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The climb took considerable creative maneuvering and some piggybacking to make sure that the weaker and more seriously wounded of the party made it out of the base. But hours after she and Gage had driven through the fortified gates of Fort Hurley, they and all the Mirus who had survived the siege crawled out of the ventilation shaft and into the star-studded night. A few of those who were able immediately teleported or flew away. The Drakyn was one of them. As she watched his dragon form grow smaller and smaller with distance, Embry couldn’t blame them. Who knew how long they’d been trapped here?
Those remaining lay sprawled on the rocky ground, catching their breath, assessing their various injuries. Embry sucked in great lungfuls of the sharp mountain air, clearing the scents of smoke and blood and sweat from her nose. Not an easy feat, since she and everyone else were covered with it.
Gage dropped down beside her. “How’s that shoulder?” He leaned over to examine it. His touch was hesitant, gentle.
He curled his fingers in hers and pressed his forehead to hers. “Yes, by the grace of God and a fae and a lifetime’s worth of luck, you will.”
“We all will, thanks to you,” she said.
“Well actually it was thanks to a lot of people. I’ll tell you something, though.”
Because the twitch of his lip said he wanted her to, she asked, “What?”
“You are banned from mission planning for life.”
She gave a short bark of laughter. “Deal.”
Eyes sobering, he brought his other hand up to cradle her cheek, “I couldn’t take losing you again.”
Embry’s heart twisted as she thought of what she still had to do, even after everything he’d risked. She framed his face and laid her lips over his. His mouth was soft, reverential. Embry wanted to linger, to savor. But they’d had their night. It would have to be enough. She pulled back. “I love you.”
Over Gage’s shoulder, Embry caught sight of her father staring at them. He stood motionless, silent, a look of speculation in his eyes. Despite everything they’d been through, a part of her still felt eighteen and like she’d been caught doing the forbidden.
When Gage started to answer in kind, she cleared her throat and brushed a finger over his lips. “We need to go. We’re not out of danger yet. I guarantee this ventilation shaft lets out somewhere within the perimeter fencing of the base. We need to figure out where we are in relation to the guards they have posted. And you know they have to have doubled the guards to keep us from getting out—unless they’re just stupid and think we’ll stay stuck in that room.”
“I’m not willing to bank on them being stupid,” said Gage, getting to his feet. He tugged her to her feet. “Or that our luck will keep holding. Everybody up. We’ve gotta get moving. There’s only an hour or two until sunrise, and we need the dark.”
Whatever her father thought about she and Gage being involved was pushed aside as they picked a bearing and began herding their group of refugees down the mountain to the west. It was too quiet. Other than the shuffle of feet and the patter of loose stones as they rolled down the slope, there were none of the expected night noises of crickets, cicadas, or nocturnal predators. And there was no sound of soldiers.
Embry didn’t like it.
The perimeter fence, when they reached it, was unmanned. Because he could absorb the shock if it was live, Orrin wrapped his hand around the wire. He shook his head. “It’s dead. We can cut right through.”
“I’m not waiting to cut.” Having freshly fed, the vampire made short work of tearing through the fencing. Then she strode through as if stepping out on 5th Avenue.
The others hurried after her.
Embry hung back, hesitating.
“What’s wrong?” asked Gage, coming back for her.
She shook her head, unable to put her finger on it. “Something’s not right.” Turning, she scanned the mountainside looking for anything amiss.
Gage strode back to the gap in the fence. “Orrin, you take lead. Head west with the others. The nearest town is a good thirty miles from here. But I think there’s an Indian reservation closer than that as the crow flies. You might be able to get a lift there.”
“Aren’t you coming?” asked the fae.
“We’re doing some scouting first. Y’all go ahead. We’ll catch up.”
When he came back, Adan was with him.
“You sense something.” It wasn’t a question, and Embry appreciated that her father wasn’t dismissing her gut feeling.
“This is too easy,” she said. “We took out a lot of men, but not all of them, not by a long shot. Why aren’t they out here patrolling?”
“Let’s check the fence line a ways,” said Gage.
“Okay, we’ll split up—”
“No way in hell. We stay together.” She started to interrupt but Gage plowed on. “Non-negotiable, Ember. None of us goes anywhere alone.” He swung his gaze to Adan. “That includes you.”
Adan nodded in accession.
Working as a unit, they moved north, following the fence line for a good half-mile. Their sweep turned up nothing. Reversing, they backtracked, then headed south. A quarter mile from the hole in the fence, they found the first body. Dressed in fatigues, finger still clutching the trigger of his weapon, the soldier’s neck was cleanly broken. Judging from the tracks in the dirt, he hadn’t even put up a fight. A hundred yards further, they found another. This one was leaning against the fence, arms wrapped around his gun, head nodding as if he were just asleep.
Adan and Gage exchanged a look.
“Someone’s been here,” said Adan. “One of ours.”
Embry felt her heart kick in alarm. She fought to keep her voice level. “Can you read the trace to tell who?” When they traveled by shadow, Shadow Walkers always left a trace of themselves, akin to a fingerprint or signature.
Her father phased out but came back a moment later. “I don’t know him.”
“Then as of this moment, we consider him an enemy,” said Embry.
“Em, any Walker is bound to be on our side,” he said.
“The Council forbade me from coming after you. If they sent a Walker it’s to clean up my mess. That means me.” And Gage. She didn’t say it. Didn’t have to. She could tell by the look on Adan’s face that he understood.
“Let’s get back to the others,” he said.
Focused on stealth, they made their way back to the gap in the fence. Orrin’s group had a good twenty minute lead on them, but they struck out in a general westerly direction. Embry’s anxiety grew with each passing minute as she watched and waited for an attack. Not safe. Not safe. The words repeated in her head like a mantra. She had to figure out how to get Gage away before whoever the Council had sent could track them.
They crested a rise, but the others were nowhere in sight. Her father pulled ahead, scouting.
Gage took her hand, squeezed it. “It’ll be okay.”
She looked at him, her eyes blurring with tears. Oh no it won’t. It won’t, and it’s all my fault. Again. One tear fell, rolling hot and fast down her cheek. Three more followed, and Embry sucked in a breath. Christ, get a grip. Your blubbering isn’t going to fix this. She stopped moving, pulling him to her in a fierce embrace that made her shoulder scream.
“You have to go,” she whispered.
“We all want out of here, but you know we need to see these people to safety—”
“Not them. You. You have to Walk. Get the hell out of here.” Urgency made her voice low and harsh.
Gage frowned. “What the hell are you talking about, Embry?”
“Whoever the Council sent is out here somewhere. They don’t know your signature well enough to trace you. If you go now, they can’t catch you. Go.”
In silence, he studied her face before speaking. “Not without you. I’m not about to leave you behind to take the fall for this. Come with me.”
“I can’t. They’ll find me. My magic makes me easy to trace. I won’t lead them to you. I won’t let them take you again.” She stepped back, forced herself to release him. “You have to go, Gage. Without me. I always knew you’d have to go without me.”
Temper kindled in his eyes as he took a step toward her. “Ember—”
“We’ll just make this easy on you and take you both. Then you don’t have to be apart when you face the Council,” said a voice from the dark.
Embry whirled, trying to send out flares, but nothing happened. Frantic, she tried again.
“Oh I think you’ll find your powers useless just now.” Someone moved to the right, stepping out of shadow and into moonlight. He shook the object in his hand. “They’re quite neutralized. A suppression talisman. Handy things, these. You see we learned from our mistake ten years ago.”
“Lucius,” she growled.
The wraith took a small bow.
Gage shifted to place his body between them.
“How noble. Still defending your little paramour.”
“Can it, Lucius. The assignment is to bring them in, not taunt them to death.” Matthias stepped from another shadow, pushing Adan before him, hands bound.
No, no this wasn’t happening. Embry turned on him. “You son of a bitch! How dare you after everything—”
“That’s quite enough, Embry. You can save it for your hearing,” said Matthias.
And before she could make a reply, she was sucked into the shadow.
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