"Easy for a PreCog to say."
"Isn't it? Come on, let's go kick some ugly Unseelie ass." With a half smile, he climbed into the SUV his best friend, Hammer, was driving.
His words so closely echoed Mackenzie's that Kalen wondered how much the man knew about what people said and did around the compound. It was freaky as hell. In the next instant, it struck him that Nick was joining in this time when he normally remained in command at the compound. From the looks some of the guys exchanged as they got into the vehicles, they thought it was unusual too, but no one questioned him. The more fighting on their side, the better.
Or maybe Nick foresaw something they didn't. Kalen got into the SUV Ryon was driving, and tried not to dwell on their boss's visions or his own part in the whole mess during the ride. On the outskirts of town, Ryon pulled over on an overgrown country road, parking behind Hammer. Kalen, Ryon, Aric, and Rowan piled out of one vehicle, Nick, Hammer, and A.J. out of the other.
Nine Pack soldiers against a dozen Sluagh. Not horrible odds, but it could've been better.
Rowan and A.J. carried plenty of hardware loaded with special bullets. Rowan was a newly turned wolf, A.J. a human, and as former cops they were both more comfortable with guns than fangs and claws. A.J. had also been a SWAT sniper years ago, and that skill had come in pretty damned handy once before-on the night Rowan had killed Chappell and they'd apprehended Beryl. The others would use a variety of man-made and supernatural weapons, whatever worked best in the situation.
"We'll cut through here," Nick said, raising his voice to be heard. "We'll meet Jax and Zan near the clearing about a mile away and intercept the Sluagh. Capture one alive if you can, but don't take unnecessary risks. Everybody be careful and get home in one piece."
Murmuring in agreement, the Pack started off through the trees. The area was pretty rural, no houses in sight. Just acres of forest, though Kalen didn't know if this was considered part of the vast Shoshone or not. Whatever. Traveling a mile through the undergrowth seemed ten times as long as walking down a stretch of lonely highway. He would know.
Kalen worried about all the noise they were making, no matter how cautiously they tread. But in the end, stealth didn't matter. The screams of terror reached their ears before they broke the cover of the trees. In the lead, Nick began to run and everyone else followed suit.
When they charged into the clearing, Kalen's blood ran cold. Across the meadow, a small house was nestled in the trees, a scene that might have been picturesque-except for the Sluagh ripping at the front door, tearing chunks out of the screen and wooden frame, trying to get inside. And the others at the windows, smashing glass panes.
"Go! Go!" Nick shouted. And in mid-stride, without shedding his clothes, he morphed into a big white wolf. His clothing simply vanished.
Kalen had been under the impression that he, as a Sorcerer, was the only one who could perform that particular trick. Born shifters like he and Nick must be different. But there was no time to dwell further on it. The Sluagh had broken into the house, and they were much too far away.
Kalen shifted too, letting his panther free to streak across the open expanse. As they neared, an adult male's voice yelled in anger and fear, trying to defend his family. The pop-pop sound of gunshots split the air, followed by the man's agonized scream . . . that ended in a horrid gurgle.
More screams. A woman and kids. Teenagers? God, what a clusterfuck!
As they reached the house, Kalen spotted two wolves already at the scene-one silver, one black-fighting Sluagh outside. Jax and Zan. Fangs and claws slashed as they attempted to get at either the heart or the throat of their opponents. They were two on two, so Kalen rushed into the house. The woman and children took priority.
Inside, the carnage in the living room was something Kalen never wanted to see again as long as he lived. Blood was everywhere, coating almost every surface. A man, presumably the father, lay sprawled on his back, eyes wide and unseeing, his head nearly severed from his neck. Still in his grip was a .357 Magnum, a weapon that would discourage almost any intruder.
Except minions from hell.
Half a dozen Sluagh were ransacking the living room and the tiny adjoining kitchen, mindless in their destruction. From down the hall behind a closed door somewhere, the woman and children were screeching, and from the noises, at least two more creatures were trying to get to them.
They had to get to the man's family. But first they had to dispatch these bastards. The Sluagh froze upon seeing their fun interrupted, then roared and charged to meet the threat. Kalen rushed one, quickly maneuvering behind him and slashing the back of its leg. He hit his target, slicing the thing's hamstring, and it went down squealing in pain.
Lightning fast, Kalen shifted back to human form and leaped on its chest. Shifting just his right hand to use his razor-sharp claws, he drove them straight into the Sluagh's heart. In seconds, the thing was dead.
Leaping to his feet, Kalen spun just in time to avoid the same fate as the unfortunate man whose family they were trying to save. He ducked and the Sluagh's big mouth full of long teeth snapped the air where his neck had been a second before. He took this one out almost like the first, stepping into its body and delivering the thrust to its corroded heart.
But this one didn't die easily. As Kalen stepped back to let it fall, the creature made one last swipe with its claws, tearing right through his duster and the shirt beneath, into his side. Kalen swore as he stumbled back, clutching the tattered coat. Goddammit! He'd had that duster for years, and this asshole had messed it up.
Even wearing his pendant, he could get hurt. But he'd heal faster with it than without.
There would be plenty of pain to accompany the injury, he was sure. But for now, it hardly registered. A quick glance showed that the others had this part of the house under control. Kalen took off down the hallway just in time to see two Sluagh outside a closed door, one slamming his bulk into it again and again. As he burst through, pieces of wood went flying and the screaming inside ramped up to ear-shattering decibels.
"Hey, you fuckers!" Kalen yelled. The two attackers turned to face him, their wrinkled, batlike faces registering surprise.
Then they shrieked, flapping their leathery wings and beating their chests in an attempt to look scary. Mission accomplished. Fortunately these creatures ran on a severe shortage of brain cells. While they were busy attempting to see which one could appear the most frightening, Kalen uttered a word, held out a hand, and summoned his Sorcerer's staff.
After leaving his bed in the infirmary to come here, then doing battle, this was going to drain him. But it was the most expedient way to remove the threat from the wide-eyed woman and teens beyond the gaping doorway.
Softly, he began a chant directed at the enemy, the ones in front of him as well as any remaining Sluagh outside. Their macho posturing halted and they looked puzzled-and then their skin began to shrivel like raisins in the sun. Almost every creature on earth was made mostly of water. Take away that element and there wasn't much left. Malik's trained dogs were no different.
This method of Sorcery was one of the most disgusting he knew, but effective. The Sluagh began to whimper in fright and he almost felt sorry for them, but the image of the poor man in the living room erased that feeling in a hurry. The pair shriveled to husks, dead in moments, and then he simply waved his staff, reduced them to dust, and sent the particles floating away.
Kalen raised his gaze to the woman beyond the door-and she promptly fainted. A teenage boy and girl stared back at him.
"Fucking awesome," the boy said. The girl burrowed into her brother's side and remained silent.
Kalen started for the door, grimacing as the burning in his side made itself known. He staggered a bit, dizzy, but he wasn't finished here. Leaning against the doorframe, he nodded at the kids.
"What's your name, son?"
"Travis," he answered, his voice scared but strong. "This is Katie."
"Okay, Travis, I need your help. You and your sister get your mom up on the bed. Then all of you stay in here until we say you can come out."
"Where's my dad?" His chin quivered. Still so young, on the brink of manhood.
Oh, kid. I'm so sorry.
"Just stay here, all right?"
"Tell me where my dad is!" Travis was starting to panic, and that wouldn't do.
Holding out his staff, Kalen chanted a few soft words. The teens' eyes fluttered closed, and their bodies lifted along with their mother's. Gently, Kalen floated them all onto the bed and laid them down together. There they would sleep until the Pack could arrange to get them out of this place.
A hand clamped down on his shoulder and he turned his head to see Nick standing there, his expression grim. "Thanks for the help with those last few. There were more outside the house than we thought. Jax and Zan almost got their asses killed."
"They all right?"
"Yeah. Because of you."
Kalen flushed at the praise. It was nice, but strange to a guy like him. "What now?"
"We've got a dead civilian. Fuck!" the commander spat, losing some of his legendary cool for a moment. He heaved a deep breath. "I made a call to our buddy Sheriff Deveraux. The rest of the creatures hadn't yet reached the citizens in town, so we're okay there. He'll spin this attack to the public as an armed robbery or something. Random attack."
Kalen's lip curled at Deveraux's name. There was no love lost between him and Kalen. The asshole had tried to run him out of town more than once when Kalen had first arrived.
"A robber who bit a man's head almost clean off? Yeah, that'll fly."
"They aren't going to let that tidbit see the light of day." Nick gestured to the forlorn figures on the bed. "Did they see what happened to the dad?"
"I don't think so. The boy asked where he was, but I didn't tell him anything. Figured putting them to sleep until this is cleared away would be best."
"Good thinking. Can you do a mind wipe on them?"
Kalen considered it, and nodded. "That's about all I have left in me, but yes. I can. They'll wake up tomorrow with no memory of the Sluagh, us, or anything else that took place here. Then the good sheriff can spin whatever story he wants and they'll never know any different."
"All right. Do it so we can turn this over to Deveraux and get the hell out of here."
"You gonna warn him that there's more Sluagh where these came from?"
"Don't see any other way. He needs to know, and he'll call us if he or his men spot anything unusual."
Unusual. Now, there was an understatement. It was on the tip of his tongue to smart off that he could tell Nick used to be an FBI agent, but he refrained. Barely. Instead he walked on unsteady legs over to the bed and knelt. He wanted this over with quick.
Starting with the boy, he pressed his palm to the forehead and literally pulled the memories of the last half hour from his mind. The scenes were horrid, filled with the terror of monsters at the door, and he began to sweat as they flowed from the boy. When he'd retrieved them all, he set them free, letting them dissipate like so much noxious poison. Until the day the boy died, there would forever be a gaping hole in the day he lost his father. Same with the sister and their mother.
Finished, Kalen pushed to his feet, barely able to stand now. He was beyond thrilled to see the sheriff standing in the bedroom with Nick, both of them studying him in fascination.
"It's done," Kalen told them hoarsely. "They'll wake up tomorrow, and they won't remember a thing about tonight. Ever."
"Well, it looks like you're good for something other than hanging out in the cemetery robbing graves and disturbing corpses," Deveraux drawled, a hint of a snide tone coloring his words.
"Fuck you, douche bag."
"Jesse," Nick rumbled to the sheriff in warning. "Lay off."