Book 5: Order of the Blade
Even with his chest heaving from exertion, his weapons burning in his hands, steam rising from his bare torso from the humidity, and the earth ruthlessly torn up from the battle, Calydon warrior Kane Santiago wanted more.
He needed more.
He needed to keep going until sheer, raw exhaustion dragged him ruthlessly into the sleep that wouldn’t come, until he was so drained that he couldn’t think any more.
Kane had been driving himself relentlessly for eleven days straight, but it hadn’t been enough to chase away the gaping void trying to consume him. It had been coming at him for months, this great pit of darkness, stalking him at every moment, but now it felt like his entire soul had been sucked from his body and thrust into a bottomless void of blackness.
He didn’t know what was coming for him or how to stop it. He didn’t have answers. All he had was a scarred body that looked like an artist had used his flesh for a canvas and a knife for a paintbrush, and a thousand unanswered questions about a past he didn’t remember.
Kane’s skin looked like ancient designs had been carved into it, but no one on this God-forsaken earth could explain why he had them or what they meant. Kane’s memories of his life began five hundred years ago, the day Dante Sinclair, the now-deceased leader of the elite team of Calydon warriors called the Order of the Blade, had hauled him out of the gutter. How old had Kane been that day? Thirty? A hundred? Two hundred? How had he ended up there, covered in body art of the most brutal kind?
He had no idea, but the story carved on his body and the enormity of the blackness hunting him made it clear that there was shit he needed to know about his prior life, and he was running out of time to do it. In his five hundred years as an Order member, he’d spent every day fulfilling the Order’s mission to protect innocents from rogue Calydons, grimly willing to sacrifice one innocent to preserve the greater good, but no matter how hard Kane fought in defense of the Order’s moral code, it still hadn’t filled that void inside him, an emptiness that had been taking on a decidedly violent taint lately.
The void he could live with. The uncontrollable need to inflict violence on others without justification? Not so much. That shit had to stop, and now.
The air in the southern Oregon woods was thick with moisture, rich with the scent of earth saturated by the rain that was too cold for this time of year. Thick fog was rolling in fast, sucked in by the dance of the heat and cold. The air Kane was breathing was alive with vibrant energy, and yet all he could feel was the endless free-fall of his spirit into the bottomless chasm of darkness.
“These guys were serious shit.” Caked with sweat and blood from the battle, Ryland Samuels crouched beside one of the two rogue Calydons they’d been hunting for the last eighteen hours, deadly bastards who had put up a hell of a fight before Ryland and Kane had taken them down. Usually two-on-two battles were weighted so heavily in favor of the Order of the Blade that they lasted less than a second–but once they’d finally found the bastards at sunset, the two rogues had kept Ryland and Kane at max capacity for over two hours before the good guys had won.
The fact that the battle was so tough was bizarre as hell because the rogues had been so underdeveloped physically that they couldn’t have been more than eighteen years old. They’d been only a month or two past the dream that had brought them into their powers as immortal Calydon warriors. No rookie should ever have been able to put up that kind of battle against elite warriors who had been saving the world for over five hundred years.
And yet they had.
Which meant the Order needed to find out what they were, where they were from, and why they were both rogue. Rogue Calydons were bad shit, and the odds of two Calydons going rogue as a team almost nil, so the Order needed to make sure that these two were an anomaly, and not a trend.
Ryland hooked his machete under one of their wrists and raised the dead warrior’s hand. “What’s with the manicure?”
Ten-inch claws protruded from the tips of the Calydon’s fingers, still covered in Kane’s blood from when it had tried to cleave his heart out. “Maybe they came up from Hollywood,” Kane said. “You know how those fancy Californians are all bailing up to Oregon nowadays. How the hell would I know what his deal is?”
Ryland narrowed his eyes at Kane’s aggression. “You seen it before?”
“No. Calydons have weapons, not claws.” Kane shifted restlessly as Ryland nodded his agreement. He was unable to settle now that the battle was over. He was on edge, his instincts still ready for more action. He knew they needed to figure out what was up with the rogues who had invaded their territory, but he couldn’t focus. All his senses were on overload, telling him that something was deadly wrong. He scanned the woods, hunting for a clue, but came up with nothing.
Ryland dropped the kid’s wrist. “What’s your deal, Santiago?”
Kane whirled around to face his teammate, his adrenaline leaping at the tense undercurrent in Ryland’s voice. “What?”
Ryland flashed him a grin that didn’t reach his pitch-black eyes. “I’m the one who’s supposed to be on the edge of going rogue, not you. You planning to snap so you’re the next one who has to be cut down to save the world, instead of me?”
“I’m not going rogue.” Usually, a Calydon went rogue only after bonding with his sheva, the woman destined to be his soul mate for all eternity. The bond between them, once completed, was destined to turn him rogue and destroy both of them and all that mattered to them once all the stages of bonding were completed. However, a rare few turned into mindless, killing machines even in the absence of a sheva . Expectations were high that the moody Ryland would soon fall into the latter category, but Kane had his shit together. “I’m fine.”
Ryland rose to his feet, his well-muscled bulk innately aggressive. His black jeans and t-shirt had been shredded mercilessly from the fight. “Don’t lie to me, Santiago. There’s no room for that shit between us.”
The black brands in Kane’s arms burned, and he fisted his weapons, a set of doubled-spiked flails with spiked balls spinning on the ends of the steel chains. The clang of the metal balls cracking against each other jerked Kane’s attention to them, and he suddenly realized how close he was to launching himself at Ryland.
He was ready to strike first against his own teammate? Kane swore and sheathed his weapons. They vanished into the air, returning to the brands on his arms that were an exact match for the weapons they housed. He held up his hands in surrender. “Stand down. I’m good.”
Ryland sheathed his own weapons, taking the temptation away from both of them. “Shit, man. You’re off, big time.”
“I—” A sound caught Kane’s attention, and he turned sharply. “Did you hear that?”
“What?” Ryland went still, and the air hummed as both Calydons reached out into the night with their senses.
For a moment, Kane heard nothing but the skittering of rodents’ feet, the hoot of owls, and the crackling of the earth as it drank in the moisture from the night.
Then he heard it again.
A woman’s scream. Unending terror and pain. The roar of a spirit fighting desperately and hopelessly for its very survival.
The sound went straight to Kane’s core, ripping through his shields like a burning knife into his heart. His whole body vibrated in response, adrenaline raging with the need to find her. To protect her. To save her. Kane spun around wildly, almost desperately, trying to pinpoint the sound and determine where it was coming from. It was bouncing off the trees, echoing in the air, coming at him from all directions, like an assault of agony. “Fuck!”
“What?” Ryland strode up beside him. “I don’t hear anything.”
“How can you not hear that?” She screamed again, eviscerating every defense Kane had. He had to go. Had to find her. Had to save her and find out who she was. She needed him. Black light flashed above the brands on his arms, a loud crack split the night, and then Kane’s weapons appeared in his hands, the glittering steel ready for battle.
“What is it?” Ryland called out his own machetes with a crack and a flash of black light. “I’m picking up nothing. Tell me what you got.”
Kane shoved his teammate aside, his entire soul howling with the need to find the woman. “Where are you?” he bellowed, his voice echoing into the night.
No response. Just the ominous echo of silence. Was she dead?
Uncontrollable grief ripped through Kane at the thought of her being dead, a loss so severe he went down on his knees, gasping for breath. He braced his hands on the earth, his fingers digging into the moss, fighting against the crushing blackness, the loss, the shredding of his innermost core—
Help me. The desperate plea invaded his mind, a woman’s voice filled with pain, anguish and betrayal.
Kane’s head snapped up, instantly alert. She was alive! His entire being vibrated with rightness at the sound of her voice. He lurched to his feet as her anguish shredded his mental shields and consumed him. I hear you. He sent out his reassurance, his iron strength, showing her the immense power he offered.
There was no relief from her. Just another stab of pain that knifed all the way to Kane’s gut. Hurry. Please hurry.
Son of a bitch! Kane focused every fiber of his soul on her, and his entire existence honed in on those words, on her voice, on her spirit, on her very being.
Then he located his target. He knew where she was. I’m coming.
Kane didn’t hesitate. He didn’t pause to question the intensity of his response to her or ascertain what he was heading into. He didn’t even take the time to grab his teammate and take Ryland with him. He just locked onto her location and dematerialized, using her desperation as his only guide as to where he needed to be.