Dex held out his hand for me to join him in the circle of light. I hesitated.
He smirked. “Sugarsnout, this is what I do. You don’t have to worry!”
“Okay, but…what if you did it wrong?”
“Then we both die horribly and painfully!”
I stared at him for a few seconds, but then broke down laughing. That was nice. It pushed back the darkness, the fear, if only just a little bit. For a second there, I actually believed that we could do this. Find the thief, get Hendricks his stupid glove back, and live to tell another crappy joke. Trying desperately to hold onto that feeling, I took his hand and stepped into the glowing ring with him.
“All right,” he said, holding up his scepter with his other hand, “hold onto that cute butt of yours!”
The light coming out of the floor grew blinding, and heat washed over me. I squeezed Dex’s hand tighter despite myself, and—
“Wait, did you just call my butt cute?” I demanded.
I don’t know if he heard me, because I barely heard myself over the roar of…magical roaring stuff…and the next thing I knew, the light was gone. I blinked a few times. I wasn’t sure if it was dark, or if my eyes had just gotten used to all the extra light, but I couldn’t see anything.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“No idea. Cool, huh?”
Before I could reply, he raised his scepter and lit the gem up. The light illuminated a dark room filled with junk. Bicycles hanging from hooks in the ceiling, boxes so covered in dust I couldn’t make out the writing on them, yard tools lined up neatly on the wall. I turned a little, and found myself face to radiator with a pickup truck.
“This is someone’s garage,” I realized.
I turned to see Dex inching around the truck to make his way toward the door, and grabbed him by the arm.
“What are you doing?” I snapped. “What if whoever lives here is home?”
He blinked, confused. “Our job gets infinitely easier?”
I shook my head wildly. “You can’t just go in there and kill them! What if they’re not the thieves?”
He smirked at me. “There’s a teleportation spell leading straight to their garage. That doesn’t happen by accident. Whoever’s in there,” he pointed at the door with the scepter, “has our gauntlet.”
I still wasn’t convinced, but I followed him anyway. I’d killed so many people who didn’t deserve it over the past few years. What was one or two more?
That didn’t make me feel better.
The door wasn’t locked. Dex pushed it open carefully—and the smell of blood hit me like a steamroller. It was so strong that I actually stumbled backwards into the pickup truck because of it. Dex looked back at me, but before he could ask I had shoved past him to get into the house.
It was…a house. I didn’t know what I’d been expecting. Frankenstein’s laboratory? Dracula’s castle? It was just a normal, everyday suburban home. Except that it smelled like a slaughterhouse.
“Amber, wait!” Dex said from behind me. I ignored him and sprinted down the hallway into the kitchen.
And there they were. Two of them. One lay in a pool of his own blood, his entire stomach blown out through his back. I didn’t recognize him, but a look of surprise was etched permanently on his face. Right beside him was a woman whose throat had been torn out, almost like something had bitten her.
A chill ran down my spine. It couldn’t be a…
“Oh, good,” Dex said, coming up behind me. “More blood.”
“Our thieves?” I asked.
He knelt down to inspect them. “They might have started out that way, but…”
A pit formed in my stomach. “But somebody killed him and took it?”
“Maybe.” He pointed at the man. “Looking at this…deliciousness…I’d say whoever killed him actually did it with the gauntlet.”
“So, what does that mean?” I asked. “That we were wrong, and that they didn’t steal it? That whoever has it just randomly popped into these people’s garage to get out of the hotel?”
Dex stood up, stretched, and grinned at me. “I have no freaking clue!”
“And look at this!” I stepped gingerly over the corpses and pointed at the woman. “That didn’t come from a punch. Something…” I took a deep breath. “No, not something. Another werewolf did that. It had to be.”
Dex looked at me, surprised. “What makes you say that? There are lots of things out there that pack a nasty chomp.”
“It was a werewolf. I can just tell.”
Dex stared at me for a few seconds, and I looked away, feeling strangely self-conscious.
“You don’t believe me?” I snapped.
“Actually, I do.” he replied. “That’s what I’m having trouble believing.”
I spun on him, glaring. “What, that I’m capable of being right about something?”
“Nah.” He shook his head. “More that you’d be right about something I was wrong about.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.
“I mean, I do this for a living.” He turned and made his way back into the living room. I followed, careful not to step on the still-cooling corpses. “If you’re right and I’m wrong…well, what does it say about me?”
To my surprise, that brought a smirk to my face. “Afraid I’ll take your job?”
“Yeah, so knock it off!”
I chuckled, but it didn’t take long for my mood to darken again.
“Well, this is just great,” I pouted, leaning heavily against the wall. “We came here, Hendricks probably thinks I’m running from him, and we don’t have the stupid glove! I’m still dead, Dex!”
“Oh, Sugarsnout, Sugarsnout, Sugarsnout.” He shook his head.
“We go to one guy’s house, don’t find the gauntlet, and you think we’re done?” He put a finger gun to his chin and jerked his head back with a PSHHH sound. “Never thought you were the kind to give up so easily.”
I spread my arms. “Well, what else can we do?”
“Keep looking,” he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Find it. Bring it back. Don’t get fried with dark magic.”
“And where do we start looking?”
“Well…” He put his scepter back into his jacket, apparently satisfied that there was no danger here. “I guess that’s where you come in.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Come again?”
“Sugarsnout, I know I’m talented, amazing, smart, handsome, funny, an amazing cook, have great hair—”
“Get on with it,” I growled.
“But I’m not going to do all the work here. We’re a team, remember? Start pulling your own weight already!”
“How? You’re the magical detective thing here.”
Dex walked over to me, and then pointed at his nose. “Because I don’t have a supernatural snifferator attached to my face. You on the other hand…”
He reached toward me, and I glared at him. “If you boop my nose, I’m biting that finger off.”
“Fair enough.” He stuffed his hand in his pocket before I could change my mind. “But my point still stands. You can track these people down in a way I can’t.”
I frowned, looking at the blood that was beginning to seep out of the kitchen and into the living room carpet, and shook my head. “Sorry. My senses are better than a human’s, but it’s not like I’m a bloodhound or something.”
“Not right now, you aren’t.”
I looked at him, confused—and then froze.
“No,” I told him.
He held up his hands. “I know you don’t like changing. I don’t blame you, after—”
“Don’t say it!” I snapped, storming up to him. “I haven’t changed once since it happened, and I’m going to keep it that way. That thing is staying inside me until I die!”
Deep inside me, it growled in annoyance.
“Oh, shut up!” I yelled at it.
“I’m just…” Dex blinked. “Okay.”
“Not you,” I groaned, walking over to the thankfully blood-free couch and collapsing on it. For a while, neither of us said anything. I closed my eyes, suddenly feeling exhausted. Just thinking about that night was draining. Everything, my whole life, collapsing all around me, knowing it was all my fault but not able to stop it.
No forgiveness. Not for me, not after what I did. I was a monster. Hanging out with Dex, letting him make me laugh, helped me forget about that now and then. But sooner or later the truth always came back. Monsters didn’t deserve to laugh. Murderers didn’t deserve second chances.
Eventually, Dex came and sat down on the other side of the couch, putting his feet up on Mr. and Mrs. Corpse’s coffee table.
“So, what now?” he asked.
I scowled at him. “You’re asking me?”
He sighed. “Look, I’m gonna be blunt: this is your mess, not mine. You left the gauntlet in the hotel. You let it get stolen. If we don’t bring it back, it’s your skin that’s at risk here.”
“Literally,” I mumbled.
“Exactly. So if you want to give up and go back now, I guess that’s up to you.” He looked me in the eye. “But the Amber I know would pull her big girl pants up…or down, I guess, since you can’t change with them on…”
“I can,” I said. “It’s just really uncomfortable.”
He waved his hand. “Anyway, the Amber I know would do what she had to do to find whoever has the gauntlet, get it back, and get it to her boss.”
I was quiet for a minute, looking down at my lap. “That Amber died three years ago,” I finally whispered.
I got up and walked away, leaving Dex sitting on the couch, disappointed. I swear, I could hear his hopes and dreams shattering on the floor. The idiot thought this was going to be some big, crazy adventure. I knew better. Adventures didn’t work out for me. They always ended with somebody I cared about getting hurt. Or worse.
Closing my eyes, I dug my fingernails into my arms hard enough to break the skin. Whenever people got hurt, it was my fault. Every. Freaking. Time. It would have been better if I’d just curled up and—
I opened my eyes. I don’t know which part of me said that—human or wolf—but that one word struck me like a gong. I stood up straighter, glaring at the wall. All at once, any thoughts of lying down and dying were melted under the smoldering hatred inside me. Not the hatred for myself. Another hatred, one I barely noticed anymore, consumed by self-loathing like I always was these days. Hatred for the one behind all the suffering. The one who forced me into positions that got the people around me killed. Hatred....
Suddenly feeling more determined than I had in years, I spun to face Dex. He looked at me expectantly, eyebrow raised.
“I’m not changing,” I told him.
“But I’m not giving up either. I’m going to get the stupid glove back, and I’m going to rub it in Hendricks’ pasty face.” I clenched my fist. “Are you sure there’s nothing you can do to track down whoever has it?”
Dex narrowed his eyes, looking at me for a long time. Finally, he nodded.
“I think I might have something after all,” he said. Then he grinned. “But first, we’re gonna have to kill you.”