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Alex(Rylee Adamson #5.5)(5) by Shannon Mayer

Rylee reached down and touched the top of my head, and I relaxed a little. This time I wasn’t here alone.

Rylee headed toward a building on the far side of the block, the red brick crumbling, and a sign that said “Harry’s Hardware and Hunting Supplies” hanging so that it partially covered the busted down door.

She paused at the bottom of the steps that led up and into the building. “Alex, you smell anything?”

I lifted my nose and sucked in a lungful of air, blinking several times as my brain identified scents I didn’t even know existed. Dark and murky like a muddy swamp, the smell converged in my brain and created a picture of a creature, tagging it with a name.

“Goblin.” I took another deep breath, the second scent one of darkness, but musky, like sex and violence mixed together. “Incubus.”

Rylee started and stared down at me. “You’re sure?”

“Yuppy doody.”

And I was sure, even if I wasn’t sure why Deidre was important, I knew those scents and they imprinted on me. (Goblins don’t exist and what the hell is an incubus?) What was left of my own brain stumbled over this twist to the story. Rylee, though, took my pronouncement in stride. She loosened both her blades and pulled them free from their sheaths before slipping through the broken door. I followed, slinking along, breathing in the scent of blood and rotting food that hung in the air. Rats skittered along the edge of the wall, their claws clicking in a weird echo of my own steps.

Light filtered in through broken windows, in between wood slats that had been haphazardly pounded into place over the openings. Rylee worked her way through the building, me close on her heels, the creak of our steps seeming loud to my sensitive ears. But I could hear nothing else. No other things were in this house, so how could she be sure that this was where… Deidre… was?

Using her sword, Rylee pushed aside a thin piece of material that hung in a doorway and stepped through. I pushed the material aside with one paw and froze. Deidre had worn that, whatever it was. I could smell her, strawberries and chocolate, on the cloth.

But Rylee didn’t seem to notice; instead, she searched the kitchen, moving things with the tip of her sword.

I took a deep breath a sudden intense scent filling my nose, far stronger than before and I whispered, “Goblins.”

A split second and the little beasts were everywhere, bursting out of cupboards, streaming in through the doorways, covering every possible surface. Greys, greens, and black, they would be perfectly camouflaged in a forest with their mottled skin.

Three eyes, and two noses each, their mouths were wide, almost bisecting their leathery-looking faces. Though they were smaller than Charlie, I didn’t think they would be as nice as the brownie. Needle sharp teeth glistened, and a high-pitched chittering escaped them as they surrounded us, their excitement obvious as they paused for a breath before launching themselves at us.

“Kill them, Alex,” Rylee shouted as she spun slicing three goblins in half with one sword as her second swept by, catching another two.

Then I couldn’t watch her anymore, seeing as I had some problems of my own. Goblins backed me into a corner, lunging at me with their sharp teeth and I tried to push them away, shoving them back. I had never killed anything in my life, I couldn’t start now.

“Sissy werewolf,” The goblin closest to me snickered and bit down on my tail. I howled and spun, inadvertently throwing him through the air. “Alex sorry!”

“Don’t apologize to the little bastards, just kill them!” Rylee then let out a grunt as a goblin latched onto her calf, drawing blood and taking a small chunk of flesh like an upscale piranha. She yelped and booted the monster in the head, sent him flying into an open cupboard.

The weirdest thing happened. The fear that had burrowed into me dissipated, I saw her get hurt and there was only one thought running through my head.

“No hurt Ryleeeeeeeee!”

I leapt toward her, scattering the goblins, grabbing them with my mouth and claws, snapping necks, gutting the horrid little creatures with all the fury I could muster.

Their blood was pale blue and cold, and… “Tastes like shit.” I growled as I snagged another one off the counter top and bit down on its skull, the crunch of bone echoing through the room. I spit him out and wiped at my tongue with my paw.

“Growdy gross.”

What was left of the goblins ran from us, and in a few seconds the kitchen was as silent as it had been when we’d first stepped in.

Just like that, it was over.

Or so I thought.

Pale blue blood was splattered on everything, the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Rylee stood there, in the middle of it all, her eyes unfocussed and the colors blurring once more. Was she… Tracking? That’s what Giselle had said she could do, that’s what my brain said she was, even if I didn’t fully understand it. Though she had her own smell that identified her as a Tracker, there was nothing particularly special about it, about her. Mostly, she just smelled human.

But I knew that was wrong.

Rylee was special, even if she didn’t smell like anything different.

Slowly, she turned in a circle and then tipped her head up so that she was staring at the ceiling. “We’ve got to get up there.” She pointed up with her sword, and I followed her gaze.

We were both too short to reach the ceiling. “Table?” I pushed the rough hewn table, surprised at how steady it was. In a place where everything was falling down, the table was solidly built with thick legs and three-inch deep top. Rylee stepped closer to it and stared at the center. I pulled myself up so that I could look at what had caught her attention. In the middle of the table was the distinct mark of a large set of boots.

“Someone uses this as their stepping stone,” she said softly, her fingers reaching out to trace the mark. “Guess we’re going to follow them up.”

With a single smooth motion, she jumped onto the table and landed in a silent crouch. She stood and reached above her head, fingers running along a seam that only became visible as she touched it. “The sneaky bastards spelled it closed. Good thing I can handle that.”

Her hand slid over the ceiling and a handle appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. With a swift jerk she opened the trap door and then dropped back into a crouch on the table, her eyes never leaving the dark opening. Nothing came out, no monsters, no goblins. (Shouldn’t be monsters. Monsters aren’t real) Maybe that had been true before, but not now. I sniffed the air, the sexy musk stronger than ever.

“Incubus.”

“Yeah, thanks, buddy.” She slid on her feet across the table, not rising from her crouch until she was off to one side of the opening. Slowly, blades raised, she stood. With a limb flopping scramble I jumped up onto the table just as she pulled herself up and into the darkness above us.

It was with great difficulty that I stood on my back legs and gripped the edges of the opening. Muscles bunching, I launched myself up and into the dark hole.

The smell of incubus was strong, and the smell of strawberries and chocolate wrapped itself around me. That was the girl we were looking for and she was important, and she’d been here and was close by. Behind me, the trap door slammed shut, plunging us into a semi darkness that wasn’t as dark as it could have been. Then again, maybe my eyes had improved along with my smelling and my hearing.

Rylee was crouched beside me, her eyes closed as she tried to adjust to the darkness. I crept forward, stepping over the sticks all over the floor. The thin, white sticks with balls on the end. Really, they looked more like… .

“Bones,” I whimpered, clamoring on top of Rylee’s legs, clinging to her.

“Get off,” she hissed, shoving at me with one hand. Reluctantly, I did as she asked, shaking hard, the smell of death finally permeating the smell of the incubus.

There was nowhere I could go to get away from the smell, and holding my breath only left me gasping large gulps of the nasty air.

Rylee stood and started to move forward, toward a door at the back of the room. I moved beside her, trying not to step on the bones that were scattered everywhere. To not breathe. To not get in Rylee’s way.

Below the door, there was a slight gap, an opening that light trickled from. Light, and that smell of strawberries and chocolate.

“Deidre,” I whispered, and Rylee clamped a hand over my muzzle, her meaning clear. I bobbed my head. Message received, no talking. Her hand circled the doorknob, and turned it slowly, quietly. Nothing happened. It must have been locked.

She let go, and then took a step back, raising her blade. Driving the blade forward, she rammed it through the lock and then jerked it to the left, slicing through the entire mechanism. The door swung open into a room of pale reds, pinks and whites. It looked like a little girl’s room with butterflies on the walls and stuffed animals scattered throughout. We crept into the room, Rylee sweeping toward the bed, and the nearly skeletal figure sprawled on her back on the shiny red sheets.

“Deidre, my name is Rylee and I’m here to help you. Can you stand?”

That was Deidre? I trotted forward and put my head on the edge of the bed. The girl looked like she was barely alive, her bones visible through her pale skin, every vein and pulse of her heart. The smell of strawberries and chocolate was strong here, but the girl was just human. So why did she smell important to me? Special, like Rylee did.

Along with the strong scent, images flooded my brain. Me and Deidre playing in the backyard, trying to teach her how to catch a football, setting off fireworks together, hiding from Dad when he was in a rage, taking her to the hospital when Dad had cut her with a knife, trying to take her with me when I moved out, the two of us finding Mom dead in the tub, blood swirling in the steaming water, of Deidre running away, the note she left behind, me trying to find her and failing, of hiring Rylee right before everything went to hell… Deidre was my sister.

Panicked, I clawed at her. “Deidre, Deidre, Deidre.” She couldn’t be dead. No, but then why was she so still?

“Alex, ease off.” Rylee put a hand across my paws, and I turned to face her. Her eyes were soft, almost as if she understood. “We’ll get her out. I promise.”