Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(17)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(17)
Author: Charlaine Harris

I was the frailest thing on site.

Sam was magnificent. His huge paws flashed, and when he hit a wolf square on, that wolf went down. I danced around like a demented elf, trying to stay out the way. I couldn't watch everything that was going on. Clusters of St. Catherine wolves made for Furnan, Alcide, and Sam, while individual battles went on around us. I realized that these clusters had been charged with taking down the leaders, and I knew that a lot of planning had gone into this. Priscilla Hebert hadn't allowed for getting her brother out quickly enough, but that wasn't slowing her down any.

No one seemed to be too concerned with me, since I posed no threat. But there was every chance I'd get knocked down by the snarling combatants and be hurt as severely as I would if I had been the target. Priscilla, now a gray wolf, targeted Sam. I guess she wanted to prove she had more balls than anyone by going for the biggest and most dangerous target. But Amanda was biting at Priscilla's hind legs as Priscilla worked her way through the melee. Priscilla responded by turning her head to bare her teeth at the smaller wolf. Amanda danced away, and then when Priscilla turned to resume her progress, Amanda darted back to bite the leg again. Since Amanda's bite was powerful enough to break bone, this was more than an annoyance, and Priscilla rounded on her in full display. Before I could even think Oh no, Priscilla seized Amanda in her iron jaws and broke her neck.

While I stood staring in horror, Priscilla dropped Amanda's body on the ground and wheeled to leap onto Sam's back. He shook and shook but she had sunk her fangs into his neck and she would not be dislodged.

Something in me snapped as surely as the bones in Amanda's neck. I lost any sense I might have had, and I launched myself in the air as if I were a wolf, too. To keep from sliding off the heaving mass of animals, I wound my arms in the fur around Priscilla's neck, and I wound my legs around Priscilla's middle, and I tightened my arms until I was just about hugging myself. Priscilla didn't want to let go of Sam, so she flung herself from side to side to knock me loose. But I was clinging to her like a homicidal monkey.

Finally, she had to let go of his neck to deal with me. I squeezed and squeezed harder, and she tried to bite me, but she couldn't reach around properly since I was on her back. She was able to curve enough to graze my leg with her fangs, but she couldn't hold on. The pain hardly registered. I tightened my grip even more though my arms were aching like hell. If I let go one little bit, I would join Amanda.

Though all of this took place so quickly it was hard to believe, I felt as if I'd been trying to kill this woman/wolf for eternity. I wasn't really thinking, "Die, die," in my head; I just wanted her to stop what she was doing, and she wouldn't, dammit. Then there was another ear-shattering roar, and huge teeth flashed an inch away from my arms. I understood I should let go, and the second my arms loosened, I tumbled off the wolf, rolling over the pavement to land in a heap a few feet away.

There was a sort of pop! and Claudine was standing over me. She was in a tank top and pajama bottoms and she had a case of bedhead. From between her striped legs I saw the lion bite the wolf's head nearly off, then spit her out in a fastidious way. Then he turned to survey the parking lot, evaluating the next threat.

One of the wolves leaped at Claudine. She proved she was completely awake. While the animal was in midair her hands clamped on its ears. She swung him, using his own momentum. Claudine flung the huge wolf with the ease of a frat boy tossing a beer can, and the wolf smacked against the loading dock with a sound that seemed quite final. The speed of this attack and its conclusion was absolutely incredible.

Claudine didn't move from her straddling stance, and I was smart enough to stay put. Actually, I was exhausted, frightened, and a little bloody, though only the red spatter on my leg seemed to be my own. Fighting takes such a short time, yet it uses up the body's reserves with amazing speed. At least, that's the way it works with humans. Claudine looked pretty sparky.

"Bring it on, fur-ass!" she shrieked, beckoning with both hands to a Were who was slinking up on her from behind. She'd twisted around without moving her legs, a maneuver that would be impossible for a mundane human body. The Were launched and got exactly the same treatment as its packmate. As far as I could tell, Claudine wasn't even breathing heavy. Her eyes were wider and more intent than usual, and she held her body in a loose crouch, clearly ready for action.

There was more roaring, and barking, and growling, and shrieks of pain, and rending noises that didn't bear thinking about. But after maybe five more minutes of battle, the noise died down.

Claudine had not even glanced down at me during this time because she was guarding my body. When she did, she winced. So I looked pretty bad.

"I was late," she said, shifting her feet so she was standing on one side of me. She reached down and I seized her hand. In a flash, I was on my feet. I hugged her. Not only did I want to, I needed to. Claudine always smelled so wonderful, and her body was curiously firmer to the touch than human flesh. She seemed happy to hug me back, and we clung together for a long moment while I regained my equilibrium.

Then I raised my head to look around, dreading what I would see. The fallen lay in heaps of fur around us. The dark stains on the pavement were not from oil drips. Here and there a bedraggled wolf nosed through the corpses, looking for someone in particular. The lion was crouched a couple of yards away, panting. Blood streaked his fur. There was an open wound on his shoulder, the one caused by Priscilla. There was another bite on his back.

I didn't know what to do first. "Thanks, Claudine," I said, and kissed her cheek.

"I can't always make it," Claudine cautioned me. "Don't count on an automatic rescue."

"Am I wearing some kind of fairy Life Alert button? How'd you know to come?" I could tell she wasn't going to answer. "Anyway, I sure appreciate this rescue. Hey, I guess you know I met my great-grandfather." I was babbling. I was so glad to be alive.

She bowed her head. "The prince is my grandfather," she said.

"Oh," I said. "So, we're like cousins?"

She looked down at me, her eyes clear and dark and calm. She didn't look like a woman who'd just killed two wolves as quick as you could snap your fingers. "Yes," she said. "I guess we are."

"So what do you call him? Granddaddy? Popsy?"

"I call him 'my lord.'"

"Oh."

She stepped away to check out the wolves she'd disposed of (I was pretty sure they were still dead), so I went over to the lion. I crouched beside him and put my arm around his neck. He rumbled. Automatically, I scratched the top of his head and behind his ears, just like I did with Bob. The rumble intensified.

"Sam," I said. "Thanks so much. I owe you my life. How bad are your wounds? What can I do about them?"

Sam sighed. He laid his head on the ground.

"You're tired?"

Then the air around him got hyper, and I pulled away from him. I knew what was coming. After a few moments, the body that lay beside me was human, not animal. I ran my eyes over Sam anxiously and I saw that he still had the wounds, but they were much smaller than they'd been on his lion form. All shapeshifters are great at healing. It says a lot about the way my life had changed that it didn't seem significant to me that Sam was buck na**d. I had kind of gone beyond that now - which was good, since there were bare bodies all around me. The corpses were changing back, as well as the injured wolves.

It had been easier to look at the bodies in wolf form.

Cal Myers and his sister, Priscilla, were dead, of course, as were the two Weres Claudine had dispatched. Amanda was dead. The skinny girl I'd met in the Hair of the Dog was alive, though severely wounded in the upper thigh. I recognized Amanda's bartender, too; he seemed unscathed. Tray Dawson was cradling an arm that looked broken.

Patrick Furnan lay in the middle of a ring of the dead and wounded, all of them Priscilla's wolves. With some difficulty, I picked my way through broken, bloody bodies. I could feel all the eyes, wolf and human, focus on me as I squatted by him. I put my fingers on his neck and got nothing. I checked his wrist. I even put my hand against his chest. No movement.

"Gone," I said, and those remaining in wolf form began to howl. Far more disturbing were the howls coming from the throats of the Weres in human form.

Alcide staggered over to me. He appeared to be more or less intact, though streaks of blood matted his chest hair. He passed the slain Priscilla, kicking her corpse as he went by. He knelt for a moment by Patrick Furnan, dipping his head as though he was bowing to the corpse. Then he rose to his feet. He looked dark, savage, and resolute.

"I am the leader of this pack!" he said in a voice of absolute certainty. The scene became eerily quiet as the surviving wolves absorbed that.

"You need to leave now," Claudine said very quietly right behind me. I jumped like a rabbit. I'd been mesmerized by the beauty of Alcide, by the primitive wildness rolling off him.

"What? Why?"

"They're going to celebrate their victory and the ascension of a new packmaster," she said.

The skinny girl clenched her hands together and brought them down on the skull of a fallen - but still twitching - enemy. The bones broke with a nasty crunch. All around me the defeated Weres were being executed, at least those who were severely wounded. A small cluster of three scrambled to kneel in front of Alcide, their heads tilted back. Two of them were women. One was an adolescent male. They were offering Alcide their throats in surrender. Alcide was very excited. All over. I remembered the way Patrick Furnan had celebrated when he got the packmaster job. I didn't know if Alcide was going to f**k the hostages or kill them. I took in my breath to exclaim. I don't know what I would've said, but Sam's grimy hand clapped over my mouth. I rolled my eyes to glare at him, both angry and agitated, and he shook his head vehemently. He held my gaze for a long moment to make sure I would stay silent, and then he removed his hand. He put his arm around my waist and turned me abruptly away from the scene. Claudine took the rear guard as Sam marched me rapidly away. I kept my eyes forward.

I tried not to listen to the noises.

Chapter 10

Sam had some extra clothes in his truck, and he pulled them on matter-of-factly. Claudine said, "I have to get back to bed," as if she'd been awoken to let the cat out or go to the bathroom, and then pop! she was gone.

"I'll drive," I offered, because Sam was wounded.

He handed me his keys.

We started out in silence. It was an effort to remember the route to get back to the interstate to return to Bon Temps because I was still shocked on several different levels.

"That's a normal reaction to battle," Sam said. "The surge of lust."

I carefully didn't look at Sam's lap to see if he was having his own surge. "Yeah, I know that. I've been in a few fights now. A few too many."

"Plus, Alcide did ascend to the packmaster position." Another reason to feel "happy."

"But he did this whole battle thing because Maria-Star died." So he should have been too depressed to think about celebrating the death of his enemy, was my point.

"He did this whole battle thing because he was threatened," Sam said. "It's really stupid of Alcide and Furnan that they didn't sit down and talk before it came to this point. They could have figured out what was happening much earlier. If you hadn't persuaded them, they'd still be getting picked off and they'd have started an all-out war. They'd have done most of Priscilla Hebert's work for her."

I was sick of the Weres, their aggression and stubbornness. "Sam, you went through all of this because of me. I feel terrible about that. I would have died if it wasn't for you. I owe you big-time. And I'm so sorry."

"Keeping you alive," Sam said, "is important to me." He closed his eyes and slept the rest of the way back to his trailer. He limped up the steps unaided, and his door shut firmly. Feeling a little forlorn and not a little depressed, I got in my own car and drove home, wondering how to fit what had happened that night into the rest of my life.

Amelia and Pam were sitting in the kitchen. Amelia had made some tea, and Pam was working on a piece of embroidery. Her hands flew as the needle pierced the fabric, and I didn't know what was most astonishing: her skill or her choice of pastimes.

"What have you and Sam been up to?" Amelia asked with a big smile. "You look like you've been rode hard and put away wet."

Then she looked more closely and said, "What happened, Sookie?"

Even Pam put down her embroidery and gave me her most serious face. "You smell," she said. "You smell of blood and war."

I looked down at myself and registered what a mess I was. My clothes were bloody, torn, and dirty, and my leg ached. It was first aid time, and I couldn't have had better care from Nurse Amelia and Nurse Pam. Pam was a little excited by the wound, but she restrained herself like a good vampire. I knew she'd tell Eric everything, but I just couldn't find it in me to care. Amelia said a healing spell over my leg. Healing wasn't her strongest suit, she told me modestly, but the spell helped a bit. My leg did stop throbbing.

"Aren't you worried?" Amelia asked. "This is from a Were. What if you caught it?"

"It's harder to catch than almost any communicable disease," I said, since I'd asked almost every werecreature I'd met about the chances of their condition being transmitted by bite. After all, they have doctors, too. And researchers. "Most people have to be bitten several times, all over their body, to get it, and even then it's not for sure." It's not like the flu or the common cold. Plus, if you cleaned the wound soon afterward, your chances dropped considerably even from that. I'd poured a bottle of water over my leg before I'd gotten in the car. "So I'm not worried, but I am sore, and I think I might have a scar."

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