Relentless, p.14
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       Relentless, p.14

         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch
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Chapter 10

  THE CREATURE HIT the roof, and I watched in horror as four claws punched through the metal and began to move with deadly intent, opening the top like a pocketknife opening a can. My brain froze, refusing to function, and it felt like I was watching it all happen in slow motion. The creature moved slowly, deliberately, like it was sure of its kill. In seconds it would be able to reach in and…

  Move! Some part of me screamed. I flattened my body against the seat and searched for something to use as a weapon to fight off the thing about to come through the roof. I wasn’t going to die without a fight.

  Something dug into my right side where it was pressed against the back of the seat. The knife. I shifted and reached inside my coat, feeling my fingers close around the leather sheath. A sob escaped me as I pulled the knife free and held it tightly, preparing to face the monster above. The polished sliver blade gleamed wickedly, and I almost laughed at the absurdity of the situation. I’d told Nikolas I was not a warrior, and I was probably going to die with a warrior’s weapon in my hand.

  Metal screeched as the hole in the roof grew larger. A monstrous paw reached through the opening, razor-sharp claws aiming right at my chest like a cat batting at a mouse.

  For a split second, fear seemed to short-circuit my brain. Then I felt something shifting, moving in me, and gathering strength. A wail issued from me as I slashed at the paw, the sharp blade slicing through fur and tissue with sickening ease. Revulsion filled me as hot blood splattered my face and hands, and I gagged as a coppery smell filled my nose.

  The hyena-thing let out a human-like bellow of pain and withdrew its injured paw. There was no time to celebrate because the other paw came crashing through the hole. More blood sprayed me as I hacked at the limb, desperate to keep those claws from reaching me. Another agonizing scream split the air, and the paw retreated, a wisp of smoke curling behind it.

  The silver burns them.

  Strength surged through me, and I coiled defensively against the seat, waiting for another assault. Through the hole in the roof I saw the hyena-thing crouching, moaning, and glaring at me with pure hatred as it contemplated its next move. “Not so sure of yourself now, are you?” I yelled, meeting the black stare. The eyes narrowed as if it could understand me. I immediately wished I’d kept my mouth shut as the creature advanced again.

  Something hit the passenger door with the force of a battering ram. The impact tossed me in the air, and my head struck the steering wheel on the way back down. It wasn’t enough to knock me out, but I lost my grip on the knife. The impact also knocked the creature off balance, and it scrambled for purchase. I flipped onto my stomach and reached frantically for the knife, which had become lodged behind the brake pedal.

  “Aarrgh!” The scream was ripped from my throat as fire burned across my back. Agonizing pain stole my breath and made my sight go dark for a few precious seconds.

  I couldn’t think past the pain, and it was like some deeper instinct took over, making me swing around and sink my blade deep into the paw that dripped with my blood. The creature roared and lunged again, and this time I felt unbearable pain shoot through my left arm. My right hand shook as I sliced at my attacker, making it pull back again. Weariness washed over me, and I realized blood loss must be robbing me of my strength. Soon I would not be able to wield the knife at all, and it would be over.

  Movement drew my attention to a second hyena creature looming outside the passenger door. Long cracks webbed through the window, and my pain-dulled mind knew one more blow would shatter it. Both creatures let out victorious whoops.

  A second later, something large collided with the creature outside the door. Above me another dark, blurred shape flew over the truck, taking my attacker with it. Sounds of fighting filled the air – ripping, gnashing, howling, screams of pain. Struggling to sit, I clenched the knife to my breast and stared through the rain at the two enormous werewolves locked in bloody battle with the hyena creatures.

  They’re alive! My heart swelled with hope and then fear for my friends who were fighting for their lives out there. The werewolves and the hyena creatures clung to each other, slashing and biting with claws and powerful jaws. Over and over they rolled across the road until it was impossible for me to tell one from the other.

  The sound of bone snapping was followed by a sickening gurgling noise, and I knew a life had just ended. I almost collapsed in relief when one of the werewolves detached itself from its opponent and joined the other against the second hyena creature. It was two against one now.

  Into the headlight beams stepped two more hyena-things. I cried out as the creatures bore down on my friends, who were completely unaware of the new threat.

  Pale gold hair flashed in front of the truck as a new shape appeared out of nowhere to land between the truck and the creatures. Armed with a long thin sword, Chris advanced on the hyena-things. There was a glint of metal as his weapon moved, blurring through the air to cut into the shoulder of the nearest creature. Pulling the sword free, he slashed at the second creature, the blade opening the hyena-thing’s neck in a nauseating spray of blood. The creature dropped and he turned back to finish off the other one.

  “No,” I sobbed as another two creatures ran out of the woods. “Behind you!” I cried weakly, and the Mohiri flung his body aside just in time to avoid the surprise attack. He recovered, and he and one of the creatures began to circle each other.

  My warning had gained the attention of one of the new creatures, and it turned toward the truck, wearing the same laughing grin as its brethren. I steadied myself, gripped the knife tightly, and prayed that I had enough strength left to fight it off. The pain in my back and left arm and loss of blood had weakened me, and I tried to draw on the same strength that had filled me a few minutes ago.

  It wasn’t enough. My eyes were already growing heavy, and the sounds of fighting seemed farther and farther away. Am I dying? I wondered numbly as I watched the creature draw near.

  The rumbling noise came out of nowhere, vibrating through the air seconds before a single headlight appeared around the bend ahead of us. Like a missile, the motorcycle roared down the wet road, sending up a spray of water in every direction. It slammed into the creature advancing on the truck with a grisly crunch of metal and bone. The rider leapt from the bike a second before impact, landing on his feet with sword drawn. He moved swiftly toward the fallen creature. With deadly force he brought his sword down, beheading the creature with a single powerful blow. Withdrawing his sword, he strode into the mass of flailing bodies and quickly dispatched a second creature. The werewolves immediately moved in and finished off the last one.

  I saw him say something to the werewolves before they ran off into the trees. I wanted to yell at them to come back, but my voice no longer worked and I sagged against the seat as tears coursed through the splatters of the creature’s blood on my face.

  The crumpled driver’s-side door creaked and groaned as someone ripped it from its hinges. “Easy, man. You’ll frighten her,” a male voice said as if from a long way off.

  A warm hand lifted my chin, and my dazed eyes met raging gray ones. For a moment, I forgot the burning pain coursing through me, and all I could feel was the hypnotic pull of those eyes.

  Nikolas’s fingers snapped in front of my face, and I realized he was speaking to me. I came out of my stupor to hear him say, “Sara, can you hear me?”

  “Yes,” I replied hoarsely, my throat raw from screaming.

  His hand left my face and enclosed my hand that still gripped the knife. “You’re safe now, moy malen'kiy voin. Let the knife go,” he said in an uncharacteristically gentle voice.

  I opened my hand and let him take the bloody weapon that had saved my life. I knew with unwavering certainty that if he had not given it to me, I’d be dead right now.

  Nikolas tossed the knife on the floor of the truck and took my hands in his. He looked at me then at the roof, and his jaw clenched when he saw the shredded metal. “You fought th
em off? By yourself?”

  “J-just one.”

  His harsh chuckle seemed to fill the truck. “Just one? Khristu!” He shook his head at the blood splattered cab. “We need to get you out of this thing. Do you think you can stand?”

  I nodded, wanting nothing more than to get away from the place where I’d almost died. I started to slide out of the seat, but cried out when searing pain shot through my back and arm.

  “What is it? Did it hurt you?” There was concern and something else in his voice, something dark and violent.

  I nodded and closed my eyes against the pain. “G-guess I’m not much of a fighter after all.”

  His hand left mine. “Stay here,” he ordered tersely and disappeared into the rain. I heard movement and voices raised in argument, but I couldn’t make out the words. A few minutes later, Chris appeared in the opening where the driver’s-side door had been. In his hand was a small metal cylinder, and he unscrewed the top and scooped out something that looked like green putty. Holding the stuff to my lips, he said, “Eat this. It will help with the pain.”

  “Nikolas?” I murmured.

  “He’s still here. Now take this like a good little girl.”

  I obeyed, letting him place the putty in my mouth. Immediately, I tried to spit it out as a dry, bitter taste flooded every corner of my mouth.

  “No, you don’t,” he said, forcing my mouth closed with his hand. “I know it tastes awful, but trust me, you’ll thank me in a little while.”

  Glaring at him, I had no choice but to chew and swallow the stuff, certain that I would never get the horrid taste out of my mouth. Within minutes, blessed numbness began to spread across the throbbing muscles of my back and arm. I let out a soft sigh as the pain retreated and I was able to think clearly again.

  “Better?” Chris asked, and I nodded. “Good. Now let’s get you out of this death trap so we can check out your injuries.” He reached around me with both arms and effortlessly lifted me out of the cab of the truck. My legs wobbled when he set me on my feet, and I clung to his arm until I could stand on my own. The light rain was a cooling balm against my heated skin, and I lifted my face to let the water wash away tears and the creature’s blood.

  Chris examined the scratches on my upper arm through the tear in my sleeve. “These don’t look too bad. Their claws and teeth have venom in them, and it makes the cuts feel worse than they actually are. The gunna paste I gave you will prevent infection and will speed up the healing process.” He moved around me and reached for the opening of my coat. “I’m going to look at your back.”

  I was too happy to be alive and not hurting anymore to be embarrassed by a strange man looking under my clothes. I let him slide the thin coat off my shoulders then felt him gently prodding the scratches on my back. The foul stuff he’d made me eat must have been pretty powerful because I didn’t feel any pain when he touched my wounds.

  “These are a little deeper but nothing life-threatening,” he announced a little louder as if he was saying it to someone else. I looked up and saw Nikolas standing rigidly by his crumpled bike with his arms crossed, watching us. He didn’t seem like the type to stay on the sidelines.

  Chris saw where I was looking and must have read the question on my face. “I have a better bedside manner than my friend,” he explained with a wry smile.

  “He looks angry. Is he mad at me?”

  “No. He’s upset that we were too late to stop you from getting hurt. He’s worked himself into a bit of a rage and he just needs a minute to calm down.”

  “A rage?”

  “Yes, it happens when…” He stopped and glanced back at Nikolas. “It’s a Mori thing. You’ll learn about that stuff soon.”

  “Oh.” It struck me then how quiet it was. Shouldn’t Roland and Peter be back by now? “Where are my friends?”

  “They are making sure there are no more crocotta hiding nearby.” He looked around and let out a whistle. “Six of them. That is an unusually large pack. Someone is very serious about finding you.”

  I shivered. “Finding me?”

  “The crocotta are trackers. Someone sent them after you, probably with orders to retrieve you.”

  “They… almost killed me.”

  Chris helped me back into my coat. “The thrill of the hunt got the better of them. Good thing they’re not as good at killing as they are at tracking.”

  My teeth started to chatter as his words sank in. Nikolas’s earlier words came back to me. We believe the vampire is searching for you… There is more than one way to track someone.

  “I think I’m going to be sick,” I moaned and ran to the other side of the road where I began to retch miserably. After a minute, I straightened shakily and wiped my mouth with my wet sleeve. I wrapped my arms around myself, shivering violently as I looked away from the two Mohiri, not wanting to see them witness my humiliation.

  Cloth rustled and a leather jacket slid over my shoulders.

  “I’ll get blood all over it,” I protested weakly.

  Strong hands turned me as Nikolas wrapped the jacket around me. It was way too big for me, but it was soft and warm and smelled comfortingly of aged leather, soap, and a warm spicy scent.

  “I think it can stand a little blood,” he said gruffly, letting go of me.

  “I… thank you.”

  “Are you still in pain?”

  “I’m much better, thanks.” Between the warm coat and that foul stuff Chris had made me take, I felt a hundred times better than I had ten minutes ago.

  I looked around, seeing the carnage for the first time. Six hyena-things – crocotta, Chris had called them – lay dead on the road. Even in death the creatures were terrifying. I had never seen or heard of anything like them.

  Ten feet from the truck lay Nikolas’s black motorcycle on its side and looking like he would not be riding it out of here tonight. My gaze fell on Roland’s truck, and I sucked in a sharp breath. The hood was buckled and scarred by long deep scratches, and the mangled door lay on the ground. Metal stood up in jagged edges from the roof, making it look like someone had taken a machete to it. It was almost inconceivable that I had come out of that with nothing more than a few nasty scratches.

  “Only someone with warrior blood could have survived that,” Nikolas said as if he’d heard my thoughts.

  “I’m not a warrior.”

  “So you keep telling me.” He walked away before I could think of a reply. I watched him go to his motorcycle and lift it upright. When he started it up, I thought he was leaving, but he turned it off and put down the stand.

  “Sara!” Roland yelled, running toward us and looking a lot better than I felt. He had scratches on his face and one of his sleeves looked torn and bloody, but otherwise he looked alright considering he had been engaged in mortal combat. I held up my hands to stop him from grabbing me in a hug, and concern flooded his face. “Are you hurt?”

  “Yes, but I’ll live.” I tried to sound flippant but failed miserably.

  He ran a hand through his wet hair and let out a ragged breath. “I nearly lost it when I saw it attacking you.” He stared at the closest corpse. “I studied crocotta, but I never thought I’d see them around here. Fuck! They were strong.” He looked at me then cast a sad glance at what was left of his truck. “You were incredible, fighting it off like that.”

  “I wouldn’t have lasted much longer without you guys,” I told him. “Where is Peter, by the way? There’s no way I’m going out there looking for him again.”

  Roland laughed. “He went to find his clothes. There was no one home when he got there, so he grabbed a lug wrench and headed back. He was coming up the road when he saw us getting attacked.”

  I didn’t want to think of what would have happened if Peter, Nikolas, and Chris hadn’t shown up when they did. “How did you know?” I asked Nikolas.

  “One of our men called to tell me a crocotta had been seen in the Portland area,” Nikolas said. “I knew that they could track you, even if the vamp
ires couldn’t.”

  “But how did you know where we were?”

  “I put a tracker on your friend’s truck at the pizza place a few days ago,” Chris replied smugly. At my look of disbelief he said, “You didn’t think I was going run around town all week looking for you, did you?”

  Peter showed up then, and his appearance distracted Roland from whatever angry remark he’d been about to make. “I think we got them all. No worries about one of them reporting back to whoever sent them.” He stared at the mutilated truck. “Damn! What the hell happened to the truck?”

  Nikolas dug through one of the compartments on his bike. “You three are like a disaster magnet.” He stopped searching and came over to reach into his coat pocket and pull out a cell phone. “I’m going to call for a pickup,” he said to Chris.

  Somehow I didn’t think he meant a pickup truck. “A pickup for what?”

  He narrowed his eyes. “Not what, who. Look around. It’s not safe here for you.”

  I moved closer to Roland. “I’m not going anywhere.”

  “Be reasonable, Sara. You need to be with people who can protect you.”

  Roland put an arm around me. “We can protect her.”

  “I can see that,” Nikolas retorted. “Why is it that both times she’s been attacked were when you’ve been ‘protecting’ her?”

  “Listen I – ”

  “Are you implying something?” Roland shot back.

  “Look around you.”

  “No one could have expected a large pack of crocotta to show up like that. And you couldn’t have held off that many alone either.”

  “No, but if she was with her own people, she wouldn’t have had to worry about that.”

  “I’m not – ”

  “Her people? We’re her friends. We care for her more than a bunch of strangers.”

  “They wouldn’t be strangers for long. And she can train to protect herself.”

  “Stop it,” I yelled, finally getting their attention. “Stop talking about me like I’m not even here. I’m not leaving New Hastings, so drop it.” Every part of me was tired, and I desperately wanted to sit down. But there was nowhere to sit except for the truck, and I really didn’t want to go near it right now. I was eager to put as much distance as possible between me and this place.

  “Sara, I think you should come home with us tonight,” Roland suggested.

  “But you guys got them all.”

  “Yes, but you’re covered in blood and your clothes are all ripped up. You don’t want Nate to see you like this.”

  I looked down at my wet, bloody jeans. My coat was hidden by Nikolas’s, but I knew it had been shredded by the crocotta. First vampires and now a bunch of mutant hyenas. At this rate I wouldn’t have any clothes left.

  “You’re right,” I told him. “Nate can’t see this.”

  Peter went to the truck and found his phone, which had miraculously survived the carnage. He hit a number and said, “Dad, you won’t believe what just happened here.” He walked away with the phone to his ear.

  Nikolas looked displeased but resigned with my refusal to leave. “Is there anyone around here who can clean this up before the locals see it?” he asked Roland. “If not, we’ll bring in someone.”

  “Yeah, I’ll call someone.” Roland produced his own phone and made a call. A few minutes later, he hung up. “My cousin Francis will be here in a few minutes with a crew to take care of this. We’ll take Sara to my house.”

  “Chris and I will come with you to make sure there’s no more trouble,” Nikolas said.

  “There’s no need for that,” Roland said. “She’ll be safe in the Knolls.”

  There was a hard edge to Nikolas’s jaw that I was beginning to recognize. “Forgive me if I have my doubts. We will accompany you.”

  I looked at Chris. Nikolas had ridden up on his bike, but Chris had arrived on foot. “How did you get here so fast?” I asked him.

  “My bike is half a mile down the road. When I heard the crocottas’ hunting calls I decided to come in on foot to surprise them.” He slanted a wry look at Nikolas. “I had no idea some people would come roaring in, making enough noise to wake the dead.”

  I leaned against Roland for strength and gave Chris a tired smile. “Thank you.”

  Chris inclined his head. “And I thought small town life was boring.”

  Minutes later, headlights glowed around the bend up ahead and a silver Hyundai appeared followed by a large Ford pickup. Roland’s cousin Francis jumped out of the car and stared in awe at the scene before him. Older than Roland by four years, Francis had the same dark hair but a slightly leaner build than his younger cousin. Watching his face, I couldn’t tell if it was the six crocotta bodies, the mangled truck, or the presence of two Mohiri warriors that stunned him the most. “Fuck,” was all he could say over and over as he walked to the nearest crocotta corpse and took in the sheer size of the creature.

  Someone whistled behind him, and I saw two guys I didn’t know in their mid-twenties. “You guys did this?” one of them asked Roland and Peter as if he could not believe what he was seeing.

  “Yes, with help,” Peter said, and I could hear a little swagger in his voice. Hell, he’d earned the right to brag after what he’d done tonight.

  I saw Francis and the two other guys turn hostile stares on Nikolas and Chris. “What are they doing here?” one of the guys bit out.

  “They helped us fight the crocotta,” Peter replied, and I could tell that he was torn between gratitude to the Mohiri and the dislike that had been ingrained in him his whole life.

  “If you guys don’t mind,” Nikolas cut in coldly. “Sara is hurt.”

  “You’re hurt?” Francis asked as if seeing me there for the first time. “Do you need to go to the hospital?”

  “No hospital,” I stated firmly.

  “Maybe you should get checked out,” Roland suggested.

  “She’ll be okay,” Chris said. “I gave her something to help with the pain and to speed up the healing.” At Roland’s look of doubt, he said, “Trust me. It’s a very powerful medicine. The Mohiri have used it in battle for centuries. With her own accelerated healing, her injuries will go away in a few days.”

  “Her accelerated healing?” Francis asked, and Roland and I both answered at once. “It’s a long story.”

  “Take my car,” Francis said, handing his keys to Roland. “I’ll stay here with the boys to take care of this. We’ll need to call in a few more hands to get rid of all these.”

  “Come on.” Roland helped me into the front seat of the car. Peter jumped in the back. I laid my head back against the headrest with a huge sigh, happy just to be off my feet and out of the rain. Roland handed me his cell phone to call Nate since I’d lost my own phone in the woods. His voice mail picked up, and I left a message that I was going to stay at Roland’s tonight and I’d see him tomorrow. Nate would most likely be delighted that I was spending more time with Roland and Peter again.

  The drive to Roland’s house took less than five minutes. Roland went around turning on lights, and I sank onto the couch, careful not to hurt my back. But whatever Chris had given me had worked its magic, and I could feel no pain. I closed my eyes and wrapped Nikolas’s jacket tighter around me. Then I kicked off my shoes and curled up against the cushions. Roland’s old couch had never felt so comfortable.

  I heard the front door open. In the kitchen, Roland and Peter talked in hushed voices with someone else, but I was too tired to care. Someone laid a quilt over me, and I mumbled a thank-you without opening my eyes.

  I dozed restlessly and awoke in the middle of the night to a darkened room. Fearful, I tried to sit up, but my body was too tired and stiff to respond. I heard a faint rustle and looked across the room to see the outline of someone standing by the window.

  “Nikolas?”

  “Go back to sleep.”

  I lay back and closed my eyes again until I heard him shift position. Suddenly, I was afraid
he might go and leave me alone in the dark. “Don’t go,” I said in a small voice, too desperate to care how plaintive I sounded.

  His tone was gentler when he answered. “I’m not going anywhere.”

  Relief and a profound feeling of peace filled me. Heaviness stole over me again, and I fell into a blissfully dreamless sleep.

 

 
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