Alterant (Page 17)

Alterant (Belador #2)(17)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Something bit her.

Again.

For like the hundredth time.

She’d had survival training, but give her the city anytime. Even with Atlanta traffic, she’d take the smell of a fresh night sizzled over hot pavement after a summer’s day. Civilization.

After five hours—or had it been six yet—of feeling like the food source for every bloodsucker smaller than her fingernail, she started thinking fondly of nights spent tracking preternatural predators …

The amulet around her neck heated up.

Her skin prickled with awareness and a sense that she’d missed something important.

In the city, she stayed on constant alert.

Out here, she’d gotten lax, assuming Tristan knew the land better than her, since he’d hiked out of here with the Kujoo last week.

But she still should have been paying more attention, because something was following her with deadly intent.

Her heart double-timed with a jolt of fight-or-flight adrenaline that spread through her limbs at the hint of battle. Speaking out loud to Tristan would alert the enemy, but could she reach him telepathically?

Tristan, can you hear me? She waited for some sign from him, but he never paused his stride ahead of her. She’d give it another try. Something or someone is following us. It’s dangerous. I don’t want to harm an animal, but I refuse to be anyone’s dinner.

I hear it, he finally said. Stay close.

She took stock of her surroundings. They’d been gradually descending for the past half hour, and the land had become more rolling than downhill. Tangled vines and a healthy crop of branches forced Tristan to break open the path on occasion, but there had been a few clearings like the one with the lake and waterfall a hundred yards back … until now.

The trail had narrowed with sides formed by thick undergrowth.

Sizing up the ambush potential , she rated the terrain directly ahead of and behind them a high nine on a scale of one to ten.

The jungle had been alive with sounds moments ago.

Everything quieted.

A twig snapped, then leaves shuffled.

That hadn’t been by accident. Whatever stalked her was unconcerned about her hearing its approach. She picked up a ripple of power emanating from the woods behind her and to her left. Several origins.

Predators for sure, but not of the human world.

Tristan paused and dropped to retie his hiking boot.

Did he sense anything?

He turned toward her when he stood, eyes alert.

Demons, whispered through her mind. They’re drawn to our power. Link with me if you want to live.

Linking took absolute trust among Beladors. Plus, she had no clue what might happen if two Alterants linked together.

Evalle? You with me or not?

THIRTEEN

Can’t link with you, Tristan, Evalle sent back telepathically. She kept glancing around for the demons closing in on them.

Tristan sighed and shook his head. And you want me to trust you?

The first beast attacked, diving at Tristan from out of the trees. Too massive to be a wild dog and not quite wolf, with bared fangs and spiked claws extended, its red eyes burned with the urge to kill.

Tristan moved as a blur, fast as lightning, whipping his arm around to slam his fist between the animal’s bright eyes.

The demon went flying up and back into a wad of saplings, then rebounded to his feet and charged again.

Evalle had already turned to cover their backs. Noise crashed toward her from the force of a massive body wrecking everything in its path. She raised her hands to shove power at the next animal when two exploded out of the jungle.

She knocked one demon back against the trunk of a hardwood tree so large her arms wouldn’t reach around it. The other demon dodged her kinetic shot at the last minute, diving to the side, then rounding behind her. She whipped a blast of energy at him and rammed the demon into the base of the same tree.

He fell into a motionless heap.

The urge to shift fully into a beast coursed so strongly through her veins that she hesitated to risk even the small change into Belador battle form.

She might not be able to stop at that point.

Why hadn’t Tristan taken on his beast form? He had no one to answer to for anything he did out here. Shift, Tristan!

Can’t.

Why not? But talking would distract both of them. From the corner of her eye, she caught him fighting the first wolf-demon he’d hit, plus a new one.

She expected the demon she’d stopped with her first shove of power to attack again, but when he regained his senses he started climbing the old hardwood tree with humanlike ability. Once he reached twenty feet up, he climbed out on a limb and stalked her from above.

The other beast at the base of the tree began to rouse.

One glance up confirmed the tree-climber was actually waiting on his companion to wake up to attack as a team.

Something behind her screamed with pain. Maybe Tristan did have some super-charged powers without shifting into his Alterant state. Not fair since he had her weapon, too.

Her weapon. Tristan, throw me the dagger. I’ve killed demons with it.

No power to … reach it.

She risked a look and lost hope of surviving this.

Tristan was the one on the ground, struggling. A demon had his upper arm locked in his jaws, ripping muscle and bone with each jerk of its head.

The other animal Tristan had fought lay headless.

But the one chewing on his arm appeared to be weakening Tristan. His movements were sluggish.

A throaty growl above rattled the bones in her spine. Evalle looked up as the wolf-demon above her hunched his body, preparing to jump.

She ripped her attention back to the other monster on the ground, now up on all four legs and snarling.

Those two demons must have figured out she couldn’t hold the wall of power in front of her and above her at the same time. The one perched overhead jumped as the demon on the ground attacked.

She changed her hand positions and shoved her power straight up, making a fast plan. When the flying monster hit her force field she would heave that animal at the one coming across the ground.

Her plan might have worked, but the one that landed on her field of energy hit and bounced off, smacking a pine tree that hadn’t been thick enough to do any damage.

And the demon on the ground had anticipated her move.

He jumped sideways.

Then slashed back at her before she could swing her kinetic power to stop him.

Fangs bared, he lunged for her knee.

His jaws crushed bone with the first bite.

She screamed at the pain. Claws tore at her thigh, ripping skin and muscle. Blood gushed down her leg and over the demon’s muzzle. She beat his head with her fists.

Cartilage shot up along her arms. Energy racked her body with the impending change.

No. Not the beast. She couldn’t trust Tristan not to rat her out if they faced the Tribunal together, and she’d glow red if she lied about shifting.

But dying would negate all of that.

Her fingers elongated with clawed tips. She clenched her teeth, shaking hard with the force of holding off the change.

The demon’s teeth ground into her knee. Blinding white pain burned through her leg, up into her abdomen and chest. The impending change had given her a weapon she wouldn’t waste. Cocking her arm back, she shoved the sharp claw on her index finger into the creature’s eye.

And kept shoving.

Bone gave as she pushed the stake deep into his brain.

His other eye rolled up in his head. His jaws loosened.

She pulled back and swung her fist like a sledgehammer, driving it down on the animal’s head. Its head broke away from her knee. Two fangs buried in her muscle snapped at the skin line.

The haze surrounding her glowed so bright that it practically blinded her sensitive eyes. When had she lost her glasses? She groped around, found them and shoved them back on her face.

Dizziness assailed her.

She couldn’t focus her vision. Something attacked her body almost like a poison, draining her power. She yanked out the broken fangs and gasped for air. Blood shot from opened arteries with each pulse of her heart. Pain screamed through her.

She was going to lose that leg … if she didn’t die first.

Her arms felt heavy. She was light-headed. What kept depleting her energy beyond the blood loss?

Greenish-yellow liquid mixed with blood streamed down her leg.

The demon’s saliva.

Maybe that’s what had weakened Tristan. The demons’ saliva had to be attacking their blood.

The tree-climbing demon that had bounced off her kinetic power shook his head and gained his feet, facing her with dead eyes. He wobbled when he took a step toward her.

With her power dwindling, she had one shot left.

She threw a blast of energy at the tree ten feet up, severing the trunk and sending a ton of wood down to crush the demon’s backbone.

Now she didn’t have enough kinetic energy to snap a toothpick.

Tristan bellowed in agony.

She twisted around, clenching her teeth against the throbbing pain. The creature still had what was left of Tristan’s mauled arm locked in his jaws. He used the bloody stump to shake Tristan’s entire body back and forth.

No point in being quiet now, she yelled, “Where’s the dagger?”

“Right … boot,” he croaked out in a voice wrought with pain. Blood covered his arm, his body and the ground.

Dragging her bad leg, she crawled to his side and lurched for his boot, unable to stop a cry of anguish at banging her crushed knee.

She reached inside his boot and curled her fingers around the handle of her dagger.

Energy wicked up her arm.

With the last surge of strength in her body, she lunged for the demon’s head, driving the dagger between its eyes. That had worked on demons in the past and, hallelujah, this one burst into an explosion of light, then turned into gray powder.

Tristan fell back with a pitiful howl.

Nothing alive should sound like that.

She shoved the dagger into her boot and climbed over him. Flesh and muscle hung loose from his shoulder, his arm a mangled mess. He wouldn’t survive that any more than she was going to survive a crushed knee that was bleeding out.

“Have to … heal,” he rasped out in a pain-drenched voice.

She’d healed some wounds quicker than a human would be able to but not an injury like this. “Tristan, my knee is destroyed. I don’t have the ability to heal this kind of damage.”

She rolled off his body so he could move. He drew a couple of hard breaths and pushed up on his undamaged arm. His sun-kissed skin had turned a sickly gray.

He wheezed out, “Go to … the lake.”

Like water was going to fix their ravaged bodies? “How will that help?”

“Have to wash away … saliva … it’s attacking our blood.”

“That might stop the power loss, but—” She took a couple of breaths to keep from throwing up. “Unless that lake has majik in the water … not going to fix mangled bodies. It’s too late … saliva’s draining us.”

He gave her a look of confusion, then got to his feet with a great deal of grunting through clenched jaws. He extended his hand to her. “Too much … to explain.”

She couldn’t push him to say more when every word obviously took a toll on his waning energy. “Go ahead if you think you can do something. I can’t walk.”

“Up.” He kept his hand out.

Too exhausted to argue, she grabbed his hand with both of hers and let him pull her to her feet. She sucked in a sharp breath. Tears threatened at the surge of blistering pain. The minute she balanced herself on one leg he let go of her. “What the—”

Before she could fall, he scooped her fireman style over his good shoulder, then started walking. He was headed in the direction of the waterfall they’d passed earlier.

“Put me down. You’re in no shape to carry me.”

He said nothing, just plodded along like a man who had been beaten with a club.

Struggling would only hurt both of them, so she kept still.

Time in the universe of pain moved at an excruciating pace. Every misstep over the rugged terrain jarred her leg and brought tears to her eyes. There was no way she’d cry out or complain, when he had to be hurting just as much.

He muttered something and plowed on.

She couldn’t pay attention to his words past the mind-numbing ache. The sound of rushing water got louder and louder, then she saw the lake and waterfall out of the corner of her eye.

He walked into clear water that wasn’t cold, but cooler than the sauna they’d been trudging through.

Everything below her waist had turned into one gigantic, infected throb.

Tristan held her with his one arm and sunk to his neck. He whispered words that sounded like a chant.

She asked, “What are you doing?”

He just kept murmuring strange words.

“Are you trying to put a spell on me?”

He paused from chanting. “If I did … it would be … to shut you up. Trying to draw out … the saliva. Water helps keep the wound clean … while the saliva seeps out.”

She believed him. “The burning from the saliva is going away, but I’m still getting weaker.”