Updated: Oct 14, 2020
Venatrix and Jayren sat tied to back-to-back chairs underneath the moonlight that shone through the hole in the ceiling. The pale light reflected off their skin and the long, gray nails that were driven through their right wrists, rendering them immobile. Venatrix leaned her head back as Jayren jerked around in the chair behind her.
Pain shivered through here with each trembling struggle Jayren made.
She sighed and tried to find the stars among the cloud cover.
‘Anything? They didn’t leave a trail,’ Corvun said across their mind-bond.
Venatrix wished Corvun was with them—dark, judgmental eyes and all. Only his voice in her head wasn’t enough to reassure her things would be okay. His presence, on the other hand, was. He always had a way of getting them out alive.
She cursed herself and Jayren, too. They wouldn’t have been in this mess in the first place if they hadn’t split up with Corvun and Orion.
‘The clouds are blocking most of it. I couldn’t give you a location if I wanted to,’ she told him.
Craig caught Venatrix’s jaw and forced her to look at him. She glared back at his strong, cinder-block face, the short dark hair that encircled his mouth and jaw. “Lost something, princess?”
Venatrix tried to jerk away, but his grip tightened. “You don’t get to call me that.”
“Yeah, bitchass. She’s out of your league. You’d be her slave if we were being real here,” Jayren said.
Craig smiled a toothy, chiseled grin and stood straight.
Venatrix squirmed and swallowed hard as the bigger man walked around to face Jayren. “Just keep your mouth shut,” she warned her teammate.
‘Make sure he doesn’t tell them anything,’ Corvun noted brashly.
“Don't tell him,” Venatrix warned.
“Holy hell Trixie, he hasn’t even asked a question yet,” Jayren said.
Venatrix listened to Craig’s leather jacket draw tight as he crossed his arms. ‘We need you guys—now. Where are you?’
‘What direction are the shadows falling?’
Venatrix eyed the ground. ‘North, I think. There’s not enough moonlight. I don’t know.’
“We know the rumors,” Craig said, his voice thick with an accent. “The youngest Elite team, a legend? A prophecy?” He scoffed.
Jayren scoffed back. “You’re just jealous.”
“They say you’re the horsemen, from the Bible,” a different voice noted from the shadows. He drawled his words out, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Yet here you are…”
Venatrix turned her head to try to find where the voice was coming from. The cold nose of a handgun pressed into her jaw, and she fell still. Her eyes shot up to find a different man, shorter than Craig.
He was dark skinned with rich chocolate hair and equally as dark eyes. Pete smiled coyly at her. “So what does that make you, girly?”
Venatrix looked forward and gritted her teeth. She hated every single interaction she and her friends had with these guys since the first day they’d met. They gave her the chills. Especially Pete.
‘They don’t know yet. Better to keep it that way,’ Corvun reminded from the pit of her mind.
“You, boy,” Craig said. He hesitated, and Venatrix heard his knee hit the ground in front of Jayren. “They say you’re the freak. I bet you’re Death.”
“War, actually, but I can still kill each of your sorry asses in two seconds.”
She hissed her teammate’s name when Pete drove the gun sharper into her bone.
‘Make him shut up.’
“Do you even know how to mount a horse?” Craig asked.
“No, but I can get a girl to ride me faster than you—”
Venatrix winced when a loud crack split through the room.
‘That’s what you get, Jay, now quit.’
Jayren managed a vulgar swear, gasping.
Venatrix jumped as a younger boy dragged another chair in front of her and sat backwards on it.
He grinned at her.
She smiled mockingly back. “Tommy,” she acknowledged.
“Such a shame, you know.” Tommy’s talk was fast and smooth and slick, just like his styled hair and manicured face. His gaze darted to her wrist. “To see blood on you like that.”
Venatrix rolled her eyes.
“You’d be a fantastic addition to our team, and that,” he gestured to her wrist, “would never happen again.”
“You suckers are totally jealous—we found her first, and she actually likes us.”
“You act like that’s such a feat,” Tommy said to Jayren then looked back to Venatrix. “I bet I could make her like me more.” He winked.
Venatrix smile wryly. “You wish.”
‘Found them,’ Orion called to Corvun. His eyes snapped to the building—an old abandoned tower with a circle blown out of the rooftop. Among the other dimly lit, sleeping skyscrapers, it was a black hole. ‘You got a plan?’ Orion tilted his head to the side to see Corvun soaring beside him in the form of a shadowy blackbird.
The cool night breeze shuddered through his apparition, chilling him down to his bones. Flying was the most efficient way to move, but not the most comfortable. But Orion felt the pain of their teammates searing like fire across the bond. That was enough to get his blood pumping.
‘Get in there and give me the rundown. I’m working on it.’
Orion took a quick downward dive. Just before he hit the ceiling, he allowed himself to dissipate and fall through the roof in a dark mist. He gathered himself back up from the floor, building his own shadows up into his figure just behind where the boy had seated himself in front of Venatrix.
Her face blushed red and splotchy with rage and agony. Yet, Venatrix smiled at him and he winked back.
He made his move a split second later.
Orion grabbed Tommy back off the chair and sent his seat clattering across the room. Bone-ridge blades grew from Orion's arm and began to pierce through the skin of Tommy’s neck. Orion stared at the others, getting a feel for the situation.
Pete spun and aimed at Orion, backed away a step. Craig stood stone still, also staring. And far in the corner, their team leader Scott smoked a cigar in the shadows, only visible through the red tip of the fire glowing in the dark.
“So you’re the guy—”
“Shut up.” Orion dug the knives into deeper into the surface of Tommy’s skin. “Let them go. Both of them—or I kill him right now.”
Craig yanked the nail out of Jayren’s wrist and jerked the blond boy free of his own bindings. He stepped back with Jayren caught in his arms with a gun pressed to his temple.
Orion’s insides boiled with fury.
Jayren’s expression fell blank finally, his hands raised in mock surrender.
Orion watched Jayren’s wrist begin to heal slowly. The bleeding stopped. He glanced back down to Venatrix. He manifested a knife out of his black smoke, dropped it and kicked it in her direction. The dagger skidded across the concrete floor with small echoing, metallic scrapes. Then he manifested his own gun out of thin air and pointed it at Pete. “Cut her loose,” he demanded.
“I could stab her,” Pete challenged.
Orion drew blood at Tommy’s neck. “I could kill him, too.” Orion watched Pete pocket his gun and step towards Venatrix.
Venatrix sucked in a sharp breath as Pete started sawing the rope.
Orion growled out a warning.
Tommy whimpered at the blades at his throat.
Pete worked more carefully.
When Venatrix was loose, she caught Pete behind the neck and slammed his head down into the arm of the chair. She pried the knife loose and slipping away to Orion’s side.
She chucked the nail across the room.
The scene fell quiet as Pete backed up, rubbing his forehead. Each of them evaluated their options. Orion could see it written on their features.
‘You’ve got thirty seconds before someone makes a stupid move, Corvun. Get something together.’
Corvun circled the building one more time before allowing gravity to take his shadows down through the hollow in the roof to land in the center of the room. The shadows licked up around him, swirling at his feet as he finished reestablishing himself into the scene. He kept his hands up and turned to evaluate the room for himself. “Alright, here’s how this is going to go.” He manifested two small grenades in his hands. “Let Jayren go, or we all go up.”
“Dude,” Jayren snapped.
Craig cocked his gun, barrel at Jayren’s brow.
Jayren’s face paled.
“I did not mean for you to make the stupid move,” Orion said to Corvun.
Corvun shrugged and eyed Scott. “You took my friends hostage. Would you like to see how that feels, boss?” A hint of a sadistic smile pulled at the side of his lips.
Craig and Pete flinched. Pete shot the shadows a wary glance. Scott sat in silence.
‘Take him,’ Corvun ordered silently.
“Now?” Orion said.
“Go for it,” Corvun confirmed.
He listened to the whooshing accompanied by Tommy’s startled yell as Orion and Venatrix took off. They flew out of it the building in a chaotic mass of shadows. Tommy kicked and dangled from Orion’s grip.
Scott clicked his tongue and stood. “After them, Pete.”
Corvun watched Pete spin up into the air in a similar fashion. “Let him go,” Corvun said, nodding at Jayren.
“Nah,” Scott said as he stepped into the moonlight. His black beard and snow-white hair bared startling contrast in the low light. Wolfish blue eyes gleamed back. “It’d be more interesting to see how you react when we kill him. It would just be a way to make sure you don’t mess with us again. A simple show of dominance.” Scott took out his Desert Eagle and cocked the gun.
“Wait,” Corvun said, stepping forward suddenly. His heart pumped hard in his chest. He didn’t want to see his best friend’s brains blown against the wall today. His voice shook as he spoke. “Having the upper hand isn’t always power. Sometimes it’s wits.”
Scott chuckled. “Wits would’ve kept your teammates out of this trouble in the first place.”
“It also might get us out.” Corvun’s eyes snapped to Jayren’s. “Catch.” He tossed the two grenades forward.
Red lights flickered a top the circular bombs the moment they left his hands. He watched the reactions between the opposing three and planned his next movement.
Corvun ducked away from the blast from Scott’s handgun. He jumped forward and caught his wrist and pointed the gun upward. A second bullet cracked out of the gun. Three more bullets ripped through the ceiling.
Corvun glanced back for a second to see iridescent scales shimmer over Jayren’s figure—and the two legs that now twisted onto the snake of a tail.
Jayren smacked one of the grenades out of the way, and it exploded against the wall.
They all ducked under the billowing flames. Heat washed through the room.
Corvun slammed his arm downward and crushed Scott’s hand to finish disarming him. He snatched the gun and pointed it back at Scott.
Jayren flipped the second grenade off the tip of his tail and tossed to his hand; he caught it with a feather-light touch. Jayren recoiled to Corvun’s side.
Corvun tipped his head up enough to show off. The heat from the fire burning on the side of the building caused him to flush and the sweat on his forehead to bead cool. He tilted his head to the side. “Until next time?”
“See ya,” Jayren laughed, tossing the grenade back at the two men. He took off first, shooting upward and in the directions the others had.
Corvun sighed a laugh and sprung after Jayren a split second later.
The explosion in the building chased after him.
‘Location?’ Jayren called to the others.
‘The Tower downtown. We managed to get Pete tied down, too.’ Jayren heard Venatrix smiling across the mind bond.
‘Great. Now can you get Tommy out of his pants—’
‘I going to need some, sorry.’ Jayren eyed the tall, glowing, skyscraper of a beacon that stood strong in the center of the city. ‘Are you handing them over? I thought—’
‘Yeah, no one’s here till daybreak. We can leave them as a gift.’
Corvun flew up beside Jayren, keeping time with his speed.
Jayren stayed quiet and kept his eyes away. The guilt set in when Corvun retained the same silence. Regardless of their escape, there would be consequences—either the lack of dinner for a week or a five-mile run.
When the two landed in front of the Tower, Jayren noticed the stiffness in Corvun’s movement. Jayren stayed in the distance, covering his nakedness until Venatrix walked to him with Tommy’s pants. “Thanks,” he muttered.
“You owe me. He wouldn’t shut up.” Venatrix raised an eyebrow as she tossed the black pants to Jayren. She turned her back to him, watching the others as he pulled them on. “Corvun’s going to throw a fit.”
Jayren noticed the bright blue glow that framed Venatrix’s figure. She looked skinnier than normal. “Are you okay? I mean—your wrist?”
“Is yours healed?” She turned as he zipped up the pants.
“Yeah,” Jayren said. He held out his wrist, and where the hole had been. The wound was healing, but slowly. The skin around the edges of the hole still peeled back from his struggling. “The bastards,” he joked weakly.
He glanced up at Venatrix’s eyes.
Fear shone equally striking and bright in hers.