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.“Leshy came home late, crying about wild men in the city with glowing white eyes.” I glanced over at Thelma, but her face was in the shadows.“He said he was attacked.I tried to soothe him, but to no avail.”We cut through the clothing section, weaving in and out of racks filled with blouses and skirts.Arduinna obviously wanted out of here as much as we did.“Mimi managed to calm him enough for him to sleep.That’s when we noticed the nasty bite on his shoulder.”Thelma put a hand on my arm as I gave a subtle shake of my head.As much I loved the truth, this was not something to tell an ancient goddess right after killing her friend.Hell, I was barely handling the shame and guilt myself.It’s wonderful to tell yourself that you had no control, but it’s completely different to live with the consequences.“Mr.St.James? Are you all right?”“Call me Nick,” I told her after a deep breath.“Go on.”She shrugged as we headed toward the escalator that sat in the center of the department store.“I went to work tonight thinking everything would be fine.I usually stay late to close.I like the night.It helps keep my mind away from the pain,” she added, softer.Arduinna stopped at the top of the escalator.“That’s when the men came.They didn’t want to talk.They simply opened fire with no warning.”“You have no clue who they were?” Thelma asked.The girl shook her head.“No, but I fear someone is targeting the Family.I called… Nick because he seemed to be the only one who cared.I’m glad I did.”“I don’t know,” I said with a sigh.“That bow of yours is pretty deadly.”Grief washed over her features.“It can be.I just never believed I would use it on one of my own.”“Hey,” I said as tears came to her eyes, “something is doing this to us… to him.The white eyes, the sudden power… there’s more going on here.This Green Man is targeting you for some reason.I won’t rest until I find out why.”Taking a deep breath, she straightened up.“Oh, trust me, I will end this thing, one way or another.” The fire in her eyes made me take a step back.I kept forgetting this wasn’t a young woman, even with the oversized sweater and jeans.Instead of words of comfort, I said, “Let’s get out of here, first.”Ari walked in front of me with Thelma bringing up the rear as we made our way down the escalator.I was able to relax my body enough for the roast beef to process, but I still remained on high alert.Especially since I didn’t know how many Sons of the Green were left after the barbeque down below.“You feeling okay?” I asked Thelma as we descended.“Only if you stop asking.I’m fine.”“You look like death warmed over.”“Gee, thanks.”“I mean it in the best way possible.” I frowned as Arduinna disappeared into the darkness at the bottom of the escalator.Thelma ran her hand through her sweaty hair.“You look in a mirror lately? I think we both need a vacation.”“I need—” I couldn’t finish the sentence because something slammed into me as soon as my foot touched the floor below.Fingernails scratched my arms.A whirlwind attacked, full of growls and snapping teeth.I managed to roll again and kick upward with my legs.Arduinna flew ten feet in the air before crumpling into the bedding and bathroom towels.Yet, it was only for a moment before she sprang up and loped toward me on all fours.Arduinna’s eyes shone like white fire, and she was more feral than human.Thelma yelled something and stepped in front of me.A bright flash of green erupted from a candle in her hand.Arduinna howled and flinched, but she was too fast.Blinded, she still managed to backhand Thelma into the discount Christmas display.Howling again, Arduinna tackled me to the ground as I stepped toward Thelma.Fire burned as her fingernails and teeth slashed across my skin.It was only the thickness of my hoodie that kept most of her attacks at bay.“Ari!” I yelled as I pushed her head away from my face.“Jesus, look at me!”The girl’s teeth snapped an inch from my nose.I didn’t understand.Not any of it.I didn’t want to hurt her.I pushed her head back and kicked her off again.This time she didn’t even land before coming back for the attack.It was all I could do to keep her from ripping out my throat.With my night vision, I could see the sweat and drool on her face.I could smell the raw animal musk wafting from her skin.My hands were almost invisible as I parried her lunges.Rage built in my brain.I could feel the Fever coming as my body burned itself out from the strain.My vision went red.“Yes,” a voice whispered.“That’s it.”Survival became all.Smashing, biting, white eyes, those became my world.Rage filtered my thoughts in a sheen of blood.I had her on the ground.Arduinna’s eyes flashed white and then went dark.She whimpered like a beaten puppy.I could smell her fear as she curled into a ball under me.Her musk was intoxicating.My heart slammed against my chest.“That’s it,” the voice whispered.“Feel her fear.Take her.”A crimson mist descended on my vision.I burned with fever.My hands wrapped around her throat.Her eyes bulged.“Feel her life drain between your fingers,” the voice whispered.“Taste her blood between your lips.”Fire burned me from the inside.Arduinna whimpered.Her fear circled my brain.“Nick?” Another voice broke through the haze.I snarled and turned.My only thought was rage and death.A woman stood behind me.Fear drenched her brown skin.“Nick, your eyes,” she said.I howled in rage.The woman raised her weapon.It was in that moment that a thought crashed through the haze.The woman smelled of fear, but not for herself.She stood her ground in front of two beasts, and her only fear was for me.“No,” I whispered.A snarl of rage came from the darkness.Time slowed to my enhanced senses.With my night vision, I saw three men standing next to the back wall.A giant cat with black-tipped ears snarled from its perch on top of a shelf filled with bath towels.And in the back, standing in the deepest blackness, I caught a glimpse of a thin figure with eyes like stars.The men raised their weapons toward the dark-skinned woman.“No!” I screamed with all the rage and helplessness of the last few days.The Fever rose to a howling pitch.My skin burned from the searing flames.Then I let the Fever go.Let the flames escape through my scream.The room erupted into blue flames.The inferno flared hot and bright, like the boiling of a blue sun.Beds went up like candles.Racks of clothing flared like torches.The three men screamed as blue flames engulfed them.There was nowhere for them to run as the flames seared everything.Then the flare extinguished, leaving a raging firestorm behind.Someone grabbed my arm.“Nick, we need to go!” Thelma yelled.Arduinna whimpered at my feet.“Grab the girl,” I yelled back.I didn’t trust myself with her.Thelma just nodded before lifting Arduinna into a fireman’s carry.Her face had an ugly welt across the right cheek.The firestorm spread throughout the department store, devouring everything in its path.I caught one more glimpse of the cat and the thin figure against the now-orange flames.“We’ll meet again soon.” The voice snaked across my mind.“You can count on it, you son of a bitch,” I whispered back.We turned and fled as the flames devoured everything.CHAPTER FIFTEENThe flames consumed the building.I couldn’t think.My brain refused to move past simple commands like eat, lie down, and sleep.I stood on the other side of the parking lot as the flames grasped at the night sky.Arduinna sat on the bench, staring blankly ahead of her.She hadn’t spoken a word since the department store.“Nick, are you all right?” Thelma asked as she placed a hand on my arm.She seemed scared to touch me [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]