Looking over my shoulder, I sighed when I spotted the lion. “You. Again.”
The Lilin reared up, knocking me off it. I hit my back, and was slow to get to my feet, my eyes fastened on the new threat. I was aware of the Lilin running off, but I didn’t dare give chase. It didn’t seem like any of these monsters had gotten the message that killing me killed the Lilin. The lion stalked me, its stone tail swinging. That tail hit another car, shattering a window.
Someone shouted, but I didn’t know who the source was. The lion crouched, preparing to attack, and I knew this was going to seriously hurt. It launched into the air, and all I could see was its claws. Made of stone, they were huge. But suddenly, there was a massive Warden in front of me. Tall and broad, his golden hair was as brilliant as a real lion’s.
The Warden took the direct hit in the upper body and staggered under the force of the attack. I gasped as he gripped the sides of the creature’s head while the monster dug in with its claws, ripping through the granite texture of the Warden’s skin, spraying blood.
With a shattering crack, the Warden twisted the creature’s head clean off. Dark shadows joined the crowding smoke, but the creature was down, finally.
The Warden turned to me, and terror seized me as I locked eyes with Abbot. The vibrant blue broke free as his skin started to pink, revealing the horror of the injuries, the ruthless extent of the damage.
“No,” I whispered, stepping forward.
Abbot opened his mouth, but there were no words, just air bubbling through his torn neck. His legs caved under him, and I shot forward, trying to stop his fall. But with his weight and my injury, it was a useless endeavor. We both went down on the sidewalk. He landed on his back and I beside him.
There was so much blood.
I clamped my hands on his neck as I lifted my head, scanning the street as I screamed for help. I don’t even know who I screamed for, but Roth finally emerged from the smoke, his steps faltering as he saw what was left of the lion creature and of Abbot. I screamed again, this time for Zayne and then for Dez, for Nicolai, because someone had to help him.
Someone needed to.
Roth stepped around Abbot’s legs and knelt beside me, his hands reaching for mine. “What are you doing, Layla?” His voice was hoarse, and when I looked at him, I saw a bruise forming along his jaw. “What are you doing?”
I thought it was obvious. “I’m stopping the blood. I’m—”
“Layla.” He shook his head as he wrapped his hands around mine. “It’s too late.”
“No,” I said, glancing down at Abbot—at the man who had raised me, who had betrayed me, but had ultimately saved me. It couldn’t be too late.
Abbot’s eyes, once so vibrant and blue, were a dull shade and fixed on...on nothing. There was no aura around him, no matter how hard I tried to see it. But I saw that the injuries were not limited to just his throat. His chest...
“Oh God. Oh. God, no.”
Roth pulled my hands back, and I didn’t fight him, because he had been right and there was no point. It was too late. My head rebelled at what I was seeing, at what had happened so quickly.
Out of the smoke and chaos, others were coming toward us. First Nicolai, and he had drawn up short, and then the one person I didn’t want to see this, but that I was also too late to stop.
Zayne saw his father.
He fell to knees on the other side of Abbot, and he reached for his father, but stopped, his hands hovering over Abbot’s still, ruined chest. He trembled. “Father?”
There was no answer. There never would be.
Time seemed to stop, and no one moved, and I heard no sound even though there had to be screams and shouts, sirens and flames crackling as the fire devoured the buildings. There was nothing but Zayne staring down at his father with horror etched into his face.
There was just nothing but Zayne.
I clambered free of Roth and crawled around Abbot. I came to Zayne’s side, dipped under his wings and wrapped my arms around him. He shook so fiercely that my teeth rattled, but I held on, and when Zayne reached down and gripped my arms, he didn’t pull mine away. He held on so he...so he wasn’t alone.
Abbot was dead.
THE NEXT HOUR was a blur.
I remembered Zayne and Nicolai gently gathering up Abbot’s body and getting him into a large SUV I wasn’t even sure belonged to any of them. I remember climbing in with them, along with Roth. I remembered hearing sirens and seeing flashing blue and red lights as Nicolai navigated the crowded street full of destroyed cars and panicked people.
Then we were at the compound, a place I hadn’t thought I’d ever return to, and there was Geoff and Jasmine and Danika. Each of their faces was marked with shocked horror as Abbot was carried out of the car and into the house.
But it was Morris who killed my heart.
It had been so long since I’d seen him, the Wardens’ man of all work, and I had to stop myself from rushing over to him when he walked out of the kitchen, sadness etched into the deep grooves of his face. When he saw me, he smiled slightly, but it didn’t reach those dark, soulful eyes.
Jasmine—practical, fast-thinking Jasmine—had grabbed a sheet and laid it out on the floor. Abbot had been placed upon it, and Morris had taken hold of the edges, wrapping them around Abbot, forming a death shroud.
Zayne remained by his father’s side, his head bowed, and I remained close by, just in case he needed me. I wasn’t sure if he had need of me or what I could do for him, but I’d do whatever I could. Roth and I were forgotten as the members of the clan drifted in and out of the room.
I learned when Dez phoned in that all the stone creatures had been destroyed and that he and the other Wardens were currently hunting down the wraiths the Lilin had created. From what I heard, they were also trying to do some damage control among the humans. Some of the people on the streets had seen the wraiths, and to them, wraiths would look like stereotypical ghosts...a level of exposure the Wardens didn’t want to risk. Dez was going to have to do a lot of fast talking to convince everyone that hadn’t been what they’d seen. Luckily, those who’d been at the scene hadn’t been able to tell the stone creatures apart from the Wardens.
It was going to be a mess. It was a mess, and only time would tell how bad, but I doubted any of us was really thinking beyond this moment.
“Why don’t you sit down?” Roth asked, his eyes full of concern.
I shook my head as I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. “I’m okay.”
He looked at me and then to where Zayne was. I could tell Roth wanted to say more, but was forcing himself to stay quiet.
Finally, after what felt like forever, Zayne pulled the remaining folds of the blanket together, covering Abbot’s face.
“Are you ready?” Geoff asked stoically.
Zayne pressed his hands into his thighs and stood. “Yes.”
Nicolai stepped forward and the men lifted Abbot’s body, carrying him out of the room. My heart started to pound and I knew they were going to take him somewhere more private, to prepare his body, to clean him up as best they could.
Wardens—when they died, their bodies did what any human body would do, but the process was faster for them. Within a day, there would be nothing really left beyond bones. That was why they burned their dead.