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Chapter Nineteen

Time felt like it was standing still as I faced off against the three men.  A cold breeze blew down the street, making their long black coats sway like capes.  Their weapons gleamed bright in the moonlight.  The man in front, the one with the bright red beard, was carrying one of those curved swords you see in samurai movies, and the two behind him had a straight sword and an axe.


I raised a finger. "Yeah... nope."


Then I turned and ran away.


"Don't let it get away!" one of them yelled.


The sound of stamping feet told me they had given chase, so I swerved into one of the alleyways, almost losing my footing on the ice, and sprinted down it.  It was narrow, and I had to vault over a dumpster that was in my way.  I hoped that might slow them down, but when I looked back I saw the bearded man leap over it like an Olympic athlete, clearing it by almost four feet, and land without breaking stride for a second.


I put my head down and tried to run faster, but that was hard with the ground as slick as it was.  Who were these people, and why were they after me like this?  My first instinct was that Hendricks had sent a trio of hitmen after me, but this wasn't his style.  He liked to skulk in the shadows, manipulating his victims into doing what he wanted.  Sending three armed men in trench coats to kill me in public was way, way, too bold for him to be behind it.  So, who the hell were these guys?


I left the alley and skidded to a stop on the edge of the sidewalk just as a car sped past a couple of inches in front of my nose.  The driver blared his horn, but I forgot about him when I looked back and saw all three of the shadowy men closing in on me.  A quick glance left and right told me that the road was clear for the moment, and I took off running again.  By the time I got to the other side of the road, my heart was hammering in my chest and I had broken out in a cold sweat despite the temperature.  My breath came in ragged gasps that fogged the air in front of my face.  The world began to spin around me...


Oh, crap.


I was still sick, and after the grueling three hour hike to get to town, I didn't have it in me to outrun three maniacs with medieval weapons... three maniacs with medieval weapons who were obviously trained to do this.  I managed to get to the other side of the street before tripping over the curb and falling face down in a snowdrift.  I struggled to pick myself up, my arms wobbly, but I was too slow.  The first of the black coated men reached me, and he hauled me upright with one hand.  I stared at him through blurry eyes.  It was the bearded one.


"Let's get this over with," he said, turning to one of his partners, who was just now catching up.  The second one came a few seconds later, huffing and puffing.  I felt a flicker of annoyance.  If it had just been those two, maybe I could have gotten away.  The man with the beard was the only one who seemed somewhat competent at this.


Beardie looked around and spotted an abandoned gas station down the road.  It had been out of business for years, and there were boards covering the windows where vandals and bad weather had taken their toll. "There," he decided. "It's best if we do this where there are no prying eyes."


"Do what?" I asked, even though I had a feeling I knew exactly what he meant.


Instead of answering, Beardie backhanded me across the face.  It stung in the cold night air, and the impact rattled my fever-scrambled brain so much that I couldn't see straight.  My head slumped, and only his hand kept me from collapsing again.


"Hurry," I heard him say, though I could barely understand English at that point. "The sooner we get this done, the better."


Beardie took me by my shoulders while one of the other men grabbed me by my ankles, and they carried me across the street to the gas station.  As we were crossing the parking lot, the last man, the one with the axe, went ahead and used it to hack through the chains keeping the doors locked.  I looked around, hoping somebody would drive past and see what was going on, but no such luck.  It was the middle of the night, after all.


I'm such an idiot, I thought, trying to jerk my arms and legs out of their grip.  They were surprisingly strong, though, and I couldn't get away. I should have waited until morning to go.


Then again, if I was an idiot, then Stark was twice as big an idiot.  Wasn't it his job to keep me from doing stupid things like this?


The inside of the gas station was no warmer than the outside, and I could still feel the cold wind blowing in between the boards covering the windows.  It was dark too, so dark that even with my enhanced vision I could barely see.  One of the three men, who I'd decided must be human because I couldn't sense anything... weird about them, immediately snapped his fingers and conjured a ball of fire in his hand.


The other two set me down and, despite my circumstances, I couldn't help but stare at the fire.  I may have been through a crap ton of crap over the past year, but there was just something about magic that never failed to fascinate me.  Usually all I got to see was the Terrible Trio using their scepters to shoot colored lights, though.  Something like conjuring fire was different.  It was almost casual.


"Get it up against the wall," Beardie said, and before I could react the second man had done exactly as he said.  Throwing all his weight against me, he had me pinned against the wall so firmly that I couldn't move.


"What are you doing?" I demanded.  I pushed back against him, but he didn't budge an inch.  That was even more surprising than the hand-fire the other guy was using.  I mean, I'm a freaking werewolf!  Normal humans don't overpower werewolves.  It just doesn't happen.


I was quickly coming to realize that these guys weren't normal humans, though.


Beardie reached into his coat pocket and pulled something out.  I squinted to see in the dim light, and a chill ran down my spine when I recognized a pair of pliers.


"Why'd the Master send us to do this?" asked the man holding me in place.


Beardie shook his head. "It's not our place to question Master Mortoph."


"I'm not questioning him, I'm just wondering what the point is.  I mean, we kill things like this, not—"




They'd been doing their best to ignore me so far, but having a teenage girl scream right into your year, whether she's a werewolf or not, isn't something you can just block out.  The man cringed, and then slammed his weight against me again, knocking the air out of my lungs.


"Use the silver if you have to," Beardie said in an admonishing tone. "I would rather not have to chase it through the snow again."


"But what do we do afterwards?" the man holding the fire asked. "We're not just going to let it go?"


"Of course not," Beardie answered. "But the Master was specific that this would be our top priority, so this is the task that we complete first."


I was in trouble, and I knew it, but my blood was starting to boil anyway.  If one of these freaks called me an "it" one more time...


"Quit pretending I'm not here!" I snapped, my face burning. "Who the hell are you people?"


Beardie finally turned to look at me, almost like he'd forgotten I was there.  He raised his eyebrows in mild surprise.


"You really don't know?" he asked.


I shook my head.


Beardie sighed, and I almost thought I caught a glimpse of genuine sadness in his eyes. "Werewolves are some of the most tragic cases of monsters, gentlemen.  Most of them aren't born this way, they have their humanity stolen from them by other monsters."


The man holding the fire nodded solemnly, but the one keeping me pinned to the wall grunted in annoyance.


"Monsters are monsters, old man.  Why bother feeling sorry for them?  They're all the same anyway."


Beardie gave him a sharp look, and looked like he was about to rebuke him, but then thought better of it and sighed again.


"Yes, I suppose you're right.  Let's get this over with."


With that, he made his way toward me.  The second man dug his heels into the floor to make sure I wasn't going anywhere, and Beardie reached for my face.  I started to panic.  Who were these people, and what were they doing to me?  It didn't matter how much I struggled, though, the abnormally strong man pressed against me was like a statue.  A statue whose feet had been crazy glued to the floor.


Beardie stuck his thumb in my mouth, and my first instinct was to bite down.  If nothing else, maybe I could turn him into a werewolf and see how he liked it.  My teeth came down on his tough leather gloves, though, and I couldn't bite through them.  Then he hooked his thumb into my teeth and yanked my mouth back open.


"Hold still," he grunted, leaning close to see better, as if this were just a normal visit to the dentist.  He raised the pliers toward my mouth now too, and a heavy nausea weighed down my stomach when I finally realized what he was planning to do.  Sheer panic turned my blood to fire, and I thrashed and fought against the bigger man's weight with all my strength.  Whether he was something more than human, or just really freaking strong, I still couldn't get away.


Beardie reached the pliers into my mouth, grabbed my top right canine, and...


Have you ever had a tooth pulled at the dentist?  It feels like fifteen different kinds of hell, and that's when you're drugged up on painkillers.  Now imagine going through that without the painkillers, a pair of pliers that smelled like oil and gasoline, and a tooth that wasn't the slightest bit loose.  The tooth held fast for a few seconds, but Beardie wiggled the pliers back and forth until I heard a series of pops that turned my stomach, and then—


"Got it," he grunted, and pain exploded inside my skull half a second later, so bright and vivid I almost thought Beardie had shoved a stick of dynamite in my mouth.  I couldn't scream, all I could do was gasp like a fish on dry land, sucking in air while my brain tried to figure out a way to block out the pain, because it hurt, hurt, HURT, HURT!


The second man finally let go of me, and I fell to the floor in shock.  I reached up with a trembling finger and touched my lips, and it came away coated with blood.  Blood was filling my mouth, and I couldn't stop it.  I spit it out on the floor, but it was flooded again within a few seconds.  I kept my head down, knowing that if I titled it back I could choke on all of it.  Usually the taste of blood made my wolf go crazy with, but this made me sick to my stomach.  This wasn't prey blood, it was my blood.


With a moan, I leaned forward and vomited up everything I had in my stomach.  When I clamped my mouth shut again, there was more blood on the floor than puke.


I could feel Beardie watching at me, and when I turned my head to look at him he averted his eyes as if he actually felt sorry for me.  The tooth he had pulled was still clamped between his pliers, and there was a string of red meat dangling off the...


I threw up again.


"For what it's worth," he said, pocketing the tooth and pliers, "I'm sorry that you had to go through this.  I did not get any pleasure from having to do that."


"Screw you!" I moaned, more blood spilling down my face when I opened my mouth.  The pain was so intense that I was close to blacking out.  Only the thought of what they were going to do next kept me conscious.


Beardie sighed and drew his curved sword again. "I'll make this as painless as I can.  I'm sorry."


He stepped forward and raised his sword in both hands.  Deep inside me, my wolf rose up and demanded that I forget the pain, get up and fight for my life, but I couldn't.  I squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn't have to watch.


The wolf was right about me...  It had been right all along...


I was nothing but prey.


I heard Beardie's coat rustle as he raised his sword, and I held my breath, waiting for it to—


Before he could swing, a blinding blue light filled the gas station, so bright that I could see it through my eyelids.  All three men cried out in surprise, and when the light faded I opened my eyes and turned to look.


A figure stood in the doorway.  I couldn't see his face under his hood, but I could see his eyes glowing with anger.  He stepped into the gas station, fists clenched by his sides.


"Get away from her!" he roared.


NEXT TIME: Holy… Freaking… Crap.  Is that who I think it is?  Is it?  If it is (and I’m giving away nothing here), then this is going to be epic.

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