The musty scent of the cave filled her nostrils when she plunged into its gloomy depths. She carefully placed Braith on the rocky ground twenty feet within before returning to the entrance. She searched the gulch and the trees lining the sides of it for any hint of danger. Everything remained calm for as far as she could see, and she scented nothing out of the ordinary on the breeze shaking the trees.
Satisfied they were still alone, she stripped her cloak off once more and raced out into the open. She ran half a mile back; it was as far as she dared to go without chancing being spotted. Lowering her cloak into the snow, she walked backwards and wiped away her footprints leading to the cave.
There was nothing she could do to completely mask their scent, but with the buried clothes, she hoped to leave their enemies confused enough about their location that she would have a better chance of leading them away from the cave system later.
If their enemies did find the cave and decided to investigate, there was a good chance they would be driven back, killed, or at least maimed by Daniel’s booby traps. It had been nearly a year and a half since they’d had to use the caves to hide from vampires, but she didn’t doubt her brother’s designs had held up during that time.
Returning to the entrance of the cave, she fled back to where she’d left Braith and knelt by his side before lifting him onto her shoulders once more. Her legs, back, and chest protested the movement, but she’d carry him a thousand more miles if she had to.
“This way,” William said and fled down the center of the gulch after his sister’s footprints. On her own, Aria barely would have left a mark behind in the snow, but Braith’s weight on her shoulders had made her normally agile step far more pronounced.
He kept hold of Tempest’s hand as he ran through the snow in pursuit of Aria. Her hand warmed his as he slid his fingers across the delicate bones in the back of it. Tempest was strong, nimble, and smart, but he’d felt the power of the vampire woman claiming to be the rightful queen and experienced her cruelty when he’d allowed himself to be captured in Badwin.
He shuddered at the possibility of anything happening to Tempest. She was his; she’d made him forget the wrath that had festered inside him after he’d lost his mortality and become a vampire, one of the creatures he’d spent most of his life hating.
But with Tempest, his life as a vampire had finally made sense. He would have endured the agony and uncertainty of his death as a human and transition into a vampire a thousand times over again to have her in his life. Now he may lose it all if they didn’t get away from their trackers soon.
He glanced over his shoulder as the vampires in white chased them down the hill. At least the hill was too steep for their followers to get a good shot off with their bows, but it didn’t mean some of them weren’t still trying. The others in their scouting party were close behind him, laboring to keep up. He had no idea how Xavier was still on his feet, as blood covered him from head to toe.
William couldn’t fully process what had happened, and how quickly it had all unfolded. They had to regroup, plan, and get away from their attackers.
Braith looked dead. William winced as the image of the arrows protruding from Braith’s back went through his mind once more. Many of those arrows were clustered around his heart. If Braith had been lost, then that meant Aria would be too…
Don’t think it. Just keep moving.
The whistle of a fresh wave of arrows being released filled the air before someone else grunted in pain. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Xavier tear an arrow from his thigh and toss it aside.
The trail of Aria and Braith’s blood in the snow suddenly disappeared, but Aria’s footprints continued. On the hillside opposite of the one they’d fled down, he spotted beads of blood amid the snow and his sister’s footprints going halfway up the hill.
“Which way?” Jack asked hoarsely from beside him.
“Aria didn’t continue to the top of the hill here, but she’s trying to throw them off her trail. I’d be willing to bet the footprints continuing through the gulch ahead of us stop at some point too. She wouldn’t have led them straight to the cave. We have to find where her tracks end, then go up the hill there.”
He glanced at Daniel to find his older brother’s blue eyes on him. Sweat plastered Daniel’s wheat blond hair to his flushed face. Bruises shadowed his eyes and jaw; blood seeped from his nose and bite marks marred his neck. He was beaten and battered, but his gaze was filled with steely resolve.