Chapter Forty-Two

To say the fight to get to Shepherd had been difficult was the understatement of the year. Teddy couldn’t remember a time when he’d been so afraid, watching his friends charge into the fray with their weapons held aloft and Grey sticking low to the ground, crippling the enemy where she could. Alex’s magic proved invaluable, too, as he erected barriers around them to keep bullets from ripping through their bodies. Teddy didn’t know how many barriers Alex could create, but he knew that they would be dead several times over if not for them.

Even so, they were sorely outnumbered and, all told, outmatched. None of them were veteran fighters, and while it wasn’t exactly an army—maybe two dozen or so men and women, some werewolves and some hunters—they were obviously the less experienced and skilled side.

But Julian needed them. He needed him, and since it was his fault that this was happening, Teddy did what he had to: he backed off, trusting them to give the frontal assault while he snuck around in the catwalk.

It was easily the hardest thing he had ever done. To let others put themselves in danger because of choices that he made, because one insane Lycan wanted to kill him, was nearly impossible for him. But it made sense—he knew it did. If they were going to do this, they had to have the element of surprise and he wasn’t exactly in fighting shape for the frontal assault. He had to use stealth as his weapon so that he could perhaps end this with minimal casualties.

Of course, he had help with the stealth. Kol had given him a plant that apparently promised to mask his smell, distort it so that it wouldn’t be familiar and would even try and take on the smell of the place to reflect it back outwards. Teddy didn’t know that plants could change their smell; Kol said that plants could do whatever they wanted, if they were given enough magic to do it.  Either way, it felt too good to be true and Teddy just prayed that the risk proved worth it.

Teddy watched the fight from above, his heart in his throat as they moved ever towards where they knew Julian was being kept, where Shepherd was waiting for them.

They did really well at first.

Teddy had felt so much pride, seeing how well they watched each others’ backs, how fast they were able to move and how quickly they felled opponents once they got into range. It was all going so well right up until the group was surrounded.

Several men, led by Ariana, stopped them in their tracks, each hefting their weapons. Grey growled low in her throat. “Must say, I’m surprised,” Ariana said, smiling at them. Teddy wanted to go down there, to shove her poisonous words back down her throat, but he forced himself to hold his ground. He had to trust his friends; he had to. Still, he couldn’t move too far from them. He had to see what happened. “You’ve cut down a good bit of Shepherd’s men.”

“Still more where that came from,” Kol said, smug.

Ariana just laughed. “Such confidence, but you forget: you’re surrounded. Even if you take one of us out, the others will take you out before you can get another. For every one of yours, there’s at least three of us left. The odds are not in your favor.”

“You know, I’ve always been a fan of the underdog,” Kol said, cracking his neck.

That was when Teddy realized that it was time. That they were going to see Kol’s party trick, the one he might not ever come back from.

He didn’t want to see it.

In the time that he had met Kol, his emotions had been all over the place. He hated and loved Kol in equal turns, admired his straightforward attitude and resented it for the trouble it might have caused with Julian; whatever the case, Kol had become someone that Teddy cared about. He wouldn’t admit it out loud, of course—didn’t want Kol’s head getting too big—but he did care. And when Kol had told them what he’d intended, Teddy had been against it from the start. Almost as much as Grey had been.

Alex had just looked resigned, as if he knew that nothing he said would change it. Teddy understood that; no matter how much you cared about someone, sometimes you had to let go. Just like Teddy was trying to now. Even though he wanted nothing more than to help the group, he could only bear witness.

Truth be told, Teddy knew very little about the kind of magic Kol was going to perform. It was an old Scandinavian magic, that much he knew, and it seemed strange to Teddy at first because Kol could already turn into so many different things. Why did he need a skin? How was it different from his usual method? But this transformation, it was altogether different from the ones he had witnessed before.

First it was the eyes. They flashed almost red in the dim lighting of the warehouse. Ariana seemed confused at the sight, not moving at all—just observing, waiting to see what would happen. The men around them looked confused too, but more unsettled and less curious as they awkwardly shuffled with their weapons in hand, waiting for a signal from their leader to attack.

Then it was the scream. It was altogether one of the most horrific sounds Teddy had ever heard; not just because it was loud, but because it was human and animal at the same time and filled with something else, something almost musical. A couple lights above them shattered and Teddy clutched his ears to help stave off the sounds. Grey was so startled by the scream that she turned back human just so she could cover her ears, tears in her eyes; Teddy couldn’t say whether they were sad tears, or frightened ones.

Kol’s veins stood out, tendons pulsed in time to his heartbeat as the scream seemed to rip itself from him, and his skin was turning a deep red, almost purple. His eyes weren’t just flashing red now, they were a brilliant shade of it, almost glowing from where Teddy could see it.

And then came the nails. Long, fearsome claws ripped—literally ripped—out of the fingernails he already had, spilling blood onto the floor. The blood seemed to do something to him, change some innate part of him, because then he took his newfound claws and sliced each of his wrists, adding more blood to the mix. The smell was tangy and pungent in the air, filling Teddy’s nostrils. He couldn’t imagine how it smelled to Grey, who shouted out Kol’s name in a panic at the sight.

All the while, Ariana just stared, her face alight with wonder. “Could this truly be the blood rage?” she murmured. “You beautiful creature…”

But Kol was insensible to her praise. Because the blood was starting to lift off the ground—and there was far more of it than any body should be able to put out, which told Teddy that this was some kind of magic at work if the situation wasn’t proof enough—and surround Kol. It seemed to envelope him entirely, hiding him from sight, and when it finally faded, Kol was gone.

In his place was the biggest, most gruesome looking wolverine that Teddy had ever imagined. Its fur was up in bristles that looked hard and sharp enough to cut, tinges of red mixing with the more traditional dark brown fur. Its eyes were a vibrant red, with drops of what looked to be blood dripping from the sockets in a most disturbing manner. His teeth were massive, drool mixed with blood around his lips and giving him an altogether rabid look.

When he roared, fear erupted in Teddy. He was almost paralyzed by it—he’d never felt anything like it before. And it appeared he wasn’t the only one affected by it, as at least three of the men collapsed in terror, while the others seemed shaky on their feet. Only Ariana looked unafraid. Instead, there was a look of near-rapture on her face at the sight of her own death in front of her.

One of the men, however, was so terrified that he made a very wrong move: he tried to shoot the beast. Obviously, he didn’t take to that too well.

The bullet itself hit its mark—he was a very big target after all—but rather than hurt, it seemed to give the beast extra power and in a flash, the wolverine was there, ripping him to shreds with his wicked claws.

As the bloodied corpse hit the ground, Ariana herself seemed to come back to reality. “Attack! Take down the beast!” she shouted, and then all was mayhem as several of the enemy started attacking, bullets flying right for Kol.

Grey shouted out his name in terror, moving as if she could do something to protect him. But Alex caught her wrist, halting her forward momentum; he looked like he was trying not to cry himself.

“He’s gone, Grey,” he said, voice sounding rough but authoritative. “If you touch him, he might perceive you as a threat. We need to leave while they’re occupied and just trust that he’ll come back to us later.”

Teddy couldn’t agree more. His own throat felt tight and constricted, nearly suffocating. He felt rooted to the spot, but they had wasted enough time. Kol was their one-man army. He wouldn’t stop until each and every one of them was gone, but they still had a job to do and they were going to do it.

And so Grey transformed back into a wolf, Alex turned his gaze away from his best friend, and Teddy allowed himself to think only of Julian, of how scared he must be. How hurt. These thoughts were enough to propel him forward and the three made their way onwards, together but separate.

And now, here they were. The showdown of a lifetime. He could still hear Kol’s roars in the other room, the sound of gunfire and screams of those unfortunate enough to get caught by Kol’s claws or teeth, but his eyes were drawn only to Julian below him. Julian, who was clearly hurt and leaning heavily against a beam where he sat on the ground. He looked pale and clammy, sweat sticking his hair to his forehead. There was blood in the corner of his mouth where he’d apparently bit his bottom lip and likely hadn’t even realized it. But there was something else, something different, that Teddy couldn’t quite place at first. What was different? What was wrong?

As Grey and Alex confronted Shepherd, he tried to work it out.

Then he smelled it. The telltale scent of ‘not quite human’ that accompanied someone who was infected but hadn’t quite changed just yet, and it was coming from Julian. He knew then what Shepherd had done, why Julian wasn’t quite Julian. It was because Julian was becoming a werewolf. That is, if he survived long enough to complete the transition.

Black rage nearly blinded Teddy for a moment, but he pushed it down. Now wasn’t the time. He still had to bide his time, still had to cling to his stealth as long as possible. But he needed Julian to know, needed to comfort him. He had no way of knowing if it would work—he’d never tried to use this form of communication when he wasn’t transformed himself, certainly not on someone who hadn’t fully transitioned yet—but he had to try. So he tentatively reached out with his mind, hoping to give some relief, however temporary, to Julian. The effect was almost instantaneous as he watched Julian’s features relax briefly before contorting into something like confusion. Then Teddy silently pleaded for Julian to look up, to see that he wasn’t alone, that he was right here and that he was all right. So Julian did.

Quickly, Teddy placed a finger to his mouth to indicate that Julian had to be quiet, to keep his presence a secret. Julian nodded his understanding.

That done, Teddy waited for his chance to act.

 

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