Please note that there was a brief mini-interlude focusing on Avalon and Gaia posted yesterday. If you haven’t seen that yet, you may want to click the Previous Chapter button.
Twelve werewolves might not have seemed like a lot when compared to the fact that this place was filled with Alters of every shape and size. After all, Alters weren’t like humans. Most of them had some kind of enhanced ability or power that, ostensibly, allowed them to defend themselves from threats.
Unfortunately, most of the Alters in the mall were civilians. They weren’t trained or accustomed to fighting. They did have powers, but the majority had seldom if ever used them in an open battle. That’s why they were here, because they didn’t want to fight. They were supposed to be safe in this place. And they had been, until I came. Or rather, until Pace and her band of murder-wolves chased me in here.
The werewolves, by contrast, were a cohesive combat unit. They had clearly trained extensively and knew exactly what they were doing. Each moved with purpose, following what was obviously an actual plan. They were ready (and a little too willing) to kill anything that got in the way of their objective.
So basically, the wolves were an elite commando unit while most of the Alters in the mall barely counted as armed security guards with an afternoon of training and some kind of firearms certificate.
There were, however, legitimate threats to the werewolves even in this place. One of whom was currently smashing one of the invaders’ hairy faces repeatedly into the wall until it was little more than bloody mush while simultaneously holding another of the wolves pinned against the ground by impaling him through the back with the jagged end of the broken telephone pole that served as his club.
“Nyet!” Buddy lectured, giving the one in his hand another hard slam into the wall face-first (what was left of his face anyway) “No coming in srough dze roof! Alvays use dze provided entrances!”
Unfortunately, Buddy couldn’t be everywhere at once. There were still others that were good in a fight (such as Quing), but they were outnumbered, and the werewolves were rapidly spreading through the mall. People were screaming, and it looked like the invaders were trying to do as much damage as possible as quickly as they could. Which was obviously meant to spread that chaos even further.
Asenath was dealing with another of the werewolves. He was an enormous figure (as far as humanoids went), towering over the other girl by a good three feet in his half-wolf form. And despite his size, the damn thing was also wicked fast. Almost as fast as Asenath herself. The two of them crashed through one of the glass window displays of a nearby store, and all I could do was hope Senny would be okay.
Because Shiori and I had our own problems. Namely: Pace. The werewolf-heretic was stalking toward us almost leisurely considering what was going on in all around the mall. Her smirk hadn’t wavered. “Here girls,” she cooed while quirking a finger. “If you do what you’re told, I’ll give you a treat. And if you don’t… well, I’ll still give you a treat.” She leaned forward, stage-whispering, “The treat is both of you screaming in agony. It’s really a treat for me, but I thought you might both be generous people.”
My mouth opened to say something, but the next thing I knew, the girl was right in front of me. She moved so fast her motion was a blur, like Asenath. Her fist hit me in the chest hard enough to send me flying backwards. The air rushed out of me as I hit the ground and skidded before catching myself.
Not long ago, that would have left me on the floor for at least a few seconds as I recovered from the harsh punch. But now, I drew my legs back and did a quick kip up to get back to my feet, staff raised.
Shiori was in the midst of blocking two of Pace’s lightning-quick punches. Then an unexpected kick took her in the leg, and I saw the Asian girl stumble before turning it into a roll that carried her under Pace’s follow-up swing. The crazy bitch was already spinning to grab her, but Shiori planted a hand to stop her roll, using that to lift her body up and kick out so that one of her feet slammed into Pace’s face.
I wanted to run back that way instantly. But I knew even more bad things could happen to this place if I didn’t do something else first. If the security enchantments that Wyatt had provided went off, he could call a bunch of Heretics into this place without knowing what he was sending them into. I couldn’t let that happen, so my hand grabbed for the little button that he had provided before I left the school. Rubbing my thumb over the thing to activate it, I muttered, “In trouble, but do not send Heretics that don’t know about everything. Repeat, do not send anyone that doesn’t already know everything. Pace and some of the werewolves are here starting shit, but we have innocent Alters stuck in the crossfire.”
Hoping that message would be enough to convince Wyatt not to alert everyone and their dog to descend onto this place (which would obviously raise a hell of a lot of questions I couldn’t answer), I kicked myself into gear again and ran to where Pace and Shiori were still fighting. Pace obviously had the edge in several ways. For every hit that Shiori landed, the crazy werewolf-heretic landed two or three. But I had the feeling that Pace hadn’t expected the other girl to be able to keep up with her at all.
As I approached, she looked over her shoulder at me while simultaneously catching Shiori’s fist. “Oooh,” she purred. “Two for one.” Then she shoved the other girl away from her before spinning to face me. Her foot came up and around to kick my staff aside, and I saw the gleam of excitement in her eyes. “You wanna make me bleed? You wanna take my toy?” Her hand gestured to the choker around her neck. “Come take it then,” she snarled gleefully. “Come break my bones and rip my throat.”
My eyes flicked over her shoulder to check on Shiori. The other girl was standing there at the ready position, having taken the time to produce her disc weapons. She gave me a quick nod of assurance.
“Why’d you come here, Pace?” I demanded while giving my staff a slow spin as I charged it up. “What the hell do you want? These people didn’t do anything to you. Hell, you’re part Alter yourself, so you know they’re not all evil. But you bring a pack of werewolves in here for… for what? What’s the point?”
“The point?” Pace echoed, sounding amused by the question even as she lazily stretched. “Well, you did kill Valentine, naughty girl. I mean, I don’t really care. It’s a fake holiday made up by the greeting card companies anyway. Also, he was pretty rude. But you really ticked off the other big bad wolfies.”
I shook my head at that while trying to ignore the sound of fighting going on in the background. Forcing myself to focus, I retorted, “Bullshit. That may be why you could talk the pack into this, but it’s not why you’re here. You don’t care about the one I killed. Not to mention that if you don’t care, Doxer definitely doesn’t. Does he even know you’re a wolf? You’re here for something else, aren’t you?”
“Eh,” the psychopath gave a dismissive shrug. “Two birds, one stone. They get revenge for Easter—ahh–” She rolled her eyes. “Wrong holiday. They get revenge for Valentine, and me? I get to hurt you. Trice’ll like that.” Eyes narrowing pointedly, the girl added, “Especially right after your little moment.”
Little moment? I blinked once before my eyes widened. Wait, did she mean… was she talking about my… my kiss with Avalon? How could they know about that already? How could they know about it at all? Fuck, just how good was their spy? I thought no one saw that, and Avalon wasn’t the type to go blabbing about it. So how the hell did Pace (and presumably Trice and Doxer as well) know about it?
Shiori looked confused, her gaze blinking up at me with a slight frown of uncertainty. And that was the opening that Pace needed. In a motion so fast that I barely registered her movement, the girl spun to kick Shiori in the stomach. At the same time, she thrust her hand out toward me. I had a brief glimpse of the girl’s arm turning white and hard, as if a bony exoskeleton had covered it before a sudden pain abruptly flared up in my shoulder. An eight inch long shard of bone like a big dart was sticking out, while blood leaked from the wound. It hurt, but Pace’s mocking laughter was probably even worse.
It was laughter that was abruptly cut off as what looked like a bolt of lightning slammed into her. Pace’s giggles turned to a cry, and the crazy bitch was sent flying away from me, hitting the floor and rolling.
It was Shiori. The girl’s mouth was still open from the bolt of lightning breath that she had hurled at Pace, and she took two quick steps to me while panting a bit. “Can’t… do that… again for a few minutes,” she admitted quietly once her movement brought her to my side. “Have to recharge.”
Utter turmoil still filled the mall. Screams reached me now and then, even as I tried to tune them out for the time being. I had to focus. Had to deal with Pace, then the rest of the pack would probably take off. She was the one leading this particular raid, which meant we had to put her down before anything else.
Not to mention the fact that the crazy bitch still had the necklace that I had promised to find for Roxa.
Nodding to Shiori, I reached up to grab the bone dart, yanking it out of my shoulder before tossing the thing aside. Rolling my arm, I grimaced while trying to ignore the pain. The Peridle healing would take care of it. I muttered, “Sent Wyatt a message, told him not to bring the whole cavalry. Not here.”
Unfortunately, it also meant that he probably couldn’t easily just go gallivanting off to our rescue, since he wouldn’t be able to tell the Pathmaker people why he needed to go. Hopefully Gaia would be able to do something about that in a way that didn’t draw too much attention, but I knew that even she had to be careful. Especially with Ruthers keeping an eye on what was going on through his little minions.
All of which meant we were on our own for at least the next few minutes. We had to deal with Pace.
Meanwhile, the girl herself had gotten back to her feet. She was staring daggers at the two of us while cracking her knuckles. “Bad little presents,” she muttered with obvious annoyance. I could see scorch marks on her clothing from the lightning that Shiori had hit her with. “Mummy’s gonna spank you.”
“You okay?” Shiori asked quietly without taking her eyes off of Pace. Her discs spun in her hands.
Nodding, I rubbed my wounded shoulder with my free hand before focusing. “I’ll be fine. It’s not bad.”
“Good.” The dhampyr took a step toward our opponent. “Then let’s go get Roxa’s necklace for her.”
Obviously hearing that, Pace’s smirk grew. The Hispanic girl gave a sharp shake of her head, sending the long half of her obnoxiously green hair flying. “You want my toy for baby-wolf?” she all-but purred at us before reaching behind her back to tug out a pair of what looked like sickles with chains attached to the bottom of the handle. At the end of the chain there was a heavy iron ball.
Thanks to Katarin’s class, I knew what they were called. Kusarigama. They were a Japanese weapon. The general point was to wrap the chain with the weighted ball around an enemy and then use that to get close and hit with the kama, or sickle. One of the Heretic-born first year students that I hadn’t spent enough time around to know very well used one. But Pace was using two at the same time, and I had no idea what hers were capable of. Fuck, this must be what it felt like for Alters to fight Heretics, never knowing what kind of powers they were going to pull out or what their insane weapons could do.
Snapping the chains with the balls out testingly, Pace cracked her neck. “Then come take it, Presents.”
Pointing my staff at an angle behind me, I used part of the charge to blow myself forward, straight at the girl. Nearing her, I brought the staff up and around, slamming it into the floor. The enhanced strength meant I could stop myself like that without snapping my arms. As the end of the staff planted into the floor, one of Pace’s chains wrapped around it. But I used the momentum to swing my body up and around in a kick that slammed into her arm, knocking her off-balance so the chain released.
Still spinning from the full kick, I dropped down and swing the staff low at her legs with both hands. Pace, however, just flipped over it, landing beside me with a cackle of amusement. One of her kamas swung for my shoulder, only to be deflected as one of Shiori’s discs came flying in to ricochet off it. The impact knocked Pace’s arm back, but she used the motion to swing herself into a full butterfly kick high in the air, knocking the second disc out of the way even as one of her chains flew down at me.
Before the chain could hit me, I brought the staff up. As the chain wrapped around it, I suddenly felt my weapon grow incredibly cold almost immediately. A layer of ice had already formed around it by the time I quickly hit the button to send a kinetic blast out. The blast shattered the ice, and I was able to yank the weapon back. But it had been a very close thing. Another second or two and the staff would’ve frozen solid. Okay, so don’t let the chains wrap around the weapon. Or myself. Got it.
Pace was still right on top of me. She came in hard, one of her kama blades swinging up at my midsection. Charging the staff again, I shoved myself up and caught the blade with it before pivoting to smack the other kama out of the way with the other end. My foot went up to kick the girl, but she twisted aside and inward, driving an elbow toward my face that I barely turned my head away from.
Feeling Shiori’s arrival, I turned abruptly and stooped. The other girl took a quick leap, using my back as a spring-board to fling herself up and into the air before she turned over to throw both of her discs down onto either side of Pace. A line of electricity connected each disc, catching her in the middle. And while she was jerking backward with a cry, I brought the staff up and around, triggering some of the stored energy into a blast just as the staff itself took her right in the face. The blow spun her around so that her back was to me, and I flung myself into a full spinning hook kick that slammed into the girl’s back. Just before my foot landed, Pace’s body was covered in that bone-armor once more. It didn’t hurt my foot, the strength I had inherited made sure of that. But the armor was also good enough that Pace wasn’t hurt nearly as much as she should have been.
Shiori summoned her discs back and went straight forward, holding the discs in her hands to deflect both of the kama blades as Pace swung them at her. The armored werewolf-heretic lashed out with a sudden kick that made Shiori stumble. But before she could follow up, I came at her with a wide swing to catch the girl’s attention. She spun toward me, catching the staff with one of her blades while sending the chain of the second one at my face. I threw myself into a backward roll, using a bit of charge from my staff to send myself further away from her chain.
Rolling to a stop along the floor, I tugged at the ends of my staff even as I came up into a kneeling position. In one move, I pulled my weapon into its bow-configuration and tugged the energy-arrow into place. Sighting in, I released the arrow before Pace could realize that my being away from her didn’t make me less of a threat anymore.
Sure enough, she was focused on Shiori, waiting for me to get back up. The arrow caught the chain of one of her kusarigama, tearing it from her grasp before sending it flying away down the mall corridor.
Spinning toward me with her remaining weapon, she spat, “Technical foul!” Literally. A glob of greenish ooze launched itself from her mouth with the words, and I flung myself sideways to avoid it. The stuff landed on the floor where I had been, immediately melting a hole into the floor.
Before she could follow up with that, Shiori was on her. The crazy girl had to spin to block one of the flying discs, ducking the second one.
“You think that’s bad?” I asked while using the distraction to push myself up and set my weapon back into staff mode as I ran back to her. “You should see the rest of my tricks.”
With that, I brought the staff up and around while triggering the portals on the ends. At a pull from my power, sand erupted from each end of the staff. A quick spin filled the small area around us with the stuff, creating a thick, obscuring cloud. But I could sense everything Pace had on her, which meant I could sense her.
She was trying to say something, but I immediately shoved some of the sand into her open mouth, sending as much of it as I could down to choke her. I focused it into her eyes and nose, flooding her face with more and more sand while clouds of it continued to spin out around us.
Even then, Pace fought like a wildcat. Her foot came up and around so fast I could barely react to it even though I sensed the movement. Jerking my face out of the way, I still took the kick along the side of the head hard enough to briefly daze me.
But Shiori was there as well. Sensing the other girl catching Pace’s remaining weapon before she could follow up on me, I called out, “Sand!”
It wouldn’t mean anything to Pace, since there was already sand all around us. But Shiori knew what I meant. Instantly, I felt the girl use her power to shift her body entirely into sand. As far as Pace knew, she had just abruptly disappeared.
Taking a quick step back, I waved a hand to send all of the sand into the air above us while keeping my staff up. “I don’t suppose you’ve had enough yet?”
She stood there, covered by her bone armor as she looked one way, then the other, obviously warily watching for Shiori. “Enough?” Her laugh filled the air. “I’m famished. Yum, yum, yum. So hungry for more. I’ll eat you right up. Just like a big… bad… wolf.”
Her tone turned mockingly sweet then. “What’sa matter, huh? Did your friend run away scared? I’ll keep you nice and warm until she gets back.”
“Two problems with that,” I informed her. “One, you’re too cold to keep anyone warm.”
“My wounded heart,” she retorted airily, still watching warily for Shiori. “But you said two problems.”
Nodding, I took a breath. “And two, Shiori didn’t go anywhere.”
As I said those words, the Asian girl herself reformed directly in the middle of the cloud of sand that I had held up in the air above us. Pace instantly sensed her and jerked backward, but it was too late. Shiori had finished recharging. Her mouth opened, and another bolt of lightning erupted from it. The bolt slammed into Pace, taking the girl full on from above.
At the exact same time, I had already launched myself forward with a blast from my staff. Whipping it around, I used the last of the stored energy in a blow directly into the already-reeling girl’s bone-armored face. The bone shattered under the impact and she was flung away with a cry, skidding along the floor before hitting the wall. She lay there, mostly still while groaning quietly.
It wouldn’t keep her down for long, I knew. Not with werewolf healing and whatever other powers she had that would get her back on her feet. We had to follow up.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to. Even as Shiori landed on the floor and I took a step that way, the sound of something moving incredibly quickly reached my ears. I barely had a chance to register what it was before the thing slammed into my side. The staff fell from my hands, and there was a heavy weight on my chest as I fell onto my back.
A werewolf perched there in full wolf form, growling hatefully at me with his front paws pinning my shoulders down. The thing, even as a full wolf, was huge, and its teeth were right at my throat. Even with my strength, I didn’t have the leverage to throw the thing off me before it could bite.
“Flick!” Shiori shouted, spinning my way only to go still as the wolf growled menacingly and put its open mouth nearer to my throat.
“Awww.” Pace had picked herself up, breathing hard as she dusted herself off. “So close, but now we’re still taking the blonde present. Wave goodbye. Say bye bye, bye bye!”
“Bye,” I started while snapping my fingers once, then a second time. As my hand moved back into the shape of a grip, the watch on my wrist popped open, and the silver knife from my mother flew out of the contraption that Columbus had made. It leapt into my hand, and I slammed the blade into the paw of the wolf that was pinning my shoulder down.
The wolf gave a deafening noise that was half-scream and half-howl. Its paw lifted off me, and I twisted free. Coming to my knees, I shoved the silver knife into the wolf’s throat, dragging it along to cut as much as I could before driving the blade up into his brain. The golden aura sprang up around me, and the orgasmic feeling rushed through my body.