For those who prefer action, here is a revised scene from the Harvest Moon hunt. Some good old action which I prefer more. You get to see the Wolf version of Lilith and also Nolan, who is the big bad for this book. Sadly, the Spirits mostly got booted due to word count restriction. You see them here sort of, but they aren't in the book like before. Wayfarer had to go, which made me sad, because I had big plans for him, but if I really want to, I can re-introduce him in another book. This scene takes place just after Rune had been attacked and taken by another Vampire. I like this chapter and the following one, where Lucien makes an appearance but, you know, I want to keep SOME mystery for if (when!) the book actually publishes. Hell, maybe I'll even self-publish. Enjoy!
"No!" I scrambled to my feet, for a moment at a loss. I froze as the Vampire shook Rune, trying to break the last of the fight out of him. Then, without thinking, I threw myself at the Vampire, trying to pry his hand from Rune's neck.
With an annoyed growl the Vampire swung and backhanded me.
Everything burst into hot white stars and I was lying on my back, the world screaming in a high pitch ring. My teeth ached, my mouth tasted of copper. Confused, I tried to touch my face but my arm was too heavy to lift. My ears rung and the stars above seemed to be doing a wild deranged dance.
Suddenly the Vampire's face obscured my vision. He was looking down at me, his long hair brushing over my skin. His eyes were an unnatural violet. "You're Luce's girl," he said, his voice slightly muffled behind his grinning mask and hardly audible over the ringing. "Nolan's looking for you. I suggest you run."
Rune called out my name, his voice brittle but I couldn't respond, my head still throbbing. Then there was nothing but darkness as I slipped into unconsciousness.
I felt it even as I swam through a sea of black.
Scratch just beneath my skin. I licked my lips, tasting nothing. I inhaled the sharp forest air, smelling nothing. With a groan I dragged my eyes open; the twisting, digging pain at the back of my skull growing unbearable.
The night splayed out above me much as it had before I had slunk off into darkness. The branches creaked and groaned overhead, stirring in the cold wind.
She leaned over me, her bone earring swinging around her chin and clattering together in a disturbing chatter. In her mismatched eyes of blue and gold I saw a rage there, a barely contained fury festering inside her.
"Wake up," she snapped, hands resting on her knees as she crouched over me. Her fingers were dark talons that clicked together impatiently.
Cold terror speared through me and my breath caught. I immediately jerked, my entire body twitching and yet she reached down with one of those clawed hands and kept me pinned, effortlessly. "Stop squirming and wake up. I would've done it for us if it weren't for the fucking iron."
The thought slithered through me. Had it not been for the iron around my neck, would she have filled my limbs, pulled my body up like a puppet, and drowned the world with her rage?
"You're not me," I hissed between clenched teeth, the throbbing pain making even the light sound torturous. I'm looking for a cure, I wanted to tell her. Then I wouldn't be this Ilati and she would be gone—poof.
Her lips lifted in a horrific sneer over her sharpened teeth. "Ah, but I am." She breathed over me, her eyes lighting in excitement. "Restrained, contained, but oh yes, I am."
A jab of anger burned through my fear and I twisted under her hand, ignoring the searing pain and wiggling away. "You killed my family." I shook my head even as I said it, trying to dislodge fantasy from fact. "I mean, you want to kill my family. I saw you. In my dream, I mean." I tried to block the flood of images—of blood and crunching bones and very still bodies.
The other me cocked her head briefly, earrings ringing. "I'm you, silly me. I can only do that which you desire to do."
I snorted, trying to dig my elbows into the earth to crawl backward. "Now I know you're lying. I would never want to hurt my mother or my sister."
A bright grin crept over her face and flashing all fangs. "Don't you, now?" She drawled, slowly, as if savoring the dark truth behind the short phrase. "How angry we are at them, you and I."
I shuddered, violently. "No! I'm not angry at all!" But wasn't I? And I spoke quickly, shifting topics because I always was good at avoidance. "You can't have my body. I won't let you."
"Oh, but I'd put it to much better use," she purred, fierce eyes brimming with delight at the possibility.
I swallowed the dry lump in my throat, staring at my hard, battle-sculpted twin. "You'll kill everyone." The vile image of delicate white fingers between her fangs caused my stomach to squirm.
She shrugged one of those square, muscular shoulders.
I scuttled farther back and she let me, jerking her head to the side in a quick, predator like movement.
And above her, lined in the trees and beneath a sky that was rapidly filling with swirling stars and long forgotten constellations, creatures appeared. They had always been there—somehow I knew that. Perched, watching, waiting, they stared down at me from their homes amongst the trees. Their hair, long and tangled, surrounded their faces and from some of their heads spouted horns—long curling horns of a ram or deer. All their eyes were massive, staring down at me in their complete color that was without pupil. Their skinny, abnormally long limbs were lined with jewelry, stone, bone, and wood that clattered and chimed, and even the silver around their slender body hissed in the night as they moved. And Goddess they were old. So very old. Older than the Nephilim, more ancient than the Vampire. They made the dusts of the earth appear as babies, the mountains as mere hills.
I curled under their unwavering gazes, something deep in me trembling and shaking at their silent stares. "What are those," I whispered, wrapping one arm around my knees, as if the fetal position would spare me their existence.
The Other Me tilted her head, craning her neck to stare up at the terrifying things within the trees. She clucked her tongue in an odd sound of annoyance or dislike. "The Ancients," she retorted, so calmly. "Little godlings. Tiny things compared to their older brethren." She waved one hand at the gods, her very similar bangles clattering as she attempted to wave them away. "Shoo," she hissed.
They simply raised long, paper-thin wings at her, scratching them together like dead skin or clattering like broken bones.
It made my skin crawl.
Their wings of gold, ocher, or hoary glittered as they shivered, some fluttering from tree branch to branch. They were utterly undeterred by us.
I shuddered under the rising din, trying to block out the scratching noise that sent chills down my spin. I recognized the sky now; it had consumed the much younger starscape I was accustomed to. "Why do you always bring me here?" I asked, fingers clamping around my ears, heavy with the weight of the creatures age and the sky's indifference.
She swung her head back towards me, for a brief moment actually looking like my exact mirror opposite with her perplexed expression. "I do not take you here. You take me."
I snorted. "Impossible. I couldn't possible make this place up."
Her eyes narrowed, and she scuttled towards me, never actually standing up, just an abrupt, squatted hop. "You are this place."
I snorted again.
"But even we can die. And we will die if you don't wake."
My brow furrowed as I stared into her cold, calculating eyes. "I'm trying," I said, though I honestly wasn't sure I had.
Yeah, that's real helpful. My fingers twitched and I curled them into a fist, digging my nails into my palm. With no effect. I was still dreaming enough to see the horrifically beautiful creatures above, watching me with unblinking, luminous eyes. "I can't," I whimpered.
They scared me; their slithering bodies were the sounds of a dying breathe, of that final death rattle.
Other Me snarled at my weakness. "Wake!" she snapped, the palm of her hand suddenly slashing against my cheek. "Wake, or they'll make meat of us both!"
The pain jarred through my skull and she pulled back her lips, exposing bright white fangs, threatening to sink them into my face. "Wake up, woman!"
A scream hung at the back of my throat as my eyes snapped open. I was met only with the sounds of my own gasps, the night silent of screaming women or hissing, rasping baby gods.
I was awake.
And with reality came the beating, crushing pain. My head ached, a hot pain consumed my entire right arm.
The leaves were icy, the air sharp, and all I could do was lie in all that cold, my breath floating above me in a hazy white mist. Slowly I managed to wiggle my fingertips. Sensation flooded back into my cold limbs and my head threatened to crack into two. With a groan I reached up and touched my face, gingerly pressing against the wet skin. My fingers came back coated in red. My heart jumped a little at the sight of the blood that glittered on my palm. I slowly sat up, the world swimming slightly. But if I gave it a moment everything stilled and though my head screamed and my limbs shivered, I seemed, by some miracle, to still be in one piece.
I glanced up at the sky, which had returned to far more mundane constellations. The branches were empty, but somehow I still felt the stares on me, as if they were still perched amongst the trees.
I shivered at the thought.
I carefully put my feet under me, pulling myself up until I swayed on my feet. It was a small triumph even if I nearly had to retch in the bushes. When I was finally capable of standing without thinking I was going to be sick, I looked around the forest. Thick trunked trees surrounded me, the moonlight filtering through leaves and pine needles with a silvery glow. I wrapped icy hands around my arms, doing a small turn. The scent of blood lingered in the air—some of it was mine, most of it was Rune's. I didn't know which way to go. I didn't even know which way the Vampire had taken Rune.
I whimpered, feeling tiny and very exposed against the bare trees, my mind racing between the threat of Vampires and terrifying Other Me that haunted my sleep. My stomach writhed in knots, Rune's absence so much more noticeable by the manner in which he had been taken. Had he lost too much blood? Would all those open wounds tempt his captor to beyond reason? Would he live? My mouth was dry with terror and worry.
In the dark I listened—for Vampires, for Quarry, and, wishfully, for Rune. But there was nothing in the night, only my gasping breath and the occasional whisper of branches scratching against branches.
I was left alone and I simply was going to have to…what? I couldn't even wrap my mind around what I was supposed to do now.
It was the light gurgle of running water that drew my attention back to the forest. I cocked my head, contemplating the sound. Hadn't Lucien Mesonger said something about a river? My feet dragged across the forest floor, following the hum of water against rock, until I broke through the tight and prickly brush, feet pausing at the edge of a rocky bank. Down below flowed a dark river, the current causing eddies to swirl around black rocks and sparkle silver in the moonlight.
Without thinking, I scooted down on my butt, scrambling down the steep and uneven rocks until my sneakers suddenly splashed into freezing cold water. I could feel the current tug at my ankles.
Vampires couldn't cross running water—not without losing some of their power, at least. It was one of the reasons Pamola was carved between so many canals. They were a natural defense system.
I gritted my teeth as I stepped farther into the river, gasping loudly against the freezing water. I wobbled uncertainly on the smooth rocks, fear jabbing me hard in the ribs. I didn't know how to swim and the current was a lot stronger than I would have preferred. "You can do this," I whispered to myself, a shiver already rolling up my body. All I had to do was keep to the shallow end. Maybe the river would even mask my scent.
As if to purposefully thwart me, my ankle rolled on an unsteady rock and I pitched forward with a short scream, plunging face first into the black water with a monstrous splash. The current immediately grabbed me, jerking my body farther into the river as a thousand tiny needles stabbed my skin. I gasped loudly in shock, the sting of the freezing water instantaneous. In wild hysteria I dug my heels into the rocks, trying to catch my balance, the water sucking around my neck and shoulders. I had to lean against the rushing water, finally standing but my feet kept shifting on the rocks beneath and my thighs ached with holding my weight against the current. My breath splashed out over the water in white puffs and my arms were flung outward under the water, trying to maintain my balance.
I knew immediately I couldn't stay here until dawn. The pain was already forcing my breath out in heavy pants and tears temporarily blinded me. My teeth chattered so hard my jaw ached. If I stayed here for much longer, I'd die simply by freezing to death.
I turned my head, trying to find the closest bank. Each breath was a knife in my chest and I coughed, choking on the pain. I was afraid to move too quickly, afraid I would lose my balance and slip farther into the icy water.
He appeared so suddenly that for a moment my brain simply couldn't grasp it. He stood silently on the bank, watching me with narrowed brown eyes.
"No," the cry came out as a sob and I instinctively floundered farther into the river.
He simply stood there, unmoving, eyes glowing in the low light. Still coughing against the cold, I realized he wouldn't come into the water. I surge of hope nearly overpowered the pain and I froze, staring back at him in our standoff. Could I somehow stay here until dawn? I gritted my teeth, forcing myself to embrace the pain. Nothing was getting me out of this water.
Then he merely said, in a low, cool voice, "Cerberus."
My brows shot together. "What?"
A snarl rumbled over the water and I swung around, splashing to keep my balance. A strangled scream caught in my throat.
The Cu Sith stood on the opposite bank, lips peeled back to expose long lines of brilliant white teeth. It was massive, heckles raised in a thick, shaggy mane of green. It was poised on long legs designed for running down its prey; its immense paws were the size of a man's head. It watched me with pale eyes that reflected the moonlight.
From behind me I heard Nolan calmly add, "Retrieve."
The Fay dog's face peaked with delight and all those cords of muscles bunched together as it launched itself from the rocky shelf, bearing down on me in one graceful leap.
I screamed, instinctively raising my feet and letting the current snatch me away. The beast landed with a thunderous splash, then its head burst through the waters surface as it swam towards me with strong, powerful strides.
Instantly I envisioned the Cu Sith from earlier, the flesh dangling from their jaws and panic seized my brain, taking over. I splashed through the water with a high keen, scuttling towards the bank. My head dunk under the water and a whole new terror gripped me as my lungs screamed for air. I clawed through the river, feet kicking wildly, finally finding purchase on shifting rocks, and I dug forward, pushing against the rushing water. For one nightmarish moment I seemed frozen in place, moving agonizingly slow until finally I was half out of the water, slipping on rocks, water thrashing around me as I raced for the bank. I could hear the dogs snorts as it swam after me, his ears pinned against his head.
My fingers scraped against the rocks and mud, digging into the roots as I hauled myself up the bank. The monster barked sharply as I jumped to my feet and I darted off into the night, running in a blind terror. I couldn't scream, concentrating just on my laboring breath as I stretched my legs as far as they would go, muscles burning as I sprinted on the tips of my toes. My clothes were heavy and the air was cold.
A weight hit me from behind, crushing me to the ground, knocking the air from my lungs. It was only then that I realized I had never made it to the opposite bank. The river had spun me around and spit me out on the same side.
"Your prince can't save you now," Nolan hissed into my ear, his chest grinding against my back and pinning me down.
Instantaneous panic. "Get off me!" I screamed, digging my palms into the dirt and trying to rock free.
But I could feel his heart racing, his breath rising with excitement. He pressed his nose down against the side of my face, deeply inhaling and the stench of lust caused me to gag. "Fight," he cooed into my ear. "Fight me," his body shivered, his groin grinding against my butt. I could feel his hard arousal digging into my flesh.
In horrified rage I howled, which only served to delight him more as he groaned in appreciation, writhing against me, his hands dragging down my sides, trailing too close to my hips. "Get off!" I snarled, terror feeding rage. I kicked, screamed, flailing my legs and elbows. They hit his sides, my heels beat against his shins, but he only laughed, his fingers reaching the band of my jeans and curling under the material. "Stop it!" I shrieked, panic winning as he tugged. The material groaning as it dug into my flesh.
"This will be my little gift to Lucien," he whispered, jerking his hand harder and my lower body was yanked off the ground as he tried to tear the jeans.
"Stop! Stop it!" This wasn't happening! This couldn't be happening! Where was my wolf now when I needed her most! "I don't know Lucien. He won't care about me!" I protested.
One of his hands pressed the back of my head against the ground and I wailed. One cheek was smashed against the cold crumbling leaves and my nails tore desperately at the dirt. But I couldn't get up, his weight and strength kept me pinned to the mud even as I screamed.
Nolan drew his mouth close to my ear, the cold metal of his mask digging into my cheek. "I think he will," he breathed against my neck. "No one likes it when someone breaks their toys." His voice then turned quiet, yet brittle. "And bitch, I'm going to break you," he diligently swore.
Tears dribbled off my chin and once again I inwardly wailed for being so weak—without a single spell at my disposal—I hated myself for it.
Suddenly his fingers were at my shoulder, flipping me over until I was on my back. I immediately balked, my heart pounding painfully as I tried to scuttle backwards.
"Ah ah," he tisked, shoving his weight back down on top of me, gripping one thigh and savagely shoving it to the side. "No where to run now, girl," and to punctuate his point he settled himself between my legs, grinding his arousal especially slow against my pelvis.
"No!" I screeched, my hands curling up and trying to shove at his shoulders, trying to force him off me. My brain clicked into some primal panic mode, as if it understood what was happening far better than little sheltered me ever could.
He merely laughed, my throes and thrashing only arousing him more. "My kind of girl," he groaned and with one hand he managed to capture my hands, crushing them together until my wrist bones felt as if they would snap.
All the strength in the world couldn't get him off me. I was trapped, snared like a rabbit and I could only rock my head back and scream to those uncaring stars, my voice bouncing back to me amongst the trees. Sobbing, I watched as he unlatched his mask. It fell to the ground with a thud and I could see it from the corner of my eye, nestled amongst the leaves and smiling back at me.
He bowed his head over my face, his wet tongue sliding down against my neck. My skin crawled. I gagged, trying to jerk my head away but he pressed his chest harder against mine. "I just want you to know, little girl," he breathed against my neck and his hot breath made me shudder. "I'm not the type of man to rush things."
"Please…" I sobbed, trying to push away his head with my chin, trying to curl away from him—feeling cracked open, exposed, bare to the world. "Please stop!"
And then he made the briefest of mistakes.
Propelled by lust and impatience, he released one of my hands, using his own to work at the buckles at his pants. He must have thought I was nothing to fear. And normally I would've been the first to agree with him. Either it was the wolf or just me, or maybe the two of us meshed together, but the moment my hand were free, I snapped. A clean break, I wasn't quite me anymore. I snarled, my chest filling with fury, my body quivering with outrage. My hand lashed out, catching his front of his shirt and I savagely yanked, trying to throw his weight off me one handed.
He realized his mistake instantly and countered to balance against my attempt and under my balled fist the buttons of his coat popped, ripping open the material and flashing his bare chest.
From around his neck, previously constrained by his coat, a fine gold chain spilled out. A circular maze danged in the space between us, spinning wildly like a deranged ballerina. We both froze, staring at the small amulet, as slowly, with each rotation, it brightened, a leisurely growing star, the heat from the coils increasing until I could feel the waves against my bare stomach. I instinctively flinched, knowing what the metal would feel like burning into my flesh.
Nolan stared at the swinging symbol, dumb shock scrawled across his face. His brown eyes locked on the scars between my breasts, the small crescent moons from where a similar necklace had left its brand.
He tore his eyes upward, staring at my face. "You're Darien's Ilati," he breathed in astonishment.
I had no idea who Darien was and I wasn't sticking around to find out. My lips pulled back from my teeth and I jerked forward, sinking my new found fangs into the soft flesh at the corner of his cheek.
I bit so hard that my teeth met and a clump of flesh filled my mouth.
He screamed. Truly screamed, jumping backwards and streams of blood pouring down his face. As he fell, my hand against his coat helped pull me up and suddenly I was the one on top. I jabbed with my other fist, striking his nose as hard and as effectively as I could. There was a strident crack, one that reverberated over the bare trees and vibrated through his body.
I lunged to my feet, jumping over his screaming body and throwing myself towards the trees. I spat out a chunk of flesh as I ran and despising that I sucked the blood from my teeth and the inside of my mouth.
"Cerberus!" He roared and I knew he was up and giving chase.
I could hear the dog behind me, feel its hot breath splash against my back and in one short moment I realized I wasn't going to be able to outrun the thing.
The horrifying thought gave me one last spurt of speed and I crashed into the river again—this section deeper and faster. It snatched up my body before I even had time to process the new threat.
I was yanked beneath the icy surface, my body whirled around like a doll and I bounced off one rock, smashing my knees against the rough surface and bumped into another. I reached out, digging nails into stone, desperately yanking myself above the surface. I sucked in gulps of cold air, fingers sliding on the rock and I cried out as I slipped off, released back into the savage pull of the river.
My lungs ached, my body burned from the cold and rocks and still I fought, bursting to the surface, shocked by the defeating roar of the river. A wave slapped me in the face, forcing water down my throat. I sputtered, coughing as my back smashed into another bolder. But this time I wasn't letting go. Every muscle strained as I wrapped my body around the rock, water pounding the back of my head and for a moment the current actually pinned me against the hard bolder, threatening to crack my ribs with the force. I dug my toes into the rock and with whatever strength I had left, I hauled myself up out of the water and onto the rock.
The Cu Sith passed by me, its body twisting to face me. For a moment it seemed to hover in place, powerful legs churning beneath the water's surface. Then, slowly, it gained momentum, fighting the current with dogged determination.
I wasn't going to stick around to see how long it would take. I stood on the slippery rock, my clothes molded to my body and my limbs trembling violently from cold and fear. Just as determined, I hopped to another bolder, arms pin wheeling to keep my balance. Thankfully, a cluster of boulders led towards the bank and I avoided the dark eddies of water as if they were fire.
My legs shook and I knew I was crying but I couldn't stop. I had no idea where Nolan was. I assumed he would follow us along side the river and find another way to pass, but I no longer knew where I was, or what side of the rivers I had ended up on. I hit the soft bank with a thankful sob and immediately took off running.
I couldn't have run more than a hundred meters when again a body smashed into me from behind. It literally knocked me off my feet, causing me to spin head over heels and careen down an embankment, rocks and sticks tearing across my skin and clothes as I rolled over and over.
I was on me feet even before I fully came to a stop, tearing pain shooting up my right side and my ankle felt as if it were on fire. The Cu Sith stood a few feet away, streams of water still pouring from its saturated fur. A pink tongue lolled to one side of its mouth and it smiled at me in satisfaction as I wobbled on one foot, my hand clutching my right side. Then it raised its muzzle to the sky, howling out a clear, haunting cry, announcing it had caught its prey.
"Don't count me out yet, dog," I hissed, and even that small effort caused a shooting pain in my ribs. I turned on my good foot, determined to run but it was a pathetic attempt. I hobbled forward, one arm reaching out to push off a tree. The dog simply loped after me, content to follow now that it knew I wasn't going anywhere fast.
I bit back a scream of pain as I slid down another steep embankment, falling back on my elbow as loose leaves and pine needles slipped beneath my wet sneakers. I was surprised to still hear the roar of the river and I followed the sound more out of desperation than hope.
I stumbled into a clearing, hopping on one foot. Then I stilled, one last deep breath shuttering out from between torn lips. I shuffled around to stare at the Cu Sith. He hadn't been announcing his prey was caught.
He was telling Nolan that the Quarry was cornered.
A thunderous waterfall cascaded from above, disappearing far below into a deep, black pool. The clearing was nothing more than a jutted rocky edge that overlooked the lagoon below and the waterfall overhead. All three sides of the clearing lead to nothing but empty air; the only escape was the way I had come, which the Cu Sith guarded with a white-toothed grin.
A despondent groan escaped me as from the gloom behind the Fairy dog appeared the tall shape of a Vampire. He rested his hand affectionately on the shoulders of the Cu Sith. "Good boy, Cerberus," Nolan praised. The dog's braided tail wagged in response.
His cheek was missing a chunk of flesh, exposing teeth and gums as he spoke. The edges were pink, already healing, strings snapping up and attaching together over the ghastly hole.
"Well this was unexpected," he said and for some reason he began to remove his gloves. My heart rate spiked as he tucked them into his coat pocket. "Now I know why Mesonger wants you so badly." And he grinned darkly, the image made all the more gruesome from the tear in his face.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I whispered and I took a step backwards, leading me closer to the cliff's edge.
Examining his full face now I could tell that Nolan wasn't as handsome of a man as one would expect a Vampire to be. Instead, he was rather normal looking—there was nothing overly distinct about his brown eyes or coppery colored hair. Yet there was something terrifyingly familiar in that lack of distinction and when he smiled, it was cold and deviant. "I get a two for one deal tonight," he seemed delighted. "I get to pay back Mesonger and," he paused, seeming to saturate the moment with previously denied pleasure, "I get to slaughter the she-bitch who murdered Darien."
I took another step backward. "I have no idea who this Darien is. And I certainly didn't murder him. And Lucien…I told you, I don't know him."
But Nolan was unconvinced, staring at me in a type of fascination, stalking slowly towards me, head tilted in a type of delighted shock. "You're too weak though." He appraised me from trembling tip toe to wet, matted hair. "There's no way you could've killed him all by yourself."
"I don't know what you're talking about!" I screamed back, horrified by this new frenzy building in him. The man was deranged, and he was about to take out all that derangement on me.
My feet were at the edge of the rocky cliff, and I sneaked one quick glance over my shoulder. There was nothing down there but darkness and mist. My heart hammered against my ribcage. I caught Nolan's gaze and his eyes instantly narrowed as he saw the thoughts churning in my head.
"Don't go doing that, girl. Don't be an idiot." But he perched on the balls of his feet, ready to snatch me up should I try.
My tongue flickered out and licked my dry lips. It wasn't a choice, not really. It was a reality. Between this perverse Vampire and the unknown below, I knew which was the better option. I didn't have time to close my eyes or say a prayer; I didn't even have time to truly contemplate the consequences. I simply spun on my good foot and with everything I had left, I flung myself into the open, black air.