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Marked for Death
On the fourth day that I received the severed bird heads, I became concerned. The hatbox in which they came in reeked of rotted flesh, old blood, and dust. Fear clinched my throat shut even as bile rose in my belly. “Who on Earth would think this prank is amusing…?” I whispered to the crackling fire in my quiet library, slightly suspicious that I already knew the answer.
The birds this time were ravens whereas they had previously been doves. A banging on the door startled me. I leapt to my feet, knocking the box and its ghastly contents to the floor. A man entered the library at a shuffling gait, his arms wrapped tightly around his midsection. “Sir?” I asked in a tight voice. “Are you alright? Can I help in any way?”
His hat covered his eyes so he tilted his head back to peer at me from under the brim. “Why, yes you can. Don’t scream,” his eyes flashed red.
Then he lunged, hands unfurling and reaching to me in ghastly skeletal claws. Panic locked my body where it was. The creature, for this was no man, growled as he advanced. My eyes could not tear away from his hands reaching for my throat.
The shock of the shotgun blast rang in my ears even as the creature’s skull blew to pieces before my eyes. “Holy God, have mercy,” I whimpered as the headless form crumpled to the floor.
Fresh blood splattered across the cherry wood floors and spotted my ornate rug. The person standing in the doorway lowered the shotgun. His eyes narrowed suspiciously at me then the bird heads scattered at my feet. The man was just over six feet tall, wide of stature and lean of build. “What are those?” his voice held the bite of accusation.
Shaken, I responded with equal accusation in my voice, “Well they seem to be bird heads. Thought I’d pick some up for a stew I want to try.”
His gruff voice broke into a laugh, startling me by its suddenness. I furrowed my eyebrows at him and crossed my arms over my chest. My breath threatened to heave and my heart still raced. I kept my breathing steady to slow my heart rate. “Do you know what that was?” the man walked around the body of the creature.
His heavy boots thudded against the wood floors. I kept my eyes on his, watched the fire dance on his face. His nose was aristocratic; his cheeks were covered in fine, dark stubble. When he came closer, his dark blue eyes glared into mine. “How long have you been getting these boxes?”
I pointed to a shelf across the library where the other three, less dingy boxes sat. “Tonight was the fourth. And I have a feeling it won’t be the last. The first three times, they were doves.”
He bent to nudge one of the birds with the barrel of his gun, “But these are ravens.”
I nodded and rubbed my bare arms as a chill swept through the study despite the fire cackling at my back. He moved from the scattered heads back to the body of the monstrosity. “It’s called a wraith. They can be summoned by any necromancer who has knowledge of them. They are given a mark and they wait for a sign from their master to attack. The bird heads seemed to be yours.”
My breath punched from my lungs. ‘Oh no… They’ve found me again…’ my thoughts spun in my mind with frightful speed, making me dizzy. Bile rose in my throat and I couldn’t keep it down. Clutching my stomach, I stumbled over to the basin I kept by the window and retched. As I heaved the contents of my stomach into the porcelain bowl, the young man dragged the body out into the hall.
“We need to get you out of here,” he came back in when I recomposed myself. “But first I need to know who would want you dead.”
I looked into his clear eyes hollowly. “I don’t know…” I lied.
He took my arm and led me out of the room at a brisk pace. I nearly stumbled over the body of the wraith as he directed me down the hall. When we got to the front door, a young woman peered around the frame. Her own weapon was raised. I stared down the barrel of the long range rifle with anger rising in place of the fear that had seized me so wholly in the library. “She’s the target. We need to get her out of here, Leena,” he didn’t bother waiting for her to lower her weapon, instead he almost shoved her out of the way.
Pulling me along behind him, we approached a massive grey truck, lifted a good three feet off the ground. I wrenched my arm out of his grip and turned to run up the street. His arms came around my waist and he held me tight against his body, despite me pushing him away and screaming for him to put me down. “We are not your enemy. Whoever sent the wraith will send another when they learn this one failed. We need to get you out and as far away from here as possible. Is that understood?” I didn’t answer me so he tightened his arms around my waist almost painfully. “I asked if that is understood.”
I nodded breathlessly and he set me back on my feet. “She’s not worth the trouble, Alpha,” the woman’s voice leered from the front seat of the truck.
“Get in the back, Leena. She’s riding shot gun,” he jerked his hand at me over his shoulder.
Leena narrowed her eyes at me but didn’t refuse the one she called “Alpha.” He dragged me over to the open door and picked me up by my waist. I climbed into the truck and buckled down as he shut the door. “You better not get us killed,” Leena hissed before the man opened the door to the driver’s side.
Grand Junction, Colorado
Briarcliff Manor, New York
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