“Is she dead?” Gregory poked a finger through the hole in my aching side and waited for a reaction.
I gave none.
A familiar, sticky substance coated my skin in grimy layers of dark red, the puddles of blood on the floor barely distinguishable against the muted black.
I was weak. So very weak.
Blood loss and pain threatened to send me slinking into sweet oblivion, but if I wanted to escape this hell-hole, I needed to stay awake.
Two fingers touched the base of my throat. Rather than flinch away in disgust, I remained still and hid behind the deep shadows in my mind.
“No pulse. She isn’t breathing,” Silva said. “Guess we finally did her in.”
A beat of silence, then, “Let’s just make sure, shall we?”
Something sharp and cold parted my skin and buried deep. If the monster sharing my body had not been shielding me, I would have screamed from the agony piercing my belly.
“Dead,” Gregory pronounced. “You’re lucky this didn’t happen sooner or the boss would’ve had your hide.”
Red spots danced behind my closed eyelids.
Silva snorted. “Luck had nothing to do with it. I’ve wanted to get rid of this one for years.”
My lungs burned with the scream I refused to let loose, and my mind began to fracture with the agony I was forced to suppress.
They had to think I was dead. They had to. If Matthew had taught me anything, it was that only the dead left the Hunters’ compound.
“When did you get permission to kill her?”
The burn in my stomach intensified. A thousand teeth were surely ripping me apart from the inside out.
“I didn’t,” Silva admitted. “Not exactly. Though they said to do whatever it took to—“
Just as I was about to lose my grip on the scream building in my throat, shadows danced across my mind and the monster that had once ruined my life came to my rescue.
The next minute passed in blissful peace. The cold seeping through my body stole the pain, and in the back of my mind I knew it was bad. Very bad. I hovered on the brink of unconsciousness, so near death I no longer needed the monster’s help to shield my heartbeat or halt my breaths.
A small eternity passed while I drifted. Then, the sound of receding footsteps. When the heavy steel door grated against cement floors, the thought that I was alone whispered across my mind.
My eyes shot open.
That first breath was glass shredding my lungs. Though my eyes were no longer closed, I saw only darkness, the black pit of death hovering just out of reach. But when the flickering lights overhead came into focus, I became aware. Aware of pain.
I hurt. A burning, throbbing, all-encompassing hurt.
Lifting my neck took strength I didn’t know I still had, and what I saw had me stifle a gasp. The ugly lamp hanging from the metal hook in the ceiling bathed my wounds in a grotesque light, giving the dark blood coating my skin a shiny quality I immediately hated.
Didn’t have long . . .
A groan rasped past my parched throat, my lips cracked and bleeding. Yet a swipe of my tongue was enough to close the most painful cuts, and I had to swallow back the hatred for the shadowed being in my soul as gratitude temporarily surfaced.
My monster may have put me in this predicament, but I wouldn’t be alive without it.
I clenched my fist and tested the bonds keeping me prisoner. Each movement was torture. Wounds reopened, bled, ached with the fiery inferno of hell. Air hissed through my clenched teeth, and I kept going. Who knew how long I’d have before the cleanup crew arrived?
The thought of being caught before I even made it off the table had me thrashing against my restraints. No give, but the dull ache in my leg told me the bone in my shin had set sometime in the last few minutes and was nearly healed.
I heaved once more, used all my strength—
The bindings gave.
Shocked, it took me several precious seconds to lower my feet to the cold cement floor. A part of me couldn’t believe my plan had worked. They’d never left me unsupervised before. Never.
I rose and choked on a sob. My stomach . . . it was being ripped apart. Ripped apart by fire. Only acid could burn like this.
I looked down, but there was no burning flesh, no withering skin eaten away by corrosive liquid. No, the reason for my pain was the knife still buried in my stomach.
Not giving myself time to think, I yanked the knife out and fell to my knees. A low, keening sound was stifled by the palm I pressed against my mouth. Despite the danger, it took me several breaths before I could quell the pained noise.
By then, the edges of the wound had begun knitting together and pain gave way to the staccato drum pounding in my ears. Run, its rhythm seemed to say. Flee!
I got to my feet and crept to the door. Listened. Waited. Shuddered while my hand trembled on the handle.
This was it. My one shot at freedom.
If I got caught, I’d either die… or they’d break me.
—THE FERAL SOULS TRILOGY: BOOK 1
by Erica Woods
Full book available via Amazon.