Authors: Abigail Drake
Melo lifted a heavy silver chalice to Leo, and then took a long, deep sip. I hoped it wasn’t blood, but judging by the color of what ran down his face, I was pretty certain it wasn’t Kool-Aid. I felt like vomiting.
The other Moktar around the table laughed at Melo’s comments, and Leo’s cheeks turned red. He turned to me, his golden eyes sad. “I cannot adequately describe to you what the withdrawal feels like, Emerson, but just imagine your entire body on fire, and as it burned, someone began pulling off your skin. That is the closest I can come to making you understand.”
I gave him a level look, trying to keep my cool. I had to find a way to help all these women. I’d come in hoping to trade myself for Brooke, but I hadn’t expected to find a bunch of Traveller women locked in the Moktar dungeon.
“You’re a bunch of drug addicts, rapists, and murderers.”
Leo closed his eyes for just a second and shook his head slowly. “It’s not drug addiction. There’s no detox or rehab or hope of recovery. Without it we die.”
“I’m sorry for you, but it’s better to die than to kill innocent people.”
Leo’s lips curved into a smile, but it lacked humor. “Is that why you came here tonight? Is that why the Ceannfort is at our gate at this moment searching desperately for a way to get in? Because it’s better to die than to kill?”
I swallowed hard. The idea Michael might be outside terrified me. Lucinda and Poppy must have panicked and called him.
“I came here to save Brooke. If I kill a few Moktar in the process, it isn’t the same as killing a human. You are monsters. You deserve it.”
Your ass is grass, and I’m the lawnmower.
“Would you like a tour of our nest?” asked Melo. “Before we assign you a cell of your own?”
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. This was the chance I’d been waiting for. If I could get Melo somewhere alone, I’d have a better chance of killing him. My blood hummed with excitement. Something odd had been unleashed when I’d fought back and killed all of those Moktar. A thirst, a desire, to do it again, and again, and again.
Maybe the Moktar weren’t the only monsters. Maybe I’d become one myself.
Melo led me through the nest, his hands behind his back, looking every inch the respectable host, except, of course, for the yellow eyes, saggy skin, and nasty teeth. He still had a bit of blood and what looked like part of Mavin’s brain on his chin. Leo followed a few feet behind us.
“I heard you had a rather eventful evening yesterday,” said Melo.
“Are you making conversation with me?”
He shrugged, the effect odd with his gray, loose skin. “I am trying to be polite. You should do the same. There are those among us who would like to kill you immediately after what you did.”
“Are you one of them, Melo?”
He shook his gigantic head. “No. I’d like to enjoy you first, and a strong woman like you would make fine sons for me.”
My disgust must have been apparent on my face, but I couldn’t hold my tongue. “The only way you can have women is if you rape them. Do you think that makes you strong? I think it makes you a sick, smelly, weakling.”
Melo turned toward me, raising his hand. Sure he was going to hit me, I closed my eyes, but the smack never came. I opened my eyes to see Melo staring down at me.
“You have no idea what you are, do you?”
I clenched my jaw. “I know I’m a Traveller. Or at least half Traveller.”
Melo moved a step closer to me, and Leo’s entire body tensed. I still hadn’t figured Leo out. He seemed devoted to his nasty brother, but he’d let me keep my weapons belt. Either he didn’t think it was important, or he wanted his brother dead as much as I did. I lifted my chin, refusing to cower, and Melo laughed.
“You are so much more than that, little golden one. It is why you are such a danger, and also such a gift.”
Melo continued his tour, taking me down to see where the newborn Moktar were kept. Babies are always cute, even animal babies, but baby Moktar were just as ugly as their parents. There were several females with the children or pups or whatever they were. They fell to their knees and touched their foreheads to the ground as soon as they saw Melo.
“I didn’t know girl Moktars existed,” I said.
“They are worthless,” he said. “Unable to breed, and with remarkably short life spans. We don’t bother giving them much HT anymore. It’s better if they just die in infancy.”
“You are just all kinds of lovely, aren’t you, Melo?”
He shrugged, and for just a second I saw a glimpse of Michael beneath the monster form. It vanished almost immediately.
“I am practical. I do what I must for our race to survive.”
He took me into a room with maps and computers. “This is our command center. Right now, we only communicate with the nests in England, but soon it will be global. We are not going to stay here much longer. We will begin setting up shop in your home country. Perhaps our first nest will be in Bowling Green, in honor of your poor, dead mother.”
I reached up to slap his face, but Leo stopped me. “Don’t,” he said softly in my ear. I let my hand fall back to my side.
Melo’s eyes grew dark. “If you keep it up, our first meal in Kentucky will be your father. The esteemed professor and historian, Dr. George Shaw.”
“How do you know so much about me?” I could barely speak. The idea of my father being a target made a cold, horrible fear sweep through my body.
“We have our sources,” he said with a nasty smile. “And here he is now.”
His eyes went to the door, and automatically, I turned to look to see who’d come in. My knees buckled beneath me when I realized the terrible truth.
If he was surprised to see me in the nest, he certainly didn’t show it. “Ah, Emerson. They caught you rather quickly. I must say I’m a bit disappointed. I thought you would have put up more of a fight.”
“She came here of her own accord. She wants to bargain for the life of the Dweller,” said Leo.
Melo tilted his head to one side. “And what will you bargain with?”
“Myself,” I said, and Melo and Monroe burst out laughing.
“But, my dear,” said Melo. “You are already mine.”
We walked back through the cells together. Melo was ahead of us and Monroe by my side. Several of the women looked up when they saw Monroe. He didn’t even glance at them.
“How could you do this to your own people?”
He shrugged. “What you must understand is by giving the Moktar one girl a year to play with I avoid other girls being taken. It’s for the good of the entire community. I pick the girls, get rid of a few bad apples, and everyone is happy.”
“These girls don’t seem very happy.”
He frowned at me, looking every inch the white-haired, grandfatherly English gentleman. Leo was right. Looks could be deceiving.
“Their happiness really is of no consequence.”
“Why did you pick Roseanne?”
“Ah. That was a bit different. She chose Sampson over me, you see. My wife was worthless. She couldn’t produce a child. Giving the Moktar Roseanne was simply an act of youthful vengeance on my part, but it worked out well for me. I made the original agreement with Melo and Leo’s father. He was so pleased with the results he allowed it to continue for over twenty years. Think of all the lives I saved.”
I stopped walking. “You’re actually proud of yourself.”
He nodded very seriously. “Of course, I am. But my plans far exceed what I’ve accomplished already. I can tell you this since you’ll never again see the light of day. We’re changing our strategy. Rather than working for the Dwellers and their idiotic alliance, we’re joining forces with the Moktar.”
I tripped over my own feet, but caught myself before I fell. “You’re forming an alliance with the monsters who want to eat you?”
“Yes. It’s brilliant, actually. Rather than being kept as virtual prisoners in our dirty little compounds, the Travellers will be free to roam the earth once more.”
“Michael won’t let that happen.”
He chuckled. “The Ceannfort will no longer be an issue, my dear. As soon as we have you locked up and secure, I plan to hand him over the Moktar. He’s become such a pain. It’ll be nice to be rid of him once and for all, just like I got rid of the other one. Only sixteen years old, but he’d gotten too close to the truth, you see. He left me no choice.”
“Tad,” I said softly, and Monroe flinched at the fact I’d said his name aloud. “What about Mavin?”
He rolled his eyes. “That nosy bitch. She was about to ruin everything. She snuck into my caravan and stole my journal. Can you believe the nerve?”
“How awful for you.”
Apparently, he missed the sarcasm in my words. “It was. But at least her little act of thievery did have one positive result. It got you here, and this is where you will stay.”
He opened the door to an empty cell, ever so politely, like a gentleman opening the door for a lady. I had few options at this point. Being a lady was not one of them. Leo stood a few feet behind us, Melo a few feet ahead. I did what any respectable southern girl would do in this situation and went bat crazy, kicking Monroe as hard as I could right in his private parts. When he doubled over in pain I kneed him in the face and shoved him into the cell, slamming the door and locking him inside. He curled up on the floor, holding his crotch, with blood flowing out of a broken nose.
Melo turned and gave me an evil grin. “Emerson wants to play.”
He lifted his head and howled, a horrific sound that echoed off the stone walls of the dungeon, making the women cover their ears and cry. I wasn’t crying. I unzipped my jacket, pulled out two knives, and enjoyed the sight of the bright silver in the dim light of the prison. Melo backed away. He must have sensed I planned to save these girls, or die trying.
As Moktar streamed into the narrow hallway, Leo stood next to me, his back to mine. He had a knife in his hand as well.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I will not permit you to die here, Emerson Shaw.”
I rolled my eyes. “So bossy. Just like your brother.”
He scowled. “Perhaps we wouldn’t have to be so bossy if you simply made better decisions. We really must work on your impulse control.”
I wanted to argue with him about it, but the swarm of Moktar approaching us proved a bit of a distraction. Due to the narrowness of the hallway, they could only attack a few at a time. It really wasn’t even a very fair fight. I slashed and lunged and killed them without much effort at all. I found it almost boring. Every so often, I’d turn and help Leo out. He was sweating and breathing hard. I was covered in blood, but completely calm. An odd Zen-like experience for me. It felt like I was doing what I’d been born to do. There was something very right about it, like my whole life had built up to this moment.
Melo had disappeared as soon as the fighting started. I searched for him as I fought, but he hid somewhere, probably waiting for me to tire so he could finish me off. He would be sadly disappointed. I wasn’t tired at all, but Leo was dragging, and he looked like he’d been injured. I wanted to shove him in a cell for his own protection, but instead I tried to cover him as much as I could.
Another long howl erupted and the Moktar froze, backing off a few feet. I was breathing hard, but not as much from exertion as from excitement. This had been enjoyable for me, which was sort of scary on so many levels. My enjoyment ended as soon as I saw Melo. He held a barely conscious Brooke in his arms, one sharp claw poised just above her exposed neck.
“You have fought well, Emerson, but this will stop now or your friend dies.”
Leo, doubled over next to me, gasped for breath as he bled profusely from a wound on his side. “He’ll kill her anyway.”
Melo growled. “You are worthless, and now you have betrayed your own race. I will no longer call you my brother.”
Leo looked up at him and smiled. “Good,” he said. “That makes this so much easier.”
He stood and tossed a knife directly at Melo’s head. A great throw, but Melo was just a little too quick. He jumped out of the way, dropping Brooke in the process. She curled up on the floor in a crumpled heap, looking nothing like a southern belle and a former beauty queen. Her eyes, glassy and unfocused, gave me hope she’d remember very little from this night.
Melo straightened to his full height, an army of Moktar behind him. A terrifying thing to behold.
“You have made this easier for me, Leo, no-brother-of-mine. I will kill the girl first and make you watch. Afterwards, I’ll take my time with you,” he said, and then shouted at the Moktar behind him. “We shall dine well tonight.”
The Moktar roared. Leo pulled himself back up to a standing position. He leaned heavily against the bars of one of the cells, determination and resignation shining in his golden eyes. I handed him one of my knives.
“Thank you,” he said. “You’re going to owe me a coffee when this is all over.”
We both knew we weren’t getting out of here alive. No matter how many Moktar I killed, more kept coming, and Melo might prove to be too powerful. Even for me.
I gave him a crooked smile. “You never give up, do you? I’m dating your big brother, remember?”
“A minor detail,” he said softly. He was pale and sweating. He’d lost a lot of blood, but he’d made his choice. Sun Tzu would have been proud of him. He would have been proud of both of us. We would die with honor.
Melo snarled, stepping closer. I held up my knives. He didn’t need any weapons. He had his teeth, and his claws. A killing machine.
A loud noise came from the door leading to the great room. Several Moktar began howling, but it sounded different this time. The cries coming from their throats seemed like howls of pain.
Melo kept his yellow eyes on me, so he didn’t notice his army deserting him. They’d turned and fled. The look on his face when he glanced over his shoulder and realized no one stood behind him was almost comical, but it didn’t last long. He was even more pissed off than ever. He’d already decided to kill me, but now as I saw the evil gleam in his eyes, I knew he wanted to make it as painful a death as possible.
He wouldn’t get his chance. Michael appeared in the door way like an avenging angel. “Emerson,” he said, his eyes on Melo. “Have you been hurt?”