Authors: Kindra Sowder
of the Executioner Trilogy
Burning Willow Press, LLC (USA): 3724 Cowpens Pacolet Rd., Spartanburg, SC 29307
This edition published in 2015 by Burning Willow Press, LLC (USA)
Copyright © Kindra Sowder 2015
Cover Art copyright © Loraine Van Tonder 2015
Edit Copyright @ Nicole Matthews 2015
Edit Copyright @ Samantha Achaia 2015
All rights reserved.
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I let the rain wash over me as I stood, Gordon’s eyes searching mine and blinking past the water. Sam was still trying to catch her breath. Yes, she was definitely out of practice. Just like she said. Me, I was rearing and ready to go. All we had to do was stay alive and find Beth. My mind flew to Chase. Was he with her? He had saved my life after all so why wouldn’t I be? I took a deep breath, looking from Gordon and up at the sky as lightning rolled across the clouds. We had to find her and I had a feeling I knew where to look.
“Now what?” Gordon asked like he didn’t already know, but I knew he did. He knew the next step would be to find Beth. We needed her, didn’t we? The legend of the Executioner even said my partner was a crucial piece. So find her we would, and nothing was going to stop me.
The only sound was the thunder rolling around us in the darkness as more lightning struck the soaked earth. I curled my toes into the mud and sighed. It had been so long since I had felt the rain on my skin, and it was refreshing. I opened my mouth and let the drops fall in, coating my mouth and tongue in coolness. I swallowed and basked in the rain pouring down on us like it was the last time For all I knew it could very well be.
I felt a rough and callused hand touch my bare shoulder, startling me out of my trance. I turned to see Gordon watching me thoughtfully. His dark eyes searching my face like he was analyzing my reaction to the pure bliss of clean water after being covered in soot and fire. I could feel beads of water running down my arms, legs, and forehead. I was in heaven. As I looked into his dark eyes that sparkled with life even in the dark, I opened my mouth to answer his question.
“We find Beth.” The words spilled out of me. I knew exactly where she was and I would lead us to her.
She would never leave home. Not even with the ghosts there, that would remind her of everything. That was the beauty of a home you shared with someone. They continued to live through the memories you made there. Nothing could change that. Little did she know that I would be back to make even more, and that I could promise to all of us. Lightning struck again, illuminating the cemetery like the sun was shining on us. That’s when I saw Lilith had sent another entourage of her vampire children to greet us and they were coming fast. Sam was the first to turn and see them. Gordon’s face twisted into confusion. I took my hands, placed them on his shoulders, and turned him enough to see the small army of vampires headed in our direction. A strangled cry came from his mouth and Sam began to look to me for direction. There was only one thing I knew to do.
“Run!” I screamed. I felt the word rush out of me like the breath had been forced out of my lungs by an invisible hand. We could run or we could fight. I chose the former. There was less of a chance of death if we ran, but I knew we’d end up fighting regardless. Some said running away was a sign of weakness. I saw it as survival, which was the only option we had left. Granted it wasn’t the only option, but it was the sane option and the one we were taking. At least until we had no other choice. That was if our hands weren’t forced as soon as we turned our backs to them.
I felt my bare feet slip across the wet grass as I turned to run; Gordon and Sam close behind. The rain slashed across my face in cold streaks. We could hear the vampires closing behind us. They were coming too fast. We had to get some distance or we would all be dead. We barely stood a chance. We were outnumbered, but not outgunned. Even then, it may not be enough. I knew my first few moments back on the surface wouldn’t be easy, but this wasn’t what I expected. A little bit of resistance, yes. But I wasn’t prepared for this onslaught right from the get go.
I let the motion of my arms propel me forward and my legs lead me in the direction of what had been my home for years before Hell became my temporary residence. If only Lilith knew just how temporary my life in Hell would be before she enacted her plan against me. I could feel the cool air move through my lungs as we all ran for our lives, Sam blindly following. She had learned quickly that I was loyal and we both had a similar agenda. Gordon was only a few steps behind me, pumping his legs just as furiously as both Sam and I. Sam was trailing closely behind him and was directly in step with him. We ran in tandem, as a unit not to be deterred from its current course. Yes, we were afraid, but we could only use that fear now to drive us forward. Not even the torrential rain or the splattering foot falls of the vampires running after us could stop us.
I knew looking back was a bad idea, that it would slow me down, but I couldn’t help myself. What I saw took my breath away. I had originally thought an army of vampire had been following us, but there weren’t as many as I had originally believed. They were big. Very big. Thick muscles lined every inch of their bodies, like the transformation directly from the source turned them into an even more perfect killing machine. The few females I saw were lean muscle while each man bulged like a body builder, but still graceful and swift in the way they moved. Each vampire had crimson red eyes that I was sure had the same black ring as Lilith’s. Fear rose in my throat, and I knew I had to stay focused long enough to reach our goal. Get to Beth and take Lilith down.
We continued to run because there was nothing else we could do, and because of the fear boiling up in my gut. Those red eyes caused images of Lilith to rise into my mind, causing my heart to race even faster. I could hear Gordon and Sam’s behind me. We dared not stop. We dared not fight. Not now. There would be a time for that and this wasn’t it. It didn’t matter how much my body and the best inside of it screamed and beat against me trying to get me to fight. I wouldn’t give in yet. Not until we regrouped and had more resources to make sure Lilith died. We let out legs carry is even though we were all breathless. We had been run from demons through Hell before, and away the finality of the death that closely followed, but this was different. I now knew a way. I could feel the animal within the vampires nipping at our heels, wanting to protect their dark queen. My legs burning and the ragged breaths I pulled in hurt my lungs. We were just coming over the slight hill that came only mere yards from the sprawling front lawn of our destination. The rain hadn’t stopped and I could hear my bare feet slapping through puddles and feel the drops splash onto my bare legs, the torn remnants of my dress pushing against my naked skin.
I could hear the screams and growls from our hunters, but I couldn’t risk another look back again. I couldn’t afford to slow down. It wasn’t an option. Then my feet hit the sidewalk and I pushed even harder to make the front door, but I slammed into an invisible wall as my feet hit the lush green grass.
“Robin,” I heard Gordon yell as I bounced off of the invisible wall and landed on the unforgiving ground behind me. Pain ricocheted from my tail bone, up my spine, and back down again. I looked up in time to see what I had hit shimmer and then become invisible. Someone, Beth I hoped, had learned how to put up a protective barrier. She had to have. That would’ve been the only way to keep Lilith and her vampire children from tearing Beth and Chase as well as the entire place apart. Sam had stopped short of the barrier, and Gordon was behind me, placing his warm hands on my slick, cold shoulders.
I pushed his hands away and got to my feet, turning to look back at the army bearing down on us. They were closer than I wanted them to be, but had barely crested the small rise in the earth. I could feel their energies bearing down on us, their pure animal need for my blood and the power that ran through it caused chills to run through my entire body. We needed inside the house nestled in this protective cocoon, and we needed it fast.
I turned my back to the barrier and placed my hand on it. This caused it to shimmer again, but there was no pain. Only a slight humming tingle. I knew I couldn’t break it. Only Beth could since she raised it, but how could I get her to bring it down? I couldn’t feel Beth inside of the protective dome. I knew the vampires nearing our position without even having to look back like all of my nerve endings were standing on end. I was a raw nerve ending in the middle of a war. We had gained enough distance to separate us just enough, but they were still too close. Gordon reached out to do the same, and I barely had time to stop him. I knew what kind of barrier this was, and he wouldn’t make it out alive if he touched it. He was still a demon and the barrier did discriminate.
“Gordon, no!” I reached out and grabbed his arm, taking his hand firmly in mine. “It’ll kill you.”
I could see the understanding spread through his eyes and into his face and he nodded. I could hear footfalls from the advancing group and I knew I had to draw Beth’s attention.
“Back away from the barrier,” I said as I dropped his hand and backed away a few feet myself. They both backed away without hesitation. I knew exactly what it would take to bring her out of the house. The beast had been beating against my ribcage and skull the whole time, and I was about to set it free.
I raised my hand and let the energy build, power swirling menacingly in my palm and at the center of my chest, beating right along with my heartbeat. It was running through my veins and causing every cell in my body to burn. The beast was no longer pounding against me, but was building warmth in the base of my throat that wanted release. The monster sent a roar out of my throat to escape through my mouth, filling the air with demonic sound as flames escaped from the palm of my hand and flow against the barrier. It began to shimmer even brighter than before and caused the ground to shake. This would get her attention.
I let the beast take me as the warmth of my internal flames swarmed through veins like a wildfire. I closed my eyes and let the fire flow free to collide with the barrier that was now shimmering as bright as the sun. I began to hear screams behind me.
Sam and Gordon’s shouts echoed in my ears as a few vampires had made it within striking distance. Then a voice shouting above the mayhem that I hadn’t heard in what felt like eons. It was low and melodic and caressed my ears like a sweet song.
“Robin! Stop!” Those were the only two words I could hear over the sound of fire and the roars of those behind us. . I let my eyes shoot open and I saw her coming towards the barrier, gun in hand, and running like her life depended on it. If I kept this up I would bring the barrier down and we would all perish. I pulled back the last bit of fire, soaking it into myself and watching it spread back into my veins. There was terror in Beth’s eyes as they made contact with mine, but I knew she didn’t understand. Once we were past the barrier and safe, she would get her answer.
She was now in front of the barrier, only a few centimeters separating us. Questions filled her eyes and I wanted to be able to answer them. I placed my hand on the barrier and my touch sent a shimmer and a ripple throughout. I wanted to close the distance and hug her tight. Beth was the first I had called out to when Hell had become my home, but now I was back and I needed her more than ever. I needed her to let me know I wasn’t evil, that I wasn’t broken. I needed reassurance. I could see different emotions cross her face and I didn’t have to look back to know how close the rest of the opposing force was. Gordon and Sam had killed the two that had gotten to us first, but we needed an army we didn’t have. I looked back anyways and what I saw sent terror through every part of me, causing my heart to wrench and the glow inside of my veins to intensify. I turned back to Beth and wanted so desperately to beat against the barrier and tear it down, letting my own terror show for the first time since we resurfaced. She knew how this barrier worked and knew that if I was anyone beside myself that the reaction of the barrier on my bare skin would’ve been catastrophic.
Then I saw the decision in Beth’s eyes as she placed her hand on the opposite side of the barrier and brought it down. We were crossing it and she was raising it just as quickly, only a few of the quicker ones making it through behind us. Before I knew it I had been tackled to the ground. I forced my way onto my back to find a large muscular vampire on top of me, snapping his jaws like a rabid dog. Lilith’s children were definitely a different breed. They hadn’t been watered down by the thousands of years of selective mutation that produced the ones I had become accustomed to. He was so close that I could feel his hit breath on my skin and smell stale blood. I forced a panicked cry from my restricted lungs, placing my hand on his chin and pushing him away. I let the heat swirl in my palm, pushing it into his pale and sickly looking skin.
An animal yowl sprung from his throat, but he was still trying to latch onto my hand as he burned. It was almost as if he couldn’t feel the pain. At least that’s what I would’ve thought if it weren’t for the cries of pain coming from him. His skin was sizzling and blistering beneath my hand as I continued to push his gnashing teeth away from my flesh as best as I could. I let the heat pour into him and, even though his face was beginning to crumble, he was still trying. It was the fight to survive, but now he couldn’t lock his mouth around my neck. But if he were able to latch on with those incisors whatever it was that made that bite deadly would be pumped into my veins. Not like we didn’t have cures for that, but I wanted to avoid it at all costs.
His entire lower jaw was obliterated and I saw the panic strike his eyes. His red eyes were wide and frightened. He began to dig his fingernails into my shoulders, which caused me to cry out as blood soaked the straps of my silk dress. Then I heard gunshots. One whizzed past my arm, grazing it and then bouncing off of the barrier surrounding us.
As the searing pain spread through my arm I yelled out in pain and alarm as the heat spread from the wound. The vampire was still on top of me, but the fire I had started within his skin was spreading and the bullets from Beth’s gun obliterated him even further. There were chucks of ash falling to the ground and smearing into my clothes. With one shot to the apex of his chest I watched him fall in a pile of ash and embers to the ground, some of him floating in the air around me.
I cradled my hurt arm against me to sit up and watch the vampires beating against the barrier, sending sparks and flame into the darkness surrounding them. They didn’t seem to care that small pieces were breaking off them as a result. All they felt was the animalistic need to get at our throats and drain us and they only needed their heads to do so.
I turned to see Beth standing, gun still pointed like she was waiting for another to come through. There was a long and ragged scar down the side of her neck, working its way down the entire length of her arm and stopping at her elbow. Her hair was floating around her face like there was an imperceptible wind. She looked different. Angry and beaten down by the world she was forced to live in. It had made her harder and stronger than before and when she turned to me, gun still drawn and pointing directly at me, I knew she wanted answers. My beast has abandoned me in that moment, pulling the power back inward, and I saw why.
I struggled to stand, arm still cradled against my chest and blood trickling down my forearm and dripping from my elbow. Tears were welling in her eyes and the gun was wavering, causing it to shake and the metal to rattle. She didn’t want to believe it was me. That would make things complicated. It would change everything. Then a sharp inhale of air and she dropped the gun, running towards me and wrapping me up in a hug that was so tight I would have to pry her off me. It was then I noticed Chase. Gun drawn and at his side. Shock and awe were on his face and I could see his need to cry as his chin quivered. He had watched me die, and now he saw me come back to life. I nodded to him and closed my eyes as Beth and I wept together, everything I had been feeling pouring out of me and into the night as we were surrounded by the darkness.