The Shifters: Book Five Josh McPhee always wanted to be an agent. To keep from going crazy at the Agency’s New Mexico substation, he talks to the imprisoned wolf shifter—or tries to. Their one-sided conversations only prove the shifter is not getting the help he needs. After all, he is a victim too. Wolf shifter Xavier doesn’t remember much before his time with the Knights or the time under their control, where he was brainwashed and used to kill innocent shifters. He wants to recover his memories, and yet he fears what he might find. He would escape were it not for the aide whose voice quiets Xavier’s implanted urges. Late one night the Knights attack the station to retrieve what’s theirs. Overpowered, Josh cannot stop them before they unlock Xavier’s cage. But Xavier rushes to Josh’s rescue and, sensing his opportunity, escapes, taking Josh with him. When Josh wakes up on the road, they strike a bargain: Josh offers Xavier one month of freedom before he calls in the Agency. Both doubt he can be cured, but something about Josh makes Xavier better. They just have to figure out what before the past catches up to them.
One year ago
“SHOW me what you got, pup,” Poe taunted. Excitement made his muscles bunch as his body braced for attack. The wolf had dodged the first shot of the tranquilizer gun, and Poe wasn’t in a hurry to try it again. It had taken months to track down this beast. He wanted to taste success.
The wolf shifter bunched up his body and launched at him. Poe easily sidestepped the lunge before grabbing the wolf shifter’s fur and lifting him. After holding the shifter above his head for a split second, Poe tossed him into a tree.
The wolf shifter slammed with enough force to crack the bark off the trunk. The shifter whimpered and somehow managed to stagger to his feet. Poe wasn’t even panting. He straightened and smoothed out his black shirt, picking dirt off his shoulders.
“You’re only humiliating yourself,” Poe said coolly. “Well?”
The wolf howled, and the two big dogs Brian owned barked. Poe glanced at them, and at Derek, the other wolf shifter, and made sure he stayed put. He didn’t need civilians getting mauled.
The rogue wolf shifter growled before attacking Poe again. But he met the wolf head-on and grabbed those snapping jaws, wrestling the large shifter to the ground. Claws dug into his skin, but Poe only let go of the wolf when the shifter was on his back. Then he landed a hard kick of his steel-toed boot into the shifter’s jaw. The shifter went still except for the rapid movement of his chest. Poe loaded his tranq gun again and shot it into the wolf’s shoulder. The body jerked but didn’t wake.
Poe smiled. “Gotcha, bastard.”
He heard Derek and Brian moving but kept his eyes fixed on the wolf shifter, making sure he was truly knocked out.
“I never want to do that again,” Brian said from behind him. Poe smiled slightly at the conviction in the man’s voice.
“Me, neither,” Derek agreed. He was the good wolf shifter in this situation. Apparently, he’d shifted back into human form, which made him delightfully naked. The mates embraced, and Poe watched them, feeling a little green worm wiggle in his heart.
“Must say I’m envious,” Poe told them. “You two are good together.”
Derek frowned. His rich brown eyes glittered with intelligence and fatigue. The last couple of weeks had been hard on the couple. “Don’t you have anyone?”
“Not allowed to.” Poe gave a careless shrug. He turned away, walked over to his bag, and pulled out a metal collar. He moved back to the shifter and snapped it around the beast’s neck. A chain was attached to the collar, and Poe yanked it over his shoulder, grabbed his bag, and began to drag the wolf shifter behind him.
“Need help?” Derek asked.
Poe smiled and looked over his shoulder. “No. Besides, I doubt you want to stay naked for very long. Even though….” He intentionally gave the rangy shifter a good look-over before winking. “Nice ass. I’ll have pleasant dreams tonight.”
He left after that, chuckling to himself. He liked shocking shifters, to intimidate them, just a little. They were intimidating creatures themselves, and he always thought it was good to keep them on their toes. Besides, Poe had been honest—he would have pleasant dreams tonight. Not just because of that fine ass but because this damn shifter was finally captured. He glanced behind at the wolf he dragged, and a satisfied smile spread across his face.
Damn shifter had already killed a dozen or so other shifters.
He walked through the wooded park a little way before pulling out his phone. He speed-dialed Genii, another agent who knew the circumstances behind this mission.
“It’s Poe. Get that copter over here.” He gave her the coordinates. “Got him.”
“You rock, Poe,” Genii said joyfully. “You really do.”
He grinned. “I know. Let’s get this jackass behind bars.”
“Is it what you suspected?” Genii asked.
“Think so.” Poe looked over his shoulder again at the unconscious shifter. “His eyes were—strange. Almost manic. A bloodlust that seemed unnatural. The light in them was wrong, and he never attempted to talk or shift. He’s out of control.”
“Knights?” Genii asked.
Poe narrowed his eyes. “Knights.”
“We’ll find a substation that can house him.”
“Somewhere isolated.” Poe stopped for a moment. He took a deep breath, trying to fight down the anger that tried to crawl its way up his throat. “High security. I have no idea how we might help this guy. Or if we can.”
Genii’s voice was soft. “We have to.”
He nodded. “I know. But if they messed with his brain… how do we fix that?”
Genii didn’t answer. Poe hadn’t expected her to. There were no answers to the questions both of them had. He hung up, turned around, and knelt beside the shifter. He gently touched the shifter’s shoulder.
“We’ll try to help you,” Poe whispered. “I swear we will.”
JOSH tried not to resent the fact that he wasn’t in on the infiltration of the Knights’ headquarters. He wasn’t a full agent, after all. He was just an aide. But damn, the wait was agonizing, and it was hard to focus his mind. Here he was, in one of the Agency’s many substations that were spread around the country, doing data entry and filing reports while agents could be storming the base of those murderous bastards right now!
Grumbling, Josh stood and pushed back his chair. He’d been sitting at this boring desk where the computer had been burning his retinas. He stretched and let out a relieved moan. This substation was different from others around the country. It was bigger than most and resembled a simple office building, one that would blend in seamlessly in the big city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. While the outside fit with the unique building structures of the city?the rounded edges, the stark colors, the pueblo heritage?the inside was so modern it was like stepping into a New York City office. Everything had a function, everything was useful and efficient. While Josh could appreciate the practicality of it all, it just seemed so cold. The front door led into a reception area that was just for show. Through a door that only opened with a card and a personalized pin was where the real work was done. Two desks were set against opposite walls with computers and comfortable chairs. Filing cabinets lined the walls; a small break room in the back held a fridge, a sink, and a microwave. Through the break room was a restroom. Personal items were discouraged, because no one was ever permanently stationed here. There were stations like this in most major cities in the US, and their main function was to act as safe houses for agents on assignments.
The stations were always manned by at least one aide, usually two. Research and data were collected, part of a greater web that crisscrossed the country, making sure agents were never stranded during their missions to protect shifters. They were also used as training facilities for aides who wanted to actively seek becoming an agent. Some didn’t; some were perfectly happy with staying safely at headquarters or substations, answering phones, filing papers, assisting agents.
Josh wasn’t one of them.
Closing the file he had been entering into the computer, Josh stepped away from his desk and headed toward the back. Not to the break room, but to another room. It was one that also required a card and a pin and was restricted to those who had been with the Agency for at least five years. And only to those who had proven themselves completely dedicated to the Agency’s mission.
Despite the fact that Josh always enjoyed his time in this city?the culture, the people, the food, and of course the unique blending of old and new, from the buildings and old churches to the new industries continually popping up?right now he was frustrated at being stationed so far away from the action.
Josh swiped his card and punched in his pin. He opened the door when it clicked to unlock and stepped through, the lights flickering on overhead as they detected motion. The fact that they were off meant their… guest… hadn’t moved recently. That concerned Josh. The door clicked shut behind him, and he approached the large holding cell in the center of the room. It resembled a giant glass box, but the box was several layers thick and had small circles evenly spaced around it, allowing the occupant adequate air. The cell nearly spanned the entire length of the room, and there were monitors and cameras everywhere, recording every move their guest made.
Inside was a comfortable bed, a sink, a toilet, and standing shower with a curtain that allowed for some privacy. A small desk and chair finished the humble furnishings, and all were comfortably spaced, diminishing the sense of claustrophobia. Josh’s shoes squeaked slightly as he walked across the metal floor, knowing his every move?his every breath?was being recorded. He was used to it by now.
The occupant had been residing here for over a year, and Josh had been stationed here for the last six months. There was a short flight of stairs that led from the break room up to a small dormitory that offered beds for the occupying agents. The other aide who had been living here, Mac, had been called away when the Agency went after the Knights, and Josh felt rebuffed. Rejected. He knew it was stupid to feel that way, but he couldn’t fight it. Apparently, Mac was more important to the Agency than he was…. But maybe that had more to do with the fact that Mac was the personal aide to Captain Odin. That probably made a difference. Mac had been sent here because the Agency’s resources had been stretched significantly, and everyone had to chip in. They had more substations than they had aides to sufficiently man them. And should the invasion against the Knights be successful, they would be stretched even farther. Capturing and questioning the surviving knights, treating the shifters who might be held in their facilities, collecting those knights who might escape, going through documents… it was going to be hell trying to stay organized.
Josh stepped up to the cell and observed the occupant, trying to quiet his thoughts. It was no easy task?if Josh wasn’t talking like a motormouth, he was thinking and worrying himself.
“Hey, wolf, you up?” Josh asked softly. The shifter in the cell was a wolf shifter, and he was responsible for multiple shifter murders that had spanned several months. Agent Poe had finally tracked the shifter down in Washington, and after beating him up good and proper, he had taken him into custody. But as it turned out, the wolf shifter had also been a victim.
Josh remembered reading Poe’s report and feeling his entire body shake, his stomach tighten in greasy knots, and his head pound. Experimentation on shifters was something the Knights had been doing in recent years, but Josh had never seen one of their subjects up close.
The lump in the bed moved and slowly sat up, the blanket sliding off and pooling at the shifter’s waist. The shifter had been cared for, and it showed. All the nutritious food had removed the gaunt, skin-and-bones look he had upon arrival, and since he worked out nearly every day in his cell, he had regained some muscle mass. His clothes were still baggy on him, but that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. Approaching him was still a delicate business. It was discouraged until he began to talk, which he hadn’t yet, not one word. His black hair fell stringy around his face since no one had been able to give him a haircut. He had a tendency to fall into fits that made him shift and attempt to tear everyone’s faces off. But it was in his unique gold-green eyes where Josh could see his madness?that madness done to him. Even now, with the shifter’s body relatively calm, Josh could see the wildness in the gold-green and gave fervent thanks that there were several layers of reinforced glass between them.
Josh kept his face open and friendly. He had noticed a slight change in the shifter, at least when he was with him. The shifter always seemed to give him his undivided attention when he spoke, which was often.
“Feel any better today?” Josh asked, as he always did.
The wolf shifter just stared at him, his body at ease but his eyes intense. Josh forced himself to smile.
“It’s nearly time for food.” Josh turned toward one of the monitors that analyzed the wolf shifter’s bodily state, and all signs looked good. But it wasn’t his body Josh and the other agents were worried about. It was his mind. What had the Knights done to him? There were theories but no hard proof.
Josh fisted the printout in his hands unconsciously and had to take a deep breath to gain control over his anger.
“Do you remember anything?” Josh asked, a question he was instructed to always ask.
“Are we alone here?”
Josh’s eyes widened, and he swung around, staring at the shifter. That was the first coherent thing the shifter had ever said.
“Y-yes,” Josh answered, his body shaking with adrenaline. He told himself to breathe, to stay calm. He didn’t want to cause the shifter to close up again.
“You sure?” the shifter asked again, his eyes narrowed on Josh’s face, as if trying to detect a lie. That was also remarkable. The shifter would usually stare blankly into the distance. But now his mind seemed sharp, aware of his surroundings. Comprehending.
“I’m sure. The other aide, Mac, had to leave because?” Josh bit his tongue. He was forbidden to tell the shifter anything about the Knights without prior approval. No one knew what could trigger a fit. “He had another mission,” he finished.
“So, it is just you and me?” the shifter asked.
Josh nodded and suddenly found himself standing close enough to the cell that he was almost touching the glass. He blinked in shock and took a healthy step back.
“Why do you ask?” He didn’t know what to do with his hands and so stuck them in his jeans pockets.
The wolf shifter stood and walked slowly to the glass. Josh felt frozen, unable to move. There was something in those eyes, something he’d never seen before, something alongside the wildness, the madness. He saw strength and determination. And calm. It was strange that as the shifter moved, the light seemed to change the color of his eyes to just gold, the green fading. Such strange eyes.
Being entranced by those eyes, Josh didn’t immediately notice when they were only inches from each other with the glass between them. The wolf was only a few inches taller than Josh, who was a gangly six feet tall, but he still felt intimidated.
“I need your help,” the wolf said softly.
“Of course,” Josh said, much too eagerly. He swallowed again. “That’s why I’m here. That’s why all agents are here. We want to help you.”
The shifter put his palms on the glass, and Josh’s breathing sped up, as did his heart.
“If you want to help me,” the shifter continued, never breaking eye contact. “You will help me out of this cage. You will set me free.”
Josh was speechless for a moment, something that never happened to him. “I?I can’t. You know I can’t. The Agency?”
“They can’t help me!” the shifter growled, his eyes flashing, the gold turning deeply green. “I cannot find help here.”
“Why not?” Josh asked, realizing he’d closed the gap between them. Now they were both close enough to the glass to see their breath fog it up.
“This place smells too much like the other place.”
Josh’s eyes widened farther. “The other place? Where you were held and….” The shifter nodded, even without Josh finishing his thought. “Why? Why does it smell the same?”
“I don’t know.” The shifter closed his eyes, finally breaking eye contact. Feeling as if he’d been released, Josh stepped back. But then the shifter’s eyes flashed open again. “If you want to help me,” the shifter said, determined, “you will let me go. I need to figure this out, but not in a cage. How I can heal when I’m caged like a monster?”
“But,” Josh said without thinking, “don’t you know what you’ve done? We had to cage you. You killed all those shifters and?”
Josh slapped a hand over his mouth. The wolf shifter closed his eyes again, and the agonized groan that erupted from his mouth showed Josh the shifter knew what he had done. Josh watched as the shifter slide down to his knees, his hands still pressed against the glass. He laid his head against the glass. Josh knelt.
“I know,” the shifter whispered, his voice cracking. “I know what I did. I have?I remember pieces and… God help me, I still taste their blood.”
Josh’s pulse stuttered, but he kept his body still, his face impassive. It took all his strength to remain calm. Tormented eyes met Josh’s once more. He felt his heart break, just a little.
“I don’t know why I did it.” The shifter’s voice became rougher, cracking at intervals. It was enough to cause Josh’s eyes to burn. “I don’t know what was done to me. Please, get me out of here. I can only remember another room, white-coated filth sticking things into my head. Noxious fumes. And a voice… Goddamn it! That voice!”
The shifter clutched his head as if trying to block out an ear-piercing noise. Josh touched the glass unconsciously, suddenly needing to comfort him.
“Easy, easy, wolf. It’s okay. Just breathe.”
Josh jerked. “What?”
“My name is Xavier,” the shifter said firmly, angrily.
“Okay, okay. Xavier, you have to tell the other agents this. You have to explain to them everything you remember, even if it’s just fragments. We can help. But you have to let us. You have to trust us.”
“Why would they want to help a murderer?” Xavier said, his tone full of doubt and defiance.
“Because we know your head was messed with,” Josh argued. “You’re just as much a victim as those other shifters were. You would never have killed them otherwise, right?”
Xavier stared at him, as if really considering it.
Josh frowned. “Do you remember your life before they took you? Before all of this?”
Xavier opened his mouth and then shut it. He looked away, his hands still clutching his head.
“No. Wait. Maybe. I don’t remember much.” Xavier squeezed his eyes shut. “Jesus Christ, what did those fuckers do to me?”
Compassion filling his heart, Josh pressed his hand against the glass. “We’ll find out. I swear we’ll find out.”
Xavier looked at Josh’s hand. Then, quite unexpectedly, he reached out and pressed his palm to the glass, exactly where Josh’s hand was. They would be touching if it wasn’t for the barrier. Josh’s breath shook.
“You calm it,” Xavier murmured, as if to himself.
“What? Calm what?”
Xavier opened his mouth, but before he could speak, all the lights went out. Josh jerked violently. The emergency lights flickered on.
Suddenly, a low, rumbling caused the floor to shake. Josh’s eyes widened. He whipped his head around and stared at the door. It had almost felt like an earthquake, but New Mexico didn’t have earthquakes, did it? He stood up, walking cautiously to the door.
“Josh?” Xavier whispered.
Josh shivered. That was the first time Xavier had ever said his name. He’d told the shifter his name, of course, the first time he’d entered this room. The first time they’d met. But it felt strange, oddly pleasing, to have the shifter say his name.
He swallowed hard as he reached the door. He heard a strange, muffled explosion. It came from the front of the building. His eyes widened. Were they under attack?
Josh yanked open the door and poked his head out. If they were under attack, wouldn’t the alarms sound? Why weren’t the alarms sounding? The door that led to the reception area was still closed, but now Josh could hear crashes and movement behind it. He lunged toward the cabinet that held several rifles, handguns, axes, and daggers. But before he could get the keys out of his pocket, the door that connected the reception room to the back office was blasted open. Josh was knocked off his feet. He landed hard, wrenching his wrist in the process. Three black-clothed and hooded figures entered, goggles covering their eyes and flashing against the lights.
Josh snarled. Knights. They had to be. He focused his attention on the chair he’d been sitting on only moments before and screwed up his concentration. As one of the figures reached for him, the chair swept across the floor and hit another one of the invaders in the back, causing them to fly across the room and hit the wall hard. Before Josh could try again with the other chair, the lead figure grabbed his hair and yanked his head back, exposing his throat. The light flashed on steel, and Josh felt a stinging prick on his skin.
“Where is the beast?” the hooded figure asked, the voice slightly hollow.
Josh kept his mouth shut.
“There’s another door here,” said the third hooded figure. The one Josh had hit with a chair was just starting to struggle to their feet. The other two hooded figures didn’t seem willing or likely to help their companion.
No loyalty. No camaraderie. Josh was disgusted by the Knights.
“Tell us, ginger, where is the beast?” The figure became harsher, yanking Josh’s head back farther. It made his head throb and caused his neck and spine to burn with pain. But it was the “ginger” crack that got him. Redheaded, pasty white, freckled, with pale blue eyes, Josh had been bullied every day of his life before joining the Agency.
He looked up at the lights searing his eyes. Without the alarm, there would be no backup. No one would be coming to help him. He had to do this alone. His senses were heightened, the adrenaline coursing through his veins. That made his indignity and wrath stronger.
Josh stared at the lights that still swung slightly on their thick cords from the ceiling. The blast had rocked them and shattered some. Using his special ability?telekinesis?he slowly unscrewed the bolts on one side that connected the lights to the ceiling. The pain in his body tried to distract him, but his only thought was to kill?to destroy these monsters before they got to Xavier. If that was the last thing he ever did?so be it.
He was part of the Agency. That was his job.
“Sir, I said there’s another door here!” the third hooded figure repeated.
“Where does it lead?”
“Don’t know. It’s card coded like the first door.”
“Well then, blast it open!” said the figure Josh had hit with the chair. They were finally on their feet. “We don’t need this pasty freak anymore. Hurry up. We don’t have much time.”
Josh bared his teeth, his eyes still on that damn bolt. It popped out of place, and he turned his focus to the next one. The long light began to shudder dangerously.
“We have all the time we need. Didn’t I have her cut off the power? Hack into the alarms?”
The figure that held Josh snorted contemptuously. “The Agency’s own security measures hide our movements. No one outside will see anything.” He paused. “Still, careful with those explosives. We don’t want to hurt the beast. Our leader will punish us if we do. He wants his pet back alive.”
“So search him,” the third figure said by the door that led to Xavier’s cage. “Find his card. Get his pin from him.”
The second figure, who staggered slightly, bent down, and Josh felt hands slide over him and tried to keep his bile down. They were touching him. He felt contaminated, dirty. But his eyes never wavered off that bolt.
“Found it,” the second figure said triumphantly.
“What’s your pin, kid?” The knife bit deeper. Tears leaked from Josh’s eyes, from the pain making his body shake and from fear?bone-deep, gut-wrenching fear. Was he going to die? Was he going to fail to protect a shifter who so desperately needed his help?
The bolt fell from the ceiling. Then with a large push from his mind, the light fell. The third figure just managed to dodge out of the way. The light smashed to the floor, shards of glass flying everywhere, sparks of electricity dancing through the air. Josh managed to scramble away from his captor. He shoved the second figure physically and took his card back. His path to the front door was blocked, and he knew the Knights wouldn’t be shocked for long. He swiped his card, jammed his finger against the keypad to punch in his pin. When the door clicked open, he fell through it, then kicked it shut. If they had explosives, they would get through easily.
“What’s going on? What happened? Are you all right?” Xavier demanded. His eyes were wide, his hands bunched into fists against the glass.
“We’re being attacked.” Josh ran to the mechanism that kept Xavier imprisoned and after several tries with his card, realized he didn’t have access to open the door.
“Damn it!” he shouted and slapped the machine.
“What? Josh, what?” Xavier shouted.
“I can’t get you out,” Josh snarled. “I don’t have clearance.”
“Just leave,” Xavier ordered. “Just leave and?”
“No!” Josh ran to where an axe was kept in case of fire. He used his elbow to punch through the glass. He barely felt the pain or noticed that shards of glass from the light were embedded in his skin. He grabbed the axe, allowing his anger to fuel him, and walked to the cell. He heard noise behind the door and knew there wasn’t much time left.
“What are you doing?” Xavier asked as Josh pulled his arms back, the blade of the axe over his shoulder.
“They’re after you, Xavier!” Despite his nerves, Josh’s voice was strong and steady. “And I’ll be damned if they get their hands on you again.”
Not very strong, but determined and with adrenaline and wrath behind his actions, Josh hit the glass hard with the axe. It didn’t shatter, but he thought he saw a dent. He hit the glass again and again. His muscles wept and burned. His breathing was harsh and uneven. But he didn’t stop.
Before he could do more than make a small hole through the layered glass, however, the door into the room was blasted open. He fell forward, propelled by the blast. He smacked his head against the glass and hit the floor hard. He coughed as the smoke and debris entered the room.
Josh heard Xavier’s voice, and that made him crawl to his knees. Dizzy and queasy, any movement was a struggle. The three figures walked in. Feeling suddenly possessed, he gripped the axe once more and stood on trembling legs. He ignored his throbbing head, his nausea, and shoved all of it into the back of his mind. It didn’t matter right now.
“Stupid boy!” spat the leader. Josh saw red as he snarled and charged. It was the shock of the attack that gave him the advantage. He brought the axe down onto the leader’s shoulder, and blood spurted. The knight howled with pain, but Josh didn’t get another swing. The other two grabbed his arms and shoved him back. He lost his grip on the axe and skidded across the floor.
“You little bastard!” The high-pitched shriek from the third figure proved her to be a woman.
“You bitch!” Josh spat. “You murderers!”
The woman suddenly had a gun in her hand. She aimed it squarely at Josh’s face.
A howl like one from a great, ancient beast echoed through the small room. It bounced off the machines and their ears. Everyone looked at the cell, even Josh. His bowels threatened to loosen, and cold terror overtook his hot rage. His stomach tightened and flipped, but he fought the urge to vomit.
Nothing but bloodlust and fury showed in Xavier’s eyes. They were wide, staring, and the green overpowered the gold and grew darker but glowed with a strange light. His hair seemed to float in the air as if statically charged. His skin rippled and squirmed, as if something living was underneath. His hands were curled, and it seemed he was in the beginning of a shift because his nails had grown into black claws. He bared his teeth, and they were sharp and white.
Josh had never witnessed one of Xavier’s fits. They’d stopped happening just after he’d been stationed here. The last one had been the day before his arrival, and after he’d introduced himself to Xavier, the fits seemed to have grown dormant.
“That’s the beast!” the woman shrieked.
“What are you waiting for?” the leader said. He pressed his hand over his wound, but he was leaking blood like a sieve.
The second figure stepped forward, but Josh surged to his feet. A shot grazed his ear, and he gasped, clutching his head and dropping to his knees on instinct.
“Stay down!” the female knight shouted.
Josh watched, helpless, his vision wavering and graying around the edges, as the second knight limped to the cage. He put some sort of explosive on the glass where Josh had been trying to hack his way through. It was the farthest away from Xavier he could get. Josh glanced at Xavier to see he was still in that strange state?almost shifting but not. His eyes followed the second figure’s movements, and it was his utter stillness that kept Josh alert and conscious. In the back of his mind he suspected he had a concussion, and his stomach kept trying to rise into his throat. He swallowed with difficulty.
Xavier looked like a predator waiting for the opportunity to attack.
The figure stepped back. Josh saw putty on the glass. Then the knights left the room. Josh managed to kick his mind into gear enough to dive behind a large monitor. He had just gotten his foot out of the line of fire when the explosive went off. He covered his ears. Even so, the explosion rattled his eardrums. The charge was less than they’d used on the doors?they didn’t want to kill Xavier.
The three knights rushed inside, and mayhem took control.
Josh looked around the machine that hid him and gaped when a large black wolf came out of the smoke. Shaggy fur, ears back, teeth bared, the wolf snarled as if demanding blood. It leapt, and Josh barely managed to turn his gaze away. He curled against the wall, trying to make himself smaller, less noticeable. Even with his face turned away, Josh saw blood splash against the walls and monitors. Shouts and gurgles of the dying echoed in his ears. He clutched his hands over them, but he could still hear the shredding of flesh, the crunch of bones. His head throbbed, and his body burned with pain. He didn’t know what to think or do. He just wanted it all to stop.
The dizziness became more intense, and it took him several minutes to realize it was silent. Opening his eyes, not remembering shutting them, he turned his head to look into the room with dread. What he saw made his throat burn and his stomach finally rebel. Collapsing on the floor, he retched, hacking and coughing.
The bodies didn’t resemble humans anymore. They were shredded, eviscerated, torn to pieces. The room resembled a war zone. A massacre. He raised his head from his own mess and attempted to crawl to the door, but a large figure blocked it. He cringed, pushing back against the wall.
Xavier, still in wolf form, stood in the doorway. His eyes gleamed, putting Josh in mind of a demon.
“X-Xavier?” Josh spoke, not knowing why, but he felt a spurt of hope. Maybe he could get through to the shifter?
“Xavier, it’s me. It’s Josh.” His voice trembled, but he couldn’t control it. “You know me, right? We?we’re not enemies. I’m a friend, remember?”
The wolf came forward. Josh began to shake, and tears burned his eyes. He couldn’t get enough air, he couldn’t move. Blood dripped from the wolf’s mouth and matted his fur. His footsteps were bloody, and his long, deadly claws clicked across the metal floor. His ears were flat, and his lips pulled back, showing his teeth stained with red.
“What did they do to you?” Josh whispered. “What did they make you into? Why?”
He vaguely noticed the wolf’s ears perk as if hearing an interesting noise. The growls bubbling out of him stopped. Body shutting down, mind short-circuiting, Josh prayed, for whatever good it would do. Then he fainted.
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