Relentless, p.1
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       Relentless, p.1

         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch  
Relentless
Relentless

  Karen Lynch

 

  Copyright @ 2013 Karen A Lynch

  All Rights Reserved

  This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited.

  Disclaimer: The persons, places, things mentioned in this novel are figments of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to anything or anyone living (or dead) is unintentional.

  Cover Designer: Nikos Lima

  For my friend Tom Jackson

  I hope my story brings magic to people the way you brought magic into the lives of everyone who knew you.

  About Relentless

  Sara Grey’s world shattered ten years ago when her father was brutally murdered. Now at seventeen, she is still haunted by memories of that day and driven by the need to understand why it happened. She lives a life full of secrets and her family and friends have no idea of the supernatural world she is immersed in or of Sara’s own very powerful gift.

  In her quest for answers about her father’s death, Sara takes risks that expose her and her friends to danger and puts herself into the sights of a sadistic vampire. On the same fateful night she meets Nikolas, a warrior who turns Sara’s world upside down and is determined to protect her even if it’s the last thing she wants.

  Sara’s life starts to spin out of control as she is hunted by an obsessed vampire, learns that her friends have secrets of their own and reels from the truth about her own ancestry. Sara has always been fiercely independent but in order to survive now she must open herself to others, to reveal her deepest secrets. And she must learn to trust the one person capable of breaking down the walls around her.

 

  Acknowledgements

  Thank you to my sister Anne-Marie and my good friend Teresa for patiently reading my work and giving me honest feedback and to my family and friends for their support and encouragement. And thank you to Brian Cook for proving that characters don’t only exist in books.

  Preface

  He put his mouth to my ear, and his words sent waves of fresh terror through me. “I am going to savor you, little Sara. I had planned to have you now, but why rush when we can take all the time we want later.”

  “No…”

  “But I think a taste first to whet the appetite.” His face lowered as he forced my head to one side, baring my throat. His lips touched my skin, and his tongue lapped at the spot where my pulse beat. Blackness swam before my eyes.

  “What is this?” he murmured and sniffed as if he was trying a new wine. His tongue touched my skin again. “You taste like – ” His head whipped up, and his eyes glittered like he had just been served his favorite dessert. “You’re a – ”

 

  Chapter 1

  “YOU’RE LATE.”

  Malloy huffed as he slid into the booth across from me. “Don’t get your panties in a knot. I got other business to tend to besides yours, you know.”

  I scowled and tapped my watch, and he threw up his hands. “I’m sorry, alright? Jesus, you’re an impatient one.”

  “You’re not the only one with places to be.”

  He harrumphed as if he could not imagine what someone my age had to do that was so important – if he only knew. I schooled my expression to hide the anxiety gnawing at me.

  “Alright then. Where is it?” he asked.

  I patted my chest where the small lump lay inside my coat and lowered my voice so no one outside our booth could hear it above Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring from the jukebox. “Half an ounce, as promised.”

  Malloy’s brown eyes widened, and he leaned forward to rest his forearms on the table. Shorter than me by a few inches with a small pinched face and dull brown hair, he reminded me of a little brown field mouse. Not that I was fool enough to be taken in by his harmless appearance. You didn’t survive in this business by being nice.

  “Well, let’s have it then.” His eyes swept the dimly lit bar before settling back on me. I could have told him not to worry; the patrons at Jed’s were good at minding their own business, which was why I’d suggested the biker bar in the first place. That, and the fact that Jed kept a wooden bat and a .44 behind the bar in case of trouble. No one was stupid enough to start something at Jed’s.

  I reached inside my coat and pulled out a rolled up paper bag. Malloy grabbed for it, but I pulled it out of his reach and put on my business face. “Payment first.”

  “Ah, yes.” He made a sour face as he put a hand inside his jacket. His hand stilled. “This wasn’t easy to come by, you know. Maybe – ”

  “We had a deal, Malloy.” Damn it, I should have known he would try to pull this again, and on the one day I didn’t have time for games. My cell phone was lying face down on the table. I picked it up.

  “What are you doing?”

  “What do you think?” I didn’t look at him as I scrolled through my short contact list. “Half an ounce is worth ten of what you’re paying for it, and you know it. But if you don’t want to do business, I’ll have to go through someone else.” I bit my lip. I really didn’t want to go elsewhere, and I was running out of time. If I had to wait even one more day to get what I came for, it wouldn’t matter anymore. A day? Hell, hours was more like it.

  “Excuse me. I need to make a call.” I moved toward the edge of my seat, hoping he didn’t see through my bluff.

  “Wait.” He sighed and pulled out a small square package wrapped in dirty gray cloth. Laying the package on the table, he covered it with his hand and slid it toward me. I did the same with the paper bag, and we made the exchange at the halfway point. I stifled a sigh of relief when my fingers closed around the package.

  I lifted the cloth-wrapped package to my ear and shook it before I sniffed it to confirm its contents. Satisfied, I tucked it into an inside pocket and picked up my soda, taking a long sip to hide my eagerness to get out of there. It was never wise to appear desperate or hurried to people like Malloy; you might as well paint a big red target on your back.

  Malloy tipped the paper bag and spilled a small glass vial onto his palm. His eyes glittered as he rolled the vial of yellowish-brown liquid between his fingers.

  “Kid, I’d give my left gonad to know how you managed to get your hands on this stuff… and lived to tell about it.”

  I let out a short laugh to hide my nervousness. “Who said I’m telling?” I set my glass back on the table and inclined my head toward the vial. “I wouldn’t show that off too much in public.” What I really wanted to say was, “Put that goddamn stuff away before you get us both killed,” but I refrained because it would not do to lose my cool.

  “You don’t need to tell me how to handle my affairs,” he retorted, but at the same time he made the vial disappear with a sleight of hand that would do a magician proud.

  “There is no way anyone can trace that back to me, right?” Malloy had a wide network and a reputation for discretion. But the contents of that vial could bring a lot of unwanted attention.

  He sat up straighter. “Like I told you last time, I wouldn’t be in business very long if I gave away my suppliers. And I got to protect my own head, too. I move my stuff through some middlemen who’d take the names of their business contacts to the grave. Ain’t no profit in talking. And those guys have no idea where I obtain my merchandise. You can be sure I ain’t telling anyone.”

  “I’m glad to hear that.” I slid out of the booth. I’d stayed here too long already.

  “Wait! I have some other items you might be interested in – if you can get more of this stuff, that is.”

  I stood and put my hand over the small bulge inside my coat. “I got what I came for. If I need anything else, I’ll be in touch.”

  He shook his head. “You know, you are way too serious for a girl your age. You ought to loosen up, have fun every now and then.”

  I turned toward the exit. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”

  The sun’s glare blinded me after the bar’s gloomy interior, and I blinked a few times, sagging against the heavy wooden door. God I hate this. My hands trembled as I pulled up my sleeve to glance at my watch. “Damn it.” I pushed away from the door, cursing Malloy for running late. My business with him would all have been for nothing if I stayed here much longer.

  I pulled my short coat together and set out to meet Remy, making it to the bus stop two streets away just in time to catch the next bus. Sinking gratefully into a seat in the back, I leaned against the window and watched the streets and buildings flash by. We passed a football field where a practice game was in progress, and I watched a group of cheerleaders waving red and white pompoms. My hand went to the lump in my pocket and the weight of the responsibility I carried made me feel years older than the girls on the field.

  The bus line ended near an old brewery that had gone out of business two years ago, and I jumped off in front of the padlocked gates. No Trespassing signs hung along the wire fence, and the whole place had a sad, deserted look about it. My nose twitched as it always did at the smell of sour barley that lingered there as I hurried past it.

  Behind the brewery was an older subdivision of duplexes and two-story houses, most of them needing a fresh coat of paint. Five years ago this was a thriving neighborhood, before the brewery shut down along with the automotive parts plant that had employed half this area. Now, the lawns were overgrown and the cars in many of the driveways were badly in need of maintenance. A country song blared from someone’s stereo, and in another house a young couple argued until a baby started to bawl loudly. I passed a group of younger kids playing road hockey, but they largely ignored me. I did stop for a moment to rub the head of a familiar lab-shepherd mix that trotted up to greet me, but when he started to follow me I shooed him back. He stared after me forlornly, but I was too busy to play today.

  At the last stop sign, I turned right and jogged down an empty street lined with tired looking, boarded-up old houses and yards that backed up to the woods. I slipped between the last two houses and ducked under a broken board in the fence of the last house. Grass and weeds had taken over the backyard, while ivy strangled the ancient swing set and covered the back of the house. I followed a narrow path through the grass to the back door where I gave a quick look around and then slipped inside.

  “Remy, you here?” I called softly.

  It was dark in the house, except for the dusty bands of light that spilled in between the boards over the windows. Thankfully, I knew the house pretty well and I didn’t need much light to find my way around. I left the kitchen and walked down a short hallway. On my right was the empty shell that used to be a living room, and on my left was the closed door to the den. I pushed the door, and it swung inward on creaky hinges.

  “Remy?” I whispered loudly, trying to see through the dense shadows of the room. Silence greeted me. Where the hell is he? I spun around to go back the way I’d come.

  “Argh!” I found myself face-to-face with a thin, pale gray face with large, round violet eyes and a mop of shaggy gray-brown hair. I stumbled back, and he reached for me, grabbing my shoulders in a strong grip that belied his slender build.

  “Jesus, Remy!” I slapped a hand to my chest as he steadied me. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

  The troll gave me a lopsided grin, revealing a row of short sharp teeth. “You too young for heart attack,” he said with a fierce little smirk that would send a chill through anyone who did not know him.

  “You late,” he chastised me.

  “I’m sorry. Malloy was twenty minutes late, and I got here as fast as I could. How are they doing?”

  “Not so bad. Fren worried, but I tell him if Sara say she get medicine, she will.” He gave me an expectant look.

  I smiled and pulled the package from inside my coat to lay it in his eager hands. “Have I ever let you down?”

  Remy immediately turned and headed to the kitchen with me close on his heels. Curious about the contents of the package that had come at such a high price, I watched as he removed the cloth to reveal a small. rectangular wooden box. He lifted the lid and poured the contents out into a large, shallow stone bowl, then picked up a smooth rounded stone and began to grind whatever was in the bowl. I moved closer and saw pale golden crystals the texture and color of coarse cane sugar. As Remy ground the crystals into powder, the smell of rotten eggs and ammonia I’d gotten earlier grew stronger. I waved a hand in front of my nose. Definitely not sugar. Remy had called it Baktu when he asked me to find it, but he hadn’t been too clear on exactly what it was, just that it came from some place in Africa.

  He quickly reduced the crystals to powder; then he spat in the bowl several times and stirred the mixture with a smooth wooden stick to make a thick paste. “Come,” he said at last, taking up the heavy bowl and heading for the stairs. I followed him quietly. My part was done, and the rest was up to my friend now.

  In the first room at the top of the stairs, a pallet of rags had been laid on the bare wooden floor, and a small dark shape lay curled up on the rags, whimpering. The upstairs windows were not boarded up so I could make out the creature’s rounded body and long spindly limbs. Kneeling by the pallet was a second creature, and his ugly squashed face looked at us hopefully when we entered the room. I gave him a smile and pointed at the bowl in Remy’s hands, and he grunted softly to his mate, who replied in kind. I had no idea what they were saying because I didn’t speak Boggie, but it didn’t take much imagination to guess that he was reassuring her.

  Remy knelt beside the pallet, and I stood behind him where I could observe but not get in the way. He laid the stone bowl on the floor and grunted at the boggies in their own language. Then he gently repositioned the female boggie until she lay on her back with her swollen belly bared to us. Boggies lived in bogs – as their name implied – and they were usually covered in mud. The female was unusually clean, and I wondered if Remy had done it in preparation for the procedure.

  Fren, the male boggie, moved closer and took one of his mate’s small hands in both of his. His large eyes brimmed with love, but it could not hide the fear I saw on his face. I wanted to tell him it would be okay, but he could not understand me and I wasn’t sure if everything would be alright. According to Remy, boggies normally have easy births, but Mol’s pregnancy had been very difficult. After being ill for months, she was very frail and her baby refused to come. Boggie pregnancies were not like human pregnancies where the baby came after nine months. If the mother was sick or weak, the body would not go into labor. If the baby was not delivered, both mother and child would die.

  I watched as Remy began to smooth the paste over Mol’s extended belly with gentle hands. She stiffened and made a weak mewling sound. This close to her, I could sense her pain and fear, and a familiar urge awoke in me – the need to go to her and try to take away the pain. But I trusted Remy, and right now he was Mol’s best chance of getting through this. I just clenched my hands and observed.

  He finished applying the thick paste and laid the bowl aside. Then he spread his long hands across Mol’s belly and applied the slightest pressure against the bulge that was her unborn child. He started to chant in troll tongue, and I only recognized a handful of words, but they were enough to tell me that he was praying. Trolls were deeply faithful to their god, and they mixed prayer with their magic in whatever they do. I had seen enough of Remy’s abilities to have great respect for his faith and his magic.

  The paste soon dried to a brittle shell, and I noticed that Mol seemed to be in less pain now and able to bear the weight of Remy’s hands. Was it working?

  Mol’s scream made the hair lift on the back of my neck. I fell to my knees beside Remy as Mol’s stomach began to contract so violently that her whole body shook from it. “What’s wrong?”

  “This normal,” he replied, lifting his hands from the boggie. “Baby coming.”

  “It’s coming?” I asked dumbly. Mol looked like she was being ripped apart from the inside, not about to deliver a baby. But then I had no idea what was normal for a boggie birth. Like most of the People, boggies were secretive and shy of humans. It was a sign of their gratitude and respect that I was permitted to stay and witness this event. Tears filled my eyes as I watched nature take over and Mol’s body find the strength it needed to bring her baby into the world.

  Fren was there to take the infant when it arrived. The little brown body was incredibly small and doll-like and made no sound when its father cradled it in his arms. Fren stared at his newborn and ran his fingers over the infant’s face as if he could not believe it was real.

  “Shouldn’t the baby be crying?” I whispered to Remy, trying not to disturb the boggies. Fren cooed at the baby, and Mol lay there with her eyes closed, too exhausted to even look at her child.

  Remy nodded, his face grim.

  That’s when I felt it, the familiar pulling sensation drawing me toward the baby like steel to a magnet. I gasped softly. “He’s sick, so sick…” The first icy tendrils of death brushed my skin, and I knew we were too late. If I’d only gotten here earlier.

  I yanked off my coat. “Give him to me! Hurry, there’s not much time.” Already I could feel the new life draining away.

  Remy reached for the baby, but Fren shook his head, holding the little body to his chest. Grunting forcefully, Remy leaned forward again. Whatever he said to the boggie worked because Fren relinquished the infant to him. I held out my hands, and Remy placed the naked, wrinkled little body in them. It was no bigger than a week-old kitten, and as soon as I touched it, I felt the weak fluttering heartbeat and the coldness already settling into the tiny limbs. “Try to hold on, little one,” I murmured as I pulled him to my own chest and covered him with my hands. Then I reached inside of myself and opened the wall holding back my power.

  It was like opening a furnace door. Heat flared in my chest and roared through my veins like a spark following a fuse. I didn’t have to tell my power where to go; it always knew. My body buzzed like a live wire as currents of energy raced along my nerve endings toward my hands and chest, any part of me touching the dying creature.

  Normally I released the power in a controlled stream, letting it flow gently to find the source of injury or illness. It was so strong, so forceful that I worried it would shock my patients and kill them outright. But when a body was shutting down and preparing to die, a jolt to the system was sometimes the only thing that could help it. It was kind of like those defibrillator paddles they used in emergency rooms, only mine worked on the whole body instead of just the heart. That was the only way I knew how to describe it; my power didn’t exactly come with an operations manual.

  The heat pooled in my hands until they gave off a pale white glow. Hotter and hotter, the fire burned until it felt like I was grasping a hot metal pipe, but I didn’t stop. I bit my lip to keep from crying out and held on, waiting for the power to grow to the right intensity before I released it.

  Power exploded from my hands, pouring into the little body. I felt it race through veins and bones and weave through tissue, saturating every cell like a spring storm soaking the earth. My power was an extension of me, so I felt it coiling around the failing heart, pulsing and surging. With each push it sent a spike of energy through the heart, causing the creature to jerk and spasm before it went still again. I sent wave after wave of power into the body, praying that each would be the one to fix the damaged heart.

  I lost track of the minutes but at least ten passed before I was forced to accept that I could not save the boggie. My power was the only thing making his heart pump, and I could not keep it up much longer. One of the earliest and cruelest lessons I had learned about my power was that sometimes I couldn’t save someone, no matter how much of myself I poured into them. I held the baby away from me and felt a painful tug at my chest when I looked at its lifeless face. I’m so sorry, little one.

  A broken sob rent the air. I opened my eyes to meet Mol’s stricken stare as she grieved for the baby she had never held in her own arms. My heart ached for her. No one should watch the one they loved die.

  It’s not fair! We had done everything right. Mol’s baby deserved to live.

  I pulled the power back to me until my hands grew hot again. The pain lanced through me, but I barely felt it buried beneath the anger building inside me. I sent power shooting back through the baby with the force of a lightning strike. That much energy could stop a heart completely, but there was nothing to lose now.

  The power drained away. I was used up and vaguely aware of Remy and Fren breathing and Mol sobbing as the little heart pressed against mine gave a long irregular flutter and stopped.

  There was only silence.

  Then… lub-lub, lub-lub, lub-lub.

  Then the slightest of movements as tiny lungs expanded with their first breath of air.

  Then the tickle of a tiny foot moving against my chest.

  I lifted the infant cupped in my hands and watched in wonder as the squashed little face quivered and the tiny mouth opened. It started as a faint wheezing sound that quickly became a mewling wail, and suddenly my hands were full of a squirming, crying, healthy baby boggie.

  I laughed and cried at the same time as shouts filled the room. Mol grunted anxiously and held out her arms, and I lay her baby boy on her chest. I watched as mother and father touched their child with awe, exploring the baby they both thought they had lost.

  I sat back heavily and then lay down on the dusty floor. Healings always drained me, some more than others, and normally I just needed a few minutes of rest to put me right again. But bringing back a life from so close to death was very hard, and my body felt like I had run half a marathon. No matter how many times I used my power, it did not get easier.

  I was six when I discovered what I could do. In the beginning, I often overdid it, until I learned not to drain myself too much. It was easy to overlook your own welfare when you were trying to save a life. I had to learn how to lock my power away unless I needed to call on it. Otherwise, every time I came within a few feet of a sick or injured creature, the energy got sucked right out of me. Now when I healed, I let out just enough to do the job. Releasing a torrent of power like I’d just done for the boggie was almost like overloading a circuit, except there was no breaker to reset my energy. My power always replenished itself; it just took a little while.

  A cool hand touched my arm. “You okay, Sara?” I heard the worry in Remy’s voice, and I gave him a weary smile.

  “I’ll be fine. You know how I am. Just need to rest a bit.”

  “Yes, you rest.” He gently lifted my head and stuffed my folded jacket beneath it. I heard him talking to Fren and Mol and sounds of movement, but it all became muffled as I drifted off.

  Somewhere between wakefulness and sleep I felt a familiar stirring in the back of my mind. After expending so much power, I was not surprised it was on the move. It was always active after a healing when my power was low. Not that it would get far. Even exhausted, I had enough left in me to push it back down.

  I called it the beast. It used to scare me having this dark thing inside my head, even though I knew it came with my power. I read a quote once that said, “When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow,” and I wondered if the same was true for me. My power was the candle – bright and warm – and the beast was its shadow – sullen and dark. Remy said that most power was a balance of good and bad, and I should not be afraid of something that was a part of me. I did not embrace the beast, but I had no choice but to learn to live with it.

  The room was quiet when I woke up, and the long shadows told me it was late afternoon. Turning my head to the side, I saw I was alone. The boggies had most likely gone home, but I knew Remy was still here. He would never leave me alone while I recovered.

  I groaned as I got to my feet. My body ached, partly from the intense healing and partly from lying on the hard floor, and I stretched several times to get the kinks out. Then I picked up my coat and went downstairs where I found Remy looking out through the cracks in one of the boarded-up living room windows. I walked over and leaned against the wall, ignoring the peeling wallpaper that snagged my hair.

  He smiled down at me. “You sleep deep this time. Feel better?”

  “That was a hard one,” I admitted. “But worth it.” I heard laughter outside, and I peered through the crack at a group of teenage boys hanging out down the street. Remy had been watching them in case any of them decided to venture this way while I slept. I wondered what they’d do if they came in and found a troll waiting for them. Probably wet their pants. If I didn’t know my fierce friend, I’d probably do the exact same thing.

  “Mol and the baby are okay?” I asked.

  “Yes. Fren and Mol take baby home to show family. They say you have big magic. Ask if you are sorceress.”

  “Hardly.” If any magic had happened here today, it had come from Remy, the way he’d helped Mol deliver her baby. Though he didn’t have my power, he was as much a healer as I was, and his knowledge of medicines never failed to amaze me. In troll years he was still a teenager like me, but he already knew more than I could hope to learn in a lifetime.

  He looked at the street again. “It get dark soon.”

  “Not for another hour. And I’m not afraid of the dark.”

  “Uncle will not be happy if you stay out late.”

  “Nate’s not happy about most things I do,” I quipped. Remy shot me a disapproving look, and I said, “You know it’s true. I love Nate, but we’re just so…different. He wants me to be someone I’m not. He wants a normal niece who has girlfriends and joins the band or the cheerleading squad or whatever. That’s not me, and it never will be.”

  “That not true. He just want you to be happy.”

  I raised an eyebrow. “Since when are you an expert on human parents?”

  “All good parents want children to be happy.” He pushed away from the window. “Come. Boys leave.”

  I poked him in the back as I followed him to the back door. “You know, you’re getting kind of bossy these days.”

  He let out a gravelly laugh. “Not even trolls boss you.”

  “That’s right! I’m a strong, independent woman, and don’t you forget it.”

  We crossed the yard and slipped through the fence. Remy turned to me. “You do good today.”

  “We did good,” I said. “By the way, you never did tell me what Baktu is.”

  “Baktu is winged serpent from desert lands.”

  My brows drew together. “Huh? How does a serpent turn to crystals?”

  “Crystals not serpent. It dried Baktu droppings.”

  “Droppings? You mean poop?” I wrinkled my nose. “Ugh! That’s disgusting, Remy!”

  Remy laughed and started for the woods. “Baktu is poisonous serpent. Droppings make strong medicine.”

  Before I could reply he disappeared. I envied the way trolls could melt into their surroundings like vanishing into thin air. It’d be a handy skill to have at times.

  The streets were empty when I walked back to the bus stop. Even though it was a Saturday evening, not a lot of people were headed into town, so there were plenty of seats to choose from on the bus. The same driver always drove this route on weekends, and he nodded at me when I dropped my change in the farebox.

  At least I could relax on the return trip, because Remy and I had done what we’d set out to do. I’d helped save two lives today – how many girls my age got to say that? Not that I enjoyed hanging out in smoky bars, doing illicit business with people who were the underworld equivalent of drug dealers. Just because I had enough wits to keep a cool façade and act like I knew what I was doing did not change the fact that I was in way over my head. But I couldn’t stop now, not when lives depended on me.

  When Remy asked me two years ago to help him find powdered chimera horn to help a dying kelpie, I had no idea there was an actual black market for that, and practically anything else you can think of – if you could pay. Since then I’d found half a dozen other items for him, and I also got pretty good at negotiating since none of them were cheap or easy to find. It’s not like you could buy hydra scales or hansling teeth on Amazon or eBay. Well, not yet anyway.

  We were lucky Remy could afford to buy pretty much anything. Of course there were some things more valuable than even money, like the contents of the vial I’d given Malloy, rare and nearly impossible to obtain. He’d sell his own mother to know how I’d gotten my hands on it, but I’d never tell him – or anyone else. It was dangerous enough just letting someone like Malloy know that I had some to trade. People killed for a hell of a lot less. And if Remy’s people ever found out what we were up to… I shuddered at the thought.

  Troll bile was a potent drug and priceless, not just because of what it could do but also because there were few brave enough to try to get it. Trolls were not only secretive and elusive; their vicious reputation kept humans and nonhumans alike from seeking them out, let alone trying to take something from them.

  It disgusted me when Remy first told me about it. But if you could get past the ungodly smell and not think about where it came from, it had incredible regenerative properties. It could slow aging and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, and it could reverse balding. I heard it could even fight certain types of cancer. I knew from experience that it couldn’t fix every injury, but half an ounce, like what I’d given Malloy, could stop someone from aging for up to five years if used properly. It was basically the fountain of youth, and there were people who would pay almost anything to get their hands on it.

  The younger the troll, the more potent the bile, but trolls were so protective of their young that it was nearly impossible to get close to them without meeting a horrible end. Remy gave me his own bile to barter with on his behalf, but his people would be furious if they ever got wind of what we were peddling. Trolls didn’t like humans, though for some reason the elders tolerated Remy’s friendship with me. But I didn’t kid myself about where I stood with them. I was still just a human.

  The bus pulled up to my downtown stop in front of the post office, and I waved to the driver as I exited by the rear door. Market Street, the financial and commercial hub of New Hastings during the week, was quiet now except for the people heading to Subway or Antonio’s. I crossed at the light and cut through the small parking lot between two buildings to come out on the end of the waterfront near the wharves. South of me were the pier and the shops and restaurants that lined the waterfront. Almost home. After the day I’d had, all I wanted was to curl up in bed with a book for the rest of the night.

  When two boys emerged from between the buildings ahead of me and ran across the waterfront to disappear down the bank by one of the fishing wharves, I recognized them right away. I knew they were probably up to no good, but I was too tired and hungry to care. Let someone else deal with them.

  Out of sight, one of the boys let out a familiar laugh and yelled, “Don’t let it get away.”

  I stopped walking.

  “Look at it, Scott. It’s half-dead.”

  “Ah hell!” I swore and turned toward the wharf.

 

 
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