Long fingers tightened, crushing her windpipe. Lilith gasped, tried to turn to face her assailant, only to be shook side to side till her limbs slackened, the fear crawling across her skin.
“Gotcha,” said a voice in her ear, male and whiny. He dragged her after him, upstream towards the pack. Lilith stumbled, bent double, barely able to keep up. The dusty black boots of her attacker dragged through the grass with every step. “Rae!” he called. “I got one!”
The grip on Lilith’s neck turned into a shove. She got her hands out just in time, face inches from the grass. Her elbows stung from the impact, but her pride stung more for being captured again, and this time without even an attempt at escape. Lilith had always considered herself street-smart, had once even ventured into the Upper Halls and escaped unscathed, but above ground it seemed she was less than useless. That she was so helpless against these animals—these monsters—was difficult to swallow.
“Rae!” her attacker called again.
Lilith sat up carefully. Her attacker looked human, a wiry man with a blunt nose and square chin, a jagged scar across his neck. Up ahead was a clearing, just visible through the trees, people moving in and out of sight, too far away to be identified. Was this the pack? Was Wolf—
“Who’s this?” someone snapped.
Both Lilith and her attacker jumped. Behind them was a hard-faced blonde with short hair and a contemptuous expression.
“I found her, Rae,” the man said, his voice wheedling. “Lurking downstream, not far from where we picked up the other one.”
The woman—Rae—grabbed Lilith’s arm and pulled her to a stand. “Good job, Scar,” she said, her smile sharp. “She’s just in time for the show.”
Rae dragged Lilith forward, her grip uncompromising as they skirted the edge of the clearing. There were at least three others in the clearing, lounging in the sunlight, indifferent to Lilith’s struggles. Wolf wasn’t among them, but there was a certain wild restlessness in the air that gave Lilith some measure of hope: perhaps these people were werekin, too.
On one side of the clearing was a huddled, cowering man. One final push from Rae and Lilith was on the ground beside him with a painful thump. The man—not much older than her, in his early twenties—shot her a suspicious glance, but said nothing. There was a green cross tattooed on his left cheek, a pale, barely-there outline.
Rae stared down at them, arms crossed. Scar hovered half a step behind, his watery eyes narrowed in anticipation.
“The witch, first,” Rae said, and Scar sprang forward. Lilith flinched, waiting for a manhandling that never came. Scar dragged the boy next to her to a stand, gripping the boy’s upper arm so tightly that resistance wasn’t an option. “Gently now,” Rae admonished, mock-stern. “Wouldn’t want him unable to perform spells, would we?”
She beckoned, and Scar pushed the boy towards her. Unsteady on his feet, the boy stumbled too far, almost bumping into Rae. She sidestepped just in time, with a barely concealed look of disgust.
When the boy straightened, Lilith could only see his profile. The faint tattooed cross on his cheek looked like a bruise in the afternoon light.
“What’s your name, witch?” Rae drawled.
“Dylan.” His voice shook, but he stood firm.
“And why were you spying on us, Dylan?”
He was a bad liar. Lilith felt a rush of pity for him, wondered whether she should step in, but she didn’t know enough about Dylan to lie convincingly. And there was something about Rae, an edge to her words, that made Lilith wary of interfering.
Rae began circling Dylan, tapping a nail against her teeth. “So you didn’t bewitch one of my pack?”
“No. I didn’t,” Dylan said, swivelling his head to keep her in sight. “I mean, I can’t. I haven’t passed initiation yet.”
Rae smiled, seductively cruel. “Aw, you’re just a baby.” She stopped in front of him and ran a hand down Dylan’s chest, circling his navel with her finger. “And tell me, Dylan,” she said, lowering her voice to a husky drawl, “what coven are you joining?”
Dylan twitched when Rae’s hand dipped to the apex of his thigh. “The . . . uh . . . ”
“Yes?” she purred, her hand dipping even lower. Lilith was torn between amusement and embarrassment: the werekin really had no shame. Then she remembered the first time she’d seen Wolf in human form, the smooth collarbones, lean muscles, the dip of his lower belly . . .
Lilith’s eyes dropped to the ground just as Dylan stuttered, “The WPL.”
Rae stilled. “Wrong. Fucking. Answer.”
She lashed out with her right hand and slashed Dylan across the throat with one smooth movement. Dylan toppled backwards, his mouth an ‘o’ of surprise. Blood sprayed onto the ground as Dylan twitched, gurgling, struggling to breathe through the hole in his neck. Lilith turned away, gagging, but her stomach was empty, and only a thin, acidic line of spit left her mouth.
The other people in the clearing had stopped what they were doing and were edging closer, their expressions hungry. Rae noticed her audience and whirled to face them. “Back off, idiots. It’s witch blood.”
Lilith took a deep breath to calm down. It was a mistake: the coppery tang of blood was thick in the air. She spat again, wiped her mouth on her hand, then turned back to Dylan, thinking of bandages and applying pressure and something to keep his airways clear.
But it was too late: Dylan was dead.
Rae brought her hand up to her mouth and sniffed it. “Smells nice. Shame about the taste.” She wiped her hand clean on her trousers, the blood barely visible against the dark material. “Clean it up, Scar,” she ordered.
Arms weak, stomach clenching, Lilith could only sit there as Scar grabbed Dylan by the arm and dragged the body into the forest. Her throat was tight, her tongue bitter with bile. She couldn’t move, couldn’t sum up the energy to stand up and run away, and for the first time, Lilith resented her inexplicable urge to track Wolf down.
When she looked up, Rae was standing right in front of her. Scar was lurking at her side with an anticipatory grin, dirt caked under his fingernails.
“Well, girl,” Rae began, “You’re next. Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.”
“Because I have something you want,” Lilith lied desperately, rubbing the base of her throat to ease the growing tension. There was a bump under her fingers, a piece of cord. . . . Lilith pushed aside the cloak, ignoring Rae’s warning snarl. She pulled the fang necklace free, holding it aloft like a talisman.
Rae froze, her utter stillness unnerving. Then she stepped closer, hands outstretched, reaching for Lilith’s neck.