A/N: This is an AU fan fiction which takes place between Moonshine and Madhouse. If your corrections have something to do with the books after that – please do not tell me as I have not read them yet! I will be properly ashamed of myself when I find out for myself, don't worry. Lol


"Seven herring . . ."

Worms. Not the kind you dig out of the flowerbed and slide onto a fishing hook. The kind with the spidery wings and the poisonous breath and the single secret vulnerable spot in the snake-like bodysuit of scaly armor. Not fish bate. Not friendly. And definitely not something I'd want to see in my flowerbed.

Worms – also known as dragons to all those mythologically-degenerate suckers (including me) who got their perception of fantasy from Disney films while crapping their diapers – aren't far up the cryptozoological timetable. Apparently they were walking the earth with the Auphe and the trolls, the first dinosaurs. And guess frigging what? They're still damn walking. Not that I would have believed it unless Promise had flipped me the blood-spattered Polaroid a late photographer with aspirations took of the thing's head. Not big, really, considering what we'd dealt with in the past. Maybe the size of a Lincoln Continental. But damn if it wasn't deadly-looking. It wasn't ugly. I shuddered. It was like Darkling in that way – strangely, felinely beautiful, but one blink at the wrong moment and you'd think it was a lot less pretty with your entrails hanging out from between its teeth.

Something that was dangerously close to happening at this very moment.

I watched as the worm – Lambton, Niko called him – slithered sibilantly down the side of the building toward the alley in which Niko and I were currently camped out. Lambton clung to the side of the brick building like a gecko. One damn creepy gecko. He had wings, but they looked to be little or no use to him. They were tiny flaps of baby-pink skin stretched between claw-like pinions that fluttered delicately with every gust of wind. But Lamby had teeth to make up for it, and the smell of its fetid breath was already lacing the air with paranormal toxins.

"Worms have soft underbellies," Niko hissed at me, his sword at the ready.

"Great. What should we do, ask him to sit up and beg so we get a clear run?"

"If we weren't in so much trouble right now . . ." My older brother left that particular threat unfinished, not for effect, but because Lamby chose that moment to spring across the alley to land, suction-like, on the building we had our backs to. Right frigging above us.

"Shit," I gasped, wrenching away from the wall. And it sure smelled like it. The hot gusts of breath hissing from that gaping maw wasn't fiery – thank God for another error in human fantasy – but it was poisonous. Inhale too much of that stuff and you fall asleep and wake up inside a lake of roiling gastric juices. Which was why we had masks on. Run-of-the-mill surgeons' face masks, but even that couldn't stop the smell from penetrating my overly-sensitive nostrils.

Lamby opened his huge mouth even wider and let out a roar that sprayed both of us with ropes of yellow spittle. Nik stayed still, refusing to budge under the creature's gaze, as his jacket started smoking with the poisonous saliva. I brushed myself off quickly, pissed at the singe marks that now spattered my clothes like demonic tie-dye. Pissed enough to take several potshots with my trusty Glock at its slick head. Which, damn it all, remained slick and in one piece. Not so much as a dent in the chassis.

Apparently unfazed, Lamby cascaded off the wall and into the alley until he crouched right in front of us. "Now." Nik's word was barely a whisper, but it took barely a second for us to act on it. Rushing on either side of Lamby's big head, I grabbed a hold of the wing – ugh, clammy – and levered myself onto the worm's even clammier back.

Jamming the muzzle of my gun just under the worm's head, I pumped a full round into where the brain should have been. I knew it wasn't going to make much of an impact. Hell, it wasn't going to even hurt the thing, but that wasn't the plan. The plan was for me to make a big enough distraction so that dear old Lamby forgot about Nik long enough to rear up on his scrawny hind legs and give my brother's shiny katana a clear view of that gloriously scale-free portion of underbelly.

Lamby just squatted there, unworried, letting a long pale tongue flick up to wet his eyeballs. I glanced down at Nik, who, concealed in the shadows, gave a slight shrug and mimed my gun going off a second time. I complied, emptying yet another round of bullets against the nape of the beast's frigging neck. His left wing fluttered a bit, much as a person's eyelid would flick if you aimed a blow at their face.

Well, he was taking this stoically. Many things I had imagined when Promise had first told us there was the equivalent to a dragon lurking in downtown New York, but this thing was practically comatose. Niko gave a grunt from his place in the shadows. What, was he mad at me?

"Okay, Lamb chop, time to be a good gecko and fight like a monster," I crooned as I slide along the long, thick neck and onto the worm's flat, bony head. Whipping my knife from my back pocket, I jammed it deeply into Lamby's cat eye. Or tried to. The congealed orb of hideous light had such a thick layer of whatever was coating it that my blade bounced right off. But it left a scratch along the beast's retina, and while it might not have been lethal, something like that is difficult to ignore. Even for Lambton the laconic.

With a screech, the worm threw its head back and bucked. I held on for dear life, fingers cut by the ridge of scales over each eye that I clung to. Lamby's head connected with the side of the building, and so did I.

"Damn it," I gasped, feeling my whole back go black and blue instantly.

Hissing, Lamby fell back to earth and began to shake its head back and forth, trying to dislodge me. Yeah, couldn't I be just a hell of a nuisance if I tried? Once more my knife came down, scratching away a significant piece of whatever protects dragon eyes. Lamby obliged this time, rearing up on his hind legs. I took the opportunity to let go and slide down the spiny back – much like a waterslide – with a painful landing and the possibility of being decapitated by a violently thrashing tail. I hit the concrete at an awkward angle but rolled with it, rolled right into a pile of garbage cans.

Nik drew his sword back and thrust it into the conspicuous white patch on the worm's belly. Black blood spurted, spreading like a miniature lake across the asphalt. Niko, who was covered in it, sprang backward to avoid the lolling head of the beast. It came rather close to me, breathing its last whiff of acidic breath directly into my face.

"Shit," I gasped for the second time, once more appropriately. This time because I realized that sometime during my struggle and escape from the back of the raging beast, my face mask had slipped and my surroundings were now going blurry around the edges.

"Well," Niko sounded pleased with himself. "That went relatively smoothly. For once we kill a monster and it stays dead. Refreshing."

An attempt at an answer resulted in a choked wheeze that would have put a drunken fachan to shame. I felt as though my shirt collar was suddenly several sizes too small. I clawed at it, attempting to loosen the stranglehold my clothes suddenly had on my neck. "Nik . . ." I rasped.

"Your mask is gone," Niko observed.

You don't say, I thought spitefully. How about you quit being Sherlock freaking Holmes and help me breathe?

A hand went around my bicep and hauled me to my feet. My legs buckled and I nearly went down again. "Damn . . ." I hissed, black spots floating in front of me like a horde of malignant Hameh birds. Was there any other kind of Hameh bird?

"Calm down, it's not fatal," Niko said, steering me from the alley and into the waiting car. "We'll get you home and you can sleep it off."

"I can't . . . breathe . . ." I gasped.

"Oh." Diverting from his path to the passenger's seat, Niko leaned me up against the front of the car so my stomach was draped over the hood. "Okay, wait a minute." There was the sound of ripping cloth at my neck and the feeling of suffocation lessened slightly. Then, pressing the heel of one hand under my left rib and ramming it into me violently several times, Niko performed some kind of Heimlich maneuver on my bruised back. It hurt like hell, but it helped, and I could breathe again.

"That's great," I managed, before the poison blacked me out.