Salvation (The Captive Series Book 4) – Erica Stevens

Braith’s shoulders were heaving, his chest was tense, and his arms sore from the amount of damage he’d just rendered. His vision was blurred by a hazy cloud of red that coated his eyes and made it nearly impossible to see. He’d never experienced anything like it. When he’d lost his vision, the world around him had consisted entirely of blackness. Then Aria had come into his life and brought the illumination back, brought color back and given him the gift of vision again. Now the blackness had become the deep hue of blood. Instead of being completely blind this time though, shadows still moved across his field of vision and he could make out the blur of other obstacles in the clearing. He couldn’t see them clearly but he knew that Gideon and Ashby had retreated far from him; David, Daniel, and William were standing by something solid, perhaps a rock, maybe a tree, only Jack was brave enough to remain anywhere nearby. He didn’t know what had caused this shadowed haze, he’d never been able to keep his vision this far from her, but it had been steadily improving when he was away from her. He thought it was due to the increasing amount of her blood within him. She had strengthened him, and he’d let her down. He’d lost her. He never should have agreed to her going into that town, never should have let her go. However, there was no letting Aria do anything. One way or another she was going to go, and he’d vowed to let her have the freedom to spread her wings.

He’d been trying so hard not to squash her wild and beautiful spirit with his heavy handed, overbearing manner. He’d been concerned about her safety, but he hadn’t actually thought that it would be overly risky for her in the town. The weather had driven most people inside, the dark servant’s cloak would cover her, and though she’d been his blood slave few people within that town had ever seen her, and even fewer would remember her. Or so he’d thought. He’d been an idiot. His entire body shuddered as he grasped hold of a small tree. His muscles rippled as he ripped it from the ground and hurled it through the air. Gideon and Ashby scrambled to get out of the way as it bounced in their direction. Braith stood, shaking as he tried to gather some semblance of control, but he was quickly spiraling toward something dark and dangerous. This dark spiral was worse than when he’d fed from his own kind, worse than when Aria had first left him in the palace.

The only thing allowing him to hang on was the fact that he knew she was still alive, and that he could find her. Soon. Now. He spun on his heel as he stormed across the clearing toward the town. Jack moved to intercept him. “Braith you have to calm down, think about this rationally. We don’t know where she is…” “I can find her,” he grated. “Yes, yes you can, but if you go charging after her you’ll ruin every aspect of surprise we have. Until we know who has her, and where they have taken her, you have to stay in control, you’re our leader…” Jack broke off mid-sentence as Braith began to move toward him. Apparently Jack’s survival instinct was firmly intact as he held up his hands and took a couple of steps back.

A muffled sound in the woods whipped Braith’s head around. He strained to make out the figure emerging from the forest, but it was nothing more than a dark shadow amidst the red. Even his heightened sense of smell seemed to be failing him, or it was buried beneath the crushing wrath and worry consuming him. “Max,” Gideon murmured. “Max,” Braith snarled. The boy had been lost in the confusion and hadn’t returned with William and Daniel. Max’s blurry figure staggered, he fell to his knees and attempted to get back up, but fell back again. David, William and Daniel fled the safety of whatever they had been hiding behind to reach Max’s side. They helped Max back to his feet and hoisted him between them. The cloying scent of Max’s blood hung heavily in the air, but Braith couldn’t see the extent of the damage that had been done to him.

“How bad is he injured?” he demanded. “He’ll survive,” Jack assured him. An extreme thirst for blood was beginning to ravage his veins as he stalked toward Max. “Where have you been?” “I followed them,” Max croaked out. “I had to make sure I knew where they were taking her. I broke away when they entered the gates of the palace walls.” Braith’s hands fisted as he fought the urge to rip everything around him to shreds in order to assuage the volatile monster looking to burst free of him. The palace, his father, it was the worst imaginable fate for her, but if he got to her soon… He would get there soon, now. He would tear that palace apart with his bare hands if it became necessary. “The soldiers will take her straight to father,” Jack muttered.

“Not soldiers,” Max inserted. “It wasn’t soldiers that had her.” There was something in the boy’s voice, a tremor that briefly pierced through Braith’s cloudy haze. He nudged Jack out of the way as he struggled to focus on Max. “Who? Who has her?” he barked. “It was your brother.” Braith felt as if he’d been kicked in the gut, Jack let out a low curse. “Caleb?” Braith managed to choke out. “Yes.” This time it wasn’t rage that overtook Braith, but a fear so intense that it left him momentarily immobile.

Caleb would destroy her; Caleb would break the spirit that Braith had been trying to keep free. In that moment he didn’t know who he hated more, himself or his brother. Red suffused his vision once more as a bellow of anguish ripped from him. Broken. He felt broken, but nowhere near as broken as Aria would be when Caleb was done with her. Even if he could reach her right now, it may already be too late for her. *** Daniel spread the papers out before him; his nimble fingers ran over the lines of the street and homes that he’d hastily sketched into the plans. Jack kept one eye on the drawings and the other warily focused on Braith. His brother was wound to the point of breaking, his arms folded firmly over his chest, and his jaw locked as he kept his head bowed. This silent, seething Braith was even more frightening than the one that had ripped trees from the ground and snapped them in half with a flick of his wrist.

This Braith was a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. If they didn’t get into that palace soon, Jack was worried that Braith would turn on them in order to get to her. He prayed that Braith’s reason, and ability to lead, would win out over his determination to get to Aria, and the unraveling Jack could sense slithering beneath his brother’s still exterior. He’d been hoping and planning that Braith would be able to keep it together without Aria, but he sure hadn’t expected this to happen. The worst thing he ever could have imagined happening to Aria was Caleb getting his hands on her. It made him sick to think of what his father and brother would do to her, made him feel like heedlessly rushing into the palace to get her back. She didn’t deserve such a hideous fate. “We can split up through the streets,” Daniel stated. The drawing wasn’t Daniel’s best, but then he hadn’t exactly had the time to put the detail into it that he normally would have. The other group they had planned to send into the town to survey it, had become more of a rescue team when they stumbled across Daniel and William trying to escape the king’s soldiers.

Daniel’s fingers trembled as he pointed to the two main roads that split through the town. His left eye was nearly swollen shut, and his cheek bore a nasty bruise that Jack suspected shaded a broken or at least a fractured, bone. William was pale beside him, his face nearly as bruised. His lip had been split open, and dark stitches had been required to repair it. Max had fared slightly better than the brothers, but his focus had been on staying with Aria, instead of trying to fight through the soldiers that had been with Caleb. If it hadn’t been for Daniel’s sensibility, Jack was certain that William wouldn’t have returned at all. “The town won’t divide us as much as we had thought. The roads are big enough for us to move through in large groups that won’t be easily taken down by the people, and whatever vampires remain there. Though, I suspect that after today the king will increase his forces within the town.” “Or he’ll pull them all behind the palace walls and into the palace town in order to strengthen his forces there,” David murmured.

“We know he cares little for human life, it is the palace he’ll look to protect the most.” “David’s right.” Braith’s voice was strained but he didn’t lift his head to look at them as he remained focused on the ground. “The king may even send some troops into the woods to search for me, but from here on out the full force of his might will be concentrated within the walls surrounding the palace.” “How will he know you’re here?” David inquired. “Just because Aria was discovered it doesn’t mean he knows that you’re here, that any of us are here.” Braith’s jaw grated back and forth, his hands clenched on his biceps. “He may suspect that there is a militia within these woods, but he will know that I am here because he will smell my blood in her.” Jack was motionless as he awaited David’s reaction to Braith’s blunt statement. David blinked once, twice, and then his mouth parted.

“I see.” Daniel’s fingers tapped on the drawing as his focus turned to Braith. “I also believe the town should be razed as we move through it.” Jack did a double take at Daniel’s words. Braith’s head slowly turned toward him; even behind the thick glasses Jack could see the burning ruby coals of his eyes. A chill crept down his back, he wasn’t entirely certain it was even Braith standing over there anymore, or if it was something far more hazardous and feral. “There are humans in that town,” Braith reminded him.


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