Authors: Marteeka Karland
Elsa couldn’t imagine what exactly it took to make an obviously strong Alpha male bellow in such obvious pain, but Leif’s anguish was all too evident. And she knew in the depths of her very soul it
Leif. The nondescript facility on the outskirts of the wastelands below the city was the focus of the small group of “liberators” Elsa had joined. In a desperate bid to find and rescue Leif from the hell she’d sentenced him to, she’d risked certain death if she were caught. As of now, her children were safe. If Elsa gave her life to save Leif, then God knew it was no less than she deserved.
Despite the doors, windows and stone walls, Leif’s bellows echoed in the stillness of the night, an accusation of her betrayal. And she knew it was him. Knew it in her bones, her very soul. The building looked like a three-story warehouse on the outside, but inside apparently hid a house of horrors the likes of which she had never even conceived. This particular facility seemed to house mostly adults, but their contact had indicated there were three, possibly four children as well.
They’d been told each floor held a progressively higher level of security with the children being on the first floor. They’d located three rooms holding young shifters but had been at a loss as to what to do or where to find the fourth. So far, their contact, Beth, had been true to her word. Each security measure had been circumvented with little difficulty.
“If we take them back to camp now we’ll never get back in,” another man employed at the facility but sympathetic to their cause remarked.
“And if we release them we’d have to take them with us into a fight.” John was the group’s leader. He’d originally balked at the idea of actually breaking into this facility, reasoning they didn’t have enough manpower and had no idea exactly what they’d be walking into. But then Beth had shown up and pleaded with John to liberate the place, calling it nothing more than a sadistic man’s torture chamber. It had been obvious the two were well acquainted, especially when John gave a resigned sigh and began planning.
“Well, we can’t leave them,” Elsa hissed.
John gave a frustrated sigh. “All right, you stay here, Elsa. Get all the children together and wait for us near the stairwell. If you think you’re in danger of getting caught, take them outside as quietly as you can and hide. Meet us back at the caverns. Otherwise, we’ll find you at the stairs.”
“Stay. Here.” John wouldn’t be moved, his face hard and unyielding. “You’re an unknown. Beth and I have done this several times, though usually with more planning and not in a place so heavily guarded. We’ll be more comfortable doing this without you in the way.” It was clear censure. Elsa had pushed them all into this. How would she feel if she got one or more of them killed?
“Be careful,” Beth warned. “Carson is a sick bastard, and there are many more in here just like him. If you think someone is heading in your direction, get out quietly but quickly.” With that, the couple took off down the corridor and disappeared around the corner.
Following Beth’s instructions, Elsa opened the cells, collecting each child as she went. None welcomed her presence, two of them cowering from her in a corner. One little girl crouched, baring tiny white teeth as if she might attack. Fortunately, Elsa managed to convince them to come with her by claiming to be a friend of the wolf king. None of them made a sound, the last one throwing her shoulders back proudly though her chin quivered. All of them sniffed the air around her as if to confirm Leif’s scent was indeed on her.
Gathering the three children, she moved them to the stair, as John had instructed. All the while, the echoes of Leif’s bellows of rage and pain filtered through the facility. Two of the younger children covered their ears, tears silently tracking down their little faces.
“King Leif would never show weakness in front of the humans like this,” an older boy whispered to the fierce little girl.
She looked up at him, her eyes flickering that same eerie blue Leif’s had when he’d battled the chancellor’s men. “Sometimes, you just can’t stop it.”
Surprisingly, instead of protesting, the boy’s face leached of color, as if he could very well imagine what Leif was going through. Elsa pulled all three children into her arms, thinking no child should be able to comprehend that kind of pain. Pain that could make their seemingly invincible leader show any kind of weakness. She supposed that, in a world that revered strength, what Leif was expressing would be considered weakness. Except these children
what he was enduring, Elsa could see it in their eyes. They knew why he couldn’t contain his roars of pain. And it terrified them.
At some point during this round of torture, Leif started vocalizing his pain. They had effectively rendered him mindless, but this pain was more from holding back his beast than anything the scientists did to him. He remembered turning his head, sensing the presence of another of his kind nearby. As his sight finally cleared enough to register the small male being led through the room, he realized the child looked at him with abject terror on his face. The boy’s presence, the knowledge Leif had people depending on him helped Leif to settle the beast inside him, to convince it to stand down until a better time. He would not unleash his battle wolf until there was at least a chance at escape. If he did, if the wolf couldn’t free him from this place, Leif would be lost to the violent madness the battle wolf demanded when in danger. And he vowed he wouldn’t leave a single human in this place alive when he finally escaped.
They had, indeed, cut out his liver. Were even now sewing him back together. If only he could give in to the pressing need to simply pass out! But if he did, it was more likely his battle wolf would take him over. If that happened, these sick fucks would have exactly what they wanted. Though, honestly, what they thought they were going to do with an adult battle wolf in his prime was beyond Leif. If he managed to get free, they’d all die within minutes. Seconds, even. How could they be foolish enough to take that kind of chance?
Through the crazed haze of pain, Leif managed to catch a scent, though he couldn’t hang on to it. The aroma was like a balm to his battered mind and body but he wasn’t able to focus enough to identify it. Dimly he was aware of men moving him from one gurney to another, the steel slab he was strapped to being lifted and placed on the new gurney so his bonds were never removed.
He looked around the room, trying to focus though his eyes seemed to be covered in a sticky film. Maybe they were swollen shut? He seemed to remember being struck in the face repeatedly. He scented blood, but doubtless he’d spilled so much of his today he’d never get the stench out of his nose.
Then he heard voices. Unable to completely make out what they were saying for the roaring in his ears from the pain and his own bellows, he was still able to determine there was a new set of people in the room with him, one of them female. He also still scented the young pup’s fear but was unable to determine if he was in the room or if they’d taken him away altogether. It had been for the child’s benefit alone that Leif had regained control of himself enough to keep his beast locked away.
Then that tantalizing scent found him again…
Rage, terrible and unholy, filled him. The little bitch had dared to come near him again? Did she think to deal the deathblow herself? Around him, he registered an increase in noise, but the need to get free, to find Elsa and punish her as she’d punished him overrode everything. He would get to her. He would mete out his retribution. If she were lucky, he might let her die. Eventually.
With a deafening roar, he snapped one cuff at his wrist. Strangely, the humans didn’t touch him or hinder his progress. Instead, he found his ankles suddenly freed as he tore at the second cuff.
Bolting from the gurney, Leif lashed out, the one called Carson his first victim. A warm spray of blood splashed across his face, leaving a coppery twang as well as the bitter scent of urine as someone’s bladder let go. Another fell to his battle wolf’s claws. And another. Blood flowed like a river all around him. Fear permeated the air, not all of it human. The wolf cub must still be close.
Finally, he stopped, the wolf inside him satisfied with the carnage at last. As he slowly transformed, the devastation he’d created made him smile. A wholly evil smile, he was sure, but it was there nonetheless. Blood splattered everyone and everything. Two humans fought one of the scientists and a guard. Leif couldn’t decide whether to help them or ignore the fight in favor of gathering the child and leaving. He spotted the youngster—about five or six—huddled in the corner behind the two humans. One of them he recognized as the woman, Beth. The other one he didn’t know, but he fought well enough. Within moments, they had both guards subdued, bleeding on the floor from head wounds.
“Ohmigod! Ohmigod!” Beth openly wept, her hands over her ears as if to block out the sounds of the previous battle.
“Hush!” The man’s voice held a whip of command, but wasn’t unkind. He turned to Leif, not flinching under what had to be a murderous look. “Are there any more adults in this facility besides you?” Leif thought it odd they way he phrased that. He didn’t ask if there were any more shifters, or “any more like you.” He’d actually stated it as if it didn’t matter that they were different species.
“Yes,” he grated, his voice rough after his battle wolf’s roar. “At least three others. And at least four more children.”
“We found three down stairs,” the man said. “Is there another one up here?”
“We can’t delay on a ‘not sure,’” he stated matter-of-factly. “If you don’t know, we’ll get those we can out and come back later—”
Leif lunged for the man, his hand going around the man’s throat. “We will not leave even one child behind.” Leif met his gaze, letting his eyes flicker. Amazingly, the man didn’t flinch. “Further, unless the children are threatened, we will not leave a single soul in this place. Any who are captive will be freed. Any who aided in our torture—” his gaze slid menacingly to Beth, “—will die.”
The woman took a step back, gasping as her hand flew to her throat as if Leif had his fingers wrapped around her own neck.
“I was scouting this place,” she said quickly. “I’ve always been working with John to free all the slaves.”
“She’s not your enemy, highness.” The calm way the man spoke puzzled Leif. “My name is John. I’m here with Beth to get you out of here. Elsa waits with the children downstairs to get you all to safety.”
Most men ran in fear of him after such a battle. It was the reason he always presented an easygoing demeanor; to put people at ease. Until they needed
to be. Leif noticed John didn’t differentiate between his being the wolf king and a king in general. If he didn’t know better, Leif could almost believe this human saw him as more than an animal. Unlike Chancellor James and the rest of them. Like Elsa.
“Don’t speak her name,” Leif bit out. “I will deal with that little quim in good time.”
“Elsa is not your enemy, either. If not for her, we wouldn’t be here.”
Leif’s only response was a roar of anguish. Had he truly recognized how much her betrayal hurt until this moment? The pain in his chest was crushing, and had nothing to do with his recent vivisection. His sense of outrage and loss so sharp it cut like a fucking knife.
“We need to leave.” John’s distant voice barely penetrated his head. “If we’re caught, we’ll all be killed.”
With deep, calming breaths that did little to actually soothe him, Leif finally managed to regain control of himself. “Regardless, I will not leave this place anything other than haunted by rotting corpses.” His voice was a snarl, out of control. His battle wolf clawed to be set free once more, to finish what it had started, but Leif was too weak. If the beast took over, he wouldn’t stop until everyone in the place was dead. Though Leif knew the difference between those who wanted to harm and those who wanted only to help, the beast wouldn’t care. There had been enough pain and misery here to strip that difference—or the need to care about any difference—from both man and beast. Couple that with the now gaping wound of Elsa’s betrayal, and he was a danger to everyone.
“You’re weak,” John said. “Bleeding. The adrenaline from the fight will wane soon and you’ll be lucky if you can crawl out of here.”