Prologue: The Hunted
The teenage boy darted across the lamp-lit street, hoping the two blondes would stay on the other side. But they followed, giggling and whispering.
Go away, he thought. Please, just go away.
He peeked over his shoulder. Behind the girls, the shadowy man soundlessly flitted from one patch of darkness to another. Oblivious to the shadow man, the girls waved excitedly, trying to catch the boy’s eye.
He ducked his head and walked faster, watching the cracks in the pavement rush by. His mum was going to be so mad. She wouldn’t care that he hadn’t meant for this to happen. His Allure had burst out like an invisible wave as he’d walked past them. He hadn’t been able to stop it.
Footsteps pattered behind him. “Hey, wait!”
“Leave me alone!” The boy broke into a jog.
“What’s your name?” One of the girls ran up and grabbed his hand.
His Hunger roared to life. It latched onto her energy, and sucked it in. Liquid pleasure surged into him. It tingled in his palms and flowed up his arm. It made him want to drag her into the nearest alleyway.
But he mustn’t. He ripped his hand away and ran.
Screams shattered the quiet. Not daring to look back, the boy sprinted down a narrow side street, up the decrepit stairway of a large council building, and into his flat. Is she okay? Did the shadow man see? Heart pounding, the boy slammed the cheap wooden door shut and raced for the living room.
“Mum! I had an accident. And there’s a– ”
He stopped dead. A man was sitting on the couch, a stranger. His clothes were a supple suit of skin-tight armour in shades of mottled grey and black. A scar ran down one side of his expressionless face, from cheek to jaw.
“Hello,” he said in a soft, gravelly voice. “We’ve been expecting you.”
“I didn’t mean to do it,” the boy blurted. “She touched me. W-where’s my mum?”
“In the bedroom,” the man said, standing up.
His arm flicked out. The lash of the whip uncoiled lightning fast and wrapped itself tightly around the boy’s neck, choking him. He tried to rip it off, but it was made of flexible metal, and not the leather he’d expected. Tiny glyphs engraved into its length glowed silver, getting brighter and hotter as he struggled. They siphoned his energy away.
The man wrapped the length of the whip twice more around the boy’s neck, and dragged him, choking and spluttering, down the hall to his mum’s bedroom.
She was cuffed to her bed by her wrists and ankles. Tears streamed down her cheeks, mixing with blood from her broken nose. A strip of duct tape muffled her screams.
The boy let out a strangled rattle.
“Your son is suffocating,” the man said. “Give me what I want, and I’ll let him live.” He ripped the tape from her mouth.
“I don’t have it. I swear. Please don’t hurt him!”
“Wrong answer.” He slapped her, hard.
“It’s the truth!” she screamed.
The man sighed. “What about you, boy? Tell the truth.” He held up an image of a large blue gemstone – distinctive in its symmetrical beauty – clutched in the sharp-clawed fingers of a silver fist.
This isn’t even about the girl, the boy realised belatedly. It was about some gem he’d never seen. He frantically shook his head and pried at the whip, desperate for air.