Eighteen

Grey felt a chill in the air despite the fact that it was August. The tendrils of cooler September were beginning to stretch out and engulf even the sweltering city of Savannah, but more than that, the hospital seemed to exude something cold and unsettling. She felt as if a hand were slowly squeezing her heart as she looked at the lonely building, its white bricks awash in the golden glow of the streetlamps. Nothing appeared in the black windows, and yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that there were eyes upon her from every single one of them, their emptiness more full than even a crowded room.

What were they getting into? She knew this was the start of something important, but she was afraid of what that meant, not just for her but everyone she knew. Beside her, Teddy’s steel gaze was fixed on the building as well, his face as remote as she felt. “What do you think we’ll find?” she asked quietly.

“Trouble,” Teddy answered simply. “Are you ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she said.

“Kol says he hasn’t seen anything, but not in the way that means everything is safe,” Alexian said as he came over. He looked pale and thin as he moved into the shadow of the crooked tree opposite the hospital, but his eyes were alert and more alive than they ever had been, as if being in this unsettling situation had set off an extra fire inside him. “Quite the opposite. He says he hasn’t even seen any other rats in there. Also, you might want to cover your nose somehow. The smell is intense, even for him.”

Grey fought down the urge to groan. There really was no way to protect her nose from strong smells, especially when she transformed into a wolf as she intended to (it was easier to defend herself as a wolf, plus being smaller and less clumsy would help her to maneuver in the small, winding passages below the hospital). She knew it wouldn’t be easy for Teddy either, but his senses were dulled when he wasn’t close to a full moon and it wouldn’t be unbearable for him.

“One more thing,” Alexian said, “The hospital is crawling with unquiet spirits. They’re howling in there. You might find yourself overwhelmed with their feelings after being in there for a while. I read somewhere that wolves and dogs—no offense to either of you of course—are more sensitive to their presence. They might also try to impede our progress, closing doors and dropping things in our way, but it’s important to remember they can’t actually touch us.”

“That’s a relief,” Grey said. “They can drop things on our heads, but hey, at least they can’t touch us with their clammy, undead hands.”

Ulfric and Barrett appeared then, like wraiths in the night. Teddy immediately relaxed, feeling empowered by his brothers despite swearing that he hated everything to do with his supernatural life. Grey knew he hated being a werewolf, but she knew that if he just gave himself a chance, he would make a strong one. He inspired loyalty in others, motivated them to want to protect him. He swore there was nothing good about it, but she felt that he only thought that because he’d been one so long that he didn’t see how it was different from being normal except with the horrible add-on of agonizing pain once a month. He didn’t understand the feeling of connection he had, or the way his packmates strengthened him. People had begged to be transformed for that very thing—that and the incredible strength and vitality that came with the agonizing transformation.

“He’s really in there?” Ulfric asked, green eyes squinting as he took in the hospital.

“We’re not sure,” Teddy said. “But…you guys feel it too, don’t you?”

Barrett nodded. “Yes.”

“What do you feel?” Grey asked them. She felt nothing except dread looking at the hospital, but it seemed like whatever they were feeling was something different.

Barrett’s dark golden eyes met hers. “Drawn,” he said simply, looking away from her and back at the hospital.

There was something ominous in the way he said it and Grey felt a shiver travel down her spine. “What do you mean by that?”

“It’s sort of like a magnet,” Ulfric explained. He had always been kind to her and, more importantly, Teddy. “Or a calling, I guess you could say. It’s pulling at us.”

Grey didn’t like the sound of that. “Will you guys be okay?”

Teddy shrugged. “Only one way to find out.”

“That’s reassuring,” Grey muttered.

“Kol says the coast is clear. We can start heading inside now. He’s gotten a lay of the morgue tunnels, but still isn’t sure where Shepherd and Malik are being kept, if they even are being kept in there. The pack’s connection to Shepherd and Grey’s nose should help us pinpoint a location,” Alex said.

“I forgot to ask,” Grey said, “How are you keeping in touch with Kol?”

“Telepathy,” Alexian explained. “We’re in a coven together, so we have a connection sort of like how you can communicate with other wolves, except from what I understand, it’s more clear because we’re both mentally human.”

“Great lesson,” Teddy said, “But it’s time—we need to head inside.”

The group circled around the building until they found the bolted door that led into the morgue tunnels. In the past, the morgue tunnels had been used to keep dead patients because so many were dying that they couldn’t keep them all in the hospital—not to mention, it was disheartening for the patients who were trying to recover, seeing so many of their fellow recoverees losing their battles. There were all sorts of legends about experiments that happened in the tunnels, some even claiming that still-living patients were wheeled down to the tunnels and tortured, cut apart, or otherwise disrespected. There were also legends that they ran out of room and that some of the bodies were sealed into the tunnels, never to be found.

It would certainly explain those unquiet spirits Alex had mentioned.

Alex pressed a hand to the door and muttered something—a spell, probably—under his breath. There was a loud click and the door swung open. “Now or never,” he said, looking tired from his feat of magic, but he smiled at her nevertheless.

“I guess it’s time for my party trick now, huh?” Grey said. “Everyone, avert your eyes, please.”

Although she didn’t mind getting undressed with Teddy around, the other men assembled were enough that she really didn’t feel like taking her clothes off in front of them. Especially Alex—since she was dating him, she felt that the moment she undressed in front of him had to matter in some way; it had to be special. Maybe she was a little more old-fashioned than she thought.

As they all turned away, Grey stepped swiftly out of her clothes and set them, folded, beside the doorway. Then she closed her eyes and allowed her body to coalesce into that of a wolf. Immediately, she understood what Alex had meant by intensity of the spirits. As soon as she let go of her human perception, she felt the oppression of hundreds of spirits, all clamoring at once. All at once, the feeling that the empty windows had been full made total sense to her.

She let out a low whimper and the men all turned. Teddy reached out and took her scruff in his hand. It comforted her and she leaned into the touch briefly, latching onto him so that the urge to tuck her tail between her legs and run wasn’t so immediate or pressing.

The next thing she became aware of was the smell. It really did smell awful—like rotten eggs bathing in spoiled milk and dotted with rancid meat. She huffed at the scent, forcing her nose to work past it and get to the other smells. It was faint, but she smelled something…something else. She decided they would need to follow that smell if they wanted to find what they needed.

“Let’s head in,” Alex said, his voice sounding odd and distorted to her wolf ears. Only then did Grey look at him more closely with her transformed eyes. He seemed to glow with an ethereal light. His power was undeniable and she found she wanted to bask in the warmth of his light. Had this been why her ancestors went after his so much? Were they just desperate to be close to them as she longed suddenly to be close to him, especially with the coldness of winter encircling them? It was an odd feeling, one she knew she couldn’t dwell on right now.

Huffing her agreement, Grey decided to take point, nudging the door further open with her snout and hurrying inside. Teddy and Alex were close behind, with Barrett and Ulfric taking up the rear.

“We should split up now,” Teddy said. “Alex, Grey and I will follow Grey’s nose. You two follow that pull we were talking about. I think we’ll probably end up in the same place at the end of it all, just taking different paths, but there’s only one way to be sure.”

“Kol will be with you,” Alex told the other werewolves. “He can relay any trouble you run into to me and we can get to your side as quickly as possible. Everyone ready?”

There were varying murmurs of agreement in the small space and then they each began down their tunnel—Ulfric and Barrett going left, the rest going right.

Grey set her nose to the floor and began following the strange scent. All the while, she was trying to work out just what it was she was smelling. It smelled sort of familiar, but tainted somehow. She couldn’t say what the taint smelled like; it was just wrong somehow.

So caught up in her processes was she that she didn’t notice the sounds behind her until it was too late and a big stone slab slipped out of the roof of the tunnel and down into the ground, effectively sealing them into the tunnel.

She yelped in surprise and Teddy and Alex both shouted.

They were trapped.

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