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Jennifer L. Armentrout

Page 1



  sense kicked my fight or flight response into overdrive. The Georgia humidity and the dust covering the floor made it hard to breathe. Since I’d fled Miami, no place had been safe. This abandoned factory had proved no different.

  The daimons were here.

  I could hear them on the lower level, searching each room systematical y, throwing open doors, slamming them shut. The sound threw me back to a few days ago, when I’d pushed open the door to Mom’s bedroom. She’d been in the arms of one of those monsters, beside a broken pot of hibiscus flowers. Purple petals had spil ed across the floor, mixing with the blood. The memory twisted my gut into a raw ache, but I couldn’t think about her right now.

  I jumped to my feet, halting in the narrow hal way, straining to hear how many daimons were here. Three?

  More? My fingers jerked around the slim handle of the garden spade. I held it up, running my fingers over the sharp edges plated in titanium. The act reminded me of what needed to be done. Daimons loathed titanium.

  Besides decapitation—which was way too gross—titanium was the only thing that would kil them. Named after the Titans, the precious metal was poisonous to those addicted to aether.

  Somewhere in the building, a floorboard groaned and gave way. A deep howl broke the silence, starting as a low whine before hitting an intense shril pitch. The scream sounded inhuman, sick and horrifying. Nothing in this world sounded like a daimon—a hungry daimon.

  And it was close.

  I darted down the hal way, my tattered sneakers pounding against the worn-out boards. Speed was in my blood, and strands of long, dirty hair streamed behind me. I rounded the corner, knowing I had only seconds—

  A whoosh of stale air whirled around me as the daimon grabbed a handful of my shirt, slamming me into the wal .

  Dust and plaster floated through the air. Black starbursts dotted my vision as I scrambled to my feet. Those soul ess, pitch black holes where eyes should have been seemed to stare at me like I was his next meal ticket.

  The daimon grasped my shoulder, and I let instinct take over. I twisted around, catching the surprise flickering across his pale face a split second before I kicked. My foot connected with the side of his head. The impact sent him staggering into the opposite wal . I spun around, slamming my hand into him. Surprise turned to horror as the daimon looked down at the garden spade buried deep in his stomach. It didn’t matter where we aimed. Titanium always kil ed a daimon.

  A guttural sound escaped his gaping mouth before he exploded into a shimmery blue dust.

  With the spade stil in hand, I whirled around and took the steps two at a time. I ignored the ache in my hips as I sprinted across the floor. I was going to make it—I had to make it. I’d be super-pissed in the afterlife if I died a virgin in this craphole.

  “Little half-blood, where are you running to?”

  I stumbled to the side, fal ing into a large steel press.

  Twisting around, my heart slammed against my ribs. The daimon appeared a few feet behind me. Like the one upstairs, he looked like a freak. His mouth hung open, exposing sharp, serrated teeth and those al -black holes sent chil s over my skin. They reflected no light or life, only signifying death. His cheeks were sunken, skin unearthly pale. Veins popped out, etching over his face like inky snakes. He truly looked like something out of my worst nightmare—something demonic. Only a half-blood could see through the glamour for a few moments. Then the elemental magic took over, revealing what he used to look like. Adonis came to mind—a blond, stunning man.

  “What are you doing al alone?” he asked, voice deep and al uring.

  I took a step back, my eyes searching the room for an exit. Wannabe Adonis blocked my way out, and I knew I couldn’t stand stil for long. Daimons could stil wield control over the elements. If he hit me with air or fire, I was a goner.

  He laughed, the sound lacking humor and life. “Maybe if you beg—and I mean, real y beg—I’l let your death be a fast one. Frankly, half-bloods don’t real y do it for me. Pure-bloods on the other hand,” he let out a sound of pleasure,

  “they’re like fine dining. Half-bloods? You’re more like fast food. ”

  “Come one step closer, and you’l end up like your buddy upstairs. ” I hoped I sounded threatening enough. Not likely.

  “Try me. ”

  His brows rose. “Now you’re starting to upset me. That’s two of us you’ve kil ed. ”

  “You keeping a tal y or something?” My heart stopped when the floor behind me creaked. I whirled around, spotting a female daimon. She inched closer, forcing me toward the other daimon.

  They were caging me in, giving no opportunity to escape.

  Another one shrieked somewhere in the pile of crap. Panic and fear choked me. My stomach rol ed violently as my fingers trembled around the garden spade. Gods, I wanted to puke.

  The ringleader advanced on me. “Do you know what I’m going to do to you?”

  I swal owed and fixed a smirk on my face. “Blah. Blah.

  You’re gonna kil me. Blah. I know. ”

  The female’s ravenous shriek cut off his response.

  Obviously, she was very hungry. She circled me like a vulture, ready to rip into me. My eyes narrowed on her. The hungry ones were always the stupidest—the weakest of the bunch. Legend said it was the first taste of aether—the very life force running through our blood—that possessed a pure-blood. A single taste turned one into a daimon and resulted in a lifetime of addiction. There was a good chance I could get past her. The other one… wel , he was a different story.

  I feinted toward the female. Like a druggie going after her fix she came right at me. The male yel ed at her to stop, but it was too late. I took off in the opposite direction like an Olympic sprinter, rushing for the door I’d kicked in earlier in the night. Once outside, the odds would be back in my favor. A smal window of hope sparked alive and propel ed me forward.

  The worst possible thing happened. A wal of flames flew up in front of me, burning through benches and shooting at least eight feet into the air. It was real. No il usion. The heat blew back at me and the fire crackled, eating through the wal s.

  In front of me, he walked right through the flames, looking every bit like a daimon hunter should. The fire did not singe his pants nor dirty his shirt. Not a single dark hair was touched by the blaze. Those cool, storm-cloud-colored eyes fixed on me.

  It was him—Aiden St. Delphi.

  I’d never forget his name or face. The first time I’d caught a glimpse of him standing in front of the training arena, a ridiculous crush had sprung alive. I’d been fourteen and he seventeen. The fact he was a pure-blood hadn’t mattered whenever I’d spotted him around campus.

  Aiden’s presence could mean one thing only: the Sentinels had arrived.

  Our eyes met, and then he looked over my shoulder. “Get down. ”

  I didn’t need to be told twice. Like a pro, I hit the floor.

  The pulse of heat shot above me, crashing into the intended target. The floor shook with the daimon’s wild thrashing and her wounded screams fil ed the air. Only titanium would kil a daimon, but I felt confident that being burnt alive didn’t feel too good.

  Rising up on my elbows, I peered through my dirty hair as Aiden lowered his hand. A popping sound fol owed the movement, and the flames vanished as fast as they appeared. Within seconds, only the smel s of burnt wood, flesh, and smoke remained.

  Two more Sentinels rushed the room. I recognized one of them. Kain Poros: a half-blood a year or so older than me.

  Once upon a time we had trained together. Kain moved with a grace he’d never had befo
re. He went for the female, and with one quick swoop, he thrust a long, slender dagger into the burnt flesh of her skin. She too became nothing but dust.

  The other Sentinel had the air of a pure-blood to him, but I’d never seen him before. He was big—steroids big—and he zeroed in on the daimon I knew was somewhere in this factory but hadn’t seen yet. Watching how he moved such a large body around so graceful y made me feel sorely inadequate, especial y considering I was stil lying sprawled on the floor. I dragged myself to my feet, feeling the terror-fueled adrenaline rush fade.

  Without warning, my head exploded in pain as the side of my face hit the floor hard. Stunned and confused, it took me a moment to realize the Wannabe Adonis had gotten ahold of my legs. I twisted, but the creep sank his hands deep into my hair and yanked my head back. I dug my fingers into his skin, but it did nothing to al eviate the pressure bearing down on my neck. For a startled moment, I thought he intended to rip my head right off, but he sank razor sharp teeth into my shoulder, tearing through fabric and flesh. I screamed— really screamed.

  I was on fire—I had to be. The draining burned through my skin; sharp pricks radiated out through every cel in my body. And even though I was only a half-blood, not chock-ful of aether like a pure-blood, the daimon continued to drink my essence as though I were. It wasn’t my blood he was after; he’d swal ow pints of it just to get at the aether.

  My very spirit shifted as he dragged it into him. Pain became everything.

  Suddenly, the daimon lifted his mouth. “What are you?”

  His whispered voice slurred the words.

  There was no time to even think about that question. He was ripped off me and my body slumped forward. I rol ed into a messy, bloody bal , sounding more like a wounded animal than anything remotely human. It was the first time I’d ever gotten tagged—drained by a daimon.

  Over the smal sounds I made, I heard a sickening crunch, and then wild shrieks, but the pain had taken over my senses. It started to pul back from my fingers, sliding its way back to my core where it stil blazed. I tried to breathe through it, but damn…

  Gentle hands rol ed me onto my back, prying my fingers away from my shoulder. I stared up at Aiden.

  “Are you okay? Alexandria? Please say something. ”

  “Alex,” I choked out. “Everyone cal s me Alex. ”

  He gave a short, relieved laugh. “Okay. Good. Alex, can you stand?”

  I think I nodded. Every few seconds a stabbing flash of heat rocked through me, but the hurt had faded into a dul ache. “That real y… sucked something bad. ”

  Aiden managed to get one arm around me, lifting me to my feet. I swayed as he brushed back my hair and took a look at the damage. “Give it a few minutes. The pain wil wear off. ”

  Lifting my head, I looked around. Kain and the other Sentinel were frowning at nearly identical piles of blue dust.

  The pure-blood faced us. “That should be al of them. ”

  Aiden nodded. “Alex, we need to go. Now. Back to the Covenant. ”

  The Covenant? Not entirely in control of my emotions, I turned to Aiden. He wore al black—the uniform Sentinels wore. For a hot second, that girly crush resurfaced from three years ago. Aiden looked sublime, but fury stomped down that stupid crush.

  The Covenant was involved in this—coming to my rescue? Where the hel had they been when one of the daimons had snuck into our house?

  He took a step forward, but I didn’t see him—I saw my mother’s lifeless body again. The last thing she ever saw on this earth was some god-awful daimon’s face and the last thing she’d ever felt… I shuddered, remembering the body-ripping pain of the daimon’s tag.