The dogs of war: Purity teaser

He could feel anger radiating from Vanessa like steam. He understood why, of course. He had ample opportunity to shoot Heinrich in a fatal zone—the heart, the head—and end this foolish war without further bloodshed.

But Vanessa didn’t understand. Vanessa had never been truly lost and alone in her darkest time of need, had never found that one person with whom to seek solace. In truth, Vanessa had no friends. Only allies.

No matter what happened, Heinrich had been a friend.

Fane gritted his teeth and tightened his grip on the pistol at his side. Joachim was right. He wasn’t strong enough to kill the man who had been his pillar of strength after the deaths of his father and Verity.

Heinrich snarled another curse in German. He released his injured arm and, before Fane could even move to react, grabbed a fistful of Joan Gwyther’s hair, yanking her upright. She shrieked, thrashing, but Heinrich held tight. “See what you have done, Fane!” he roared, loud enough to startle birds from their roosts. “This is the end! Everything you have fought so hard to protect will die today!”

Fane snapped the safety on his pistol and tucked it into his coat. All around him, strigoi morţi and friendly vârcolaci were streaming from trees, surrounding Heinrich’s rebels and taking them in packs, two or three to one. In moments, the air was thick with the sounds of howls and barks, of men and beasts trying their damnedest to commit murder.

“I will give you one final chance, Heinrich!” Fane called, just loud enough to be heard over the screams and growls. Two small, pale wolves shot past him, headed straight for the ash brown creature he knew was Jezebel Baudelaire. God protect Chandler and Leonardo Arsenault. “Back down now, and I will allow you and your companions to live!”

Dark shadows shifted in Heinrich’s eyes, and he threw Joan to the ground. Something white seemed to materialize next to her, and Beibhinn’s piercing shrieks shattered the noises of war. Heinrich ignored her and paced closer. Fane felt Joachim stiffen at his side.

God protect Joachim Grey, and his sons and daughters. They were not built for war.

“This will end today!” Heinrich roared in German. He flung the wolf pelt from his shoulders and doubled over. Fane watched, silent and seething, as the bones of his body shifted and broke into place.

“May God save us all,” Joachim whispered.

“We’re going to need a lot more than God,” Vanessa said, and pulled her gun from its holster on her thigh. “He’s yours, Fane.” With a curt nod, she vanished into the fray of bodies.

The big brown wolf pulled its lips from its teeth to display fangs dripping with saliva. Heinrich didn’t waste a second; ears back, he charged across the clearing and leaped. Fane bent and held out his arms, but there is no way to brace oneself for the full weight of a charging wolf. Heinrich slammed into him, crushing his arms to his body, and slammed him into a tree. It trembled against their weight, raining wet leaves down around them. Fane bucked, thrashing to free his arms, but Heinrich kept him pinned. Teeth snapped and gnashed; something hot cut through Fane’s arm, but he ignored it and wriggled his arms beneath Heinrich’s ribs. If he could just…

Pain shot through his skull and his vision blurred. With a groan, he stumbled and fell as Heinrich’s weight pushed away. Hot streaks of lightning pain ripped through him, dancing from his head and pulsing through his body; groaning, he pushed himself off the ground and squinted over his shoulder. Manfred Gottschalk stood behind him as a man, holding a large branch in his hands. Heinrich was nowhere to be seen.

“Coward,” Fane growled, and reached into his coat as Gottschalk tossed the branch and began his shift. He didn’t waste a moment this time; he pulled the Magnum from his pocket, flipped the safety, cocked the hammer, and pulled the trigger as soon as it was pointed at the bloodthirsty dog pouncing at him. The bang echoed off the trees; Gottschalk whimpered and crashed to the ground, leaves and dirt sticking in his fur. His legs twitched as he tried to stand, to push past the pain, but Fane didn’t give him a chance. He crawled back onto his feet and wiped blood and hair off his face, and walked over to the pile of heaving fur on the ground before him. The dog’s brown eyes stared up at him, desperate and pleading.

Fane pulled the trigger.

He stood there for a moment, letting the fuzziness in his head pass. A booted foot poked at the body slumped before him, and a Swedish voice remarked, “He chose the wrong man to ally himself with.” The boot retreated and the man walked away, leaving Fane alone once more.

God protect Erik Wenström and his sons. They were built for war.

Three of Heinrich’s rebels rushed past him, barking as they chased Bert Abbott. Jacques-Marie Blanchard was hot on their heels, a gun in one hand and a knife in the other. Fane watched them go, and gave a soft smile when a tremendous report boomed nearby, and one of the rebels dropped without a sound. So, Lieutenant Romanov was still in the area, and putting his rifle to good use. That was good news, at least.

Another piercing wail rose up over the grunts and barks of battle. Two more shots, in quick succession. Crunches as bones were broken and men turned into dogs.

Orange light danced into view in the corner of his eye. Frowning, Fane took a step back, turned, and was unsurprised to see the flailing limbs of a strigoi mort set aflame. The features were already black and crumbling behind the flames; it was impossible to tell who was the victim. Grimacing, Fane stepped out of its path and watched it collapsed on the grass, quite dead.

Something made a soft noise behind him, and he spun around, pistol up, to see Jezebel Baudelaire crouched next to a body. Blood speckled her bare limbs, and she wore a smile that he didn’t trust. “You look confused, Dracula,” she cooed. He watched, jaw twitching, as she buried her fingers in the soft white fur of the dead wolf next to her. “Is the battle not going how you planned?” She looked down at the body, so her long hair slipped over her shoulder and obscured her face—but not enough that he couldn’t see the pleased smile on her face. “That’s too bad. But we don’t always get what we want. C’est la vie.”

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