30.1 | Savage Delights

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Even as Ren wrapped the pendant inside a handkerchief and shoved it in his pocket, he felt its unnatural presence. Magic writhed between spaces and among shadows—a viper waiting to strike.

As they made their way out of the vault, Elliot shuddered. "I hope I find a way to destroy that thing. The world will be better off without it."

Ren grunted in agreement and stepped into the dark basement, Elliot at his side. Keepers would be coming any moment, so they hastily shut and sealed the iron door before tiptoeing toward the staircase.

They'd barely reached the bottom when Ren heard it—a gunshot. He instinctively raised an arm to block Elliot, while gripping the gun in his waistband.

On the main level, Laguna said, "What was that?"

A number of voices—Misha's included—tried to determine where the shot had come from. It was certainly loud enough to be in or around Lirovin Square.

Ren prayed that some foolish keeper had accidentally fired, or a weapon had malfunctioned. The Volkari were surely going to attack, but he hadn't expected it to be less than two days after they'd acquired Nika's information.

After a moment of silence, he beckoned Elliot to climb the stairs after him, his hand hovering close to the gun.

Instead of taking the side door out, as was the original plan, he accompanied Elliot into an entrance room in the center of the manor. A cluster of keepers stood together idly, confused and waiting for orders. But there was no sign of Misha or Elliot's godmother.

"Who are you?" one of the keepers asked.

Ren scrambled to find an excuse or lie that wouldn't implicate him of breaking and entering. But before he managed to create it, the keepers raised their weapons in unison.

Not at him, though. For Ren saw the words forming on their lips, the warning that enemies were coming.

He didn't have to look. Didn't have to see what created the deafening crash behind him. He merely dragged Elliot up a grand staircase and tried to maintain cover when growling and gunfire filled house.

Elliot was shrieking and hyperventilating by the time they reached the second level. Ren had half a mind to slap some sense into him. However, his glower seemed effective enough, because Elliot shut his mouth and followed every nudge and gesture.

Ren quickly assessed his surroundings, the network of hallways and rooms. There was no time to be fussy, so he pulled Elliot down a corridor and shoved him inside a bedroom.

"Lock the door," he ordered in a hush. "Find someplace to hide. And take this." He placed Asteroth in Elliot's hands.

The boy stared at the lump of white cloth, eyes widening. "I can't—"

"Don't touch or look at it, and you should be fine. I think someone needs to be wearing it to control minds anyway."

"But why do I have to take it?"

"Would you rather fight the wolves?"

The pallor of Elliot's face was answer enough. So without another word, Ren slammed the door. When he heard the click of the lock, he swiftly and silently moved through the halls.

According to the terrible sounds from below, the first floor was complete chaos. Ren just hoped that Misha had gotten Minister Laguna to safety.

Eager to know the size of the raiding force, Ren peered through a window at the end of a corridor. Perhaps a dozen Volkari prowled through the backyard. There had to be more of them surrounding the rest of the house, and at least three already inside.

Just as he started formulating a plan, his eyes caught a moving blot outside Lirovin Square's walls. He frowned at it, realizing it was a person. And they were sprinting through the meadow that separated the town from the forest.

Terror sank like an anchor inside Ren's stomach when he recognized the runner's dark gold hair.

Nika.

And it hurt—it hurt to watch her go. Because she'd promised to stay home. Because he'd believed she wasn't lying. And the only thing more foolish than this mistake, was that he'd thought she would do it for him.

Each time Nika slipped from his grasp, she dug deeper into his soul. She'd moved undetected past his masks and barriers, taking tunnels to the very core of him. And now her hooks had latched onto him.

As the betrayal sank into Ren's bones, it became anger. He wouldn't have it. He wouldn't let her have such power over him. So he opened the window and jumped down.

After softening the landing with a roll, he stood up to find two figures lunging for him. He shot both and evaded their grasping claws. The wolves went down, and Ren sprinted toward the northern border of the property.

"Let him go," one of the wolves called from behind. "He's just fleeing."

That might have been true, but it wasn't fear that drove him into the field beyond. By the time he reached the edge of the woods, the attack sirens had begun blaring. And another wave of Volkari were waiting in the trees.

Two of them, one male and another female, materialized from nowhere and slammed Ren into the ground. He was back on his feet in a flash and bracing himself for a brawl.

He'd never been so grateful for a curse, because fighting them in animal form would have been a nightmare. But thanks to their inability to shift without a full moon, it was no worse than brawling two Nefili.

Two bigger, stronger, faster Nefili.

At Konstantin East—Russia's academy for novice keepers—his instructors had often thrown him into combat training against multiple opponents, saying his size created a balance.

They were usually the most brutal of the novices, and also those who envied Ren's skill and accomplishments. He'd come home with a broken face and more scars to add to his collection. Each time, his mother would clean him up and remind him to endure it, to control his emotions while fighting, for everyone's sake.

Ren had obeyed her.

Until now.

With rage and aggression fueling every thought and movement, Ren unleashed himself on his two assailants.

He'd dropped the gun when they tackled him, so he grabbed a knife from the hidden holster in his boot and sent it flying toward into the man's shoulder.

As he released a shout of pain, the woman sprang upon Ren. She was tall and muscular, but when her fist came flying toward Ren's face, he knew she was unskilled.

He blocked it with one hand, seizing her arm in a death grip. A strike to the stomach, then the face. While she was reeling from the blows, he caught her in a choke hold and pinned her on the ground.

As she writhed beneath him, Ren heard the knife grating upon flesh. He punched the woman's nose, and then he was spinning, arms open as the man barreled toward him with the blade.

When they collided, the impact sent it flying from the wolfblood's grip. Then Ren drove him back, back, back until they slammed into a tree.

The assailant slumped to the ground, groaning. Ren pivoted to find the woman with bared fangs and claws.

Her angry snarl was designed to intimidate, but Ren was angry, too. So he picked up his knife and danced to the song that rang in his veins. A song of blood and war. 

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