Not answering, Hawke angled his head to the left, narrowed his eyes, then arched his neck.
The eerie beauty of the howl electrified every tiny hair on her body. It seemed impossible that it was coming from a human throat, and yet she could see the reality of it in the corded strength of his neck. Responding howls came back to them over the air currents as the last echoes of Hawke’s warning—and she’d learned enough about wolf harmonics to have figured out that that’s exactly what it had been—died out.
“Let’s go.” Hawke set what was a brutal pace for her, leading them away from the perimeter.
He sent up another howl maybe thirty seconds into the run, waited only long enough to get a response from each of the sentries. But a bare minute after they’d begun to run again, he slammed her body to the ground, in the hollow created by the roots of a centuries-old tree, covered it with his own, and said, “Hands over your ears.”
Stuttering blasts of noise sounded an instant later. She tried to turn, see where the bullets were hitting, but Hawke’s body was too heavy, keeping her pinned. Hands over her ears as he’d ordered, she stayed in position and hoped with everything in her that Lake and the others in the strike zone had gotten under cover before the attack.
It seemed to go on forever, an endless hail of violence. The increasing level of noise indicated the offensive craft was getting closer—she was about to try to talk to Hawke, tell him they needed to move when the sonic boom of a massive explosion set her ears to ringing.
A SECOND EXPLOSION followed on the heels of the first.
Hawke rolled off her an instant later. “Baby, you okay?”
She said, “Yes,” through the buzzing in her ears, aware he had to be in acute pain, given the sensitivity of changeling hearing. “You?”
“Hurts like a bitch, but eardrums didn’t blow.” Getting to his feet, he hauled her up.
“W—” Her dazed brain rallied to make sense of the debris raining down from the sky only meters away. “We need to check the wreckage as soon as possible, in case they have a Tk clean-up squad ready to mobilize.” The destroyed craft might yield information the pack could use to its advantage in the growing hostilities.
“Go,” Hawke said to her surprise. “Do what you need to if Tks ’port in. I have to check on the others.”
Getting his nod, she took off. The debris was lumps of blackened and twisted metal at first glance, nothing of any use. Keeping her senses—physical and psychic—on wide alert, she did a crisscrossing grid search at high speed, hoping like hell the pack’s air-defense systems had left her something to find.
As it was, she almost missed it.
It had to have been part of the hull, a tiny warped square that she glimpsed with the corner of her eye. Running back to it, she gloved her hand in a layer of cold fire before picking it up. Her ability protected her from the blazing heat coming off the debris, but it did nothing to affect her vision.
The single silver star on the metal fragment was as bright as platinum.
HAWKE made contact with Brenna as he ran, the sat phone’s reception crystal clear. “Are the skies clean?”
“Yes—and the aerial defense systems are rearmed and ready.”
“Has Lara been notified?”
“She’s on her way. Riley’s coordinating everything. I’ll patch you through.”
“Casualties?” he asked as soon as Riley came on the line.
“No reports so far.” Crisp, collected words. “But we’ve got some severe injuries.”
“Why did it take so long to blow those bloody things out of the sky?” SnowDancer knew its weaknesses, had prepared defenses. “They should’ve been picked up before they ever got close enough to hit anyone.”
“Same stealth technology they used last time,” Riley said. “I’ve asked the cats to send in teams to secure the wreckage until we can spare the people—what we find could prove critical in modifying our detection systems.”
“Were they hit?”
“No. The attack was focused on SnowDancer.”
Seeing Lake’s fallen body, Hawke said, “I’ll call you back,” and hung up.
The young soldier had taken a shot through his back, but he was breathing. “Go,” he whispered. “I’m not going to f**king die and give them the satisfaction.”
Good man. “Lara’s on her way,” he said, making the tough decision to take Lake at his word, check on the others.
It was a long night.
Lake had lost a lot of blood, but the bullet hadn’t nicked anything major. Sam had been hit once, the bullet digging a channel across the side of his skull and knocking him out, but Lara assured Hawke the damage looked worse than it was. Inés had taken a bullet in the leg, Riaz had been hit in the shoulder and a newly promoted Tai had fractured his left arm as he dived to avoid the bullets, while Sing-Liu had been hit twice, both bullets entering through her back to crush a path through her internal organs.
The small human woman was the most badly injured, alive only because her mate, D’Arn, had shoved his energy into her in an effort to keep her alive after he felt her pain through their bond. He’d collapsed where he stood in the den, but he’d kept her alive. It was now up to Lara and her team.
The DarkRiver healer, Tamsyn, worked beside Lara. She couldn’t heal wolves, but as a qualified physician, she could take some of the burden by dealing with the less severe injuries. Riley and Indigo had the security situation under control, had made sure the attack left no gaps in their defensive perimeter, while the techs were combing through the wreckage. That left Hawke free to remain in the infirmary.