Authors: Olivia Rivers
She still didn’t know what to think of Drake. Her memories were so vivid, but that one memory of him lowering his claws to her neck was also real.
She reached up and touched the small scar he’d given her. Why would he have tried to kill her, if he’d protected her for all those years? She sighed and rested her chin on her knees. Maybe Luke was right. Maybe all those other memories of him weren’t real.
Her gaze found the only window in her room, and she stared at it, alert for danger and for any intruders.
Alert for him.
Pine trees flashed by, the pattern of their bark blurring in the corner of Allai’s eye. She gulped in air and focused on the ground, trying not to trip as she ran.
Sometimes she loved living at the headquarters of the Sentinel; it was an aging mansion called the Manor, located deep in rural New York State. It’d been built on an old pine tree plantation, which gave the place a decidedly west-coast feel, despite the east-coast weather.
And sometimes she hated living here. Like right now. The forest terrain was making her morning running-routine a living nightmare, as always. And nature couldn’t decide if it was late winter or early spring, and had decided on her least favorite type of weather: a foggy drizzle.
She skirted around boulders and fallen branches that marked her running path. Leap there, dodge here, bound over there. The pattern of the path was ingrained in her mind from years of daily running. But today it felt more challenging, like it was more of an obstacle course than a running path. That was probably because she’d gotten a grand total of four hours of sleep the night before. And the rain wasn’t helping as it drizzled down on her, muddying the path and her Converse shoes.
She knew she shouldn’t run in Converse, but she looked dorky in running shoes. They always looked way too big on her. Actually, most things looked way too big on her. That was the problem with being four-foot-ten. Of course, her dad wouldn’t care about that; he’d just see the brand new, muddy Converse and launch into a lecture.
She groaned at the thought, but only got halfway through the complaint before having to pull some air into her lungs. That sent a little sting of surprise to her numb mind. Because she was in better shape than that, after running this course for three years.
Every morning she woke up, drove to the Manor’s border, and took off running. And, today… Hell, she’d only been running for ten minutes, so she shouldn’t be tired. Maybe her mind was just playing tricks on her; it seemed to love to do that. With a deep breath, she pushed her legs on, forcing them faster down the forest trail.
Her eyelids felt heavy, and she closed them halfway for a few moments. The forest blurred into hazy images. She vaguely registered a tree, a boulder, a fern.
She almost tripped as she stumbled to a halt. Then she spun on her heel and sprinted the other way, back toward her truck. Toward safety.
She knew that shriek. Harsh, high, rasping. She’d heard it once, and only once, from Luke. It had been the one time she’d seen him angry beyond reason and ready to kill.
Her spinning mind couldn’t even remember when that time had been, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that Luke had gone into the city earlier. He wasn’t here. The shriek wasn’t his. And that meant it belonged to another Persequor, one that would only shriek for a single reason.
It was on the hunt.
Allai gritted her teeth and then sucked in a breath. “Get
from me!” she shouted into the trees. She heaved in a breath, refilling her lungs, and mentally searched for any information she could remember about Persequor hunting styles. They were cunning. Venomous. Deadly. Overall, they were the ultimate predator; she was pretty sure Luke had even said once that their name meant something like ‘hunter’.
And there was another thing she remembered Luke saying: each Persequor had their own hunting style. They were emotionless, but far from stupid. So there was no way she could predict how her pursuer would attack.
And she was screwed.
She took her eyes away from the ground for just a moment, looking around and searching for the Persequor. It was a moment too long. Her foot struck a fallen branch, yanking her ankle at an angle and tearing a panicked scream from her.
Searing pain constricted her ankle. Allai did her best to ignore it, running forward and trying not to cry out with each step. She couldn’t hear anything over her pounding heart and heaving breaths. But she screamed again, this time trying to form words that would bring help.
Guards always patrolled the Manor borders, and they’d been even more vigilant since the event. The guards would hear her. They had to. Unless they were changing shifts…
Damn it. They were; it’d be the only reason a Persequor would dare attack.
She stumbled forward faster, and winced as the shriek pierced the air again. It was higher in pitch this time, as if it were more eager. The shriek sounded like it came from her left, but she didn’t take time to pinpoint its location. There was no point. Running was all she could do now, just run and hope the shriek was farther away than it sounded.
Then she heard wind-chimes. The strange sound almost made her trip, but she just kept running and limping forward along the path.
An arm wrapped around her from behind. Allai yelled. She had no idea what she said, but tried to make it count by screaming it as loud as possible. She kicked out, tensing as she waited for fangs to cut deep into her neck and paralyze her with venom.
A hand whipped over her mouth. “Stop,” a deep voice growled in her ear. “Don’t struggle and don’t scream. You’re exciting him.”
She knew that voice from somewhere. Maybe a guard’s? She wasn’t sure, but it was definitely a Charger’s voice, his tone unnaturally sweet and alluring. And deadly serious.
Allai stilled. The guard yanked on her arm, pulling her toward the dense trees. She nearly toppled over, but he roughly grabbed her shoulder and steadied her. He didn’t stop the pressure on her arm, and dragged her away from the path and deeper into the forest.
“Who are you?” Allai demanded, stumbling along after the guard.
His steps faltered for a moment. Then he snarled, “Shut up.”
So he was a guard who wasn’t fond of her. That didn’t narrow it down much.
The shriek came again, even closer and louder. The guard froze for a moment, and then shoved Allai against the wide trunk of a pine tree. The rough bark dug into her back and her injured ankle struggled to support her, but she just gritted her teeth and held back another scream.
Allai steadied herself and looked up. It only took a quick glance around to understood why the guard had dragged her away from the path. Behind her stood a steep hill, and a wide creek bordered that. It left only two sides for the Persequor to come after her.
Which might be enough.
She pressed herself closer to the tree, not caring anymore about the bark digging into her. Then she forced in a deep breath, letting the chilly air sting her lungs and calm her shaking nerves.
A low growl rumbled through the air. Allai whirled toward the sound, but it was just the guard. His wings flared defensively as he paced back and forth a couple yards to her left.
The feathers of his wings had grown longer and slimmer than the usual Charger Demon’s, and as they clinked together, they sounded just like wind-chimes. It was a strangely relaxing sound, and definitely not fitting for the situation. Allai wanted to scream at him to tuck in his wings and shut up. But she didn’t, partially because he’d told her to be quiet, and mostly because her throat felt too tight to speak.
Then a man appeared. He seemed to materialize out of nowhere, and stood right in front of a tree only yards away. There was no warning, no rustling of the bushes or pounding footsteps. Just eerie stealth. It had to be the Persequor.
The Persequor said something. His face remained deadpan, and he stepped toward her. What did he say? She probably should have been listening to him. But all she could hear was her heart pounding and those damned wind-chimes.
Then a snarl blocked out all the other sounds. But it had a sweet tone, and she realized the snarl belonged to her Charger guard.
An arm wrapped around her shoulders. She panicked and reached to throw it off. But then she saw that the Persequor still stood three yards away; it wasn’t his arm around her. It was the guard’s.
The guard pulled her close, pressing her to his chest. The top of her head hit his collarbone, and it struck Allai that he was really tall. She didn’t remember any tall Charger guards working at the Manor. His other arm wrapped around her shoulders, bringing her closer. The guard let out a protective hiss and threw his wing up to shield her from view.
Allai peered around the edge of his wing. The Persequor just slowly blinked at the two of them, his deadpan expression looking almost relaxed. He must have seen through the guard’s show of defensiveness. Because that was all it was: a show, and nothing more. Allai felt her legs begin to shake. She didn’t know this guard, he’d made it clear he didn’t like her, and she doubted he’d actually
She was toast.
The guard’s heart beat against her back, rapid and steady. He took a deep breath and then quietly growled to the Persequor, “Back away, Silas.”
Silas smiled, but his lips lifted awkwardly, and his eyes remained impassive. The expression looked like it’d been carved into a corpse. “You know I can’t do that.”
The guard tensed. “You have two seconds to back away from her and never be seen around here again. If you don’t, I’m gutting you.”
Silas’s smile remained. “Killing the Keepers’ best tracker? Is that really so wise?”
The guard snarled. “Do I look
right now, Silas?”
Allai glanced back and forth between the two men, trying to understand their conversation. They were on a first name basis. A Sentinel guard on a personal level with a Keeper agent? No, that wasn’t possible. Her protector must not be a guard. Then who
Silas slowly shook his head. “Calm down, Drake. Let go of the girl and let me do my job. Then I’m taking you back to headquarters.” His smile grew, and this time Allai caught a faint hint of a patronizing expression. “Rhaize issued orders for your return. And you know you can’t disobey your father.”
Allai’s breath caught in her throat. All she could feel was her protector’s heartbeat against her back and his arms wrapped defensively around her. No. Damn it, no. It couldn’t be him.
But she made the mistake of looking up. Golden eyes locked with hers, their intensity holding her in place more effectively than his arms. She knew those eyes; they could only belong to one person.
She tried to gasp in a breath, but it just choked her. Just as she coughed and sputtered out a scream, Drake threw her to the side. She slammed into the ground, and her scream was knocked from her throat.
Allai struggled to her feet and whirled toward the tree Silas had stood in front of. But he wasn’t there.
Then an angered shriek pierced the air, and Allai stumbled in a half-circle toward the sound. Silas and Drake circled each other, standing right where she’d been just moments before. Drake’s claws were extended and his wings flared, while Silas’s fists were tightly clenched.
Allai stumbled a few steps away. It wasn’t a fair fight. Silas looked at least thirty in human years, which meant he had to be centuries old. His powers would be mature, and he’d have hundreds of years of fighting experience.
But Drake was young. He’d be half as strong as Silas, even with his wings and claws.
Drake had one hand clasped to his neck and a grimace on his face. Something black trickled from between his fingers. Blood. But how could it be black? Not even a son of Rhaize could have black blood.
Allai pressed a hand to her forehead, forcing her spinning mind to put together the action she’d missed: Silas must have attacked and lunged straight for her. Drake had thrown her away and taken the venomous bite instead of her.
Silas stopped circling Drake, slamming his foot into the ground and coming to a halt. “Give up, Drake,” he said. “You’re not going to win. And your father wants you
when you’re brought back.”
“I’m not going back,” Drake snarled. Then he nodded toward Allai and added, “And I’m not letting you touch the girl. So get away from her.”
Allai hedged back a few more steps and glanced over her shoulder. The creek ran behind her, trapping her in place. She balled her hand into a tight fist, until her fingernails dug painfully into her palm. If she was going to escape, she’d have to run right past Silas. And there was no hope there.
She’d just have to leave her life in the hands of Drake Rhaize, the person who had attempted to kill her. And the person with those haunting, golden eyes that somehow begged her to trust them.
Drake shot her a sideways glance. She caught the warning in it, and backed up a few more steps.
The glance didn’t last long before Silas charged at Drake. He feigned at the last moment, lunging at Allai instead.
She heard a high pitch scream. A second passed, and she didn’t breathe. Because she knew that scream was hers and that she was dead. But then she opened her eyes. And dead people didn’t open their eyes… did they?
No, they didn’t. She took a shuddering breath as she looked down to find all her limbs intact.
Then she did the last thing she wanted to do: She looked
. Her breathing stopped again, and both her hands balled into fists. She could feel her pulse halting halfway down her fingertips, her hands too tightly bunched for it to continue further.
Drake stood over Silas. His claws were still extended, but now coated in slick, dark red liquid. Blood? It had to be, because Silas wasn’t breathing. He just lay on the ground, his eyes staring blankly at the overcast sky and his hands limply resting on his chest. Allai looked away the moment she noticed the red on his shirt. She didn’t want to see the wound. Or the death.
Her eyes found Drake. He just stared at his victim lying on the muddy ground, his claws slowly retracting into his forearm. As they withdrew, they left droplets of blood to slowly trickle from the spaces between his knuckles. Drake’s breaths came in and out unevenly, and his entire body shook. His eyes grew wide with sickened disbelief.