Naturally, the first thing I did was swear.
"Of course they're here," I berated myself, feeling stupid for not anticipating their arrival. They had to collect the bodies, after all, and Father had likely come to the same conclusion as I had: that tonight was our best chance to catch London while his guard was down (literally).
The vampire in question spun around to face me, looking acutely panicked. "What do I do?"
It didn't take long to realise I had to help him escape. Asking the City Pack to spare London and his guard would not only be a pointless endeavour, but a dangerous one. I would suffer for not killing them myself.
Heart pounding, I scoured the alleyway for any sign of escape, excruciatingly aware of the sounds of the approaching pack. Tall brick walls, slitted windows, and a complete lack of adjacent streets made it apparent we were stuck in a bottleneck of cement and stone.
"There," London said, brushing against my shoulder. I hadn't noticed him draw close. "That door. Help me kick it in."
I followed his line of sight and found that there was indeed a door. It was so old, so lathered in paint that it blended in with the walls like a chameleon. I delivered a solid kick to the rotting wood. The lock gave way, and the door swung open.
The hallway beyond was dark, reeking of mildew and dust. I pushed London over the threshold.
"Keep going," I said in a hushed tone, so that the City Pack wouldn't hear us. "If you can manoeuvre your way into a busy, crowded place, then do it. The sensory overload will frustrate our trackers and make it difficult for them to find you."
London nodded his understanding, green eyes unusually bright in contrast with the surrounding shadows. "Thank you," he whispered.
And then he vanished.
I yanked the door shut behind him. Wasting no time, I went to kneel by Arthur's side. London could run from my people, but I couldn't. My scent was already mingled with the scene. The best thing I could do was stay and act accordingly.
I didn't really need to act. The emotions I needed to portray for the oncoming werewolves already existed, brimming just beneath the surface of my composure. I reached out with trembling fingers and pushed the hair back from Arthur's face, heart crumpling when my hand wasn't knocked aside, as it so often had been. When I lay a hand on his cheek, I found his skin to be cold.
"I'm sorry," I murmured, voice thick with unshed tears. "I wish I'd been here to help you."
It wasn't until I felt a hand on my shoulder that I realised the pack had arrived. Startled, I climbed to my feet and turned around, indulging in a quick glance at the werewolves behind my father. They were all dressed in black shifting gear, the special leather cut from the hides of our dead that allowed us to morph with our clothes intact. It looked terrifyingly uniform on them; my shifting gear was brown, worn in from years of sparring, and only highlighted the fact that I didn't truly belong in their ranks.
Knowing that I couldn't avoid it any longer, I let my eyes slide from the pack to the man at its head. Not for the first time, I was caught off guard by how large he was. There was nearly seven feet of him, and every one of those feet was packed with tough, bulging muscle, fighting flesh in its prime. Once, I'd seen him punch into the chest of an overly spirited horse, ripping out its heart with the ease of a child reaching into a bowl for candy. I couldn't help but wonder what he'd do if I became too spirited for his liking.
I smelled fear — mine. Father's face was like that of a hawk. His most prominent features were sweeping brows — perfectly suited to frowning — and the tawny eyes beneath them, full of calculated violence. Looking into them, facing his disappointment head-on, I remembered it was in his very nature to hunt and hurt things.
It was Ford Nightshade, the reigned Alpha of the Melbourne City Pack, who backhanded me for my insolence. Pain flared at the points beneath his knuckles and I rocked back on my heels, head snapping to the side. There was a sudden agony in my mouth and the distinct clicking sound of my teeth coming together through my tongue. Blood welled in the back of my throat, tasting of rusted iron. I held it behind my lips, resisting the urge to spit it out. I'd only cop another slap if he misinterpreted the gesture.
"Never disobey me again."
The threat in those clipped words was clear, even if my vision no longer was. My face throbbed and my left eye already felt swollen. Sensing that he was waiting for an answer, I nodded meekly, trying to look submissive as possible without dropping to my knees. Even now, physically and mentally beaten, I clung to dignity.
Accepting my surrender, the City Alpha shouldered past me in favour of his dead son. Trying not to give the onlookers the satisfaction of a grimace, I swallowed the blood in my mouth and stared pointedly at the wall, unable to watch my father grieve, unable to watch him close those blue eyes forever. I was not weak... but I also wasn't strong enough. Not tonight.
Not for this.
"Your lordship, there is vampire blood here that is fresher than the rest," said Charles, the Beta of the City Pack. "The Irephang must be close by."
Father straightened from his crouch. "Then we hunt tonight. But before we do, Chance — you arrived at the scene early. What did you see?"
"Nothing, other than what you see now," I reported, nodding at the carnage all around. Black stirred within me, protesting at the lie, but I ignored it. "There was no one at the scene when I arrived. I turned over several corpses to identify them," I lied, to explain the vampire blood on my hands. "But there was no sign of the Irephang."
No-one questioned my version of events. I supposed Father was used to believing me, thanks to the verifying role my magic played in his political proceedings, but I was a little surprised by how easy it had been to convince his pack of my innocence.
Father was quick to bark out orders. Two men peeled off from the rest of the group to escort me home. No escaping this time, I thought bitterly, though I was careful to hide my displeasure. There would be plenty of time to vent about being locked in my room later... when I was locked in my room. This was not the place or time.
As we left the crime scene, one command caught my attention in particular. "The Irephang is to be killed on sight. No excuses, no exceptions."
I mentally crossed my fingers, hoping that London had heeded my advice and masked his trail in the slums of the city. I hoped he was fast enough to evade the hunters that were about to come snapping at his heels, because if they caught him, they would cut him down. And then all of my work, all of my bargaining, all of my mercy would have been for nothing. I couldn't have him dying on me, not now. Not by their hands.
For tonight, he had to live.
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Queen of the Night (Book 1 of the Witchfire Series)Fantasy
Chance Nightshade, daughter of the Melbourne City Alpha, will avenge her brother's murder at any cost. Even if it means working with a charming vampire prince. ***** Cursed with y...