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Malcolm gave her a curious look. "Lupus Theliel. Wolfsbane."
The younger boy exchanged looks with Lawson. "You must be part wolf, then ... but you're one of the Fallen, which doesn't make sense," he said.
Bliss did not respond. There were things she couldn't tell them about herself yet, and the identity of her immortal father was one of them. She didn't know how they would react to hearing she was Lucifer's spawn, and wasn't sure she was ready to find out. "It's not much better than Bliss, but what are you going to do?"
"Change it," he replied. "Your name, I mean."
"Is that what you did?"
Malcolm raised an eyebrow.
"Your real name is Maccon, right?"
"How'd you know?"
"Because Maccon means 'wolf.' Just like Rafe. And Edon. You all have wolf names. Except for Lawson," she said, taking a seat as far away from his as possible.
Malcolm grinned. "I'd rather be called Lawson too if my name was Ulf."
Everyone laughed and Bliss found she could not suppress a smile. Maybe they were telling the truth; maybe they weren't hounds after all. "So - what happens now? If you don't have Jane, and you aren't hellhounds, then why am I here?" she said, looking at Lawson in a challenging manner. "Because of some girl named Tala? I told you, I've never heard of anyone ... "
Lawson tossed her a piece of paper and she caught it in midair.
"What is this?" she asked, annoyed, looking at the picture in her hand. "The Abduction of the Sabine Women? What does that have to do with anything?" She glared at the postcard, which showed the famous painting by Nicolas Poussin that depicted a violent scene in history, of a group of women taken captive by Roman soldiers. They were throwing their arms into the air, calling for help or running in terror.
"Oh, sorry, wrong one," Lawson said, taking it back and handing her another picture. Then she saw that it was a photograph of a girl.
She was small, with a simple, narrow face, bright blue eyes, and pink streaks in her hair. Bliss thought she looked familiar - she had seen this girl before, but the hair was different - and with a dawning horror she realized it was the broken girl she had seen at the mental institution. "Lawson - " she said softly. "Is this Tala?"
Lawson was about to answer when Malcolm suddenly bent forward, clutching his stomach, and vomited violently all over the floor.
In a moment, the boys were standing, Arthur was mumbling incantations, and Lawson was barking orders.
"What's wrong? What's happening?" Bliss asked, feeling their panic.
"The hounds," Edon hissed. "They're here!"
There was a sound like the crack of a whip and Lawson collapsed to the ground, bleeding from a gaping wound on his side, the blood gushing in dark red bursts: a thick, viscous river.
"They got him with a blood spell!" Edon yelled as Rafe pushed Malcolm away, enveloping him in a hug and shielding his eyes.
"Don't look!" Rafe told the younger boy.
Arthur worked frantically, whispering as he waved his hands over the hole in Lawson's torso. Lawson's face was gray and he wasn't breathing, Bliss saw. She stood paralyzed until Rafe pulled at her hand. "Come on!" he yelled, leading her to the far end of the cavern. He was carrying Malcolm on his back.
She could hear muffled howls from far away and thought she saw shadows that weren't theirs flickering on the walls as they ran down the long stone ramp that circled through the cave. "Where are they?" she asked, her heart thudding in her chest.
"If they sent a blood spell, it means they were able to break down the wards," Rafe replied grimly. "They'll be inside soon."
"Damn Lawson to Hell," Edon said. "Romulus saw him in the oculus - he must have. Led them right to us."
"Lawson did?" Bliss asked. "But why?"
Edon ignored her question. "Or maybe it was you. Maybe you are a tracker after all."
She wanted to slap him.
"Stop it, Edon! Lawson said she spoke Hroll. She can't be one of them," Malcolm huffed.
Edon shut up and they ran in earnest. They were running so hard and fast that Bliss hunched momentarily from a leg cramp. She shook it off, irritated by her human limitations once more. When they reached the end of the curve, Rafe said a few words and the rock face opened on a hinge. A secret door led to a small tight corridor. "Can you see in the dark?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"Hold on, then," he said, and Bliss grabbed the tail of his T-shirt.
Behind them, she could hear Edon scrambling, and she heard Lawson scream - he wasn't dead yet - as Arthur performed his healing, and then heard an echo as a powerful force thundered against the cavern door, making the earth shake underneath their feet. Her heart was beating a million times a minute.
"Don't worry, they won't be able to get in, not that way, at least," Rafe said as there was the sound of another hard thud, and the ground rumbled again. It felt as if the whole cavern was on the verge of collapse.
"Can they pass through stone?" she asked as they scrambled forward in the dark, the passage sloping downward.
"Yes. But it'll slow them down. Hold on to this side," he said. "Or you'll fall off the cliff."
"What about Lawson?" she asked, wondering why she cared so much about a boy who'd just tried to kill her. She barely knew him, barely knew any of them. And if the hounds were here, shouldn't she be running toward them instead of away?
"I don't know," Rafe said, his voice tight. "He's never been like this. He always heals so fast, always."
They kept running for what felt like miles, and there was a sound of clattering footsteps behind them. Malcolm whooped when they saw that Lawson was bringing up the rear. He still looked pale, but through the hole in his shirt she could see that his skin was smooth and the blood had dried.
"It wasn't a blood spell. It just felt like it was. It was just an exploder," he explained, leaning on Arthur, who was holding a torch and looking grim. "But they broke those wards like they were made of glass."
"They've gotten stronger," Arthur said. "How unfortunate."
"You didn't feel them coming, Mac?" Lawson asked.
"Not soon enough. Not until it was too late." Malcolm shook his head, looking ashamed.
Malcolm was about to apologize again when Lawson clamped a hand on his mouth. "Shhh!" No one dared to speak. Bliss watched Lawson. He was counting. She swallowed and held her breath. The room was so still they were frozen. She was conscious of her own pulse, the air around her face, and the temperature of the cave.
"Four heartbeats," Lawson whispered. "Inside. Two in the scullery now, the others somewhere around the dioramas."
Edon nodded. "Sounds about right. I can't feel any more."
"Reconnaissance team, most likely," Lawson said. "Hurry. We can outrun them."
"Why can't we jump?" Malcolm asked. "Make the circle?"
"You know why." Lawson shook his head. "I can't take that risk again, not when there's so little time." He had taken a few steps forward when he turned around and froze. His brothers did the same; the four boys stood with their noses in the air, sniffing like dogs.
"They've found us," Malcolm said, shaking a little.
"We can take them," Lawson said. "Arthur - take Mac and Bliss down to the car. Don't wait. We'll meet you at the rendezvous point."
He turned to Bliss, held her arm. "Don't let them touch you," he warned. "Otherwise you'll be dragged down to Hell with them."
Then Bliss heard the three older boys chanting under their breath and saw a blue crescent appear on their faces; Lawson's throbbed above his right cheekbone.
But before they were done, the hellhounds came out of the walls, howling for blood.
Arthur fell first. His knee bent at an unnatural angle and he reeled sideways. His torch fell to the ground, still flickering. He moaned and tried to stand, but a dark shadow hit him on the jaw and he doubled over on the ground.
Lawson was on him in a flash, drawing the hound away. Come out! he yelled. Stop hiding in the dark, cowards!
All his fault. Edon was right. Romulus had recognized him, of course, and had pinpointed his location; it hadn't taken them that long once the hounds found the right scent. Or was it Bliss who had led them here? He'd heard Edon accuse her as well. Had she led the hounds to them? He was confused and angry, but there was no time to dwell on mistakes just then.
Draw them out of the glom, he thought, out of the shadow, where they will have to fight hand to hand. He leapt at the hound but caught nothing but air.
He could hear his brothers doing the same dance, swinging at shadows, fighting phantoms, chasing after specters, Rafe grunting, Edon cursing, while the hounds surrounded them. The biggest one came straight for Lawson, but Lawson saw him coming and feinted left, then struck, holding the hound in a choke hold.
Where's Tala? he demanded. Where is she? What did you do to her?
The hound smiled a cruel smile. The little one? She's dead, of course. We killed her. But first we made her scream. We made her beg for death at the end. Death was kind after what we did to her. You did this. You killed her. You left her to die. You left her to burn.
Return to us. Take the whip. The mantle is yours. Romulus will forgive. Bring us your brothers.
"NO!" Lawson cried, falling back and releasing the hound. They both fell into the glom, where Lawson's rage transformed him into a wolf. They were all wolves now, Rafe large and black-furred and red-eyed, Edon golden and lean, his teeth sharp as razors - wolves with red markings around their necks, where their collars had once choked them.
Lawson snarled at the hounds that surrounded them; they had transformed as well, shedding their human aspect for bestial form, with sleek glossy hides, sharp ivory teeth, and long silver claws. He leapt at the nearest one, his teeth bared, seeking blood. Blood and revenge.
He made quick work of the beasts, breaking the necks of two, smashing the third against the wall. Four. Only one left.
Where? he sent.
Rafe shook his head. Edon paced the stone. It got away.
Then he saw it - it was running toward the light, toward the end of the passage, running for the girl. Bliss. Arthur and Malcolm were far ahead, almost at the end. But Bliss was slow - not a vampire anymore, she'd told him. Lawson snarled, bared his teeth, and ran as fast as he could.
Bliss had fallen and her leg was bleeding. She was cringing away from the hound - Lawson could see its shape as it loomed large above her, casting a huge shadow. Its crimson eyes were brilliant with hatred.
He roared at the hound, and the monster turned to him.
The hellhound growled and leapt to attack, its claws tearing into Lawson's body, from neck to stomach; then it sunk its teeth into Lawson's neck and began to shake him like a rag doll.
"REVERTO UT ABYSSUS! REVERTO UT OBSCURUMI"
Lawson turned to see Bliss holding aloft the knife from the butcher shop. Her eyes were blazing, her voice ringing with the tone of command. He held his breath, waiting for the hound to mount another attack - a human girl with a kitchen knife as her only weapon was no match for a hound of Hell - but instead the beast cringed before Bliss, yelping and turning tail, whining as it retreated, disappearing into the night.
He turned back into his human form, and Bliss helped him to his feet. He was bleeding from the cuts in his neck, on his torso. "Who are you, Bliss Llewellyn?" he asked weakly. "The hound feared you."
There was a heavy silence, broken by another pop - Rafe and Edon appeared, as humans. Both were bleeding from cuts and breathing heavily.
"Where's the hound?" Rafe asked, spitting out a tooth.
"It left," Lawson said. "Bliss told it to go away."
Edon scratched his head. "Curious." The boys all looked at her then, fear and suspicion in their eyes.
I change shapes just to hide in this place But I'm still, I'm still an animal.
Mike Snow, "Animal"
"She spoke the sacred language," Lawson said. "I didn't recognize it at first, it had been so long since I'd heard the language of the masters."
"You seem to have a great talent for languages," Edon said drily.
Bliss shrugged and tossed away the knife, dark with the hound's blood. She wasn't going to answer their questions.
They stood in a tense circle until Arthur came out of the darkness. The old man was breathing heavily, and he had a cut on his forehead where the hound had hit him, but he was all right. He nodded at the group. "You got them all? Good." He nodded to Lawson. "We'll have to do something about that wound or you'll bleed out," he said, motioning to the gaping wound in Lawson's belly.
"It's not that bad," Lawson said.
Bliss grimaced, noticing for the first time the Swiss-cheese pattern of wounds that littered his torso. His shirt was steeped in blood.
Lawson began to protest, but Arthur would hear none of it. "Malcolm, collect the healing ointments. Rafe, Edon, reinforce the wards around the cave." The boys left for their tasks.
"What do you need, Arthur?" Bliss asked.
"Help me get his clothes off first. I'll get some warm compresses," Arthur said, leaving them together.
"You don't have to stay," Lawson said. "I can take off my own clothes."
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