Bane (Page 3)
He had pale skin, the color of bone china, and his form—his clothing—all blended perfectly into the snow. If not for the black hair that hung in his blue eyes, she wouldn’t have noticed him. The Tracker bared his teeth and growled. The wolf was injured from being struck by the vampire, but the crazed animal didn’t back down. It lifted its snout into the air and howled. Suddenly wolves were diving from the open window. There were too many of them, more than Kahli had ever seen. She had no idea how the pack had grown so large, or why they were there then. It was at least twice the size of the pack that had followed her to this place.
The pack pooled around the lone wolf that attacked her. Its muzzle was tinged red, wet with Kahli’s blood. The beast snarled and began to close in on both of them. Kahli’s shoulder screamed with blistering pain. The sleeve of her coat was covered in crimson. She felt hot and cold at the same time.
The scent of blood, the promise of fresh meat, was too appealing for the wolves to resist. Drool fell into the snow, dripping from the snarling lips of the pack. Kahli’s heart clenched. Her eyes darted between the Tracker and the pack. The effects of the wound were getting to her. She’d lost too much blood. It was becoming more difficult for her to focus.
“Hey,” the Tracker called, catching Kahli’s attention. When she looked at him, he threw a knife to her. Surprised, she reached out and caught it. It was similar to her own weapon that was lost inside the building behind her. Confusion lined her face as she glanced at the vampire. She didn’t understand why he armed her, but she didn’t have time to think.
The pack attacked. Wolf after wolf came at them, snarling and promising death. Fighting for her life distracted her so that she couldn’t see what the tracker was doing. And suddenly she didn’t care. The tension lining her muscles came out in a flow of raw energy. Everything faded into a blur of blood and fur. Tooth, claw, and fangs came at them. It seemed to go on forever, but she was certain it happened in a matter of moments. Kahli didn’t remember exactly what she did.
She didn’t notice the tracker fighting next to her, either. He positioned himself at her back, fighting with her as if they were allies. The dark-haired boy had nothing but a knife, just like the one he threw to Kahli. But somehow they survived. When only the sound of the wind remained, Kahli turned. Her flame-red hair whipped around her face, pulled free from the nape of her neck while they were fighting. Her jaw hung opened as she looked around, surveying what they’d done. A pack of dead wolves lay in the snow, their once white hides covered in scarlet. Their motionless bodies looked strange as their fur blew in the wind. Blood soaked into the ice, staining it pink beneath the lifeless bodies.
Kahli’s eyes lifted to the Tracker’s face. Blood covered his arms and chest, mirroring the gore that covered her body. The wind whipped his dark hair out of his young face. He looked to be a few years older than Kahli.
Woozy, Kahli stood, staring at him. His blue eyes locked onto hers. It felt like she was staring at an old photograph. There was a feeling of recognition, but she couldn’t understand why. Over the years she’d seen many Trackers, but she was certain that she hadn’t seen this one. She would have remembered him. The Tracker continued to stare, mirroring her expression.
Then Kahli gasped, falling to the ground one knee at a time. Her wounds caught up to her. Every ounce of pain she’d been fighting back crippled her as she fell. The Tracker stepped closer to the spot where Kahli sank to her knees. Standing above her, he looked down. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat with an odd expression of sympathy and fascination.
Rage surged through Kahli’s body, but she couldn’t fight off the blood loss. Chills shook her slender body, even though she was covered in sweat. The boy stepped toward her. She growled, “Touch me and I’ll kill you.” Breathing hard, she fought the sensations that were pulling her head to the ground.
He bent down, hands still in his pockets. His voice resonated rich and perfect, like a bow sliding across a cello string. “What would you have me do? Leave you to freeze on the ice? Or bleed to death? That hardly seems heroic after I went to all the trouble to save your a*s.” A crooked smile lined his lips.
Kahli could barely focus. The world was sliding away, slipping somewhere beyond the horizon. She felt the ground pitch beneath her, and knew it was the effects of her wound. The boy was perfectly upright. Glaring at him with hatred, Kahli’s head finally fell to the ground, her cheek pressing against the frozen earth and the world faded to black.
When her eyes closed, Will looked down at her. He’d been tracking her for so long, and then the wolves showed up. If he’d gotten there a minute later, the girl would have died. He studied her face. She had a small nose, smooth tanned skin, but the most striking thing about her was her hair. It blazed the color of the sun, not quite orange or gold, but somewhere in between. She was an oddity.
And that meant she was valuable.
Will scooped her up in his arms. Her skin was still warm, but she’d lost a lot of blood. He knew what she needed, blood—his blood—but that wasn’t something he wanted to do. He had his reasons, but letting her bleed out wouldn’t work either. Will laughed bitterly. He couldn’t help it. She was exactly what he needed and he was two seconds too late, like always.
When Kahli peeled her eyelids open, she didn’t know where she was. The last thing she remembered was a maw filled with snarling teeth. Before she could take in her surroundings, a voice spoke from across the room.
“Glad to see you’re awake,” he said. “I was starting to think it was foolish to try and heal you without using blood—with wounds like that, anyway—but you proved me wrong.” Will sat at a small table across from her. His silhouette was outlined by a roaring fire. The room glowed with flickering golden light. There were no windows, and there was only one door. Will sat in front of it.
Kahli blinked once, her facial expression soft until her memory filled in those moments before she blacked out. The wolves attacked and the Tracker showed up. The boy talking to her was a vampire, and not just any blood-sucking freak, but the lowest of the low. Trackers didn’t exactly run with the elite social vamps. They were outcasts, shunned by their own race. It didn’t cross her mind that this Tracker was young. The ones she’d seen, the ones she’d killed, were much older.
Wide-eyed, Kahli turned her head and stared at him. There was no way she was staying. Death was more acceptable than being drained and bottled. That’s what Trackers did. They hunted down humans who were smart enough to flee from the Regent’s human farms. The Trackers found them, but most were never returned. The Trackers drained every drop of blood and sold it on the black market. There was an acute shortage of blood and capturing a rogue human would make this Tracker a wealthy man. Kahli clutched the blankets that covered her body, trying to throw them off and sit up, but she couldn’t. She was too weak. As soon as she sat up, the room spun. Kahli couldn’t hold herself up.
Will didn’t move as the girl fell sideways out of the bed and landed on the cold tiled floor.
She growled at him, and Will knew she was every bit as dangerous as those wolves, “Where am I? Is this Section 8? Did you take me back?” Kahli rolled onto her back, and pushed her hair out of her face. When she lifted her right arm, her shoulder felt like it was on fire. She gasped. Instinctively, her hand flew to the wounded shoulder, covered in bandages, to try and soothe it.
Will watched her fiery red hair spill around her face as she rolled onto her back. His eyes lingered on her curves for a moment before he said, “Section 8. Why would I take you to Section 8?” His arms were folded across his toned chest.
“Because of this,” Kahli held up her wrist. It was the one the wolf had bitten. Teeth marks marred the branding on the back of her wrist. The tooth holes had been stitched shut. Kahli could still see most of the marking. “Clearly, you can see a Section 8 insignia—even through the puncture and stitches.” She dropped her arm to her side, too weak to hold it up.
Will smiled, surprised at the girl’s demands. Most captured humans were afraid of him. They cowered or begged. But not this one. He laughed, the corners of his mouth pulling up as he shook his head. The sound started to irritate Kahli, but she remained silent. Will replied, “That isn’t a Section 8 brand.” He pointed a tapered finger at her, his blue eyes meeting hers, his voice knowing, “That is something your people concocted to keep you out of the camps.” The boy rose slowly. His slender form filled the tiny space.
In two steps he was across the room to the spot where Kahli lay on the floor. As he spoke, Kahli’s heart raced. She remembered her parent’s warnings. The free must remain hidden. Otherwise the Regent would take them and deposit them in the slaughterhouses. But this Tracker was not conforming to the Regent’s demands. He’d do something even more deplorable instead. Kahli stared at his black boot next to her head. He knelt down next to her. Without a word, Will slid his hands under her waist and legs before he lifted her back onto the make-shift bed. There was a thin mattress, covered in blankets, lying on top of a ledge. Kahli tensed in his arms. A million screams built inside of her, but the boy placed her softly on the cot and backed away.
Kahli worked the muscle in her jaw, staring at him with utter hatred. “It is a Section 8 brand,” she hissed. “My mother escaped with me from that slaughterhouse when I was born.” She was quiet for a moment, watching the boy’s face. But he only returned her vacant stare. “She escaped right after they branded me.”
“So you say.”
Kahli’s throat grew tight. He sensed the lie. Damn vamps. They had unreal senses, but Kahli was certain the branding mark was real. It was supposed to protect her if she was ever caught. Her mother explained it to her a million times. But the boy didn’t believe her. “Because it’s true. The Regent will have your head if you don’t return me.” Her green eyes blazed.
“It’s not true. Ask me how I know?” Kahli said nothing. She just continued her death stare, wishing the arrogant b*****d would burst into flames. “You said slaughterhouse. It’s just another clue that you are not what you say.” The boy stood and examined his fingernails as he spoke, his dark hair falling over his forehead. “Ask me how I know your brand is fake?” He glanced up at her. “Ask me, red-headed girl. Ask me why I haven’t returned you to your home, to your precious Section 8 camp where all the humans are dragged off to die.” His lips pulled into a knowing smile.
With a gleam in his eye, he answered his own question, “Because Section 8 doesn’t exist. It never has. Not ten years ago. Not twenty. And you’re not a day over eighteen, are you?” His blue eyes didn’t blink as he stood over her bed, looking down at her. “I remember you. I remember your fiery red hair and emerald green eyes peering out at me from that thicket.” Kahli’s jaw dropped open. He was the boy that captured her mother. After all this time, she’d grown to believe that the boy never saw her. And yet, here he was, nearly ten years later saying otherwise. “You blew your cover that day, little girl. You dropped something.” He tossed a wad of fabric on Kahli and stepped back, sitting in his chair. His eyes narrowed as he watched her reaction to the scrap of cloth.