Wings of the Wicked - By Courtney Allison Moulton
I HIT THE FREEZING PAVEMENT ON MY BACK, AND the air rushed from my lungs. I lay there for only moments, but long enough for a few snowflakes to settle on my face. The pain in my back shot in waves down to my toes and ricocheted through my skull. That thick, musty smell of reaper fur and brimstone smothered me as the ursid reaper’s throaty growl shook the ground and rattled my ears. I wondered why she hadn’t tried to bite my face off already—she was certainly close enough to do it. I opened one eye to see that she had stopped to watch my Guardian, Will, who was battling her companion a few yards down the alley.
Dragging myself to my feet, I looked up to see the reaper turn back toward me, hate spilling over her ugly face. I tightened my grip on both my sickle-shaped Khopesh swords, and they burst into angelfire, the bright white flames licking up the blades. The light danced across the reaper’s features, the sharp highlights and shadows making her appear even more like the Hellspawn that she was.
“It’s going to hurt so bad when I pay you back for that,” I promised, my voice ragged with pain.
“I think not.” Her black lips pulled back, revealing saber canines as long as my forearm. She snapped her jaws and laughed, grinding her talons into the pavement. “I’m shocked you’re back on your feet after that one, Preliator,” she sneered.
I didn’t know how the reapers made that purring growl sound whenever they said my title aloud, but it never failed to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I took a deep breath, shaking off the malice in her voice. “Don’t get too excited. I’ve been hit harder than that by things a lot worse than you.”
The reaper’s lips curved into a grotesque smile, baring as much of her giant teeth as possible. She rolled her shoulders like a cat, crouching on her haunches, ready to spring. I stepped back on my heel, my gaze locked on her empty black shark eyes.
She launched herself into the air, claws spread wide. I dropped to the ground, spun on the slick pavement, and swung my sickle-shaped blades with precision through the air—and through flesh. The reaper’s body turned into a fireball before it hit the ground, and her burning head helicoptered through the air over me. In moments, nothing was left of her but ashes.
I took a deep breath and rose just in time to see Will plunge his sword into the side of the second reaper’s chest. He pulled his blade back out and the reaper fell dead, its skin hardening to stone instead of bursting into flames, which was something only my angelfire caused.
Will came to me, trying to catch his breath, and he thumbed my cheek and lifted my chin. I’d gotten used to him inspecting me for injuries. His touch was businesslike at first, but when he was satisfied that I hadn’t been hurt too badly, his hands became softer. “Are you okay?”
I nodded and let my angelfire die. “Yeah. She hit me with just about everything she had and I landed pretty hard, but nothing broke. Doesn’t it seem like more and more of them are traveling in packs these days?”
His lips tightened for a moment, hardness crossing over his handsome features. “It does. You shouldn’t have let her get such a good hit.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, sure thing there, Batman. I’ll bring a bazooka next time. Screw these swords. Can we call it a night?” My entire body ached like I’d been hit by a van—a van-sized reaper, to be exact.
Before he could answer, something landed just behind him, shaking the earth beneath us. Will spun around and stood over me like a shield. A creature—a reaper even bigger than an ursid, covered in dark leathery skin—had landed in the street. The skin of its face stretched tight over jutting bone, and its long, gnarled snout was filled with jagged, yellowed teeth. Its eyes were sickly, pale, glazed-over orbs staring unfocused right through us, and wide ears topped its skull. Instead of true arms, bones were stretched into gigantic, membranous wings like a bat’s, with foot-long, hooked claws that gouged the pavement for support. Its hind legs were thick with muscle, and it had a long, lizardlike spiked tail that swayed back and forth like that of a cat whose eyes had spied a bird within reach—only