Plenty of people spend too much time trying to predict the next big apocalypse, and used various methods to do so: Oracles, prophesies, visions, religious texts, and so on. Their success rate was debatable, and I wondered who would try to take credit for predicting this particular one. That being said, there have been plenty of close calls all throughout history, and there was usually a story each year of some demi-god throwing a tantrum and nearly leveling some poor city. Most of the time the powers-that-be in or around the city take care of the issue, especially if whoever was throwing the bitch-fit was in their pantheon or realm of responsibility.
Of course, it’s one thing to read about it in the news, it’s something completely different to experience it up close.
Police in riot gear were battling the dozens of swooping Strixes, using their batons in close quarters, while others that were stationed at various points behind cars and buildings, were shooting at the flying menaces when they had a clear shot that wouldn’t endanger their fellow officers and civilians. Speaking of civilians, despite it being a more upscale neighborhood than my own, some of them were there, shoulder to shoulder with the police, helping those injured by the Strixes and shooting at them to lay down cover fire.
Sirens were wailing like a tweeter in our own personal disaster soundtrack. Some misguided souls had thought to use fire, and ended up setting buildings, trash cans, cars, and bus stops ablaze, which added to to cacophony and chaos. Paramedics were treating the injured in alleyway triages, for wounds that ranged from burns to missing limbs from the Strixes grabbing a snack.
When I took a deep breath to try and calm my nerves, the smoke hanging in the air left a choking, cloying taste at the back of my throat, and nearly overshadowed the metallic undercurrent of blood.
“Shit.” I exhaled the word in disbelief, and Oliver’s grim countenance deepened.
“That about sums it up.” He turned to me, worry etching lines in his smooth skin, and prematurely aging him before my eyes. “Your part in this is done, so I’m taking you to the closest police station. You can lie low until this is resolved. I’d take you home, but they’ve cordoned off the various areas of the city to battle the Strixes and contain the fires. There’s also been some kind of force kicking up shit all around town, but we’re not getting any kind of description, and by the time we get there it’s gone.” He blew out a frustrated breath, and ran a hand through his hair.
“Can’t Viktor and everyone else do anything to stop this?” I asked, clutching the food bag that Oliver had handed over to me to my chest, as though I could use it as a shield against everything that was going on.
“They’re doing all they can, but at the moment it’s all just damage control until we can find the source. The Strixes are nothing more than a symptom of the larger problem, and until said problem rears its ugly head, our hands are tied.” His fists clenched, and for just a moment, the air around his hands wavered, like heat on the pavement. I blinked to clear my vision, and it was gone, but I couldn’t help but think I’d seen a big clue into what kind of powers Oliver had, and what he was.
“Let’s get you to the station before you cause any more trouble, Bad Luck Bell,” he said, his deep and affectionate tone betrayed by the wavering smile; a watered-down version of his usual, full-blown, melt your panties one.
He was going to drop me off for relative safety while he went back out into this mess. I did the only thing I could, and offered a reassuring smile, straightened my shoulders, and nodded once, firmly.
There was chaos in the police station, but it was far more directed and controlled than the streets. I’d been sat down at a Detective Ulric Kicklighter’s desk, and pondered his parent’s choice in first names as I munched on my food. I was left to my contemplation in relative peace, as everyone was far too intent on the crisis to wonder at the dirty, bloody girl at the absent Detective’s desk, eating food far above what her clothing suggested she could afford. The steak was cold, but delicious, and the same could be said of the smooth mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. Apparently someone thought I might need an iron boost after dealing with the vamps. Who’d have thought?
Everything was going fine and dandy until a hush fell over the room, and a sneaking suspicion crept up my spine like the bony fingers of a skeleton crawling up the vertebrae.
“–report that a glowing figure appeared in front of City Hall and demanded his lover be returned to him. He was said to have curling, golden hair, blue eyes, and armed with a bow and arrow–“
The reporter’s voice echoed through the silence, and I looked up the screen with everyone else, and nearly choked on the piece of steak I’d forgotten about when I sucked in a surprised breath. The golden figure hung in mid-air, and shot arrows at all who approached too close to his vantage in front of city hall.
I wasn’t going to win any money in Greek History on Jeopardy!, but I knew enough to realize that was Apollo, that Oliver’s friend Daphne was who he was looking for, and she and everyone in the city was in danger. Someone needed to warn her.
I reached out to the first Detective that passed by the desk, and tried to get his attention.
“Pipe down, honey, I got work to do.” He brushed me off without even looking my way, and continued on. Taking in the room, I wasn’t going to get much of a better response from anyone else.
Just as I was about to use the phone on the desk to call Oliver and warn him, I saw the camera pan on a familiar figure near the front line of the cars, being pinned down by arrow fire. I sucked in a breath as one arrow in particular slammed through the hood of the car, and pierced the metal and engine to come out scant inches from his head. You gotta hand it to those gods and their weapon craftsmanship. Too bad it was directed at a friend just then. Oliver would know who this was, but there wasn’t much he could do in his current position.
I shrank down in on myself as my options dwindled as seconds ticked by. I wasn’t brave by any means, but someone who’d looked out for me was in grave danger, and someone he called a friend and confidant was also in trouble. My stomach clenched and my legs trembled as I stood, and without nary a glance from any of the harried police present, I walked out of the police station.
It was as though my legs were on auto-pilot, and I continually vacillated between running back to the station, and moving toward the part of town Oliver had taken me to meet Daphne.
“Well, if it isn’t the little Mid,” a voice I recognized growled behind me, and my blood froze in my veins. Lord love a duck, could this day get worse?
“Look,” I said shakily, fear and irritation vying for control of my vocal chords, as I turned to confront them, “I don’t know what you think happened to your packmate, but it wasn’t my fault.” There were the same five from earlier, and the leader’s yellow, hate-filled eyes bore through me as though I was nothing more than a bug that had been annoying him far beyond his little patience allowed.
Before they could try to attack me, or counter my claim, I held up my hands in defense. “You see those big, carnivorous birds flying around? They were the ones who killed him, and if you want to kill me I can’t stop you, but I’m trying to keep them from killing anyone else,” I said quickly, trying to get my words out before they decided I was still being too mouthy for ‘meat’.
The others moved to take me down, but the leader held out his arms to stop them, and considered me.
“You’re saying that these birds ate my brother, and now you’re trying to stop them?” He sneered, and his scan of my dirty, bloody clothing and relative weak appearance, left little to the imagination for what he thought of my claim, or my success in being able to do so. Despite being a potential meal for them, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the leader.
“I’m sorry they did that to your brother,” I said, hoarsely, and I truly was. His eyes narrowed, but he gave a tight nod.
“I didn’t know earlier that you were under the protection of Viktor, and for that reason I’ll extend a little trust your way to try and stop these pieces of shit,” he said, surprising me almost right out of my shoes, “but if you’re lying I’m going to break all your limbs so you can’t get away, and make you watch while I eat your guts,” he finished with a growl, and the aforementioned bowels nearly turned to water.
I let out a strangled noise that barely passed for an agreement, and nodded my head instead.
“Dan, take the right. Hank, take the left. Justin, you have the rear. Gil, you’re behind the Mid, and I’ll take the front.” His yellow eyes remained static and locked with mine as the rest of him morphed into the half-man, half-animal form. Black, course hair sprouted out everywhere I could see skin, just as before. The breaking bones were dull sounds, like cracking knuckles but in stereo, and while the other men made pained noises, the leader barely moved or made any sound at all.
I swallowed hard, but didn’t break eye contact right away. I knew I couldn’t beat him out as Alpha, but if I looked away too quickly, they might eat me despite being under Viktor’s protection and despite the leader’s words.
Once he was finished, his features took on the look of a Rottweiler, and tension sang through me as I kept his gaze locked with mine. Just as the strain between the two of us almost reached its breaking point, like a guitar string wound too tight, I broke it off. He grunted in acknowledgement, if not an iota of grudging respect.
“Where to?” he asked, in even more of a low growl than before, his floppy black ears perked up. It might have been cute, if the question wasn’t accompanied by the scent of rotting meat, and of what species I didn’t know, or care to know.
“The sewers, back near the Dancing Demon Diner,” I said.
The leader nodded once, and took off at a lope I was going to be hard pressed to keep up with. As the howls of the other dog shifters–Dan, a Husky, Hank, a Mastiff, Justin, a Boxer, and Gil, a Doberman–sounded behind me, my choices were going to be keep up or be nipped, maybe eaten. As I considered those options I urged my body into a steady jog that I could only hope would last until we reached the tunnels. With the way my luck was going today, though, I wasn’t confident I could do it.
As the sun hung low on the horizon with nighttime a scant hour away, I was also debating which was going to be worse to deal with in those tunnels: dog shifters who felt they had ample reason to eat me down to the last bit, or the man-eating rats. Rock, meet hard place.