Home > Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson #11)(17)

Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson #11)(17)
Author: Patricia Briggs

I released him. “When you put it like that . . .”

He continued down, and I followed. As his foot hit the fourth step down, inky shadow boiled up, like a weird, black, dry-ice fog. Adam didn’t even hesitate. I put a hand on his back as he waded into the darkness ahead of me.

Maybe I should have stayed upstairs where I could have called for help if no one came back up. But he hadn’t asked me to do that, and I wasn’t going to suggest it. One of our wolves was trapped down there.

I knew when we came to the bottom of the stairs because I was counting, and because Adam stopped abruptly. He snarled and the muscles under my hand tightened to rock-hard as he put pressure on whatever lay in front of him.

“Blocked,” he grunted.

“Let me try,” I said, slipping by him.

The barrier that had stopped him felt like a giant warm cushion blocking the way. It tried to keep me out, as it had Adam, but everywhere it pressed against me, it softened and yielded. Going forward felt like I was voluntarily suffocating myself in warm wax that slid into my ears and nose and required almost more bravery than I possessed. But Adam had my back, and that knowledge combined with Sherwood’s need kept me moving forward.

I shut my mouth before any of the nasty, witchcrafted jelly goop could invade my mouth as well. I grabbed Adam’s hand as I struggled forward, hoping I could pull him in my wake.

It wasn’t easy or quick, but I made progress. Cool air touched the top of my head, and then I could hear the furious roar of Sherwood’s wolf as the warm, insidious magic slid reluctantly away.

As soon as my nostrils were free, I could scent black magic and . . . a strange werewolf whose scent was overlaid with something I’d smelled a lot today. I didn’t dare open my eyes until my lids were clear of the barrier, but my nose told me enough.

We had a zombie werewolf in the basement.

I’d leaned forward, so my upper body cleared the barrier first, which meant I was trapped from the waist down and blind when there was a zombie werewolf less than thirty feet away.

I wiped at my face with my free hand, pushing aside the magic until it felt safe to open my eyes. My legs were still stuck in slow motion, but at least I could see.

This zombie was different from the goats, better made. His black coat didn’t exactly glisten with health, but it wasn’t ragged, either. Hard to tell for sure, with both combatants moving so fast, but I thought the zombie wolf was a little bigger than Sherwood, which would put it in the same size category as Samuel or Charles. If it hadn’t been for the smell, I might have believed that it was a living werewolf.

The goats I’d dealt with this morning had been driven by one purpose: to feed. That had made them easy to hunt because they had been blind and deaf to anything else. But this dead wolf fought with intelligence and training.

Sherwood was missing one back leg—which was annoying, I’m sure, even in his human shape. But it was a huge liability in a fight where he was a wolf, as he was now. He compensated for the lack with tactics, forcing his opponent to move into his space, where his hampered maneuverability wasn’t such a problem.

Outside of Adam, I don’t think there would have been a wolf in the pack who could have taken Sherwood if he’d had four legs. But he was losing his battle against the zombie.

“Mechanical damage,” I yelled to Sherwood, as if he needed my help. With my newly acquired experience with zombies, I continued more quietly, “They don’t feel pain. So you have to do mechanical damage. Getting you some help in a minute.”

I redoubled my struggle to get my legs free without losing my balance. I pulled my left foot out, turned, and reached back into the barrier and locked my free hand on Adam’s, so I could haul with both of my hands. I wasn’t going to be a lot of help with a zombie werewolf—we needed Adam.

Pulling him through was like a game of tug-of-war. I made progress, but it was unholy slow. At some point in the process, my left foot came free. In helping Adam, I’d reburied my face in the muck. I couldn’t see Adam, just felt the grip of his hands in mine as we both strained to pull him through.

There was a terrible moment when I thought it wasn’t going to work—that both of us were just going to suffocate in the blasted barrier. Then finally, with a vast, horrid sucking sound and a zing that went through me like that time I touched an electric fence in the rain, the spell was gone.

Adam stumbled forward, pulled off-balance by the sudden lack of resistance. But he regained his footing almost immediately, his attention on the fight. I dropped his hand and stepped back, gasping for air, as he stripped off his clothes and called on the pack bonds to quicken his change. But he didn’t wait for it to take him before he waded into the fray.

Even with the help of the bonds, it would take him five or ten minutes to change. He might have been better off staying human—but he didn’t have any weapons and we didn’t keep any down here.

“Zombies,” I muttered, staring at the dead wolf who fought like a demon. “What do I know about zombies?”

Since the magic was gone from the stairs, I bolted up them to the main floor, then paused.

“Burn zombies,” I muttered. “Behead them.” I had visions of a dozen horror movies with moving body parts, but I couldn’t remember what part of that lore was fiction. I wished we’d experimented a bit with the miniature goat zombies. It would be helpful right now to know if beheading would work. Burning a zombie while we were all in the basement seemed like a doubtfully useful thing. If I succeed in dousing it with enough lighter fluid to actually catch the flesh on fire, there was a good chance that I’d catch everyone and everything else on fire. And no matter what caught on fire, thanks to Aiden and Joel we had a dandy fire suppression system in the house. Beheading seemed the better option with my limited knowledge.

I ran up the second flight of steps toward our bedroom instead of running to the barbecue supplies in the garage. The kitchen knives had been closer, but only a few seconds closer and they weren’t big enough.

Adam had a gun safe in the walk-in closet and a locked wardrobe filled with other kinds of weapons. I regretted my cutlass—left in the trunk of my car, which was at Elizaveta’s house awaiting one of the pack to drive it home. But there were a lot of sharp and pointy things in the wardrobe.

The first thing I saw in the weapons store was the .444 Marlin. I’d almost forgotten; we’d run out of room in the gun safe and put the Marlin in the weapons store instead.

In the basement, I didn’t have to worry about killing innocent bystanders with the gun designed to shoot Kodiak bears. The lipstick-sized bullets might even give a zombie trouble.

No time to dither. I grabbed the rifle, which we kept loaded, with my left hand and grabbed a random sword in my right. I was back in the hallway when I realized what weapon I’d grabbed. Peter’s saber.

Peter had been one of our wolves. His German cavalry saber had been at our house when he died—he had brought it over to demonstrate something to one of the other wolves. Or maybe that had been when he was teaching Jesse how to fight with a sword. Honey, his mate, had not taken it back—though she knew where it was.

German steel was more forgiving than the steel of the five katanas that also hung in that closet—it would flex where a katana might shatter. That was the only thing it had going for it as far as I was concerned. It was a heavy cavalry saber.

I’d handled katanas for years and switched to the even shorter, lighter cutlass. But a cavalry sword was designed to be wielded from horseback, as much hatchet as blade, and this one was built for a man who had been taller and stronger than I was. It was better than a kitchen knife.

At least I had the .444.

My foot hit the top step of the stairs to the main floor less than a full minute after I’d run up from the basement. I’d kept a count in my head. Fifty-three seconds is a long time in a real battle. People die in seconds. Heartbeats. I took comfort from the bestial sounds coming from the basement and the burning of the pack bonds. If Adam was drawing upon them still to hasten his change, he was alive.

Then silence fell.

I paused halfway down the upper stairway.

The zombie werewolf cleared the top of the basement stairway and stopped. It looked around as if searching for something. I dropped the sword so I could use the rifle.

The sound drew its attention, and it jumped across the space between the basement stairs and the ones I stood on top of and headed up.

I shot it, twice, as fast as I could work the action on the rifle. The Marlin kicked like a mule, and even the ported barrel didn’t make up for the fact that the gun was relatively light and the bullet was huge. I should have waited on the second shot and I knew it even as my finger pulled the trigger. It only carried five bullets and I’d just wasted one.

But my first shot had taken it in the chest. I had been aiming for the forehead, but the zombie was moving fast. The bullet knocked it back, rolling it down about five steps and onto the space between the staircases before it caught its balance again.

Ears ringing with the cannonlike bellow of the rifle, I drew a deep breath, reminded myself I needed to cause mechanical damage, and hit the wolf’s front left leg with the third bullet, as it attempted my stairs again. Because of the porting of the barrel, the muzzle flash from the Marlin was over two feet long and, for some weird reason, explainable only by battlefield conditions because a muzzle flash doesn’t do anything, that reassured me.

The next shot took the bottom of its jaw off, but the next and last bullet went into the wall when the wolf moved faster than I’d seen it move before and swiped the end of the rifle barrel.

I let it go—I was out of bullets anyway—and the rifle hit the wall with a noise that left me pretty sure that weapon wasn’t going to be useful ever again. But I was too busy dodging a swipe of the wicked-sharp claws to mourn my long-dead foster father’s rifle. That swipe had more in common with a bear’s attack than a timber wolf’s. If it hit me, it could kill me with a single blow.

I leaped for the sword and stabbed the wolf with the reflexes I’d been working on since well before I’d been gifted with my cutlass. I’d executed the move smoothly, and if I’d been using my cutlass or a katana, it would have slid into its heart.

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