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The Demon Within (A PeaceKeeper Novel Book 1)(8)

By:Stacey Brutger



It almost made her go to him.

Then those dark eyes met hers, daring her to even think of disobeying. The threat in them convinced her if she didn't leave, he would make sure she'd regret it.

He struggled to his feet, a determined look on his face. Rough hands grabbed her shoulders, shoving her toward the entry, the contact zinging through her body like an electrical charge. "Run. I'll be right behind you."

Caly ran. The pressure in her chest increased with each step as she faced the ebony night.

Her steps faltered when she heard no signs of pursuit. She shot a glance behind her and pulled up short to find herself alone. "You stupid sonofabitch." She whirled, ready to drag the stranger's hide from the temple.

She managed two steps before the ground trembled, bucking beneath her feet. She stumbled, dropping to her knees. A fine keening escaped her lips at the loss. Too heart-sore to move, she propped her back against a tree and watched as the soot and rubble fell back to the earth.

The abrupt silence gave the impression that only she remained alive in the jungle. Always alone, surviving when those around her paid the price. She didn't know how much longer she could stand under the guilt. The battle replayed in her mind, how she could've saved them if she just had five more minutes. She should've retriggered the bombs instead of allowing the statue to distract her.

The sky was dark, the acrid scent of smoke burning her eyes. The oppressive heat had long since dissipated, the cold air raked her skin.

The old man might not have been a perfect guardian, but he'd shown her how to fight and survive in a world infested by demons who saw her as a threat.

She relaxed her hand and the forgotten wound in her palm throbbed. In the inky night air, the blood slowly flowed down her palm, trickling from her fingertips, the only tears her body would shed. She fisted her hands, and her knuckles cracked.

The monsters would pay.

Every damn one of them.

Including Henry.





Chapter Six





"You bastard." Caly launched herself at Henry as soon as she reached the campsite. The impact knocked them both to the ground, jarring the breath from her body. Touching him left a sour aftertaste in her mouth, but she refused to relinquish her hold. "You left us to die." She plowed her fist into his face, relishing the satisfying crunch of bones.

"Are you crazy?" Blood gushed. He covered his abused nose with one hand, squealing in a nasally voice that silenced even the loud chatter of the monkeys that had taken root in the trees at the first crack of dawn. "Get her off me."                       
       
           



       

When he drew back and swung, she twisted, taking the blow to her bruised arm. Pain radiated down her muscles, numbing her fingers. She mourned the loss of her grip on his throat then angled her knee deeper in his gut.

Two men grabbed her elbows, drawing her away, their hands mindful of her injuries. She didn't resist. If she stayed, she'd beat Henry to a pulp.

Blood roared in her head, everything in her craving retribution. Unable to resist, Caly kicked out. A surge of pleasure shot through her when her boot connected to his ribs. The joy was short-lived as the evening's events caught up with her, the tide pulling her head under water for the last time.

"You deserted the battle." Caly yanked herself out of the restraining arms once she was sure her legs would hold her. "You turned your back on Oscar and left him to die." If he'd stayed, they could've gotten everyone out alive.

"The odds were against us. You said so yourself. One of us had to live to tell the others." Henry stood, and his hands loose at his side as if ready for her to take another swing. "I see you managed to survive."

"I fought by Oscar's side when he fell." Guilt sent her stomach plummeting, her guts twisting at the truth. Orders or no orders, it should've been her, and Henry and her both knew it. "His last words were for me to run and make sure none of the demons survived."

Caly faced the remainder of the crew, widening her stance when fatigue threatened to sweep her off her feet. She couldn't rest. Not until her job was done. "The plane doesn't leave until nightfall. We can reach the temple, check the rubble and double-time it back before take-off."

Henry immediately objected. With Oscar gone, he was the leader. "The temple was destroyed. Even miles away, we all felt the blast. Nothing could've survived. I refuse to be left in this hellhole a minute longer than necessary. We won't survive another attack."

A light mist filled the air, accumulating on the canopy before dribbling over them. Caly was so furious she was surprised her skin didn't sizzle with each drop. "It was too dark last night to search the rubble. I couldn't be sure if all the demons were gone. Oscar wanted-"

"Of course, you must fulfill Oscar's last wish." He smiled, but the smear of blood crusted around his nose took some of the cockiness out of it. "You'd best hurry. The plane takes off at nightfall. With or without you."

Instead of arguing, she swallowed the fury boiling her blood. "Fine." She bent and retrieved the nearest jacket. In a sugary sweet voice, she stuck her arms in the sleeves. "I hope you don't begrudge me the use of your jacket."

A muscle ticked along his jaw, his gaze dropping betrayingly to the side pocket where he'd hidden the medallion he so deftly lifted. "Of course." The look he cast her promised retribution, but he kept his mouth shut.

Can't have the others knowing he was a thief as well as a coward. Cold satisfaction heated her cheeks.

Slipping her hand in the pocket, she traced the design on the coin. The ridges of the cool metal dug into the pads of her fingers. This little trinket ensured he wouldn't leave her behind.

When two men offered to go with her, Henry ordered them to finish packing camp. Isolating her. She hated feeling different, apart from everyone, and the bastard knew it.

Caly turned and with a stretch of her legs, made good time on the trail. Cool mist thickened the air. Reaction from last night set in with a vengeance. Her muscles trembled, leaving her vaguely nauseous.

Everything was ruined, her work gone. Oscar was the glue that kept everyone together. Oscar's will or not, she had no place on the team. No focus when the nights became too long and the demon side of her wrestled for control. It'd only be a matter of time, and her friends would begin to hunt her.

Pushing that morbid thought away, Caly removed the jacket, wincing when her knotted muscles protested, and tied the sleeves around her waist. Ignoring the fatigue threatening to drop her on the spot, she took off at a pace set for distance instead of speed, doing her best to outrun her thoughts.

When the path for the temple came into view, the exhausted trance was ripped away. This was where she'd discovered the statue. Almost afraid of what she'd find, Caly peered through the tangled mess of vines.

And nearly strangled on the sound of pain trying to escape her throat. The statue had vanished. Not seeing him there made her chest feel like she'd swallowed hundreds of fishhooks. The empty pedestal and torn vegetation were the only testament she wasn't insane.

She forced herself forward when the desperate urge to search for him nearly crippled her. The destruction of the temple grew more apparent with each step. Scorched chunks of the stone lay scattered over the area. Nothing could've survived. The back of her throat thickened with grief. Breathing became nearly impossible as she searched the area, stumbling over the rubble.                       
       
           



       

Sunlight broke through the cloud covering, illuminating the world around her. Prisms of light danced on the air. Leaves glistened a brilliant green in the mist, and a flock of brightly colored birds took flight overhead. Paradise had been hidden beneath the evil.

Then she saw it.

Amidst the destruction, caught in the haze, Caly spied the figure of a man. The hair on her arms stood on end when recognition set in. The unbearable pain eased a fraction. Sweet relief left her dizzy.

Her statue.

He was alive.

She squinted to see him better but everything blurred. The image shimmered. He extended a hand toward her, palm up in entreaty as if to touch her when the clouds choked out the light.

And took with it the image of her mystery man.

* * *

Ruman watched her from where he waited in the mist, a place known as Between. Centuries trapped as a statue had nearly driven him insane with only himself for company. It had also left him plenty of time to think. About the world around him and the mistake he'd made so long ago. It was part of his punishment.

This was his chance for repentance. A chance for freedom.

Only to find out he'd been awakened by a woman.

Since a woman caused his banishment, Ruman found it ironic a female could awaken him at all. Anointed with her blood, he had no choice but to rise when danger threatened her. His lips tightened, remembering the way she'd fought for her life and refused to leave the injured man behind.

She was different from the others.

At first, he'd worked diligently to help each charge who woke him, wanting to better their lives. Yet year after year, he'd watched them throw away their lives on trivial possessions or capricious emotions.

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