join me straight away, no matter what.” He disappeared behind the black curtain.
The first vamp to appear in the doorway was tall and pale like all of his kind. White-blonde hair rippled over his shoulders. His veins glowed sickly blue in the gaslight. He tilted his head to one side and studied her. “What a treat,” he said. “A nice, ripe little fairy, all for me.”
“I’m going to make you sparkle,” Hippy said. “Like a sunbeam.”
The smile dropped from the vamp’s face. He lunged.
No time for sparkling then. Hippy swiped with the blade on her staff, but he dodged and knocked her back into the tent. She leaped to her feet, swung the staff in a wild arc and clipped the side of his head. His ear flew off and landed on the table. Blood poured from his head.
The vamp put a hand to the wound a
nd said some very bad words in Vampish.
Hippy swallowed the sickness rising in her stomach. “Maybe your mum won’t think you’re so ugly now.” She ran at him and impaled him on the pointy blade, just like Ishtar always did. Blood sprayed the tent walls. The vamp staggered, clutched the staff and pulled it out.
Hippy yelped and backed toward the nearest table. That should have
The vamp followed. Blood poured out of his mouth. She was going to be sick. She was already dizzy. She felt around behind her and found the statue of the lady with the mirror. She hefted it.
“You’re going to die slowly.” The vamp spat blood with every word.
“Gross. Would you go and bleed on someone
else?” Hippy swung the statue in a vicious, tight circle and smashed it over his head. The mirror snapped off.
The vamp fell
to the floor, but not before five more burst through the door. Hippy leaped onto the table top and went for her fairy dust.