I stumbled into my room, clothes and hair smelling like smoke. By “room,” I really mean a small, isolated chamber in the mine that Hendricks never used. It had a door—I’d stolen it right off some poor sap’s house—but it didn’t latch so I had to padlock it shut while I was in there. A moldy old mattress lay on the floor behind me, and I flopped down onto it, too tired to notice the smell for once. I had found it in a dumpster while on a mission. It was easily the nicest thing I owned.
Was this my life now, I wondered for the millionth time? The thought made me want to throw myself in front of the nearest train. A lifetime of stealing and killing for Hendricks, looking over my shoulder for Majestic’s goons, afraid of being skinned alive if I messed up. I tried telling myself that things would get better, that this was just a temporary setback, but I was finding that harder and harder to believe. If I was going somewhere, wouldn’t I be there already? The fact that I was still here three years later meant I probably wasn’t going anywhere.
This was hell. My only consolation was that it was probably a slightly better hell than what Majestic had in store for me.
I closed my eyes, trying to go to sleep. I really was exhausted. Not from the fight, or even the transformation, but because of the moonlight. Werewolves like me need moonlight to survive as much as we need food and water. I always made sure I kept myself…what’s the word? Not hydrated. Lunadrated? I made sure to keep enough moonlight in my system to survive without going out under the full moon. But having my entire body flooded with the stuff had been like the world’s biggest caffeine high. It’s impossible to understand unless you’ve felt it, but the moonlight had made me feel really, truly alive for the first time in three years.
Now it was gone. Like the world’s biggest caffeine crash.
But Hendricks wanted me to go back up and find his stupid glove tomorrow, which meant I needed as much sleep as I could get. It wouldn’t come, though. As tired as I was, my brain was still doing backflips over everything it had gone through tonight. I knew better than to count sheep. That would just make me hungry. I considered—
I sat up at the familiar voice coming from outside my door. I considered telling him to leave me alone, but…dang it, I’d had a rough night. I needed a friendly conversation.
Is that what he is? I wondered, getting up and unlocking the door. A friend?
No matter whose fault this all was—Hendricks’ or Majestic’s—that made it partly his fault either way. My pessimistic side wanted to hate him for that. But he was nice to me, pretty much the only person I could say that about. I couldn’t afford to throw away friends, even if their “friendship” held up under pressure like wet toilet paper.
I opened the door to greet the shaggy blonde wizard on the other side.
“Hey, Sugarsnout!” Dex said with a carefree grin.
I needed his visits, no matter how much I told myself I didn’t. I needed his jokes, I needed his lighthearted jabs, I needed the way he lounged everywhere, even in a demon’s underground lair.
But he didn’t need to know that.
“What do you want?” I asked, trying to sound uninterested.
“A jumbo slurpee from this gas station I went to once in Colorado,” he said without hesitation.
I tried to scowl at him, but couldn’t. Instead, I smiled—God, it felt good to do that now and then—and stepped aside to let him in.
“Can’t say I’m surprised,” I said as he transitioned from leaning against my doorframe to leaning against my bedroom wall. “You can choose from anything in the world, and you choose a freaking slurpee.”
He pointed at me. “Hey, you’ve never had one of their slurpees! They have them in flavors you couldn’t even imagine.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Even bacon flavor.”
I stopped rolling them.
“So,” he said, chuckling, “looks like you managed to piss the boss off again.”
“It’s not my fault!” I moaned, falling onto my bed again. “He’s the one who sent me on a mission fifteen minutes before the moon came up!”
“Ah.” He nodded. “He’s still trying to get you to change, then?”
“What do you think? The fact that I’m a Silverblood makes me the most valuable things he owns, but it doesn’t do him much good if I never change.”
“That would piss him off, yeah.”
“That’s why I do it.”
That was a lie. I had my own reasons for never wanting to transform again. But hacking off my boss was a nice bonus, I have to admit.
“But that’s not why he’s mad,” I told him. “I was in such a hurry to get back before I changed that I…” I cringed. “You know, forgot the thing he sent me to get.”
Dex laughed at that. I took off my shoe and threw it at him.
“It’s not funny!” I yelled. “He almost fried me because of it!”
The grin vanished from his face in an instant, and he actually peeled himself from my wall to take a step closer.
“He did what?” he asked, horrified. “Are you hurt?”
I hugged myself. “Nothing permanent. Like I said, he wouldn’t damage his most valuable asset.”
To my surprise, Dex didn’t respond right away. Dex was a lot of things, but quiet wasn’t one of them. If there was a witty remark to be made, it was a guarantee that he would ignore it and say the stupidest thing imaginable instead.
“So,” I said when the silence stretched for more than a minute, “how are they treating you at work?”
“Just what was it you left up there?” he asked.
I blinked. “Uh, I don’t know. Some stupid metal glove with red writing all over it.”
Dex’s mouth fell open. “The Gauntlet of Malleus? I would say no wonder, but I’m not about to excuse what he did to you.”
I sat up. “What is it?”
“A weapon made a long time ago. It—”
“Let me guess. It lets you punch things really hard.”
He shrugged. “Kind of, but not really. It takes your anger and turns it into raw power. Feeds off of it, kind of. The angrier you are, the harder it hits. I’m almost afraid to think what Hendricks could do with it.”
That made me shiver. Hendricks was, as far I knew, unkillable. I’d also seen him throw semi-trucks around like Hotwheels. That guy had an inhuman amount of anger in him.
“Are we talking, like, end of the world levels of destruction here?”
Dex hesitated, then shook his head. “No. I don’t think so…probably.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Good enough for me. As long as I wasn’t the one it was getting used on, it wasn’t my problem. I felt a little bad thinking like that, but not nearly as much as I would have three years ago. A girl has to do what a girl has to do, even if that means wiping out a continent or two.
“It’s not like we could do anything to stop him anyway,” Dex said, frowning.
I looked away. “True.”
We were quiet again for a few minutes, both of us thinking. A glove that fed on anger and turned it into raw power. If my life had been a book, I’d probably call it a paranormal tragedy. This sounded disturbingly close to action-adventure territory. I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with that kind of change.
It was Dex who finally broke the silence. “So, when do we leave tomorrow?”
I looked up at him. “We?”
“I have tomorrow off,” he said with a shrug. “It’s either that, or sit around and watch tv all day.”
I smirked. “Majestic gives you days off?”
“Once every decade or so, yes.”
I hugged my knees, thinking. Dex was Hendricks’ double agent, feeding him information about Majestic’s plans. It was a dangerous job, probably the most dangerous any of us had, but he’d told me that he had jumped on the opportunity the minute Hendricks offered it. What he’d offered Dex in return, I didn’t know. Nobody worked for Hendricks because they wanted to. For me, it was protection from Majestic. For him…
Dex reached inside his fancy suit jacket and pulled out a small glass vial filled with golden liquid. He downed it in a single gulp, grimacing at the taste.
Whatever Hendricks had promised him, it had to do with those potions. I didn’t know what they were or what they did, but Dex drank several of them a day. Whenever I asked, he would laugh and change the subject. There was only one thing I knew about them for sure.
They could cure lycanthropy.
I watched hungrily as he put the empty vial back into his inner pocket and gave me a mock salute. “Well, I’d better get some sleep too,” he said, making for the door. “Looks like we’ve got an early start tomorrow.”