Expiation

By: Elisa S. Amore
PROLOGUE





“Simon, behind you!” I shouted from atop one of the boulders, but my voice was drowned out by the explosion of the fireball hurled at my brother. I held my breath in alarm, but moments later Simon emerged from the cloud of dust, a thousand shards of rock still raining down.

“Where’d he go?!” he shouted, agitated, shielding his eyes with his arm to avoid the shower of shattered stone.

I hadn’t seen where the Subterranean had gone, but a fleeting movement caught my eye. “Over there! By the wall!”

Simon narrowed his eyes and disappeared into a crevice in the rocks.

“You take care of him, little brother,” I murmured. “I’ll keep climbing.”

I had no idea what that hellish place was. It looked like a world in ruins from one of Drake’s video games. The wreck of an old galleon stood among the rocks like a sentry and small pools of water dotted the sandy earth. Around me, the rocks rose in a circle all the way up to the ceiling of the cavern, where light streamed in through a hole. It was as though a giant hand had descended from above and punched through the rocks, opening a passageway to Hell while groping with its fingers to dig channels all around it. The result was a bizarre labyrinth of tunnels that made their way up toward the surface.

A movement to my left. I gripped my dagger and stood motionless, all my senses alert. The Subterranean materialized behind me but I spun around in time, blocked his fist, and slammed him against the wall. He shot to his feet and rushed me at warp speed. My blows were brutal and direct, but the young redheaded Subterranean put up a good defense. He broke off a jagged piece of rock and wounded my bare chest with it. I gritted my teeth, absorbing the pain.

I jumped up, grabbed hold of a vine dangling among the rocks, and pinned the Subterranean’s head between my legs. I whipped him around, releasing my grip and dropping him several levels. Keeping my eyes trained on him, I opened my hand and summoned the poison-tipped dagger that had slipped to the ground.

The Subterranean shot me a glare brimming with contempt and raced off through one of the infinite number of clefts in the rock. I slid my weapon into my belt and set off after him, swinging from vine to vine. Barehanded, I climbed up one of the vertical passageways that looked like a tunnel burrowed through the ground by worms. The place hadn’t actually been designed for escaping; it was a prison, and sooner or later the Subterranean I was chasing would realize it. I’d seen the flicker of fear in his eyes when he discovered he couldn’t dematerialize any more, that he couldn’t escape me. The perimeter had been sealed off. It wasn’t time to run—it was time to fight. And we were going to exterminate every last one of them.

I followed the sound of his footsteps racing through the unpredictable twists and turns. A mortal wouldn’t have been able to handle the dizzying pace of the obstacle course, but with me chasing him, that Subterranean was doomed.

“You can’t keep her away from us forever,” he shouted.

I pounced in front of him and shoved him against the wall. “But I’ll never stop trying.” As I drew my dagger its blade hissed and I pressed it against his throat.

“Others will come,” he warned, his eyes full of fear.

“I have a plan for that too,” I shot back, my expression threatening.

We’d spent a whole week, day and night, formulating a plan, studying every detail. Now that Gemma had sworn loyalty to the Witches she’d never been more in danger. The Màsala wanted to take her before she transformed, but I wasn’t about to let anybody touch her.

The Subterranean cringed, bracing for the blow. Instead I grabbed his hands and pinned them to the rock. An arrow whistled past my ear. I spun around and her eyes pierced me, as golden as those of the hissing Dakor coiled around her wrist.

A Witch.

The Subterranean let out a wail of terror but she continued to stare at me, a mix of excitement and bitterness in her eyes. She had a proud face, dark skin, and a long ponytail as black as ebony.

Bathsheeva.

She set another poisoned arrow against her bow and took aim at me, but a second before she released it her arm tipped up and she hit her real target. The Subterranean who’d just materialized in midair crumpled to the ground, the arrow protruding from his leg.

Like a bolt of lightning, another arrow flew straight toward us and lodged inches from the head of the Subterranean I’d immobilized. With a fierce snap, a black leather cord whipped around his wrists, binding him to the wall. The Angel of Death howled with pain from the poison the cord had been soaked in and passed out, scarlet trickles of blood streaking the mark of the Children of Eve on his arm.

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