Amy said a few words that Harcourt had taught her. She couldn’t fault his knowledge or even his teaching. He knew magic, and he could explain it. That helped make up for the fact that he was the only master of blood magic she knew, and maybe a little bit for the fact that he was deliberately sabotaging her progress.
Magical energies became visible before her eyes, a slight reddish tinge where there wasn’t much power behind it, brighter red where the magic was stronger.
At least, that’s the way it normally worked.
The third house from the road was surrounded by spots of red, and it wasn’t the only one. The reddest spots clustered around that house, but she could see more next to the other houses, and a few more spots next to trees.
Even more were scattered around the edges of the intersection.
The voices in her head found it interesting. Winifred of the Northlands, the first Bloodmaiden, said, “A predator’s pattern. It reminds me of the Elders–the first ones that appeared. That was always a sign of a good fight coming.”
Then Amy looked at the third house closely. In addition to the red spots around it, she noticed something new. The house held a dark red stain, barely containing it. It dripped out of the windows and the doors. Just looking at it made her feel cold even in Florida’s heat.
A softer, more nervous voice said, “I’ve never seen that before save in the presence of black magic–the Elders at the height of their power–when they’d stopped acting like beasts, and allied themselves with darker forces… By then, they’d stopped killing indiscriminately, and instead constructed machines that killed a person and removed his blood more efficiently. Trying to fight them, the Empire copied those machines.”
Amy recognized the new voice as Runa, Bloodmaiden in one of the mostly forgotten eras. Over the past year her voice had started to poke past the others during these discussions. As in this one, Amy found herself grateful. Runa often knew or noticed something no one else did.
It did worry her though, that she’d begun to know the personalities of her predessors. She needed to spend more time with living people.
Banishing that thought, she considered her next move. From what she could see, the black magic wasn’t being used in any intentional way, and from what Winifred and Runa said, the creatures were indiscriminate killers. The red marks were probably the remains of a feeding.
She willed her spear to appear in her hand and flew downward.
Landing in front of the house’s front door, Amy never stopped moving, using the momentum to hit the door with her shoulder and smash it open.
Made of metal, it bent inward and fell to the tiled floor, cracking the tiles.
She sensed the sources of the magic deeper in the house. It felt like blood magic, but cold.
She couldn’t see anything down the hallway. The house was completely dark. It didn’t take a head full of dead, magical warriors to guess that she’d be ambushed at the end of the corridor.
She took a moment to consider whether she should wade in, relying on her armor to carry her through the initial attack, or use magic to even the odds.
A moment was all her opponents needed to bring the fight to her.
She felt a chill before she realized that it wasn’t a draft from the open doorway. There were three of them, one appeared in front of her. The other two attempted to flank her–one on each side.
The one in front of her was a child. The boy couldn’t have been more than ten. He wore a suit that looked brown in the red glow of her gem. The suit looked like something that might have been worn in her own world, but not quite.
The boy looked up at her, and said, “Interesting. You’re like us, but you’re not dead. What would you be like if one of us turned you, I wonder?”
Amy felt something stirring in her mind. She’d always felt one presence more closely than any of the others. She’d felt it, but whichever Bloodmaiden it had been, it had never said anything.
Amy had her suspicions.
Now, however, the presence said, “No.”
The child’s eyes widened, and he took a step back. “Did she say something?”
“No, master,” said the man to her right, a fat man in an Adidas t-shirt and shorts. Something about his face seemed strangely attractive even if he was looking at her much as a hungry man looks at a steak.
The woman, who was disquietingly attractive, stared at her, mouth open. “Master, she’s–”
The boy shouted, “Grab her!”
Amy didn’t wait to be grabbed. In a move from Winifred’s memory, she knocked the man to her right on the side of his head with the butt of her spear, cracking bone.
Then she stabbed the woman in the heart, feeling all the woman was in the instant of contact. The coldness she’d felt when she’d sensed black magic returned, and along with it, an overwhelming hunger for blood.