In this chapter, Mercy is escaping from her captors, who have left a werewolf named Lenka to guard her. Lenka lost her sanity years ago, and will kill Mercy if she can.
“You might as well come out,” I said to Lenka the werewolf. That way I’d know where she was, and I could head for the garden wall in a direction that gave me a head start. “I know you’re there.”
She’d meant for me to scent her. She wanted me afraid. A low growl filled the air‐ soft enough not to be heard in the house. I think it was supposed to be scary, too—which it was, but not because I was afraid of the sound of her voice.
I remembered her crazy eyes and was scared. Fear was good. Fear would make my feet faster.
“I live with werewolves,” I reminded her. “Hiding doesn’t make you more frightening.”
The wolf who rounded the corner of the walled side of the roofed area was too thin, and her fur coat was patchy. But her movement was easy, and the fangs she showed me as she snarled were plenty long.
I’d grown up hearing the old wolves talk about how much more satisfying it was to eat something while its heart pumped frantically from terror. Some of the old wolves who came to live out their last years in the Marrok’s pack were not kind.
“Hi, there,” I told her casually—and then I bolted for the wall surrounding the yard.
I smell mostly human to a werewolf’s nose, especially if I haven’t recently been running around on coyote feet. Human is a smell with enough variability that unless they know what I am, werewolves mostly chalk up the bit of odd in my smell to that. Vampires, I don’t know as well.
I was betting that the vampires here didn’t know what I was. That they thought I was human. I’d very carefully left it out of the mini biography I’d given Bonarata, and it wasn’t widely known. My best-case scenario was that she would think I was a human woman trying to run for her life, penned inside the yard because, outside of a few martial artists and acrobats, the walls were enough to keep most people in.
I don’t get super strength or scary points. But speed is my friend, and I caught her flat-footed because she thought one thing was happening when it was really something else. She thought I was running from her—and I was just trying to get up some speed.
I ran for the wall. I don’t know what she thought I was doing, but she chased me hard for most of the distance. But as I approached the giant stone wall that surrounded the grounds, she slowed, anticipating that I would be stopped by it.
A few months ago, a bunch of the pack had been at Warren’s house watching a Jackie Chan movie, I don’t remember which one because we were having a marathon, and Jackie just ran up a wall like magic. Warren had a wall around his backyard. Someone stopped the movie, and we’d all gone out and tried it. A lot.
The werewolves had gotten moderately proficient, but my light weight and speed had made me the grand champion. The trick is to find a corner and have enough speed to make it to the top.
Instead of stopping at the wall, I Jackie-Channed it up the stone surfaces and leaped over. I caught the werewolf totally by surprise.
I don’t expect Bonarata and she watched old martial arts movies together. It didn’t seem like that kind of relationship.
Her pause meant that the wolf, who could have caught me because as agile as I’d learned to be imitating Jackie Chan, going up was still slower than going forward, had missed her chance. I didn’t intend to give her another.
I changed to coyote as I came off the top of the wall. I’m not a were-anything. It takes them time to change from human to wolf. I could do it—well, in this case I could do it in the time it took me to drop off the wall.
I landed on four feet, running as fast as I could down a narrow road that was walled on both sides. I had no idea where I was, but out was a good direction, and I didn’t hesitate as I headed one way. Nor did I slow or look behind me.
I didn’t need to. My ears told me when she landed on the outside of the wall. I could hear her running behind me, her claws giving her better purchase on the ground than mine did. Werewolves had huge freaking claws, and she was using them to give herself traction like the big cats do.
Experience had taught me that I was faster than most were- wolves. Most, but not all. It was my bad luck that she wasn’t one of the slower ones. She was closing in on me by inches.
I watched for a cross street, a change of some sort that would allow me to use my small size to my advantage, but there were only stone walls and stucco walls and cement walls and tall, solid gates. So I ran as fast as I could and hoped that I had more endurance, that her sprint would slow faster than mine.
I don’t know how long we ran through the night streets. On a moon hunt, the pack would run for four or five hours at a time, for the sheer joy of it—so, outside of a few lingering aches from the wreck, I was in good shape. Better than she was, half-starved as she appeared.
Certainly in better shape than I would have been after being Bonarata’s guest for weeks. I’d have to thank Charles if I made it out of this alive.
Eventually, condition counted. I started to pull away from her, very, very slowly. About that time, the walls on either side of the road fell away, and I found myself running along a country lane with vineyards rising on gentle hills on both sides. There were still fences, but that was okay, I could deal with fences—vineyards were a godsend. There are vineyards all over the Tri-Cities. I know about vineyards and werewolves and coyotes.
I slipped through the bars of the ornate steel gate and ran along the length of the first row of grapes. I think she knew what I was planning—maybe she’d hunted smaller prey in this very vineyard before—because she sped up and closed the distance I’d opened between us. But, once again, she was too late.
I would have hated to face her if she’d been in top condition, if she hadn’t been half-crazy. But if she hadn’t been Bonarata’s pet . . . mistress . . . something, she wouldn’t be trying to kill me. Grapes are grown in rows. The path between rows is kept clear, and it is easy to run through the vineyard from that direction. But the grapevines are trained to spread tidily on a wire or rope fence, so running through the vines themselves is difficult—unless you are a coyote. The fence the vines are grown along leaves plenty of space for a coyote to slip through between strands. I turned into the vineyard.
After the second row, I got a feeling for the spacing and didn’t have to slow or shorten my stride as I ran through the gracefully draped vines.
The werewolf was a lot bigger than I was. She had to jump every row. It wasn’t the additional effort that won the race for me—it was just that every time she jumped was that much time she wasn’t propelling herself forward. It slowed her down, and it required more energy.
She was moving roughly ten times as much mass as I was, which hopefully would tire her out faster though that didn’t seem to be happening with any appreciable speed, even given her poor condition. I kept waiting for her to break down the row and run on the road beside the vineyard instead, where her speed would be less hampered than mine was. But she just kept following me as if she was incapable of more tactical thinking.
By the time I reached a road again, ducking beneath the tall hedge-and-fence that the werewolf would have to vault over, I’d gained nearly forty yards. This road traveled straight uphill for about a half mile, then, from the sign beside the road, intersected with another road.
The last steep bit I managed by ignoring my tiredness and occupying myself with the very important decision of whether to continue straight or turn left or right. My life hung in the balance, but I had nothing to draw upon to make the decision an informed one. The high hedge lined both sides of the road I was traveling on, and I could not even see the new road.
I hesitated a moment . . . one second and two, right at the intersection. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the satisfaction in her eyes. My indecision had given her the hunt. She was still stronger than I was, and the long uphill stretch had eaten most of the lead that the vineyard had given me.
She was so busy seeing me as her prize, she didn’t pay attention to anything else. So when I bolted across the intersection, she did, too—and the bus that I’d waited for hit her and rolled over the top of her with both sets of wheels.
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