Chapter 7

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When confronted by death for the second time, the prospect of dying is not nearly as frightening. But, thought Sam, as she considered her alternatives, she was that much less likely to accept her fate without a fight.

Her sword was gone, her ankle throbbed and Braeden had turned out to be a liar and a traitor. Despite herself, she had liked him--the way his left cheek dimpled when he smiled self-mockingly, the way his alien eyes followed her when he thought she wasn’t looking. She could have been friends with that Braeden.

But now, as she tugged her last source of hope free from her boot, she would kill him with his own knife, or die trying.

A throaty laugh left the lips of the creature that was Braeden, a guttural sound with undercurrents of violence. He walked closer, and closer still. The four demons surrounding Sam bowed out of the way, as if clearing a path for their king. Twin silver lines cut through the ruby jewels of his eyes, a reflection of the single blade she held in front of him.

Before she could react, he gripped the knife hard, blood leaking out between his clawed fingers. “I believe this is mine.” He wrenched the blade from her hands.

Weaponless, Sam had nothing but her fists and one healthy foot to defend her. She wondered morbidly at her impending death--whether he would slice through the arteries in her neck or if he would cut her into bits and feast on her for breakfast. She squeezed her eyes shut.

“Here.” Something cold and metal touched her hands. Her eyes fluttered open. Her sword! Braeden smiled, revealing jagged teeth. “Thought you’d prefer to use this.”

***

There wasn’t much in life that caused Braeden fear. Why would he be afraid of monsters when he was one himself? He’d been told he was evil since he left his mother’s womb, and after a time, he’d started to believe it true. His childhood had been marked by long nights he couldn’t remember, and he’d wake to find his lips and teeth smeared with blood. There wasn't much to fear when he was his own nightmare.

His master had taught him to harness the demon within him, until all that remained were his cursed eyes and the blood seal that wrapped around his arm like a vise. When his master had branded the lion-like tattoo into his skin, Braeden had wanted to howl at the pain. But such was the price of control.

Braeden soon learned that like any other seal, his could be breached. His demon had been bound with blood, and it could be freed just the same. He had only to cut into his own flesh, and blood and demon would seep out. His master had warned him that his blood was a potent weapon to be used only sparingly; like a drug, the power flowing through his veins was addicting. 

It wasn’t addiction that scared Braeden, though, but the loss of his humanity. The more of his blood he spilled, the less of his humanity remained. And when only the tiniest shred of his human conscience was left, that was when he could connect with the demons. Not in any meaningful way--demons lacked the rational thought patterns underpinning true communication. But they recognized Braeden as one of them, and leader among them, no less. These creatures that were so often agents of chaos bowed to him as though he were the alpha among wolves. Now that frightened him.

Braeden could count on one hand the number of times he’d intentionally reached such a state. Oh, he’d used his blood often enough--shaping his blood into weapons like he’d demonstrated to Paladin Lyons was a particular favorite trick. But tonight he’d taken a blade directly to his heart, and now he bordered on the point of no return.

He struggled not to lose himself to the mob mentality of the demons. Demons were capable of but two emotions--hunger and fear--and connected to them like this, their hunger for death and destruction near overwhelmed his senses.

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