Wintra and Calvin lay their trap as the sun set. When they arrived in the meadow chosen for their trap, Wintra saw Calvin wrinkle his nose out of the corner of her eye. The Novice turned in a slow circle, his expression growing more sour as he moved. Wintra ground her teeth together and inhaled with effort. She was thoroughly tired of his sulking. She couldn't care less whether he liked her methods or not. He had hired her, knowing full well what she was, thus implicitly giving approval to whatever means she found necessary to carry out her job. That he had had no other choice left but to hire her--or his negative feelings upon Wintra's pointing this out--wasn't her concern. Unless it interfered with her job.
She watched him with narrowed eyes, prepared to take action if he did not adjust his attitude shortly.
“Where did this come from?” he asked grudgingly, gesturing to the pen, constructed of thin, spear-like posts, that surrounded them. His expression was bewildered, but Wintra noted a sliver of interest in his body language. Perhaps his curiosity would overpower his determination to brood. “That's freshly cut wood.” Calvin threw his bundle down at the back of the pen with a grunt.
“I told the villagers my plan, and they finished it before sundown.”
Wintra unwrapped the bundle. Large chunks of freshly butchered meat lay inside. She raised her staff and wove a spell. The air turned rancid as the meat aged. Calvin gagged. “Pull it together,” she advised, “and grab a spear.”
A cool breeze swept across her face. She considered manipulating the wind to carry the rotten smell to the cows, but she discarded the idea. She did not know from which direction the cows would approach. She idly watched Calvin twirl his spear. He glanced over his shoulder at the small, glowing orb that he had conjured. It was the fifth time in as many minutes. Wintra suspected it was his security blanket, but she had said nothing to him when he insisted on it. The fact that it would not protect him in any way whatsoever from the cattle, or that it was simply an unnecessary drain on his magical reserves during an inevitable battle with the undead, apparently didn't matter to him in the slightest.
"Are you prepared?" she asked, setting their new lantern down in the grass. She lit it, mindful of the increasing darkness that encroached on them from all sides. If it weren't for the fact that it enabled her to better plan her defense or particular modes of attack, she doubted she would even carry a lantern to light her way. In some ways, it was worse to see the enemy approaching than to have it leap on top of you in the dark. Still, there were far more advantages to be gained against an enemy if she could see what she was doing.
“I'm ready,” Calvin replied, his voice quavering with doubt.
"You had better be," she warned him. "We cannot afford to make mistakes. This may be our only workable chance to destroy them." He looked as if he might protest, but Wintra silenced him as her magically enhanced senses flared to life.
The earth shuddered beneath her feet as the cattle approached. Calvin prepared to flee, but Wintra grabbed him and pulled him out of harm's way. The cattle spilled into the pen like a charging army, and a fight broke out as several of them rammed into each other with snapping jaws, fighting over the rancid meat. Wintra backed out of the pen with care, using Calvin as something of a human shield. She figured the coward might as well be useful for something.
Wintra wove her spell, holding tight to Calvin's arm while the cattle brawled with each other in hunger induced confusion. The Novice struggled as if possessed by a demon, too frightened to think clearly, and she growled something incoherent at him. Whatever her words had been, they seemed to have a great effect on Calvin as her spell rippled through the cattle with a flash of purple light. He stopped struggling and blinked several times, as if waking from a trance.
The cows glowed a dull indigo, and their movements became slow and choppy until they finally halted, frozen into place. Wintra murmured her next spell before the first faded. The problem with working so many spells close together was that she couldn't waste the extra energy needed to make them last longer, or she would have nothing left in her magical reserves to draw upon in an emergency. It was a grim lesson she had to learn but once, during her apprenticeship.
She let go of Calvin. The cattle bawled as her spell liquefied their stomachs. She shoved Calvin forward. “Get in there!” He stumbled forward and clumsily stabbed at a cow. Blood oozed from the wound. “No! Behind the shoulder on the left side!” Wintra barked as she staked a cow. “Get another spear!” she directed, after he correctly staked his cow. “Hurry, damn you, before the spells wear off!” The last thing they needed was for the cows to regain their mobility before they had finished staking them all.
He sprinted for another spear, and Wintra turned her attention back to staking cows. Her mind raced with the macabre possibilities of what might happen if her spell wore off too soon; being trampled underfoot by the cattle seemed to be the most optimistic probability. She moved among the immobile cattle, feeling paranoid. The knowledge that she never would have been able to use this particular set of spells on intelligent undead fed her doubts about the spells' sustainability on the cows. Though they wouldn't be able to actively counter her efforts, as a human vampire might, that didn't mean the cattle hadn't developed other means to ward off her spells in order to survive.
When she thrust her last spear into a cow, she wiped the sweat from her forehead and breathed a sigh of relief. She looked at Calvin, curious to see how he had been getting along in his own efforts. She called over to him.
He pointed toward a cow frozen near him. “One more!” he shouted. She waved at him to kill it. He looked around the pen and turned back with a panicked expression. “I don't see any more spears!”
“There have to be more.” She stalked over to him.
He gestured toward the gutted fence. “See? They mis—Wintra!”
She dove quickly, and hoped she hadn't moved into the cow's path. She rolled to a stop and stood up. The vampiric cow had already compensated for her evasion and barreled toward her, snorting in fury. She ran erratically, weaving around carcasses, in the fruitless hope that the cow would flounder. Before she knew it, she found herself backed into a corner of the pen. Wintra swore. She turned and futilely cast a shielding spell as Calvin launched himself onto the cow. It bucked in angry circles while it tried to throw off the surprisingly determined Novice. Grateful for the distraction, Wintra ran toward her staff.
“What do you think I'm trying to do?” she spat. Wintra's tongue twisted out the syllables of a spell and her staff's head sharpened to a point. She hurried back and thrust it into the cow. Calvin fell off the cow at last. Before she could curse him for his stupidity in leaping astride one of the undead, Calvin's eyes widened and the color drained from his face.
“That's the wrong side!” he yelled as the cow staggered around in a daze.
Wintra swore. She couldn't pull the stake out and correctly stake the cow without getting trampled and eaten. She must try something else. A more complex spell rolled off her tongue as Wintra visualized the wood of her staff becoming pliable, almost liquid. The staff lengthened, and its recently acquired point plunged through the cow and out its other side, piercing the heart.
“That was my favorite staff!” She glared at the cow bitterly. “Get the scythes!”
They decapitated the cattle, Calvin with evident relief, and Wintra with vengeful glee. Butchering her way through layers of muscle, fat, and bone felt cathartic to her. It took a long time to finish decapitating so many cattle, and when they finished, Wintra saw that Calvin was as exhausted as she was. They left the pen together, and Wintra leaned on her bloodied scythe. “There's one thing more.”
Calvin looked up from his blood-spattered robes. She raised her arm and gestured with effort, her words inaudible. Flames spewed into the pen, devouring the bodies. Neither of them said a word as they watched the fire.
“And that,” she said some hours later, as the fire dwindled to ash in the light of dawn, “is how you kill vampire cows.”
Wintra narrowed her eyes and turned Calvin in the sun's bright glare. “Now.” She stabbed him in the chest with her forefinger. “Where's my money?”
She knew Calvin had lied to her about his funds, and the manner in which she would be paid—or rather, wouldn't. She had no intention of going back to her office without the money, since she knew she would never receive it later.
“I don't have it,” he hedged. “I told you, my guild will--”
"I don't think so." She spat out the words of a spell, re-energized by her greed.
Vines burst out of the ground and curled around his limbs, immobilizing him. “Wrong answer.” He panicked and gave Wintra the guild's location, “Thank you, Milton,” she crooned to annoy him. She emptied his pockets of valuables and cast a spell. A crow flew at his eyes with a caw. He screamed and tried to cover them, but the vines interfered with his mobility. The bird began to peck at his eyes. Wintra smiled. No one crossed her without consequences. It was bad for business.