“What happens to me, after?”
“You soft. But I think there is potential.” Lykos shrugged.
“You intend to keep me.” The manacles had been evidence of that, but hearing the man say it made his stomach sink. And yet… “But you intend to kill my father.”
“There was woman…” Lykos’s gaze became far away. “Back where I was when they found me. Kind woman. Old, wise with years but her body was weakening. She would cook for me, bake. Always with the stews and bread. Good, solid food, stick to ribs. Snow came, and I cleared it for her.” Lykos’s hands clenched into fists. “That is where I was, when your father came. Clearing snow from old woman sidewalk, while she cooked for me.” He looked up, his eyes glowing in the dim light as they met Christophe’s. “She stepped out on her porch, and they fill her with bullets. Slaughtered a kind old woman, because she saw them when they came for me.”
“I —” Christophe swallowed. “My father wouldn’t have —”
“Your father.” Lykos’s voice was cold. “Gave order. No witnesses.” He gave a small, bitter laugh. “He hide this from you. His soft son. Waste of soldier uniform.”
“He wouldn’t —”
“I not lie. Neither will you.” Lykos took a step toward him. “Not to me, and not to you.” Then he shook his head, and left the camper.
Slowly, Christophe sank down to sit on the edge of the bed. He knew his father lied. His job required it sometimes. The price of working with classified information. As sick as he felt, Lykos’s story fit what he had seen. And yet he still couldn’t believe his father would attack innocent people. Lykos was vicious. If they had gone after him, he must have given them a reason.
He moved Christophe’s chain so the young man could move around outside. Then he’d gone hunting. He’d half expected to find Christophe in the middle of another escape attempt. To his surprise, he found Christophe on the ground, doing push-ups. Lykos walked into the camp, then took the deer off his shoulder and started hanging it in the tree to be cleaned. Christophe finished his set, and stood. The exercise had made his captive’s muscles stand out, and the light sheen of sweat added to the view. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Christophe shift his weight a couple times before hesitantly speaking. “You want me to take care of that?”
“Yes.” Lykos tossed him the knife. “Cut roasts and steaks. You know how to make jerky?”
“Only the general theory.” Christophe walked over to the deer. “Dry and or smoke the meat to preserve it.”
“I teach. Is good skill to have. Keeps meet long time.”
“Will you teach me to hunt?” Christophe began skinning the deer. The motions were hesitant and slow, but he was mostly doing it correctly, as Lykos had showed him.
Lykos narrowed his eyes, then grinned. “New tactic. Cooperate. Make me friend. Friend would not kill friend’s father, yes?”
Christophe’s face took on a frustrated look. Then he exhaled. “You said you intend to keep me. Seems like it’s in my best interest for us to be friends.” He looked at the knife, then back up at Lykos. “And yeah. If it convinces you not to go after my father, that’s even better.” He started to turn back to the deer, then looked at Lykos again. “You don’t even like me. You think I’m soft and weak. Why the hell would you even want to keep me?”
“Always use for pretty boy.” He saw Christophe flinch a little. “Pretty boys make good pets. Teach you cook. Clean. Serve. Useful and decorative.”
“A slave.” Christophe went back to skinning the deer. “You intend to keep me as a slave.”
“Is no other use for you.” Lykos shook his head. “Too soft be fighter. Too weak be lover. Maybe you sing? Entertain?”
“Used to play the violin.” Christophe hesitated a moment. “Dad said…” He exhaled. “Men don’t play violin.”
“Violin is fiddle.” Lykos waved a hand. “Many men play. Set great deeds to music, so they can be remembered. Skalds were welcome in every hall.” He gave Christophe an appraising look. “You want to be skald?”
“No, I…” Christophe set the skin down. Lykos made a mental note to teach him how to tan it later. “I got accepted into the pre-med program.”
“Pre-med.” Lykos raised an eyebrow. “Doctor?”
“I wanted to be a pediatrician.” Christophe nodded.
“That…” Lykos looked Christophe over again. “That suits you better than soldier. Soft can be good, working with children.” He frowned. “Your father made you be soldier instead. Now you are here. Should have let you be doctor.”
“Yeah.” Christophe continued his task. “Yeah, probably.”
Hope arrived not long after the food was eaten. There was a snap of a twig. Lykos rolled clear a heartbeat before shots were fired on his position. Christophe immediately ducked behind a tree to get cover. “You there, come out with your hands up.” Someone shouted.
The men he saw weren’t soldiers. They looked like sheriffs, or perhaps rangers of some kind. Which meant… Christophe hit his head against the tree. Which meant they weren’t prepared for what Lykos was. He looked over to see Lykos also behind cover. The man gave him a savage grin, and Christophe immediately began shaking his head. Then he tilted his head back and yelled. “Call for backup, he’s a terrorist. He bombed a military base in Illinois.”
He glanced back at Lykos to see the man giving him an insulted look. Christophe shrugged and gave him an apologetic smile. Lykos rolled his eyes. Then heard someone shouting into a radio, and breathed a sigh of relief. He yelled again. “I’m Private Christophe Guerin.”
“Understood,” someone yelled back. “Is he armed?”
Lykos held up the gun and waved it at Christophe. Christophe blinked at him, then shouted a response. “He has a handgun. Nine shots if it’s fully loaded, ten if he has one in the chamber.” He saw Lykos also hold up the knife. “And a knife.” He exhaled. “Cocky bastard.” The last words he muttered under his breath.
“Well, we’ve got five shotguns and five rifles, so I’d say he’s a little out of his league,” the other voice yelled back. “Private, you just stay put and in cover.”
“Right, I —” Christophe winced as Lykos vanished into the brush, and shouted again. “He’s moving.”
“You there, we will shoot.”
There was a dull thudding sound, and a moment later Lykos appeared behind the tree again. He held up a shotgun and grinned. Christophe exhaled. “Now he has a shotgun.”
“Shit,” the other voice responded.
A few minutes later, he had four more shotguns, five rifles, twelve handguns, sixteen knives, four tazers, and four shuriken. He turned one of the shuriken over in his hand, then raised an eyebrow at the deputy he’d taken it from. The man had to be pushing fifty. “Seriously?” He rolled his eyes. “Not department issue. Badly made. Cheap. You buy off Internet?” He threw it into the tree. It hit, but at an angle and barely sank enough to get through a quarter inch of bark. “Shameful.”
There were ten men. Six were unconscious, two with bad injuries. The other four were handcuffed. Christophe was sitting not far from them, a frustrated look on his face. “We radioed in our location,” the man in charge lifted his head.
“Heard. Take time backup get here.” He gestured to Christophe. “Pack up camp.”
“What are you going to do with them?” Christophe looked up at him instead of obeying.
“I am going to cut pieces off these ones until that one tells me how they found us.” Lykos waved a hand, then pointed the knife in his other hand at the man in charge.
“The GPS in the phone.”
Lykos blinked. “What?”
“The phone. You turned it back on earlier.” Christophe exhaled. “There is a tracking device in it. So, you don’t need to cut pieces off him.”
“You knew this.” Lykos pointed the knife at Christophe.
“Was kind of hoping they’d send in SEALS or something.” Christophe sighed. “Lykos, they are just local sheriffs. They thought you were a terrorist and were just doing their jobs.”
“You told them I was terrorist.” He glared. “I did not blow up base. Bombs are stupid. No control. Collateral damage. Weak people use bombs. Cowards.” He shrugged. “Okay, no cut pieces off. I’ll kill, then we can be moving.”
“You can’t kill them.” Christophe shook his head.
“Can. Watch.” He started moving toward one of the conscious deputies.
He sighed, then turned toward Christophe. Then he looked at the terrified deputy. “Excuse me. One moment.” He walked over, grabbed Christophe, and hauled him into the camper.
“I’ll cooperate.” Christophe spoke before Lykos could. “I swear, I’ll do whatever you want. Just don’t kill those men.”
“They shot at me.” Lykos shrugged.
“Only a couple times.” And the fact the bullets had just left faint red marks that were already vanishing was not a good sign. How the hell had the doctors managed to cut into Lykos? “Most of those bullets didn’t come within five feet of hitting you.” Christophe exhaled. “They are worse shots than I am.”
“Well, true.” Lykos nodded. “But you’ll do what I tell you anyway, or I will punish.”
“I’m not…” He had to take a deep breath before he could make himself keep talking. “You think I’m pretty. I’ve seen you watching me. Let those men live and I’ll do whatever you want.”
Lykos laughed in his face. “You pretty. Flower is pretty. I don’t fuck flowers.” He shrugged. “Soft and weak does not interest me.”
“I’m not soft.” Christophe glared. “I’m not weak.”
“You also don’t want me to fuck you, so why argue point?” Lykos folded his arms.
“Because I don’t want you to keep killing people.” Christophe shook his head. “Yeah, I’m a shit soldier. I don’t actually like violence. Do you know how many times I tried to fail out of boot camp?”
“Six?” Lykos tilted his head.
“I…” Christophe stopped talking for a moment, then shrugged. “Well, actually, yes. Six.” He blinked. “How’d you know?”
“Part luck. Six times. You try escape me about same number. Now you give up. Six seemed safe guess. Not enough balls to try for seven.”
“I have balls. You keep staring at them.”
“Pretty view. Look good wearing nothing but my metal.” Lykos stared at Christophe for a minute, then shrugged. “You want prove you are strong?”
“I want you not to kill ten innocent people.” Christophe swallowed. “Tell me what you want, and I’ll do it. Please, Ly—” He exhaled. “Please, master.”
The other man reached up and patted his cheek. “You ask nicely. They will live.” He smiled, then brushed some dirt off Christophe’s chest. “See? I am kind to you.”
They’d traveled about six hours before leaving the highway. Lykos brought the camper down a dirt trail, then parked in a glade. Christophe hesitated. “Where are we?”
“Home, for now.” Lykos shrugged, then unfastened the leash from the camper.
Despite the fact that there was still a length of chain between his ankles, Christophe had no difficulty walking. It bothered him that he was starting to get used to the restraints. They’d stopped near a cliff, and what looked to be part of an old mine. A tug on the leash got him moving again. Lykos led him into the mine, and it quickly opened up to reveal rather magnificent natural chambers. “It’s beautiful.” Christophe stared at the formations.
Lykos’s smile in response to the words actually appeared warm and genuine. “Is good place. Still iron growing inside the rock, but too hard for men to get to it. They chased, and it outran them.” He secured Christophe’s leash to what appeared to have once been part of a track. “Is solid. Defensible, but with escape routes.”
He froze, then swallowed. “You intend to lure my father here.”
“This place is mine.” Lykos nodded. “He will not find easy prey here.”
Christophe stared at the cave walls as Lykos started to walk back out. He took a deep breath. “Master.” Lykos stopped, and turned back toward him. “What now?”
“Now?” Lykos nodded. “In morning, I test you. For now, we eat, then sleep. You will do both. Need all the strength you can get.”
Guerin looked at the ten men sitting around the two picnic tables. “Instructions were to observe and wait for our arrival.” He glared.
The sheriff exhaled. “Dispatch said it was one man with a hostage. Ten of us—”
“Ten of you got your asses handed to you.” Guerin folded his arms. And his son was still that thing’s prisoner.
“Captain…” The sheriff hesitated. “Sir, whoever that guy was, we shot him at least four times. He was…”
“He picked up Josh and threw him like twenty feet, sir.” One of the deputies spoke up, his face pale. “And moved faster than we could see. It was like something out of one of those Predator movies.”
“Hank has a point, Captain.” Another of the deputies looked up. “I’ve seen some shit, but if you told us that guy wasn’t human, I think I’d believe you.”
“He wasn’t.” Guerin exhaled, then turned and started stalking back toward his vehicle. He paused halfway there, then looked at his second in command. “Do it.”
He heard shots ring out, and the shouts of the deputies, as he reached his vehicle. He opened the door and slid inside. Darin was looking down at the tablet computer. “Confirmed?”
“Christophe identified himself. And that thing, he called it Lie-cost or something like that.” Guerin sighed. “Christophe is alive.”
“Word came through on some back channels.” Darin looked up. “We’ve got someone who thinks they might know what this thing is. They’ll share their intel if we share ours.”
“Do it.” Whatever it took to get his boy home safe. And that thing dead.