Home > Hellion (Relentless #7)(16)

Hellion (Relentless #7)(16)
Author: Karen Lynch

“The girl’s name is Lia, and her parents contacted a Vrell demon named Kelvan who works with Sara,” Beth explained. “Kelvan tracked Lia from Detroit to Chicago and to this wrakk. Normally, Sara would come herself, but she is…working on a special project and couldn’t get away.”

Terra clasped her hands. “Of course. How can I help?”

“You can tell us if you’ve seen any new teenagers here this week,” I said.

Mox children didn’t normally go out on their own like human kids because of the dangers to them. Chances were, most Mox teenagers hanging around here were accompanied by an adult relative. A girl on her own would stand out.

Terra thought for a moment. “No, but I’ve barely left my shop this week except to go home. I can ask around for you.”

Beth touched my shoulder. “I don’t think that will be necessary.”

I followed her gaze to a slight figure with long white hair emerging from between two stalls less than a hundred feet away. The girl glanced around furtively before she adjusted the backpack on her shoulder and started walking casually in our general direction. She kept her eyes down and her pace slow, clearly trying not to draw attention to herself.

I waited until Lia was abreast of Terra’s shop to call softly to her. Her head jerked in our direction at the sound of her name, and fear filled her eyes. And then she ran.

I sprinted after her, keeping her in my sight as we weaved through the shops and stalls. Twice, I almost had her, but she was a nimble little thing, and she managed to swerve out of my reach each time.

She ducked under a cart full of vegetables, and I barely avoided knocking the whole thing over, leaving an angry vendor shouting in my wake. Instead of being annoyed, I grinned. I hadn’t had this much fun on a chase in forever.

Up ahead, I saw a flash of blonde hair as Beth ran around the corner of a bakery shop to head us off. Lia let out a small cry of dismay and looked around frantically. Then she was gone, slipping into an impossibly narrow space between two stores in the center of the market where neither Beth nor I could follow. Shit!

I pointed, and Beth nodded. The two of us separated in an attempt to corner Lia again. I had to take the long way around the row of shops to get to the other side. By the time I reached the place she would have emerged from, she was nowhere in sight.

Hands on hips, I was scanning the area, trying to decide my next move when a girl screamed. I raced toward the sound, hoping she’d run into Beth and not something worse.

Definitely worse, I thought as I rounded a shop and found the struggling girl thrown over the shoulder of a tall, scaly, winged demon with a single horn in the middle of his forehead. I sighed. A visit to a wrakk wouldn’t be complete without at least one Gulak to cause trouble.

The other demons in this part of the market stood back fearfully. Some of them wore angry expressions, but it was clear none of them was brave enough to go up against a bigger demon known for its brute strength. Gulaks were the thugs of the demon community, and they lived up to their name, running drugs and slaves and whatever else made them money.

“Let her go,” I called as I strode toward them.

The Gulak looked me up and down, and his lizard-like lips curved into an ugly leer. “It must be my lucky day. You’ll fetch a lot more than this puny thing.”

“Funny, I was just thinking it was my lucky day. I hear Gulak hide suitcases are all the rage now.”

He showed me his teeth. “You’re gutsy for a human.”

“And you’re stupid for a…never mind.”

I stopped ten feet away from him and reached behind me to unsheathe the short sword I wore under my coat. It was a smaller version of my favorite katana and custom made for me. Some women liked to accessorize with jewelry. I had a weapon for every outfit.

The Gulak blinked in surprise and backed up a step.

“We can do this one of two ways,” I said evenly. “You can release the girl and walk out of here, or I take her from you and you leave in a body bag.”

I hoped he was smart enough to go with the first option. I could take him, but I didn’t want to risk the girl getting hurt.

The crowd parted, and two more Gulaks stepped out into the open. I should have known he’d brought friends with him. These guys didn’t go anywhere alone.

“Or you can drop the weapon and come along quietly,” said one of the newcomers as he walked over to stand beside the one holding the girl.

I fingered the hilt of my sword as I sized up the situation and wondered where Beth was. I could handle two Gulaks, but three might be messy.

The third Gulak laughed. “Got nothing to say now?”

I smiled. “I’m just thinking about that new luggage set I’m going to have made.”

Someone in the crowd tittered, and the three Gulaks growled.

The Gulak with the girl bared his teeth menacingly at the bystanders. “Any one of you could be next. Remember that.”

The place fell silent except for the sound of running feet. I looked past the Gulaks to Beth, who had stopped a few yards from them, holding what looked like a wooden staff.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said to me.

I grinned. “You’re just in time.”

The Gulaks shifted nervously as they looked from me to Beth, not quite so sure of themselves now. That was the thing with bullies. They were all bluster when they faced a weaker person or they had backup. The moment they had to face a stronger opponent, they’d turn tail and run. The question now was would they give up the girl or try to run with her.

“What’s it going to be?” I asked when they were quiet for a full minute. “No one has to get hurt here today if you give up the girl.”

The three Gulaks exchanged looks, and the one holding the girl scowled. One of the others whispered something to him, but he shook his head and tightened his hold on her, making her cry out. This made the third Gulak whisper and gesture wildly at him. His response was to punch the guy in the face.

The wounded Gulak bellowed in pain as blood poured from his nose. With one hand trying to staunch the flow of blood, he cast a sour look in my direction and stomped off toward the exit.

Beth shot me a questioning look, and I nodded. If he wanted to leave peacefully, I wouldn’t stop him. Besides, it made our job easier with one less opponent to fight.

I turned my attention back to the remaining two Gulaks, who were arguing in harsh whispers while keeping an eye on Beth and me. They seemed to come to some agreement because the one holding the girl pulled her off his shoulder and held her in front of him with an arm around her waist. His free hand grabbed the cutlass he wore at his hip, and he brandished it at me. I focused all my attention on him and the girl. Beth could more than hold her own against the other one.

“Stay back if you don’t want the female to get hurt,” he snarled.

“Using a child as a shield?” My lip curled in disgust, and I let my gaze drop to the front of his pants. “Are you sure you even have a pair in there? Maybe we should get you a skirt instead.”

He shook with rage as my barb hit home. Gulak males were misogynistic to a fault. They saw females as weak, and they treated their own like possessions whose sole purpose was to bear their offspring. Questioning his manhood was an insult he couldn’t ignore without losing face in front of his friend.

He threw the girl off to one side, where she landed on her hip with a cry of pain. There was no time to make sure she was okay because he rushed me with his sword raised.

Oh boy, he was pissed. I could see the blood lust in his reptilian eyes as I sidestepped his clumsy attack and hooked my blade beneath his to disarm him. His sword slid across the floor to disappear beneath one of the stalls.

He stumbled past me and righted himself, staring at his empty hand with a stunned expression. For a moment, the only sounds were the thwack of a staff hitting flesh somewhere behind me, followed by a grunt of pain.

Hushed whispers came from the crowd, and I saw some of their shocked faces. No doubt seeing someone take down a Gulak was a foreign sight for most of them. It irked me that they didn’t stand up for themselves more. I got that they were smaller, but they didn’t have to be weaker. Anyone could learn to fight.

The Gulak bellowed and lumbered toward me with all the grace of a drunken sailor.

I raised my sword to meet his attack when I caught sight of two Vrell boys pushing their way to the front of the crowd, their eyes shining with awe. I guessed them to be in their early teens, around the same age I’d been when I started my formal training.

Dodging the attack, I ran over to the boys and laid my sword on the floor at their feet. “Keep this for me, will you? Just don’t touch it.”

“But…how will you fight the Gulak?” one of them stammered.

I winked at him. “Watch.”

I turned back to the Gulak, who was already coming at me again. This time, he held a knife he must have had tucked inside his clothes. He grinned triumphantly when he saw I no longer had my sword.

I waited until the last second and ducked out of his reach. He spun and tried again and again, and each time, I evaded his attacks.

“Lesson one in how to fight a bully is try not to get hit,” I said to the wide-eyed boys after the Gulak’s fourth failed attempt to reach me. “Most bullies, like this guy, are stronger than you, so a good blow from them could be all it takes to defeat you.”

The Gulak came at me again. He was persistent, I’d give him that, even if he was a terrible fighter. This time, my foot hooked his as he went past, and he flailed wildly trying to stay upright.

I smiled at the boys. “Lesson two. You’re smaller and faster, so make him chase you. He’ll tire himself out eventually.”

“Gonna gut you, bitch,” the Gulak panted.

I wagged a finger at him. “Language. There are children present.”

A few people laughed, which only made his face twist in fury. But it was clear to everyone that he was in no shape to follow up with his threats.

“Lesson three,” I said loudly enough for all to hear. “Words are just words. They’re meant to frighten and intimidate, but they can’t hurt you.”

I moved in, going on the attack for the first time. My foot connected with his knee, and he howled in pain. Not letting him recover, I came around and wrenched the knife from his slack grip, tossing it on the floor beside my sword.

I grinned at the boys, who looked more excited than afraid now. “Ready for lesson four?”

Their heads bobbed in unison.

“Lesson four,” I called as I circled the Gulak, who was limping now. “Fight dirty and make your hits count. You punch a Gulak in the chest and all you’ll get for your trouble is a broken hand. A good kick to the knee is much more effective as you can see. A throat punch works, too, if you can get one in. But if you really want to bring the pain…”

I struck fast, my booted foot catching him right between the legs. He let out a high-pitched whine and sank to the floor, where he lay on his side with his hands cradling his groin.

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