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Wounded(Rylee Adamson #8)(3) by Shannon Mayer

Suddenly, my place as the so-called ‘chosen one’ was not as solid as I thought, and a tiny part of me was really, really happy. But this Simon kid, he was just a boy. A child who likely didn’t even know what he was, and there was no way I would want to put this burden of saving the world and facing down Orion on him. Hell, the kid probably didn’t even know how to Track yet. The ability to Track didn’t come until late teens, well into puberty and, according to Jack, most often not until something traumatic happened. Then there were the prophecies. They referred always to a ‘she’. Lucky me.

I opened up the folded sheet of paper, scanning the words.

Four packs precede the four you should fear above all others. Kill the packs and seal the doorway with the blood you cherish above all else.

There was no signature, but the handwriting was feminine, and I didn’t doubt Talia had written it. I folded and tucked it into my back pocket, choosing to not think too much about ‘the blood you cherish above all else’.

Faris let out a breath, and tapped the picture. “They will try to kill him, take out any possible successors for you. Just to be sure. Assuming, of course, he is a Tracker and this isn’t a trap of some sort.”

I nodded and tucked the picture into my inner jacket pocket. Fuck, this complicated things in a way I didn’t really want to address right now. Could I not have just one problem at a time?

There was some muttering amongst the council, the tension rising with each minute that passed, but it stilled as Bert stepped into the courtyard. As a doppelganger, he could have chosen to look like anyone. What he decided to project was a weak imitation of Bruce Lee. After we realized what he was, he told us how he’d fooled us so completely. He’d apparently taken possession of a very minor witch, one whose skills were miniscule enough that they could be easily passed off as other things. Like the skills of the so-called Slayer he’d tried to impersonate. The little bit of magic he’d had, he used to making us believe he truly was my Uncle Erik so he could get close to us and kill Blaz and Ophelia. The only thing that stopped him was his true affection for Ophelia. That hadn’t ended well and Ophelia left us, for gods only knew where.

Now, Bert was bound to my true uncle, forced to serve him.

Bert wrung his hands and looked sheepishly from me to the others in the courtyard and then back to me. Raw sneered at him and stepped back, as if just by being close to the demon he could somehow become infected. Not good.

I crooked a finger at Bert. “Come here.”

He swallowed hard and shuffled across to me, cringing as if expecting a blow. “I’ve done nothing wrong, Master.”

Oh shit, that was not going to fly. “My name is Rylee. Use it. Or if you can’t, call me Tracker.”

He bobbed his head and I wondered again how he’d been able to keep up even a small sliver of believability as my uncle. Looking back, though, I’d never fully connected with him, or trusted him while he played that role. He always seemed … off. Now that he’d been ‘outed’ as a demon, he was a damn sniveling weakling.

“Bert, the four demon packs preceding the four horsemen are loose. Where are they headed?” I was going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and allow him to answer before I asked Erik to put pressure on him.

He shook his head and stared at his feet. “I don’t know.”

I leaned in close to him, so my mouth was next to his cheek, though I wasn’t quiet with my words. “Demon, perhaps you forget who you are dealing with. I’m not like most women. I will fucking pull you apart by the seams and not even blink while you scream for mercy if you don’t tell me. I know you’re lying. I suggest you think hard before you answer me.”

Swallowing several times, he fought to suck in a breath, but he said nothing. I stepped back and pulled my whip free, snapping it out, holding the tip in one hand and the handle in the other. “You have ten seconds before I start unstitching your skin to find out what a makes up a demon from the inside out.”

Bitchy? Hell yes. But we didn’t have time for polite chatting and dodging the issue. Big, bad, nasty, ugly demons were loose on the world. Bert was the least of my concerns at this point.

His eyes lifted to mine, glimmering with tears, and I almost felt bad. Almost. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep my family and friends safe. Bert was nothing to me but a weak-assed demon I would use as I saw fit.

“Orion wants the humans to love him because he knows people will fight him if he comes in with guns blazing. But if they love him, revere him, they will willingly do as he wants, they will do as he pleases. So he’ll stir up the wars and … and strife, and then he will come and ‘save’ the world.” Bert took a deep breath and as he spoke the words seemed to come easier, like a weight was being lifted off him. And maybe it was. “The packs, and later the four generals, their jobs are to stir the fear and the panic amongst the human population; they are to convince the humans the end days are upon them. It is at that point Orion will come through and ‘vanquish’ the evil in the world. The evil, of course, will be the supernatural world.”

That was exactly what Milly had thought. She’d explained that one of Orion’s plans had been to stir up the humans, but not that he would want to expose the supernaturals as ‘evil’.

“And the humans would help him wipe us out?” Erik asked the question on the tip of my tongue. Bert nodded furiously.

“Yes. That is the plan.”

Berget stepped up, her brows drawn over her bright blue eyes. “Why did only the packs come through? Why not the generals or Orion himself?”

Erik answered her before Bert could even process the question. “Because the veil is not truly opened to the demons, not yet. There are things that must happen. Signs that must be fulfilled before the hordes can come through. The four horsemen are second only to Orion in strength. The generals will need to possess strong bodies, supernaturals that will be difficult to take, but also have a great deal of inborn power. The necromancer will have to help them with that. And maybe even your friend.” He looked at me when he said ‘friend’. Of course, he meant Milly. She’d stayed behind, bound once more by Orion.

I wasn’t so sure Talia had the strength to force people through the veil and make them prisoners. But Milly did. My heart twisted, knowing she was trapped there. She was due to give birth in a couple of months, and we had no way of getting her out. Bound to Orion, she would be dangerous to have near us, as dangerous as she was away from us. I pulled myself together, though by Liam’s glance, he was the only one to notice my mind wandering.