Relentless, p.27
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       Relentless, p.27
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         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch

  * * *

  A shaft of sunlight across my face woke me up. I raised a hand over my eyes and stared at the vaguely familiar lace curtains and striped wallpaper for a minute before I shifted to look around the room. My eyes fell on the shape of someone sitting on a chair in the corner.

  “How are you feeling?”

  I rubbed my blurry eyes, feeling like the one time I’d had a hangover. “I’ve been better. Where am I?”

  “At the farm. You weren’t in any shape to go anywhere last night.”

  The farm? Last night came flooding back to me. “Roland!”

  “He’s fine. He’s down the hall.” The chair scraped and Nikolas sat beside the bed blocking the sunlight. His expression was hard to read. I couldn’t tell if he was going to take my hand or yell at me.

  “Is this normal after you do that?” he asked quietly. “Passing out?”

  “After a healing? It doesn’t usually knock me out like that, but I’ve never healed a werewolf before.” I stifled a yawn. “Usually I’m okay if I rest for an hour or so.”

  “You do this a lot?”

  I gave him a tired smile. “More times than I can remember. I’ve been doing it since I was six.”

  He looked thoughtful for a moment. “That day on the wharf, you asked me if Mohiri had other powers. You wanted to know if we could heal others.”

  “Yes.”

  He ran a hand through his hair, and I noticed he was wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday. “I don’t know of any Mohiri who can do what you did last night. Is that what you did with those two monsters in that cellar?”

  I nodded. “I’ve used it before to calm animals, but I had no idea it would actually work on hellhounds.” I thought about the two hounds with a touch of awe. “What happened to them? You didn’t – ?”

  “They tried to follow you, so Chris and Erik had them restrained. They’ll be transported to one of our facilities until we figure out what to do with them.” He smiled for the first time since I woke up. “We couldn’t have a pair of hellhounds running amok around Portland.”

  “What kind of facility? I don’t want them hurt.” I could only imagine the tortures those hounds had suffered already in their lives.

  “No one will harm them.” Nikolas shook his head and let out a short laugh. “They are yours now. Once a fell beast imprints on a new master, they are incredibly loyal. They will only answer to you.”

  “That’s what the witch said.” He raised an eyebrow, and I told him the Hale witch had been in the cellar but didn’t try to stop me.

  He rubbed his hand over his jaw, and I saw that he needed a shave. I felt the craziest urge to reach out and touch his face, but I stopped myself just in time. That healing must have really messed me up.

  “A lot happened in that cellar last night. Do you want to talk about it?”

  “No.” I turned my face away so he couldn’t see the horror and revulsion in my eyes. I’d let that thing take over my body. All my life I’d kept the demon subdued in a corner of my mind, never knowing what it was or understanding its real strength – until last night. I suppressed a shudder at the memory of how quickly the demon had grown, filling my skin and occupying my mind until I almost forgot I still existed. It was locked behind its walls again, but I would never forget how close it had come to imprisoning me. I would never let it have that kind of power over me again.

  “Every Mohiri struggles with their Mori at some point in their lives. For most it happens when they are younger and lack the training to manage the demon impulses. You have such control over your Mori that it must have been very frightening to let your guard down the way you did. But don’t let your fear make you forget why you did it. You saved those trolls.”

  I pressed my lips together tightly and fought the tears that burned behind my eyelids. After Nikolas had wrestled me from the demon, the first thing I saw was Remy kneeling in a corner with his three little cousins in his arms. The gratitude in his eyes and the happy cries of the little ones should have made it all feel worthwhile. I was happy Minka and the others were home safe again and we had prevented a bloody troll rampage, but coming so close to losing myself to the demon had changed something in me. I would still give my life to protect the people I loved, but I did not think I could ever give up my mind that way again… for anyone.

  “You are stronger than the demon,” Nikolas said as if he could see into my head and read my fears. “I knew that when I met you. But hearing how you fought off the Hale witch and then last night, watching you with the werewolf, I realized you have power I can’t comprehend. You saved more than one life last night. People here are calling you a hero.”

  I shifted and stared at the ceiling, remembering how Roland had looked when I walked into that room. “Some hero,” I choked out. “Roland wouldn’t have needed healing if I hadn’t almost gotten him killed in the first place.”

  “What happened last night wasn’t your fault, Sara. We found out who was behind all this. His name is Yusri al-Hawwash, and he is a billionaire oil sheik who found out two years ago he has Alzheimer’s. He’s been searching everywhere for a cure, and he was looking for trolls long before you sold that bile. He’s a desperate man with unlimited resources.”

  “But he would have looked somewhere else if I had been more careful.”

  “That still does not make you responsible for his actions.” He moved closer. “Look at me.”

  I turned my head to meet his insistent gaze. “Yes, you have made mistakes, but you are not to blame for the greed and actions of another. Your fault lies in taking too much on yourself. You have to learn to trust people and stop trying to take on the world alone.”

  I sighed heavily. “My life was a lot less complicated a month ago. Maybe now things will start to settle down again.”

  It was Nikolas’s turn to sigh. “I wish that were true, but after what I saw last night, I think you might be in more danger than we first thought.”

  I sat up with my back against the pillows. “What do you mean? We haven’t seen any sign of vampires except those working for the sheik – which I totally don’t get by the way. And the sheik’s witch only tried to grab me to get to the trolls.”

  “Think about it, Sara. The young trolls were taken around the same time you were attacked at the rest stop, which means the sheik didn’t need you to find the trolls. So why did they come after you when they had what they wanted?”

  The implication of his words hit me just as he spoke again. “You want to know why vampires would risk helping humans kidnap trolls? What if the vampires wanted something and they made an agreement with the sheik – a trade of some kind? You for the trolls.”

  “No, the two vamps I ran into tried to kill me, not capture me.” I realized I’d said the wrong thing when his nostrils flared. “Remy and I took care of them,” I added quickly.

  “You killed a vampire?” There was disbelief in his voice.

  “With Remy’s help. He’s scary good.”

  Nikolas looked like he was about to say something but changed his mind. “Even if you are right about the vampires, there is one thing you’re overlooking. You have an incredible ability. If word of it gets out, the sheik will be coming after you, and he won’t be the only one.”

  “It won’t do him any good. I can’t heal humans,” I said, earning a dubious look. “My uncle is in a wheelchair. If I could heal humans, don’t you think he’d be the first one I’d heal?”

  “But no one else would know that,” he pointed out. “Last night was just a taste of what could happen. They will keep coming and people will get hurt. And don’t forget, we still have a Master to worry about. He could come after you just to use you against Madeline.”

  My stomach tightened. “Don’t hold back. I’m not quite paralyzed with fear yet.”

  “You need to hear these things, Sara.”

  “You’re trying to scare me, to get me to go with you,” I accused him.

  His eyes held mine. “Yes
, I am. But that doesn’t make them any less true.”

  My heart sank because he was right. This was no longer about my freedom or what I wanted. If I stayed in New Hastings, I would put everyone I cared about in real danger. I might not be able to heal the next one who got hurt. What if they came after Nate? I would never forgive myself. I didn’t want to go to the Mohiri. But for now, it looked like my only option.

  I looked away so he couldn’t see the tears threatening again. “I-I need to tell Nate, to explain it to him. It’s going to be hard for him to understand all this.” I had no idea how I was going to even start telling Nate about everything. But I couldn’t just take off.

  “We have some things to wrap up in Portland that will take a few days, and it should give you the time you need with your uncle. I know this is hard for you, but you’re doing the right thing.” He got up and carried the chair back to the corner then opened the door. “I swear to you that I will keep you safe.”

  He closed the door quietly behind him, and I slid down to bury my face in the blankets. Part of me wanted to cry out my misery, and another part wanted to scream about the unfairness of it all. I didn’t want to give up everything and everyone I knew and slink away into hiding. I wanted things to go back to the way they were.

  Pushing back the blankets, I stood and looked around for my sneakers. I slipped them on and ran my fingers through my tangled hair, wondering where I’d lost my scrunchie last night. I twisted my hair into a loose knot until I could find a hair tie then opened the door. I needed to see Roland before I did anything else.

  I knocked on the other three doors upstairs, but Roland wasn’t in any of them. Voices carried up the stairs, and I thought I heard his laugh. If he was well enough to be up, that was a good sign. I set my shoulders and descended the stairs.

  The house had cleared out considerably since last night. In the living room I found Brendan, Judith, Roland, Peter, and Francis. It wasn’t hard to figure out they were waiting for me. When I appeared, all talking stopped and everyone looked at me. Francis’s glare told me he hadn’t forgiven me for getting Roland hurt, no matter what I had done after. The others’ expressions were a little harder to read, and I stopped nervously in the doorway, not sure what to say to them.

  “Good morning, Sara. How are you feeling?” Judith asked.

  “Good… thanks.”

  She jumped up and swept me into a tight hug. “Thank you,” she whispered thickly into my ear. Sniffling, she let me go and hurried into the kitchen. I stood there feeling even more self-conscious.

  Roland patted the spot next to him. “Are you alright?”

  “I think I’m supposed to ask you that.” I studied his face to see for myself that he was okay. He looked a little paler than usual but, other than that, no signs of illness.

  His smile was tired, but his blue eyes twinkled. “That was the secret you were going to tell us? You don’t like to do anything small, do you?”

  Brendan cleared his throat. “What you did last night was… incredible. We’ve never met anyone with your ability so you can imagine we’re all very curious. Can you tell us about it? Have you always been able to do that?”

  “I found out I could heal animals when I was six.” I told them how I started out healing animals and learned later I could heal nonhumans. I tried to describe how it felt when I used the power, but it was like them trying to tell me how it felt to shift. I explained that it always made me tired and how much depended on the extent of the healing. They had a lot of questions, and I tried to answer them all.

  “So you’ve done a lot of these healings?” Brendan asked.

  “More than I can count.”

  Roland sat up straighter and stared at me with new understanding. “That time Uncle Brendan’s mare hurt her leg and everyone thought they’d have to put her down, no one could believe it when the vet said the leg was sound. That was you, wasn’t it?”

  I nodded. I would never forget that day three years ago when we showed up at the farm to find it in an uproar because one of the horses had lamed itself. I’d run straight for the barn and waited until everyone left before I fixed the fractured bone. Roland had found me asleep by the barn door and teased me about it all night.

  “There were other times too, now that I think of it,” Brendan said almost to himself. “My old Lab that got shot out in the woods, and that sickly litter of kittens the cat abandoned. I never could understand how any of those animals survived. Now that I remember it, you were here every time.”

  “How did you manage to keep this from us all this time?” Roland wanted to know. “How is that no one ever figured out what you could do?”

  I lifted my shoulders. “I had to work to hide it. You don’t know how hard it was. Remember when I started volunteering at the animal shelter and you guys couldn’t understand why I quit after a few weeks when I loved it so much? Whenever they brought in a sick dog or cat, I had to heal it. I couldn’t help myself. But then someone noticed all the animals suddenly improving. I had to leave to protect my secret. It’s bothered me ever since, because there were so many animals I could have helped.”

  Peter had been quiet since I came downstairs, and I could tell he was still pretty shaken up by last night. He looked at me with a kind of reverence that made me uncomfortable. “So the biggest thing you’ve ever healed is a horse?”

  “Yes, but that was nothing compared to a werewolf.”

  He grinned. “Well, you turned out to be a good one to have around in a fight. We’re lucky you were here last night.”

  “Lucky?” Francis snorted angrily. “If she wasn’t messing with trolls and dragging you guys into her mess, Roland wouldn’t have been hurt in the first place.”

  “Francis…” Brendan began.

  “I’m part of this pack, and I get to say my piece.” Francis looked ready to jump out of his seat at any second. I thought about the animosity that had always existed between us and knew this just added to his reasons to dislike me. The hard part was that he was right. Roland and Peter had both been hurt yesterday because of me. What if Peter hadn’t been able to heal himself? What if Roland had died on the spot or I hadn’t gotten to him in time?

  “Last night proved what I’ve been saying for years – we need to stick with our own kind and leave everyone else to their own business. Now we have crocotta coming onto our land, something they have never done before. We have Mohiri hanging around like they own the place and we’ve been dragged into a fight with vampires and goddamn witch doctors over trolls who would rather tear your heart out than look at you. And it’s all because of her.” He pointed at me, and I met his contemptuous stare quietly. “You all have always been soft on her because she’s the poor little orphan girl. But she’s not so little anymore and she’s not even human. She’s one of them for Christ’s sake, so she should be with them. Since when do we welcome Mohiri into our homes?”

  “Francis, that’s enough!” Judith admonished sharply from the doorway.

  “He’s right,” I said loudly, and everyone stared at me. “Everything he said is true – except about the trolls. Remy’s always been a good friend to me. I should have known better about the bile, and I should have said no when he asked me to use it. Just because he’s a troll doesn’t mean he understands people or how dangerous they can be.” I took in a shaky breath. “I understand if you hate me, but none of this is his fault.”

  Roland laid his hand over mine after I finished my impassioned speech. “Sara, no one here hates you. Don’t mind Francis. You know how he is.”

  Francis sneered at him. “Of course you stand up for her, Roland. You’ve had a thing for her since you met her.”

  What? I turned to Roland, and a flush crept up his neck. “Maybe back when we were younger… but not for a long time.” He gave me a sideways look. “Oh, come on. All the boys liked you when you started school with us. Pete did, too.”

  The look on Peter’s face told me he wanted to pound Roland for pulling him into this. “
Yeah, but after a while we decided that we didn’t want to fight about it.”

  I made a choked sound. Judith coughed and disappeared into the kitchen again, and I was sure I heard muffled laughter from the other room. I sank farther into the couch, wishing it would swallow me up.

  “See, that’s what I mean. You guys were always biased when it came to her. I’m not saying Sara is a bad person. But she’s not good for the pack.” Francis leaned forward in his chair. “And I’m not the only one who thinks that.”

  “It’s not your place to say that,” Brendan said sternly, and I thought I heard a growl beneath the words. “Max and I discussed this last night, and we will decide what is good for this pack, not you or anyone else.”

  “Fine,” Francis said sullenly. He stood and stomped to the door. “But if Maxwell agrees with you, why isn’t he here right now?” He slammed the door hard behind him.

  No one spoke for a long, cruel moment, during which terrible doubts assailed me. Was it true? Did Maxwell share Francis’s sentiment? Maxwell could be a hard person sometimes – almost the opposite of his brother and sister – and his gruffness often made me feel like a little kid waiting for a scolding. I understood him a little better since learning he was the leader of a werewolf pack, but it didn’t make me any less worried about his displeasure. If he was as angry as Francis implied, would he order Roland and Peter to stay away from me? As alpha his commands had to be obeyed no matter what my friends wanted. My heart squeezed painfully at the thought of losing them after everything we’d been through. My dad was gone, I’d lost Remy, and in a few days I had to leave Nate and my friends and everything I knew. I didn’t think I could survive another loss.

  Brendan let out a long, deep sigh, and my fear grew at the grim set of his jaw as he looked at me. Brendan was the kind-hearted one, the peacemaker, and they’d decided that he should be the one to tell me I was no longer welcome here. I braced myself for the blow and saying good-bye to the people who had been like a family to me.

  “Max and I are not pleased with what’s been going on here lately, especially how reckless and foolish you youngsters have been. Last night, you never should have gone off like that without alerting the pack to what was going on. Because of that, we almost lost a pack member, and that is inexcusable.” Beside me, Roland tensed and hung his head as Brendan continued. “You two are young men now and should know not to go off alone, which means something is obviously missing in your training. That will be remedied soon enough, I promise you.”

  He turned his attention back to me, and I shrank away from the disapproval in his eyes. “We made some allowances for you, considering your past and everything going on in your life lately. It’s a lot to deal with for someone your age. But you’ve shown a lack of good judgment and a reckless disregard for your safety that we never would have expected from you.”

  “I’m sorry,” was all I could say past the lump in my throat.

  “For all your mistakes you are a good person, Sara, and no one doubts your loyalty and courage. What you did here last night was nothing short of miraculous. You saved one of ours, and the pack does not forget something like that. So where does that leave us?”

  “I… don’t know.”

  Brendan’s expression did not falter. “Max thinks you three need to be separated because you encourage each other’s bad behavior.”

  “What?” Peter cried and Roland shouted, “No!” I didn’t say anything because I was not surprised. The ache in my chest grew, and cold settled in my stomach.

  Brendan held up a hand. “We talked it over, and we decided that breaking up your friendship would be cruel, but there will be some new rules if you want to keep it. To start, for the next three months, the only place you will see each other is at school. Every spare minute you boys have will go to extra training, and trust me you’ll be too tired to get into trouble. There will be no more adventures like last night. You three pull something like that again and that’s it. Understood?”

  All I could do was nod. I was so relieved that Maxwell hadn’t ordered me to stay away from the pack that I was afraid I’d start to cry if I spoke. Roland shifted like he was about to argue, and I squeezed his hand hard to stop him. This was the harshest I’d ever seen Brendan, which said a lot about how serious he was. I didn’t want to push the matter.

  Brendan was not finished. “There is one other thing. Sara, you need to tell your uncle what is going on in your life. We aren’t going to try to force you to do it, but it’s not fair to him for you to be running around putting your life and maybe his in danger and keeping him in the dark about it. He deserves better than that. You’ve been on your own for far too long without supervision. I’m not saying that Nate is a bad parent, just that he is not informed enough to guide you properly and set restrictions when needed.”

  “I’m going to tell him today when he gets home.”

  “Good.” Brendan slapped his hands against his knees and stood. “The three of you have to work to earn back the trust you lost, starting now. Maxwell is coming over soon to talk to you boys, and I promise it will not be pleasant. The Mohiri is outside waiting to give Sara a ride home.”

  Roland tightened his grip on my hand. “Already? Can’t she stay a little while longer?”

  “No, I need to go,” I said, already dreading the task ahead of me. “I should get home before Nate does.”

  Peter made a feeble attempt at a smile. “It’s only three months, right?”

  His words brought on a pang of anguish. I had to tell them I was leaving, and it hit me just how hard it was going to be to say good-bye to them. We’d stay in touch somehow, but it would never be the same as what we had here. It hurt to think of not finishing our senior year together, not sitting together at graduation or looking at colleges together.

  “I… made a decision,” I said, unable to look at them. “I’m going to stay with the Mohiri for a while.”

  “What?” Roland cried in disbelief.

  “Nikolas doesn’t think it’s over with the vampires, and I-I think he might be right.” I told them about the sheik and Nikolas’s theory that vampires were working with the humans to try to get to me. And that the sheik might come after me if he thought I could heal his disease. “No one is safe as long as I’m here.”

  “We can take care of ourselves,” Peter argued.

  “You can, but what about Nate? He’d be defenseless if they came after him to get to me. Nikolas said I’ll be safe with the Mohiri, especially if there is a Master in the picture.” I looked at each of them, my eyes pleading with them to understand. “I don’t want to go, but I don’t think there’s any other way to keep Nate safe.”

  “What about the trolls?” Roland asked hopefully. “They’re your friends, right? Won’t they help if you ask them?”

  I shook my head. “Remy says the elders know about us selling the bile and they will forbid him from seeing me. If we’re lucky, it won’t be a forever thing, but I don’t think I can count on any help there.” I hadn’t even begun to process the pain of losing Remy’s friendship. I pushed it to the back of my mind because if I had to deal with one more loss right now, I would break.

  “Damn! Even trolls get grounded,” Peter said with a whistle.

  We fell quiet for a few minutes until Roland finally said, “So, you’re going to tell Nate everything and then leave. I don’t think he’s going to handle this well.”

  I groaned. “He’s not going to take it well either way. And you know him – he won’t believe anything without proof.”

  “I could come over and shift for him,” Peter offered, and I let out a humorless laugh.

  “Yes and give him a heart attack. I think seeing a werewolf up close and personal will be too much for him, even if it is you.”

  “Hmm, you’re probably right.”

  “I’ll figure something out. Maybe I can show him an imp. Our place is full of them.”

  “Probably not a good idea to tell him he has a demon infestation,” Ro
land pointed out dryly. “Especially with you leaving.”

  This was going to be even harder than I’d thought. There was not going to be an easy way to break any of this to Nate, but I needed to show him something or he’d never believe me. “I need a way to show him proof without scaring the hell out of him.”

  “Okay, so no close encounters,” Roland thought out loud. “Maybe a picture of something… or a video.”

  “You mean like a video of an imp?” Unless you got close enough to see their very sharp teeth, they looked pretty harmless. “How will he know it’s not a fake? It has to be something he can’t refute.”

  Peter’s face lit up. “I have an idea. Give me your phone.”

 

 
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