Page 38 of The Lover's Leap

“Mother, stop. You cannot… Please! Just answer the question. Do you know where Idony is?”

“I saidget out of my house!” my mother screamed, her voice ear-shatteringly shrill, and suddenly, the main hall was plunged in darkness. Every candle, every lamp went out at once.

“Biko!” I shouted, reaching wildly in the dark.

“I’ve got you.” He grabbed my hand.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I felt him tug me toward the door.

“If you leave, do not come back here. And that includes you, Palmeria!” A single candle flickered in front of my mother’s hands as Biko and I stumbled from the main hall. Of course, there was no candle in my mother’s hands. I watched the haunted shadows flicker across her face as her hands shook. “Leave!” she screamed. “Leave me!”

I threw my body against the door and stumbled out into the night. The moonlight and stars spilled in the sky like a pinch of salt, casting the tiniest bit of weak light outside the manor. My mother’s fury had darkened even the torches that kept the property safe from vengersax.

“Run!” Biko’s voice was low and insistent. “Pali, get to the cabin!”

Running through the darkness was slow and terrifying, like running underwater with only a sense of the surface above me. I focused my energy and attention on my hands, wishing I could start a fire from nothing. But I couldn’t. I was thoroughly untrained. Incapable of making something from nothing. My only gift—that I knew of—was manipulating an existing heat source. Without a fire, Biko and I might be attacked or killed. Surely my mother couldn’t be that heartless? She would realize she’d darkened the entire property, wouldn’t she?

As my feet pumped and I broke into a sweat, I could feel Biko’s superior size and speed passing me by.

“Hurry, Pali,” he called. “Get to the cabin!”

I focused on running the short distance as fast as I could, squinting to make out shapes and any small reflection from the moon on the path. Tripping and falling would be as dangerous as standing still if I drew blood or screamed. Vengersax were attracted to scent, and my sweat alone would smell like dinner.

I stumbled on the path, twisting my ankle a bit, but I stifled the yelp of surprise. I slowed just enough to make sure I wasn’t seriously hurt when I heard the ominous sound I’d been raised to fear since my earliest nightmares. The flapping of wings.

“Pali…” Biko stopped suddenly, bending over, heaving a chest full of harsh breath. “Don’t stop. Get to safety.”

I took to my feet, trying to keep pace with him, but lost my bearings in the darkness. I heard sounds above and movement around me, and flailed my hands to protect me eyes. My veil fell from my hair into my face, confusing me even worse. I swatted at it and stumbled again, this time landing right on both of my knees.

“Ouch!” I cried, pebbles on the dry path cutting right through my nightclothes. I felt the sting of many tiny cuts as my knees scraped across the ground. “Oh, no. No…” I whimpered against the pain, minor but annoying. Worse than the pain, though, was the smell. Blood attracted vengersax like fallen fruit attracted ants. I could feel my sleep chemise stick to my knees, as a trickle of fresh blood dripped down my leg.

“Biko…” I whispered.

Above us, obscured by clouds as dark as puddled ink, were the wingbeats. The loud flapping grew closer, followed by the eerie shriek of pointed beaks the size of short swords sailing through the air.

“Run, Pali!” Biko was still bent over, his palms on his knees.

I fumbled along the path, ducking my head and moving toward the sound of his voice. After just a few steps, I tumbled into him, grabbed his shoulder, and put my face by his ear.

“What’s happening? Are you okay? I’m not leaving you!”

Biko coughed, holding a hand in front of his face. He wasn’t running. Was making no effort to move. In fact, he appeared to be struggling to stay on his feet. “Stand…back, Pali…” he grunted, his voice raspy and thick.

“No!” I clung to his tunic with my hands, ducking my head as my heart pounded so hard, I felt dizzy. “I won’t leave you! Are you sick?”

Biko shook his head, his long curls teasing my knuckles. “Go…”

Circling the air like hawks were two dark shadows, their shiny purple-black feathers glittering in the moonlight.

“I can light the torches,” I said, frantically dropping to my knees. I tore through the scrub and grass with my fingers, searching for sticks. “I’ll light a fire…”

“No time,” Biko wheezed and pointed toward the cabin. “Ruuun!”

In a matter of what seemed like seconds, I heard Biko bite down on his own forearm, muffling a sickening, retching cough.

“Biko!” I shouted. My blood and sweat must have lured the vengersax closer. I squinted my eyes shut and dropped to the ground, instinctively covering my eyes with a hand. With the other, I fumbled for twigs, sticks, anything I could use as a weapon against the winged daggers.

I heard a strange tearing and cracking sound beside me, but I was afraid to uncover my eyes. “Biko!” I shouted.


Tags: Callie Chase Fantasy
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