Death's Rival

 Faith Hunter

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I Disliked Her on Sight
The helo would be in position over the building in thirty minutes. We were parked down the street, geared up, watching the place from the back. Gregoire was not going to be happy when he saw the damage incurred on his new limo in the shoot-out. My official cell vibrated in my pocket. Ricky Bo LaFleur's picture appeared on the front. My heart did a little flutter. I opened the cell and said, "Hi." There must have been something odd about my tone, because all the men looked at me at once. I turned my back to them and heard Rick say, "Where - you?" There was a horrible roar in the background and he was breaking up.
"In Natchez. Where are you?"
"In a helicopter wi . . . razy former marines."
I put it together fast. "You and Derek are on the way here?"
"Yeah . . . mi. . . . and once this little problem . . . we can take off . . . play." The call clicked off. I wiped my mouth, hoping I was smearing off the goofy smile. I turned back around. "We have official government backup from the Psychometry Law Enforcement Division of Homeland Security."
Bruiser nodded. "I wasn't sure he'd be able to pull it off."
"You did this?"
"Yes." His eyes met mine. "As primo."
"Ah," I said, my heart plummeting. That was that. So much for the hot and heavy clinch in the hall. His duty to Leo came first, and keeping us on the right side of the law was a big part of that. Not that I could complain. Ricky Bo was coming and my big-cat was happy.
"Masks," Eli said.
I pulled the mask over my face. Eli had found them for sale at a gun shop in New Orleans and identified them as "Israeli M-15 military models with Nato filters." Whatever. I just wanted mine to keep me alive. I settled the mask in place and tested it by breathing deeply before Eli released the foul-smelling smokeless bomb in the confines of the limo. Stink filled the car. I didn't smell a thing, though breathing wasn't easy and the mask was hot and uncomfortable. But I smelled nothing gross and gave Eli a thumbs-up.
Eli had informed us that sleeping gas didn't exist, but the military had something that worked short-term on humans. He'd be using that on the building. I didn't ask what it was or where he got it, and he didn't volunteer. I vaguely recalled that the Russians had tried something on a theater full of people once and managed to kill most of them. I just hoped the U.S. military stuff worked better.
Thanks to Derek's suppliers and the truck that had followed us up here, we were all dressed in night camo with Kevlar vests, combat boots, utility belts, shooting gloves - the kind with the knuckles and fingertips bare - ear protectors that doubled as radio receivers, and enough gear to start a small war. Bruiser had guns holstered everywhere and carried the pump shotgun borrowed from Esmee. Wrassler had a totally illegal, fully automatic, compact machine gun and enough magazines to shoot for fifteen minutes at full auto. Enough ammo to melt the barrel of his gun, assuming the heat buildup from firing didn't jam it first, which was all too likely.
I had all my blades and stakes - including two new, longer, special-made ones - in sheaths and loops, and my Walthers holstered at my spine and under my left arm. One was loaded with silver for vamps and the other with standard ammo. My M4 Benelli was loaded for vamp with seven silver flechette rounds, and I had another seven in special loops in a thigh pouch. But if I needed to reload, I would likely be dead before I could finish. The shotgun was slung at the ready and strapped in place under my right arm. The positioning was Wrassler's idea, and though I'd never fought with the M4 strapped there, it felt good. I wouldn't have to pull the shotgun from its spine sheath and ready it for firing. I just had to stabilize, point, and shoot. The webbing left me room to maneuver the weapon enough to aim and fire, and was relatively easy to pull free for full manual positioning.
"Com check," Derek said over the radio. Instantly, we could hear the helo in the radio system background. He called our names or monikers out one at a time, and when he said, "Legs," I replied, "Got 'em." Everyone laughed. It was hard to see his expression with the mask in the way, but I thought Bruiser's eyes were twinkling.
"Canisters?" Eli asked Bruiser and me.
I touched the three canisters at my belt; they were marked CS. It was the new pressurized colloidal silver stuff for use on vamps and I didn't know how they would work. No one did. When the canister was activated, it would spew an ionized silver mist into the air. Every time vamps took a breath - if they did before it dissipated - they'd get a lungful. It wouldn't mean instant death, but it might slow them down and poison them.
"On my go," Eli said. This was his gig. I had no training for paramilitary raids. My combat style was more along the lines of stake 'em and run. Eli pulled his mask off, grabbed a black mesh bag, and slid out of the car. He disappeared into an alley at a fast jog.
He had reconnoitered the alley earlier and found some old wood back stairs on the two-story building adjacent to the three-story one, housing our target. He was going to ascend the steps of the two-story building, make his way to the roof, toss a grapnel across to the adjacent walled roof, and then haul himself up to the roof next door. The last part was an eighteen-foot climb. Which I would like to see, but I wasn't part of the roof assault.
Six minutes later he said, "I'm in. Gas is a go." Which meant in six minutes he had climbed up the fire escape, then to the roof adjacent, found an access for the air conditioner, removed its air intake panel, and started the gas. Go, Rangers, go, army.
Based on estimated cubic feet, Eli had calculated the number of canisters needed to knock out the building, and how long it would take. Then he added two canisters. Waiting sucked. I looked at the time. Sunset was in fourteen minutes. In fourteen minutes, the vamps could take an attack into the streets. We were cutting it close.
I could hear the helo's rotors beating the air. The helo got closer, the noise louder. Leo's helicopter wasn't a sleek, modern, quiet-operating model, but an older helo, a refurbished Vietnam Era Bell Huey, with heavy armament and retrofitted with lots of modern bells and whistles. I was pretty sure that most of the bells were not entirely legal, and owning the whistles was likely a felony but well worth the risk. If we had to shoot the vamps with missiles, the helo had the capability, I thought dryly.
The helo was directly overhead, the tail rotor over the alley. Dark blobs dropped out - Derek Lee and his buddies. I wondered if Angel Tit was among them, and knew he must be, the Tequila Boys as well. There were too many men for just the Vodka Boys cadre. I wondered which one was Rick.
If I thought it was weird to have so many men I was interested in all in one place, my inner cat was just happy about it.
"Go. Go. Go," Eli said over the com, and Bruiser, Wrassler, and I leaped from the limo. Because of his injury, Wrassler's job was to cover the back entrance and make sure no one got away or came in to help the bad guys. Bruiser and I raced through the alley for the frontal assault, my breathing doing that whole Darth Vader wheeze inside the mask. I pulled on Beast's speed to keep up with him. We rounded the front together, and sent two women screaming away. I had a glimpse of a sleeping baby in a backpack.
Bruiser took out the front window with a ball-peen hammer. Glass shattered and fell, the sound muffled by the ear protectors. Bruiser raked the glass out with the hammer and leaped through. I followed, glass still falling. He disappeared behind the silver velvet draperies. My first job was to yank the draperies down and let in sunlight. The velvet came down fast, along with the metal track that supported it, flooding the space with light and revealing only an entrance to a hallway that opened both left and right.
Bruiser had disappeared to my right. I entered the hallway to the left, sliding my spine against the wall. I heard nothing except my heavy breathing, smelled nothing except the filtered air, and saw even less, thanks to the mask. On the upper floor, the guys were clearing rooms: I could hear it through the communication gear. On the roof, Eli was supposed to be doing his magic and reversing the powerful AC fan to air out the gas from the building so the guys could pull off the masks and pull on low-light-vision gear, but it would take time, and every second would just be pissing off the vamps. Fortunately, I didn't need low-light gear. I had Beast.
She rose in me like a wraith, and my vision sharpened, turning the world silvery bright. My heart pounded steadily in my ears. I moved down the hallway. There were no doors except at the ends, which was odd. I was hearing nothing. Except the radio chatter of the men. No one was on the third floor. No one at all. Again - odd.
I stepped through the doorway at the end of the hall into an open room. It looked like a reception room, and a woman was facedown at a desk. I raced over and checked her pulse. Steady, if a little slow. I secured her hands behind her back with two zip strips and moved around the desk to a door in the back. Carefully, I opened it. The room beyond was pitch-black except for tiny red and green lights, like on computers when they're asleep, or on battery backups. But I couldn't use my nose to smell vamp, which I hated. I was head-blind.
I pulled a flashbang and tossed it inside. Turned my head away and closed my eyes. It exploded, the flash white through my closed lids. I raced in and stopped, listening, hearing nothing. I had to get out of this headgear. As soon as I could breathe.
From nowhere, I took a blow to my chest that threw me across the room. I rolled to my feet and pulled two blades. I couldn't fire a gun - there might be sleeping humans in the room. I felt, more than saw, movement and struck out with the blades, cutting in a figure-eight pattern. I hit nothing. And I took another blow. This one to my head. It knocked my mask askew. I took an involuntary half breath and smelled sleep-bomb and vamp. The scents were vaguely like boiled eggs and vamp-spice tea, an unpleasant combo to my Beast-enhanced nose, though the humans the vamp hunted probably liked her spicy scent. Holding my breath, I pulled the mask back in place. I yanked loose a CS canister, set it on the floor, and activated the nozzle. Hit the halogen light on my vest.
The room lit up like stadium lights and revealed a vamp right in front of me. She gripped my right arm and snapped down, around, and would have pulled me off my feet, except I knew that move and I followed her, dropping with her. I grabbed her ankle, threw it into the air. Dove under her legs. CS mist coated my mask, further depleting my view of the world. I wiped at it, smearing it worse. The halogen light bounced around the room, revealing and hiding, illuminating and throwing bizarre shadows dancing drunkenly on the walls. It was disorienting and Beast hurled more speed and her spatial awareness into my bloodstream.
The light hit the vamp in the face. She was vamped out, two-inch-long fangs and pupils like black saucers. Her face was bleeding. Her eyes were bleeding and watering. She took a breath and started coughing, the action so unexpected to her that she fell to her knees. She looked up at me, her face shocked. I wondered how many centuries since she'd had to cough. The CS was working in ways I hadn't expected. The vamp rolled to her back, breathing and coughing, clutching her throat. I pulled one of the special stakes and stabbed downward with both hands. The stake was way longer than my usual ones, at thirty inches. I rammed it into her belly. Blood sprayed up, but not the fountain I sometimes saw. I had missed her descending aorta. Caught on her belt buckle. I put my back into it.
The stake had a silver cap on the sharp end with a steel tip that I drove into the floor, pinning her down, poisoning her blood on the way through, in addition to the silver spraying into the air. She wasn't true-dead, and she might even survive, but she was in a lot of pain. She wouldn't be getting up anytime soon.
Over the com gear, I learned that one of the rooftop teams was entering the second story. They had already secured three humans, all of whom were starting to wake up. I also heard heavy, steady breathing and the sound of blades clashing.
Clicking off the halogen light, I moved on through the room and out another door, into a larger room, maybe half the total square footage of the bottom story. The open area was dim, lit by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. Bruiser was already in the room. Part of the panting I heard over my com channel was him. He was fighting two very old, and very strong, vamps, one armed with a long sword and one bare-handed, claws extended.
I could barely follow the moves, the swoosh of afterimage giving it all a filmlike speed. Bruiser was fighting with a midsized blade in each hand and it was almost beautiful, poetry in motion. I had given him the blades two months ago, after I took them from the body of a vamp I'd killed. Bruiser had been mesmerized by them, calling them something Asian, in a language I didn't recognize. He had obviously been practicing, and even more obvious - he was no novice. With the vamp-blood in his system, he was a master work of art. He flew through the moves, the blades an extension of his will and his mind. The vamps were bleeding. And Bruiser had removed his mask. I yanked mine off and it fell to the end of the flex strap to dangle behind me out of the way. I took an exploratory breath and smelled the egg-stink, but felt fine.
On the other side of Bruiser, a door opened and three more vamps entered. They were far closer to Bruiser and his fight than I was. Bruiser was good, but not one-on-five good. I ran right at them, screaming in challenge, a big-cat scream of rage. I pulled and tossed a flashbang and a CS canister at them. Shouted, "Flash!" hoping Bruiser would understand. I leaped right at the closest vamp, sliding my hand around the stock of the M4 in midair. Tucked my feet out of the way, and fired, closing my eyes.
The flashbang and CS went off. I opened my eyes just in time to land. I kicked laterally into a vamp's knee joint. Heard the crunch over the ear protectors. He was falling down and away, coughing, his blood spouting from neck and chest, bubbling from the silver shotgun wounds. He was one of the vamps with acidic blood. It burned where it splattered on my exposed knuckles. I staked him in the belly, low down. Flipped him over and secured his hands with three zip strips, knowing they weren't made for a vamp's strength, but hoping the injuries and the silver he was breathing would weaken him enough to hold him for a while. He was coughing like he had a bad case of pneumonia or had just been pulled from the water, drowning. So were the other two vamps who had come in with him, both on the floor coughing and bleeding from the eyes, the silver mist in the air burning their skin. They looked like they both had really, really bad sunburns. Just to make sure they stayed down, I staked them both in the lower bellies and secured them with zip strips. I'd have to get some silvered strips. Yeah. Why hadn't I thought about that before now?
I clicked off the light and turned to see Bruiser finish off the two he'd been fighting. He stabbed, twisted, and slid the blade out of one. That vamp fell to his knees. Bruiser cut across a biceps of the last one, hitting bone, and caught the long sword the vamp dropped. Using the new blade, he took the vamp's head, whirled, and took the head of the other one.
"There can be only one," I murmured, and started laughing. Bruiser turned to me so fast I felt the air blow past my face. He swung the long sword back to attack. Beast slammed into me and I leaped away, across the room, landed, and pulled both Walthers. "Bruiser? It's Jane."
The room went still. Bruiser's face was emotionless, a mask. No recognition, no warmth. He hesitated for a space of three heartbeats. He advanced on me, stepping fastfastfast.
"Don't make me shoot you," I said, backing away.
One of the vamps I had staked and secured kicked out at me, drawing Bruiser's attention. That was all I needed. I dove at him, swinging, knocking his head with the butt of the gun in my right hand. Not a nice way to treat a handgun, not to mention a head. They hit together with a satisfying thud and Bruiser dropped, catching himself with his open sword hand, holding the long sword with only a finger and thumb. When he looked up, he shook his head. "Jane?"
"Yeah. We'll talk about this later. Six vamps down. Weapons fire from upstairs." I pointed across the room. "We need to check that." That was the old bank vault and the specially built safe room to its side.
We moved slowly across the open space to the room. It was built from cinder block reinforced with rebar and concrete. It had its own roof, flat and smelling of tar paper, about three feet from the warehouse ceiling. My eyes had acclimated to the dimness of the windowless place, but the inside of the room was blacker than pitch. I pulled the halogen light from my belt and shined it into the room.
The room was twelve feet square, with a six-foot-across circle in the middle made of salt. There was no pentagram, no runes, no magical elements to guide a witch in a working. But there was a body. A recently dead body. She was hanging from the rafters by a rope, her big toes barely touching the floor. She was naked. With a stake in her heart. Her fangs were small, marking her as, maybe, a hundred years old.
"Sacrifice," Bruiser said.
"Yeah. And her blood smells funny."
"One of the sick ones."
"I'd say so," I said, turning for the old bank vault. I shined my light inside. The metal shelves were bare. Whatever had been planned for this room either hadn't been finished or had been carted out already.
"Report," Eli said into my earpieces.
The fighters upstairs started reporting in. "One old vamp DB. Two humans contained. No injuries. Did not sight de Allyon." In the shorthand Derek used for ops, DB meant dead body, contained meant uninjured and restrained. No injuries referred to the men under Derek's command. Not de Allyon meant the vamp wasn't the one we were after.
"Danced with three humans, now contained. They were waking up and we had to hurt 'em some. No injuries. Did not sight de Allyon." It sounded like Tequila Blue Voodoo, proving that Derek had brought a mixed party of his men.
"One young fanghead DB, two humans contained. We're beat all to hell and back, but don't need anything except beer," Angel Tit said. "Did not sight de Allyon."
"One vamp, age indeterminate, DB, two injuries. Medic needed for John. Not life-threatening. I need a couple of stitches," an unfamiliar voice said. "Did not sight de Allyon." I thought it was El Diablo, who I had last seen feeding a vamp on the field of battle.
Eli said, "One old sucker DB. I'll be joining you for those stitches and that beer." The men chuckled. "Cheek Sneak and I did not sight de Allyon."
"No vamps encountered," Rick said. "Three humans contained, no injuries, did not sight de Allyon.
Bruiser said, "Two old vamps DB." The mics went silent for that one. Bruiser had taken down two very old vampires. Single-handedly. "Did not sight de Allyon," he said. "But we did find one younger vamp, DB, on ice, true-dead." He looked at me and grinned, teasing. "Legs? That leaves you."
I frowned at him. Into my mic I said, "One human contained. Four old vamps contained." The radio traffic went silent. "No injuries. Did not sight de Allyon," I added, that important piece of info just hitting me.
"She buggered the rest of you and left us some vamps to chat with," Bruiser said. "Janie wins the pool."
There was a pool?
"This I gotta see," one of the guys said.
"Not until we go over this place with a fine-tooth comb. Lock it down," Eli said. "We want de Allyon."
Bruiser and I quartered off the lower floor and went through it again. There weren't many rooms, only one unisex toilet, and no closets or hiding places. It was fast work. "First floor clear," I said into the mic. We started up to the second floor. Five steps in, I heard something and looked back. "Correction. Two coming this way."
That was when we were hit with the second wave. Vamps came rushing out of the new, empty safe room and up the stairs with reptilian speed and grace, vamped out, screaming. Hungry. I could smell their hunger and their sickness. These were infected, and I had no idea where they had come from. The dang vault and cinder-block room had been empty.
I fired the shotgun, hitting the first one midcenter. Beside me, Bruiser stepped down two steps and took the head of the second one, the long sword in one hand, one of the lovely midsized swords in the other. Blood fountained up from her stump. I fired at the third vamp, knocking him back. Bruiser took the head of the two I had hit while I finished up the rounds in the M4. When all seven rounds were gone, I pulled the Walthers and started in with head shots, slowing them down, Bruiser to my side, finishing them off. Soldiers poured down the steps to back us up, and we took the fight down to the first floor, spreading out. And still the vamps came.
There was no grace, no finesse. It was just battle. Just blood and the stink of gunfire. I saw two of ours go down in the melee, and vamps fell on them to drink. Eli and Derek waded into them, stakes and blades flashing. I took a set of talons across one arm, a fist to the gut, and a roundhouse kick to the kidneys. It was three on one and I went down. Rule number one when fighting vamps. Stay on your feet.
I was still falling when the first vamp fell on me. Oofed out a breath it didn't need and went flying, a boot in the air in front of my face. A short sword followed, taking off another vamp's forearm with one swipe. Rick reached down and pulled me up, his fingers like steel bands on my unhurt arm. He swung me around and supported me with an arm around my waist until I was steady. Until I had drawn two vamp-killers. "Payback isn't always a bitch," he said.
I laughed. I'd saved his life a couple of times. Now he'd saved mine.
It went on and on. And when it was over, Bruiser and Rick were standing back to back, heaving breaths. Derek and I were against a wall, two downed soldiers at our feet, where we were protecting them. Three other of the men he had brought were still standing, but all were wounded. Two were dead. Derek hit 911 and called for medic.
Around us were fourteen vamps. Only fourteen? It seemed like hundreds. But none of them were de Allyon. Lucas de Allyon had not been in his base camp.
All the blood and fighting and death had been for nothing. Wasted. My eyes filled with tears that I blinked away. I wiped my face. Vamp blood was burning me. "Crap. Crap, crap, crap," I whispered.
Near me, a man moaned. I opened my cell and called Leo. Fortunately, he was already on his way. He'd be here quickly and would heal the injured humans. I closed the cell and looked up to see six humans emerge from a wall. Not a doorway, but a wall, a hidden opening to a hidden room. It hadn't been on the plans submitted to the planning commission. Vamps who broke the law. Imagine that. I almost started laughing until I got a whiff of the blood-servants. They all smelled of the vamp sickness.
Derek covered them and made them sit down with their hands on their heads. I thought about the sick and bleeding Asheville vamps. Here was a treatment that might save them until we figured out how Sabina had healed that guy . . . the vamp . . . the dumb pretty one whose name was totally gone from my exhausted brain. Callan! Yeah. Callan. I texted Leo. "Humans here have antibody to illness. Send to Asheville?"
Instantly he texted back "On the next plane."
Gotta love modern forms of communication. Then I texted to Adelaide "Got treatment. Will send ASAP." I closed my phone. And slid down a wall to sit on the floor.
Eli wandered over, his combat face still in place, looking hard and remote. He stood next to me, staring out over the battlefield, and when he spoke, his lips didn't move, a sotto voce not even vamps could have overheard. "The marine called Cheek Sneak. I caught him taking pics and texting. I took his phone. You want I should give it to Alex?"
"Yeah," I said, and closed my eyes. Had we finally found our other tattletale? "If you prove he's been talking to the enemy, tell me first. Not Derek."
Eli breathed a low laugh through his nose. "Copy that." He meandered away.
"You're hurt."
I opened my eyes and looked at Rick. "So are you," I said. He was burned and limping, and blood crusted his knuckles as if he'd hit a wall. Or maybe beat in a vamp's face. Either one sounded like him.
"My were-taint will heal it," he said, offhand. "But yours is bad." He knelt, lifted my arm, and I saw that blood coated my sleeve. He peeled back the cut cloth to reveal the injury, three oozing wounds, parallel, made by vamp talons. The lacerations were about two inches across and cut into the deltoid muscle deeply enough that when he pressed it open, a tiny pulse of blood started, rhythmic and steady. A tiny artery had been severed.
"I'll heal it when I shift," I murmured.
Rick sat beside me and opened a military med kit on his belt. Inside was a tourniquet, the kind a medic put on a severed limb to stop the bleeding, packages of sterile gauze and alcohol pads and cleanser. Stuff to sew up a wound, black thread and tiny curved needles. A syringe of clear fluid. It was marked MORPHINE.
"You are not sewing me up," I said.
Rick laughed. "No. I'm not. But I will pack it until we can get out of here."
"Okay. Sure."
I watched as he tore away my sleeve and cleaned and bandaged my wound. He tied the gauze snugly and wound cling wrap around my arm. It hurt, but I watched his hands, sure and steady as he worked. I smelled his scent, sweat and blood and cat. When he was done, he raised his eyes to me and smiled, flashing that small crooked bottom tooth. A shiver cut through me, burning and icy.
Rick lifted a hand and touched my burned face. Gently. So gently. I closed my eyes, inhaling him. Wanting him, and knowing that I couldn't have him without risking contracting the were-taint. "You smell so good," I whispered.
"I miss you," he whispered.
"I miss you too," I said. "This so sucks."
He chuckled. "Yeah. It does. What's worse, now I have a job that's likely to pit us against each other way too often." And then he was gone, taking his med kit and its little syringe to a soldier we had thought was dead but who was still with us. In agony.
I looked up to find Eli's gray eyes on me, a strange look on his face, an odd amalgam of something sharper than mere curiosity, more intense than suspicion. And maybe something like longing. It took me by surprise. He studied me and I studied him. And then he turned away.* * *
A bit less than an hour after sunset, Leo arrived in a rented, extra-long stretch limo. With him was Sabina, the outclan priestess, healed of the disease that had taken her down, and three blood-servants chosen for battle experience, more so than beauty. Lounging on the beautiful upholstery was Gregoire, Leo's secondo heir, dressed in sky blue silk pajamas. Next to him on the long seat were the surprises. Rick introduced his unit - a werewolf stuck in wolf form, and Pea, a juvenile grindylow - and with them was his supervisor at PsyLED. Her name was Soul. She was gorgeous.
Soul could have been anywhere from forty to sixty, the kind of woman who was ageless and sexy and sultry, and made all the men in visual distance perk up and think about taking her to the nearest hotel. She had smooth olive skin and black, flashing eyes and platinum hair, the kind nature gives some formerly black-haired women. It hung down her back in long, supple waves. And she had curves in all the right places. I disliked her on sight.
I stepped back behind the wall and studied her. Soul was wearing some kind of long, floating, diaphanous dress made of layers of silk gauze that brushed her feet. Over it she wore a watered silk coat to her knees. She was wearing a pair of black dancing shoes with straps over the instep that I coveted. Around her neck was a thin gold chain with a solid gold apple depending from it. In Beast sight, she glowed with the heat of magical energies, not witch, not were, but something not human. She was also carrying a staff with a psy-meter mounted on the top. A supernat working for PsyLED. Great. Just freaking ducky.
Soul, the wolf, and Pea went straight to Rick. Leo came straight to me. Instantly I flashed on the forced feeding, the pain and the fury and the helplessness. My hands clenched, but I forced down my reaction, knowing that anything I felt he could read in my body language, or smell drifting from my pores. I took a slow breath and blew it out.
"Report," Leo said. It sounded like a military command and I was forced to remember that Leo had fought in wars for centuries, Gregoire at his side, as he was now. Or leading the way. Despite his slight build, delicate form, and silk pjs, or perhaps because of it all, Gregoire was a fierce warrior. I'd seen him jump in front of a bound demon armed with nothing but a sword and zeal. Leo was scary in totally different ways. The MOC was just freaky powerful.
"We beat 'em. I guess. But your enemy wasn't here. Sorry, Leo."
He lifted one black brow in that elegant and infuriating way he had, and said, "You are bleeding. Humans are dead. Mithrans are dead, and their blood smells of disease. I require details, my Enforcer."
I sighed. And there it was. The instigating factor of all the crap I was in just now - my claim to be his Enforcer.
And then Leo leaned in, his nose near my collarbone. He sniffed once, delicately, and stood back, his face puzzled. He turned to his second and said, "Something is different."
Gregoire leaned in as well and sniffed. He said, "Your bonding with your Enforcer has undergone a metamorphosis."
Oh, crap. They could tell that by my smell?
Gregoire clasped his hands behind his back and walked in a half circle around me like I was a mare he might buy. I narrowed my eyes at him. If I hadn't been so weak from blood loss, I might've socked him. "Interesting," Gregoire said.
To a blood-servant standing at his back, Leo said, "Bring my injured servant a chair before she falls supine."