Chapter 7

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The things were everywhere, scuttling like bugs, impervious to his blows. Galen whirled the rod, metal singing through the air, a deadly melody punctuated by hollow cracks when he hit a pale skull. The skull was the only point that was susceptible to damage: hit it, smash the bone in an explosion of blood and brain, and the creature dropped, and stayed down, motionless, silent-

... but they were all silent while they were swarming them, climbing up his legs, the screams around him were from the horses, and from Zana, Zana, but she sounded furious, not panicked, and from himself-

He was screaming, and snarling, and beating, and stomping on the things' backs, but they just threw themselves sideways with a slapping sound that reminded him of fat bugs, and wiggled out from under his feet. Bile was rising in his throat, and he grabbed the rod with both hands, raised it over his head and brought it down, once, twice, but it bounced off the creature's leathery hide, and the thing raced off into the darkness.

Galen went back to aiming for their heads, chucking one off its neck like a stuffed leather ball, he had never been good at that game, Melvin had loved it. He whirled around in the blue dusk, hit a face he hadn't realized was there, they were all around him now. He had moved into the middle of the corridor, away from the wall, bad choice, that wall had been protecting his back, and he had Zana positioned there, and now she was surrounded by these things, he couldn't see her clearly in the shadows, just her movements, frantically hacking and kicking. Kicking was useless, a waste of energy, but he had lost his voice, his speech, he could only growl, the horses were kicking and hopping around, and the scent of blood filled his nose.

He couldn't say if he was covered by his own blood or that of the beasts that were crawling up his legs again, shredding his pants with razor-sharp claws, biting into his thighs with those needle-shaped teeth in their gaping mouths. He was dimly aware that they had fingers like apes, just smaller, tiny hands grabbing at him, trying to tear him to the ground.

Need to get out here... trapped...

He tried to call Zana, but he couldn't even find her name in his mind anymore. He still knew who she was, mate, mother, friend, but speech had fled him and he just howled out his rage, and his urgency, lips drawn so far back that his face hurt.

She got his meaning, somehow, maybe by the same savage instinct that had robbed him of civilization, and grabbed for the horses' ropes. She dragged them towards the entrance, still stabbing at the attacking beasts, plunging the knife into their eyes, blinding them, killing them without remorse, without hesitation, and the horses caught on to her intent, and started racing towards the weak light, dragging her along now, trampling over the jumping bodies of the creatures, and Galen still hadn't found an animal that was remotely similar to what was tearing at their limbs.

He stumbled after her through the gate, and a cool gust hit him with a sudden, unexpected, moist slap that somehow woke up a bit of rational thought in him, like waking up from a bad dream. The creatures were still scuttling down the ramp from the street above, but Galen thought there weren't so many of them now anymore, the gaps between them were wider, and hope flooded down his aching arms and he started lobbing at the things with renewed vigor. His legs were burning, from exertion, or from the gashes they had sliced into his flesh, but there was open sky above him, and the horses seemed to aim their kicks, and Zana was striking with deadly accuracy, and maybe they'd make it up the ramp. They were already halfway to the street.

And then what? Where to go? Galen jogged the last steps up the ramp to catch up to Zana and the horses, and brought his rod down at one of the pale beasts before it could jump onto his mate's back. The rod sunk into the bone, and bright red blood splattered into his face and on his lips, and he hastily rubbed his sleeve over his face. For some reason, the creature's blood struck him as tainted - as if he'd catch a sickness if it entered his mouth.

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