My eyes locked with his blue ones, and all that fury, and all that hurt swirled together into a cyclone of messy, dirty emotions. All those years of feeling like I didn’t belong, that I was cast out and unwanted. The shock of knowing that my own flesh and blood wanted me dead slammed into me just as hard as it had when I’d first learned the truth, and I...
I felt sad for him.
I could’ve been the little girl that looked up to him. I could’ve been a good daughter to him. I could’ve had years getting to know him. I could’ve loved him.
But he had made the choice to never have any of that.
In the end, he wasn’t worth the lifetime of guilt I’d shoulder.
Lowering my hand, I took a step back from Elijah as I felt a Warden hit the rooftop, hard enough to crack the cement. Even as I started to speak, a dark blur—a shadow—appeared over the ledge, and then shot across the rooftop.
Before any of us could move or react, Sam was there, standing in between Elijah and me. Not Sam, I realized with a fresh jolt of pain, but the Lilin. It didn’t stop to chat as it darted toward Elijah. The last Warden standing shouted, his words garbled by his cracked face and his yell cut short as Roth took him down, knocking him out.
The Lilin was on Elijah in a nanosecond, wrapping its hand around the Warden’s throat and dragging him down a foot to its level. At first, I was just stunned into immobility. Seeing what looked like Sam completely incapacitate a Warden was bizarre. My head almost couldn’t wrap around the fact that this wasn’t scrawny Sam, but a souped-up version of everyone’s worse nightmare.
The Lilin’s shoulders rose as it inhaled deeply. Horror swamped me as I realized it was feeding on Elijah. His aura blinked like a light going out, and then it was gone. Cold wind blasted into me, throwing around the strands of hair that had come loose across my face as I staggered to the side, already knowing it was too late. The Lilin was too fast, too deadly. It had struck like a cobra, and its venom was the deadliest.
Roth was suddenly behind me, wrapping an arm around my waist, holding me back, but truth be told, I wasn’t moving, because I knew—God, I knew—it was done.
Within seconds, the Lilin released Elijah. The Warden’s back was unnaturally stiff as he backed into the ledge. I expected him to transform into something horrifying at that point, like Petr had when I stripped his soul away, but that didn’t happen.
Elijah’s skin pinked as he slipped back into his human form and his wings folded into his back. Fangs and claws receded. The wound in his chest, the wound I’d given him, was even gorier now, and the scar along his face stood out starkly.
There was no wraith.
There was nothing left of Elijah’s soul.
Those blue eyes usually filled with such hate were dull and unfocused as Elijah fell backward, over the ledge. Gone.
Whipping around, the Lilin faced us. Immediately, it began to transform, its body contorted as it doubled over before it straightened, throwing its head back. The length of it stretched, and then it expanded, bulking up.
“Oh my God,” I whispered as an all-new awfulness hit me.
The Lilin was taking on Elijah’s form, just as it had Sam’s. It was becoming something totally different, and within mere moments, what looked like Sam was no longer standing in front of us.
Instead, there was an exact replica of Elijah, down to the scar cutting across the side of his face, right to the corner of his lips.
“You’re welcome.” The Lilin even sounded like Elijah. The only thing missing was his aura. As had been the case with the Sam doppelgänger, there was nothing around the Lilin.
The Lilin bent on powerful legs as it shook out its shoulders. Its skin hardened to granite and massive wings appeared, spreading out from behind it. One side of its lips curled up in a smirk, and then it launched into the air, quickly disappearing over the rise of the other buildings.
Breathing heavily, I tugged on Roth and his arm slipped away from me. I walked toward the edge of the building and peered down, all the way down to the street below. A crowd of people had gathered. Some were backing away, their hands fluttering to their mouths. Someone whipped around and doubled over.
I squeezed my eyes shut as my stomach twisted. The real Elijah had hit the sidewalk below and it was...messy. Throat tight, I turned away and forced a deep breath. “We have to warn the other Wardens.”
FLURRIES FELL FROM the thick clouds above and a fine coating of snow dusted the roofs of the buildings. Dusk was slowly invading the city, and down below, streetlamps were flickering on, along with the white Christmas lights that had been strung along the trees.
As I stood near the ledge and stared down, watching humans hurry along or stopping to hail a cab, I thought if I could capture this moment with a camera, it would almost look like the perfect holiday greeting card.
There was something calming about the fact that millions of people were going about their lives, completely unaware of the very real darkness threatening their city. After all this time, I finally got it—why the Alphas demanded that humans remain clueless when it came to the existence of demons. It had to do with more than just the desire for faith in a higher power. It was also about protection, allowing the humans to live their lives every day, because if they did know the truth, the world would be irrevocably changed, damaged beyond merely the careless way humans treated other humans.
Warmth beat back the cold as Roth came to stand behind me. He wrapped his arm around my waist and rested his chin atop my head. There was no stiffness in his embrace or in my reaction to it. Although this was all new to both of us, this openness about our feelings, there was none of that awkwardness that I imagined most couples faced.
We weren’t on the same building as earlier. Now we were near the federal district, waiting for members of my clan. Out of habit, I had texted Zayne a short message, telling him not to trust Elijah, that if they saw him, it wasn’t the Warden they knew. Minutes had gone by before he’d responded, proving that he hadn’t been asleep, encased in stone, like he should’ve been at that time. He’d requested a meeting, and so now we were waiting. Nerves formed a tangle in the pit of my stomach. I was going to see Zayne again, and that was going to be tough enough, but worse still, I figured I would also see other clan members. Maybe even Abbot, and I was nothing but a ball of anxious dread.
Roth hadn’t been too thrilled about any of this, which explained why Bambi was once again curled around my waist and Cayman was also here, along with Edward. They stood on the corners of the building like two sentries.
Really well-dressed sentries.
Both were in dark trousers and a white shirt, donning polished leather shoes. I had no idea why. Maybe they had left ballroom dancing classes or something. I could totally see Cayman doing that.
“How’s your back?” Roth asked after a few moments.
I hadn’t mentioned that my back ached from where Elijah had gripped my wing, but Roth was careful to avoid the area and not irritate the dull pulse. “It doesn’t hurt that bad, but I think he might’ve broken something.”
The muscles along his arm bunched. “When we get home, I want to check it out if shifting doesn’t hurt you too badly.”
Home. Home was with Roth. That was so right I didn’t even need to question it. We stood in silence for a handful of seconds, and then I blurted out, “I get it.”