Blood spatters my face – my face. I feel the fangs slide out of my neck even as I feel Shirley’s mind sliding out of my head, where she’d occupied space like a gigantic squatting spider. I’d given her space; I’d given her all the space she’d wanted while I hid in my secret boxes and hatched a plan she wouldn’t know about until it was too late.
I wish I’d been able to wriggle my hand and the gun from between our bodies faster.
Tears streamed down my face as my mind replayed my father’s death over and over, fresh and raw. This one would be difficult to stuff into a box.
But I had to. This wasn’t over. The PID and the lycans were still doing battle. The sounds penetrated my foggy mind as if from afar. They hadn’t stopped with the death of the Tsar.
I opened my eyes and heaved myself to my knees next to Shirley’s prone body. With half her face blown off she looked dead, but I wouldn’t feel sure about it until her head was separated from her body. Except I had nothing to cut through her neck with. All I had was my gun, and that would only make more of a mess.
My vision blurred as a wave of pain rolled over me, emanating from the bite in my neck. I gasped and rode it until it subsided, turning into a dull throb that beckoned me to lay down. I was so tired. So, so tired. But I had to make sure, or all this would have been for nothing. Cole’s death would have been for nothing.
A twig creaked behind me. I spun, bringing my gun around.
“Don’t shoot!” Snooty’s voice cut through my defense mode, and I barely stopped myself from pulling the trigger. But I didn’t lower the gun. We stared at each other for a moment, until his gaze dropped to Shirley. His silver-red eyes flashed with hatred. He pulled a long, serrated dagger from his boot.
“Allow me,” he said, stepping up to Shirley. I saw in his eyes that he would allow no argument, and I didn’t have it in me anyway. This was his fight, his triumph as much as mine.
I crawled a few feet away and watched him get to work. On any other occasion, I probably would have looked away, but this I wanted to savor. For my father. My family.
I savored the teeth of the blade jagging through her skin. Black blood bubbling up as it sliced deeper, into flesh. Air escaping in a gasp when he cut the wind pipe. The grating sound as the blade dragged over bone, through marrow, back and forth, over and over.
The last crack and a grunt of triumph as the dagger sliced through that last bridge of flesh.
Snooty took the severed head by the hair and lifted it. That was when I finally turned away. I heard his whispered words. “The Tsar is dead.”
The sounds of battle changed. Snarls and howls continued, but the spitting of gunfire stopped abruptly, as did the shouts between agents. Instead, screams of terror rose over the clearing. The agents had woken out of their vampire induced stupor, to a nightmare of monsters shredding them to pieces. And those monsters were too far gone to realize that their enemy wasn’t fighting back anymore. That their enemy was no longer their enemy.
The gunfire started up again soon enough. The Tsar was dead, yet they would continue to slaughter each other. The berserkers would continue until only one was left standing.
And Cole was dead. There was no way to stop them.
A hand landed on my shoulder, making me jump, but I was too weak to react more than to grab the arm.
“It’s me,” Snooty’s voice reminded me. “You need to come with me. Now.”
I didn’t understand why, but he sounded like he had a plan and that was more than I had to offer right now. So I staggered to my feet. He took my hand and laid my arm around his shoulder to steady me. I leaned on him more than I cared to admit as he lead the way into the trees only a few yards away. I felt blood running down my neck and soaking into my shirt, lots of it. It had been running ever since Shirley’s mouth detached from my neck. If the bleeding wasn’t stopped, I’d bleed out soon.
Somehow, I couldn’t muster the strength to care. It didn’t matter, anyway. Nothing mattered anymore, not since Shirley had pulled the trigger and shot Cole in the head.
I closed my eyes, let Snooty lead me. It was dark between the trees and my blurry vision not of much use. At one point, we stopped.
“It’s me,” he said, “I have her. Let me in.”
Chanting in front of us. When it stopped, Snooty dragged me forward. The chanting started up again and suddenly it seemed warmer, as if somebody had closed a door behind us. Scents and sounds told me we were still outside. I forced my eyes open and found four fae staring at me, shock etched plainly on their pale faces.
“She’s been bitten,” one of them said.
“She’s half dead,” another exclaimed. “She’ll never get through to him in this state.”
“We can patch her up while she tries,” Snooty said.
“I still say we just hightail it out of here while the curs and the bitch’s lemmings are focusing on each other.” I recognized that voice even through my haze. Snotty. Ass.
“If we do that,” Snooty said, with a strain of impatience in his voice like a parent might talk to a child, “and leave the wolves to slaughter each other, we will be without guards.”
“We can employ other packs,” Snotty said. “Wolves always need bane.”
“Other vampires will also return to the city,” Snooty said. “Most likely before we are able to secure another pack’s loyalty. Especially now that the Tsar is dead.”
That caught their attention. “The Tsar’s dead?”
Snooty reached behind him and unhooked something from his belt. It was Shirley’s head.
“As a doornail,” he said, holding it up for all to see. Their faces lit up and a unanimous cheer broke from them. Snooty looked at me.
“Ilona killed her.”
A hush fell over them, almost like reverie. It made room for a noise in the background that had been there this whole time but not properly registered with my dying senses. Snarling, growling, the rattling of cage bars. We hadn’t come as far into the forest as I’d thought. We were close to the cells. And more than one was filled by now.
Something inhabited the last one at the very end of the row, obscured by bushes.
Something large with glowing eyes, a muzzle full of slavering fangs, and scythe-like talons. A berserker.
He was bent over, prowling the cage right to left, left to right. Every so often he would run at the gate, smash his whole body against it, grab the bars and shake, until he couldn’t take the burning pain of the silver in the bars anymore and let go with a scream of rage. His face was a mess, half the fur missing, exposing skin that was inflamed, as if it had been badly burned. The upper lip. The nose. The right cheek…
I looked into the beast’s eyes. They burned red, like the lava in a volcano. I could almost feel the rage and lust to rend, to tear flesh between teeth and claws, spear into my mind when I looked into them. And yet, beneath it all, lay something familiar. Someone familiar.