Content Warning: Violence and Gore
“Connor, listen to me,” I began, but stopped when he turned to look at Acmon. There was intelligence behind those goat-slitted eyes, but only just. He was in no mood to be placated, and I knew what was going to come next. Acmon shoved me into the middle of the room, hoping to distract Connor. That was a mistake.
You could practically hear them lock eyes. Connor snorted and pawed at the deck plates, the ritual challenge. Acmon dropped my arm and returned the gesture.
I was not about to be caught between two alpha satyrs with their blood lusts up. I raised my hands and looked for a way to get out of here that ideally didn’t involve getting ankle-deep in intestines. Goddess or not, I had no desire to join the heaps of mutilated flesh on the floor, even if I would probably survive it.
The deep rumbling growl that began to emanate from Connor’s chest meant the time for a clean getaway was over. I had one second, max, to get out of the range of the carnage.
When satyrs fight, they fight until only one is left standing, unless a female of child-bearing age is present—human, goddess, nymph, what-have-you. Me being there was literally taking a fight between theoretical equals and turning it into a grand melee. Connor’s mate had been threatened, and that meant someone was going to die.
“Acmon?” A female voice called from the other side of the room, where a doorway opened into another hall. “Bari says we have to go, come on…what’s that smell?”
I cursed when she stuck her head around the doorway, and I expected the scream at the sight. Greaaat. Now they both had females to fight for.
“Get out of here, you stupid bitch!” I yelled, gesturing wildly. “You’re only making it worse!”
There’s a famous actor who was once told to imagine what it sounds like when someone is stabbed. He replied that he didn’t need to imagine it. What I heard and saw next is going to take a very, very long time for me to forget.
I now know what it sounds like when two oryx horns pierce living lungs from the shoulders downwards. Connor charged headlong, as the satyrs do at home, and Acmon dropped to his knees, tucking his head down into his chest. His neck was longer than I thought possible and thickly muscled to support the long curved horns. Connor was impaled on the delicate-looking slender horns by his own momentum. He and Acmon were effectively face-to-chest, and I screamed.
Connor turned to look at me, and by all that’s holy, he smiled at me. He dropped to his knees as well, forcing Acmon’s head even further down. Acmon snarled, but he was stuck. Dull thuds of fists on flesh almost but not quite covered the sound of a stray gallbladder being squished against the deck plates. Connor rained blows down onto Acmon’s unprotected back, each punch landing like a sledgehammer, heedless of the blood and ichor spurting from his wounds with the movements. Acmon roared into Connor’s chest, his own claws coming out and gouging deep furrows into the corded muscle of Connor’s thighs, digging for the femoral artery or the tendons behind the knee.
Connor roared and slammed his thigh into Acmon’s face with a sickening crack. The impact dislodged a good six inches of horn from his torso with a wet sucking noise. The tendons in Acmon’s neck stood out, stark against the skin as Connor repeated the blow on the other side. Acmon was cursing and clawing, flailing to grasp anything he could. There was a nasty crunch as Connor raised one hoof and slammed it down on Acmon’s hand, followed by a grunt from Connor as Acmon’s other hand raked across his exposed belly, leaving deep bloody gouges.
I didn’t dare move, and the woman had wisely fled. I had never in all my days seen a fight like this, not even during the bad times with the Pack when there weren’t enough does or food to go around, and every fight was against both his opponent and death itself. This would not end with both parties getting stitched up and bitched out, respectively, and finishing with a round of shots down the pub. This was distilled warfare, ancient versus modern, guile versus raw power.
It was the most terrifying thing I have ever watched.
Acmon forced himself off his knees, Connor’s weight on his horns keeping his head angled downwards. Connor reached up to his own shoulders and grabbed Acmon’s horns, slick with his own blood, and began to press downward, putting all his weight onto them, even going so far as to lift his feet off the floor. Acmon grunted and collapsed down to his knees again, the two relatively delicate pieces of horn and bone unable to hold the weight of a young, healthy, perpetually hungry satyr who routinely dined at the table of a hearth goddess. I heard a sharp crack, and Connor jerked.
Then another, and he grunted. I realized that that wasn’t the breaking of bone I heard, but gunshots. That stupid cow!
My vision started to go red around the edges. How DARE she! I turned towards the upper half of the dismembered Dactyloi and wrenched his broken horns free from his chest, then moved with all the speed I could muster towards the bitch who had just signed her own death warrant.
I saw muzzle flashes, felt bullets enter my flesh, felt the sucking of air into exposed lungs before the ichor closed the wounds. I didn’t stop. Spinning the broken horns around in my hands to grip the thicker ends, I brought one down with my own considerable strength onto the arm that was holding the gun. It snapped like a toothpick, and she saw the shadow of her impending death. I dropped the horn from my left hand and swung into a deep uppercut, the twin of the one that had robbed me of my breath back in Gujurat. When she doubled over, gasping, I spun the second horn like a Madrid bullfighter and went for the coup de grâce, impaling her between the shoulder blades and through the heart. She dropped like a sack of rocks, gagging out her last breaths as I turned back to watch the bucks.
The points of Acmon’s horns were starting to protrude through the slabs of muscle that were Connor’s shoulders, as Connor had lost his leverage when he had gotten shot. I saw Connor clench his hands together in one gigantic fist, then slam them down with all his rage-fueled strength right into the middle of Acmon’s upper back. The impact knocked the breath from Acmon’s lungs, and I heard vertebrae crack. Connor repeated the blow once more, finally knocking Acmon’s horns far enough that he could get a hoof up and kick Acmon in the chest.
Acmon went flying backward, a massive hoof-shaped depression where his sternum used to be. It reminded me of nothing so much as an inverse Viking bloody eagle. The shattered ends of his ribs protruded around the edge of the hoofprint like a gore-festooned holly wreath. His blood shimmered much like Connor’s did, mostly red with hints of gold.
Connor stalked over to where Acmon had slid to a stop against the bulkhead, and I turned away from what was coming next. There is a sound that most cooks know—when you are breaking the breastbone of a bird to lay it out flat. It’s a wet, meaty, decidedly organic crunch-snap.
I wouldn’t be butterflying any birds for a long time, if ever. Cartilage and bone are cartilage and bone, after all.
“Matera,” Acmon croaked, blood spilling from his lips as he looked up into Connor’s face, the light already fading from his eyes before Connor pulled his heart out and took a bite of it. He spat the piece back into Acmon’s face, throwing the remains off to one of the viscera heaps.
“That for your mother,” he growled. “No one tries to kill my mate.” He turned to look at me, where I was standing over the corpse of the Dactyloi’s mate. I raised the horn I was still holding as he walked through the carnage towards me.
“Connor?” I asked, gripping the horn, ready to stab him to get his attention if needed. I was not about to get ravished by him in this state, let alone on this ship reeking of death.
He loomed over me, and I was too tired and too cold and too far from my hearth to get all Olympian about it. I could only hope that his reason was returning now that Acmon was dead, and the threat was vanquished.
“Mo theallach,” he said, his voice a purring kind of rumble that I rather liked. My hearth. It was a running joke between us, a carryover from an autocorrect mistake early in our relationship. I smiled up at him and dropped the horn.
He smiled back down at me, still in his wild hunt form, but the eyes were shifting back from burning gold to warm hazel. He reached out a bloody finger to touch my cheek, streaking it with red-gold Dactyloi blood, but gently now.
“What, nothin’ to say? I know you like to watch us bucks when we’re showin’ off for the lassies,” he teased, then took a step back and flexed. To borrow a line from a favorite modern author of mine, when he flexed his muscles, other muscles had to get out of the way first. It was a lovely sight, but a touch too entrail-streaked for my taste. Not to mention the nasty wounds that Acmon had inflicted completely ruined the vista of sculpted, masculine beauty that lay before me.
“That needs seeing to,” I said, pointing to the oozing lacerations that were beginning to close.
“I need seeing to,” he purred and lunged forward. I found myself lifted off my feet and held gently but inescapably in his arms, being forcefully and lovingly kissed, bloody muzzle and all.
After a breathless moment, I managed to pull my face away. “Put your real face back on, my darling. Your muzzle is not conducive to kissing me, let alone the rest of you being conducive to what you’re thinking.”
He grinned, unrepentant, and let me go long enough to shift back to his human form. It looked exceedingly uncomfortable, but he came back to himself with his usual cocky smirk. He was still covered in blood and less savory substances, but it was my Connor.
“Now, about what I was thinkin’,” he began, but was interrupted by the sound of gunfire erupting overhead, followed by the ringing of hooves on the deck plates. The Wild Hunt had arrived, and not too soon either.
“Come on then, let’s go show Seamus and Young Hector we’re still among the living,” I said. As I turned to leave, I got pushed backward against the wall and kissed again, hard enough for me to taste my own ichor mixing with the blood of the Dactyloi on his lips.
“This isn’t over, hearth goddess,” he growled after breaking the kiss. He pressed his face into the side of my neck and bit softly. “I bled for your honor today, and I expect to get my reward the second we’re alone, and I’ve had a chance to get this muck off me.”
“Count on it,” I gasped, tensing for the grazing of fangs and relaxing when it was just his normal teeth. “The sooner we go meet the rest of the Pack, the sooner we can get us both clean.”
With Acmon and his brothers dead, the rest of the Dactyloi followers on the ship surrendered easily to the Pack’s superior firepower. I wasn’t going to ask where they found a boat with that kind of armament, and they weren’t going to tell me.
The Pack was always willing to accept surrenders, and the followers were stripped of their weaponry and told to return to their quarters. We would deal with them later.
After we checked in with Seamus, who was running this operation, we had a quiet conversation about what to do with the remains of the elder Dactyloi. We returned to the room off the salvage deck, and Seamus let out a low whistle when he saw his grandson’s work. Not much needed to be said. We gathered up what we could of their remains and carried them into the room where I had been held captive. The bucks wouldn’t let me do any of the heavy lifting, but I was the one who gathered up the horns that had been broken off—the ultimate dishonor among the satyrs. We made as neat a pile of them as we could, stacking the pieces on a clean canvas tarp we had found in a locker. I had found my handbag on the bridge of the ship, intact – including the ashes of Ankhiale. I opened the bag and poured the ashes of the Titaness over what remained of her eldest sons. Then Seamus and Connor each picked up an end of the tarp, folded it together, and carried it up to the stern of the ship. They set it down carefully, and Young Hector helped Connor wrap several feet of heavy chain around the bundle.
“The Dactyloi are reunited with their mother, at last. May they find the peace in the next world that was denied to them in this one.”
With that, Connor and Seamus heaved the bundle overboard into the welcoming embrace of the Indian Ocean. There was a splash, then silence.
Leaving a couple of the Wild Hunters to get the ship back to Gujurat, we joined the Pack on their smaller boat and headed off into the beautiful, star-studded darkness of the tropical evening. Soon enough, we would be back on land, then after several hot showers, we would be headed back home.
Home to the Hearthfire, where we belonged.