Firelight, p.33
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       Firelight, p.33

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
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Page 33

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  I nod anxiously.

  “Who’s Cassian?” Xander asks.

  Will twists, surges up on top of Cassian. Swings back his fist and connects it with Cassian’s face. I jerk at the crunch of bone on bone. The coppery tang of blood sweeps over my teeth, and I realize I’ve bitten my lip.

  Cassian laughs coldly, touching the blood sweeping from his nose. And something niggles through my mind. Will shouldn’t be stronger than Cassian. Cassian’s the strongest draki I know. A powerhouse onyx.

  Tamra wraps her arms around me, everything between us forgotten.

  “Tamra,” I whisper, clinging to her.

  “It’s okay. I’m right here. ”

  And I feel awful, hot regret sweeps over me. I should have told her. Told her everything.

  Using his feet, Cassian launches Will off him with all the force of his body. With all the force of a draki. Will lands on his side, his face contorting. Cassian leaps through the air after him. Again they’re locked in struggle. Together they roll, spin down the angled rock.

  I scream as they keep rolling, gaining momentum, all the while still throwing punches.

  Then Will must realize what’s happening. He stops punching, claws the ground, his fingers grasping. Red dirt flies loose. His hands come up empty, clutching air. It all happens so quickly. I see Will’s face. The wild eyes. His mouth frozen on a cry. The sound of fast-sliding rock.

  I break from Tamra and run toward him, stopping just before the incline becomes too steep. With my heart in my throat, I watch as Will and Cassian disappear from sight, a skidding blur down the rocky slope.

  “Will!”

  I risk it and run even closer, jerking to a stop at the sudden drop-off. Where he vanished. Right off the rock and into the waiting dark. For a split second, there’s no sound except the pumping music behind me.

  In the far well of the desert below, I hear a few sickening thwacks, each one making me cringe, wither, and die inside. Will reaching bottom.

  I know it’s not Cassian. Cassian wouldn’t fall.

  My hands curl, clench into tight, bloodless fists. I whirl around. Feel my heart seize in my chest. Pain. Agony. So much that I can’t even breathe. Tears chase silently down my cheeks.

  Tamra shakes her head in denial, her eyes fierce, almost as wild as Will’s in that last glimpse.

  I find my breath. Air saws from my lips—hot thick smoke.

  In an instant, I take it all in: Tamra’s shocked expression. Xander’s pale face, his eyes as dark as the surrounding night. Black ink. Fathomless pools. He watches me. Sees the steam spilling from my mouth.

  And I don’t care.

  Stupid, maybe. But I can’t stop it. And Tamra knows it. She lunges forward, hand outstretched like if she can only reach me, touch me, she can stop it. Stop me.

  “Jacinda, no!”

  It happens instantly. Before I know it, my limbs drag into position, loosening and lengthening for flight. Ridges break out on my nose, quivering and contracting. The small sleeves of my blouse slip from my arms. Fall to earth with a broken whisper. My wings unfurl, snapping wide behind me. Lifting my razor-sharpened face, I brace my legs. Stretch my arms. My skin flickers firelight in the night as I spring into the air.

  Then, I’m descending, soaring through the dark toward Will with a beat of outstretched wings.

  Instinct kicks in and my vision adjusts to the dark.

  Warm air glides over me as I move through the night. Swim through wind with no thought to its thinness. To air so warm and dry it crackles around my body like electricity.

  Fear coats my mouth, sour and metallic. But not for myself. I don’t even think about what I have done. Only one word ricochets through my head. One name. Will.

  Later I’ll think about the consequences of manifesting in front of Xander. Not now. Not yet. Later. When I find Will. Alive. Then, together, we’ll work it out.

  At the base, I touch down, see nothing. No sign of Will. I push off the ground. Far above, at the top of Big Rock, music echoes distantly. Slowly, I survey the sage and cacti, my wings churning warm, dry air around me. Will has to be close.

  He didn’t fly away. Unlike Cassian. I glance over my shoulder. He’s close, too. Lurking. Treading air. Watching. He won’t be happy that I revealed myself in front of someone. Especially to save a human. A boy he caught me kissing, no less.

  “Jacinda!” Will’s voice rings out.

  My heart lifts. I follow the sound of my name and find him clinging to an outcropping, his biceps flexed, quivering from the strain.

  Blood covers half his face. A thick, oozing cut slashes his right eyebrow. Drips into one eye—swollen shut. From Cassian or his fall, I don’t know.

  I draw closer, reach him, and that’s when I notice something’s wrong.

  His good eye widens, sees me as I am. “Jacinda?” he hisses. Furious. With me? “What the hell are you doing?”

  My gaze focuses on the blood covering his face. The blood dripping from his eyebrow. Purple-hued blood.

  A sob scalds the back of my throat. “You have draki blood!” I cry out, then remember he can’t understand my growling speech. I swipe a hand over his face and pull back gleaming red-gold fingers stained with his blood. Hold it up to him.

  Clinging for life on the side of the rock, he stares at my hand, then utters a curse. “Jacinda, I’m sorry! I wanted to tell you. ” In his agitation, he slips, loses his grip, and falls.

  I drop, dive, and catch him with a grunt.

  He’s heavy, solid. I pant to keep us from both plunging to earth. Burning air wheezes between my teeth from the effort.

  My wings work hard, snap and strain to ease us down. The burn goes deep, penetrating the muscles of my back. And all the while, I can only think, He has draki blood.

  Once we’re both on the ground, I inspect his body, run my hands over him, checking for serious injuries even as I want to inflict damage on him myself.

  His gaze devours me. Smiling wanly, he lifts a hand to my cheek. “You’re exactly as I remember you. ”

  I snarl at him, beyond furious. How can he have draki blood? I thought we had no more secrets. I just jumped off a cliff for him. Exposed myself to Xander.

  It all makes horrible sense now. Our connection, why he’s such a great tracker, why he’s so drawn to me. That sense of knowing each other. Suddenly nothing seems real anymore. Not what we have…had.

  He shakes his head, wincing as though the motion hurts. “Please don’t be mad. I can explain. It happened when I was sick. The cancer…I was dying. My father gave me draki blood. He didn’t give me a choice. He lost my mom and refused to lose me, too…. ”

  I bow my head, try to leash my anger, the conflicting emotions. His words run together like the distant buzz of an engine.

  A breeze stirs, lifts my hair off my shoulders. On a windless night.

  I whirl, heat licking up the center of my chest. I hiss a smoldering breath as the sleek, black shape sets down, the giant iridescent wings winking with purple light. Cassian.

  Then I notice that he’s not alone. He holds Tamra so close to him that I don’t notice her at first. Not until he releases her. She stumbles from the dark press of his body as if she can’t get far enough, fast enough. Her amber eyes spit angry fire, but I’m glad he went back for her…relieved he didn’t leave her on top of Big Rock with Xander and the other hunters.

  Cassian’s not looking at Tamra though. His purply black eyes glow menacingly in the night…first at me, then at Will.

  Fear bites me deep, takes hold with sharp teeth, but I ignore it and stand before Will, trying to hide the sight of him.

  32

  I’ve seen Cassian many times in full manifest. But here, now, with none of the pride around, it’s a terrifying sight. He’s taller, bigger than when in human form. Muscles and tendons ripple beneath an endless stretch of
gleaming black flesh. His large wings look almost leathery. Not cobweb sheets of gossamer like my wings.

  I crouch on the balls of my feet and draw a deep breath, let the smolder build, readying to defend myself and Will.

  I sense Will rise unsteadily to his feet behind me, and wish he would stay down. Cassian’s purple-black gaze whips to him—a hungry predator ready to pounce. His wings flash behind him. Air hisses through his teeth.

  “Back off,” I bark.

  He cocks his head like he hears something far off and speaks thickly, “They’re coming. ”

  I pay attention then, and hear them, too. Xander’s voice, and the others descending the rock, looking for us.

  On another breath, Cassian commands, “We must go. Now, Jacinda. ”

  Tamra watches, strangely quiet.

  Understanding that I’m about to leave—probably for good—Will seizes my hand, forces me around, his expression fierce. “No, Jacinda. Don’t do it. Don’t think it. Don’t leave with him. ”

  His grip on my hand tightens with each word.

  His image blurs, and I blink tears, fight against the thick sob rising up in my chest.

  “I won’t let you—”

  Words rise on my lips, words I keep in. I can’t stay, Will. Not now. I’m sorry, so sorry. I wish I could say them. Wish he could understand.

  Still, it’s as though he heard me. “No, Jacinda!” His gaze swings to where Cassian stands just beyond me. His lip curls. “You’re going with him. Back to the pride. ” He says this like I’m heading into my death. And in some ways, I realize, leaving with Cassian is just that.

  “No!” Tamra shouts from off to the side, as if she’s waking from a dream, beginning to grasp the situation.

  I shake my head, stroking Will’s face with fire gold fingers, trying to reassure him.

  “I won’t let him have you. ”

  Cassian takes a menacing step toward us, growling in draki speech, even though Will can’t understand, “You haven’t a say in this, human. ” His gaze shifts then, his dark eyes bleeding into me, and despite his promise to not force me into anything against my will, unease trickles through me at the dark possession glowing there.

  Will sees it, too. He breaks from me and surges toward Cassian in a crippled stagger.

  “You don’t own her,” Will mutters darkly.

  Cassian sees then what I’ve already marked. The purple blood dripping down Will’s face, dribbling like ink from a pen. He sees. He understands, knows Will is no ordinary human. I hold my breath, hoping he won’t react—

  With a roar, Cassian charges Will. I jump between them just before they collide, press a hand on each of their chests, feel their hearts jump wildly against my palms.

  “Stop it! Both of you! Cassian, no!”

  Will clutches my hand, presses it hard over his heart as he looks at me intently from his bloodied face. I blink and look away, unable to stare at all that purple blood…evidence of the life his father stole for him.

  A throbbing growl swells from Cassian. I hold up a finger in warning, as if that will be enough to discourage him from ripping Will apart. Then I hear my name being called. And Will’s. Closer.

  Will looks in the direction of the voices, clearly alarmed. “Did they see you like this?” His good eye fixes on me, glassy bright. “Did Xander see you?”

  “Of course!” Tamra hisses, her face unnaturally pale. “She did it to save you!”

  Will still looks to me, seeking confirmation from me. I nod once, the motion jerky and pained.

  His whole body sags then, the fight gone. He drops his head and drags his hands through his hair. “Jacinda. ” He says my name so softly, sad and broken as he finally understands.

  I’m dead if I stay. We both know there is no choice now. I have to go.

  Footsteps grow nearer. A stampede of them. I withdraw from Will and edge toward Cassian.

  “Jacinda. ” Will’s voice is strangled now, thick with emotion. He looks prepared to snatch me back against him, and a part of me wants that, craves that despite everything.
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