Fur as black as midnight sprouted from Kaylie’s skin, enveloping her entire body in seconds. She bared her teeth at me, which had already grown into glistening white fangs. A furry black tail burst from the base of her spine. She fell to her hands and knees while her arms and legs reshaped themselves to let her stand on all fours.
“Gonna…kill…you!” she snarled, her voice becoming less human with every word. Her face pushed outwards on itself, taking Kaylie the girl with it and leaving a huge black wolf in her place.
“Crap,” I whispered again. Don’t panic. Panic would just get me killed even faster. I could still do this.
Kaylie growled, her hackles rising, but then stopped. She didn’t make a move to attack me, she didn’t even take a step closer to me. She just stood there, tail wagging impatiently as she waited for something.
“Well?” Tats demanded from behind Kaylie.
I glanced up at him, then snapped my eyes back on Kaylie. “Well, what?”
The Silverblood rose up inside me. YES! CHANGE! KILL HER! KILL THEM ALL!
Before I knew what I was doing, I’d started. My clothes immediately felt tight as my muscles swelled. The same power I had felt on the full moon swept through my body. My skin tingled as fur began to grow, and my teeth—
No! I yelled at myself. I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes, and pushed back the changes as hard as I could. I won’t do it!
No. Not in three years. Not now. Not ever!
With all the effort I could summon, I pushed the wolf back down inside me. My muscles deflated, my fur shrank into my skin, and I opened my eyes, not as a giant monster, but as Amber Pace. Twenty one year old girl, criminal thug, and more than a little pissed off.
“Amber!” For once, Dex actually sounded like he’d been caught completely off guard. “What are you doing?”
I clenched my fists and glared down at Kaylie. “I don’t need it. I can take her down all by myself!”
Kaylie bared her teeth and growled.
Dex came up behind me and grabbed me by the arm. “Amber, listen to me! Right now, she’s stronger and she’s faster. You can’t fight her unless—”
Too late. With a deranged howl, Kaylie charged at me. She wasn’t in this for a fair fight, just revenge, and human blood would taste just as good to her as another wolf’s.
Reacting faster than a human could have, I put my hand on Dex’s chest and pushed him backwards. Then I dove out of the way a split second before Kaylie pounced. She flew over me while I hit the floor and rolled, springing back to my feet with the agility that fighting for Hendricks had taught me. Kaylie landed just as gracefully, spinning to face me while her claws dragged across the warehouse’s concrete floor.
Okay, think! I told myself as I ran for her, not willing to let her get the drop on me again. What can you do? She has claws and teeth. You have a pair of wimpy fists.
Kaylie’s jaws opened wide, and would have sank deep into my leg, crippling me, if I hadn’t jumped over her at the last second. I hit the ground on one foot, and thrust my other leg out as hard as I could, kicking Kaylie in the side right where I knew it’d hurt the most.
“Yipe!” Kaylie barked, stumbling backwards a couple of steps. But I knew as soon as my foot hit that solid wall of muscle beneath her fur that I hadn’t even bruised her. She snarled, angrier than ever, and came at me again.
“Amber!” Dex yelled at the top of his lungs. “You have to change!”
“No!” I screamed back.
Kaylie lunged forward, rising onto her back legs to bite at my throat. I caught her by the neck with both hands, barely managing to hold her back while her sharp white teeth snapped a couple of inches away from my bare skin. With a grunt, I threw her away from me, and she landed hard on her side. She scrambled to get back to her paws, but not before I threw as savage a kick as I could manage right into her ugly dog face. She went back down with another yelp.
“Kay-Kay!” Benny Rattail yelled. He stepped forward like he was going to intervene, but Tats held him back with one heavily muscled arm. Well, to look on the bright side, at least I wasn’t fighting him. He was so huge that his wolf probably rivaled my Silverblood for size!
“This is her fight,” he said. “We stay out of it.”
Kaylie raised her head to glare at me and snarled. Blood was leaking out of her mouth, disappearing into her pitch black fur. There was hatred in her eyes the likes of which I could scarcely imagine—but now there was a touch of fear, too. Dex was right, she was stronger and faster, but I’d still managed to hurt her twice already while there still wasn’t a scratch on me. I could do this.
I took a threatening step toward her. “You shouldn’t have said that about Kimberly.”
With a growl of my own, I aimed another kick at her face. Just as my leg swung forward, though, Kaylie rolled in a very un-wolf-like way, and my foot hit nothing but open air. Cursing, I stumbled forward, the force of my kick throwing me off balance, and Kaylie took the opportunity I’d so stupidly given her. Leaping back to her paws, she darted forward while my arms were windmilling, and rammed into me from the side. It felt like being hit by a motorcycle, and half a second later my head hit the concrete floor hard enough to make lights flash in front of my eyes.
And in the middle of those lights was a big, black shadow. I gasped as Kaylie landed on top of me, knocking the air out of my lungs. Her teeth, startlingly white against her fur, shot toward me, ready to tear my throat out once and for all. I reflexively raised my hand to stop her—and she bit down on it instead.
A scream tore from my throat as those sharp canine teeth sank into my soft skin, not stopping until they hit the bone. Kaylie let go, her real target still untouched, and even in my agony I recognized my chance. Thrusting both of my legs up, I kicked Kaylie right in her stomach, throwing her into the air. She crashed down a couple feet away, and we both hurried to get to our feet.
My hand…oh my God, it hurt! It wasn’t nearly as bad as Hendricks’ black lightning, but unlike his magic, this didn’t go away after a few seconds. It stayed there, like I’d taken a drill to my arm, stealing my focus when I needed it most. I needed to end this fast, or else…
Kaylie came at me again, and like a bullfighter I spun to the side so that she sped past me. My brain kicked into high gear. I needed a weakness I could exploit, and I needed it now. She already knew my weakness: literally any part of me she could sink her teeth into. But what could I possibly do to a supernatural, super strong, super fast wolf with the brains and cunning of a human being?
With my blood dripping on the floor, I charged at Kaylie before she could turn around, and rammed into her from the side as hard as I could. Again, it felt like I was slamming myself against a brick wall, but this time the wall stumbled a little under my attack. Kaylie was knocked onto her side, and I took advantage of that by raising my foot and stomping on her face. I heard a satisfying crunch beneath me, and Kaylie whimpered like the little kicked puppy she was. I raised it again, brought it down—
And she bit my ankle.
I screamed as my leg suddenly gave out beneath me, making me collapse on the floor. But this time, Kaylie didn’t let go. Getting back to her feet with my leg still in her mouth, she gave me a hate-filled look, and then jerked her head to the side. I grunted in pain as I was pulled across the floor and sent sliding across the warehouse before I hit the wall on the far side. Stars danced in front of my eyes. I struggled to get up—my leg didn’t want to support my weight anymore—but just as I got to my hands and knees Kaylie was there again. She came from behind me, jumping up onto my back. Her claws sliced through my clothes and into my skin, and I went rigid when I felt the first pinpricks of her teeth closing in on my throat.
“No!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, and threw myself backwards, taking Kaylie with me. I landed on my back, on top of her, but that barely fazed her. Kicking with all four paws, she managed to push me off of her while slicing a dozen more wounds into my back and sides. So much pain was coursing through me now that I couldn’t see straight. Blood dripped down into my eye, and I realized I’d cracked my head open. Still with only a couple of minor injuries, Kaylie came stalked around so she could look me in the eyes.
“Amber,” Dex yelled frantically. “You have to change!”
“I- I can’t,” I whispered. “I can’t…control it.”
I struggled to get to my feet, but my hands were slick with my own blood and I slid back down to the floor. “I don’t want…to hurt people.”
Kaylie growled, taking a step closer. She couldn’t speak, but I could still tell exactly what she was thinking. I’d put up a pitiful fight. This was why her brother was dead. If I’d been stronger, I could have stopped D.K. from killing him. But I hadn’t been able to save Tyler, and now I couldn’t save myself.
WEAK! PATHETIC! PREY!
Kaylie bared her teeth for the last time…
Maybe it’s better like this, I thought to myself. If I die now…
She took a step closer…
…then I won’t have to worry about killing anyone ever again. And…
NO! NO DIE!
…Hendricks and Majestic will never be able to hurt me.
A weird sense of calm came over me with that thought. Life sucked. I had no future, no goals, no dreams. I was just surviving until I inevitably died, one way or another. Why shouldn’t that happen today? Why keep living when I had nothing to live for? Almost unconsciously, I raised my head just a little bit to give her easier access to my throat. I’d fought as hard as I could. But it hadn’t been—
Those words rang through my head so loudly that they actually hurt my ears. And then, without meaning to, I threw myself backwards. Kaylie’s jaws snapped shut barely an inch from my face.
I landed on my back and scrambled backwards as fast as I could—except that I wasn’t doing that. It was like watching somebody else through their own eyes. My hands and feet were moving. I could feel the cold, hard concrete beneath me, and the white hot pain of my injuries.
But I wasn’t the one doing any of it.
NOT DIE! my Silverblood screamed inside my head. WE LIVE! WE COME BACK! WE WIN! WE KILLLLL!
I gasped in astonishment. My wolf was actually controlling me! This had never happened before. I could take control of the wolf when I changed, but for the wolf to take control of me in human form…it almost made me forget that I was about to die here.
NO! SURVIVE! it roared at me. WEAK, PATHETIC PREY! DESERVES TO DIE! BUT NOT TAKING ME!
I got to my feet, and my head turned on its own to see a window twenty feet away from me.
“Amber?” Dex asked, sounding just as confused as I felt.
I—rather, my wolf—looked at him, but didn’t say anything. We just made a break for the window. Kaylie snarled as she realized what we were planning to do. Our injured ankle slowed us down a little, but the wolf proved better at ignoring the pain than I was. It didn’t turn to look, but I could feel Kaylie coming up on us from behind, gaining on us. This time she wouldn’t let us get away.
But then we jumped, raised our arms to cover our face, and crashed through the window. Shards of glass as sharp as knives sliced through our skin, but we landed on our feet and ran into the street. Cars screeched to a halt, honking, as we ran past them. Some of the drivers leaned out their windows and yelled at us. We ignored them. Only when we were on the other side of the street did we finally stop, breathing heavily, and turn to look.
Kaylie was standing there, her paws up on the windowsill so she could see. Even from here, I could feel that hatred radiating from her gaze. But she didn’t make a move to follow. Not while I was out in the open, not when she was in wolf form. Would she change back and come after me? Would her pack be willing to murder somebody in broad daylight? I didn’t know, and my wolf didn’t want to find out. We turned tail and dashed into an alleyway, breaking Kaylie’s line of sight while leaving a trail of blood behind us.
All I could do was watch. Watch while the wolf, the monster I’d tried so hard to keep buried, carried me further into the unfamiliar city. And while I watched, a thought occurred to me that made my anger burn even hotter than Kaylie had when she’d brought up Kimberly.
The wolf had just saved my life.
It’s never going to let me live this down, I thought with a groan.