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Vanago

by P L Nunn

 

1

 

Her name was Zlata Barinov and she'd been born on the streets of Kiev under the rule of the last Tsar of Russia. She had grown up and plied her trade amidst the bloody series of revolutions that burned across all the Russias. A cutpurse and a whore with a face like the stone angels in the cathedral of St. Volodymyr, who had found herself on the wrong side of the Bolsheviks when the revolutionaries toppled the Emperor's loyalists.

All this she remembered, after more years than she could comprehend, trapped in the shape of a beast, with a beast's mentality and a beast's inability to grasp the concept of time. And time had passed. A great deal of time. The world had changed, and she had changed with it. A hundred years a beast and the urges of the beast still lingered. The instincts still pulled at her, even as her human brain struggled to integrate with her new reality. She had been a predator before a Gypsy hag had cursed her with the last blood speckled breath from her wrinkled lips and turned her into a predator in form as well as mind. That hadn't changed. She was still that predator. The thrill of the kill still made her blood thrum, whether it be slitting the throat of a man who'd paid to lie between her thighs, or hunting down prey and ripping soft, vulnerable flesh with teeth and claws.

It was all the same. Men were still the same as they had always been. Loosing their sense of caution and reason at the sight of a pretty face. Much less the sight of a naked body stumbling out of the woods along the side of the road.

The truck screeched to a halt, the man behind the wheel gaping. He climbed out, approaching her carefully.

"You all right?" He couldn't take his eyes off her, even as he asked the question. He had a soft, pear-shaped body and thinning hair. "You hurt? Can I help you?"

Her grasp of English was precarious. There had been an English diplomat that enjoyed certain perversions that had kept her for half a year in comfort, in rooms on the nicer side of Kiev. She had picked up a rudimentary understanding of the language. But then, he hadn't wanted her for her skills of conversation. She'd left scars on his body and he'd enjoyed the getting of them.

"Yes," she said, staring up at him with large, helpless eyes. He fumbled for his coat, helping her into it.

"What happened? Somebody hurt you? You want I should call the sheriff?"

She shook her head and pointed up the road.

"You need a lift? I can give you a lift. Where you headed? Not far with no clothes, huh? What happened to your clothes?"

"I have - - what you call - - bad luck?" Her voice was rusty from disuse. But he seemed to understand her well enough. He opened the door on the passenger side for her, and she slid in, vinyl seat cold against her bare bottom. He got in, moistening his lips, eyes flicking over her legs.

"Where to?"

"East," she said. There was the faintest trace of a scent to the east.

He started driving, still casting glances her way.

"Name's Carl."

When she didn't answer, he filled her silence. "Not from around here, huh?"

"No," she answered, watching the things he did with hands and feet to control the vehicle. It seemed simple enough.

"Pretty girl like you, out in the woods with no clothes - - you foolin' around and get caught and run off?"

She canted her head, scenting the heat of arousal emanating off him like so much stink.

"Da - -yes," she agreed, smiling, reaching over and sliding her hand up his soft, thick thigh. He smelled of pork fat and sweat, soft and flabby and past his prime, if ever he'd had one. But the flesh between his legs responded, as any man's with a taste for women would, when she grasped it through his trousers.

"Pull over and I show you, huh?"

He couldn't get the truck off the side of the road quickly enough.

He was reaching for her, trying to grope her naked thigh when she snapped his neck. Her lip curled in disgust as she reached across him and opened his door. She shoved the body out, scooting across the seat to follow. She took his clothing. His oversized flannel shirt and his denim trousers that she had to force a new hole in his belt to keep from falling off her. The body she dragged into the brush off the side of the road.

She stood for a moment, eyes closed, breathing in the moist air of dawn, searching for that hint of a scent that would put her on the trail of her prey.

East. Still to the east, the faint whiff of the Man's bitch of a sister. Zlata Barinov smiled, the faintest flash of the amber eyes of the vanago flashing across her gaze. Then she got in the truck, parroting the actions of the man who had owned it, and embraced a new way to follow fleeing prey.


 

Scott went to school.

Derek was right. Sitting at home, with nothing to do but think, was a very bad thing. Especially with that twisted collar on his desk, lying there like a bomb with a broken timer. Loathsome and deadly even inert. He'd sat on the end of his bed and stared at it, until he realized his hands were shaking and his claws were out without him even realizing he'd triggered them. That wasn't a good thing. Loss of control for him, for any werewolf, was a dangerous problem to have.

So Scott changed out of the scrubs he'd worn home from the hospital and headed to school. He woke up his mom and let her know, since the last thing she needed was him missing without explanation twice in just over twenty-four hours.

"Honey, are you sure? You don't have to. You really, really don't have to." She was concerned. She'd seen the blood. She'd seen the look in his eyes that he hadn't been able to hide from her. She just didn't know the extent of the things that had caused it. He'd never, ever burden her with the details of that.

"I want to. I need to."

She'd looked at him, long and hard, before nodding and reaching for her phone. "I'll call in and give you an excuse for being late. You lost your phone again, right?"

He stopped in the midst of turning, realizing she was right. It was the second one since Christmas break. He'd barely gotten it broken in and phones weren't cheap.

"Crap," he muttered. Then, "Yeah."

She sighed. "Okay. Take my charge card and pick one up after school."

"Mom, you don't have to - -"

"No, honey, I do. I need to be able to get in touch with you if I have to."

"I'll pay you back next paycheck."

"Yes, you will."

At least his phone was the only thing he'd lost during his stint as Dupont's guest. His bike was safe and sound in the garage. He didn't know who'd brought it back, but he had somebody to thank for it.

He got to school three periods in. He stopped by the office and got a slip from the secretary who gave him a wary look and dutifully remarked that she hoped he was feeling better, which led him to wonder what ailment his mom had convinced them he'd been suffering from.

When he walked into Chem. lab, most of the class barely noted his late entrance. He got pretty critical stares from people in the know.

He was short one lab partner in Stiles, and today's experiment was half way finished, so he scooted a stool over to next to Isaac at Allison and Isaac's lab table. They were doing something with PH values today.

Allison leaned to look around Isaac and whispered. "Why are you here?"

"It's a school day." He shrugged, glancing at Isaac's notes. Isaac's handwriting was surprisingly neat and measured.

"Yes, and you've got a perfectly legitimate reason not to be here." She sounded frustrated and he looked up, seeing the furrow between her brows and the faint smudges under her eyes, as if she hadn't slept well last night.

Telling her he was okay seemed to set her off, so he turned a vial in his fingers and admitted softly. "Sitting at home wasn't helping."

She digested that, staring at him hard, until she finally swallowed and retreated back around Isaac.

"How is Stiles?" That came from Lydia, who came up from behind with notes in her hand as if she needed to compare her results with theirs.

"He was okay this morning. His head's killing him. They'll discharge him today, my mom says. But he'll be out of school for a few days, probably. He's not supposed to - - you know - - think much."

Lydia rolled her eyes at the suggestion of that impossibility. "Oh, so they're going to drug him?"

Scott's mouth twitched at that dry and oh so true assessment of the situation. "His dad threatened to."

Lydia looked at him, before she headed back to her table, but didn't ask if he were okay, which he was grateful for. Isaac kept flashing him silent looks from under his lashes, but he didn't say anything.

"You guys find my bike and take it home?" he asked, while the teacher was writing something about acid vs. alkaline on the chalkboard.

"Yeah," Isaac admitted.

"Thanks."

Allison was quiet for a while, pencil eraser idly tapping on her notebook. Finally she leaned forward to look around Isaac again and whisper. "My dad lost the trail of the vanago."

Scott took a breath, the image of that twisted collar on his desk flashing through his mind. The memory of the thing's teeth at his throat. Weird that when these flashes rushed up on him, he could practically feel the imprint of canines against his jugular, or the sting of acid burning through his veins. He clenched his fists, letting the real pain of his claws biting into his palms drive it away.

"Yeah. Derek stopped by this morning and told me."

"They found another of Dupont's men in the woods when they were still on its trail."

"That's - - just great." Derek hadn't mentioned that.

Isaac frowned, looking down at Scott's hands, scenting the drawn blood, maybe. God knew Scott could smell it. It was warm and thick on his palms.

"Miss Argent. Mr. Lahey, I take it from all the chatting, that you've caught Mr. McCall up on what he's missed?" This Chem. teacher was considerably more tolerant than the last one, but she had her limits.

"Yes. All caught up." Scott assured her, flattening his hands on his thighs, letting black denim soak up the red.

She looked dubious, but she let it slide, settling for giving him make-up homework on the way out. Which was the way the day went. Concentrating on schoolwork instead of dwelling on less savory things was a decent enough distraction.

It wasn't until he trudged into the locker room that a teacher seemed to even realize he'd missed a day. Coach was on a tear. Apparently tryouts yesterday hadn't offered up the promising new stock of players that he'd been hoping for. Scott could have reneged on the promise of a kidney and Coach wouldn't have been as offended as him missing mandatory pre-season trials.

He got pounced on pretty much four steps into the lockers, diverting Coach from yelling at some other hapless kid. "Do you think I bother with you bunch of delinquents for my health? Don't you think I'd rather be home, watching Wheel of Fortune instead of trying to weed through the suckiest group of freshman players I've ever had the misfortune to watch try and make a goal?"

"Uhhh - - " he wasn't entirely sure Coach was fishing for an answer, but you never knew.

"Did you think I was kidding when I said there were no shoe in's for front line? Do you not understand the word 'mandatory' McCall?" He stomped right into Scott's personal space, as if he thought his voice might not carry two or three feet of respectable distance. It wasn't like he hadn't done it before, Coach lacking certain volume filters when it came to getting his passionate points across. Generally, Scott went with the flow, but today - - today was not a good day. Today Coach's angry presence right up in his face, the scent of Coach's ire, the stab of Coach's finger towards his chest and his mind went blank.

A body inserted itself between him and Coach, making Coach back up a step.

"Oh, sorry. Didn't see you there, Coach." Isaac shrugged carelessly, hands in his pockets, shoulder still between Scott and Coach, drawing Coach's attention away from Scott's hands and the extended claws.

"And don't think I didn't notice you weren't there either, Lahey," Coach complained, oblivious to the fact that Isaac had maybe just saved him grievous bodily injury.

Scott took a desperate breath, retracting the claws. Profoundly horrified at what he'd almost done. He wanted to back out of the locker room with its shifting mass of humanity and find someplace devoid of life to find his balance.

"Don't think," Coach was going on. "That just because the two of you are the best chance of actually getting past first round this year, you won't be sitting the bench if you don't take team responsibility seriously."

"That's cool," Isaac said. "We were thinking of joining chess club, anyway. They're recruiting."

Coach gaped, bug eyed and incredulous. "Chess club?" he sputtered, looking between the two of them. "Do you even know how to play chess, McCall?"

Actually Scott didn't, but he was having trouble formulating an answer, too many things swirling around in his head. Isaac threw an arm across his shoulders and started steering him past Coach, answering smoothly in his stead. "Sure, he does. And they have these jackets with little monograms - -"

Coach held up a hand, sensing a fake out when he smelled one, but not willing to take the chance.

"Yeah, well - - they're also a bunch of geeks that never get laid. Just - - just try not to miss practice. I don't want this bunch of new losers picking up bad habits."

He did okay throughout practice, but his concentration was off, more focused on what he wasn't doing, than what he was. But then Coach was more interested in hammering the new recruits into shape than he was working old players this early into pre-season. Still, it was repetitive, familiar exertion and it got his blood pumping in a good way.

"Thanks for that - - in the locker room," Scott caught up to Isaac after practice.

Isaac shrugged. "It happens."

"It shouldn't. I don't know what happened. I could have - -" He tailed off, blowing out a breath.

"You could have. But you didn't," Isaac finished for him.

After showering and changing back into clothes that still had that faint blood smell from earlier - - he'd like to go a day without smelling blood on his jeans - - Scott headed towards student parking.

"I'm not headed right home, but if you need a lift - -?" He asked of Isaac. The buses had left and Allison, who'd been giving Isaac's lifts lately, was already gone.

"Where are you headed?"

"To buy another phone. I wish you'd found that, when you found the bike."

"Who says its not still out there?"

Scott stopped and stared at him, not having considered that possibility. Not having put a lot of thought into piecing together what had happened to him at all. Actively avoiding it, truth be told. But if he could save himself having to buy a new phone, if the old was lying out in a field somewhere in perfectly good working order - - it was worth the effort to at least take a look.

"That's actually a really good idea, but - - I'm not entirely sure where I stopped - -" That morning was a blur. It had been along that one forested length of Rt. 17, but it was a long stretch.

"I know where," Isaac said and jerked his head towards the bike. "C'mon."

There was just field and forest where Isaac told him to pull over. A half-mile of it that all looked the same and he hadn't been paying attention yesterday, more intent on making up time lost to oversleeping and not getting to school late. Yesterday. Now that was a bizarre, mind-bending concept. It seemed like days and days had passed since he'd stopped for a girl with a flat. It had seemed like days instead of - - what fourteen hours - - that Dupont had had him.

There was nothing on the side of the road to indicate anything unusual had happened so recently. No tire tracks, no scent, no anything but gravel and mud. Isaac was already tromping off through the tall grass, looking this way and that. Scott followed him, boots sinking into mud. Even if it was out here, it might be ruined beyond saving.

"Try calling my number," he suggested.

Isaac dug out his own phone and did just that.

There was a weak little chirp that no normal human ears could have heard. It came from the woods beyond the field.

"They dumped your bike in the woods. Probably tossed your phone when they did it."

Dumped his bike and tossed his phone. A haunting sort of statement that made him swallow and reach up to idly rub at a twinge in his neck. But it made sense. They'd have known he had connections with people that could have traced a cell. Dupont hadn't been stupid. Well, other than his tendency to collect things that had the capacity to turn around and rip his guts out.

"How'd they get you?" Isaac asked, moving into the woods, where pine tags and leaves made for less mud.

"There was a girl with car trouble."

Isaac gave him a look over his shoulder and Scott sighed.

"I know. Cliché. I was stupid."

"You were you. You'd probably do it again."

Scott wasn't sure if that was a cut or a compliment. With Isaac it was sometimes hard to tell. Isaac tried Scott's number again, but there was no response this time and dead electronics didn't give off scents, so they both kicked aside pine tags and leaves. Scott wasn't holding out a lot of hope, his sense of optimism sort of muted and numb today.

Then Isaac saw something in the leaves and bent to pluck up a dirt-spattered phone. He straightened up with a smirk of satisfaction and tossed it at Scott. He caught it, looking mournfully at the dead screen. He pressed the on button, but it didn't show signs of resurrection.

"It's probably ruined."

"Maybe if you dry it out and recharge it, it'll be okay."

Scott wiped a thumb across a mud smeared, dark face, not so sure that was possible, but it was worth a try if it saved him close to a week's salary. He shoved it in his pocket, ready to quit this place.

"Soo - - you want me to drop you off at Allison's?" He felt the need to make the overture. Isaac had been there for him today. Isaac had been there for him last night. So had Allison. They all had.

Isaac shrugged. "Naw. I'll head home with you."

He didn't know what to say to that, so he just nodded and headed back towards the bike.


Stiles' dad had left strict directions in the form of a discharge instruction sheet and a firm verbal reiteration of the contents. If it hadn't been for seven homicides that the Beacon Hill's sheriff's department was still trying to sort out, Stiles would have had the pleasure of his dad hovering like a concerned nanny and then Stiles' head might have actually exploded.

He loved his dad, he really did, but there was only so much overprotective parental concern he could deal with and not start climbing the walls. So - - thank God for brutal murder sprees. It sucked for his dad though, knowing a lot more than he could tell, trying to juggle conducting a proper investigation against the knowledge that the thing that had done the killings was a supernatural monster. Aside from the fact that he'd probably get booted from the department on grounds of mental instability if he started theorizing about monsters on the loose, he had the whole new prickly dilemma of trying to keep his son and his son's friends out of it.

So Stiles got deposited at home and left in peace to suffer from a still aching head, a back that felt like at the very least he had a few cracked ribs, even though they'd assured him there was only bruising, and a severe case of boredom. No video games, no computer, no excess metal or physical stimulation, which didn't leave him a lot to do on a weekday afternoon. TV was not on the bad list, so he channel surfed relentlessly for a while, but talk shows and Law and Order reruns seemed about the extent of what cable had to offer and nothing appealed. He called Scott, but his phone went to the same voice mail message Stiles had heard way too many times yesterday morning when he was desperately trying to track him down. He was definitely going to badger Scott into changing that message, because if he had to hear it one more time he was going to start breaking things. He stared at the PS3 longingly, thinking that a turn based RPG might actually numb his brain. A little old school Final Fantasy wouldn't take much in the way of concentration or honed reflexes. It couldn't hurt, right? It actually seemed like the effort not to find something interesting - - and electronic - - to do, was causing him more stress than staying away from it.

The only reason he didn't cave and turn it on, was because of the niggling little worry that there was an off chance, that maybe the occasional medical professional actually knew what they were talking about and the notion of brain swelling or bleeding out of his ears made him distinctly nervous. It wasn't like he had the ability to miraculously heal from bodily damage and his brain was sort of the number one thing he had going for him when he was all too likely to run into things - - friend or foe - - that could rip doors off cars as easily as he could lift a can of soda. He was trying really hard not to think about what might have happened last night, but trying to actively 'not' think a thing, once that thing had inserted itself into his thoughts was close to impossible. He kept replaying those last memories he had of the craziness in the barn before it had all gone blank. That moment when the vanago's attention had shifted from the bloody mess it had made of Julian Dupont, to him. The slow lift of its head, entrails dripping from its jaws - - that charge that he hadn't even been able to follow before the world went blank. Allison's arrows hadn't been making a dent and Scott had been down, taken there by the collar Dupont had fitted him with - - and he'd thought he was on the fast track to a brutal, evisceraty death. It had been a really pleasant surprise to wake up.

It would be an even better one to know some pertinent details about what had actually happened, which Scott hadn't been feeling sharey about this morning. Lack of details drove Stiles crazy. And frustrated and crazy was not making his head feel any better.

Tylenol. He needed a few more Tylenol. So he went to the kitchen and popped a few with a gulp of orange juice. He got a bowl of sugarcoated cereal while he was at it, and was heading into the living room to consume it when the doorbell rang.

He was really hoping it was Scott, come to check up on him, because this morning's conversation hadn't been nearly comprehensive enough. But when he opened the door, his visitor turned out to be a lot prettier than Scott and a lot more surprising to find on his doorstep.

"Lydia."

She stood there in a little green dress, her hair up in a twist at the top of her head, sort of frowning at him.

"Is your father not home? Should you be alone, right after being released from the hospital for a head injury?" Was her opening shot.

"Well, hello to you to, Lydia."

Her frown turned into a little twitch of the mouth and a shrug. "I just wanted to see how you were doing," she admitted.

He gingerly touched the back of his head. The lump had gone down, but there were a few stitches closing up the gash he'd gotten when head had met tractor. "I'm okay - - you know, except for getting tossed around by a monster the size of a Volkswagen, and this bruise that literally covers like half my back - - and oh, you know, being shot and all. That still hurts. The concussion's just sort of a minor irritation."

There were wounds you didn't admit to a girl you were trying to impress - -like say, for instance, getting your ass kicked by an old man, and then there were wounds - -war wounds - - gotten from willingly wading into battle against a thing that could take out a perfectly good werewolf without breaking a sweat. Those were the sorts of things you grudgingly admitted in a totally manly way hoping for a little feminine sympathy.

She lifted a brow, not as impressed by his list of woes as she should have been, or either hiding it really well. Then she frowned and relented, with a nervous twist of her hand on the strap of her purse. "I feel a little responsible. I was the one who led you out there, after all."

He stared for a second, trying to piece together that little declaration of guilt over something that they all owed her Scott's life for.

"Yeah, you were responsible for finding Scott. He'd be probably be dead now, if not for you. I'll take a little head bump as a trade off for that any day of the week."

Her lips curved in a little smile. "I was surprised to see him at school today."

"What? He was at School? He didn't tell me he was going to school."

Lydia's brow twitched. "He seemed okay."

Stiles didn't buy it. He didn't think Scott was okay. Whatever had happened in those hours that Dupont had had him, had hit him really hard. Stiles had seen it in his eyes this morning. Had seen it in his face last night. And if Scott should have been anywhere, it should have been over here, helping him stave off boredom when the two of them had perfectly legitimate reasons to be missing school.

"Yeah, maybe. Did somebody tell you what happened?" He eased down on the coach with a grimace, his back, as sprained muscles and bone deep bruising tended to do, really starting to hurt the day after the actual injury had occurred.

"Allison told me. The two of you were just morons, rushing into what you rushed into."

"If I'd have had time to really think about it - - I'd have wussed out. But it all happened so fast."

She pursed her lips, then shook her head. "No. I don't think you give yourself enough credit. You rushed headlong into something terrible for a friend. You wouldn't have abandoned him."

He opened his mouth, feeling inexplicably embarrassed. "Yeah, but I was terrified."

"Then you're a rational, intelligent human being. Only a fool wouldn't have been."

She was making his heart pound with all the compliments. He actually felt a little lightheaded and he really, really hoped the increased blood flow hadn't triggered some concussion related relapse.

"You're saying I'm rational and intelligent?"

She rolled her eyes. "You have your moments. In between the weirdness and the obsessive compulsive behavior."

"That might be the nicest thing you've ever said to me."

"Humph. Don't get used to it." But the half smile she slid his way took the edge off. Aches and pains aside, today hadn't turned out so bad after all.

 

 

 

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