I reached out, grabbing Red’s flailing arm. “Come on! You’ve got to run!”
Fear rooted Red to the spot. I pulled on his arm until he twisted around. Then we were running, me and the guy who’d held a knife to my throat moments before. Flat laughter followed us as our feet left the dirt path and crashed through field grass.
“Run!” I yelled, pumping my legs until they burned. “Run! RUN!”
Red was so much slower than I was and he fell—a lot. I briefly considered leaving him there to fend for himself, but my mother hadn’t raised me that way. Neither had the Covenant. I yanked him back to his feet, half tugging him across the field. Incoherent babbling came from him as I dragged him on. He was praying and crying—sobbing really. Lightning zipped overhead and a crash of thunder jolted both of us. Another bolt of light split the dark sky.
Through the fog rolling over the field, I could make out the shapes of more warehouses beyond a cluster of ancient maples. We had to make it there. We could lose them, or at least we could try. Anywhere was better than being out in the open. I pushed harder—pulled on Red harder. Our shoes tripped in the tangled weeds and my chest was hurting, the muscles in my arm straining to keep Red on his feet.
“Move,” I gasped as we dashed under the canopy of trees, darting to the right. It seemed better than running in a straight line. “Keep moving.”
Red finally fell in step beside me. The beanie was gone, revealing a head full of thick dreads. We dipped around a tree, both of us stumbling over thick roots and underbrush. Low hanging branches slapped at us, tearing at our clothing. But we kept running.
“What… are they?” Red asked breathlessly.
“Death,” I said, knowing no better way to describe them to a mortal.
Red whimpered. I think he knew I wasn’t kidding.
It came out of nowhere then, slamming into us with the ferocity of a freight train. I hit the ground face first, inhaling spit and dirt. Somehow I kept ahold of the spade and rolled onto my back, praying we’d just gotten tackled by a chupacabra or a minotaur. Right now either would be far better than the alternative.
And I was not that lucky.
I stared up at the daimon as he picked Red up and held him several feet off the ground with one hand. Thrashing wildly, Red screamed as the daimon smiled, although he didn’t see the rows of razor teeth that I could. Full of panic and terror, I rolled to my feet and rushed the daimon.
Before I could reach them, the daimon drew back his free arm and a burst of flames encompassed his hand. The elemental fire burned unnaturally bright, but the gaping eyeholes remained dark. Seemingly indifferent to the horror playing out across Red’s face and his terrified screams, the daimon placed his fiery hand on Red’s cheek. The fire sparked from the daimon’s hand, swallowing Red’s face and body within seconds. Red shrieked until his voice cut off, his body nothing but flames.
I stumbled backward, choking on a silent scream. The taste of bile filled my mouth.
The daimon dropped Red’s corpse to the ground. The moment his hands left the body, the flames vanished. He turned to me and laughed as the elemental magic cloaked his true form.
My brain refused to accept reality. He wasn’t the daimon from Miami or the one who had spoken behind the rest stop. A fourth. There were four of them—four daimons. Panic raked at me with fresh, sharp claws. My heart pounded fiercely as I backed up, feeling a cold desperation well up inside me. I whirled around and found him now standing in front of me. Nothing moved as fast as a daimon, I realized. Not even me.
I darted to the side, but he mimicked my movements. He shadowed each step I took and laughed at my pathetic attempts to get around him.
Then he stilled, letting his hands fall harmlessly to his sides. “Poor, little half-blood, there is nothing you can do. You can’t escape us.”
I clenched the handle of the spade, unable to speak as he stepped to the side.
“Run, half-blood.” The daimon tilted his head toward me. “I’ll enjoy the chase. And once I catch you, even the gods won’t be able to stop what I will do to you. Run!”
I took off. No matter how much air I dragged into my lungs as I ran, it didn’t seem like I could breathe. All I could think as branches snagged strands of my hair was that I didn’t want to die like that. Not like that. Oh, gods—not like that.
The ground become uneven; each step sent a spike of pain up my leg and through my hips. I broke free from the trees as another rumble of thunder drowned out every sound except that of the blood pounding in my temples. Seeing the outline of the warehouses, I pushed my sore muscles harder. My sneakers left the weed-covered earth and pounded across a thin layer of gravel. I darted between the buildings, knowing wherever I went I might have only a few stolen moments of safety.
One of the buildings, the furthest from the woods, was several stories tall while the rest looked squat in comparison. The windows on the ground floor were either broken or boarded up. I slowed down, peering over my shoulder before I tried the door. I kicked at the rust-frozen handle and the surrounding wood cracked and gave way. I ducked inside and shut the door behind me.
My eyes roamed the dark interior, searching for something to secure the door with. It took several seconds for my eyes to adjust, and when they did, I could make out the shapes of abandoned work benches, presses, and a set of stairs. I struggled to get my fingers to stop shaking as I shoved the spade back into my pants. Grabbing a work bench, I yanked it toward the door. The screeching sound it made reminded me too much of a daimon’s howl, and it also seemed to send things scurrying in the shadows. Once I’d barricaded the door, I rushed the stairs. They creaked and shifted under my weight as I took the steps two at a time, keeping a death grip on the metal railing. On the third floor, I went straight to a room with a large set of windows, dodging discarded benches and flattened boxes. A startling realization hit me as I peered out the window frantically, scouring the ground for daimons.
If I didn’t make it to Nashville—if I ended up dead tonight—no one would even know. No one would even miss me or care. My face wouldn’t even end up on the back of a milk carton.
I flipped out.
Leaving the room, I hit the rickety stairs and kept climbing until I reached the top floor. I raced through the dark hallway, ignoring the startled squeaks. I threw open the door and tumbled onto the roof. The storm continued violently overhead as if it had become a part of me. Lightning streaked across the sky, and a crack of thunder vibrated through my core, mocking the cyclone of emotions building inside.
Going to the edge of the roof, I peered through the fog. My eyes scanned every inch of the nearby woods and grounds where I’d just been. When I saw nothing I rushed to each of the other sides and did the same.
The daimons hadn’t followed me.
Maybe they were playing with me instead, wanting me to believe I’d somehow outsmarted them. I knew they could still be out there, toying with me like a cat does with a mouse before it pounces and it rips the poor thing apart.
I went back to the center of the roof, the wind whipping my hair around my face. Lightning flashed overhead, casting my long shadow across the rooftop. Waves of sorrow crashed over me, coupled with anger and frustration. Each swell cut me from the inside, lancing open wounds that would never really heal. Bending over, I covered my mouth with both hands and screamed just as the thunder rolled through the dark clouds.
“This isn’t it.” My voice was a hoarse whisper. “This can’t be it.”
I straightened, swallowing down the burning lump in my throat. “Screw you. Screw all of you! I’m not dying like this. Not in this state, not in this stupid city and sure as hell not in this pile of crap!”
Fierce determination—so hot and full of rage—burned through my veins as I climbed back down the stairs and to the room with the windows. I dropped down on a pile of flattened boxes. Pulling my legs up to my chest, I leaned my head back against the wall. Dust coated my damp skin and clothing, sucking most of the moisture out.
I did the only thing I could do, because this couldn’t be the end for me. With no money and no bus ticket, I might be trapped here for a while, but this wasn’t how I was going to go out. I refused to even entertain the possibility. Closing my eyes, I knew I couldn’t hide here forever.
I ran my fingers over the edge of the blade, preparing myself for what I would have to do when the daimons came. I couldn’t run anymore. This was it. The sounds of the storm melted away, leaving a cloying humidity, and off in the distance, I could hear the roar of the trucks passing in the night. Life went on outside these walls. It couldn’t be any different inside them.
I will survive this.