A Cursed Embrace Page 39

Matar’s head tilted to the side as his toe dug deeper into my flesh. This time I couldn’t squash my shriek. Matar smiled, satisfied. “Powerful magic wielders are scarce, Celia. We’ve fertilized mostly humans, giving us spawn, but none that matched our power. Then you and your sisters came to my attention.” His body shuddered with obvious arousal. “With your magic, and my spores, the unimaginable will rise from your wombs.”

“Oh my God,” Emme whimpered behind me.

I knew how she felt. Every hair on my body stood at attention and begged for a quick death. “Why destroy the weres and the vamps?” I asked in hope of distracting him from our apparently enticing wombs. It didn’t work. The scent of his increasing arousal reached my human nose and clenched my bowels.

“We can’t conquer the world without killing those who guard it. And the vampires will never bow down to us.” He let out a ghostly eerie cackle, flapping his wings with apparent delight. “Ironic, isn’t it? Their own outcasts will aid us in their destruction.”

“Excuse me for interrupting, Tribemaster.” A trembling vampire knelt beside Matar, his head bowed low enough to touch the ground. I recognized him as one of the vampires guarding the entrance to death row.

Matar licked his fangs, refusing to turn from me. “What is it?”

“The escape of these women cost us.”

Matar growled. “How many Tribesmen did we lose?”

Rivers of sweat drenched his flimsy white shirt. “Including half the bloodlust population we were forced to kill? Ah, over two hundred, sire.”

“I see.” With a flick of his tail, Matar decapitated the vampire. Blood and ash spewed across Matar’s back, but he didn’t appear to mind. He slid his giant tail across the grass, wiping off the excess goo. “Celia, in the past two days, you and your allies have destroyed more than a third of my Tribesmen. While your cunning demonstrates potential for our offspring, you will be punished.” Matar motioned another vampire forward. “Take them back to their cell.”

Matar licked my face with a tongue that slithered out of his tail. At least, that’s what I hoped it was. You know things are bad when you’re praying a demon tongue is the only thing touching you.

The vamps dragged us back to death row. This time, they didn’t abandon us to our cell. Nor did they bind our limbs. After all, there was no place to run, and our weakened and terrified states rendered us powerless. My only sparkle of hope remained in Matar’s words. “Powerful magic wielders are scarce,” he’d said. That meant there couldn’t be many of him in existence. In time, maybe the Alliance would destroy them all.

Emme and Shayna cried. We slumped on the floor, speaking only to pray and comfort one another. Night draped the horizon. That’s when Matar appeared. My heartbeat raced into my throat at the sight of him. God, I was so scared, but I rose to stand in front of my sisters.

Matar loomed over me. “I’ve decided how to punish you.”

I dodged his tail when it reached for my face, believing he meant to strike. He laughed at my trembling form. “Physical torture alone won’t satisfy my vengeance, my pet.” He shook his head almost regrettably. “You’re just too strong. Your heart, however, is easily crippled.”

His gaze leered behind me and still I flinched from its pure viciousness. “It’s time to destroy your spirit, Celia. Your sister Shayna will make a delightful meal for my hungry children. Tribesmen, take her.”

Tribesmen piled on me and Emme, hog-tying our wrists and ankles. Two more dove for Shayna. I thrashed and roared, lashing out brutally and throwing most of them off me. “No! Don’t touch her! Get off her, get off her!”

No one noticed Shayna drop her miniscule sword beside me as they dragged her away. I snatched it quickly, concealing it between my hands before a were yanked me back by my hair. Shayna’s horrified screeching echoed the length of the hallway. Emme’s sobs teetered on the verge of hysteria. I breathed heavily, inundated by a strange sense of calm cooling my bruised skin.

Matar watched me, expecting me to cry, I supposed. But I wouldn’t. “I’m going to kill you,” I promised through gritted teeth. “I swear to God, I will annihilate you!”

Matar smiled. “Your spirit requires more of a beating.” He sniffed the air around us, only to shoot me an embittered look. “My spores are precious, Celia. If I scented the ripeness of your womb, I’d take you now.” He looked to the werewolf next to him. “But Bryan has plenty to spare.”

Emme choked on her screams. “Take your time with her,” Matar told Bryan on his way out. “If she fails to satisfy you, you may have the other one next. Come, my Tribesmen, there is much to be done.”

Bryan tore off my shirt before the door leading out slammed shut. Emme jerked and struggled to get to me while I methodically adjusted the tiny weapon between my fingers.

Bryan sneered with anticipation but never got the chance to grope me. I rammed the tiny sword into his eye and twisted. He collapsed to the floor, unconscious and barely breathing.

Emme stilled with apparent shock as I cut through her restraints. But when I slipped Shayna’s weapon into her hands, she didn’t hesitate to free me.

“Emme, listen to me. I’m going to cut the bullet out of your leg so you can heal. Go ahead and scream. The others will just assume Bryan is hurting us.” I placed her on her side for better access to the wound. “When I’m done, you have to do the same for me. We need our powers back. It’s the only way.”

Emme nodded and closed her eyes. I worked fast, the stress of the situation making me brutal. I ignored her agonized cries, and within just a few minutes, dug the bullet out.

Emme’s pale yellow light stuttered, surrounding her in barrages rather than encasing her smoothly. The feel also lacked its usual intensity, and her healing seemed unusually slow. She failed to notice, or least chose not to, and began to cut into my skin with our makeshift scalpel. The urgency made her physical motions quick. She removed the first two bullets with a surgeon’s ease, allowing the start of my strength and senses to return. The last two were harder, and took more time than we had. One lodged deep in my thigh; the other, in my hip. She tried to distract me by talking, but I didn’t like what she had to say. “Celia, promise me if we’re caught again, you’ll kill me.”

“What?” I gritted as she twisted the blade deeper.

“Promise you’ll kill me. I don’t want those creatures to touch me. I don’t want to bear one of those things. You have to kill me, promise.”

“But then who’ll kill me?” I asked, not wanting to answer her.

Emme locked eyes with mine, revealing a fierceness I’d never seen. “You’re going to live, Celia. You’re going to make it. There is no doubt in my mind.”

With that, she pried the last bullet out.

My unholy scream caused the Tribesmen outside to break out with laughter. Jesus, no way could we have pulled this off earlier.

Bryan stirred beside us, snarling and reaching for his injured eye. I tackled him hard and ripped his head off with ease. And absolutely no regret. It rolled into the corner, colliding against the dusty cinder block.

Bryan’s death at my hands empowered me. My tigress returned full force, thirsting for blood and desperate for vengeance. I hauled Emme to her feet. “Let’s get out of here.”

We rushed to the small window and peered out. A giggle escaped my lips. I clasped my mouth to suppress another, and another one after that. It seemed strange to laugh, but I instinctively knew why.

I beamed at Emme. She gaped at me like I’d finally snapped. Her hands reached to touch my face. “I need to heal you,” she whispered.

I grasped her wrists, my grin widening. “There’s no time, Emme. Misha’s here.”

CHAPTER 31

Massive explosions shook the prison. The lights flickered. A deep crack emerged in the wall next to us, quickly branching upward toward the ceiling. I threw myself on Emme, knocking her to the floor and shielding her with my body as chunks of concrete rained down. Echoes of pained howls and vicious roars pounded against the door. Emme remained beneath me, covering her head. A primal scream from what sounded like a woman made me lurch off her and scramble to the window.

Danny teetered on the third-floor landing, screeching in soprano and wielding a massive machine gun. He fired. The kickback knocked him on his ass. Two levels below him, Alliance members in their animal forms tore into Tribesmen visibly caught by surprise.

Blood splashed the small window, hindering my view, but enticing my beast to take action. I kicked open the door, protruding my claws and severing the throats of the closest Tribesmen.

Emme raced behind me, using her force to launch several Tribe weres into the cinder block walls, crushing their skulls and killing them instantly. She was a different Emme now, one hell-bent on surviving and vested by fear.

Blue and white lightning bolts slashed through the thick dusty air. I nudged Emme and pointed to the three-story ceiling. Taran levitated in a trance, a cast encasing her arm. Yet it didn’t hinder her. Her eyes blanched to white as she unleashed her fury on the demon children flying overhead. We were showered with their nasty remains. I brushed them off, my focus remaining on finding Shayna.

“Come on, Emme.” I started to run, but Emme didn’t follow. She froze, staring blankly ahead. Something held her attention. At first, I didn’t care enough to see what it was. I grabbed her arm and shook her. “Emme, we have to move now!”

I yanked her along only to stop short when I spotted Aric down the long corridor. His huge gray wolf form advanced deliberately toward me, viciously mutilating everything in his path. Tribesmen attempted to scramble away, only to be ripped into bloody chunks by the wolves directly behind him.

Aric bolted the last few feet and changed. His expression darkened as his gaze swept over my beaten form. Never had he been so fierce.

My initial reaction was to comfort Aric, to assure him I was all right. But my relief at seeing him brought the horrors I’d endured to the forefront of my mind, forcing my words back down and rendering me speechless.

“I thought I’d lost you,” he whispered with barely controlled rage.

I collapsed against Aric’s chest. Except I couldn’t find the peace I sought in his strong embrace. Emme’s loud sobs drew my attention. No matter how much I needed him to comfort me, my sisters needed me more.

Liam held her a few feet away. Taran had descended to the floor. She stroked Emme’s hair, crying hard enough to make her shoulders tremble. Danny and our other wolves, now in human form, gathered around and formed a defensive ring as the bloodshed moved to the rear of the prison.

Taran screamed when she saw me. My battered appearance must have been shocking; even the males jumped back in alarm. Koda gawked at me before kicking the door to death row off its hinges and racing in. He scrambled out seconds later, thunderstruck with dread. “Where’s Shayna?”

“We don’t know.” I took a shaky breath. “Matar, the demon lord, took her to feed to his children.”

The color drained from Koda’s face. Aric squeezed me tighter. “Koda, Gemini, Liam, I’m releasing you from your duties. Find Shayna. Find her now!”

The Warriors changed and took off, Koda leading the way.

Aric kissed my forehead and stepped away. “Stay with the others,” he said in a low voice. “I’ll come back to you when I’m done.”

He stalked toward the large opening in the wall. I didn’t want him to leave. “Aric, where are you going?”

Every muscle and bone on Aric’s broad back stiffened. His voice deepened to a growl. “To kill Matar.” He changed, not bothering to glance back, and disappeared into the darkness.

I peeled the remains of my shirt away from my sports bra and faced the others. “We have to find Shayna. You four finish searching here.” No one moved. “Go! I’ll check the other buildings.”

Bren pointed his finger in my face. “You’ve had the unholy shit beaten out of you. No way am I leaving you alone!”

“They need your nose to pick up Shayna’s scent. If we split up, the search will go faster.” Bren didn’t budge. “Damn it, Bren, there’s no time to waste!”

Bren reluctantly changed back to wolf, roaring as I sped off without them. I barreled through the exit, leaping over the remains of the dead.

Outside, Alliance members and Tribesmen continued to battle. Dark clouds churned overhead and thunder shook the ground as witches cast their deadly curses. Flesh and ash saturated the earth where weres and vampires fought the enemy with fangs, claws, and all the viciousness of preternatural beings. I shoved my way through the maze of bodies, killing when I needed to, but mostly trying to move forward. It wasn’t until I came upon an opening that I stopped.

The Elders’ power and that of Misha’s master, Uri, hit me like a rush of wind, forcing me to stagger back. They, along with Aric and Misha, attacked Matar and the bloodlust vampires protecting him. Yet I feared their combined magic wouldn’t be enough.

Matar stood another three feet taller, his muscles resembling small boulders. His tail whipped viciously, filleting half of Uri’s face while crushing Anara’s back into powder. Uri was a Grandmaster, Anara a pack Elder; Matar shouldn’t have crippled them with such ease.

Martin and Makawee fought two infected vampires. To my astonishment, Aric and Misha worked together to take down the third. Misha’s head snapped toward me. He must have caught my scent. His eyes widened when he saw my condition, but then he flashed me one of his wicked smiles. He nodded toward the vamp and grinned, pulling an arm while Aric clamped onto the other. No further explanation needed. I changed and sprinted toward them, slicing through the bloodluster’s neck with my fangs.

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