"He laughed. The bottle was in his neck. He was bleeding all over and laughing at me."
"He won't be laughing when I find him." He said it without bravado, flat, the same way most people promise to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home.
The Almanac said that the upir was immune to metal, wood, stone, tooth, and claw. How the hell were we going to kill him?
Curran reached over. His warm hand rested on my forearm for a moment and moved on. For some reason that made me feel better. There was no reason why it should have, but it did. I closed my eyes, put my head on the damp-smelling boards, and fell asleep.
A LIGHT TOUCH ON MY SHOULDER WOKE ME. "LEY point," Curran said. I sat up and saw the break in the ley line up ahead, where the view of the normal world grew distorted. Several tall figures waited for us.
"Friend or foe?"
"Friend," Curran said.
The platform buckled, trying to contract on itself. The old boards creaked, taut under the strain, and grew slick as the damp wood expelled the moisture. The line quaked with a spasmodic jolt and spit us into the deformed arms of a dozen shapechangers. Clawed hands reached to help me off the platform. I got up to my feet on my own.
"How many are left?" Curran asked the head female.
She snarled, mismatched jaws snapping, and a shapechanger in a human form stepped forward. "Two groups, m'lord," he said. "A small family from Waynesville and nine people from Asheville. There was a freak mudslide and they have to dig through the sludge to get to the point."
Curran nodded and strode up the dirt road, flanked by dense brush. Far ahead I could hear the horrible growl of a reconditioned vehicle.
"A horse would be quieter," I said.
"I don't like horses," he said.
All around us the brush was alive with lithe shapes. Glowing eyes watched us, drinking in every movement. The Pack was mobilizing, pulling into Keep. No shapechanger would remain outside its walls, and until the last of them crossed the threshold of their fortress, the roads leading to it would remain heavily fortified.
"Nobody can remain on full alert forever," Curran said, as if answering my thoughts. "After we killed Olathe, I'd let them go."
Except that it wasn't over.
The roar of the water-powered car grew too loud to talk. We rounded the bend in the road and I saw the reconditioned Jeep guarded by three wolves. We climbed in and Curran drove to Keep.
CORWIN'S LABORED BREATHING ECHOED ACROSS Pack's infirmary like the toll of a mourning bell.
His misshapen face looked haggard, gray skin sagging from the bone. His feverish eyes fastened on me.
"The Wood is calling," he whispered. I touched his hand, and wicked claws shot out, tearing my skin. "A good hunt," the lynxwere said.
"He doesn't know who you are," Doolittle said over my shoulder.
Gently I freed my hand and patted the furry throat.
"It won't be long now," Doolittle said.
"I hurt," Corwin rasped.
I looked to Doolittle, but he shook his head. "There is nothing I can give him to stop that kind of pain."
"He was impaled on a broken lamppost when we found him," Curran said softly.
Corwin jerked upward. Massive hands gripped my shoulders and green eyes blazed, suddenly lucid. "I'm dying," he rasped.
"Yes," I said, while Doolittle said "No" at the same time.
The cat clung to me. "You never came to the Wood," he said.
"No." I held him gently. His chest shuddered, raked by pain. "I never did."
"Too bad..." the cat whispered.
He sagged in my arms and I lowered him to the pillow. He trembled. A bloody waterfall drenched the sheets, leaving a lynx among the tangle of bandages. His fur was matted and bloody.
"Shit!" Doolittle spat, shoving me aside.
I backed away from the bed, as he feverishly grabbed for a syringe. Curran took me by the shoulders and turned me toward the bed at the opposite wall.
"There is someone I need you to ID for me," he said.
I looked at the bed and saw a man lying on his back covered to his chin with a blanket. There was something unnatural about his rigid pose. Curran pulled the blanket aside and I saw that the man was strapped to the bed. I took in the filthy brown hair and the hard face. There was something familiar about him. I'd seen him before. The man's eyelids snapped open and I took a step back, instantly recognizing the promise in the pale eyes. The bum from Ted's office. The pieces clicked. How stupid of me.
"We found him next to Corwin, knocked out cold," Curran said. "Apparently he jumped into the fight for Derek, but he won't tell me why."
"Untie him," I said.
Curran looked at me. "He has trouble controlling himself."
"Untie him," I repeated. "You shouldn't keep a Crusader of the Order tied up in your infirmary, Curran."
A tortured noise came from Corwin's bed, the hoarse painful yowling of an animal in agony. For a moment Curran looked like he would pound his fist into the wall, but the slip lasted a mere breath and the calm expression reasserted itself on his face.
"Get him to behave," Curran said," and I'll untie him."
I sat down on the edge of the bed. The Crusader's gaze had a touch of insanity to it. All Crusaders were crazy. It was in their job description. If at this moment, he broke free of his restraints, he would try to kill everyone in the room.
"I know who the upir is," I told the Crusader. "I know what he wants." The Crusader's eyes fixed on me. Once he looked at you, really looked you in the eyes, you started to sweat, your muscles tensed, and you knew you had only two options: fight or flight. He wasn't giving me his hard stare now. He was listening. "The upir can't stay away," I said. "Soon he'll come here and then I'll fight him." I pointed to Curran. "So will he. While Curran and I are fighting and bleeding, a man will be lying here, tied to the bed because he was too stubborn to compromise."
The Crusader spoke. "They took my weapons."
Curran nodded. "He can have them back if he promises not to assault my people. And to stay in Keep. I can't have him running around, fucking shit up right now. He cooperates or he stays tied to the bed."
I looked to the Crusader. The madness flared in his eyes and died. "Agreed," he said.
I took a knife from my belt and sawed through the restraints securing his arms. The Crusader sat up, rubbing his wrists. I offered him the knife and he cut the bonds on his ankles.
"What's your name?" I asked.