“Phaedra, stop!” I yelled, still clinging to the saddle, but she ignored me, dodging past the baggage wagon until there was nothing but open road in front of her. I tried pulling back on the reins, but she just jerked them out of my hands.
I looked over my shoulder and saw my dad trying to follow, but one of the creatures jumped in front of him, and he had to stop and fight. Behind him, Ethan and Keane stood back to back, fighting three of the creatures as Finn took on four all by himself. The caravan was completely overrun, and there were enough creatures that some of them could chase after Phaedra and me while still leaving my dad and my friends overwhelmed with enemies.
“Go back!” I pleaded with Phaedra, tears streaking my cheeks as I tried not to imagine those creatures tearing the people I loved apart.
Phaedra paid no attention to me, galloping down the road as fast as she could, her hooves pounding the packed dirt and throwing up a cloud of dust that made it hard to see how many of the creatures were chasing us.
The dust also hid the battle from view, so I had no idea if we were winning or not. What I did know was that I was in deep shit if Phaedra couldn’t keep up her breakneck pace, because even though I couldn’t see them clearly, I was painfully aware of the horde of dark shadows that was still pursuing.
Phaedra kept running, and I kept clinging, as we left the rest of the caravan behind, putting more and more distance between us and them. Unfortunately, the distance between us and the monsters wasn’t getting any bigger. They didn’t look like they should be able to run so fast, but they were keeping up.
More than keeping up. They were gaining!
“Faster, Phaedra!” I urged, and for once she actually did what I asked and put on another burst of speed.
But horses, even Fae ones, aren’t made for long-term galloping at top speed. She was tiring, and even her fear of the pursuing creatures wasn’t enough to fuel her into outrunning them.
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw at least half a dozen shadows moving in our dust cloud. They were much closer than they had been the last time I’d looked.
I doubted any of the self-defense tactics Keane had taught me was going to help against these creatures. I had the gun in my backpack, but with Phaedra’s jarring gait, I figured there was no way I could dig it out without dropping it or falling on my head. Besides, the gun only held two bullets. That left me with only one weapon.
Closing my eyes and trying not to hyperventilate in my fear, I started humming. I was too panicked to think of an actual song, so I hummed a scale. A bit off-key, and very wobbly due to the constant bouncing of Phaedra’s gait, but the magic didn’t seem to care anymore how well I sang. It came immediately to my call, making its presence known by prickling at my skin in what felt like a series of small static shocks.
I kept humming, kept summoning the magic, drawing it to me desperately. I didn’t know exactly what I’d done when I’d used the magic against Aunt Grace. I hadn’t been thinking very rationally, and had been reacting on pure instinct. I had no idea if I’d be able to re-create whatever I’d done now. And no idea if doing so would help me. My spell hadn’t exactly dropped Aunt Grace in her tracks, and if it hadn’t been for Ethan and the Erlking, it wouldn’t have done any good at all. But I had to try something.
Phaedra screamed and stumbled.
My eyes flew open as I almost toppled from the saddle. Terror gave me the strength to hold on, but the situation had gone from bad to worse.
The creatures were gaining on us, just barely out of leaping range. Or, judging by the bleeding red furrows on one of Phaedra’s hind legs, maybe not out of range after all.
Shaking with terror, I kept humming until I was sure I had as much magic as I could possibly hold. Then I let out a shrieking high note, the kind that would probably shatter glasses if there were any around. I imagined that note carrying my magic out to the creatures and turning them into stone. Not that I really expected that to happen, but visualizing the effect I hoped for seemed like the thing to do.
The magic wasn’t visible—I wouldn’t have even known it was there if it weren’t for that Fae magic sense I wasn’t supposed to have—but I could almost see it as it bowled into the pursuing creatures, flinging them back so far they disappeared into the dust cloud, so I couldn’t tell if they were hurt or not. The spell hadn’t had so violent or obvious an effect when I’d used it on Aunt Grace, so I wondered if something drastically different had just happened.
The good news was that even if my spell hadn’t hurt them, it had flung a handful of my pursuers back so they were no longer in pouncing range. The bad news was there were more than a handful after me. The remaining creatures howled in rage and put on another burst of speed.
I started humming again, meaning to call more magic, but we were out of time. Phaedra’s hide was flecked with foam, and I could hear her labored breathing as she struggled to keep running despite her exhaustion. Our pursuers had more stamina, and if they were tired from the long run, they showed no sign of it. One of them swiped at Phaedra’s legs with its claws.
Phaedra couldn’t quite manage a scream—I didn’t think she had enough air for it—but her cry of distress still made me wince in sympathy. She stumbled again, and this time, the stumble was her undoing, allowing the creatures to cross the last little bit of distance between us.
Another swipe of claws to Phaedra’s legs, and instead of just stumbling, she fell. I tried to jump off before she hit the ground. Almost managed it, too, although it no doubt looked more like a fall than a jump.