The darkness proved no hindrance thanks to my supernatural night vision. The room was largely empty. There was a massive pet bed, as well as food and water dishes, on one side of the basement. The rest of the room was surprisingly barren: it had neither the furniture I would have expected in a finished basement, nor the water heater or furnace I would have expected in an unfinished one. There were no stairs or ladder giving access to the trap door: just a knotted rope that would have been impossible for a wolf to climb. I could only assume that Curtis had used the room for the same purposes as Hans had: to confine his wolf on the full moon.
I landed hard enough that I fell into a crouch. Despite the jarring landing my arrival didn’t distract any of the wolves. Curtis was backed into a corner; Hans and Daniel advanced on him from the sides, lunging and snapping — testing Curtis’ reflexes, I assumed, since neither had so far pressed the attack.
“Curtis!” I shouted. I had to hope that he, unlike Daniel and Hans, was still in control of himself. He glanced at me — and from the way his eyes widened in a purely human way, I knew that he was.
Unfortunately, Hans took advantage of Curtis’ distraction and lunged in for the kill.
“Hans!” I screamed as I started forward. “No!”
To my shock, Hans’ wolf twisted in midair in response to my cry. He was unable to arrest his momentum and still bowled into Curtis — but his jaws didn’t rend the other wolf. “Curtis, get out of here,” I yelled. Hans wouldn’t attack me. Hans would protect me from Daniel. I could hold back Daniel until Curtis shifted and climbed out of the basement — and then I could escape, too. A wolf might not be capable of the vertical leap necessary to escape through the trap door, but I was. I’d managed to leap up to a rooftop once before, after all.
Curtis scrambled out from under Hans and bolted past Daniel. Daniel spun around — but now I was between him and Curtis. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, exactly, but my fists were curled and I was braced for whatever happened. Worst case scenario, I thought, if I do get ripped to pieces down here at least those pieces will all be in one place and I can still be revived. Maybe?
Curtis darted past me and I felt the blood drain from my face as Daniel snarled. If I get ripped to pieces I can still be revived?! When the fuck had that become the plan?! Hans will protect me. Oh god, let Hans protect me.
But Hans’ predatory instinct was snagged by the prey that was running, not me. He charged after Curtis, growling once again. I turned to order him not to, but Daniel’s wolf lunged at me while Hans was distracted by Curtis. Maybe because he saw my commands to Hans as a challenge to his dominance of the pack? I didn’t know and I didn’t have the time to waste thinking about it.
I was bowled over: somehow I got an arm up between myself and Daniel, and Daniel’s jaws closed on my forearm with brutal force instead of my neck. Daniel’s claws scrabbled at my stomach. My glamoured clothing shredded and reformed, doing little to hinder the claws from digging into my gut. I screamed, which distracted Hans once more. Hans’ wolf whirled away from his pursuit of Curtis and leapt on Daniel.
Daniel’s wolf yiped out — more in anger than pain — when Hans bowled into him and knocked him off of me. Somehow, Daniel twisted free of Hans’ jaws. Behind me, I heard the ripping and twisting of flesh as Curtis tried to shape shift his wounds away.
My own injuries regenerated even as I stood. Anger flared in me. The buffer between myself and my vampire side was significantly thinner, but still intact: I suspected that Daniel had managed to disembowel me, perhaps more than once given my regeneration, while he’d been digging at my stomach. But that didn’t seem to take as much out of me as healing a bullet to the head.
I twisted my essence to make sure that some of it — a specific piece of it — was not in danger of being pulled into the buffer and fed to my curse to fuel my healing. Next to the motivations I always held to protect my friends, I added what was left of my taste of Hans. If I was further injured, I needed to make sure that I held on to the desire to find and take care of Jeremy, and Hans’ emotions provided that far more strongly than my own.
All of that took only seconds. While they passed I twisted around and ran toward Curtis. He was younger and less experienced than Hans: from the sound of it he didn’t have the same speed in shape shifting, and from the look of it he didn’t have the skill to only partially shift and then shift back to clear a wound. He was halfway back to human when I reached him: a human form that was dressed in tattered clothes and covered in its own blood and no doubt nearly crippled from the pain of taking his clothing back and forth through the transformation.
Curtis would be a handicap, and I didn’t know if he’d have the strength to climb the knotted rope that led back out of the basement after he finished shifting. So I grabbed him. His limbs shifted and changed within my grasp, making my grip uncertain, but I managed to lift him and chuck him upward, through the open trapdoor, by sheer force of supernatural strength.
He clipped the closet door and cried out, but landed sufficiently in the hallway that he didn’t fall back into the basement with me. He started to drag himself away even as he finished shifting into his human form.
Panting more from the surge of adrenaline than any need for air, I crouched to spring upward myself — but I didn’t make the leap. Hans and Daniel were still fighting: or rather, Daniel was. His wolf had caught Hans’ neck in its jaws, and Daniel was shaking him like a rag toy. My eyes widened. Hans was still alive: I was still connected to him. But just as I had on the street above, I screamed and charged forward when I saw him being hurt. I don’t think I could have stopped myself even if I wanted to. I didn’t think about it: I just did it.
I smashed into Daniel. My fist struck the shoulder of his wolf hard enough that I felt bone breaking under the impact. Daniel dropped Hans, but Hans didn’t run away or even get up from where he lay: Hans’ wolf just collapsed with a pained whimper.
I didn’t know what to do. I started to check on Hans even as I told myself it was a stupid, foolish, idiotic! move. Despite his injuries, Daniel’s wolf was on me again — and this time I didn’t get anything between myself and it. I was knocked over again, and Daniel’s jaws clamped down on my neck with bone crushing force. Vertebrae snapped and flesh tore. My vision seemed to spin between consciousness, unconsciousness, and dormancy as my regeneration mended the damage almost as quickly as it was inflicted.
Daniel’s wolf pinned my body down by standing on it and shook his head fiercely without letting go of his hold on my neck. I screamed without using air and tried to shove him off of me, but to no avail. On instinct I grabbed the only weapon I had and slammed it into Daniel’s underbelly.
Daniel let go of my neck and howled in pain. I wrenched upward, violently dragging my weapon through his belly and into his chest. Then I shoved him off of me and scrambled backward and up to my feet. I braced myself for another attack, but Daniel’s wolf staggered instead. It looked at me with yellow eyes that blazed with pain and anger and tried to advance, but crashed into the bare concrete floor instead. Blood and viscera leaked out from its stomach — and only then did I realize what I’d done.
I’d stabbed Daniel with the only weapon I’d had on hand.
The fork Sebastian had glamoured into existence for me.
The silver fork.
I looked at the weapon with the numbness that came from being on the very tipping point between going all out vampire and still being human. On the one hand, I could recognize that I should be horrified. On the other: I had fucking won. Just like my clothes when I’d been with Benjamin, the fork had reacted to my emotions and need. Rather than a dinner implement, it had twisted and reformed: I held a straight, silver blade that gleamed dully where it wasn’t covered in wolf blood. While I looked at it my adrenaline rush faded and the knife unwound, flowing back into the form of an innocent fork.
Daniel’s blood covered my hand and part of my arm as well. My thirst surged at the sight of it, but my stomach twisted when I brought my hand toward my mouth. I stopped before tasting it. The blood was dead. On the ground in front of me, Daniel’s wolf shuddered. My gaze snapped to it, but it just trembled — then jerked and spasmed. There was no life to the transformation as it, like the dagger I’d held, returned to its original form.
Daniel. A sightless, blood covered Daniel, wearing shredded clothing, with a gaping cut running from his navel to his throat, from which his intestines spilled.
I was spared reacting by hearing something landing on the floor beneath the trapdoor behind me. I spun while my autopilot locked down any expression that might have revealed what I thought of the insanity running through my head — the insanity of the situation that I was actually standing in.
The newcomer was Matteo Fiore. He rose from a crouch of his own and surveyed the darkness of the basement. His eyes widened as they passed over the limp form of Hans’ wolf — which looked back at him and whined — and the still twitching, still shifting body of Daniel.
“Christ,” Fiore whispered. He looked at me, and I got the impression that he was re-evaluating his former impressions. “You don’t fuck around,” he observed.
I slipped the fork back into my pocket. “Took you long enough,” I said back. Then I moved to check on Daniel.
He was almost finished shifting. His eyes remained sightless and no breath stirred his chest. I leaned in to bite him, to try to give him my vampiric healing — but my curse recoiled at the prospect of dead blood. I turned away. There was nothing there for me to heal.
Instead, I went to Hans’ side. He lifted his head as I did, stretching his neck to expose it in an gesture of submissiveness. I knelt and dug my fingers into the exposed fur. It was matted with blood, but I found no sign of injury beneath that. Hans and I were still connected, and it was likely only the ongoing sympathetic healing that had kept him alive through Daniel’s onslaught — just as the regeneration had kept me alive through the same violence.
“Good boy,” I whispered, and patted Hans on the head. Then I stood and approached Fiore. Perhaps he had some donors he could loan me. I was parched.
Before I reached the other vampire, though, I heard movement behind me — and not from the direction of Hans, because Hans heard it, too, and barked in warning. I spun around just in time to see Daniel getting up to his feet. He survived?! Of course! He’s a ghoul! The part of me that was Hans rejoiced at the realization that his pack mate wasn’t dead. Hans himself barked excitedly, but didn’t get up from where I’d left him.
Daniel raised his one good arm and made a grasping gesture in my direction. His mouth opened, revealing rows of jagged shark-like teeth. Oh, I thought dumbly. Son of a bitch…! No wonder Hans’ wolf hadn’t gotten up: Daniel had gone feral from his injuries, just as I could from mine, and since we’d both proven our dominance over Hans’ wolf — Daniel by nearly killing him, me by enthralling him — he was sitting out what he probably saw as a continuation of our battle for dominance of the pack.
I scowled. I could feed Daniel enough of my flesh so that he regained his sanity, but that would definitely drive me past the brink of sanity and leave my vampire side fully in control of my motives. I didn’t trust my ability to hold on to Hans’ aura or my determination to protect my friends if that happened.
Obviously, I was going to have to disable Fiore and feed him to Daniel, instead.
But before I could put my plan into motion a gun barked from behind me. The reflection of the muzzle flash as it illuminated the basement briefly blinded my hyper-sensitive night vision. I blinked once before I could see again.
There was a hole in Daniel’s chest.
Two more shots rang out, and Daniel staggered back from each of them. He bumped into the far wall, and three more shots hit him. But he stayed upright.
“Son of a bitch, he’s tough,” I heard Mister Fiore comment from behind me.
Daniel staggered forward, good arm out stretched again and jagged-toothed mouth opened wide. Mister Fiore’s gun barked once more. This time it left a hole in Daniel’s head.
Daniel teetered backward and hit the wall again. Gravity did its work. He slipped sideways and half-slid, half-fell to the floor. His sightless eyes rapidly clouded over. His mouth remained open and his teeth remained a ragged row of cannibal fangs. He didn’t move.
I slowly turned to face Fiore. He was ignoring me. He had one eye on Hans’ wolf, while the rest of his attention was on swapping a fresh clip into his pistol.
“Matt,” I said to get his attention — he had lost ‘Mister’ privileges from me for that stupid stunt. Ruining my perfectly good plan? I didn’t give a fuck about his hoity toity family right now. No one fucked with my wolves without my permission.
Matteo paused and looked at me. Then he snapped the new clip into place and let his hands fall to his sides. “What?” He asked in exasperation. Then he he took in the cold fury etched on my face and scoffed. “Seriously? He’s a ghoul Abigail. Put a fresh corpse next to him for when he reanimates at day break and he’ll be fine.” Fiore sneered at me and holstered his gun. Then he leapt straight up, disappearing through the open trap door.
But even though I couldn’t see him, my supernaturally enhanced ears could still hear him. “Bloody bleeding heart infants,” he grumbled. “Ungrateful little..! Seriously.”
I blinked a few more times while I listened to Matteo Fiore stalk across the upstairs floorboards. His grumbles vanished from my perception when he left the house. I trembled a little as I turned back to Daniel. I felt like I was in shock. And after the past week, I was getting pretty damn good at identifying that feeling.
Daniel still wasn’t moving. He was dead. De-animated. Whatever.
Hans’ wolf had disregarded Fiore after the vampire had leapt out of the basement in favor of slinking over to Daniel’s side. He nuzzled the ghoul’s corpse and whined. Then he looked at me with the saddest eyes I’d ever seen on an animal — and then turned back to Daniel. He nudged Daniel’s body once more, then turned a circle. He flopped down on the basement floor with his head down on his paws and his whole body slumped. Then, every once in a while, he would whine again and stretch out to poke at Daniel with his snout.
“Abigail?” It was Valerie’s voice that pulled me out of my stunned fugue. I looked away from Daniel’s corpse for the first time since Fiore’s departure, and saw Valerie crouched at the mouth of the trap door, peering down at me. “Abigail, we need to get going,” she said softly but firmly. “Cassie got a call from her friends among the local covens. They’ve figured out where Jeremy is.”