One bite from this cursed creature, and it would be over.
Not now, perhaps, but later. Sick and fevered in some nameless ward in the bowels of The Ministry, wasting her last breath on a rattling cry of hopelessness and pain.
It had been close. She had reeled from its rancid breath, reeking like a kill-calf’s stall in the choking grip of summer She had managed to raise her sword arm, elbowing the beast in the throat and causing it to gag, spitting for air.
That had given her a chance. Though the ground was slick, she had dug in her heels and spun, creating an opening. Her hat long gone, her hair sodden and lank across her face, she had narrowed her eyes, following the tutelage from her father so many years ago.
Seek an opening. Picture the blade, finding its mark. Treat it as an extension of yourself, become one with the weapon.
She had lunged.
And she had missed.
And now the thing was baying like some mad dog, its snout and maw flecked with yellowed spittle, its arms scything towards her.
‘Go down, you bastard!’
She jabbed again, this time with her left arm. She caught it on the side of the head, a solid blow. The ghoul staggered, but only for a moment. Then, with a ferocity like a wounded tiger, it renewed its attack.
Jessica stepped to the side, but too late. The beast caught her blade between its talons, then with a twist the sword was gone, skittering across the muddy ground and coming to rest several feet away. Too far.
She glanced left and right, then as far behind her as she dared. She would not let this damned monstrosity best her. She couldn’t.
‘Come at me, then.’ She took a step back, then another, hoping to feel the cold iron of the railings she had glimpsed behind her pressing into her back.
Eyes slitted, the ghoul tensed, then leapt. Jessica twisted her waist. Claws ripped through leather, then linen, then grazed across the skin of her abdomen. Pray that it had not broken the skin, infected her blood.
But prayers would have to wait.
Another step back. The railings at her back at last, hard, cold. Rusted.
She reached behind her. The ghoul skittered back in the mud, preparing itself for another onslaught.
Jessica gripped, and pulled. With a screeching protest, the railings freed themselves from the ground.
‘This ends now.’
She spun both iron rods in front of her at the same instant the ghoul leapt for her throat.
A lightning flash from the heavens, brighter than an arc gun, illuminating the jagged tips of the railings, glinting in the downpour.
And the ghoul, twice skewered, black blood frothing at its lips.
Thunder rumbled. The storm was in retreat.
Lady Jessica McAlpin let go of the railings, stepped over the ghoul’s twitching body and retrieved her blade.
Now to rescue that damn fool Flint.