Home > Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson #9)(14)

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson #9)(14)
Author: Patricia Briggs

The baby made a noise.

It was only a little noise, more of a squeak than a cry.

But there were a lot of creatures on the bridge with very good hearing.

The wolves had been letting the troll entertain himself—but the blue car, by now surely sunk under the river, wasn’t interesting anymore. The pack hunting song told me that the little noise of something helpless . . . of a helpless human baby . . . had attracted the troll’s attention. There was a thump, and the van rocked a little when the troll landed back onto the bridge from his perch among the cables.

I could feel the troll’s regard, but he couldn’t see me. I rocked the baby seat a little, and the baby settled. We all were very still—until the troll started banging on another car.

I had to get them both out, and I couldn’t carry the mother. But we had wheels. The radiator fluid I’d seen told me that it was unlikely we could get the engine going, but we were on a downhill slope, and both Zack and I could push. All I had to do was get the van moving.

I put the baby, car seat and all, back next to her mother, who put the mostly empty bottle back in the baby’s mouth. She, the baby, smiled, kicked both feet, and resumed sucking. That made a noise, too, a small, whistly-sucky noise that made the troll grunt in satisfaction. I don’t know if it was my instincts, the pack hunting sense, or the sudden lack of smashing sounds, but, with the hairs on the back of my neck, I felt the troll start toward us at a slow hunter’s pace.

The fae are attracted to children. Someone, I think it was Bran, told me that children held power because they were in the process of becoming something. In that promise there was magic—and it was like catnip to the fae.

In the past, some of the fae craved children as pets, leaving something in their place because magic required balance—and that I’d learned from Ariana’s book. Some of the fae simply ate them. A baby . . . a baby was on the cusp of becoming.

The troll’s near-silent approach was filled with an intensity, a lust I could scent. And then the pack hunting song exploded with information.

Adam leaped over the barrier, and Joel bolted from around the car he’d been hiding behind, but Darryl, who’d been a few steps closer, reached the troll first. He struck at the side of the troll’s knee with the narrow pry-bar end of the tire iron. The troll slapped the iron away—and knocked Darryl over in the process. Either the touch of iron or the force Darryl had swung it with hurt the troll, who stopped to shake his hand. That gave Darryl a second chance for attack. He took a running leap onto the troll and, without slowing down, climbed up its side, making it all the way to the troll’s shoulders. Zack stayed where he was, between the van and the troll, the last barrier. I could feel his determination to slow the creature down so that I could get the human and her child to safety.

Recalled to my task, I scrambled to the front seat, taking a quick glance out the window while I did.

The troll was still on the opposite side of the barrier, so I couldn’t see Adam or Joel, but I had a good clear view of the troll reaching behind himself. His shoulder joint was built differently from any ape or monkey I’d seen because he had no trouble reaching behind his neck and grabbing Darryl in both hands and throwing him off, over the railing.

When Darryl disappeared from the pack hunting song, I told myself fiercely that it was only that he was too far away. Werewolves don’t swim, but there were a lot of boats down there. A lot of boats. And some of them knew that the werewolves were trying to help.

His abrupt absence hurt, and I couldn’t see past the hurt to tell if he was just gone from the hunting song or if he’d disappeared from the pack as well. Zack broke away from the van, running to help the other two keep the troll away.

Darryl doesn’t have to be dead, I told myself fiercely as my butt hit the front seat of the van. His sudden disappearance from my awareness was traumatic, and I couldn’t reach the subtler pack sense. Couldn’t tell if the wave of loss I felt was only from the hunt, or if it was his death echoing through me. I put my foot on the clutch.

“It won’t start,” the woman behind me said. “My sister, she tried and tried. I told her to get out, that I was right behind her, and she ran. She figured it out, but by then the police had her.”

“Shh. It’s okay.”

I tried to put it into neutral, but the linkage was stuck. It would still roll with the clutch in—but I’d have to push the van and hold the clutch at the same time. I tried to open the door—and it wouldn’t open. I remembered the huge crease that something had put down the driver’s side of the van.

All the werewolves were fighting for their lives—but the hunting song touched them all, I couldn’t block it. They knew I was in trouble, and one of them came to help. Two wolves against the troll weren’t enough. But Adam was the heart of the song, its director if not its dictator, and he directed Joel to come help me. He picked Joel because Joel could best protect me if he and Zack failed to hold the troll back.

Out loud because he was ignoring me otherwise, I said, “No, Adam. I’ll figure out something.”

Joel came anyway. I could see him in the rearview mirror. Joel looked a little different every time he took on the tibicena form. It was the subject of much discussion in the pack. Zack said he thought it might be because the tibicena is a creature of the volcano, and lava doesn’t have a hardened shape. That was my favorite explanation.

This time, fully formed and mostly solid, he looked a little like a foo lion, his muzzle broad and almost catlike, with a mane of dreadlocks that crackled and hissed as they moved, breaking the outer black shell and displaying liquid-orange-glowing lava that cooled rapidly to black again as some other part broke open. The effect was a shimmering, flashing, black-and-orange fringe about six inches long.

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