Chapter 21 Part I

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Braeden’s internal alarm triggered long before the warning bell tolled.

His blood roiled under his skin as if trying to escape, the pressure painful enough to rouse him from his sleep. The familiar seductive pull was a potent one – the crest of the waves that rippled his skin were inches tall. His hand twitched at his side, his fingers curling into claws, eager to rip away the flesh that contained his inner monster.

For an instant, the walls of the inn room fell away, and Braeden was consumed by an insatiable hunger. But a sleeping form filled his vision, and the bloodlust faded into something akin to desire. Sam. She thrashed against her bed, her breath coming in short whimpers.

The fog in his brain cleared and he acted before he could make sense of the torrent of emotions that flooded him every time he looked at Sam. He shook her awake.

Sam opened her eyes with a gasp. “Gods, Braeden, I was having the worst dream—“

He cut her off. “There are demons in this city, Sam.” He shivered, and not from cold. “A lot. I can feel them.”

“Are you certain?” Sam asked. Braeden pushed back his sleeve so that his undulating skin was on full display.

“I’m beginning to think my dreams are as prophetic as your blood,” Sam muttered. She threw off her covers and straightened her clothes. “Let’s go get Tristan.”

Fortunately, Master Byrd had put Tristan in a room just down the hall from theirs, and they found it with little trouble. Sam reached out to knock on the door and then paused. “Do you think he’s still sleeping?”

“I would think so."

Sam stepped back from the door. “You do it.”

Braeden rolled his eyes. “Really, Sam?”

“I’d rather face a demon than a just-awoken Tristan.”

“Fine.” He knocked, hard enough to rattle the frame. A sleep-rumpled Tristan opened the door and looked at him expectantly. “It’s demons,” Braeden said.

“Hold that thought,” said Tristan, disappearing back into his room. He returned seconds later, beads of water dripping down his face. “Can you pinpoint where they are?”

Braeden was a little taken aback that Tristan accepted his warning at his word. It was a strange thing, being trusted. “They’re not inside the city, not yet. The bulk of them are maybe just under a mile away, due north.”

“The bulk of them?” asked Sam. “They’re not all together?”

“Demons are like wolves. When there’s more than a couple in the vicinity, they operate in packs because they’re stronger that way. But there are lone demons just as there are lone wolves,” Braeden explained. “It’s harder for me to sense a demon when it’s by itself.”

“You know a lot of demon psychology,” said Tristan, tilting his head.

Braeden’s heart twisted. He knew it intimately. “There’s not much to it. Find, kill, eat. Not always in that order,” he said bitterly.

 “I wonder,” said Tristan, holding his gaze. “Sam, grab a sword from the chest in my room. And before you ask, no, you can’t have my Scimitar. Braeden, I assume you have your knives?” Sam scowled, and Braeden nodded. “Good. Outside, now.”

Outside the inn, Pirama was as silent as when they first arrived, but the air seemed thicker, as if a storm were brewing. The sharp-ridged peaks of the mountain cloaked the city in a dark, uneven pall. A winged creature flew overhead, too obscure to make out in the duskily lit streets. Tristan shot it down with the bow he had slung over his shoulder. It fell to the ground in a small back clump. Braeden prodded it with his boot. Just a bat.

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