She saw Greg fall, red blossoming around his stomach. Adele started forward, and Phil grabbed her arm, yanking her back. More gunmen were closing in around Jim and Greg, and she saw Jim put his hands up. Yala looked up from where he was crouched in the boat just as Natalya pulled onto the road. He blinked, then looked around before his eyes went to her face. “Greg…” No sooner did she nod then Yala was moving toward the edge of the boat.
Phil let her go to grab Yala, and Yala whirled, grabbed Phil by the throat, and lifted him up with one hand. “Yala, stop.” Adele grabbed his arm, pulling it down before he could do any damage to Phil. “Yala, Yala, he’s hurt but he’s alive. We’ll get him back. Running in now is just going to get us all killed.”
It took almost a full minute for Yala to nod, but his face was still etched with fury. “We will call Xue. I will heal him, fully, if he returns Greg to us.” Yala’s eyes flickered briefly between his human guise and the sharklike black. “Alive.”
“That was dumb.” Jim was staring down at him.
Greg put his hands over where his stomach was bleeding. He’d been shot. “You alri —” He coughed.
“You should have gotten in the boat.” Jim exhaled, then looked up when the men walked over. One grabbed Jim’s arm, twisting it behind his back and grabbing the other before handcuffing the young man. “You took a bullet for me.” Jim gave him a small nod and an odd smile. “I won’t forget that.”
Another man grabbed Greg’s arm and yanked, making him cry out in pain. He was hauled to his feet, and shoved roughly into a van before someone put a folded towel over the wound. He grunted as it was tightly duct-taped in place, and his hands were cuffed behind his back. “Keep pressure on it,” someone instructed.
“If you don’t elevate his head, he’s going to pass out.” Jim’s voice came from the other side of the van. “Elevate his…” Jim made a growling sound, and a moment later the man next to him had moved, and he realized Jim had shouldered the man aside. “Greg, sit up, lean on me.”
His vision was graying slightly, but he obeyed. “Did they make it?” He swallowed.
“Yeah, Greg.” Jim spoke into his ear. “They made it.”
“He was shot?” Natalya put her hands over her mouth. She heard a crunching sound, a turned to see it was the result of Yala punching a hole in the side of someone’s truck.
“We need to get on the water.” Phil’s voice was calm. “That gives us more options. They need Greg to use as a hostage, which means they’ll be giving him medical attention.”
“You were supposed to be with him.” Yala snarled at Phil.
“I was.” Phil glared, then gave a small shake of his head. “He saw somebody aiming at Jim and shielded the kid.”
“They have Jim too?” Natalya raised an eyebrow.
“Yes.” Adele sighed, then rubbed the back of her neck.
“If Greg is…” Yala took a few deep breaths. “If they kill him…” He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, they were the sharklike black, and his smile showed sharp teeth. “I will consider it an act of war.”
“That…” Natalya felt a slight chill. “Yala, uh…” She turned and looked at him as though seeing him for the first time. “Wait, are you…” She swallowed. “Are you like the king of the sea or something?”
“My mother is the queen.” He raised his head as he squared his shoulders. “I can command her armies.”
“Uh…” Phil went pale, then looked away. “If I could wake up now, that would be great.”
Xue looked down at the young man on the stretcher. Greg was pale, and there were specks of blood on his lips. The other young man looked unharmed, but Xue ignored him as he walked toward the source of most of his recent woes. “Gut shots are slow killers, if you don’t bleed out right away. The contents of your stomach and intestines leak out into your abdominal cavity.” He smiled. “Death is a result of sepsis. It takes a few days, and you get to feel yourself rotting away from the inside.” He patted Greg’s arm. “Painful.” He shrugged. “I’m told even you get to a hospital right away, your odds of survival are only around thirty percent.”
“This isn’t a hospital.” Greg’s voice was hoarse.
“You stole my property.” Xue narrowed his eyes.
“He’s not property, he’s a person.” Greg glared. “You were torturing him.”
“This creature…” Xue shook his head. “It’s kind could heal all our ills, and instead they deliberately avoid us.”
“Because of people like you.” Greg raised his chin. “You’d torture them into slavery, if you didn’t hunt them to extinction.”
“Where are they going?” Xue looked up at the man tending to Greg before looking back at Greg.
“Narnia.” Greg leaned back. A moment later, he cried out in pain as the man behind him jammed a shock prod into his shoulder.
“Stop it.” The other young man stood. “You’ll kill him.”
“Good point.” Xue looked the young man over, then glanced at Moore and jerked his head at the young man before turning his attention to Greg. “Where are they going?”
“Xanadu.” Greg spit out some blood. Moore immediately turned and started for the other young man with the shock prod in hand. “Stop.” Greg tried to sit up, which made him cough and spit out more blood. “Leave him alone.”
“Certainly…” Xue smiled. “If you cooperate.”
Being on the water should be comforting. There was water as far as the eye could see. Not the ocean, but water sufficient to hide in for a lifetime, if needed. He was safe. Greg was not. Yalathanil’s head came up as he heard Natalya’s phone ring. She met his eyes before answering it. “This is Natalya.” Immediately her face twisted with relief and tears came to her eyes. “Greg, you’re alive. How…” She trailed off, then swallowed before nodding. Then she offered him the phone.
“Greg?” He put it to his ear, eager to hear his friend’s voice.
“Do you know what a gut shot does to a human?” Xue’s voice came instead, making his claws itch to rend and tear. “It’s a slow, painful death. If a human doesn’t get medical attention within the first couple hours, generally all a doctor can do is provide painkillers to ease the passing.” Xue’s voice hardened. “He won’t be receiving those either.”
“I can heal you.” Yalathanil took a deep breath. “Heal you fully, restore your health to what it should be.” He looked at the pale faces of his friends. “You will give me back Greg.” He saw Adele raise an eyebrow, and nodded to her. “And Jim.”
“You will heal me…” Xue’s voice replied. “And in return I will allow you to heal Greg. You will return to your cage, and in return, I will release Jim.”
“Greg will have his own cage, next to yours. I will even allow the two of you to visit with each other, if you are cooperative.”
Fury filled him. “You would make us slaves.”
“Yes.” Xue sounded amused. “I’m glad we understand each other. His life is in your hands.”
“I want to speak to him.” It was all he could do not to crush the phone in his hand.
A moment later, he heard Greg’s voice. “Don’t do it, Yala. Don’t —” Greg gave a small cry of pain.
“I trust that proves to you he is alive?” Xue’s voice came back over.
The fury faded as he closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. Letting the chill of deep water fill him. “I am Yalathanil, son of Alisthra, daughter of Mbaba, she of the sunrise wings. I am the scion of a dragon. Saelethil feared me for good reason. You will return my Greg to me, or I will drown you and yours in blood.”
“Sael…” Xue’s voice sounded confused for a moment. “Sael is like you?”
“You know too little, old man.” Yalathanil slowly nodded. “You will learn.” He took the phone away from his ear, then pressed the button. A moment later he half closed his eyes, and breathed in the scent of the air around him. His hand extended, and he pointed. “That way.”
Then he stepped to the edge of the boat, put his leg up on the side, and leaped into the water.
“Dragon.” Adele looked at the ripples in the spot where Yala had vanished into the water. “He said dragon.”
“He’s, uh…” Phil leaned over the edge of the boat. “He’s coming back, right?”
They both turned at the sound of the boat engine starting up. “Uh, Nat?” Adele turned toward her.
“Yala said go that way, toward that white spot on the shore.” Natalya began turning the boat around. She looked over her shoulder at Adele, and there were tears coming from her eyes. “I’m not losing another brother, Adele.”
“No.” Adele nodded. “We aren’t.” She glanced at Phil.
“I’m in.” Phil nodded, then reached down to grab the shotgun before shrugging. “I, uh…” He looked back at Adele. “Not that I want to look at the worst-case scenario, but uh —”
“Yala has no problem eating humans.” Adele sat down heavily. “And he’s got a pretty strong bond with —” She let out a small shriek as Yala emerged from the water next to the boat. He shifted as he jumped out in full mer form, landing in the completely human guise. “Shit.”
“Uh…” Phil swallowed.
Yala stepped forward and put a hand on Natalya’s shoulder. “Keep going.”
Jim held a cup of water to his lips. Greg took a few swallows, but doing so hurt. “If you see an opening, you should —”
“You want me to escape without you.” Jim shook his head.
“Jim…” Greg sighed, then regretted it. He should really stop doing anything that involved moving.
“These men aren’t going to respond if you go into shock.” Jim patted his arm. “You were injured trying to save me.” He smiled.
“You helped us.” Greg closed his eyes. “We shouldn’t have involved you in the first place.”
“You didn’t.” Jim sat down next to the cot Greg had been dumped onto. “I sort of barged in, if you recall.” He looked down at his hands, and Greg noted they were were stained with his blood. “Perhaps it would have been better had I not interfered.”
“Greg.” Jim stood, and bent down. “Yala has to return to claim his throne. Saelethil in power would…” He exhaled. “It is far more complicated than you know, and I…” He straightened again. “I’m sorry. There are rules that bind me, and I cannot help you now without the consequences making everything much worse.”
“Jim.” He blinked.
“Get Yala back to the sea, Greg. He has to claim his throne, no matter what the cost. The future of your species may well depend on it. Saelethil is not an ally we can afford the Cabal to have.” Jim smiled at him. “I have to go now, Greg. I dare not be here when he arrives, or he’ll know I was involved. I am sorry.”
When Jim’s hand squeezed his arm, Greg felt the pain he was in subside considerably. “What did you do?”
“I bought you time.” Jim bowed his head. “You’re a good man, Greg. There is a debt between us. Find me after, and I will endeavor to repay it.” He smiled. “Hopefully, this will buy your friends some distraction as well. Good luck.”
Then, to Greg’s shock, the man stepped back and simply faded out of sight as though he’d never been there at all.