Vixenscratch

Short stories and serials by Alexandra Herakai

As Things Turn on Their Heads

They were all gathered in the small steakhouse booth, squeezed in to make sure they’d all fit. There were half-wyvern and wyverns Linnéa and Tai!en, both there for their regenerative capabilities, faerie-draconian werefox and minor mage Liiz’vocal Quall, the surprisingly friendly nightmare nicknamed “Rust” by her colleagues, beastkin Taver with a sleepy barn owl soulbrother perched on his shoulder, stardust fox mind-mage Jeevi Sodalite, and the senior team member, human mage Pailine Tanner, a silver circle on the skin of her neck glinting in the dim lighting when she turned her head just so.

“You will be missed, Tai’en,” Jeevi told the male wyvern sitting across the table from him. As always when Jeevi bothered to speak aloud, he spoke for all of them, and with great emphasis.

“Are you sure you should even be here tonight?” Rust added in. Her fingers were dancing across the tabletop, impatiently tapping out an intricate tune as they waited for their orders.

“What are the odds of anything happening?” Tai!en said, laughing it off. “I’ll be doing paperwork at the station starting tomorrow, and I promise I’ll try to stay out of trouble. I’d have requested it earlier but we didn’t think it was time quite yet.”

The subject soon turned away from both the eggs Tai!en was carrying and their work, and onto other mundane subjects: how was Linnéa’s on-again-off-again relationship going; what was Quall’s latest spat with his boyfriend about; the latest noise complaint Rust had recieved from her landlord; how moody Taver’s soulbrother Irken got when he was molting; how was Jeevi’s extended family doing; was Pailine ever going to tell that detective to fuck the hell off already?

Conversation slowed and changed again when their food finally arrived and everyone dove into their meals. Jeevi was the only one who could easily talk with his mouth full, after all, by virtue of rarely if ever speaking out loud.

They were finished, slowly nursing drinks and chatting, when the radio at Pailine’s hip crackled and came to life.

“You go ahead outside, I’ll settle the tab,” Linnéa instantly offered, waving for a waitress.

Tai!en stayed behind for a few moments as the rest of them went outside to the car that was parked in the lot. “Linn…”

“Yes?” she replied, looking up from the wallet she was digging around in.

“Promise me one thing?”

“What?”

“I… If things would turn for the worst… Please, you tell Miin!ka and Kyn!ven. I want it to be you. And…” He swallowed, looked pleadingly at her. “I know it’s a horrible thing to ask of you, but… Please save our eggs.”

She drew a deep breath, thought for a second. It wasn’t an easy thing he was asking of her; she’d tried to suppress the distaste she felt for her own medical condition, and now he was asking her to all but embrace it. At the same time… He’d been good to her, and so had his husband and wife.

She nodded. “But let’s not let it come to that.”

Tab settled, they moved out to the waiting car, Jeevi and Taver in the trunk of the battered Paladin station wagon, two spots in the back seat waiting for the pair of them.

“We really should get them to give us a proper van, you know,” Linnéa commented as they squeezed in and fastened their seatbelts. “What’s the worry?”

“That feral werewolf that’s been hanging around was sighted near a warehouse; there are several schools and daycares in the area so they want him gone from there.” Pailine was all business now.

:The average adult would be little better off against a feral,: Jeevi commented dryly in their minds, drawing a nod from Rust.

“Those are the ropes though, Sodalite,” the mare muttered. “Let’s take the bastard in and do everyone a favor.”

Linnéa felt a presence in her mind; Jeevi’s equivalent of tapping someone’s shoulder, also indicating that his question was private. :What was Tai!ven wanting?:

She formulated her thoughts as clearly as she could, knowing he’d pick them up and then withdraw. She could trust him not to intrude; they could all trust one another. I promised I’d take the eggs if something were to happen to him.

:Noble.: The comment didn’t warrant a reply, so she gave none.

Pailine spent most of the drive laying out tactics. “Sodalite, you stay out of harm’s way running messages. There’s no telling how a feral might react if you start poking around inside his head. Ar Karvin, you and Irken stand by, keep an eye on the fox and I’ll call for you for recon when and if it’s needed. Rust comes with me and the three of you stick together. I don’t want anyone moving alone in there, we already know this guy is bad news.”

“I can hold my own,” Liiz’vocal protested, rather half-heartedly.

“But if something happens I want someone there to cover. I much rather be certain everyone gets out alive than have any heroes tonight, Kall.”

“Lethal force?” Rust asked, sparks dancing over the coat by which she’d earned her nickname.

“Business as usual, mind his teeth and do what you have to do.” Pailine took a moment to glare at the nightmare in the passenger seat. “And try not to look so happy about it, please.”

“Yes, m’am.” But the sparks continued to dance in her fur. Gentle as Rust might be she really hated people who would kill innocents.

The pavement outside the warehouse was damp, reflecting the light from a single lamp outside the door. All but soundlessly, Irken flowed downwards and landed on that lamp, fluffing his feathers up and making himself comfortable.

They got out of the car in silence, Quall shifting to his considerably more powerful werefox form and Rust similarly shifting back to her natural four-legged form. She’d shift again if she had to, but there was no blaming her for being more comfortable like this.

Linnéa could guess why Pailine had chosen to put Tai!en in a group of three; she wanted to keep him out of the heat if at all possible, just like she wanted to keep Jeevi out of harm’s way when there was no reason for him to come in close. She could only hope that the wyvern was going to realize that, himself.

“So he’s inside?” Rust snorted. “Is there another way in? I doubt he went in through the chains and padlock on those front gates.”

“There’s a door at the back,” Pailine replied as she opened the trunk of the car to let Jeevi and Taver out. “Rust and I will check it but chances are he’s blocked it already. Kall, I’m sure you can deal with the chains.”

The werefox grinned and nodded. Simple iron chains wouldn’t stand a chance against him.

“All ready? Get a move on.”

The mage started jogging around the warehouse with her colleague clip-clopping on behind her, and the two wyverns followed their improvised locksmith to the front gates. The chains Rust had spotted were old and heavy, the metal of the links easily a finger thick and then some, and the padlock on them looked as though it probably couldn’t be opened with a key, with all the rust on it.

“Stand back,” the young half-draconian muttered as he changed back to his more human shape and lifted his tail. He had a bit of trouble getting the spade at the tip into the loop on the lock, but once there it was a matter of seconds to tense it up and cut through the lock like butter. “Got it.”

Linnéa and Tai!en each took an end of the chain, carefully freeing it from the door before they dropped it to the pavement. Someone would have to come around with a fresh lock for the door later. Later, when it all was over.

They stood there a few seconds once that was done, waiting to make sure they’d given their colleagues enough time to make it to the back door, then slowly cracked the gate open. Nothing immediately stood out.

:You may as well make use of the ceiling lighting,: came Pailine’s orders, relayed through Jeevi. :He already knows we’re here.:

Without a moment of hesitation, Linnéa split off to one side and found the light switch. It would be a lie to say the room was bathing in the harsh light from the tube lights overhead, but they certainly made it possible to see more than an arm’s length ahead.

The trio moved slowly between the piles of crates, all senses tuned to their surroundings, two of them carrying their guns. If the werewolf was in here, they had to find him, and they had to be able to defend themselves. Liiz’vocal, as he’d previously pointed out, had enough in the way of natural weaponry to hold his own without firearms.

Neither of them noticed when Tai!en fell behind; they’d heard a sound further into the room and hurried their steps and he’d not kept up. They did notice the sound of something hitting a crate, turning around to see a dark shape disappearing behind a stack of boxed goods.

“Fuck!” Liiz’vocal exclaimed, setting off around the other side of the pile of boxes. Linnéa could agree with that sentiment, running in the direction she’d last seen the werewolf.

:What’s going on?:

Bastard’s got Tai!en.

She reached a cleared area — judging by the scattered crates along the sides of it the werewolf had been the one to do that clearing — and stopped. On the other side, some fifteen yards away, stood the feral, Tai!en’s gun in one hand, the other arm pressed hard against the wyvern’s neck. That Tai!en’s spines bit into his flesh didn’t seem to concern him much.

She’d never seen a feral werewolf in human shape before. The crazed look in his eyes made her wish this would be the last time.

“Sir, drop the weapon and put your hands over your head,” she called, tail curling up like a scorpion’s on its own accord, gun ready but not obviously so.

“I think,” the werewolf answered, his voice like oily silk, “you are the one who should be dropping your gun. Unless, of course, you’d like to see your friend here get hurt.” He cackled, shoved the muzzle of the gun into Tai!en’s mouth. “Want to place bets on how long it’ll take him to recover from that?”

She shook her head, popped the ammo clip out of her handgun, slowly placed both on the floor and held her hands up as she rose. “There’s no reason for anyone to get hurt tonight, sir.”

“Isn’t there?” The werewolf laughed again, she could see her colleague gag as the gun was shoved further into his mouth. The click as he cocked it might as well have been a gunshot echoing through the building.

Jeevi? You read me?

:Loud and clear, Linn.:

Tell Tai!en I’ve not forgotten my promise.

“Please, sir, just put the gun down. There is no need for…”

He interrupted her, then. “Need, no. But it’d be… fun.”

Both of them had a momentary lapse in attention as the sound of falling crates reached them, followed by Liiz’vocal cursing rather creatively in a mix of Erigineean and Sharnidon. So he’d found himself nothing more than a dead end.

Things happened quickly after that; Tai!en took the opportunity to run the venomous stinger on his tailtip into the werewolf’s forearm, possibly hoping to make him drop the gun as the fast-acting poison spread, made it swell up, and started temporarily paralyzing him. They knew from experience even werewolves weren’t immune to the poison’s effects, they’d just recover a long sight faster. Obviously he had come to the same conclusion Linnéa had: there was no way they were going to be able to successfully reason with this feral. For a split second she dared hope that Tai!en’s action had worked, then the werewolf pulled the trigger.

The sound was deafening, and cut straight through her.

“No!” she whispered, watching the limp body of her colleague being dropped carelessly to the floor like a broken toy. Then the weight of the handgun uncurled the man’s fingers and the weapon fell, clattering down on the concrete floor.

He crossed the cleared area, cradling his injured arm with an ill-masked expression of annoyance on his face. Being stung by a wyvern had not been on his agenda for the night. Without thinking, Linnéa backed up, until she felt rough wood brush against the underside of her raised tail. If Tai!en couldn’t handle this werewolf, who was to say she could?

Neither of them heard the tapping of claws against concrete and neither heard the beat of Rust’s hooves against the pavement outside. When Liiz’vocal pounced, little more than a white streak, it took the werewolf a second to Change, growing in mass, black fur covering his body, yellow teeth gleaming in the bad lighting. The fox and the wolf tumbled on the floor, the werewolf showing remarkable restraint in not even attempting to bite his assailant.

Then, the werewolf slammed his opponent’s head into the floor, untangled himself from the dazed law enforcement officer and slunk off after staring in the direction of the front gates for a few moments.

Pailine was seated on Rust’s back when the pair showed up, and the nightmare’s nostrils flared. There was no doubt she could smell the blood, even if Pailine hadn’t caught on, yet.

“Take care of Quall, make sure he’s okay,” Linnéa muttered, picked her gun off the floor and reloaded it as she walked over to Tai!en’s lifeless body. She didn’t need a medic to tell there was no hope for him.

She replaced her gun in its holster and, with an expression of distaste, placed the dead man’s gun in easy reach. If the werewolf was to return she had no intention of being caught defenseless. That done she started undoing and removing her body armor, well aware that she was engaging in what — at best — could be considered risky behavior. It might be that her armor was less extensive than what Pailine, for instance, wore, but it was there for a reason.

:I have no idea what you’re doing, Linn, but ‘Line would like me to tell you that ‘you’re out of your fucking mind’. Her words, not mine.:

Tell her to mind her own business and get Quall on his feet, then. We lost Tai!en, and you know I promised.

She got the impression the stardust fox was laughing at her, but she didn’t much care. Armor discarded, she unbuttoned the blouse she was wearing underneath it, before concentrating on doing the same to her dead co-worker.

“What are you doing?” Pailine came up behind her, watched as she slid her hand into the near-invisible opening of the male wyvern’s egg sack. She felt filthy, as though she was violating the corpse, even knowing he’d asked her to do just this no more than an hour earlier.

“He asked me to take the eggs,” she replied between clenched teeth, feeling the smooth surface of one beneath her fingers and carefully grasping it. “I owe him at least that much, don’t I?”

Her superior simply squeezed her shoulder and stepped back, possibly sensing how uncomfortable she was. It wasn’t as though Linnéa’s teammates didn’t know she had issues with her genetic disorder, though they were quite glad to let her pretend otherwise.

The feeling as the egg slid into her own egg sack, settled there, and was joined by a second made her stomach turn. It wasn’t so much nauseating or unpleasant as… wrong. It wasn’t a sensation she should be able to experience, and the way her skin stretched to accomodate the eggs made her feel slightly bloated.

“That’s all,” she whispered to nobody in particular, touched her dead friend’s hand for a short moment and rose, his gun in hand.

“Your armor?” the mage behind her prompted.

She almost laughed, but there was no humor in her voice. “If he gets close enough for a killing blow, he’s going to land one when and if he chooses to regardless of what I wear. He shot Tai!en because he figured it’d be fun.”

They were a group chosen for their flexibility as much as their resilience. “Just don’t do anything stupid.”

She nodded acknowledgement, buttoned her blouse up again one-handed, and glanced over at the werefox that had been knocked to the floor. His white fur was dirtied, but by the looks of it the werewolf had bruised his ego and little else. At the very least he was very eager to shake off the helping hand offered by Rust.

“Why’d you two come around?” Liiz’vocal asked.

“He’d blocked off the door on the inside,” Rust replied. “We jammed it, then we heard the gunshot.”

Linnéa bit her lip, forcing the guilt that was bubbling up inside her out of mind for the time being, and nodded towards the door. “He’ll be cornered.”

They walked towards the door, the werefox in point and the nightmare taking up the rear, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the tragedy. Neither of those two carried firearms that could be stolen and neither would be easy to take down before the rest of the team could intervene.

Crates came crashing down in the cramped space between pallets where they were walking, and Linnéa threw herself forward, crashing into her shapeshifter colleague as she narrowly avoided getting hit by the heavy wooden boxes.

“Press on,” she whispered to the werefox, nudging his shoulder with her forearm. “If we’re lucky we can get him before he figures out he’s in a dead end.”

“If that was him just now,” the fox grumbled back, “I’m not so sure he is. What if he was on top of the crates, not behind them?”

“I’ll take those chances,” she replied, nudging him again, harder.

Reluctantly, the fox started walking, after they’d asked Jeevi to pass on to the other two what exactly they were doing. She let him get a few feet ahead, enough to give them both enough time to move around should they need to, then followed.

The lights went out, leaving the room in absolute darkness.

:Pailine has asked Taver to come in and have a look around, see if the feral turned off the power, or at least spot him. Quall is pushing ahead.:

The message required no reply, so she gave none, simply held her free hand out to her side and edged to her left until her fingertips touched wood. As long as she kept her hand on the “wall” she’d not get lost, at least. Her progress forward was slower now, she slid her sandalled feet across the concrete floor, no step longer than two feet. She couldn’t hear how far Liiz’vocal was; it was possible the distance between them had increased, but what harm could it possibly be? In order to get at her, the werewolf would still have to go through the werefox.

The sound of paws next to her.

“Kall, did you–”

A large hand with rough pawpads suddenly was pressed over her mouth, pulling her backwards. “Who’d have thought Avelyon High’s football star would end up like this? Trying to chase werewolves, getting her colleagues killed… Though maybe it wasn’t such a big loss, what do you say? I might’ve done you a favor…” The voice was low, scratchy, vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it. “Fucker just had to screw up my arm before he went, too, didn’t he?”

She twisted, tried to free her tail from between their bodies, remembered the gun in her hand and raised it, found the spot where his lower jaw joined his throat and pressed the barrel of the gun into the fur.

“Oh, how sweet, she doesn’t fancy chatting with me,” the werewolf chuckled, moving his hand from her mouth and sliding his arm down, wrapping around her chest. “A shame you had to bring your friends along, bitch. Otherwise we could just have had some fun, you and I, and I’d let you run once I was done with you.”

“Sir, unless you Change back and surrender, I will be forced to fire.” Her voice barely trembled at all, she could easily tell herself it was adrenaline.

“I’m afraid that’s not an option, sweetie.”

She squeezed the trigger, focusing on what he’d so remorselessly done to Tai!en.

Nothing.

Ignoring everything she’d ever learned about firearm safety, she let it drop to the floor.

“Aww… Did your gun jam?” The werewolf’s laughter was nothing short of manical, she found herself dragged through the darkness; obviously his night vision was much better than hers. “Now be nice and I might decide to let you live… Barely. Give your friends something to keep them occupied as I find somewhere else to sleep.”

There were certainly more appealing prospects than being torn limb from limb by a lunatic, but she held no illusions about being able to get away as long as the lights were out.

:Linn? Is everything alright?:

No, everything is not fucking alright, she thought back at Jeevi, with more venom than she really meant to. Tai!en’s bloody gun jammed. Will I get some lights before this nutter kills me, too?

:Taver’s working on it, should be ready anytime now.:

She waited, then, letting herself be carried off. She’d get her chance, and she was determined to take it. At least she had one advantage now that Tai!en hadn’t had. If the werewolf was going to try to take her gun, he’d have to release her, as his right arm still didn’t seem to be good for much after the sting.

When they came back on, the flourescent lamps that had seemed so insufficient when they first entered were almost blinding. But she could see, and that meant she had a chance of putting herself in a position where she could fend off her attacker. With an ill-natured reptilian hiss, she kicked backwards, felt the sickle-shaped claw on her heel catch, and forced it down, slashing into the werewolf’s leg. He yowled in pain and his grip on her loosened enough for her to wiggle free.

She had no clue where exactly in the warehouse she was. The werewolf probably knew, but she doubted she could get him to share the information if she tried, much less show her the way out in a civil manner. So once at a respectable distance she stopped, watching him, ready to pull her own gun on him should she need to. Part of her was more than prepared to do so anyway, but she refused to let things get that personal. Her job was to subdue him if she could, and only kill if it got absolutely neccesary.

Besides, if she shot at him and failed to kill him, he would be really angry, if he was anything like most ferals. Scratches came as part of the bargain, and they might not take you entirely seriously, or they might see you as a rival to be respected, but guns… Guns made you into a threat.

You always had to think twice about making a feral werewolf feel threatened, and doubly so if you were alone and nowhere near matching their brute strength.

A faint whisper of feathers was her only warning before Taver shifted back to human shape next to her, his yellow eyes fixed on the werewolf as he spoke. “Quall should catch up with us soon.”

“Who is your friend, Linnéa?” the werewolf rumbled, looking at them in a manner that with no amount of good will could be described as anything even close to friendly.

That he’d recognize her from her time as Avelyon High’s football team captain wasn’t so surprising. That he remembered her name made her take a closer look. Something was awfully familiar about the dark-furred werewolf standing some twenty feet from her, and the familiarity was certainly not reassuring.

“Jake Fang?” she muttered.

“You know, I was wondering when the coin would drop.”

:Taver thinks you recognized the feral just now. You know him?:

I know of him. High school bully, beat his girlfriend and — according to the rumors — tried to kill the school slut.

The night’s developments might be making her job more difficult, but not because of any qualms she had about arresting someone she’d gone to school with. No, the way things were progressing, she was itching to find an excuse to make sure he wasn’t alive to be arrested. She couldn’t think of many people who’d grieve the loss. But looking for a reason to kill a man would be pretty damned unprofessional, regardless of how much she, personally, thought he deserved it.

“Sir, please Change back and come peacefully back to the station with us.” Taver sounded more authoritive than Linnéa had with a gun in her hand; more than she could probably ever hope to. “We have recieved reports of repeat violent crimes and violation of communable curse control statures, and we are authorized to use lethal force if you do not come willingly.”

“I have not bitten anyone,” the werewolf snarled, sounding insulted, as though that was a point of pride for him. “I’m not that stupid.”

“We’re just carrying out orders, you’ll have to tell that to a judge.”

Jake didn’t seem pleased at that, growling and limping forward, hackles raised. He supported part of his weight on the knuckles of his left hand, the other hand dragging, blood soaking into the fur of his injured leg. Taver calmly stood his ground, though Linnéa knew he was prepared to shift and take to the air if he should get attacked — like all beastkin he paid for his immunity to most kinds of magic by also being near-immune to healing magic, something that could prove dangerous enough in his line of work.

The werewolf never did get time to pounce, though, as Liiz’vocal came around a corner, distracting him. If anyone had had any doubt that the werewolf was, in fact, feral, and not simply sadistic, it was dispelled when he ignored his smaller challengers in favor of the growling werefox. The two of them were as close to evenly matched as he was likely to get.

The two were at each other’s throats in a matter of seconds, both carefully not biting, though anything else seemed to be fair game. Thus assured that Linnéa wouldn’t be in immediate danger Taver did take to wing, diving at the werewolf and forcing him to duck out of the way once before his wings lifted him higher, up into the rafters where he would be out of reach, but ready to intervene.

Once again, the wolf somehow managed to slam his opponent into something, though this time it was a pallet of crates, and then bent over the dazed fox.

Linnéa held no illusions about her own abilities, and she knew a gunshot would unlikely be fatal, and at worst not even be temporarily crippling, at any less than point-blank range. It was also rather plain to see that the faerie-draconian crossbreed under the werewolf was in trouble. Jake might have avoided biting his opponent until now, but if he had a chance to get a clean kill, it wasn’t likely that he’d hesitate to use his teeth.

Step, step, jump; gun pulled and cocked in one smooth motion. The pair of forward sickle claws on each of her feet dug into the werewolf’s back, her left arm wrapping around the werewolf’s throat as she pressed the barrel of the gun against his head, just behind his right ear. Something moved at the edge of her vision, but with the most immediate danger very much at hand, she ignored it.

“This is your last warning. Surrender.”

:Pailine thinks you’re a “stupid fucking cunt”, Linn:

Did she ask you to say that? She counted the werewolf’s breaths. If he didn’t respond by ten, she’d shoot.

:No. I figured you should know.:

Thank you, Jeevi. Six.

He reached back, shifting her balance enough that she couldn’t keep the gun steady, and seized her upper arm. Eight.

Her claws snagged for a moment when he tugged, then his tough skin gave and she tumbled over his shoulder. Somehow, he managed to get her to land on her feet; she resisted the reflex to dig her claws into the uneven surface under her feet knowing that it was Liiz’vocal‘s chest.

Suddenly he was close up, too close for her to effectively use her gun. A flick of her thumb re-engaged the safety — wouldn’t do to have it go off accidentally. She jerked back as he lifted his good hand towards her face, but he followed, grabbed her chin. “Mmmh… Yes, it definitely is a shame you had to go and bring your friends. We could’ve had a good time, you and I.” She fought to turn her head away, he grasped her chin harder and ran a wet tongue across her face. “It’s been a long time, I could really do to get laid you know. Or don’t cops do charity?”

“Get off her.” Liiz’vocal had gotten up, and his fur was bristling.

Jake’s attention lapsed for a second. Long enough for Linnéa to sting his good arm. He snarled, looked at her, and to her surprise forced his arm down on the spike at her tailtip before twisting it, forcing her tail to bend. The sharp pain told her that he’d managed to do something to injure her, and she found herself unable to pull the stinger back out.

“I said, get off her.”

Jake lifted his arm; it was enough to make her eyes water. “She seems to be stuck.” Then he snapped his head down, taking her right arm between his jaws. It was surprise more than anything that made her lose hold of her weapon.

“Let. Her. Go.”

“Back off,” the werewolf growled back, taking a step towards the werefox and forcing her to follow. “This ends here. You will leave me alone.”

Behind him, Pailine cleared her throat. “That’s not an option, sir.”

He chuckled. “Watch it, mage. You hit me with that and I might… slip.” To mark his point his jaws tightened around her arm, and Linnéa paled.

She had to follow along as he limped around Liiz’vocal, who stayed crouched low, growling. What a stupid way to get caught, catching her tail like that!

She was thrown off balance when the werewolf pounced, though she couldn’t feel his fangs break any skin, and thus found herself leaning on the werefox’s back, with Jake’s jaws around the back of the white shifter’s neck. For several long seconds they remained there, frozen.

Jeevi, tell the mangy fleabag to get on with it already!

It seemed to take eternities for the stardust fox to reply. :He says he doesn’t want to hurt you.:

It’ll grow back!

“Your little friends are helpless, mage, and the mutt doesn’t have the guts. I think it’s time you admit defeat.”

Quall!” Linnéa hissed, her free hand digging into the werefox’s fur, “get the fuck on with it!”

With a yelp, the part-draconian shifter raised the razor-sharp frills on his neck, and she clenched her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut as it cut through flesh and bone like butter, swallowing hard at the sound of something soft thudding down on the hard floor. Rising seemed like a tremendous effort, and her limbs felt heavy, so she remained where she was, slowly cracking her eyes open to stare at the blood running from her arm, even after Liiz’vocal shifted back to his natural shape and got off the floor, grimacing at the blood stains on his uniform.

A pair of arms wrapped around her, pulled her to her feet, and she leaned into Pailine for a short time before she could catch up with what had just happened.

“Give me your tail,” she demanded, holding her left hand out towards Liiz’vocal.

“What–”

“It’ll only be a second.”

Reluctantly, he let her take hold of it near the spade at the tip, and gritted his teeth when she used its edge to cut through her injured arm just below the elbow. It didn’t seem like a big thing to her, but then again he wouldn’t be the first who couldn’t get used to wyverns treating their natural regenerative abilities quite casually.

“That should heal better, it’s a clean cut now.”

“You are insane,” Rust commented, kicking the dead werewolf — now reverted to human shape — squarely in the ribs to turn him over. It was obvious to anyone who knew her that the rough treatment of the corpse was a poor substitution for the missed opportunity to rough him up when he was still alive. Rust rarely got vindictive, but this werewolf had managed to push most of her buttons. “This might hurt a bit.” That was all the warning she gave before she bent down, one foot on the dead man’s arm, took a good hold of the half-wyvern’s tail and pulled, drawing a small cry from the girl.

“That hurt!”

“But you don’t have a corpse hanging off your tail anymore.”

“Did either of you two get bitten?” Pailine asked. “Actually, forget that, you better get a shot and get yourselves checked up anyway. Would you give Linn a ride out to the car, Rust? And Taver?”

The barn owl swept down from the rafters, landing on a crate only a short distance from the woman.

“Will you drive the two of them while we wait here for the black-bag team?”

Linnéa let herself be helped onto Rust’s back, barely noticing Liiz’vocal walking next to them and steadying her with a hand on her thigh. Her mind was still busy working through the things she could have done differently, what might have saved her friend’s life. There was no point bringing it up to Pailine; Pailine hadn’t been there, she hadn’t watched Tai!en die.

She was still in a daze when Liiz’vocal rolled up what was left of her sleeve, put an ampule of silvery liquid in a syringe and injected it just above her elbow, before pulling out a second ampule and syringe and injecting himself with the unicorn’s blood serum.

With Liiz’vocal’s bloody shirt wrapped around the stump of her arm, Linnéa sat in the car, barely noticing as Jeevi jumped off the roof and onto her lap. Then, with a touch of the mind-mage’s paw to her forehead, the tangle of conflicting “what ifs” in her mind finally stilled, and she drifted off to sleep.



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