Howls brayed around them as they raced back through the trail Lucien had made earlier on his way in. Now it was Serf’s turn to feel every bump on the road. He was holding on tight, sprawled across Lucien’s back, his legs wrapped around Lucien’s torso, his heels digging into his flanks. He was grasping Lucien’s neck bind with one hand and gripping the gun with the other. Serf found this intimacy horrifying.
Suddenly, all was now silent save for the sounds of Lucien trampling through the forest and their heavy breathing. This concerned Serf. Silence augured attack. His eyes darted about as he tried to spot the Neuri’s auras instead of trying to spot the Neuri themselves. Remembering how well their fur camouflaged them and shuddered.
Dark clouds soared overhead and extinguished what faint sunlight remained. Lightening exploded. At its tail came the downpour.
Lucien’s wet fur bristled, needled Serf’s skin. He tightened his grip on gun and shackle.
“Seven strong,” Lucien said, picking up their scent, then picking up his speed. “Hang on.”
Though he didn’t want to look back-he had his fill of werewolves for a lifetime-Serf turned and did just that. The woods were a flurry of activity. The undergrowth heaved. Shapes sifted through the foliage flanking them. Though he couldn’t make them out, he saw their green auras gleam.
“They’re behind us. About fifty feet.”
“Yes,” Lucien growled. “We cannot outrun them.”
“We could try.” Serf dug his heels into Lucien’s sides, harder now, as if spurring a stead onward.
“We will have to make a stand.”
Ahead, Serf saw the log he’d tossed into the bushes earlier. “We’re almost there! We can make it without a fight. The Neuri won’t go past the freeway.”
“They want their king’s corpse back. They will follow.”
The decision was made for them, as two Neuri came charging in from the dense foliage flanking them. Their coats swirled and shifted with all the colors of the forest. One attacked from the right. The other from the left. Serf braced for impact and clenched the gun. One leapt low and took Lucien’s legs out from under him. The other came high and knocked Serf from his lupine perch.
Lucien crashed into a tree and toppled it with his massive head. He bounced to his hind legs as the tree fell behind him. His attacker charged. Lucien stood his ground, cocked back his arm just as the Neuri leapt and swung. His fist punched through the Neuri’s chest as fangs sank onto, then into his shoulder. Both howled. Smoke poured over Lucien’s embedded arm. The silver shackle was now inside the Neuri, searing him from within. The Neuri’s jaws went slack before the former demon lord pulled out his hand. A human body fell to the earth.
Meanwhile, Serf was dealing with a werewolf of his own. They tumbled into the underbrush. The detective’s only thought was to hold onto the gun. He sprang to his feet, slipped on mud and felt his ankle twist. He buckled and dropped to his right knee. An unplanned move, but an effective one nonetheless. Fur and fangs now claimed the space where his head had been. The Neuri soared over him, exposing its underbelly. The detective fell on his back and fired. A human body landed a few feet from his face. Glory was short-lived. Another Neuri was charging toward him.
Lucien lifted a large rock and threw it at the Neuri that was about to pounce on Serf. It connected with its head. There was a bone cracking sound. Then the Neuri fell backwards. Serf fired, put a bullet in its chest. It crashed into the underbrush. A human hand protruding from the shrubbery confirmed the kill.
Lucien roared, “Go Serf! Back on the trail!”
Wincing, Serf got up on wobbly legs, swayed for a moment, then gritted his teeth and hobbled back on the trail. Lucien lifted the tree he’d uprooted earlier and turned to face the wolves.
They came charging through the underbrush, four of them. Lucien hurled the tree. Three of the Neuri couldn’t avoid it. The fourth leapt over it and tore after the fleeing detective.
Serf ran as best he could on his twisted ankle, sweating profusely, feeling fatigue set in. Ahead, he could see the freeway’s blacktop. So close yet so far. He ignored his ankle’s screaming protests and raced toward the oasis, wiping the rain falling into his eyes, and trying not to slip on mud. Then he heard something crashing through the woods behind him. He knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t resist glancing over his shoulder. The Neuri bearing down on him bore no silver shackles upon its appendages. Knowing he wouldn’t make it to the freeway, Serf stopped and took aim. He never got the shot off.
He felt the Neuri’s weight as it hit his chest. He smelled the wild musky scent pouring off its damp fur. The gun flew from his hand. He knew he was about to die when he felt fangs sink into his shoulder and shatter his clavicle.
The Neuri opened its maws and released. Hot drool dripped onto Serf’s face. Serf thought that his entire head could actually fit into the beast’s great mouth and closed his eyes. When he heard the sounds of more padding feet, he squeezed his lids shut tighter. Then he felt the weight on him increase, and heard a scream. He dared a peek, and was shocked to find a werewolf’s fist protruding from where the Neuri’s forehead should’ve been. A silver manacle adorned the jutting hand, still clenched in a tight fist. Fur and flesh melted away from the head, and before Lucien extracted his hand, the head he pulled it from was human.
Lucien shoved the body aside, grasped Serf’s shirt about the chest, and flung him onto his back. “Three more remain,” he said, as he was about to charge back onto the trail and head for the freeway.
“Wait,” Serf croaked, his shoulder blazing, feeling like an infection was soaring through it. He was pointing at the ground, about ten feet away. “The gun.”
Quickly, Lucien reached for it, and handed it to Serf. Serf couldn’t hold on to both Lucien’s shackle and the gun. Not with his left arm dangling uselessly at his side. Serf shoved it into his waistband and Lucien tore back into the woods via the trail.
They heard the wolves behind them, roaring, braying, charging, but neither the former demon lord nor the detective looked back. The freeway beckoned. They could see it. Only a copse of bushes separated them from it. Lucien hurled over it, felt his feet touch the blacktop, heard his claws click on it, then saw a flash of metal just before the car hit him.
Again, Serf flew from his wolf mount, rolled along the ground tumbling end over end, his shoulder blaring with pain. Wearily, he rose. He saw the front end of the vehicle crumpled inward. He saw Lucien rising to his feet, then saw two Neuri dive onto the freeway. Lucien was already charging toward them.
Serf headed for the car. He hobbled to the driver’s side door and flung it open. The man inside was unconscious. His brow wound bleeding over the wheel. He was about to pull the body out, thought better of it, and shoved it into the backseat instead. No use wasting a good meal. Lucien would have quite an appetite once they escaped. If they escaped.
As Lucien and the two Neuri circled each other, the combatants looking for an opening, Serf saw a third one leap onto the road. Serf shot through the front window as he plastered his foot to the pedal. The bullet found its mark, as did the car. Serf plowed over the Neuri he’d just shot.
He hit the brakes.
The two remaining Neuri hesitated. They’d lost eight of their kin and seemed disinclined to press, crouching low to the ground, backs arched.
Lucien raced to the car, reverted to his wolf form as he went, and crashed through the back window. Serf punched the pedal just as Lucien landed in the back seat.
Serf looked into the rearview. They were still on the road, staring after the car. As long as they weren’t in pursuit, Serf couldn’t care less.
“Call your men,” Lucien said from the back seat. “Tell them to locate a Father Randolph Purgeon.”
“So you found something,” Serf said, reaching into his pocket for his mobile phone. His hand came out of his pocket clutching a smashed phone. “We’re going to have to call my guys from Servanah’s.”
But Lucien didn’t answer; he’d already begun eating the car’s former owner.
Serf drove to the soothing sounds of Lucien eating. A small part of him wondered why he’d ever found it disquieting.