* * *
Conal convulsed as the werewolves closed in on his would-be rescuer. His chains rattled. Any full-blooded Sidhe would have made short work of them -- the supposed fairy allergy to cold iron was a myth -- but he just didn’t have that much power. Twisting his wrists, he groped for the link he’d been trying to burn through. Torture made it tough to cast spells.
Blood loss, shock and pain had taken a toll on his abilities, but the sight of the female werewolf going down under her attackers sent a wave of blessed adrenaline through his body. Magic flared between his fingertips, and Conal gritted his teeth, fighting to maintain the shield that protected his skin as the link blazed hot, then finally parted.
Conal wrenched with the last dregs of his strength. Metal rattled as the ends of the chain dropped to the floor. Panting, he struggled to unwrap the loops. Finally the last of them fell away, and he heaved out of the chair. The room spun, but he steadied himself, tried to take a step… and fell on his face. He’d forgotten the chains binding his ankles to the chair legs. The impact jarred his savaged chest and belly, sending black spots dancing in front of his eyes. The darkness closed in…
Liam Neeson yelled in his ear, “Get up, boy, before they kill her!”
“The… fuck?” Blearily, he managed to open his eyes and turn his head toward the sound.
A shotgun lay on the floor about a yard away. “I said, get up!” the voice bellowed, coming from the weapon. Must be using the same speech spell as Essus. It still sounded like the Taken guy. The light finally dawned. That’s not an actor, that’s Maeve’s pet death god. Which meant his werewolf rescuer was Helena Baker.
“Pick me up!” the gun demanded. “The geas only lets me use my power if someone’s touching me.”
Which suggested Maeve didn’t trust the fucker. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but Conal didn’t care. Even as another blazing wave of pain slashed his shredded belly, he groped for the gun with a shaking hand. Managed to grab Liam’s fat barrel. It felt hot under his fingers. “My ankles are still chained.”
Magic swirled around his legs. “Not anymore.”
His feet fell away from the chair, which now lay toppled across his butt. He kicked it away, gasping as agony ripped through him. “Can you heal me?”
“What part of ‘death god’ don’t you get?”
Dammit. He gathered his strength and forced himself to hands and knees. Teeth gritted, he braced his hand on the fallen chair and managed to stagger upright, dragging the gun with him. Remembered an unpleasant rumor. “Don’t kill me.”
“Fine! Just save Helena!” Was that fear in the god’s voice?
Steadying himself, Conal raised the weapon. Christ, Liam was heavy. One of the kidnappers, red as an Irish Setter, staggered back from the knot of battling werewolves, clutching a sliced throat. Conal fired, bracing himself against the shotgun’s ferocious kick. It almost knocked him on his ass, but the red werewolf’s head exploded.
One down. He shifted his aim to the snarling, writhing dog pile, all claws, curses, and snapping teeth. Helena had black fur, but there were at least two that color…
“Don’t fire,” Liam snarled. “You’ll hit her.”
“Can’t you guide the damn bullet?”
“That’s not how it works. The geas won’t let me hit anything but what you aim at. Can you use a sword?”
His lips peeled off bloody, sticky teeth. “Hell, yes.”
Magic lit his senses, burning his hands as the shotgun became a two-handed great sword that was even heavier.
“Demon winds, you’re weak.” Liam sounded thoroughly disgusted.
“Just spent an hour being tortured,” Conal snapped back, angry shame storming through him. Fucking Siobhan.
“Fine! Here.” Magic burned his hands with cold fire. A heartbeat later, energy roared through his veins, blasting his spent body with a berserker’s strength. “It won’t last, so get to work.”
“Yes!” Conal swung the big blade up and charged, glorying in the surge of power, hungry for revenge. He wished he’d had Darkbane when these fuckers gated in, but the magical weapon had been in his bedroom. It might as well have been in New York.
He spun, building momentum, and chopped the sword into the nearest furry back with a triumphant bellow. The wolf screamed and twisted, one clawed hand darting toward Conal’s face. He ducked the swipe, simultaneously twisting the blade and jerking it free. The wolf yelped, high with anguish, and light blazed around him. When the glow vanished, he’d transformed into a timber wolf the size of a pony.
He’d also healed. The wolf whirled to race away, but Conal spun the sword and decapitated him. “Who’s a pussy now, Fido fucker?”
Another pair of yellow eyes flashed in his direction, and that wolf charged. Conal pivoted smoothly aside, swinging the sword two-handed, Derek Jeter going for a homer. The monster tried to dodge, but the blade sank into furry ribs. Howling, Conal levered the weapon up through the werewolf’s torso with all his berserker’s strength. The wolf clawed his forearms, raking furrows Conal barely felt as he twisted the blade free. The monster crumpled in a dying heap.
“Got the heart,” Liam told him. “Good work.”
Conal glanced down at his bloody arms, at his savaged stomach, and the analytical part of his brain wondered how the god was keeping him on his feet. Then he decided he didn’t give a damn. Helena had done something permanent to one of her last three attackers. The fucker was down on the ground, writhing, beginning to glow. About to transform and heal again. Oh, hell, no.
Conal headed for Helena and her final two foes, swinging Liam at the downed wolf as he passed. Bone crunched, blood flew and the magical glow vanished with the monster’s death.
“You have a nasty streak,” the god observed. “I approve.”
“Five years with Siobhan makes you mean.” He freed the blade with an easy twist of his wrist. Blood pattered on the floor. Fido’s? Eh, could be mine.
One of Helena’s attackers sensed him coming and leaped away. Conal’s sword stroke missed, but a whisker swirled through the air, neatly severed. Liam was sharp. I do love a good blade. Conal coiled, his hands flexing on the sword hilt. The nearest wolf turned to snarl, lips peeled back from fangs the length of daggers.
Conal felt… odd, despite the singing power, almost floating. Blood loss.
“Demon winds, you’re dying on your feet,” Liam said. “Hell with it, let’s shoot him.” In the next instant the sword was a shotgun again. Even as the wolf leaped for him, Conal found the trigger and fired.
The blast as the wolf’s torso exploded knocked Conal off his feet. He lay stunned, vaguely embarrassed.
“You’re done,” Liam told him. “Throw me to Helena.”
But if I do that, I’m going to die, Conal thought muzzily. Oh, fuck it. He managed to sit up even as the world spun. “Helena!” And he threw the shotgun.
She caught Liam out of the air, whirled, and fired, all one smooth motion. As if from a distance, Conal heard the blast as the last wolf’s head exploded.
The world rolled sideways and went out.
* * *
Helena panted, every nerve in her body ablaze with pain. She hadn’t dared shift during the fight, since there were too fucking many of them. And she’d paid the price. She felt like hamburger after a trip through a meat grinder. Probably looked it, too.
Drawing on her magic, she transformed. Human again, she bent, panting as she braced Liam’s shotgun butt on the floor like a cane. God, that’s better. But not by much. The shift had returned her clothing and healed her injuries, but it had done fuck all for the exhaustion of using so much magic on Mortal Earth.
Lifting her head, she looked around for Conal. He lay ten feet away, covered in even more blood than when she’d dived over the balcony rail. Crap. She lifted Liam and hurried toward him. The closer she got, the worse he looked. “Is he still alive?”
“Barely,” Liam growled. “I’m calling Maeve.”
“What about the geas?”
“Siobhan’s cretins are dead, so the spell isn’t in effect.” Thoughtfully, he added, “Conal acquitted himself rather well. Vicious fighter. I’d figured he’d be a pampered little halfer.”
“Racist.” Helena dropped to her knees beside the Changeling. What she could see of his face was paper pale beneath the blood. The werewolves had mauled him like a dog pack. He had bites and raking claw wounds to his chest, belly, face, legs and arms. “How in the hell was he fighting?”
“Berserker spell. Too bad I can’t do that on you.”
“If you could, I wouldn’t be magic resistant, and you’d have killed me by now. Did you call Maeve? He’s covered in blood.”
“I did, and not all of it’s his.”
Conal’s lids lifted and he looked up at her feverishly. They stared at each other for a long, spinning moment. God, his eyes… The violet irises pulled you in, made you want to watch all those shifting shades of blue and purple.
“I’m Helena Baker. Maeve sent me.”
“I know.” A lunatic grin broke across his face. There was blood on his teeth. “Marry me,” he gasped. Then his eyes rolled up, and he passed out.