Vol. 10 - Breaking the Habit | i

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The pain radiating through her back was excruciating. She wanted to go to her knees, but his hand inside her body held her up. Around them, the hounds were coming, trying to rescue her, but they were slamming against an invisible shield that locked her and Fionn in a bubble. The shock had frozen her at first, then the pain. His hand wrapped around her heart, but he made no move to pull it out. Instead, he was chanting words she did not understand.

After what seemed like close to an eternity, he forced her down so she kneeled following suit behind her. The rhythm of his voice remained constant. It was one constant rhythm just as the pain was one constant blast in her chest. On their knees, he placed two fingers on his free hand on her forehead. He kept at it.

The beasts around them, seen and unseen, scratched and bit, trying to get through, but Fionn held up the shield as he continued to mend what had been broken. What he had broken.

***

Nerina woke, her head throbbing. Jackhammers were drilling through her skull. A hundred of them drilling into the soft tissue. When she opened her eyes, they drilled harder—louder. This was not the place to pass out. Blocked off by werewolves to the front and ghosts and other things at the back... definitely not the place.

She pressed the heel of her hands to her temple rocking from side to side willing the jackhammers to stop. If all she had was a headache, she was grateful. Dead was a state she did not want to be in—not again. Nerina rolled over onto her side trying to push herself up. Her body felt heavy and useless. Maybe one of them had slapped her over the head. Hence the blackout, the headache.

Steele. She had a few choice words for the man... If he was still alive. Nerina was more than a hundred percent sure; he had waltzed into a trap. On some level, she understood the need that had driven him, but for the most part, she was disappointed he had left her. Then again, he had no obligations to her, but to the woman he loved... that was a different matter. While the hammers pounded away, Nerina distracted herself by running through everything.

When the noise level settled down and the pain was somewhat bearable, she tried to open her eyes again. If they had knocked her over the head and she was alive then they had taken her prisoner. Nerina remembered the cells she and Steele had set on fire and cringed. When she opened her eyes, she would be staring at either her last meal or she would be the last meal. Why hadn't she stayed in the rainforest? If he had stuck with the boredom, she would not be in this mess. A nice quiet life was looking a lot more pleasing now that the excitement had taken a turn for the worst. If she lived, she would find a way to make a hasty retreat. Back to her lame life. Back to sleeping away her eternity.

Eyes open she did find herself in a cell. Alone. No last meal and no chance of her being one. She did not want to speak too soon. Duncan struck her as a very troubled man. Nerina did not want to imagine what plans he would have for her. What he had done to Steele she did not want to imagine either. She only hoped he was alive so she could give him a stern talking to—with her fist.

She held on to the bars pulling her weight up to stand, going still as the world spun around her. It leveled as someone entered the room. It took some time before the image of the person stopped dancing in front of her eyes.

When it settled she saw Steele.

"Well, you're alive you bastard." She leaned her head on the bar as the hammers came again. "You left me," she said swallowing. Her throat was parched. Nerina had not noticed until she had spoken. Her voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard.

"Turned out it was a trap," he informed her.

"Told you." Nerina slid to the floor of the cell; the bar to her back. It took too much energy to stand. "If you came to rescue me you're not making much haste to do it."

"I didn't."

"So you broke in here to what? Tell me I was right so I could die feeling justified?"

"I didn't break in either."

It took some effort for Nerina to turn her head to look at him. "Excuse me?"

"I locked you up."

Nerina's laugh was weak as she lifted her hand to fan him off. What he was saying was all too ridiculous. She needed to sleep off whatever had happened to her. Nerina slept waking up the second time not as foggy, the hammers distant drums in her head. She was alone and she was still in the cell.

The world re-oriented itself into its rightful place this time. Now she was puzzled. Why was she in a cell? Had the werewolves taken her? No. Steele. Steele had said he had locked her up. Was she the one that had been tricked? Her head was facing away from the only door leading in and out of the room when it opened. An unfamiliar scent entered.

"Where's Steele?" she asked, before the other person, a man, spoke. The stranger's scent was all musky, all male, but not human or vampire or werewolf.

"Out."

His voice almost reminded her of a boom of thunder. "I'd like to have a word with him." Her days of being held captive were long over. She was not going to have a repeat performance for anyone else for as long as she was alive. Nerina turned to face the man now. He was big. Taller than Steele with broader shoulders.

"He will be out for some time."

"Then perhaps you can answer my question," Nerina said, folding her arms across her chest. "Why am I locked up? He was the one who came asking me for my help."

"You only helped to make matters worse."

"I fail to see how I could have done that."

Bile looked at the woman on the other side of the bars. When they had found her, she had been unconscious. Steele had hesitated, but they both decided it—prudent to lock her up for her own good. For all their good. Now the woman who stood before him seemed even-tempered though her temper was slowly simmering. She was not the woman he had seen in the dungeon cutting down the werewolves like young weeds. She stood here now calm and cool. Sane.

"You killed a lot of werewolves."

Nerina laughed. "Who got knocked over the head? You or me? I killed three werewolves because I thought I was saving Steele's life. Then I came here to help him save his friends, and he bailed on me in the forest to rescue a woman who was already dead. I'm surprised he made it out alive."

Bile slanted his eyes at her. What she was saying was new information to him. What she was saying she believed.

"What was the last thing you remember?"

"What?"

"What did you do when you came here?" Bile rephrased.

Nerina recalled the chain of events right down to when Steele left her alone in the woods to fend for herself. The next memory she had after that was waking up in a cage—this cage—with a killer headache. A cage Steele had thrown her in.

"And who are you supposed to be?" Nerina asked.

"Bile."

Now it was Nerina's turn to be confused. She walked up to the bars holding on with both hands.

"I thought you were in the dungeon."

"I was." Now he was being told that his friend had come close to saving him. That his friend had left him there. Bile tried to think of the whole thing rationally. Amara was the woman Steele loved what would he have done had he been in Steele's position. Still, the feeling of betrayal stung.

"Then how... Did Steele come back for you? How did you get out?"

"I managed to get free."

"But you still haven't answered why it is that I am locked up. I didn't do anything." She hit the bars with her palm. "None of this makes sense. One minute I'm helping the man and the next he has me thrown in this place."

"Then let me explain."

Nerina spun around suddenly to find Fionn in her cell with her. When she swung back around to say something to Bile, he was gone. She and Fionn were the only ones in the room.


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