We Meet Again | iv

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No longer a coward, Nerina took her chance. She was out and up faster than she had anticipated. Outside, one hip lazily leaned against a tree, arms folded, was Steele. He gave her a welcoming smile and she scolded her displeasure.

"What part of don't follow me was too complicated for you to understand?"

He straightened, arms still folded coming towards her. She wanted to cut him simply out of principle.

"I came for your help."

Slowly Nerina's brow rose. "Help with what exactly?" What she should have said was leave me the hell alone but that response remained unspoken—for now. Nerina had not missed the point where he said he had come to for help, which means he had tracked her here. Any natural trail would have been gone by now so that left only their mutual friend at the Summit.

"Remember why I left?"

Nerina nodded. She waited for him to continue.

"There was a war in the underworld. Werewolves versus vampire and anyone who sided with us."

"I take it you're not winning."

Steele exhaled uncrossing his arms. "They took the city. I managed to escape but the werewolves will not stop until they bring me to their Alpha. He and I have some—personal issues to resolve."

"I fail to see how I would be able to help. My—people skills are shoddy at best." Her sarcasm had the side of his lips twitching. "Or do you need a bodyguard? God knows you can't handle yourself very well."

Steele smiled showing her his fangs. "I'm much older than you are."

"Age is just a number." Eve was centuries older and Nerina had killed her twice. "So what do you need help with?"

"Getting in."

"Wait." She held up a hand stopping him. "I thought you said they were hunting you. To kill you I'm guessing, but you want help getting back in—for them to kill you?"

"I have to."

She shook her head. "You're one man."

"I have friends, allies who were captured. I can't leave them behind."

"Damsels in distress," Nerina concluded shaking her head. Steele was the white knight type. Of course, going back had nothing to do with his own well-being or what was good for him.

"I don't think Bile would appreciate being called a damsel," Steele said thoughtfully amused.

"Yet he is in distress, is he not?"

"He risked getting captured so I could escape. He is the reason I am alive."

"A martyr," Nerina said. "You all run in packs, I see."

"A friend," Steele corrected. "What kind of friend would I be to leave him and the others so Duncan can string them up? They need my help."

"Whether I help you or not you're going after them." She walked a short distance away.

"At least with your help I have a chance to make it to them alive." An even better chance now, he thought as he watched her roll her shoulders.

Her back was to him as she walked a bit further from him. She was in a rut and she was bored. The fight she had had with those werewolves had been invigorating. After she had done taking a beating. The sword thing had just been stupid, she thought, rubbing the area where the scar was no longer present. Still, a good fight warmed her blood. This was sure to be an experience. She faced him. "When do we leave?"

***

Bent in two Nerina felt like she was going to be sick. The ride through the portal had turned her outsides inside. She straightened taking a deep breath hands on her hips. It took her some time to notice her surroundings. Spread out before her were trees. Not with luscious green, dew-kissed leaves like those that she had left behind in the rainforest. These were just as tall and sturdy but they were almost bare of leaves. The ones that were there, clinging for dear life on the branches, were browner than they were green. Dead leaves crunched under her boots as she walked taking it all in. Boots they had—acquired after leaving her old location behind.

A pitch-black sky, void of stars with a red moon, hung overhead. No insects, no birds, not even an owl. Nerina did not think the woods was holding its breath; it was not breathing at all.

Nerina could not understand why she would voluntarily walk into hell. It was better than being dragged or swallowed sure, but wasn't she avoiding this place? She had been there once before so she knew this had to be the scenic route.

"Where are the fires?" The ghastly faces, the lost reaching out to drag you down with them.

Steele, who had been come distance away, blurred to her side shushing her as he looked around them. "Keep your voice down. There could be any manner of things lurking here."

At the warning, Nerina became more alert, a sense of dread seeping into her bones. She followed Steele's every move giving him the lead. Their eyes scanned the sky, the trees, left, and right. There are many dangers in hell and she was walking through it with so little knowledge and a man she hardly knew but at least, she had her swords and a vague idea of where exactly the exit was. Nerina could not deny the rush she felt. A twig breaking off to their left had them both taking pause. Backs together they moved now.

"No heartbeats," she said as more twigs broke. Whatever was moving towards them was doing nothing to mask their approach.

"They aren't vampires."

Nerina only knew vampires and werewolves. Other things lurked in the dark but she had never encountered them.

"Going to tell me what's coming?"

"Harbingers. Don't let their blood touch you."

Nerina looked over her shoulder at him.

At her look, he asked, "Ever been set on fire?"

Nerina snorted at the question. The memory also brought with it more cold slivers of dread that slinked down her spine. She had to stop herself from shivering. The experience had not been pleasant.

"You will come to learn there are many things in this world. Your world," he added. He knew she had never considered herself as part of the whole.

"More than vampires and werewolves and harbingers?"

"Much more than you could ever imagine."

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