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Wounded(Rylee Adamson #8)(4) by Shannon Mayer

“Answer Berget’s other question,” I said. “Why doesn’t Orion come through?”

Bert gave a little laugh, though there was no true humor in it. “Didn’t you hear me? He wants the humans to love him. He has to save them to do that. Of course, he doesn’t have the body he wants, or needs yet, either. That’s coming as soon as the witch gives birth. He needs that body if he wants to fulfill the demon prophecies. Once he has it, he could take another body. But he must start with the child. A child of great power.”

His words stabbed through me. He was talking about Milly and her unborn baby. Liam’s hand was on the small of my back, subtly supporting me, his words quiet and only for my ears. “You could do nothing more. Milly made her choice to save you so you could stop Orion.”

The words that flowed out of me were words I’d read out of the gray-skinned book of prophecies what seemed like eons ago. Before I’d truly understood what we were facing. “Orion shall twist the magic of the Great One, and shall bring her to her knees with his lies. For when he possesses the heart of her soul, salvation shall fall to one bound by oaths to stay his hand of death over the world. The Tracker must break her oaths to save the world, or we will all be doomed.”

The courtyard was very quiet; everyone was looking at me. I didn’t even blink, though my eyes burned with unshed tears. “Milly, she’s the greatest witch the world has seen. And the heart of her soul, that’s her baby. That’s what the prophecy meant, what it means. She asked me to do what I had to do. She meant killing her child if I had to. That would break my oath to protect children.” Why, oh why did I have to understand that prophecy now?

Nikko stood and he walked solemnly to me, his horn lowering to touch one shoulder.

All the prophecies will be fulfilled, Rylee. But we cannot always see in what way until they are upon us.

Erik cleared his throat, drawing everyone’s eyes to him. “Be that as it may, we still have the four packs to deal with. I believe Bert here.”

Bert stood a little taller as Erik clapped a hand onto the smaller man’s shoulder.

“But that doesn’t mean Orion’s plan hasn’t changed.”

Bert slumped. “I don’t think he knows yet, that I’ve … umm.”

Okay, it was damn weird to see a demon stumble and stutter over his words. But I knew what he was getting at.

I lifted an eyebrow. “Orion doesn’t know that you’ve defected.”

“Exactly.”

“Well,” I said. “I guess there’s only one thing to do.”

All eyes swung my way once more. Probably was going to have to get used to that.

I gave them a smile that I knew was easily as cold as the wind tugging at us. “Time to go demon hunting.”

Chapter 2

WHILE THE COUNCIL argued over the best way to take out the demon packs, Liam found his way to Berget’s side.

She blinked up at him and gave him a soft smile as her eyes searched his face. “You save her, you know that, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“She doesn’t have your patience, or your ability to hold back when she needs to. Of course, it is more than that. You are her heart. Without that, she would be far crueler than she needs to be.”

He thought about her threats to Bert. “I don’t know about that. She seemed plenty cruel with the demon. As she should be.”

Berget shook her head, blonde hair tossing lightly in the wind. “No, that was necessary. She needs to make a strong impression, and while she might not understand it, her instincts to lay into him run true. It was good, not only for him, but also for those who follow her to see she will do what she must, no matter how gruesome. Too many leaders fail when they are afraid to do what is right because it is hard, or they are afraid of how it will make them look.”

Her eyes flicked to his face and she shifted so they were side by side, looking out over the courtyard. “But that is not why you stand with me, is it?”

Liam thought for a moment. Though Berget was only sixteen, there was a huge part of her that was older, knowledge she’d gained only by living amongst vampires before she herself was turned. On top of that, carrying around the souls and memories of two ancient vampires had aged her, and made her wise far beyond her years. “No. It isn’t. She told me you were searching through your memories, and those of your parents, for the key to the veil, to the things that had to be done to close it off.”

From the side, her face went carefully blank. “Yes, she did. But I see no need now—”

He lifted one hand, stopping her. “We already know it has something to do with the guardians, that their blood can somehow close the doorways. What have you learned?”

They didn’t look at one another; instead, they watched the council argue.

“The blood of a guardian can close a tear in the veil; it is not the same as the Blood of the Lost, but it is strong enough to do the job for a time. Taken by force, that is all it will do,” she said softly, so softly her words were less than a whisper.

The image of Eagle, sprawled out, blood soaked in Rylee’s bathtub, slid to the front of his mind. The demons who’d taken Milly and Pamela had used Eagle’s blood, forcibly, to close the doorway behind them. To wipe clean their own escape and prevent anyone from following through the tear in the veil they’d created.

Berget kept speaking, which jarred him out of his memories. “The blood of a guardian freely given, a sacrifice, can shut the veil for a period of time, putting the entire system in stasis. No one can cross in either direction.”

“How long does it give, this sacrifice?”

“You cannot, Liam.” She turned to face him, grabbed his hand. Cool, dainty fingers clutched at his. “You cannot leave her. My parents have lied to me before. I do not know for sure this would even work.”

He gently squeezed her hand, grateful Rylee had Berget back in her life, even if it was somewhat on the peripheral. “I don’t plan on it. There are other guardians, and we need to know how and where they can help. The loss of a little blood is not too much to ask of them to give us time to plan for Orion, is it?”

Berget closed her eyes, the blue veins along her eyelids sharp in contrast to her pale skin, even in the dim light. “That is true.”

The sharp scent of her lie bit at his nose. Acrid and tangy, he blew it out.