A couple of the other guards laugh, a sound that’s immediately quelled when they find themselves the object of Jaxon’s own ice-cold stare. Though, to be honest, I’m shocked they can even meet his gaze. I’m his mate, and if he ever looked at me like that, I would die.
At first, it feels like they’re going to back down. A couple of the guards shift their feet; a couple others look anywhere else but at Jaxon. And still others—warlocks, all of them—lift their hands away from their wand holders, a clear sign that they aren’t looking to get in a full-on battle tonight.
But then something happens—the crack of a twig in the forest, a sudden movement from Flint behind me in his dragon form, a slight shift of Jaxon’s feet so he could block me just a little more completely. I don’t know—I’ll probably never know—but out of nowhere, one of the guards at the very edge of their circle leaps straight at Mekhi, shifting in midair.
Jaxon shoves me into Flint—for protection, I think—and then moves to intercept the guard, but Mekhi is on the other side of the group, and the split second he took to shove me into Flint cost him. Worse, it costs Mekhi, as Jaxon is half a second too late as the guard sinks his werewolf teeth straight into Mekhi’s throat, going for the jugular.
Bites the Dust
Macy screams as Jaxon rips the wolf off Mekhi’s throat, and for one second, two, time seems to stand still. And then all hell breaks loose.
Mekhi drops to his knees, clutching his throat, as blood pours onto the ground around him.
I’m desperate to reach him, but every time I try, Flint wraps his tail around me—my own personal dragon armor—and holds me tight even as he shoots fire straight at the contingent of guards rushing toward him.
But I’m not weak, human Grace anymore, and while he is busy par-broiling one of the werewolves, I grab hold of my platinum string as tightly as I can.
“Get to Mekhi,” Hudson urges. He appears behind me as the shift comes over me. “We can still save him, but it has to be now.”
I don’t question him—not about this and not when time is so precious. Instead, I shoot straight up in the air to disentangle myself from Flint’s tail.
He’s either too busy to notice or he trusts gargoyle Grace in a way he doesn’t trust my human form. Either way, he doesn’t come after me as I fly straight up, high above the melee.
Blood and destruction are everywhere—broken branches litter the ground, several trees are either uprooted or on fire, and people and animals are locked in hand-to-hand combat or lying dazed and injured on the ground.
A quick scan of the area shows that Mekhi is the only one of my group who is injured, thankfully. I race to him, dropping into a crouch beside him and shielding him with my wings as the fighting continues to go on around us.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jaxon trying to get to us, but guard after guard is grabbing on to him, fighting him, trying to tear him apart. They aren’t having much luck—my mate is way too powerful for that—but they’re slowing him down, and every second they cost him could cost Mekhi his life.
“No, it won’t,” Hudson tells me. “We’ve got this.”
“How?” I ask even as I press a hand to Mekhi’s throat in a vain effort to stop the bleeding. I’m willing to do whatever he wants but unsure of what we can do. Mekhi’s already lost so much blood. I know he’s not human, but I can’t believe he’s got much time left.
“Break off a piece of your stone,” Hudson tells me.
“A piece of my stone?” I repeat, glancing down at myself and the thick, heavy pieces of stone that make up my entire body now. “How do I do that?”
Mekhi gasps and clutches at me, his hand wrapping around my arm and squeezing hard. At first I think he’s trying to break the stone off me, but then I realize he’s shaking his head, mouthing no, no, no as he grows more and more sickly looking.
“I have to, Mekhi,” I tell him. “You’ll die if I don’t.”
He shakes his head again, continues mouthing no to me, even as he runs out of air and starts to be strangled by his own blood.
“I don’t understand,” I tell Hudson, close to tears as I try to find a balance between what Mekhi wants and what I know is the right thing.
“It’s because you’re Jaxon’s mate,” Hudson says grimly. “He knows you’re going to be queen one day and, close friends or not, he can’t allow you to sacrifice a piece of yourself for him. It’s an etiquette thing, ancient rules that don’t matter until we get to a situation like this.”
“Fuck ancient rules,” I spit as I reach up and break off a piece of my horn. God knows I hate the damn things anyway.
Mekhi’s eyes widen, but I lean down and whisper, “I won’t tell if you don’t. Now, shut up and let me do what I can before it’s too late.” I turn to Hudson. “Tell me what to do. Please.”
“Cup the stone between your hands,” he tells me, “and let me do the rest.”
I don’t know what he means, but now isn’t the time to argue, so I do as he says. Seconds later, I feel a strange heat running down my arms and through my fingers.
A few seconds after that, Hudson says, “Okay, that’s enough.”
I lift my hand to find a fine stone powder cupped in my other palm. I want to ask how he did it—because I know, deep inside, that this was Hudson and not me—but there’s no time. “What now?” I beg.
“Pour it across his throat, covering the wound. Then hold your hand over it until you feel it set.”
If someone had told me an hour ago that I would be pouring stone into an open wound as a means of healing someone, I would have told them they were out of their ever-loving minds. But every hour in this world brings something new and exciting and terrible, and apparently right now is no different.
So I do what Hudson tells me and pray the whole time that I’m not making things for Mekhi a million times worse.
“Hold his throat,” Hudson tells me as soon as the last of the ground stone falls into his cut. “Don’t let go until I tell you.”
I nod. “Okay.”
All around me, there are horrible noises. Battle noises. People screaming, the squish of flesh as bodies batter against each other, the roar of dragons and howls of enraged wolves. I want to look, want to make sure that Jaxon and Macy and Flint and Eden and Xavier—that all my people—are okay.
But Mekhi’s eyes are wide and afraid in a way I’ve never seen from him before, and there’s no way I’m looking away, even for an instant. No way I’m leaving him alone in this for one single, solitary moment.
And so I lean down and whisper all kinds of things to him. Things that make no sense to me, let alone him, but that bind us together with their extreme lack of importance and their utter humanity at the same time.
Things like how much I like his locks, and how I think he and Eden would make a good couple, and how much I appreciated his friendship my first couple of weeks at Katmere. And also what my favorite vampire movie is—The Lost Boys, obviously—and why being a gargoyle is the strangest feeling in the world.
Finally, after what feels like hours but is probably only three or four minutes, I feel the heat under my hand start to dissipate. Mekhi’s eyes go wide, and suddenly he takes a long, deep breath for the first time since I landed beside him.
“You did it,” Hudson tells me, and there’s pride in his voice as well as something that sounds an awful lot like awe.
“I did it?” I repeat, a part of me unable to believe that this bizarre act might actually have worked.
“Take your hand away,” he says, and I do, astonished to see that where a gaping wound was only a few minutes ago, there is now only smooth, sleek stone.
“According to the books I’ve read on gargoyles, the stone patch-up won’t last forever,” Hudson continues as I reach down and pull Mekhi into a sitting position. “But it should last more than long enough for him to get himself to the infirmary to be looked at.”
I grin as I tell Mekhi what Hudson said, finally allowing myself to hug him now that I know my handiwork won’t fall apart in the next two minutes and take Mekhi with it.
But Mekhi shakes his head as soon as I mention getting him to the infirmary. “No way!” he grinds out in a voice that’s both lower and rustier than his usual tone. “I need to go with you. The plan—”
“Screw the plan,” I tell him as Jaxon finally shows up beside us. He’s a little bloody and a lot bruised, but he’s alive and in one piece and that’s good enough for me. “You’re going to the infirmary.”
“Damn straight he is,” Jaxon agrees. And so do the others as they gather around us, too.
And that’s when I look up and realize that despite insurmountable odds, we’ve won this round. The entire contingent of Circle guards is lying on the ground in various states of unconsciousness or injury, and every single one of my friends is still standing. Except Mekhi, obviously, but he’s alive and that’s more than good enough for me.
“We need to go,” Eden urges. “They won’t be down for long, and they’ve probably already called for help. If we have any chance of actually getting out of here, now is the time to go—before reinforcements show up.”
Her nose starts bleeding as she talks, and she wipes the blood away with the back of her hand.
“But we have to get Mekhi to the infirmary,” I protest. “We can’t leave him out here alone.”
“There’s no time,” he tells me. “I can hear them coming.”
“We all can,” Xavier agrees. “We’ve got to go, Grace.”
I turn to Jaxon. Surely he gets that we can’t just leave his best friend here in the middle of this mess. But he, too, is shaking his head. “We’re out of time, Grace. It’s now or never.”
I want to say never, but I know I can’t. Not now that we’re so close.