Chapter Fifteen

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The creature lets out a tremendous, blood-curdling shriek as Eva and Julian tear from their hiding place and make a break for the denser trees beyond. The thing tears at her back, wicked claws snagging on her jacket, a hairsbreadth away from lacerating her skin, too. She wrenches from its grip, the material ripping loudly as she hurtles towards the treeline. 

Hot on their heels, the creature carves a destructive path through the woods after them, whole tree trunks splintering in its wake. 

They use the densely-packed environment to their advantage, weaving and darting between the trees in an attempt to shake the beast off their trail. It's not much use, the creature still presses towards them, a promise of death hovering dangerously close to their backs. 

Suddenly, Julian makes a sharp right, careening down a muddy incline. Eva follows suit, as the beast corners hard, tearing away an entire line of trees with a shadowy flick of its cruel tail. 

For a moment, she assumes his sudden change in direction is an attempt to put more distance between them and the creature, but then she sees it. About a hundred metres in front, the treeline stops abruptly, the ground falling away in a rush of water and rocks. A waterfall. 

She hadn't noticed the sounds of the river cutting a deep, ragged path through the woods or the fresh scent of running water which now consumes her senses as they near the dizzying drop. 

"You can't be serious," Eva pants, but doesn't slow down as the beast behind them gains pace, closing the distance. 

"It's the only chance we have," Julian replies simply, his eyes quickly darting behind them, a grimace settling over his face. "You have to trust me." 

They reach the vicious drop just in time, the creature dragging its feet through the earth in an attempt to keep itself from the edge. The bitter irony that the beast has more self-preservation than them is not wasted on Eva as they launch themselves over the edge of the waterfall; into the empty nothingness of the fall. 

***

"I don't owe you anything," Atlas shrugs, only a whisper of danger in his voice. 

Elodie picks her way through the room, avoiding the still-growing pools of blood on the floor until she's face-to-face with him, close enough to see his body stiffen almost imperceptibly at her closeness.

"I'm not in the mood for playing your games, Atlas," she says, her voice laced with exasperation. "Just tell me what happened at your shop."

"What's it to you?" he asks, golden eyes glinting in the low light. 

"I'm just curious about what - or who - could take down the mighty Atlas, King of Serpents. Getting a little out of practice, are we? Has exile made you soft?" she smirks, knowing exactly what to say to provoke him into giving her the answers she needs. 

His eyes cloud over, that old, familiar ferocity dancing over the sharp planes of his face. He closes the distance between them, a manoeuver designed to intimidate as she lets him back her up against the wall. 

"I think you know exactly what killed me," he snarls, his perfectly youthful face barely an inch away from her own. 

"Perhaps," Elodie replies, "But what eludes me is why you were stupid enough to kill Julian, despite knowing exactly where that would get you." 

A feral growl sounds from his throat, completely inhuman, "I didn't set out to kill him. I was trying to kill the girl. He just got in my way." 

Elodie's eyes widen in surprise. "Why would you want to do that?" she breathes. 

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