4.2 | Golden Eyes

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Had Nika not been here, sliding into a protective position in front of her, Lu might have bolted. She huddled closer to Elliot as Jade and Miles flanked them, the Nefili students creating a triangular shield of bodies.

Meanwhile, Dante gazed toward a patch of dark sky through the tree canopy. "Magnificent. The moon is twice the size it was last month."

When he regarded them again, his eyes flickered from gold to brown, and Lu sucked in a small breath.

"How..." Jade murmured, seeming to notice the bizarre change as well.

Before anyone could dwell on it further, Nika growled, "Who do you work for?" Despite her petite stature, there was something vicious in her stance. Like a feral cat ready to pounce.

Dante's brows flicked up. "I don't work for anyone."

"We should go," Elliot whispered, but Nika ignored him and took a step forward.

"Is Dante Azzara your real name?"

A sideways smirk. "Maybe."

"Are you a keeper?"

At that, he hesitated. Lu warily glanced at her sister-friend. What was Nika doing?

Dante cocked his head, the movement jerky and unnatural. "What do you think?"

For a heartbeat, Nika was silent, assessing him.

"You're no keeper," she declared. "The way you walk, the way you talk, the way you dress. You're something else."

"You're smarter than people give you credit for." Another grin. "Tell me, how did you acquire that gun in your waistband?"

Nika bristled, and Lu suddenly noticed the position of her hand. She'd been reaching toward her back, where her red hoodie barely concealed a protruding shape.

Dante chuckled and tapped his nose. "I can smell the belabane."

Belabane—a flower that magically grew in areas with heavy Daemonstri populations. Nature's gift to humankind, since the black blossom excreted nectar that was toxic to supernaturals, and could be used as a deterrent against any member of the Daemonstri race.

Despite the danger it posed, the Vigil purchased belabane-infused bullets from human manufacturing companies across the globe, and keepers frequently used them to eliminate Inferni attackers.

Normally, Lu would have scolded Nika for carrying around such a weapon. But as Dante Azzara stepped closer, she found herself grateful for her sister-friend's extreme protective measures.

Nika whipped out the gun and aimed it at him. "Don't come any closer."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"Well, I have no qualms about hurting you."

Dante halted, chuckling, and Nika's free hand twitched behind her leg. It was a gesture to Jade, almost as if to say, Go, find help.

Jade shuffled behind Lu, but the distance between their huddle and the dirt path seemed as vast as an ocean. They had one advantage over Dante, at least—numbers. If Jade was fast enough, she could dart back to the campus, while Miles and Nika detained him.

"Such great fierceness for such a small person," he taunted.

Nika snarled, and had Lu not suspected the young man to be a thief and liar, she might have pitied him. No one underestimated Nika Dimitrovich and escaped without regretting it.

Dante glanced at the sky again. "As much as I'd love to roll around in the grass with you, I'm running low on time. So...do exactly as I say and no one will get hurt."

As he spoke, Jade continued inching around them, so achingly slow.

"Put the gun down."

"Like hell I will."

Dante sighed. "I told you, I have no wish to see any of you harmed."

"Then what do you want? Why are you here? And why did you steal the journal of Konstantin the Keeper?"

"Those questions are far more complicated than you think."

Nika fired, and the bullet exploded through the night, slamming into the earth near Dante's feet. Lu shrieked and clung to Elliot, though he seemed to be trembling just as much as her.

"Answer them," Nika demanded. "Or the next one goes inside your leg."

"Nika," Miles warned to no avail.

Uneasiness coiled tight inside Lu's stomach.

Wanna know a secret? Nika had once told her. I'm a lousy shot.

Lu desperately hoped that her sister-friend's skills had improved since then.

Because Dante's features twisted in anger and he growled, "I was willing to do this civilly, but if you insist on a fight, I can give you one."

"You forget who's holding the gun."

Dante laughed, low and mocking, and then his eyes flickered again—yellow flames in the dark.

"Fine. I'll answer your questions. But before you know what I want, you need to understand what I am."

Nika wrapped both hands around the gun, as if to steady herself. "Your eyes—how do they do that?"

"Can't you figure it out? And here I thought you were the clever one."

Behind Lu, Jade stopped her dripping advance toward the dirt path. "Holy shit," she breathed. "Glowing, golden eyes. It's one of the traits of—"

"Volkari," Nika finished.

Impossible.

For Lu remembered reading it in textbooks:

Today, there are three Daemonstri races—Serafi, Nefili, and Inferni. But a century ago, the last members of an additional race had roamed the earth. Volkari were wild men and women whose unique ability of transforming into wolves...

This time, when Dante smiled, four fangs snapped out of his gums. "Put down the gun and tell your friend to stop sneaking away. Or she'll get ripped to shreds."

Lu barely heard a word, for she was still trying to wrap her mind around Dante's claim. The fangs meant he was definitely a member of Daemonstri-kind, but to which race did he belong?

He couldn't have been a Serafi, for they were known for sylphlike figures and halos—a subtle, steady light that emitted from the skin. Instead, Dante's physical appearance suggested he was a Nefili, naturally athletic and vigorous. But if that were true, his eyes wouldn't have glowed. And as for Inferni... Well, she doubted a member of that bloodthirsty race would have lasted this long without indulging in a snack.

"But Volkari are extinct," Lu found herself saying.

Those eyes pinned her into place. "If you require proof, I can give it to you."

When no one replied, Dante raised two fingers to his lips and whistled a wavering note. Heartbeats later, the leaves rustled and twigs snapped in all directions. Movement in the periphery had Lu's head turning, and she could have sworn the world stopped spinning as four horse-sized wolves emerged from the shadows. 

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