Firelight, p.16
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       Firelight, p.16

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 16

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  Still, I look around, rotate in a small circle, choke back a sob at the pillows on the sofa covered in the deep bronze of an earth draki—the second-most common type of my kind, marked for its hyper-ability to find gems, edible vegetation, underground water…anything relating to soil. To see their remains here, in this house, in this desert, so far from the earth they love, is devastating.

  I look away, too sick to look at the vile evidence of my race’s murder.

  My gaze lands on a giant map of North America stretched out on one wall. Black, green, and red flags scatter widely across it, grouped predominantly in mountainous areas ideal for draki existence. My stomach tightens as the significance sinks in. I lower my hands from my face and inch closer, my eyes devouring the sight of all those black flags. So many. I tremble at what they might represent.

  Only two red flags jut out from the map, but they’re larger than the others. Isolated, no black or green flags surround them. One is in Canada. The other in Washington. Kill zones? Dead zones?

  My eyes feverishly scan the map, honing in on the Cascade Mountains, the small corner where I’d lived my entire life. And there, I see two other flags. One green. One black. I twist my hands until I can’t feel my fingers anymore.

  The green flag sits in the general area of my home, and beside it, the single black flag casts its shadow. A single black flag. Automatically, I think of Dad. He’s the only draki in our pride to have met an unnatural end in two generations. I stare at that single black flag until my eyes ache. A dark, terrible knowing drags across my flesh. It’s a kill flag.

  A horrible suspicion sinks into me, coiling around me like a serpent. Will might be part of the group that killed my father.

  We’re only a few hundred miles south of our pride…. It should have occurred to me sooner. And maybe it had, maybe it’s been there all along; I just refused to face it. Staring at the map, I can’t avoid it anymore. Clearly, they hunt in our area. I’ve always known that.

  My eyes start to sting and I blink rapidly. It’s horrible to believe. A bitter pill going down, sticking in my throat.

  Dad understood me. Understood that I needed to fly. Because he felt the same way. He would never have expected me to suppress my draki. I don’t want to believe Will is responsible for taking the only member of my family who loved me for me.

  I shake my head hard. He was probably too young to hunt then. In my gut, I believe this. He’s different. Will let me escape. He couldn’t have killed my father.

  But his family could have. And they’re just downstairs.

  Bending, I snatch the shirt back up, urging myself to go, run, escape this house before it’s too late. Before I can’t leave. But I can’t tear my eyes from that wall. Like a horrible car crash, it’s all I can see.

  The sound of a door clicking shut behind me jerks me from my horrified trance.

  15

  I try to keep it together as I turn to face Xander, pushing the fear down with a desperate swipe, struggling not to think about where he’s found me…about the horror of standing in a room buried in the severed skin of my race.

  “What are you doing here?” he demands.

  “I was looking for a bathroom. ” Blinking my eyes dry, I breathe air thinly through my nose, concentrating on chilling the expanding heat of my windpipe.

  “There’s one off the kitchen. ” He cocks his head, studies me with glinting-dark eyes. “Why did you come upstairs?” His gaze moves around the room, flicking to the map before coming back to rest on me with piercing intent. “Why are you snooping around in here?”

  “I’m not,” I deny, swallowing down my throat’s rising scald.

  He motions to Will’s shirt. “What do you have there?”

  I clench the wadded fabric. “Nothing. Just a shirt. ”

  “Will’s? Why do you have it?” His gaze narrows, his lids heavy and suspicious over dark eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those girls who sleeps with her boyfriend’s lock of hair. You didn’t strike me as that pathetic. ”

  Our eyes lock. I hold silent, as still as stone. He reaches for the shirt, and I jerk back a step. I know my reaction is extreme—especially over an alleged nothing—but I can’t help it. No way can I hand this shirt over to him.

  He follows, crowding me. “What are you up to? Why are you really here?”

  I edge back. “Will. I like Will, that’s all. Why else would I be here?” I shove at his encroaching chest once with the base of my palm, my anger surpassing my panic so that I’m actually willing to touch him. “Back off. ”

  He ignores me, keeps coming. “I think he likes you, too. And that’s a first. ” His gaze rakes over me insolently, nothing spared. “What’s so special about you, huh?”

  I bump into the desk. My hand reaches out to grasp the edge. I gasp at the touch, remembering. Appalled, I jerk my hand away, lifting my body off the onyx-skinned desk.

  He smiles darkly, not missing my reaction. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” His arm brushes mine as he reaches out and strokes the desktop.

  My stomach twists violently. Afraid I’m about to be ill, I surge past him before I say or do something horrible, something I can never take back.

  He grabs me as I pass, forcing me to face him again. Revolted from his touch, my skin flashes red-gold for a fraction of a second. “I can’t remember the last time Will liked a girl. He doesn’t let himself like girls. Not since he got sick…which leads me to believe you’re something more. I confess, I’m curious. ”

  Sick? When did Will get sick? I want to ask, but don’t dare stand here another moment in this terrible room, holding a shirt bearing my blood, suffering Xander’s touch and probing questions about why I’m so different.

  I wrench my arm free and drive a hard line past him, air turning to wind on my face.

  I don’t get very far before he swings me around again. That’s when the very real dread that I may never leave this room takes hold of me. His face pushes so close that I can almost see myself in the dark reflection of his eyes. “I want to know what you’re doing here. ”

  My chest rises with rapid breath, steam building, whisking to fire inside me.

  “Let her go. ”

  The voice rolls over me, a cool tide of relief. Will fills the threshold, his hands opening and flexing at his sides.

  Still, Xander doesn’t release me. “I caught her snooping around. ”

  Will advances, his expression as cold as marble. “Let her go. ”

  Xander squares off, positioning me to the side of him, still holding my arm. “Start using your brain. I caught her in here. ”

  “You’re making something out of nothing. ” Will strides forward and pulls me free. I stumble. Xander snatches the shirt from my hand.

  “No,” I gasp, diving back for it.

  It’s too late. Xander steps out of range, tossing the shirt in his hand, examining it with feigned boredom. “What’s so special about this?”

  He doesn’t care about the shirt. Only that I seem to want it…and taking it upsets me.

  My eyes fasten on the purple blood stains because that’s all that really matters right now. My breath eats up my chest in a cloud of fire.

  I know the moment Xander realizes what he’s looking at, watch him closely as incredulity passes over his face, as bright and vivid as a burst of lightning.

  Will recognizes it, too, and we all stand there for a stricken moment, a frozen tableau, waiting for someone to move, speak.

  Will is first. He grabs the shirt from his cousin.

  Xander lets it go without a fight. I can’t move, don’t know what to say, do. The various scenarios I created in my mind never played out like this.

  “Is that your…,” Xander says to Will. I think he wants to say blood. I hear it in that pause. Xander swings his gaze to me, dark eyes flashing.

  I tremble, bewildered, unsure what’
s going on inside his head.

  He turns to Will then. “What do we know about your little girlfriend here? Have you been talking out of turn? Sharing family secrets? What do you even know about her?”

  “Don’t be stupid. Let it go,” Will hisses, one of his hands sliding down my arm to seize my hand. A gesture of support? Restraint? “You’re wrong—and you’re the one talking without thinking so shut up. ”

  Wrong about what? What does Xander suspect? I look wildly between the cousins, lost. Why isn’t Xander freaking out at the draki blood on Will’s shirt? Why isn’t he demanding an explanation?

  Will glances down. His eyes glass over as he looks at the shirt in his hand…sees my blood. His thumb traces a smudged purple stain, the gesture almost reverent.

  “Are you going out alone now? Is that it?” Xander demands. And I get it. Xander is accusing Will of hunting draki alone. “Does your ol’ man know about the risks you’re taking? Damn you, Will. You think you’re hot shit…. ”

  The rest of his words are lost.

  Will grabs Xander by the shirtfront. “Shut up!”

  Xander looks over Will’s shoulder at me, darkly assessing. He doesn’t appear concerned that he may have revealed too much. And why should he? As far as he’s concerned I either already know or can’t possibly guess the truth. It’s too incredible.

  Will flings Xander away as if he can’t stand the touch of him. “If you’re finished being a neurotic nut, I’d like to go downstairs for some of your mom’s brownies. What about you, Jacinda? Want some brownies?” The absurdly normal question is asked roughly, like I don’t have a choice at all. Will’s putting an end to this interrogation.

  I nod dumbly, thinking only that this is far from done. Xander saw the blood. My blood. Even if he doesn’t realize it. And Will saw it, too. A shiver chases down my back because he must know.

  Xander mutters something, turns to leave, but stops, an ominous glint to his eyes as he stares at me. I barely check myself from running, bolting, my draki instinct kicking in.

  Will edges close to me. His nearness injects me with courage, a calm I so desperately need right now. “Go on, Xander. We’ll be down in a sec. ”

  Xander exits the room with angry strides.

  Facing me, Will cuts straight to the point. “Who are you?”

  I remember us in the mountains, the tenderness on his face as he looked at me as a draki. It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell him the truth, but I swallow the words back, not that foolish. It’s not my place to make such a confession. Nor is this the place to do it. There’s more to consider than myself.

  “I don’t know what you mean. ”

  He stares at me for a long moment before looking away, his gaze flitting over the room with distaste. His eyes darken to the color of a shaded forest, and I know he’s seeing it all for what it is. Like I do. Dead draki everywhere.

  Then, his gaze drops to the shirt in his hand. “I wore this shirt when you cut your hand. This is your blood. ” He holds the shirt in the air between us, silent evidence I can’t refute.

  I say nothing…. What kind of defense can I muster?

  “There’s only one way a human can have blood this color,” he adds.

  I struggle to hide my shock. A human can have draki blood? How is that possible?

  “Are you an enkros?” he demands. “How else can you…” His voice fades and he gives his head a slow, dragging shake, looks a little sick.

  I moisten my lips. “What’s an enkros?” Is it just me or did my voice warble a bit, strangle on the question whose answer I already know?

  He stares at me, waiting. As if I might make a confession now. His drilling gaze tells me he doesn’t buy it. He knows I’m hiding something. He’s got the shirt to prove it. He’s close now, an unrelenting presence, staring at me so expectantly, determined to have his answers. “C’mon, Jacinda. You can’t have blood like that and not know. ” The pupils of his eyes darken, looking as still and black as dead water at night. “Tell me. What are you?”
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