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Part 11

(Paranormal Apprehension Agency Serial)

Before I had to make a freeze-to-death or be-sacrificed-to-death-decision, a sound from behind told me that my time was up. The harpies had either discovered I was missing and were coming after me, or someone was about to randomly stumble onto my escape attempt.

The time for deliberation was done.

Shuffling out into the freezing air, my silver hair whipped around my face, barely any of the long strands still contained in a braid. I had no idea if I even had a hair tie any longer, but that was definitely not my greatest concern for the minute.

Even having near zero visibility with this much hair, if I stopped to deal with it, I’d be dead.

The scuffling was louder, even with the wind raging noisily around me, and I heard the screech from behind loud and clear.

I’d been discovered.

Without turning to see what was coming from the caves, I forced my shaking limbs to move forward. Faster and faster, heading for what was the edge of the cliff. The only reason I wasn’t panicking too hard, was the fact that there was a clear dip off to one side and a visible path down into whatever lay below.

The air was even colder out here than it had been near the cave entrance. I wouldn’t survive for thirty minutes in these conditions. Not if I didn’t come up with a plan. I couldn’t use the firenze rune again, so I decided to try another. One that was generally used to heat water and could be applied directly to my skin. Solarin.

Hopefully it would warm up my blood a little; add some heat to my body. Of course, it was going to be tricky to keep it from boiling me, but I was fairly certain a few tweaks would allow me to stop it from going over the top.

My trembling fingers on my right hand crept under my jacket and shirt, and on my stomach I traced the four strokes that intersected in the centre. I left the last stroke a little to the left though, to ease the full impact of the spell.

Almost immediately a warmth infused through my limbs, sinking into my gut and muscles. Relief slammed into me hard enough that I stumbled before finding my footing again.

With renewed energy, I picked up the pace, all but diving off the side of the cliff. From here I could really see the mammoth task I’d set myself. The cave I’d been in was miles above ground level.

Harpies used their wings to get up here, but this path was clearly used by those without wings all the time. There were trail markers and everything, lettered with foreign text that looked like runes, but I didn’t recognise them. Which was a shame, since I could have used a hint of what direction to go, especially when I reached a fork in the path.

This was about the time I wondered if this was the shortcut they’d given permission for the king to use. If only I knew which direction to use to keep from running into him or anyone else that meant me harm. Why was there not a damn rune for this?

Use your instinct, Livra, my child. You were born under a solar eclipse. You are gifted in a way that no other is. Trust in your gut.

The voice that filtered through my mind was my mum’s. She’d told me to trust in myself so many times over the years, but generally I felt my judgement was a little skewed. I tended to second guess myself more often than not.

But her voice and words had come to me for a reason.

Maybe here, in the land of my race, I would finally listen.

Closing my eyes I took a few calming breaths. The cold was held at bay by my rune, so I could quiet the part of me in fight or flight mode and focus on the decision.

Which path?

Ask the universe and it will answer. Right?

For a moment, there was nothing except the howling wind and very real possibility I was standing here offering myself up to the harpies again. Then I felt it. The slightest tugging sensation that started low in my gut. It was from the left path, the one I probably wouldn’t have taken on my own, since it disappeared into a dark, rocky overhanging section, and I couldn’t be sure it would even take me anywhere safe.

At least I’d be out of sight.

The adrenaline coursing through me, and heat of my rune, kept me comfortable as I turned left and navigated down the icy, rocky, somewhat treacherous path. Slipping and sliding for a few paces, I had to duck under the first section of rock, thankful that it wasn’t narrower on the other side.

I’d easily traverse this section, even if I had to be in a crouched position.

I miss you, mum. I silently sent the words out into the universe, grateful that I was all but out of sight, and there was no deadly creature in sight.

Just as I had that thought, jinxing my fucking self, screeches and screams started up from behind me. Screams that were very much not like the ones from before. This was pain and fear–I knew the sound very well.

I hadn’t looked back once up until this point, but I couldn’t stop from turning on the spot and trying to peer through the small gaps in the stone to see if there was any indication of what had the harpies in such a tizzy.

Unable to see anything, I decided not to worry about it any longer, since whatever it was, it was a distraction that I needed to get my ass safely out of here. Spinning back to follow the path once more, it was my turn to scream when a large ginger beast leapt in from the side and all but landed on my head.

“Ahhhhh!” The sound that escaped me wasn’t as loud as the harpies, but if anyone was close by or looking for me, they now knew exactly where I was.

“You’re a dumb bitch, you know that right?” Rufus was sitting in the middle of the path, staring at me with red tinged eyes, the look on his squished face one of disgust. Weirdly enough, I was getting used to his expression and could actually tell how he was feeling. Generally it ranged from derision to displeasure to disgust. With an occasional side of loathing.

“I’m a dumb bitch?” I asked breathlessly, finally recovered from the shock of his fat ass almost taking me down. “A dumb bitch who got out of the harpies cave all on my own while making my way to freedom? Fairly sure you’ve confused dumb with ingenious.”

His nose twitched and the expression deepened to loathing. “You got out of the harpies cave alright, and then used a powerful rune so I could track you in about an eighth of a second. Then you stopped observing your surroundings, allowing me to ambush you. If I’d wanted you dead..” he pauses and clears his throat, the scratchy cat voice even deeper when he continues. “Funnily enough, I don’t actually want you dead this second, but that’s beside the point. If I’d wanted you dead, I could have ripped your throat out just as you used your graceless, useless form to turn and start down the path.”

Speaking of useless, this conversation had to end. “Where is Archer?”

Rufus smiled. Fucking creepy as fuck. “He’s visiting the harpy cave.”

Ah, the screaming. It all made sense now.

“Think you can manage to move your ass up the mountain again?” Rufus asked, lifting himself up to all fours and striding toward me. “I mean, I can drag you up if needed, but all that pretty skin is going to get banged up.”

“I’m not going back up the hill,” I said, crossing my arms and staring him down. “The harpies made a deal with Prince DNA Donor. It’s in all of our best interests that you get me far away from here.”

Rufus ignored me, continuing back up the path and in a second he was all but out of sight.

Motherfucking fuck! I should have kicked his ass over the side of the cliff.

“That cat is a fucking shunt,” I growled, frustration spilling over. I had no choice but to trust in Rufus and follow him to Archer, but I really wasn’t happy about it.

Stomping after him, I rounded the same corner, and once more came to a screeching halt to find Rufus blocking my path. Again.

“Shunt?” he purred, a question in that raspy word.

I swallowed roughly. There was a dangerous, dark quality in his tone, and I reminded myself that even Archer showed him a sliver of respect. Whatever Rufus was, I had to stop needling him. At least while I needed his help to stay alive.

“Shit cunt,” I murmured really quickly, bracing myself for an attack. My fingers were tapping against my side so they were warmed up and ready to strike some runes if needed.

The moment of tension extended between us and then to my surprise, Rufus let out a low raspy laugh. “Shunt. I like that. Now keep up.”

I had to blink a few times to make sure I hadn’t fallen and hit my head, imagining the entire scene. Was this really Rufus or some illusion? Maybe the harpies were one upping me after I left my own illusion for them.

“Move those useless lumpy legs,” Rufus shouted back at me, and I shook my head.

Definitely had the OG little shunt back in my life.

It took me a few minutes to scramble my way back up to the ledge, and when I was once again at the mouth of the cave, I stepped inside with Rufus. For some reason I felt safe having the rodent by my side, and I reminded myself not to get used to it. We had a temporary truce, a short break from trying to murder each other. He was not a friend or being I could trust.

Archer wasn’t either. I had to remember that.

As we moved through the tunnel, Rufus showed zero concern, and I adopted the same. The rune on my stomach continued to send shooting warmth through me, and even knowing I’d have to end it soon, so I didn’t drain myself too much trying to maintain it, I enjoyed the moment.

When we stepped into the round room I’d first woken in, I wasn’t surprised to see that my illusion rune had worn off. Most runes lasted only as long as the magic powering them. And since that magic came from me, if I released it into the world, it wouldn’t stick around forever. In the place I’d been, was another few wildenbeast.

“This is where I woke up,” I told Rufus.

“I know,” was his only reply.

“How?” I shot back, hating my curiosity about this orange asshole.

He ignored me, turning and making his way along the path that those harpies had used before. The path I’d gone the opposite way for that very reason.

My teeth were gritted so hard that they were hurting as I followed, but it was the only way I could keep my anger in check. Choosing to focus on the path, I found it pretty similar to the other one that led to the outside. A little smaller, but better lit up, so I could clearly see the splatters of dark orange blood that started a few feet ahead of us.

The first body we came across was in two pieces, torn down the centre, and sprawled on either side of the path against the wall. The harpy was wide-eyed, as if her death had come as such a shock she’d had no time to even fight back.

Rufus laughed again. Psychopath that he was. “Stealing from Archer. Always ends the same way.”

He strolled through the puddles of blood, but nothing stuck to his fur, seemingly repelled by the cat … or his personality most likely.

I wasn’t as unlikeable, muck splashing up the side of my boots as I followed him.

The next body was… actually, at least three bodies, if the amount of arms and wings were any indication. They were in seven or eight pieces, and if I had to quickly assess, some of the body parts were missing to give about three quarters of three bodies in total.

Yeah, I might need help, but I couldn’t stop my brain from dissecting situations and crime scenes. Just like Archer apparently couldn’t stop from dissecting harpies.

The smell of death grew stronger as we moved down the hall. More bodies were there, some of them in no recognisable state. It was just mushed muscle and bone at this point.

I had no idea what had happened to whomever had been following me earlier, but I sensed that if Rufus found me on the path down the cliff, then Archer had taken care of whatever had been on my trail.

Probably one of the bodies scattered in the hall.

Up ahead, where the scent of death was the strongest, copper and shit mingling in a disgusting medley, there was the faint sound of moaning.

“Please, no.”

It was a begging rasp. My chest grew tight as I waited for Archer to reply.

I couldn’t see anything yet, but I knew the moment we rounded the corner, it’d all be very clear.

Archer had cleaned house, and it seemed that he was down to the final harpy.

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