A Fistful of Charms
A Fistful of Charms
Жанр: Фэнтези про драконов
Год издания: 2019
I silently twisted, going down and rolling. There were several shouts when I knocked the feet out from whoever held me. Then my breath was crushed out of my lungs as someone else fell on me. Adrenaline surged painfully. Someone pinned my legs. Another pushed my head into the plaster-dust-covered plywood.
They won’t kill me, I told myself as I spit the hair out of my mouth and tried to get a decent breath. This is some asinine Were dominance thing, and they won’t kill me.
That’s what I was telling myself, but it was hard to convince my trembling muscles.
A low snarl far deeper than it ought to have been rumbled thorough the empty top floor, and the three men holding me let me up.
What in hell? I thought as I scrambled to my feet, then stared. Karen had Wered. She had Wered in thirty seconds flat!
“How…” I stammered, not believing it.
Karen made one hell of a wolf. As a person she was petite, maybe 110 pounds. But turn that same 110 pounds into snarling animal, and you get a wolf the size of a pony. Damn.
A steady growl of discontent came from her, lips curling from her muzzle in a warning older than dirt. Silky fur reminiscent of her black hair covered her except for her ears, which were rimmed in white. Beyond the circle were her clothes, discarded into a pile on the plywood floor. The faces ringing me were solemn. It wasn’t a street brawl but a serious affair that would be as binding as a legal document.
Around me, the Weres were backing up, enlarging the circle. Double damn.
Mr. Finley smiled knowingly at me, and my gaze darted from him to the surrounding alphas in their nice clothes and five-hundred-dollar shoes. My heart hammered, and I figured it out. I was in deep shit. They had bound themselves into a round.
Frightened, I eased into a fighting stance. When Weres bound themselves together outside their usual packs, weird stuff happened. I’d seen this once before at a Howlers’ game when several alphas had united to support an injured player, taking on the player’s pain so he could go on to win the game. Illegal, but wickedly hard to prove since picking out the alphas responsible in a huge stadium was next to impossible. The effect was temporary since Weres, especially alphas, couldn’t seem to work under anyone’s direction for long. But they would be able to hold it together long enough for Karen to hurt me really, really bad.
I settled my feet more firmly in their boots, feeling my fists begin to sweat. This wasn’t fair, damn it! They took my magic away, so the only thing I could do would be to try to beat her off, but she wasn’t going to feel a thing! I was toast. I was dog chow. I was going to be really sore in the morning. But I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Karen’s ears went back. It was the only warning I got.
Instinct overpowered training, and I backpedaled as she lunged. Teeth snapping where my face would have been, we went down, her paws on my chest. The floor slammed into me, and I grunted. Hot dog breath hit my face, and I kneed her, trying to knock her breath away. There was a startled yip, and dull claws raked my side as she scrambled up and back.
I stayed down, rolling to my knees so she couldn’t push me over again. Not waiting, she jumped.
I cried out, stiff-arming her. Panic struck me when my fist went right square into her mouth. Her paws, the size of my hands, pushed at me as she frantically backed off, and I fell backward. I was lucky she hadn’t twisted her head and taken a chunk out of my arm. As it was, I was bleeding from a nasty gash.
Karen’s echoing, racking coughs turned into an aggressive growl. “What’s the matter, grandma,” I panted, flipping my braid out of the way. “Can’t get Little Red Riding Hood down your throat?”
Ears pinned, hackles raised, and lips curled to show her teeth, she came at me.
Okay. Maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say. Karen slammed into me like a flung door, rocking me back and sending me down. Her teeth went around my neck, choking. I grabbed the foot that was pinching me, digging my nails into it. She bit down, and I gasped.
I made a fist and punched her in the ribs twice. My knee came up and I got her somewhere. There was silky hair in my mouth, and I reached up and pulled an ear. Her teeth gripped harder, cutting off my air. My sight started to go black. Panicking, I went for her eyes.
With no thought but survival, I dug my nails into her eyelids. That, she felt, and yelping, she jerked off me. I took a ragged breath, levering myself up on an elbow. My other hand went to my neck. It came away wet with blood.
“This isn’t fair!” I shouted, mad as hell as I scrambled up. My knuckles were bleeding, my side hurt, and I was shaking from adrenaline and fear. I could see Mr. Finley’s excitement—smell the rising musk. They were all getting off on the chance to see one of their own “legally” maul a person.
“Nobody said it was supposed to be fair,” the man said softly, then gestured to Karen.
But her impetus to attack hesitated at the ding of the elevator.
Despair crept over me. With three more alphas, she wasn’t going to feel anything. Not even if I cut something off.
The doors slid open to show David leaning against the back of the lift. His face had a bruise that was likely going to turn his eye black, and his sport coat was torn and filthy. Slowly, he lifted his head, a murderous look in his brown eyes.
“Leave!” his boss said sharply.
“I forgot my briefcase,” he said, limping forward. He took in the situation in a glance, still breathing heavily from escaping the three Weres who had dragged him off. “You challenge my alpha, I’m damn well going to be here to make sure it’s a fair fight.” Shambling to his briefcase, he picked it up, dusted it off, and turned to me. “Rachel, you doing okay?”
I felt a flush of gratitude. He wasn’t coming to my rescue, he wanted to make sure they were playing fair. “I’m doing okay,” I said, voice cracking. “But that bitch isn’t feeling any pain, and they took away my magic.” I was going to lose this. I was going to lose this so bad. Sorry, David.
The surrounding Weres glanced uneasily at each other now that they had a witness, and Mr. Finley’s complexion darkened. “Finish it,” he said roughly, and Karen came at me.
Her nails scraped on the plywood floor as they scrambled for purchase. Gasping, I fell to my back before she could push me down. Pulling my knees to my chest, I planted my feet against her as she landed on me and flung her over my head.
I heard a startled yip and thump and David shouting something. There were two fights going on.
I spun on my butt to face her. My eyes widened and I flung up an arm.
Karen smashed into me, pinning me to the floor. She covered me, and fear stabbed deep. I had to keep her from getting a grip on my throat again, and I cried out when she bit my arm.
I’d had enough.
Making a fist, I smashed it into her head. She jerked her muzzle up, raking my arm and sending a pulse of pain through me. Immediately she was back, snarling and more savage. But a ribbon of hope rose in me and I gritted my teeth. She had felt that.
I could hear thumps and cries in the background. David was interfering, breaking their concentration. The round was falling apart. I couldn’t best Karen, but sure as hell she was going to walk away remembering me.
The anger and excessive adrenaline wouldn’t be denied. “You stupid dog!” I shouted, slamming my fist into her ear again to make her yelp. “You’re a foul-breathed, dung flop of a city-bred poodle! How do you like this? Huh!” I hit her again, unable to see from the tears blurring my vision. “Want some more? How about this?”
She latched onto my shoulder and picked me up, intending to shake me. A silky ear landed in my mouth, and after failing to spit it out, I bit down, hard.
Karen barked and was gone. Taking a clean breath, I rolled over onto all fours to see her.
“Rachel!” David cried, and my splat ball gun slid to within my grasp.
I picked the cherry-red gun up, and on my knees, aimed it at Karen. She sat back, her forelegs scrambling to halt her forward motion. Arms shaking, I spit out a tuft of white fur. “Game over, bitch,” I said, then plugged her.
The puff of air from my gun was almost lost in someone’s cry of frustration.
It hit her square in the nose, covering her face with a sleepy-time potion, the most aggressive thing a white witch would use. Karen went down as if strings were cut, sliding to land three feet from me.
I rose, shaking and so full of adrenaline I could hardly stand. Arms stiff, I aimed my gun at Mr. Finley. The sun had gone behind the surrounding hills across the river, and his face was shadowed. His posture was easy enough to read. “I win,” I said, then smacked David when he put a hand on my shoulder.
“Easy, Rachel,” David soothed.
“I’m fine!” I shouted, pulling my aim back to his boss before the man could move. “If you want to challenge my title, okay! But I do it as a witch, not with my strength washed out of me! This wasn’t fair, and you know it!”
“Come on, Rachel. Let’s go.”
I was still aiming at his boss. I really, really wanted to plug him. But in what I thought was a huge show of class, I lowered the gun, snatching my bag from David as he handed it to me. Around me, I felt an easing of tension from the watching alphas.
Briefcase in hand, David escorted me to the elevator. I was still shaking, but I turned my back on them, knowing it would say more clearly than words that I wasn’t afraid.