5. Collateral Damage

A sleek black car wound its way along the narrow mountain road. The driver was a dark-haired beauty with blood red lips and delicate bones. Praskovya Baransky grinned as her speedy little toy ate up miles and miles of asphalt. It occurred to her that she was more than a little drunk, but she didn’t care. She hummed off key Oslo Philharmonic’s rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth. The car veered into the opposite lane; headlights devoured by the all-consuming dark. The woman’s vision blurred and brightened. The car turned another sharp curve.

She yelped at the sight of a massive, white wolf standing in the middle of the road. The malevolent intelligence in its golden eyes made tremors shoot down her spine. She yanked hard on the steering wheel. The car lurched off road, plowing through safety rails and went tumbling down the steep slope.

The windshield exploded. Praskovya choked on her screams as shards of glass burrowed into her skin. Skinny pine and ash trunks thumped against metal and scraped against the wheels. She couldn’t see but she could hear the terrible screeches of twisting metal. The bitter scent of broken trees clouded her nostrils. The car stopped as if in suspended animation then dipped downward like a roller coaster gone mad. It teetered on the edge of the precipice.

Her eyes drifted shut as the world fell away.

When consciousness came, it hit her like a freight train. An agonized wail spewed from Praskovya’s throat. To her ears, it sounded like someone else. The impact had shattered her arms, legs, and spine. There was blood everywhere. She could taste and smell it. The wet was all over her skin.

She was out of her wrecked car. Seated on the ground, she tried, but couldn’t move a muscle. Tree bark dug into her bruised back. She wasn’t alone, she realized. A man bent down. Golden, almost flaming irises bored into hers. In the ashen glow of moonlight, he seemed like some pale, handsome devil.

“How do you feel right now?”  His asked, curious but unconcerned.

“How do you think?” She managed through clenched teeth. “Like I was in a car that went over the edge of a fucking cliff.”

The stranger smiled, showing his perfect, dangerous teeth.

“There’s blood all over you,” he murmured.

He brushed the side of her face. His fingers came away stained with red. He brought his fingers to his mouth. His head tilted backward as he uttered a dazed moan. Then he sobered.

He smiled. “You taste very sweet.”

“Tai,” A smooth voice came out of the dark. “Please don’t toy with our guest.”

Praskovya’s vision blurred as she tried to look askance. The newcomer stood taller than Tai. Unlike Tai, who wore jeans and a white t-shirt, he wore a formal black tunic. The haze of moonlight gave him a tough, steely countenance. A sliver of silver streaked through his black hair. It was like a lightning bolt. He was every woman’s dream, she caught herself thinking, even in her desperate state. Until you saw those eyes. Those fiery eyes of molten gold, unique to sapient wolves.

Recognition dawned. Fear gripped her; fear so raw that she could taste it.

“Oh god,” she whispered, unable to keep the tremor out of her voice. “You’re Misha Locke.”

The wolf in human skin knelt so that they were eye to eye. His long fingers curled around her throat. His grip tightened, making it harder but not impossible for her to breath. She twisted in agony, choking on her own blood. With his free hand, he wiped the blood away from her mouth. It was such an odd, careful gesture. It only served to amplify her awareness of the peril she was in.

“Why?” She squeezed out a hoarse whisper. God, it hurt so much. “Why am I still alive?”

Misha smiled. “You know, it’s easy to tell how much you’ve seen and done in your short life, Miss Baransky. Nothing frightens you.”

She whimpered. Oh, if only that were true.

“Where is the relic? His stare turned fierce. “You know the one I want. Where is it?”

“Susumu,” She managed. “Susumu Takano knows.”

“No,” his grip tightened. “He didn’t know.”

Knowing well that her old friend must already be dead, she bit down on her lower lip. She wouldn’t tell. She couldn’t tell. No, not that. No matter what.

Misha’s grip loosened. His next question caught her off guard. “Does Judah know?”

Her breath hitched and her bloodshot eyes went wide.

Misha smiled, as if satisfied. “Where is Judah?”

Praskovya’s vision wavered. Misha and Tai seemed to sway from side to side.

“Stay with me!”  Misha’s urgent command got her attention, but she couldn’t seem to focus. “Answer the question before you die.”

“Zion,” she whispered, resistance draining away with her consciousness.

Through the haze of pain and the murky darkness of mind, she heard Tai and Misha talking as if from far away. Their voices were receding as they walked away.

“We’re leaving her like that?”

“Thought I’d leave a present for dear old Dad. It’s perfect, don’t you think?”

Tai chuckled. “It is that.”

Praskovya’s head slumped forward. Damn, she thought. Who was going to take care of her flowers now?

A slight figure swooped down from the treetops. She landed lightly before Misha and Tai. The young girl resembled Misha, but she was fine boned and delicate with large eyes and a small mouth. Her wild mop of hair was all red and blue dyed streaks. The little goth princess sported a pair of buckled knee-high boots, red leather shorts and a black vest. She exuded an unexpected air of power, of unpredictable and violent strength.

“Hello Kitten,” Misha smiled at her. “How’ve you been?”

“I told you not to call me that.” She frowned.

She raised troubled eyes to meet Misha’s. She seemed on the verge of saying something, but she didn’t.

“Stay out of this, Mikki,” his expression became stern. “It doesn’t concern you.”

She bit down on her lower lip as she stepped aside to let him and Tai pass. She waited until they were out of earshot before retracing their path out of the woods. All she had to do was follow the sticky-sweet scent of blood.

She found the dying woman. Like a predator closing in on prey, she circled the area where Praskovya sat unmoving, propped up against the tree. The young wolf could hear the woman’s heart still beating. Not steady, it was erratic like the flickering or fireflies or slow dancing.

Praskovya was done for, bones broken, and several organs crushed. She bled copiously.

Mikki knelt and reached out, fingers pausing inches away from touching Praskovya’s cheek. She started when Praskovya’s body twitched. Praskovya drew in a deep, stuttering breath. Her glassy eyes opened. She raised them to meet Mikki’s steady gaze.

“What did you tell them?” Mikki asked.

Praskovya coughed. Blood and spittle bubbled up into her mouth.

“J-Judah,” she stuttered. “I–“

Her heart stopped.

Mikki Locke grasped Praskovya’s hand. There was still warmth there, but it was rapidly fading. Praskovya was dead.

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