Home > Finding the Lost (Sentinel Wars, #2)

Finding the Lost (Sentinel Wars, #2)
Author: Shannon K. Butcher

Chapter 1

Omaha, Nebraska

July 14

The little boy’s frightened whimpers grew weaker by the second. Andra Madison could barely hear him now, even though her ear was pressed to a crack in the brick wall of the abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Omaha. Those muffled, mewling sobs of fear broke her heart and made her want to tear the monsters who had kidnapped Sammy apart with her bare hands. Or blow them apart with her shotgun. That worked, too.

Even at three in the morning, the July air was still hot and thick with humidity, making it hard to breathe. Then again, maybe that was just her reaction to fear talking. There were at least four monsters in there guarding Sammy—twice as many as she’d ever managed to defeat before. And that battle had been a close call. She wasn’t quite sure yet how she was going to get the boy out alive. She’d have to wing it, and pray for the best.

One of the monsters let out a deep growl that sent a jolt of primal fear ripping through her system. Sweat broke out on her forehead as she fought the urge to flee. She planted her boots hard and gritted her teeth until the need to run away washed over her and started to fade. She was left shaking and dripping with sweat, but at least she’d held her ground.

Andra knew just what these creatures were capable of—had seen it with her own eyes on more than one occasion—and the sound they were making now wasn’t a good sign. The monsters were getting ready to feed.

The image of Sammy’s small body being ripped to shreds by claws and teeth filled her mind and made her stomach heave. She couldn’t let that happen. Not this time.

Andra had officially run out of time to scout the building and plan her attack. Plan or not, she had to get little Sammy out of there right now.

She hopped up three cement stairs and twisted the knob on the old warehouse door, but it was locked. Of course. The windows were too high for her to climb through, and she wasn’t about to go wasting any time trying to find another way in. There was no time left, and she’d promised Sammy’s parents she’d bring their baby home alive.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

She never should have made promises she might not be able to keep, but when faced with so much fear and panic in the pleading eyes of helpless parents—so much love—she couldn’t help herself. She’d foolishly wanted to give them hope.

After all the times she’d failed to find a stolen child, or rescue them before it was too late, she should have known better than to make any empty promises.

Andra took a deep breath for courage, said a quick prayer for luck, gripped her shotgun tight, and slammed the heel of her boot against the rotting door. Chunks of splintered wood burst into the giant room where Sammy was being held prisoner. Andra crouched low, using the frame of the door for concealment as she peered into the warehouse, frantically searching for some kind of plan that would get them both out alive.

It was dark in there, with only a few streaks of grimy yellow streetlight flowing in through the broken windows set high in the walls. The building was old, and it showed every one of its years in fallen beams and cracked mortar. Graffiti covered the walls, and trash was heaped in little mounds here and there. The wooden floor was filthy where it wasn’t simply missing, leaving ragged holes to whatever space lurked below.

Along the far side of the room she saw Sammy. He was tied to one of the few columns still strong enough to hold up the roof. His eyes were huge with fear, and tears streamed down his face, leaving narrow lines of clean skin in their wake. A dirty rag had been stuffed in his mouth, but Andra could hear Sammy’s pitiful whimpers coming from behind the gag. He was still alive, thank God. Now all she had to do was get him out of here in the same condition, and back home where he belonged.

Piece of cake. Or it would have been, had it not been for the hungry, salivating monsters standing between her and the boy.

Andra had been hunting these things for eight years and she still had no other word for them besides monsters . They were the size of large dogs, with the head of a wolf and the body of a chimpanzee. They had long, sharp claws and teeth to match. Oily, matted black fur covered their bodies, and long strings of glowing yellow saliva dripped from their too-wide jaws. And for reasons Andra still had not figured out, the creatures that kept these things as pets liked to steal children.

She didn’t see any of those six-foot-tall insectoid monsters around, but she knew they wouldn’t be far away from their precious pets.

Her explosive entry had pulled the monsters’ attention away from the little boy and placed it squarely on her—a much better place for it, as far as she was concerned.

They prowled toward her on all fours, their long claws leaving ragged scratches in the old wooden floor.

Fear threatened to make her sluggish, and once again she had to fight back the urge to flee and leave the boy to fend for himself. She wasn’t frightened easily, but these things had the ability to make her blood congeal and her breath freeze in her lungs. There was something unnatural about the fear they caused. It was more than just being face-to-face with so many claws and teeth. It was more than simply fearing for her life. There was some instinctive knowledge buried deep inside her that warned her that when she faced these monsters, she was facing something bigger and darker than she was able to imagine. And after all the things she’d seen, she had a pretty vivid imagination.

Andra forced herself to even out her breathing, stay calm, and focus on getting Sammy out alive. She shut out that unnatural fear and pretended she was just facing down rabid dogs. A terrified corner of her mind giggled at the ridiculous notion, but she ignored it as best she could.

Andra prayed her hands would stop shaking long enough to get a clean shot; then she stood from her crouch and leveled the shotgun at the largest of the beasts. There was still almost a hundred feet between her and them, and anything less than a point-blank shot would just piss them off.

So she stood there, just outside the doorway, where they could come at her only one at a time, and waited for the monsters to close the distance.

“We’re close,” said Logan.

“How close?” asked Paul. Excitement prowled through his system, making him grip the steering wheel tighter.

He glanced at the Sanguinar as he sped through the run-down industrial area on the edge of Omaha. Logan’s eyes gave off an eerie silver glow in the darkness, and he was staring into the distance at something Paul could not see. He wasn’t sure Logan knew what he was doing, but he sure as hell hoped so. Paul’s future—his life—hung in the balance.

If they found the woman and she was the one, the power that had been building inside him for decades, and the pain it caused, would finally have an outlet.

“We’ve been driving all over the Midwest for days,” griped Madoc from the backseat. “Fucking bloodsucker doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. He’s just jerking you around.”

“You didn’t have to come with us,” said Paul. He didn’t care much for the loner in the backseat. He took too many chances and wouldn’t have recognized a team player if one had been sitting in his lap. He was the kind of man who left body bags in his wake. His only saving grace was that usually, the bad guys needed more of those body bags than the good guys did.

“Joseph decided otherwise.”

“Since when do you follow orders?” asked Paul.

“I’ve got my reasons,” said Madoc.

“Which are?”

“None of your f**king business. And, for the record, just because I’m here doesn’t mean I don’t think this is a load of shit. If it was so easy for Logan to find female Theronai, then why didn’t we know about this particular skill a hundred years ago, before our men started dying off?”

“What if you’re wrong?” asked Paul. “What if Logan can track Helen’s bloodline and find more women like her?”

In the rearview mirror, Paul saw Madoc sneering at Logan. “We’ve been so busy following this supposed trail we haven’t killed a demon in days. My sword arm’s gonna be one big marshmallow by the time you figure out Logan’s full of shit. He’s leading you on for your blood, man. Don’t you get that?”

It might be true. Paul knew it was possible. The Sanguinar were not the most trustworthy of men. Their need for blood made them . . . unpredictable. If Paul hadn’t been so desperate to find a woman like Helen, he never would have bargained with Logan.

But he was desperate. The pain was becoming unbearable. He wasn’t sure why his body didn’t explode, why the power he housed didn’t just rip through skin and bone and tear him apart. He was up to three hours of meditation every day just to be able to function, to get out of bed each night. He had only a couple of leaves left clinging to his lifemark, and at the rate they’d been falling, he wasn’t sure his soul would live more than another ten days. After that, things would get ugly fast.

“Go left here,” whispered Logan in a strained voice. “I’ve found her.”

A bright bubble of hope swelled up inside Paul as he gunned the engine and took a hard turn. He blasted right through a stop sign, but it was past three a.m. and no one was around in this aging industrial area. Besides, if the cops wanted to ticket him, they’d have to catch him first.

“You sure?” asked Paul. “You’ve really found a blooded woman?”

“You’re such a f**king sucker,” spat Madoc in disgust. “There is no woman. We’re going to show up and he’s going to give you some story about how we just missed her, just like every other night this week.”

Logan didn’t respond to Madoc’s accusation. His face was serene as he stared off into the night. His eyes flared brighter for a moment and he sucked in a harsh breath. “Hurry, Paul. She’s not alone. I sense Synestryn.”

Fear of losing the woman who could save him before he even found her made Paul’s gut clench. He ground the accelerator to the floorboard just as he saw movement at the end of the street. There wasn’t much light, but there was enough for him to make out the shape of a woman standing in a doorway. “There she is!”

“I don’t f**king believe it,” said Madoc.

Neither did Paul. Logan had actually tracked down a woman who might be able to save his life. A woman with some of the same blood running through her veins as Helen, who was the first female Theronai to have been born in over two hundred years. They still had no idea where Helen had come from, but after seeing the miracle she’d been for Drake, he hardly cared.

Paul screeched to a halt outside the old warehouse, nearly running the SUV into the metal railing that bordered the parking area. His headlights shone on the remains of a wide doorway and the woman standing in it. She was tall—nearly six feet—though maybe her commanding stance and the confident grip on her shotgun made her seem taller.

Paul had already unfolded himself from the car and unsheathed his sword when he saw two Synestryn demons—sgath—charging her, and two more behind them. Shotgun or not, she was no match for that many teeth and claws. They’d slice her to pieces before she had time to pull the trigger twice.

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