He had to hang on. Just a while longer.
Give it up, my boy. You are mine.
"No." Kalen studied the backs of his teammates, but nobody seemed to have heard.
The lust for blood will rise within you, unstoppable. Give it full rein, feed it. And turn it against the Pack. Be my instrument of revenge.
Concentrating, he tried to shore up the crack in his shield. An almost impossible chore, considering the distractions all around him. He had to watch his Pack brothers, scan for possible traps, hidden enemies. There were sure to be many, if this was in fact the last stronghold for Malik's research.
Did Malik know where they were headed? He couldn't, otherwise the Sluagh guards would be on them already. No, the Unseelie was picking up on his emotions and trying to use them. He didn't really know where Kalen was at the moment.
He'd do his best to keep it that way.
Spread out, they walked through the trees as silently as possible. Using every ounce of their animal stealth, they made their way closer to the building below them. When a grayish blur detached itself from the cover of the forest, it wasn't unexpected, but it shocked the senses all the same.
From their right, a huge Sluagh slammed into Hammer, taking the big man to the ground. His shout was lost in the simultaneous roars from the beast and from the Pack. Rowan was closest, and immediately jumped onto the thing's back, a big Glock in her hand. Without wasting a second, she pressed the muzzle to its temple and blew its brains out. The creature slumped to the side, leaving Hammer staring up at Rowan, wide-eyed.
"Shit! Thanks, Ro," he breathed. "That's one way to take them out."
"And effective, too." Crawling off the beast, she kicked it in disgust. Then she turned just in time to receive a possessive kiss from Aric.
Kalen wondered how the man handled bringing his mate into danger. He wasn't sure he could do the same. Then again, Mac and Rowan were two completely different women. Ro was raised in east Los Angeles and had been an LAPD cop. She was earthy and tough. Kalen's mate was a gentle doctor, and he couldn't fathom her doing what Rowan had just done.
The scent of the creature's blood hit Kalen hard, and the crack in his wall threatened to split at the seam again. Rancid as the odor was, it sparked a fire low in his belly. The need to kill. As he'd done with the avatar of Sariel.
Dammit! He couldn't let the craving get the best of him.
They set off again, the tension high. The Sluagh had obviously been patrolling this section alone, but his brethren might notice his absence anytime. They had to move faster, and picked up the pace.
Once the building was in sight, Nick signaled them to halt and gestured them in close. "A.J., this looks like a good place for you to pick off anyone who gives us trouble."
"I got your backs, boss." The human wasn't a fighter, but he had a high-powered rifle with a scope, and he was deadly accurate with it.
"The rest of us will split into two teams. Kalen, Ryon, Hammer, and Jax take the back. The rest of us will cover the front. Ryon, let us know when you enter the building."
Ryon gave him a thumbs-up and took his group, making a wide circle to the back side of the facility. Kalen couldn't get the stench of the Sluagh's blood out of his head, the itch to shred something-anything-out of his system. The need crawled through him like a disease, insidious. Barely contained.
At the back of the building, they pressed up against the wall on either side of a door that looked to be a service entrance. The lack of guards was disturbing, to say the least. That feeling mounted as Jax picked the lock and they eased inside, still unchallenged.
We're in, Ryon pushed into their minds. There's a garage area back here, probably where they bring in the prisoners. Three vehicles, two of them vans with blacked-out windows. No guards. I don't like this.
He paused, presumably getting an answer from Nick. Ryon, as the team's Telepath, could push his thoughts into their heads, but no one could hear a direct mental reply except him. After a few moments, Ryon gestured his group forward, scanning carefully.
With an effort, Kalen kept his mind firmly focused on taking out the enemy when the time came-and only the enemy. These were his brothers. His future. Not Malik or his empty promises of acceptance.
He could resist the evil. He would.
Across the garage was a door that served as the entrance to the main building. They crept toward it, alert. Something, perhaps some small sound, made Ryon look up, into the beams over their heads.
And he shouted, "Get down!"
The garage erupted into high-pitched squeals as several Sluagh swooped down from the rafters at once. Kalen dropped into a crouch as the others hit the floor. Facing these numbers, he figured it was better to use his magic than call his panther.
Ryon and Jax shifted into their wolves and leaped, tearing into a couple of the creatures. Hammer traced, confusing the beasts near him. But there were too many, and they would quickly be overwhelmed in hand-to-hand combat.
Summoning his staff, Kalen stilled. Focused his magic on the attacking Sluagh. Then he called the element of water, coaxed it from their bodies. Disseminating it into the air. The creatures began to shrivel and scream. One particularly smart one seemed to realize Kalen was the cause of this development and charged him, closing the distance between them rapidly.
His heart pounded, but he didn't move. The beast rushed toward him, roaring his rage, eyes small and red. And then he too shriveled, dropping right at Kalen's feet like stone.
"Fuck." Kalen's knees shook at the close call. Uttering a phrase in Latin, he reduced the bodies to ash, and the particles floated away. His friends morphed back to human form and picked up their shredded clothes.
"That's a damned nice trick you've got there," Jax said, pulling on his pants.
"It's saved our bacon more than once," Ryon agreed. "Thanks."
"Think anyone heard the commotion?" This from Hammer, who brushed himself off.
Jax smoothed down his goatee. "Only one way to find out."
They gathered on either side of the door. Ryon turned the knob and gave it a small push. It swung inward, revealing a long corridor beyond, clean and sterile with white walls and tile. Faint wailing could be heard from a distant room, the soul inside completely without hope.
"Just a few more minutes," Jax whispered. "Help is on the way."
Here is where it can get tricky, Ryon projected as they entered. We're in the back hallway. It's long and narrow, a tight space for a fight. We'll take it room by room, gather any survivors.
The first few rooms were being used for storage. Upon inspection, the spaces were surprisingly well organized, with metal shelves storing various useful items. The industrious Dr. Bowman had been busy since they'd nearly caught him last time. One room was full of cleaning supplies, another labeled with medications of all kinds. Jax took an interest in these.
"Before we torch the place, we need to gather this stuff. Maybe it will give our own doctors some helpful research into what these fuckers have been using." He fingered a labeled bottle. "And some free meds, too, if there are some good drugs here."
"Good point," Ryon said.
The next room held shelves of clothing. There were the drab green scrubs that were meant for their doctors and other staff. Some others were plain, consisting of rough tan pants and pullover shirts. Kalen wondered if these were for their unwilling residents, which didn't make sense. Malik's lackeys had never seen fit to clothe their test subjects before. They didn't care about them that much.
"Maybe they got tired of their experiments dying," Jax observed, studying the clothing. "Won't matter after today what those assholes wanted, though."
They filed back into the hallway, watchful. At a junction where their corridor was met by another on the left, an armed human guard stood leaning against the wall with his back to them. His stance was relaxed, bored. That would be his last mistake.
Jax quickly sneaked up behind him, grabbed his hair, and jerked him backward. A cry of surprise was silenced as Jax used a sharp claw to slice the man's throat and allowed him to slump to the floor. The guard gurgled, reaching to his neck, but the light in his eyes faded. He was dead in moments.
Kalen's bloodlust rose, hot and shameful. He needed to kill. The next one was his, and he'd enjoy every second.
Good, my son. Feed your need. It matters not what your Pack believes they've accomplished today. What matters is that you use this as your training. Give in to your desires and we'll rebuild together. No one will stop us then.
Dammit, the Unseelie had broken through. The hypnotic words tightened their grip on his soul. He could take out the guards, all the staff here, and that was acceptable. He could channel this need without risking his friends. Right?
A bead of sweat rolled down his face. Control was hard. He wanted to give in to the seductive darkness. Needed to.
As expected, the actual labs and holding areas for the captives were located in the middle of the building. They knew they were upon them when sounds of activity reached their ears. There was a voice here and there. The roll of a cart's wheels along the tiled floor. Beeping from a monitor. An assistant inquiring as to which subject would be brought to the OR next.
And Dr. Gene Bowman, answering, "Bring the wolf to OR-4. I want to try and splice his DNA with human subject 356 again. I'm on the verge of a breakthrough. I can feel it."
Did you hear that, Nicky? Ryon asked. Then he nodded to Kalen and the others. "His group has taken out the guards in the front and they're approaching from the other side of this central area. We've got them boxed in."
To everyone, Ryon said, Let's wait and see where they retrieve this captive from and who he is.
They didn't have to wait for long. Dr. Bowman disappeared, presumably into OR-4, and the assistant buzzed into a cell by punching a silver button on the wall across the hall. It seemed this setup allowed their captives to be conveniently located right next to their torture chamber. The bars slid open and the assistant went inside.
When the lackey came out, he was dragging a tall man with long, filthy golden hair that hung to his waist. He jerked his captive and for a moment his body faced them before both men vanished into the OR.
"Goddamn," Jax hissed, fists clenching. "That was Nix!"
"Those sorry bastards," Ryon said, his voice low and deadly. "Let's go get him and bring him home."
They've got Phoenix! We're on the move.
They closed in fast, and Kalen could see Nick round the corner at the other end of the hallway, the rest of the team behind him. Kalen glanced into the cell the lackey had retrieved Phoenix from and spotted three more figures huddled together in misery. For now they'd be safer where they were.
Ryon led the first strike as they burst into the OR. Bowman looked up, shock blooming on his face. The man grabbed a nearby scalpel and brandished it over Nix's inert body, but the weapon was scant defense against a roomful of enraged Pack brothers out for his blood.
"I'm gonna tear out your fucking heart," Jax snarled. Then he pounced, taking Bowman to the floor. The man's scream as Jax ripped him apart echoed eerily in the enclosed space. The asshole had it coming. He'd hurt and killed so many in the search of world domination, and now it was over.
Kalen turned toward the assistant, who had managed to pull a gun from his lab coat. Throwing out a ball of energy, he zapped the weapon out of the man's hand, and Ryon took him down, ending him in the same manner as the doctor.
Hammer glanced around uneasily. "Is that it? That was too easy, man."
And then the world exploded into chaos. Literally. All around them, the very walls of the research facility detonated, blowing them off their feet. Kalen's back hit a counter hard, and then he was thrown to the floor. Pain radiated through his vertebrae, and he sucked in a sharp breath only to get a lungful of debris.