He was as massive as the others, admittedly one of them. She shuddered, trying to block out the sight of the corpses all around her.
But he looked different as well, his facial features appearing more human. His horns ran back along his head through his tawny hair, instead of jutting forward.
How can I see this well without my glasses? "Why should I t-trust you?"
"Because it's my job to protect you. More will be coming - I'll explain everything later."
When she still hesitated, he said, "These twelve were just the first round intended for you."
"First round?" she cried.
A creaking door sounded from somewhere on a floor above them. He shot to his feet. "Come with me if you want to get out of here alive."
"Wh-where are we going?"
"We're going to run for it. I'll keep you safe, but you'll have to trust me." He held out his big hand to her.
Seeing no other choice, she took it, and he pulled her up. She was surprisingly steady on her feet, all things considered. Never relinquishing her hand, he led her out of the chamber, then down a murky stone corridor.
When the passageway intersected with an alcove, they spied a group of three males, robed like the ones before, speaking that same odd language. Cadeon pulled her back against the wall, then whispered directly at her ear, "Don't make the smallest sound. You stay here until I return for you. Clear?"
She nodded, and he turned back. As he prepared to attack, the broad muscles in his back grew before her eyes. His horns straightened and blackened.
Her lips parted when he lunged for the others. His speed was mind-boggling, and his roar shook the room, paining her sensitive ears. He snatched the horns of one demon and twisted its head until an audible pop sounded.
As he faced off against the other two, his upper and lower fangs shot longer. He used them like an animal as he bit and clawed.
Had she looked that overcome with rage when she'd killed? Her earlier fearlessness disappeared. When his eyes flooded with black like the other one's had, she shuddered, backing away.
Had she thought him different? I just want to go home. Forget this ever happened. Why should she trust him? I can find my own way out.
Clear of the fray, she hastened in the direction they'd been traveling, eventually stumbling into an open gallery.
More bizarre symbols were stamped into the wooden chairs and stone floor. Ancient-looking tapestries hung on the walls. On a display shelf were skulls that looked human, but they had horns and upper and lower fangs.
Then she saw what appeared to be double doors to the outside. If she could get outside, she could find a car or hide -
Rapid gunshots exploded the plaster just feet to the right of her. She sucked in a breath and dared a glance as she ran to her left. Men aimed machine guns at her with deadly intent.
A second man began shooting from the other direction. Bullets riddled the wall on either side of her, closing in. She darted right, then left once more, blocked each way. The sweep grew closer...closer.
A foot away on each side. She froze with terror.
A bellow sounded over the gunfire. Cadeon hurdled the line of bullets to get to her. Scooping her up in his arms, he tucked her against his chest. Just as the shots reached them, he pressed her against the wall until his body covered every inch of hers.
He gritted his teeth when the first bullet hit him, unable to turn to run without risking her. She burst into tears. Two bullets, three, four...
He stared down at her, those jet eyes seeming to consume her, and grated, "No more...running from me. Yeah?"
"Y-yeah," she whispered brokenly, crying harder every time his big body jerked from the impact.
Over his shoulder, he roared at them, a furious warning growl, and she whimpered. His voice a harsh rasp, he said to her, "No, no, female. Shh." He petted at her tears with huge fingers tipped with short black claws.
The shots abruptly stopped. Holly peered over Cadeon's shoulder. The robed demons were attacking the gunmen.
As the others clashed, Cadeon sprinted toward those double doors with her in his arms. He turned in midstride, hitting the doors with his bullet-riddled back, bursting them from their hinges.
Charging out into the night, he made for an older truck parked off to the side of the manor. After opening the groaning cab door, he tossed her inside on the cracked vinyl seat and followed her in. He pinched the key and turned. Nothing.
"Is the battery dead?" she asked, shaking off some of the shock and fog. "Does this thing still run?" Wrappers and crushed cans littered the floorboards.
"Hey, hey, no disrespecting The Truck. She's gotten me out of a lot of scrapes." He finessed the gearshift up and back. "I just need to make sure...she knows we're in neutral." Holly thought she heard a click. "There."
The engine roared to life. He cast her a patronizing glance as soon as they were tearing up the shell drive.
She peered back at the manor. From the outside, the residence was stately, the grounds immaculate. She would never have guessed what beings lurked in the bowels of that place.
And now she was with another of their kind. She turned to him, studying this being - this...demon.
He had blond stubble on his tanned face, and his hair was thick and straight, reaching past his masculine jaw. Uneven strands looked lightened by a life in the sun.
The gold band he wore on his right arm appeared to be permanent, as if he'd have to cut it to get it past that bulging bicep. And those horns...
When they'd straightened earlier, they'd become much larger and darker. Now they were smooth, the color of a shell, lying close to his head. With his hair tousled over them, they probably wouldn't be easy to discern.
"How am I measuring up?" he asked, his voice deep and rumbling.
She flushed. "I've just never seen...horns before tonight."
"Figured you'd be in for a shock."
"Where are we going now?"
"I've got to get you out of town," he said. "This place is too hot for us to stay."
She noticed blood on the back of his seat. "How are you still moving with all those bullets?"
"With a lot of f**king pain, Holly."
She gasped, his foul language grating on her like nails on a chalkboard.
"Oh, come on, halfling! My language's only going to deteriorate from here."
"I...it's just habit. Are you going to be okay?"
"I should be able to shed them." When she frowned, he explained, "My skin should push them out when I heal."
Holly couldn't scarcely wrap her mind around that. "What did those men want with me? Who were the ones shooting?"