Brand ran west. The trees moved by in a blur. Blood pulsed through him, spreading the rage to every part of his body in a throbbing surge. His desperation to reach Alice made every stride an eternity. He felt the pull of the moon like a thrumming song in his chest. It stretched him, creating tension that felt as if it would break him into pieces from the inside out.
The trees thinned the higher he climbed, and the ground grew ever more rocky. Soon, the forest disappeared entirely, and he was alone with the moon on the barren hillside. Silver light played over the terrain, casting everything in an unearthly glow.
Brand smelled Alice’s terror well before he reached them, the scent sharp enough that pain lanced his chest. He crested a small rise, and they came into view at the base of a butte. Arn’s teeth locked onto Alice’s slim shoulder. The sounds of greedy suckling carried through the air. Her bruised body was limp underneath him. Blood smeared her skin and matted her long, pale hair.
Brand screamed and barreled downhill. The moon’s call evoked a torrent of fury that ripped through him. Still screaming a wordless challenge, he crashed into the larger male.
Arn slid across the ground and came to a stop when he hit the wall of rock. Pebbles rained down on him from above. Brand stood over Alice. The state of her frail, naked body reminded him so much of how he’d found her almost a century ago, when he’d sworn to protect her. He’d failed. He always failed. The smell of her blood and the stink of the other male wafting up from her body ratcheted Brand’s anger even further.
With a puzzled expression, Arn righted himself, one hand braced on the wall. When his gaze settled on Brand, he growled. He spoke in a low, rough voice, “Leave now, and I’ll let you live.”
Brand stepped over Alice, putting himself between her and Arn. His hands curled into fists. “You’re not ever going to touch her again. I should have killed you when I took her from you.”
“The Spear’s son is soft. No one was surprised that I survived our last meeting.” Arn’s eyes flicked down to Alice, and a leering grin spread over his face. “Soft in more ways than one, it seems. She didn’t smell anything like you. I guess you can’t get your staff up at all, if you can’t even mount that one.”
Brand launched himself at Arn. Arn dodged, and Brand crashed into the wall where Arn had been standing. Arn drove his shoulder into Brand’s back, crushing him against the rock. The pressure squeezed the air from his lungs. Spots danced through his field of vision.
Brand pushed away from the wall and turned as Arn backed away for another blow. Brand landed a kick on Arn’s thigh. Arn shouted and drove Brand into the wall again. They grappled against the wall for several seconds. Brand lunged forward, using his foot to trip Arn and knock him off balance.
Arn landed hard on the ground. Brand leapt on him and struck with a punch under Arn’s jaw. Arn twisted under him, knocking Brand free and smashing him into the rock wall. Sharp rock sliced into Brand’s shoulder, but he barely felt the pain.
Brand jumped for him again, but Arn rolled out of the way. Brand leapt to his feet and, before Arn could right himself, Brand kicked him in the jaw. A loud grunt from Arn accompanied the crack of breaking bone.
Arn shook his head, dazed. Brand pressed his advantage, driving a knee into Arn’s ribs. Arn tried to curl around his injured side, but Brand’s weight on his chest kept him pinned to the ground.
Brand landed another blow on Arn’s jaw and felt the thrill of victory well up when Arn sagged under him. Brand pummeled him in the face several more times and then roared before sinking his teeth into his defeated rival’s neck to tear open the carotid artery.
Acrid blood filled Brand’s mouth and poured over his chin in hot rivulets. He swallowed twice, feeling the surge of Arn’s power through him, then spat a mouthful of blood into the dying male’s face. He watched with grim satisfaction as the glow of power drained from Arn’s eyes.
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