I backed up a step and bumped into a wall.
“What the hell?” Hunter said. “Who are those guys?”
I followed his gaze to the periphery of the firelight to find shadowy figures standing there with their arms raised as they spouted their fucked-up chant.
The hooded fuckers.
They were here.
They were doing this.
The mouths climbed off their quarries, unhinged their jaws to release the Loups they’d been about to snack on, and inch by inch, jerkily, creepily, they moved toward me. But they were getting faster by the second, almost as if they were breaking away from whatever spell had the Loup in its grasp.
I glanced at Hunter. “How are you not frozen like the rest?”
“I have no fucking idea, but it’s lucky for you I’m not.”
“With good cause.”
He fell into a defensive crouch, his body morphing so his arms sprouted hair, and his hands changed to claws. He was selectively shifting. Was that even a thing?
He looked at me with golden eyes. The golden eyes of the wolf in my dream. Mother fucker. The dream had been a memory.
No time right now.
“Let’s take them out before they speed up any more.” I launched myself toward the mouths, slicing and decapitating. One. Two. Three, down. Hunter eviscerated two, and then the mouths broke free of the spell completely and attacked in force.
I stopped thinking and allowed the scythe to do its work. Slicing and stabbing and keeping the horde at bay, but there were so many. Too many. Were there more than before? They ignored Hunter and came for me.
Hunter roared, slashing and leaping from mouth to mouth as he tugged out their hearts or their intestines, and maybe if the numbers had held, we’d have prevailed, but the numbers seemed to multiply. Mouths just appeared as if summoned out of thin air. Every time we killed one, two rose in its place.
We wove between the stationary Loup, fighting a war with only two men. I was surrounded, spinning with my blade out to keep the mouths at bay, but they leaped past my defenses, pushing their comrades into the blade to distract me and get close. Teeth ripped into my shoulder. My scream cut through the chittering. Claws sliced into my abdomen, and fire raced across my skin.
Hunter’s roar filled my head, and then he was in front of me, swiping at the mouths to keep them off me. They attacked, tearing at him to get to me. Blood spattered my face. His blood. The Loup inside me lost her shit. My primal roar vibrated the air and hit the mouths like a physical blow, throwing them off us, sending them flying through the air. Hunter hit the ground, clawed-up and bloody. He swayed on his knees; his mouth pulled in a snarl as he clutched his abdomen.
Darkness shoved its claws into my brain.
Need time to heal.
I stood over him, scythe glowing so bright it rivaled the sun and filled my body with power. My teeth were too big for my mouth, vision too bright and too sharp. My hands were claws. Rage filled every atom of my being, and then the scythe winked out and a red haze stole my vision.
Flesh tore, mine and theirs. Blood spilled. Mine and theirs. Bones broke, and screams filled my head like a beautiful symphony. The red haze carried me. The fury fueled me. White-hot adrenaline. Me and my claws.
And then there was silence.
Deep, bone-aching silence. Limbs littered the ground. Blood coated my skin. I tasted it on my lips—bitter and alien.
I’d protected. I’d saved what was mine.
“Seraphina?” The voice was a vibration that pierced my soul.
I turned to face Hunter. He was alive. Standing. My gaze dropped to his stomach, to the torn shirt and the smooth, blood-coated, exposed flesh.
He was healed.
“Seraphina.” He reached out to me. “You can come back now. You can come back to me.”
The dark fury receded. My vision shifted, no longer heightened, and then my body began to shake so hard my knees buckled.
Hunter caught me and swung me into his arms.
I hated him. He was mine, and I hated him.
As the Loup around us broke from their paralysis, I curled into him and allowed him to put me back together.
I check my comm for what feels like the hundredth time. It has to be over now. I feel sick. My stomach is in knots.
“We should be there.”
“You know we can’t,” Conah says.
“Azazel should be here.”
“He’s doing his part to protect her.”
Another minute ticks by as I pace, wings itching to take flight. Grayson made it clear we’d need to be at least a quarter of a mile away and upwind to avoid the Loup scenting us. They were protective of this event, about what they considered their territory, and demons were not welcome.
The culling should have started an hour ago. An hour should be enough, right?
“Fuck this,” Conah snaps. “I’m going to take a peek.”
“Take me with you.”
Conah grabs my hand, and then the world shifts. We materialize at the foot of a dirt track wide enough to take a car. Tire tracks press into the mud.
“They went this way,” Conah says.
“Can we get closer?”
The world tilts again, and this time, we materialize by a couple of cars.
“Grayson’s car,” Conah says.
There is a field off the road, and far in the distance is the flicker of flame. The culling. Fee is there, fighting for her life. Impotence curdles my blood. The laws we live by, the divide, are like a chasm holding me back. She isn’t mine. She isn’t theirs. She’s in between, and until this plays out, she won’t be free to choose, and I won’t be free to…To what?
Fuck. I’m getting ahead of myself. Crazy, impossible thoughts and needs filling my head.
Howls light up the night. Too many howls.
I cant my head, close my eyes, and focus. Roars and growls and another sound. A low-grade hum that raises gooseflesh on my arms.
My eyes snap open. Conah grabs my hand, and we splinter.
We materialize outside the circle of firelight, and for a moment, I’m not sure what I’m seeing. Loup hang motionless in the air, frozen in various poses of aggression, snarls and claws ready to do damage, and in the midst of it all, a whirlwind of silver-blonde hair and claws.
“Fee!” I take a step and am thrown back by an invisible force.
“It’s magic.” Conah hauls me to my feet, his gaze scanning the pockets of darkness around us. “It has to be the hooded figures. They have to be doing this. We have to stop them.”
I’m up and running.
We stick to the outer edges of the ring of light, and then I spot them—five, no, six fuckers, hoods up, arms up as they chant.
Conah gets there first. Materializing behind one of the figures, he grabs its head and twists. The figure crumples to the ground. The air crackles, and then the hooded figures vanish.
I turn back to the fire, my gaze searching for Fee to find her standing in the midst of carnage, chest heaving. I spot the bastard, Hunter, come up behind her, and my thighs bunch, ready to launch myself at him, but she falls against him and allows him to sweep her into his arms. My heart aches as she curls against him.
“Mal!” Conah calls out. “The bastard’s alive.”
I look over my shoulder to find Conah hauling the hooded figure whose neck he’d snapped onto his shoulder. “I need to get him into the cage before he wakes up.” He looks torn, his gaze flitting past me to Hunter’s retreating back.
The cage is etched in celestial runes to stop energy escaping it. Whatever this hooded figure is, he’ll be trapped once inside.
“Do it. I’ll get Fee. I’ll bring her home.”
Conah winks out, and with a curse, I storm toward the black and silver tent Hunter has disappeared into.
The fury was gone, leaving only ice and tremors. My body wasn’t my own. My hands were sticky and red. My jaw ached. My head throbbed.
“She half shifted?” Eldrick said.
“Mated pairs can access each other’s abilities,” Hunter replied. “You need to let me finish it.”
“Finish what?” Mal said.
Mal was here. He was here.
“She’s my mate,” Hunter said.
“Like hell she is,” Mal snapped back.
A growl. A curse.
“Time to pull it together, Fee.” Cora’s voice was a soothing balm. Her hand stroked my face. “Only you get to decide what happens to you, babe. Fuck these guys.”
I took a shuddering breath, fighting the shock that had a grip on my body, and raised my head to meet their eyes. Eldrick first, who was watching me with deep concern; Hunter next, who looked like he wanted to hurt someone; Grayson, whose brow was furrowed in a frown; and Mal, who stood, fists clenched, jaw tight, a picture of barely restrained fury.
“Fee,” Eldrick said. “Malachi tells me this is the work of the hooded figures that framed you for murder.”
I nodded. “They seem to want me dead.”
“Then we’ll protect you,” Hunter growled.
“Like you did tonight?” Mal sneered. “From what I saw, Fee did a damn good job of protecting herself.”
“He’s right,” Grayson said. “She isn’t safe in Necro right now. Those creatures have attacked her twice in the space of two weeks.”
“We’ll be ready next time,” Hunter said. “Next time, they won’t get out alive.”
“Are you even listening to yourself?” Grayson asked incredulously. “This isn’t about what you want. This is about her fucking life.”
“I can protect my own, and next time—"
“There won’t be a next time,” Mal snapped. “We have one of the fuckers in custody, and we will deal with it the demon way. We will protect our own. Fee is a Dominus, a demon, and she’s safest in the Underealm.”
They had a hooded figure. The haze that gripped me faded. “You caught one?”