If Derek had fought in this plaza, there would be scratches on the asphalt. A few clumps of wolf fur here and there. Shredded flesh - he tended to rip into his targets. I saw none. Maybe he didn't fight here after all. Maybe he came upon it and took off . . . I stuffed the hope into the same place I had packed the guilt. Later.
A fine spray of pale, smooth droplets stained the asphalt to the left. I moved over, carefully stepping between the blood smears, and knelt. What meager hope I had shattered. I would've recognized the color of those pale patches anywhere. They were drops of melted silver, cooled into globules by the night. I pried a couple from the asphalt and slid them into my pocket. There was no way to melt silver in the middle of the parking lot without some sorcerous means. Either the Reapers had a strong magic user with them or . . .
A sharp growl made me turn. Two wolves hovered on the edge of the plaza, their eyes glowing pale yellow like twin fiery moons. George and Brenna.
George's muzzle wrinkled. He planted his legs wide apart. His black lips parted, revealing a huge maw and pale fangs. A snarl ripped from his mouth.
I rose very slowly and held my hands up. "I'm not a threat."
Brenna snapped at the air, flinging spit. Her shackles rose like a dense coat of needles.
"I didn't cause the bloodbath. You know me. I'm a Friend of the Pack. Take me to Jim." As long as I didn't touch Slayer, I had a chance at a peaceful resolution. If they jumped me while I held my saber, I would damage them. I was trained to kill, I was good at it, and in the adrenaline rush of a fight with two 200-pound animals, I would kill and then regret it for the rest of my life.
Two growls drowned out my voice. They leaned forward, emanating bloodlust, exuding it like a lethal perfume. My sword arm itched.
"Don't do this. I don't want to hurt you."
A high-pitched coyote yowl cut through the snarls. The night parted and a lean shadow sailed over the wolves. A tall, shaggy body charged me - a shapeshifter in a warrior form, flying over the asphalt, tree-trunk legs pumping, huge, muscular arms spread wide. I caught a flash of grotesque jaws armed with two-inch fangs that would rip my face off my skull in a single bite.
The wolves charged. Shit.
I ducked under the swipe of the shapeshifter's sickle claws and rammed my elbow into the monster's solar plexus. He jerked forward from the force of the blow and I sank two silver needles into his neck, behind the ear. He screamed and clawed at his head.
Behind him the night belched two more nightmares.
The wolves were almost on me.
I rammed a quick kick to the shapeshifter's knee. Bone crunched. Good-bye walking. I kicked him into George, popping another needle into my hand, spun about, and slammed right into Brenna. Damn. Teeth clamped onto my wrist guard, her mouth swallowing my arm, and I
dropped a needle into her throat. Brenna dropped my arm and yelped, spinning in a circle, trying to spit out the silver burning her tongue.
Fire raked my back. I whirled, rammed the attacker's furry orange arm, exposing the armpit, and forced a needle into the shoulder joint. The shapeshifter howled. The arm went limp.
They swarmed me. Claws clamped my shoulders. Teeth bit my left thigh. I kicked and punched and stabbed, popping silver needles from my wrist guard and sinking them into furry bodies. Bones snapped under my kick. I twisted, snapped a quick punch, crunching someone's muzzle, and then my room to move shrank to nonexistent. A furry ginger-red arm crushed my windpipe and pressed the side of my neck, cutting the blood flow to the brain. Classic choke hold. I leaned back and kicked with both legs, but there wasn't enough space. I couldn't breathe. My chest constricted as if a red-hot iron band had caught my lungs and squeezed and squeezed until the light shrank. Huge fangs closed over my face, bathing my skin in a cloud of fetid breath. A stray thought dashed through my head - what sort of animal makes an orange shapeshifter? The world went dark and I slipped under.
MY THROAT HURT. MY THIGH BURNED - EITHER someone had scalded me with boiling grease while I was out or a werewolf had bitten me. The rest of me felt broken, like I'd been passed through a laundry wringer. I opened my eyes and saw Jim sitting in a chair.
"Fuck you," I said and sat up.
Jim rubbed his face with his hand, as if trying to wipe away what bothered him.
My whole body ached, but nothing seemed permanently out of commission. My mouth tasted of blood. I ran my tongue along my teeth. All there.
"Did I kill anybody?"
"No. But two of my people are out until their bones heal."
We looked at each other.
"I stood there with my hands up, Jim. Like this." I raised my hands. "I didn't pull my sword. I didn't make any threats. I just stood there like a submissive bitch and asked them to please let me speak to you. And this is what I got?"
Jim said nothing. Asshole.
"Show me an Atlanta shapeshifter who doesn't know me. Your crew, they recognized me.
They know who I am, they know what I do, and they still fucked me up. You've worked with me for four years, Jim. I fought with the Pack and for the Pack. I fought with you. I'm an ally, who should have earned the trust by now. And you and yours treat me like an enemy."
Jim's eyes went ice-cold. "Here you have trust when you grow fur."
"I see. So if a loup bites me tomorrow, it will mean more to you than everything I've done up to this point." I rose. Fire laced my thigh. "Is Derek okay?"
"God fucking damn it, Jim, is the kid okay?"
Nothing. After all the shit we'd gone through together, he shut me out. Just like that. The loyalty that bound me to Derek meant nothing. The years I'd spent looking out for Jim while he looked out for me as we teamed up on Guild gigs meant nothing. With one executive decision, Jim had cast aside the slender standing I had clawed and fought for with the Pack for the last six months. He just sat there, silent and cold, a complete stranger.
The words dropped from Jim's lips like a brick. "You should go."
I had had just about enough. "Fine. You won't tell me why your crew worked me over. You won't let me see Derek. That's your prerogative. We'll do it your way. James Damael Shrapshire, in your capacity as the Pack's chief security officer, you have permitted Pack members under your command to deliberately injure an employee of the Order. At least three individuals involved in the assault wore the shapeshifter warrior form. Under the Georgia Code, a shapeshifter in a warrior form is equivalent to being armed with a deadly weapon.
Therefore, your actions fall under O.C.G.A. Section 16-5-21(c), aggravated assault on a peace officer engaged in the performance of her duties, which is punishable by mandatory imprisonment of no less than five and no more than twenty years. A formal complaint will be filed with the Order within twenty-four hours. I advise you to seek the assistance of counsel."