Clouds obscured the moon and stars in a pitch-black sky.
Where the hell is he? “Branson!”
There was no answer. Soul stumbled through the barbed vines that littered her path. Thorns caught the thin white sheet she’d fashioned into a dress, leaving streaks of blood where they tore into her ankles.
“Branson! Answer me, you asshole!”
This time her calls were answered by the sound of flapping wings before a small, dark figure swooped low, almost hitting her head. The small gust of wind from its wings barely moving her gelled beehive fro. She swiped her hand over her face, not caring she smeared the green and grey zombie makeup she’d carefully applied earlier.
She stopped in the middle of what used to be a blooming garden, now overgrown and filled with dead and decaying foliage. Stone statues and fountains loomed in every direction. Just visible enough to play tricks on her mind. A feral growl broke the relative silence of the night, sending her heart racing. The growling got closer, but as she whipped around expecting to see an animal, all she saw was more shadows—this time running swiftly through the overgrown brush.
This is the last time I fall for his stupid jokes.
“I’m going home! I’m not playing no stupid games.”
She expected Branson to emerge from the darkness, or maybe for him to laugh and give away his position. Branson loved to play jokes on her. He was supposed to be taking her to one of his college parties so she would know what it was like before she graduated high school that year. Instead, he and his friends had stopped here at the old Foster Plantation on the outskirts of Foster, their small town. The creepiest house anyone had ever known.
Everything from ghost sightings to demonic possessions and monster-sized animals was tied to this place. Fitting to the atrocities served by its previous slaveholding owners. Not that the modern generation of Fosters was any less racist. Just now, their fortune was spent, and their ancestral home abandoned to the fitting ruin it should be. Most people with any sense steered clear of the place, especially on Halloween. The night when all manner of spirits roamed the earth.
Don’t go playing with spirits, child. You don’t know what’s lurking on Old Hallows’ Eve.
Grandma Ronnie’s words played on a loop in Soul’s head as she desperately fought the fear threatening to paralyze her. Soul would never have gotten out of the car if Branson hadn’t agreed to stay by her side. Of course, he and his friends, Blake and Wayne, had taken off running in all different directions as soon as they had the chance. Leaving Soul vulnerable and alone among the spirits of the dead.
Branson thought it was a joke when Soul said she could feel spirits. It wasn’t. It was part of her family legacy. Grandma Ronnie was known for her psychic ability around town, even if she tried to downplay it. Unfortunately, Soul was following suit in that regard. Even now, she could feel the brush of tormented souls along her skin, hear their screams like wounded animals in the distance. Barely a whisper, but audible all the same.
Taking a deep breath, she clenched her hands tighter. Her fingernails bit into the palm of her hands, bringing her thoughts back to the present. The feral growling started again, farther away this time, but still too close for comfort.
“Branson, when I find you, I’m going to kill you!”
The words echoed in the night. Giving up on trying to reason with the boys, Soul made her way back to the car. At least there, she would have some protection against anything coming her way. Maybe someone passing by would give her a ride home. The wild animals had enough sense to stay away from the road, even when the road remained mostly deserted. The local hunters had made sure of that.
The closer she got to the car, the farther away the growling became. She relaxed a little, focusing on her anger at Branson for taking this joke of his too far. Soul could just barely make out the silhouette of Branson’s old busted Camaro. The driver’s door was wide open, but none of the boys were in sight. She turned around, searching for any sign of them. Branson would never be so careless with his precious vehicle.
“Branson! This is too far!”
There was a rustling behind her, heavy footfalls getting closer to her position. The progress she made in calming herself down was now undone. She wrapped her arms tight around herself, rubbing her arms to fight off the chills racking her body. The spirits assailed her.
She took off for the car. She could feel the animal on her heels but refused to look back. Looking back would only slow her down. The vehicle was in sight, if she could just make it there, she would be safe. Soul never made it to the car. Something, or someone, struck a painful blow to the back of her head, rendering her unconscious.
Makai Inigo stood over Soulstice Washington. Breathing heavily, he dropped the stick he’d used to knock her out. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her, but in his haste to keep her from coming into harm from Mentor’s rogue beast, he’d had no choice. Shaking his head, Makai took in the scene before him. She was unconscious, her thin white gown sprawled around her like what he imagined a snow angel would look like. Highlighting the soft curves of her maturing body.
He had no idea how long she would be out and prayed he hadn’t hit her so hard that she never woke. His fangs pressed painfully at his gums as they elongated. He struggled to calm his beast. The smell of her blood was almost too enticing for him to ignore. He forced his heartbeat to calm as he bent to pick her up. He breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the soft rise and fall of her chest against his. She was still breathing. Now cradled in his arms, Makai didn’t want to let her go.
Something inside him awakened at the feel of her warm body against his. A possessive calm settled over him as he held her tight.
“I will never let harm come to you,” he whispered as he stared at her peaceful visage. Thick grey and green makeup caked her high cheekbones and softly rounded chin, covering the honey almond of her skin. She was still beautiful to him, though. No matter what she did to hide it.
“You going to just stand there leaving evidence, or are we going to finish this?” Mentor hissed at him.
Makai turned to the older Saurian and scowled. He didn’t know if the man had a real name, Makai had called him Mentor since the day he had learned to speak. Mentor had raised him, but they weren’t family by any means. The older Makai became, the more he saw Mentor for what he truly was— a dangerous wild animal. Mentor was so corrupted by his hate and bitterness toward the Saurian Houses that what little human was left in his DNA would soon be lost forever.
“Why did you kill them?”
Mentor straightened to his full height, his eyes turning entirely black before he let out a deep, rumbling growl.
“Are you challenging me, Omri?”
Makai resisted the urge to roll his eyes and shifted Soul’s weight in his arms. Omri meant mixed breed. Mentor liked to use Omri as a slur. Still, as Makai came to know more about the Saurian and their bullshit Houses, he became increasingly proud to have that distinction. House Elek, House Akoro, and House Trewa liked to pretend Omri like him didn’t exist. Makai’s mother and father came from two different Houses. They had abandoned him. Cast him out into the wild because of it.
If he hadn’t been found by Mentor, and at least partially prepared for the changes occurring in his body, his beast would be just as untamed and dangerous. It was a testament to his control that he managed to save Soul from the same fate as her friends. He managed to get a hold of his beast in time to steer her clear of Mentor’s bloody rampage. Too bad he had realized the danger too late for her friends.
The beast within roared to be set free. Makai’s arms pricked like a thousand tiny needles as the creature began to emerge. His midnight skin scaling up like a snake. The taste of fire and brimstone heavy in his mouth. Taking a deep breath, Makai focused on the fact he held Soul, a fragile human, in his arms. When the beast settled, he looked Mentor straight in the eyes.
“No, Mentor, I’m not challenging you.”
The yet was left unsaid. Makai didn’t know how much longer he could live like this. Skipping from town to town, hiding in the shadows. They’d come across others like him. Other Omri looking for a sense of family and pride. Mentor had turned them all away, admonishing them as weak. Makai didn’t think wanting stability and a safe family unit was weak. How could you be weak knowing you had someone by your side to count on?
“Just dump her in with the rest. If we are lucky, they will blame the mess on her. Either way, it is time to get a move on. The townsfolk are starting to get a little too familiar and nosy.”
Begrudgingly, Makai followed his mentor to the pile of body parts that was all that remained of Soul’s friends.
“One day, I will make this right. One day, I will come back for you,” he whispered in Soul’s ear before setting her amongst the carnage.
“Let’s get a move on,” Mentor seethed.
Mentor’s forked tongue flicking out as his canines elongated. Being around so much blood encouraged his beast again. Makai started to move, but Mentor didn’t. His eyes focused on Soul. It was then Makai knew he couldn’t let Mentor get his way. He couldn’t leave Soul when Mentor already knew the scent of her blood. He jumped between Mentor and Soul, allowing his own beast to emerge.
“Don’t you touch her!”
He barely recognized his voice. Plumes of smoke spewed from his nostrils. His fingertips became dagger-like claws before his eyes. Makai had never transformed this quickly or felt this much control over his beast. Even Mentor was momentarily shocked by the sudden mastery Makai displayed.
“I never should have saved you. I knew you would turn on me, just like the rest,” Mentor spat.
“I’m giving you one last warning. Leave here now and never return, or I will have to kill you.”
Mentor glared at him with his pitch-black eyes. Makai braced himself for the attack he was sure was coming. Heat rose in his belly like hot acid sliding up his throat before flames shot from his mouth. Mentor hissed as the scorching red tendrils kissed his flesh.
“You better watch your back, ungrateful little shit. Once word gets out about your little Alulpo, I will be the least of your worries.”
With that, Mentor shifted completely to his beast, and spreading his wings, he took off, disappearing into the night. Makai had no idea what mentor meant about an Alulpo. Maybe it was slang for humans. Somehow, his beast knew it meant much more than that. Makai sat in the dirt beside Soul. Watching over her until the first rays of the sun peaked over the decaying Foster Manor. No Saurian would be out to harm her at this time of day. It was time for him to go.
The sound of flapping wings and birds chirping brought Soul slowly back to consciousness. It was cold, and her skin was soaked with morning dew.
Why the hell am I still outside? Did the boys leave me to sleep in the dirt? I’m going to kill Branson for this.
The ground beneath her felt cold and hard. The rusty red tint of the dust beneath her cheek the only indication that something was horribly wrong. She sat up slowly, letting her mind and body get their mess together. She stretched and swiveled her neck to relieve the kinks there. Her head throbbed. She touched her hair and found it sticky and matted. When she pulled her fingers back, they were covered in blood, as were her arms and her dress.
“What the hell?”
The flapping of wings continued behind her, and she turned and screamed. Arms flailing desperately, she got to her feet and fended off the vultures pecking at the body parts she’d apparently been lying next to. Her heart hammered in her chest as she took in the scene before her. For a moment, she thought she was dreaming. That she was in the middle of a nightmare. Soul took shallow gasping breaths as the world began to spin. She backed away from the carnage, her hands scraping at her blood-stained skin before she turned and ran. Screaming, hot tears streaming down her cheeks, Soulstice raced to the road. She ran and ran until she saw a car approaching. She threw herself in front of it, still screaming, still sobbing.
“Help! Help! Please!”
The blue sedan slammed on its breaks but not in time to stop it from colliding with her body. She hit the hood and rolled over it before being thrown on the ground.
“Help me,” she breathed.
The only answer she received was the whispers of the spirits.
Just the beginning, child. The shadows have found you. Rest now. Soon you shall genuinely be awoken—just the beginning.
Then the world went dark.
I Hope you enjoyed this excerpt from His Soul To Keep! If you want to read more, be sure to Reserve your copy of the Eternal Bite Box Set today!