As I flew, quite literally, through the dark forest treetops, Ronan silently followed behind me. Graceful and quiet, he sprung from branch to branch, from tree to tree, sticking to my heels like a shadow through the woods. He did not complain or struggle to keep up as I increased my speed, effortlessly twirling, somersaulting and diving around every branch in my path.
I glanced down, my sharp eyes easily able to see all the way to the forest floor. Occasionally, I would see a dark shape as we silently passed above. Creatures of the forest, the kind who thrived in the night. Once upon a time, I would’ve been terrified at the thought of those unknown beasts lurking below me.
But not now. Not anymore.
Now, I was the one they should be wary of.
Swift, silent, deadly, and eagerly seeking vengeance... We were practically invisible as we followed the scent of our companions. A scent which grew stronger by the minute as we drew nearer and nearer.
I gritted my teeth as I dodged between the trees, perplexed and worried as to why I was not picking up on the scent of Marrok, Andromeda or Torryn’s blood. Only Dristan’s... What were those monsters doing to him?
My teeth involuntarily bared themselves in fury as the possibilities of what was happening to him flashed through my mind. I could feel my canines lengthening, ready to tear the soft flesh from the human soldiers throats. My fingertips throbbed as my nails protruded, sharpening into deadly points. My magic burned within me, desperate to be unleashed.
The more pronounced the scent of Dristan’s blood became, the more I began to lose touch with rational thought. While the rational side of my mind ebbed away, something else inside of me was building to take it’s place. Something dark, violent and extremely dangerous.
Something lethal, pregnant with malice and spite... And when it was born, unleashed upon the soldiers who had spilled my mate’s blood, I knew that they would scream and beg for mercy at my feet. The image curled my lips into a wicked smile.
I was turning into someone else. Someone I did not know, did not fully understand... Someone I was unaware existed, as if she had been slumbering beneath my skin, waiting patiently to wake at a time when she was needed most.
Someone that thirsted for blood. Someone that did not know guilt, or remorse, or reason. Someone that only knew that my mate’s life was in danger, and that she would die before she stood aside and let it happen to him.
It was a part of me that was even more inhuman than I already was.
And I welcomed her.
I slowed my pace as a strange light source came into view up ahead. It looked like torch light... Only it was violet.
I lowered my body through the air, settling mt feet gracefully onto the thick tree branch below me. I felt Ronan’s presence appear to my right as I lowered my stance, crouching on the limb like a jungle cat.
“I’ve never seen light like that.” He whispered almost inaudibly through the shadows. Had I been human, I wouldn’t have heard him.
“Neither have I. Proceed with caution.” I whispered back, just as quietly.
We crept closer.
Me, floating on a ghostly wind. Ronan, moving from tree to tree with skilled silence.
The violet glow grew brighter. We were close... Very close.
The scent of Dristan’s blood was suffocating. It overwhelmed me, sending powerful waves of rage up and down my body. The stranger, the monstrous female beneath my skin, clawed at my insides, begging me to let her out so she could find the human soldiers and rip them to bloody ribbons.
But I did not let her out. Not yet...
Here... They’re here....
I motioned for Ronan to stop and I came to rest upon another branch. He was as my side in an instant, his eyes alert and analyzing the scene below. What I saw beneath us nearly stopped my heart.
The violet light we had been seeing was torch light, after all... But not any kind I’d ever seen before. The twelve torches were speared into the soft, earthy ground, standing about six feet high, and were formed into the shape of a circle.
Then the smell hit me.
Something familiar, but alien. The scent I’d been getting back at the site of the ambush! It was almost a chemical scent, something sharp, putrid and slightly sweet. It burned my throat, making me gag.
The torches... They’d been rigged with it. Somehow, the humans had learned how to bind it with fire. The circle of night-bane torches were no doubt a defense mechanism. A clever one. No magical being within fifty feet of that scent would dare to go near it.
As I breathed the scent in I could feel the effects it had on my power almost instantly. It was like breathing onto ice cold glass... The clear glass would fog, making the image on the other side of it blurry and distant. That was how my magic felt in the presence of the night-bane.
If I was closer or breathed it in for long, it would surly snuff my magic out completely. I covered my nose with my arm, burying my face into the crook of my elbow. Ronan did the same, his brows drawing together in surprise and disgust.
His furrowed eyes met mine. “You okay?” He breathed silently.
I nodded, pressing my mouth and nose closer to my arm.
We turned back to the scene below.
In the center of the circle sat a large cage. When I spotted Marrok, Torryn and Andi inside of it, I immediately knew that the cage was made of iron. The three of them sat hunched over, back to back, in the middle of the cage. A tripod of dragon, dragon and wolf. They were cringing into each other, away from the iron bars, desperate to get as far away from the dreadful metal as possible. Andi was crying.
I squinted my eyes and realized that they were all bound and gagged. Their wrists were fastened together with rope as well as their ankles. The cloths that had been stuffed into their mouths were no doubt soaked in a night-bane concoction of some kind, draining them of their magic and strength.
Outside the cage, ten heavily armed, smug looking human soldiers stood. Their backs were to the cage. They faced the far right of the circle, their eyes trained on the entertainment that was taking place there.
To the far right of the circle, my mate was on his knees. His wrists were bound with iron chains. His ankles were as well, and the long chain attached to his legs was staked into the ground. Like the others, he was gagged with a night-bane soaked cloth.
But what horrified, enraged, and tortured me more than anything were the long, bloody shreds of ruined flesh covering his entire back. He panted through the gag, his brow furrowed tightly, his tormented eyes staring into the trees beyond the torches. His back bled profusely onto the ground behind him.
An eleventh soldier stood behind him, the iron tipped whip gripped tightly in his fist. He smiled proudly at what he’d done to my mate.
He raised the whip and struck. The sound sliced through the night, quick and loud, like lightening. New blood glistened in the violet fire’s glow as it slid down his ruined back.
“Tell me where the rest of your people are!”
I hissed as I instinctively leaned forward. Ronan reached out and gripped my shoulder roughly, stopping me.
Dristan’s body tensed as the crack of the whip echoed through the trees. His eyes screwed shut in pain as he bared his teeth... And then they opened again. He continued to stare blankly into the forest in front of him.
“Hmm... Still hasn’t cracked... Or screamed. Has anyone been counting the lashes?” The disgusting soldier asked, turning toward his troop of men.
They glanced at each other dumbly, shrugging before they turned back to the man with the whip. He sighed in aggravation, pinching the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb.
“Imbeciles...” He mumbled.
“Thirty-eight.” Dristan’s feeble voice answered darkly.
All eleven of the soldier’s widened their eyes.
The man with the whip slowly turned back toward my mate, his expression growing colder as his hand flexed around the handle of the whip. “What did you say?”
Dristan chuckled quietly. The movement of his laughter made his back bleed more. “You hit like a bitch.”
I heard Torryn laugh from inside the cage.
The eleventh soldier’s eyes bulged out of his skull, his face burning red with rage. “Irreverent swine!"
He lunged again, lashing Dristan across the back five more times in quick succession.
“Where are your people? Where is the Fae girl from the village?!”
Dristan’s face screwed up in anguish, his teeth gritted together fiercely, as his body went ridged with the pain of the impact. But still, he made no sound.
Let me out, let me out, let me out! The dangerous entity within me screamed.
I turned to Ronan.
“Get the others out of that cage. Stay out of my way.” I hissed.
He blinked at me with wide eyes.
I turned, my muscles coiled and ready. I was about to leap out of the tree when again, Ronan reached out and gripped my shoulder to stop me.
“Are you certain you can handle all of them on your own?” He whispered, his voice tainted with worry.
I flashed him a sharp toothed smile. “I’ve never been more certain of anything in my entire life.”
He held my stare a few moments longer before nodding swiftly. Then, he disappeared from my side and silently made his way around the circle, through the trees. He stopped when he was as close to the cage as possible from our position in the canopy.
He met my eyes again. I nodded and turned away from him.
Let me out, let me out, let me out! The monster inside of me continued to scream, pounding her fists on the doors of my subconscious.
I stood, my hands balled into fists at my sides. I sucked in a long, quivering breath as I felt every ounce of pent up aggression, hatred and fury rising to the surface of my skin. My magic boiled within me, eager and ready.
I closed my eyes.
Three more cracks of the horrid whip echoed through the trees. The scent of blood grew stronger. Something inside of me broke free.
“Answer me you gods damned animal!”
My eyes flew open and I ceded control to the most inhuman part of myself that I’d ever known. The part of me that only existed to protect her mate. The part of me that would burn someone alive for having the audacity to harm him.
She was wrath incarnate.
With no thought or effort involved, I did something I’d never been able to do before. I teleported. One moment, I’d been in the tree. The next, I was in the circle, standing directly between the eleventh soldier and Dristan.
The man nearly fell on his ass, his face awash with surprise and fear.
“Argh!” He bellowed as the whip fell from his hand.
The scent of the night-bane torches was much stronger down here. I held my breath, not allowing it to suck any of my power away from me.
The other men stumbled backward, their eyes wide, their faces turning white.
A heard a small intake of breath from behind me as my mate caught my scent. He could not see me, but he knew I was here.
“Brenya.” He whispered.
Then, he slumped forward and passed out on the ground.
“Kill it! Kill the Fae bitch!” The eleventh man cried, crouching down and blindly searching for his whip. His hand explored the ground a foot away from the handle, which he could not see because his eyes were glued to my face in terror.
The soldiers fumbled for their weapons belts with clumsy hands, their reaction time slowed and their minds numb with fear.
Weak. Fragile. Human.
I smiled at them, enjoying the way they gasped at the sight of my enormous canines.
My arms flew out to my sides. An intense gush of wind exploded out of my palms on either side of me. I sent each burst of wind away from me in a crescent moon shape, which together, made a circle.
Instantaneously, the night-bane torches were extinguished.
Now they were weak, fragile, human and blind.
But I wasn’t. I could see ten times better than a human.
I inhaled the clean air.
One of the soldiers knocked a silver filled arrow and blindly fired it in my direction. It missed me by three feet and thudded loudly as it was embedded into a nearby tree.
Again, with little thought or effort involved, I lifted my hands. When I clenched them into fists, every, single one of the soldier’s weapons began to slowly disintegrate into dust.
Somewhere far away, I thought to myself, “Wow. I didn’t know I could do that.”
“What the rutting hell is happening?!” A soldier cried out in confusion.
I jumped into a passing wind, letting it carry me quickly around the circle of torches as I lit them with regular flame instead of the dreadful night-bane flame. I wanted them to see what I was doing to them. I wanted them to see how powerless they were against me.
When they could see clearly again, the soldiers began to shout as they realized I was flying. I landed, positioning myself in front of Dristan once more, and smiled carnivorously at the panicking soldiers.
Their heads alternated between me, and the crumbling weapons in their hands. The weapons were turning to sand between their fingers, falling to the ground at their feet in silver colored piles of useless powder.
I spared only one weapon.
The eleventh soldier gaped at me and then dove, desperate to get to the weapon. I did not move. I watched him, a small smile still set upon my face, as his hands curled around the handle. He gasped in and out as he stumbled to his feet, clutching the whip for dear life.
The other soldiers watched, frozen in fear, unsure of what to do as their weapons were now gone.
I cocked my head at the eleventh soldier, my smile growing wider.
He steadied his feet, bracing them apart. His hands shook as he watched me gaze at him.
“Well? Aren’t you going to kill the Fae bitch?” I purred, not moving an inch.
He sucked in a trembling breath, his eyes wide with alarm and confusion.
“Go on...” I encouraged, lifting my chin as my grin exposed my sharp teeth.
He waited a beat.
And then he reared back. His arm arched over his head, the whip following, stretched and ready to snap against my flesh.
I snapped my fingers and the eleventh soldier was immobilized.
The tail of the whip fell limply over his head, dangling in front of him beside his wide eyed face.
I laughed. “Too slow.”
His eyes swiveled around his in skull, the rest of his body completely frozen.
“Run!” One of the other soldiers shouted.
The group of men turned to flee, screaming profanities as they did.
I closed my eyes, latching my power onto the earth beneath my feet. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Roots and vines sprung to life beneath the soldier’s boots, snaking up their ankles and tripping them. One at a time, screaming with dread, the soldiers fell to the ground. The roots continued to tangle around them, working up their calves, thighs, torsos, and stopping when they reached their necks.
Until they were cocooned with the earth.
I could feel my body growing weaker. I could feel the exhaustion creeping on. With my extensive, never ending training, I was able to do more and hold the power for longer. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this up for much longer without putting myself in danger.
“You will all burn for what you’ve done.” I whispered, walking slowly toward the ten, earth wrapped men on the ground. “And after I’ve burned you alive, you will continue to burn in hell.”
They whimpered in the dirt.
Without another word, My hand lifted.
My palm aimed for the cocooned soldiers. The men who burned the Bakru village to the ground. The men who murdered all of those innocent men, women and children. The men who ambushed my family, took them prisoner, hurt them... The men who stood aside, watched and laughed as the eleventh soldier whipped my mate until his skin hung from his spine in bloody ribbons.
And when the flames shot out of my hand... When the screaming began, and the smell of charred skin and hair filled the air...
I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt.
My power ebbed. I could use no more without risking my life. The most I could do was keep the soldier who had whipped my mate immobilized. Anything more than that would drain me completely.
I turned back to the eleventh soldier. His eyes were glued to his burning men, tears streaming down his cheeks. Slowly, I stalked toward him, my hands tucked behind my back. I could not kill him with my magic... But that would not stop me from killing him.
His eyes slid to mine and I could almost see as his life flashed before them. He knew he was going to die.
I crept toward him, my face void of emotion. A strangled sob escaped his throat as I pulled my curved dagger from my hip.
I stopped, inches from the vile man, and rose the dagger to his throat. I did not recognize my own voice as I whispered, “You hurt my mate. Now I will hurt you.”
Perhaps I'd whip him, first...
“STOP!” A strange voice suddenly shouted from behind me. “DON’T MOVE OR I’LL SHOOT!”
I knew that voice.
I looked over my shoulder and locked eyes with Ferrin.
He was standing in front of the iron cage. There was a bow in his hands, a silver filled arrow aimed at my back. Ronan was on the ground behind him, an iron net thrown over his body. He was gagged, like the rest of my family.
Ferrin must have been hiding somewhere close by... He’d ambushed Ronan while he was trying to free the others. While I’d been distracted with my revenge...
He'd probably threatened to kill me, or one of them, if they cried out to warn me.
“Ferrin...” I whispered in shock. “What are you doing?”
“Make one move against the soldier or me and I will kill you!” He answered, stretching the bow’s string further back to emphasize his point.
My eyes burned with un-shed tears at his betrayal. Ferrin had been my friend... How could he do this to me? To us? To his own kind?
“How could you?” My voice was hardly audible.
His eyes flashed with pain. “I have no choice. I need him.”
My brows drew closer. “Why?”
His eyes burned into me as we stared at each other. I waited. He was silent for a long while, the arrow still aimed to kill.
Finally, he answered.
His voice was broken and trembling.
“They have my wife and my children. If I do not lead them to the Aviary... they are going to kill them.”