He coughed as dust and dirt rained down. Chunks fell from the damaged ceiling, which threatened to cave as well. Where the hell was everyone?
Wiping the grit from his eyes, he saw his group struggling to rise. The scent of blood hit his nostrils and this time it wasn't rancid. The aroma was sweet and delicious, and he instantly recoiled. The blood belonged to his Pack brothers. He wouldn't betray them.
Kill. It's what you do best.
He pushed to his feet, and his heart sank as more Sluagh emerged from the shadows. Malik had sent them here. This was another test. Kalen wouldn't fail. But for which side?
Sounds of battle came from somewhere beyond them. Nick's group. There was no longer a corridor or distinguishable rooms. Just a mess of ruined walls and rubble.
His friends threw themselves into battle with fervor, dispatching Sluagh right and left. More took their place. Using his claws, Kalen slashed, stabbed the beasts' hearts. He used rapid-fire balls of energy to take some down before they could overwhelm his brothers.
But somewhere in the fight, the line began to blur. The craving for the next kill, and the next, mounted with each life he took. It was all too easy and satisfying. Watch the light die; take the next one. Death and more death. So good.
The darkness took him and he was powerless against it. Without a sliver of the light to guide him, the need to deliver death knew no bounds. He turned, searching for his next victim, to find himself staring into wide, light blue eyes, the face surrounded by layered blond hair.
The Sorcerer's hand whipped out almost of its own accord, and he gathered a massive ball of energy. This one would burn right through his opponent's heart, leave nothing but scorched flesh in its wake. And death. Bittersweet and delicious.
But before he could release the fire, a body slammed into him, knocking him to the dirty floor. He roared, trying to dislodge his enemy, to no avail. He fought to gain purchase. Barely understood the words shouted near him.
"Christ, he's gone feral! Hold him!"
He struggled harder, but more bodies held him down. He hated being pinned. When men did this, it was for one reason only.
And then he went wild. It was all they could do to subdue him.
"Somebody put him out, goddammit!"
"Sleep, kid," Nick ordered, palm on Kalen's forehead.
And he had no choice but to obey.
Mac picked at her sandwich with disinterest. She'd hardly been able to stomach three bites before nausea played ping-pong with the roasted chicken. The food in the compound's cafeteria was excellent, but nerves and pregnancy were getting in the way of any enjoyment.
The creamy tomato basil soup, one of her favorites, settled much better. She was halfway finished with the bowl when her father came jogging into the dining room. The expression on his face had her on her feet in an instant. She didn't think she'd ever seen the man look nervous before.
"Daddy?" She reached for him instinctively.
"Baby, the Pack is on the way in. They're six minutes out."
"Injuries?" She hurried out, jogging beside him. Stay calm. Professional.
"A few lacerations. Hammer had a broken leg, but Zan healed it."
"So why the hurry?"
When he didn't answer right away, she grabbed his arm, stopping him outside the entrance to the infirmary. He gave it to her straight.
"It's Kalen. He's gone feral and Nick had to put him out-"
"Oh my God!" she cried. "He's dead?"
"No! I mean put him to sleep for a while. But it's wearing off and they're having trouble keeping him under control. They've bound him in silver chains and they're bringing him here as soon as they land."
She thought fast. "It won't do them any good to bring him to the infirmary if he's not injured."
"Nick wants him sedated."
"No. That won't help. Sedation will render him incapable of defending himself mentally, and that will only give Malik an easier path into his mind."
"Shit." The general scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Then what do we do?"
God. No. It killed her to say it, but there was only one solution at the moment. "They need to take him to Block R." My mate, forgive me. "Call Nick back. I have to ready a cell."
She ran toward Block R, where they kept the creatures that required rehabilitation. The block housed several residents, chief among them Raven and Belial. Raven was the Pack member and former SEAL who'd been stuck in wolf form for more than five years. Belial was a sneaky, seductive basilisk who had yet to earn freedom to roam the compound.
And now it would house Kalen. Her heart ached for her Sorcerer. Quickly she used the keypad to unlock a cell away from the other residents, opened it, and studied the interior. There was nothing in it but a bed bolted to the floor and a mattress on top of the frame. No sheets or pillows. Nothing that he could use to harm himself.
Her father came around the corner and she heard the commotion heading their way from behind him. Kalen was screaming profanities, out of his head, and she braced herself for a horrible confrontation.
Or thought she had until Nick and several others came in to view, barely holding on to the Sorcerer, who was bound in silver chains. Her mate was enraged, twisting his body and slashing with his fangs to try to take a chunk out of his captors. When that didn't work, he tried to utter a spell in Latin, but Nick slapped a hand over his mouth hard, risking a nasty bite to stop the chant.
"Bring him here!" Mac called.
They struggled but managed to maneuver him into the cell, where Nick and Jax tossed him across the space, then let him go and hauled ass out of there. As soon as they cleared the door, Mac and her father slid the heavy bars home. They locked into place with a loud clang that was awfully final.
Hands still bound behind his back with the chains, Kalen hit the bars, causing the whole door to rattle on its track. Mac stood immobile, watching the man she loved slam himself into one wall, then the other, totally out of his head.
"Let me go!" he screamed. "I'll fucking kill you! Every last one of you! And I'll laugh while I'm doing it!"
Tears welled in her eyes, trickled down her cheeks. She couldn't stand seeing him like this. "Daddy," she whispered, grabbing his hand. He held on to her tightly. "What can I do? How do we help him?"
"I don't know, baby girl," he murmured. The entire team gathered around, looking equally stricken.
"Feast on your carcasses," Kalen raved. Laughing, he slid down the far wall next to the bed, uttering curses. Perhaps parts of spells that had no effect in the iron-and-silver-fortified room. His eyes were those of his cat, green, glittering, and elliptical. He smiled, showing off the huge fangs that had almost gotten a piece of his friends. "This is what I am. Blood will tell, won't it?"
Nick stared at Kalen, his eyes suspiciously moist. "We can't let him suffer like this."
"I agree," her father said.
Aric spoke up. "If we can't reach him, he'll eventually bring this place down around our ears. He's too strong to be kept in a cell for long."
Nick withdrew his gun from his waistband. "I'll do it. He's my responsibility."
"What?" Mac shouted. "No! You can't give up on him just like that! I can reach him. I know I can!"
"Honey," her dad began, his face wretched.
"Please. I'm begging you. Give me a chance to get through to him." Her voice broke. She trembled from head to toe, terrified that Nick would deny her plea.
"Mac, he's too far gone," Nick said gently, eyes sad.
"He's a man, not a dog to be put down," she spat angrily, wiping her cheeks. "He promised me he would fight this, and I know he's in there somewhere."
"God," Jax breathed. "Where's the justice in this? We gave him our word that we'd have his back. What's our word worth if we let him drown the first time his head goes under water? Even Raven is still here, though he's been stuck in wolf form for almost six years."
"Raven isn't a Fae Sorcerer with an Unseelie sire and the power to destroy the entire world as we know it."
"Another chance, Nicky. Please."
One by one, the guys voiced their agreement. Against their united front, Nick wavered, then finally relented. "Forty-eight hours. If he's not showing signs of improvement, I won't allow him to suffer any longer. Or to endanger us all."
Even against the backdrop of Kalen's vile rampage, the guys were visibly relieved. Kalen was one of their own, and they didn't want to give up on him.
Nick slumped, looking wiped out. "I need to go check on Phoenix. Melina's taking care of him."
One by one the guys hugged Mac, then headed for the infirmary to await word on their old friend, found and home once more. Mac was torn, but opted to stay with Kalen for a while. Nick wouldn't hear of her remaining behind alone and ordered A.J. to stay with her. Just in case. A.J. nodded, lips pressed into a thin line. He understood the situation very well. And he was trained to handle it.
Mac eyed the rifle with the wicked-looking scope slung over the sniper's shoulder and her gut cramped in dread. She sent a prayer to whatever deity might be listening for her mate to come out of this safely. Alive and whole.
After the others were gone, Mac turned to A.J. "What happened at the research facility?"
The man shook his sandy brown head. "I was on a hillside doing my part to pick off the uglies. I didn't know what was going on inside, but suddenly the central area of the building exploded and fell in. I raced down there, but it was all over by the time I picked my way to where the guys were."
"Surely Nick told you something?"
The handsome man looked away. "Doc, all I know is that the team was ambushed. They were able to get into the research lab and the prisoners way too easily. Then a shitload more Sluagh arrived and they were outnumbered."
"They don't think Kalen had anything to do with that . . ." The idea was horrid. But given the way he was acting now-not unreasonable.
"Nick doesn't think so. But the bloodlust of battle got to your mate. The others said he went into a rage and killed practically the whole damned bunch of those monsters on his own. But they didn't realize he'd stopped distinguishing between 'them' and 'us' until he turned on Ryon and came close to killing him, too."
Mac looked to Kalen, sitting on the floor of his cell. He had his chin tucked to his chest now, dark hair hiding his face, babbling to himself. She couldn't tell what he was saying, but he seemed a bit more calm. But only just. He was still plenty agitated, rocking back and forth, oblivious to her and A.J. watching.
She moved a little closer to the bars. "Kalen? Sweetie, it's me-"
His head came up and he growled, baring his fangs. His elliptical, kohl-rimmed eyes showed not the slightest hint of recognition. He was angry, straining at his bonds. And he was afraid too. Confused.
The emotions slammed into her hard, and she gasped. She felt his fear through their bond, and a ray of hope made a pinprick in the gloom as she recalled that he could feel her emotions as well. She could use that to their advantage. Try to reach him.
Moving slowly to avoid agitating him more, she sat cross-legged on the floor. A.J. leaned on the wall nearby, ready in case of trouble. She blocked out the terrible image of his scoped rifle and concentrated on her bond with her mate. Thought of their baby. Her dreams for the three of them. Sent waves of love to him in an endless stream.
His snarling gradually stopped. His fangs receded and his eyes were humanlike again. But humanity was still absent. He remained confused, but the awful rage had subsided. He studied her for long moments before his lids began to droop. Worn out from the events of the day, he slept.