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spirits of decay: chapter 9
Declan tried to fend the kere off, but without his shillelagh, or any weapon, there was only so much he could do. He managed to get his hands up in time to defend his face, but felt a red hot streak of pain burn down his forearm as the kere’s claws raked through his flesh.
“Jesus! Damn it! Shit!” Declan screamed, trying to knock the thing away
“Declan! Gah!” Stray’s voice seemed closer than the last time he’d spoken, but if his exclamation was anything to go by, he seemed to have been waylaid by one of the other keres.
“Die fae scum!” Blaire screamed with abandon.
Even with most of his attention on his own kere, Declan could still track her movements – she was in his line of sight, unlike Stray, so Declan could see her stabbing at one of the keres repeatedly, but never quite managing to hit it.
He ducked under another of his kere’s attacks, then hit it with an open palm strike, stunning it in midair. A strange sound, halfway between a growl and a raven’s cawing split the air – Audun’s battle cry. This was followed by a startled yelp from Stray, and the squelching sound of something being torn apart. The pathetic, high pitched keening clued in Declan in on the fact that the thing being torn apart was one of the keres – clearly the one Stray had been tied up with, since Blaire was still failing to stab hers.
The sound of their sister dying horribly caught the attention of the two remaining keres, and convinced them that it was a good time to make a strategic retreat.
Declan knew what was going to happen an instant before it actually happened. The keres were going to dissolve into an ash cloud, a form they couldn’t be hurt in by normal means. Then they were going to disappear, though the floorboards, or ceiling, or maybe out the window. That was the logical thing for them to do, unless they wanted to be torn apart by an angry valravn, and though the Eldritch often behaved very irrationally, their survival instincts were generally the same as a human’s.
There was a window, a small one, but still a chance nonetheless, where Declan could have pressed his attack, and maybe subdued his kere. Most likely, he could have detained it long enough for Audun to deal with it. But somehow, it just seemed like way too much effort. Declan’s lacerated arm felt like it was made of lead, and there was a buzzing noise in his ears. Suddenly, it seemed like a much better idea to sit down than to try to backhand a freaking kere.
His legs may have buckled, but he most certainly did not faint, despite what Blaire would insist in later days. At no time did he lose consciousness. He saw very clearly how what he knew would happen actually came to pass – how the two keres Audun hadn’t managed to eviscerate yet puffed into clouds of smoke and ash, and dissipated from view.
“Declan? Declan!” Stray was the first one to reach him, which was somewhat surprising. Declan had thought it would be Audun. “What happened?”
“Awww, you do care,” Declan said and forced a smirk.
“Where did it get you?” Audun demanded, padding forward, still in his raven-wolf form. Blaire clearly loved that. Declan could tell by the way her nostrils flared, and by how she glared at Audun like she was wishing him dead. Audun seemed to realize this, or maybe he simply wanted his imposable thumbs back, because he changed shape, back into human form, and knelt by Declan’s side, opposite Stray.
Declan held up his arm for Audun to see, then realized that his sleeve was in the way. He started to roll it down, concentrating to keep from lapsing into clumsiness.
“Blaire, grab Beatrice’s kit,” Audun said, before he even saw the wound. “Bring it here.”
Blaire obeyed, though she didn’t look happy about it. “What’s wrong, Declan?”
“Kere scratches are bad,” Declan told her. “Infectious, and plague ridden, and all that crap.”
“You’re rambling,” Audun said, summoning a dagger – not just drawing it from his boot, or belt, or sleeve like a normal person would with a concealed knife, but actually summoning it with his powers, the same way he could summon armor or a sword. He used it to slice open Declan’s sleeve and get a better look at the cat scratch-like wound. The kere had barely nicked Declan, and if it had been anything else, the cuts wouldn’t be cause for concern at all. Since it was a kere, however, the wound was already starting to fester. The edges of the three small lines were a little yellow, and the centers looked a little purple, like meat left out too long.
“I’m not rambling. I’m explaining,” Declan insisted.
“Well shut up, no one wants to hear it,” Blaire said, dumping Beatrice’s field kit at Audun’s feet.
“Then why’d you ask?”
Audun started going through the kit, looking for holy water. When he didn’t find it immediately, he started pulling things out and tossing them aside, then finally upended the entire bag. “Where the hell is the holy water?”
“If it’s not in there . . . she probably didn’t bring any,” Declan said. “No one ever accused Beatrice of being on top of things.”
“What’s going on?” Ethan asked, entering the room. “What did you do now, Declan?”
“He got scratched by a kere, and Beatrice doesn’t have any holy water in her kit,” Audun said.
Despite the fact that he didn’t like Declan, Ethan was a professional, through and through. He immediately turned on his heel and sprinted back out the door. A minute later, he returned with his own kit. He’d already fished out his canteen of holy water and had it at hand.
“We’ve got a gallon jug in the car if we need more, though I imagine Thomas stocked his kit properly. Unlike some people,” Ethan said darkly, dropping down beside Declan and taking Audun’s place, since Audun and holy water didn’t mix that well.
“I just want to let you know, it means a lot to me, you treating my injuries like this,” Declan told Ethan. He even managed to say it with a straight face. Mostly.
The look on Ethan’s face was pure poison as he jerked Declan’s arm so it was level, then poured holy water over the scratch marks.
Declan clenched his teeth, but couldn’t suppress a hiss of pain as the cuts started steaming.
“What’s happening? What are you doing? Is that some kind of acid?” Stray demanded, looking about ready to spring at Ethan.
“No, haven’t you been listening, kid?” Ethan asked. “It’s holy water.”
“Holy water doesn’t turn into smoke when it comes in contact with skin,” Stray snapped. “I know. One of my foster mothers almost drowned me in a font.”
“It’s burning out the supernatural pestilence that the kere’s claws left in my skin, Stray,” Declan explained. “Some of it, at least.”
“The rest won’t dissipate until the kere is killed,” Audun said darkly.
“We’re going to have to hunt it down,” Ethan agreed.
“Them down. There are two,” Declan told him. “There were three, but Audun ate the third one.”
“I didn’t eat it.”
“Wait,” Stray said. “What exactly are those things?”
“Keres,” Audun said. “Eldritch from Greek mythology, associated with sickness. They cause it, and spread it, and leave death in their wake wherever they go.”
“Good thing the barrier’s up,” Ethan said. “That’ll keep them from straying off the grounds.
“We’ll need to call Thomas and Beatrice and tell them to stay away for now,” Audun added.
“Why? Can’t they help us hunt the dumb things down?” Blaire asked.
“They could, but they’re at risk for getting infected,” Ethan said. “Other Eldritch and changelings are resistant to their diseases. In other words, everyone here, except Declan.”
“I guess that makes me special,” Declan said dryly.
“But did those things – are they . . .” Stray looked distressed. “Did they used to be human?”
“Maybe. No one knows for sure,” Audun told him. “Keres are ancient. I’ve never met one that doesn’t speak Latin or Ancient Greek.”
“So they might have been human once?”
“Oh for God’s sake,” Blaire snapped. “Did you see those things? Did they look human to you?”
“If they were human once, they’re not anymore,” Ethan said, “so don’t feel bad about killing them.”
“Besides,” Audun added, “Killing them is the only way to keep Declan from dying now.”
Stray had to have heard Audun say it before, but maybe he hadn’t understood what “dissipate” meant. Either way, he looked stricken by this news, and turned wide eyes on Declan.
“Keep a happy thought,” Declan said, then looked at Ethan. “Shouldn’t you still be fixing my arm?”
Ethan rolled his eyes and set about soaking some bandages with holy water, then using them to bind up Declan’s cut. It wouldn’t cure the infection, but it would at least slow the disease’s rate of spread down. Temporarily, at least.
“I’ll call Thomas,” Audun said, pulling out his cell phone.
“Wait,” Declan said quickly. “Don’t.”
Audun looked at him suspiciously. “Why not?”
“Because they’re still too close to here and could too easily turn around and come back,” Declan said. “And Thomas is the kind of idiot who would turn around and run right back to try and help, and end up getting himself infected too. We should wait until they make it into town, at least. Beatrice can probably convince Thomas that they should at least do the shopping while they’re there. That’ll give us a little more time, at least.”
“That makes sense,” Ethan said grudgingly, as he finished wrapping Declan’s arm.
“Yeah,” Audun agreed. “All right, we’ll call them in . . . twenty minutes?”
“Sounds about right,” Declan agreed.
“Fine. And in the meantime, we start hunting.” Audun held out a hand to help Declan up, which Declan wasn’t too proud to accept. He could already feel his strength being sapped by the sickness from the kere’s claws that was spreading through his veins. Time was of the essence, now. The holy water would only slow the disease’s spread so much. Before long, fever would start to set in. Then there would be chills, and aching muscles, possibly a headache too, if what Declan had read was accurate. Those would be followed by deliriousness and the loss of his cognitive and motor skills. In a few hours he’d slip into a coma, and die shortly after – but Declan wasn’t worried. Dying today wasn’t part of his plans.