The Rise

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Chapter Thirty-Four

Valerio and I waited outside of the prison for Nakida to be brought to an interrogation room. “You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to,” I said to him.

He pressed his lips together and focused on the door. “I need to talk to her.”

I nodded. “I admire you Valerio.” In a sense, Valerio was so much stronger than I was when it came to relationships. When Damon nearly rejected me, I ran from him and didn’t want to face the truth. But, Valerio wanted to talk to Nakida so he could get through this.

The guard opened the prison door for us, allowing us to enter. As we descended the stairs, they creaked, announcing our grand entrance.

We walked down the hall of cells. Most were empty because the Challengers that we’ve faced were killed on the spot. None of them were smart enough to actually know any information about the Hunter and Aeron, so they were useless to us.

Vihaan sat against the wall in the last cell with his head hung low. When I appeared at his cell, he lazily gazed up. His cheeks were sunken in slightly from refusing to eat any sort of food we had brought him. He sickened me.

I stepped closer to the bars, grabbing onto one of them. We weren’t here for him, but there was one question that had been on my mind since I found out he betrayed me. “Were you ever friends with Damon?”

He pursed his lips together, his palm forming a fist. “Don’t bring him up.”

“I do as I please, Vihaan.” My fist clenched around the bar. “Answer the question.”

Vihaan slammed his fist into the concrete, bruising his knuckles. I didn’t flinch, like I knew he wanted me to. He was trying to intimidate me, but I couldn’t be intimidated by people like him anymore.

After cradling his hand and trying to wipe the blood off of it, he took a deep breath. “Yes, we were really friends.” His voice was quiet.

“Then why did you betray him?”

“If you couldn’t tell, Damon isn’t here anymore.”

I grazed my fingers against Damon’s mark, seeing his smile in my mind. “Damon is in front of you. His soul is alive and well, Vihaan. He lives through me. So… Why did you do it? Why did you give the man who killed your friend the one thing that he wanted?”

When Vihaan didn’t say anything, Valerio cleared his throat. “What did he give you?”

“Money? Women? Power?” I asked. I didn’t understand it. It made no sense. Why would he willingly give the skull to Aeron and lie about it?

Vihaan gazed down at the ground, watching the blood pool underneath his hand. I should’ve known I would get nothing out of our conversation. I pushed myself off of the bars and continued down the hallway to the interrogation room with Valerio following after me.

In the room, Nakida sat in the chair with chains on her wrists and on her ankles. Her knotty hair looked like it hadn’t been tended to in days. Her eyes were sad and tired.

A part of me felt bad for Nakida, but the logical part of me was furious with her.

Valerio pulled out the chair for me, but I didn’t sit. Instead, I urged him to sit across from Nakida. Not only did I want Valerio to feel closure, but I wanted to see just how Nakida had been playing him.

She reached out to graze her fingers across his forearm. When he immediately pulled away, she looked hurt.

“Why did you do it?”

A tear slid down her cheek. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. She wrapped her arms around herself. “I love him.”

Valerio showed no emotion. I had expected his eyebrows to furrow together or his eyes to soften, but there was nothing. She grazed her feet against his under the table and, again, he pulled away his foot.

“I told you he was bad for you,” Valerio said. “I don’t want an apology from you. You betrayed the Protectors.”

She shook her head.

Valerio clenched his jaw and stood, his chair screeching against the concrete. “Yes, you did. There is no excuse for it. You gave the enemy the one thing we had against him. You realize that you have betrayed all of our people - every single one of our wolves!”

From Valerio’s sudden outburst of anger, I could tell that he wasn’t jealous of Vihaan anymore. His anger was on her betraying us.

Again, she shook her head. “No… no… I didn’t… he-he doesn’t… have it.”

I furrowed my eyebrows together. “Aeron doesn’t have the skull?”

She paused for the longest moment. “No.” She stared down at the table.

“Are you lying to me, Nakida?” I asked. I couldn’t believe her anymore. I wasn’t sure what was the truth and what was a lie.

She gazed at me, shaking her head. “He doesn’t have it, Moon Goddess.” Her lips quivered. “I-I… knew there was something up with Vihaan when he came over that night. So… so I…” She refused to meet Valerio’s gaze. “...seduced him…”

“You seduced him without direct orders?”

She reluctantly nodded her head. “Yes,” she spoke so softly.

“Didn’t you think to tell us about it?” Valerio asked. “You didn’t think to mention it even one time?”

I pressed my lips together and gazed at Valerio. “Do we believe her?” I linked him.

He gazed at me, no emotion in his eyes. “I don’t know. She looks to be telling the truth, but I can’t trust her at all after what she’s done.”

I frowned at Nakida and sat in the chair across from her. I made no move to coddle her, to tell her everything would be alright, because it wouldn’t. Even if she was telling the truth, she did this behind my back. She failed to ask me or to inform me. There would be consequences to her actions.

Every second the skull was not in a safe place, every second that I didn’t know where it laid was another second that we could be found out. Aeron could be getting stronger by the minute. I didn’t know how fast that thing worked if he had stumbled upon it.

“Where is it, Nakida?” I asked. She gazed down again and played with her fingers. I slammed my palms on the table. “Damn-it. Just tell me before I have to force you to tell me.”

She jumped in her seat. “It’s underground, where the Challengers were keeping Samuel and the pups.”

My eyes widened. “You put it on Aaisha’s property?” I pressed my lips together before I could freak out anymore and then mindlinked a Protector, telling him to search for the skull. When I reopened my eyes, Nakida was staring at me with tears in hers. “Do you know how much danger that put her in? She’s pregnant, Nakida! Pregnant.” I stood up and hovered over her. “She has a pup inside of her. If Aeron found her, he would’ve killed her without thinking twice. She’s exactly what the Hunter and he are looking for.”

I ran my hands through my hair and looked over at Valerio. “If you don’t deal with this, I’m going to, and if I do…” I shook my head. “...I’m going to do something we both regret.”

Valerio was quiet for a long time. He just stared at Nakida with an unreadable expression on his face. Then, he shook his head. “Maybe, that will be the best for all of us.” He turned toward the door. “I thought you were smarter than that Nakida.” He walked out without another word.

I followed him out, unable to even breathe the same air as she did. A part of me thought that this was worse. She directly put Aaisha’s life and her pup’s life in danger - her own damn friend.

I stopped myself from turning around and ending her life right then and there. I was not in the right mindset and would’ve sentenced her to far more than death.

Anyway I looked at it, she betrayed me. She could’ve informed me so I wouldn’t have to find this out the hard way. She could’ve told me that she was storing it in a safe place, so I wouldn’t have to think the worst of her.

I needed to secure the skull.

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