VIKTOR FOLLOWED ASTER through the empty backroads of Carramar. He squinted against the blinding light of the early morning sun. His body remained tense as he held his pace a few steps behind hers. His hands itched to draw the sword from his back as the mage sauntered through the streets with an unwelcome bounce in her step.
“You should wash up when we reach my flat,” Aster called over her shoulder. She wrinkled her nose. “You smell like a wet dog.”
A bitter taste flooded Viktor’s mouth as he swallowed back the urge to snap at the saucy sorceress. She had no part in Celia’s death. She didn’t deserve to bear the burden of his grief.
His throat tightened as Celia’s glassy eyes flashed through his mind once more. He’d trusted his words when he assured Remiel the shadows had no interest in anyone but Lili. How had they found Celia? And what reason did they have to kill her?
Viktor shook his head and tried to force himself to focus on the task at hand. It didn’t matter why. Celia was gone, and he had only himself to blame. Well, himself and the demonic bastards who stabbed her.
But why would a demon attack with a knife? Why didn’t I detect any sulfur?
“You’re quiet,” Aster mused. “Not what I would have expected after meeting your friend.”
“What are we looking for?”
Aster chuckled. “I see you share his conversational talents. Follow me. We’re almost to the school.”
Viktor arched a brow. What sort of magical ingredients did Aster expect to find inside of a schoolhouse? A chill ran down his spine and settled into his bones.
“Are we in need of a chalkboard?”
Aster’s face darkened. She stopped her hike and leaned against the side of a faded brick building to study him. She bit her bottom lip between her teeth and sighed. “You won’t like this.”
“We need the blood of a virgin. As informative as the Sight is, it doesn’t grant me the ability to tell a person’s chastity. Our safest bet is to take the blood from an innocent.”
Viktor’s jaw dropped. His blood ran cold. “A child? You intend to murder a helpless kid?”
“What is the alternative? We are taking one life to save thousands.”
“But a child?” Viktor threw his arms in the air. “No. I may have blood on my hands, but I’ll be damned if you rope me into this.”
Aster folded her arms over her chest. “Should we let all the children die in a flood of holy fire instead? Take your heart out of the equation and think with your brain. Remiel would agree with me.”
“And Remiel is the least human creature among us. Why should we expect him to value their lives?”
A sound of frustration escaped Aster’s clenched teeth. “You act as if your paws aren’t already soaked in blood. What is one more life if it saves countless others?”
“There has to be another way.”
Aster snorted. “There isn’t. Kill a child, kill a Minister or a Sister of Salvation, it doesn’t matter. Innocent blood must spill either way.”
Viktor’s heart pounded against his chest. Remiel’s warnings about blood magic danced through the back of his mind. “Fine. We’ll grab one of the Faith’s devout followers. But under no circumstances will I allow you to harm an innocent child.”
Aster rolled her eyes. “Didn’t expect a shifter to be so sensitive. Have it your way, though. We’ll head to the Temple instead.”
Viktor clenched his jaw but nodded, afraid she might change her mind if he protested any further. He followed Aster back down the street in the opposite direction with his hands in his pockets and a ball of dread wedged in his throat. He said a handful of silent prayers as he walked. He prayed to Cimera for forgiveness and Anja for strength. He ended with a plea to Rhayas to round things out.
The longer he and Aster marched in silence, the more opportunity his thoughts had to pull him under into darkness. Even as the streets around them filled people, Viktor pictured Celia’s cold eyes on every face. She came to Carramar because he asked her to. He never had the chance to explain what he had dragged her in the middle of. Now she was dead, and Viktor had no one to blame but himself and the beast who took her from him.
Sweat pooled near his hairline despite the brisk morning breeze. His hands balled to fists by his sides as a primal rage swelled through his chest. He’d show the demons no mercy. The next time he encountered a creature of darkness, he would rip its still-beating heart from its chest.
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