Nineteen

When the door slammed behind them, Teddy ran to it in order to figure out just how stuck they were. He felt along the concrete slab, but couldn’t find any mechanism to open it. “This isn’t good,” he muttered.

“Something doesn’t want us going back,” Alexian said with a finality that did not comfort Teddy one bit.

“I’m not spending my life in this tunnel,” Teddy said. Grey barked in agreement.

“We’ll just have to go further in and hope that the tunnels double back or that whatever wants us here will let us go once we find what we’re meant to find,” Alex said.

“And what if the thing we’re meant to find is an early grave?” Teddy questioned.

“Then I’ll have to blast us out of here.”

“What, you got dynamite stashed somewhere in that hipster sweater?”

“I’m a witch. I don’t need dynamite,” Alex said. “I’m a shaman, so I prefer not to resort to blasting things—I’m better at healing—but when push comes to shove, I can blast things as well as the next person with magical abilities.”

“You lot scare me,” Teddy declared. “Shapeshifting, blasting magic, healing magic, telepathy…is there anything you guys can’t do?”

“There are rules,” Alex said. “And every witch is limited by their own skills and circumstances and the path they take. For instance, I can’t shapeshift. That’s a druid skill. Kol is pretty rare in that he can shapeshift into a lot of animals; most druids can only do one or two. And my magic is limited by the kinds of spirits I can harness—the benevolent ones for things like healing, malevolent ones for things like blasting. Luckily, there’s no shortage of malevolent spirits in here.”

“That’s comforting,” Teddy said, hand absently moving to brush against Grey’s head as he looked around the place. Where were all these spirits hiding, he wondered. Could Grey see them? “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, though. I suspect malevolent spirits don’t particularly like being harnessed.”

“You’re right there,” Alex said. “But they’ll take it out on me; you guys should be safe.”

“I think Grey would be upset if her new boyfriend got filleted by a group of angry ghosts,” Teddy said and Grey barked—he couldn’t tell if it was in agreement or if it was in objection to him calling Alex her boyfriend, but Alex blushed anyway. “Lead the way.”

Grey once again took point, her claws scraping on the stone floor. Being a werewolf, Teddy’s eyes easily adjusted to the darkness and he could see the tunnels in surprising clarity. He wished he couldn’t though. There were stains all over the walls, whether they were rust or blood or something else entirely, he couldn’t quite tell. His senses in general were heightened, but there was so much going on that it was difficult for him to pinpoint different smells this far from the full moon.

The tunnels winded ever further, the space filling with an uncomfortable feeling of oppression Teddy couldn’t quite identify. It felt too quiet, too stuffy. Chills invaded his bones, the heat outside unable to penetrate this place. Nobody felt comfortable speaking, and so they traveled in silence, the only sounds audible in the space being their footsteps and Grey’s claws clacking on the stone of the floor.

They very nearly made it, too. They could see a door up ahead—a big metal door like what you’d see in a furnace—and Teddy felt his chest grow tighter with that feeling he’d been telling Grey about earlier; the magnetic pull. Was it because Shepherd was inside? Was it his (unwanted) bond with the alpha tugging on him?

Whatever they were meant to find, it was in there. But along with the magnetic pull, there was a very strong dread and aversion. The smell of rotten meat which had pervaded the place was stronger than ever. Grey whimpered and he knew that it must be unbearable for her. That was when he heard the scraping of claws, and realized with a sudden thrill of fear that Grey wasn’t moving. Something else was, and it was moving fast.

No sooner had he made the realization than the sound came very close behind him. He turned just in time to have something slam into him, bearing him to the ground with violent force.

Teddy’s air rushed out of his lungs as he hit the ground, something very large and very heavy pressing him down. The smell of rancid meat seemed to be coming from the thing on top of him, and its claws dug into his chest. The smell of burning flesh and his own fresh blood mixed with the rancid meat smell and Teddy gasped in pain.

Grey snarled and rushed the monster—he couldn’t think of a better word for it—but it lashed out with painful precision and one of its arms caught her mid-leap, sending her into the wall with a high-pitched yelp and a crunch that Teddy felt would haunt his nightmares for the rest of his life.

Alex shouted Grey’s name and rushed to her side; Teddy couldn’t see what he did though because the bulk of the monster was blocking his view. Wanting to give Alex a chance to take care of Grey, Teddy groaned and regained the monster’s attention. Pain radiated from where the claws were digging into his chest, but Teddy reached for the monster’s throat, digging his own hands into the scaly flesh.

The monster hissed, but didn’t seem too bothered by Teddy’s attempts to strangle it. For better or worse, though, its attentions were fixed on Teddy and that was what he wanted; he had to give Grey and Alex a fighting chance.

Sorry, Jules, he thought, feeling the monster’s claws sink a little further into his chest, sending fresh waves of acid-like pain through him. Looks like staying safe isn’t an option here.

Just as Teddy accepted his doom, however, a rat leapt from the pipes lining the tunnel and transformed into a weasel. It landed on top of the monster’s head with a heroic screech. It wasn’t the most impressive stunt, but the small creature wasted no time at all before scratching and biting at the monster’s sensitive eyes and ears.

It roared in defiance, trying to catch the weasel, but it was no use. He was too small and slippery for the monster’s claws to get around.

Ulfric and Barrett arrived in the area a moment later. “Ulf!” Teddy called. “Knife!”

To his credit, Ulfric didn’t miss a single beat. He pulled a knife out of his boot and slid it over to Teddy, who grabbed it with one of his free hands and plunged the blade into the creature’s side.

The creature roared in agony, rearing up. Teddy crawled painfully out from under it, his vision swimming and the world lurching uncertainly around him. Barrett took hold of Teddy’s hand and pulled him away from the monster, Ulfric closing ranks in front of him with another knife held defensively in case the monster wasn’t done yet.

They needn’t have worried. Grey was propped against the wall, human and clearly in pain, but conscious, and Alex was on his feet. He made a series of strange symbols with his hand and then began chanting in what sounded like Latin. The monster roared as if the words hurt as badly—or worse—than the knife still hanging from its body, black blood dripping onto the floor in a foul-smelling puddle. Alex didn’t relent. His words increased in volume and the demon began writhing on the ground. Finally, its energy spent, the creature gave one last shriek and dissolved. Alex stumbled and the weasel turned back into Kol just in time to catch him and stop him from hitting the ground.

“What the hell was that thing?” Teddy gasped, his hand pressed to the wound on his chest.

“Lesser demon,” Kol said, his face and voice conveying the disgust he felt. “Which means whatever we’re dealing with, whoever we’re dealing with, knows how to make demon pacts.”

“What does that mean for us?”

“It means we’re in trouble,” Barrett said. “Demons are notoriously tough and there’s no telling how many more this guy has in his power. It also means he’s got nothing to lose.”

“He already lost his soul,” Grey added. Ulfric, being the gentleman he was, took off his leather coat—why he needed a leather coat in August had never made sense to Teddy, but the guy wore it everywhere he went—and wrapped it around Grey’s shoulders to give her some modesty, helping her to her feet. She leaned on him gratefully. “Everyone okay?”

Alex looked pale and unsteady, most of his weight still being held by Kol. “I’ll be fine,” he said unconvincingly. “It’s Teddy we should worry about. That demon had poison on his claws.”

“He’s fine,” Barrett said, answering for Teddy. “Werewolf metabolisms work through most toxins in just a few minutes. He’ll probably feel like he’s got a hangover tomorrow, but otherwise he should be in ship shape.”

“Grey?” Teddy asked, obviously returning the question.

She nodded and smiled thinly. “I’ll be okay,” she promised. “A couple broken ribs; should be healed in a couple days.”

Teddy heaved a sigh of relief; they were all going to be okay. “Then I guess that leaves just one more thing.”

Everyone looked at the door, looking almost innocuous after all they’d gone through to get here. Barrett, being the only one unburdened by either injury or holding an injured party, made his way to the door. He waited until everyone nodded, each of them tensing in anticipation, and then swung the door open.

The room beyond was clearly a crematorium. There were ovens set up all along the far wall, some missing doors, others looking as new as if they’d been installed the day before. But nobody was paying any attention to the ovens.

They were staring at the two chairs in the middle of the room, each occupied by a man tied up with vicious-looking contraptions as if they were a grotesque and macabre gift.

They had found Shepherd and Malik.

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