It starts as a tingling in my chest, like when you drink a soda too quickly and the bubbled get trapped, but soon that feeling spreads to the rest of my limbs. Soon I can feel every nerve ending I have and every single one of them is telling me to be on high alert.
I turn in slow circles, eyes scanning the parking lot. This, this is the feeling I have felt building up inside of me all week. This is what I felt the night I arrived home to find my house surrounded by police, how I felt when I saw my mother at the hospital, and how I have been feeling randomly since then, only now it is stronger. Only this is how it feels in its entirety, when it doesn’t stop as soon as it begins.
This feeling demands I pay attention to it and, because I have seen so many damn movies where the heroine does something stupid like ignore her own instincts, I make sure to listen. “Axel, where is Alyssa?”
“I don’t know.” His eyes dark around the parking lot. “Why, what is going on? Stop spinning, you’re making me dizzy.”
“Reaper, and it’s close by.”
Axel has his phone out and is already dialing his sister’s number as soon as the word ‘Reaper’ leaves my mouth. “Hey, where are you? Shit. Okay, tell her that you will car her later, grab your stuff, and meet me at my car. Alyssa, I don’t care. No, get here right now!”
Alyssa is jogging up to the car in less than five minutes, her hair wild from where she has been running. “Are you going to tell me what is going on? I was in the middle of something important that we might have to talk about later but might also never talk about.”
“There’s a Reaper nearby,” I answer before Axel has a chance to.
She takes a worried step towards her brother. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I continue scanning the parking because, for some unknown reason, I know it is close enough to be seen. I don’t know how I know, but I know it is watching me. It is waiting for me to find it. “I’ve been getting weird feelings since my mom was attacked, only they haven’t been lasting long. I broke into my house the day after she was attacked and I felt it then, only nowhere near as strong as I do now. I think it’s becaus-”
“You did what?” Axel gasps. “Jesus, Eveline, I know that I can’t stop you from doing dumb shit but could you at least give me a heads up in the future before doing the dumb shit so I can keep an eye on you? I could have gone with you to your hours. What if that Reaper had been waiting for you? You’re strong but not strong enough to take down one that has come of age.”
I catch a glimpse of something dark moving down by the track. “Whatever. It wasn’t there and nothing happened, but it is here now and I need you to take Alyssa home.”
“Go straight home, make no stops for any reason, and tell mom what happened. I will call or text when I am finished here.” He pulls his keys from his pocket and tosses them to Alyssa.
“Are you sure?” She jerks her head in my direction. “Axel, her eyes.”
I don’t have to check myself to know what she is seeing, I felt the change the moment it happened. My nightly activities in the woods have made me more aware of the transitions my body makes when it shifts into Reaper mode.
I feel the muscles in my body tighten in preparation for an attack, ready to make whatever moves needs to be made to avoid being hit. My heart rate picks up, pushing adrenaline through my veins. This will give me the ability to run fast and hit harder. My vision sharpens, ensuring that my prey will be easier to hunt.
No wonder the Nexxus try to remain hidden from us, we are prime examples of hunters. Everything we can do is designed to hunt them down and kill them.
I can clearly hear Axel’s heartbeat from where I am standing and, I will give credit when it is due, he is calm as hell.
He slides his sunglass over my eyes. The parking lot has almost cleared out but I don’t want to risk that any of the stragglers might take notice of my eyes and cause a scene; there is no guarantee that I won’t eat them right now.
“It’s fine,” Axel assures his worried sibling. “She’s got this under control. She won’t hurt me. Now, go home and let me know when you get there.”
I hear the tires screech as she flees the parking lot and heads for home.
“You should have gone with her,” I mumble as we near the spot on the track where I thought I saw something earlier.
He quickens his stride to match mine, weaving in and out of parked cars. “I told you, I’m in this with you. I’m not about to run and hide and leave you to face down some Reaper all by yourself.”
“You could barely keep me in place that day in the woods and I’m not even a full-fledged Reaper, what are you going to do to it?”
“What I have to when I have to,” he answers grimly.
The track and the field next to it are empty by the time we arrive but the edginess I am feeling hasn’t subsided, letting me know that the Reaper is still close by.
I close my eyes, trying to silence the voices screaming in my mind for me to take out the Nexxus next to me as fuel for the potential fight I will be in.
“Eveline, maybe we sho-”
“Shhh,” I hush him. “I’m trying to focus.”
“Focus on what?”
“Not killing you.”
His silence is all the answer I need to know that he understands that struggle I am going through right now.
A branch snaps in the woods and I take off, leaving Axel behind me.
I dodge in and out of trees, running faster than I have in the past. I do not hold myself back at all, allowing my instincts to guide me as to where I am going and my vision zeroes in on the steady moving, black cloud moving Reaper ahead of me.
It suddenly stops and I decrease my speed, skidding to a halt about twenty feet away from it. Dark smoke like clouds billow around it, blocking me from seeing the person hidden within them.
I plant my feet firmly on the ground as my body tells me to and prepare myself to an attack. “Why run? Were you not expecting me? Must suck to have come all the way here for a tasty little Nexxus snack only to find that they had backup.”
The smoke dissipates, revealing a man who can’t be much older than twenty standing in front of me.
He is dressed in a pair of fitted black jeans and a maroon shirt and, for a second, I am actually taken aback by how utterly attractive he is. His features are striking: the sharpness of his jawline, blue-black hair gelled back stylishly, and emerald eyes.
If I didn’t know what he was I would be drooling all over myself right now.
“I ran because I wanted to watch you chase me,” he laughs, his accent thick and hard to place. “Always dreamt of being chased down something as gorgeous as you. I didn’t come here for either of the two Nexxus, else I would have chased down the one that left in the car. No, I came here for you.”
I can hear the leaves rustling under Axel’s feet as he comes rushing towards us. He is much faster than I assumed he would be and is not even close to being out of breath.
“A promise.” He tilts his head to the side, looking over my shoulder at the boy who is now standing off to the right behind me. “Stay back, Nexxus. I didn’t come here for you but I will not hesitate to have my fill of you, I can taste your power from here. Don’t tempt fate, boy.”
I hold my hand up at my side, motioning for Axel to remain where he is. “You came here for a promise of what?”
The Reaper shakes his head. “Not of what but to whom. A promise I made to my own father a week before yours killed him. You see, your father didn’t exactly leave our coven on the best of terms. He broke a lot of rules he shouldn’t have, which earned him a lot of enemies he really didn’t need. He wasn’t too pleased to find that we had learned of your existence or how strong you’d be once you come of age. My father knew it would only be a matter of time before yours tried to silence him, so he made me promise to find you and bring you back to our coven should something happen to him. He made me promise to bring you back where you belong. I would have been here sooner, but I got a little distracted on my way down. I’d always heard that if we drained enough from a person that we could get into their head but I hadn’t tried it until then. It was fun, so I did it twenty more times.”
I gasp. “The attacks upstate? That was you?”
“The one and only.” He gives a small bow. “I’ll let them credit it to drugs, just to keep it on the safe side. Impressed? Don’t worry, sweetheart, that is just one of the multitude of things that I plan on teaching you once that birthday of yours rolls around. If you’re really nice to me, maybe I’ll teach you a few other things too. Want to hear a secret? Of course, you do. It can be done on them too, the Nexxus. It takes more practice but there is nothing more entertaining than making one of them turn on their own.”
“While all of that sounds sadistically interesting, I am going to pass.”
“I thought there was a chance you might say that.” He examines his nails casually. “However, you really don’t have a choice in the matter. The only decision you get to make is what condition you want to show up in, beaten or whole. I’ve seen your father lately and, sweetheart, he isn’t in any condition to repay us any of the debt that he owes, so we are taking you and calling it even.”
“If you did anything to him, I swear I w-”
“Relax,” he drawls, chuckling to himself. “Your father is in the same condition he was when I first arrived, though I am not so sure that will be the case for long. Things are not looking too good for him and that has nothing to do with me or anyone else in the coven. He has himself to blame. He foolish ran off and decided to fight his nature, now he has to deal with the consequences. He deserves all the pain he is in now and will be in the future. But, I digress, that was more of a statement than a request. You are the payment for the debt your father owes. Shall we go now? Or would you prefer I wait until you’ve had a chance to say goodbye to that mother of yours? I tried to talk to her, by the way, but she was just not listening to anything I had to say. Do you know that she actually tried to stab me? Not smart on her part. Did wann't to end her but I had to make a point.”
The sky darkens above us, the storm that has been looming overhead all day now threatening to break loose.
Hearing him mention my mother sends spikes of anger pulsing through me and I have to stop myself from charging, reminding myself how strong he actually is. “How about we go with the third option, I stay here and you leave with all your limbs intact?”
“Did you, did you just threaten me?” He feigns confusion, glancing around like he thinks there might be someone else there even though we both know there isn’t. “Do not test my patience, sweetheart. I told you, there are no stipulations on the condition in which I have to bring you in and I will not hesitate to throw that pretty ass of yours through a tree. Now, come along.”
“Go to hell.”
He cracks his knuckles, black clouds billowing out from behind him. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The Reaper doesn’t see the tree branch that comes swinging towards him until it smashes into the back of his head, knocking him to the ground. Roots shoot out of the soil as he does, wrapping themselves around his ankles and wrists. They tug, more springing into place as he breaks them.
I back up, stopping once I am next to Axel.
The ground below the Reaper shakes, large roots wrapping around his body. The soil seems to give way as the roots tighten, pulling him into the ground.
Trees tilt towards him, threatening to remove themselves completely just to force him lower.
The Reaper howls in anger, tearing himself free of his nature-made shackles. “You’ve made a big mistake, Nexxus.”
I take a protective stance in front of Axel, my glare locking with the challenging one the Reaper wears. He looks past me, thunder crashing in the distance.
His posture relaxes and he holds his hands up in surrender. “Not today. Not yet. You, sweetheart, are going to be a handful in a couple of months and, I must say, I am so looking forward to how much fun we will be having together. See you soon.”
Smoke shields his face from us and he is off, moving like lightning through the trees and away from us.
He disappears from sight but I don’t move, still waiting for him to reappear and strike.
There is no way he just gave up like that. No way in hell.
“Eveline,” Axel says from behind me. “Time to bring yourself down. He’s gone and I don’t think he’s coming back, at least not yet.”
I nod but I keep my eyes focused on the tree-line. Something about the way that Reaper talked about our supposed future together lets me know that he knows more than he is saying.
My chest burns with uncertainty and, even though I can no longer see him, I know he is still watching.