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The sounds of fighting soon echoed in the distance and got more intense, as did the scents of spilled blood … both of vampire and slayer.

The first of the writhing lessers showed up about eight blocks from where they’d rerouted, and Butch barely paused as they went by the damn thing. He merely unsheathed a black dagger, lifted it over his head, and stabbed the undead right in the chest, the pop!-and-smoke show the first time Axe had ever seen it done.

No dwelling on the shit, though: the reality that he could get shot in the head at any second kept Axe focused on what was living and not what was being sent back to the Omega.

Farther down, black stains that gleamed like spilled oil showed up on the worn pavement … and then came the red splatters on the brick walls of the walkups—

Gunshots went off.

Pop! Pop! Rat-a-tat-ata-ta—

With a burst forward, they redoubled their speed until they got to yet another alley-artery, skidding around the corner and dropping into shooting position, Butch facing forward, Axe facing the other direction at the guy’s six.

Axe shot a quick glance over his shoulder—oh, hell, he was never going to forget the image of the cluster-fuck going down about fifty feet away.

Rhage was in the center of three lessers, all of which had knives—and the Brother was fighting them without weapons in his hands, in spite of the fact that he had daggers strapped right to his chest.

There was also the clear indication, if that red waterfall down his left arm was anything to go by, that he had been shot at least once, probably more.

It was as if he’d had red paint poured all over him—

A lesser came running around the same corner Axe and Butch had just ridden hard, and thank fuck for training. Instead of wasting a crucial nanosecond thinking Holy fuck!, Axe went beast with his guns, hitting those triggers—

Jammed. Both of them.

“Fuck!”

Butch started shooting in the direction of the fight, trying to pick off the slayers without hitting Rhage—which was proving impossible because the Brother was still trying to fight even while bleeding out.

“Dagger!” Axe shouted. “Now!”

Again, the training worked. Butch glanced behind for a second, knew there was no choice but for Axe to engage in tight quarters, and the Brother took out an actual black dagger.

“Don’t showboat! Get the fucking job done!”

With that, he flipped the weapon back and Axe caught it on the down arc, leaping forward and going right for the slayer’s chest.

He didn’t miss.

That fucking black blade went right where it needed to, like there was a homing device in the forged steel.

There was no celebrating, though.

A stray bullet, either on a ricochet from Butch’s gun or from one of the two new slayers who’d suddenly shown up in the alley, caught Axe in the thigh, the blaze of pain as if someone had taken a red-hot fireplace poker and jammed it into his upper leg.

And then yet another slayer came around the corner.

No time to think.

Axe leaped on the fucker, taking the soulless human down to the pavement and rolling him over. But the bastard was smart, or really into survival, because he managed to grab on to Axe’s fresh wound and squeeze.

Axe’s vision went in and out, his switchboard momentarily overrun with so much electrical impulse that it went on the fritz.

But then he got pissed. Clamping a hand on the lesser’s throat, he had a snapshot of bared human teeth with those weird flat-tipped canines of theirs, and the tattoo of a tear under one brown eye, and shaggy hair that looked like it hadn’t been cut in a month.

And then he lifted that dagger over his shoulder, just as Butch had done, and stabbed it right through the frontal lobe, driving the blade through the skull and into the cake of gray matter behind the bone.

Seizures. The slayer went full-tilt boogie, that grip on Axe’s thigh flipping free, the arms slapping against the asphalt like he was clapping for a show, the legs kicking as if he were swimming.

Axe rolled off and retched from the pain. But then he went to get the dagger back from where it was flag-poling right above the slayer’s eyebrow—

It was stuck. There was no getting the weapon out.

He’d driven it so hard, he’d crushed the skull and buried the tip in fucking pavement.

Jumping to his feet, he staggered, and figured, Fuck it, at least the slayer wasn’t going anywhere.

There was no more conscious thought.

His eyes provided him with an instant assessment of the state of the battle: Butch was now involved in hand-to-hand maneuvers, fighting for control of the gun he had been using with a slayer who looked like a defensive end for the New England Patriots … while Rhage was sinking to his knees in the center of the alley, the fighting not so much going out of him as leaking out, his blood pooling under him to such an extent that there were puddles getting splashed.

With a battle cry, Axe lunged forward, taking three running leaps even with his gunshot wound.

He attacked the first lesser he came to, jumping on its back, going bullrider-squeeze with his thighs and locking hold on its ears with his hands. Then he snapped that head so far to the right, the ligaments and tendons on the left side broke free of the neck skin.

On to the next.

Leaving the body to fall where it did, he burst forward—just as a slayer coiled up a chain and went to get Rhage around the throat. Yeah, fuck that shit. With a quick jerk, Axe outed his smaller hunting knife, and tackled the lesser to the side.

Talk about your fucking Jason-maneuvers. He stabbed so fast and so hard and so many times, he didn’t just incapacitate the bastard, he tenderized it.

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