The noise grows, coming fast, a steady beat now. “We should get low.”

Nodding, Azure dives. I follow, glancing behind us, seeing only the jagged cropping of mountains. But hearing more. Feeling more.

It keeps coming.

The sound chases us.

“Should we go back to the bikes?” Azure looks back at me, her blue-streaked black hair rippling like a flag in the wind.

I hesitate. I don’t want this to end. Who knows when we can sneak out again? The pride watches me so closely, Cassian is always—

“Jacinda!” Azure points one iridescent blue finger through the air.

I turn and look. My heart seizes.

A chopper rounds a low mountain, so small in the distance, but growing larger as it approaches, cutting through the mist.

“Go!” I shout. “Drop!”

I dive, clawing wind, my wings folded flat against my body, legs poised arrow straight, perfectly angled for speed.

But not fast enough.

The chopper blades beat the air in a pounding frenzy. Hunters. Wind tears at my eyes as I fly faster than I’ve ever flown before.

Azure falls behind. I scream for her, glancing back, reading the dark desperation in her liquid gaze. “Az, keep up!”

Water draki aren’t built for speed. We both know that. Her voice twists into a sob and I hear just how well she knows it in the broken sound. “I’m trying! Don’t leave me! Jacinda! Don’t leave me!”

Behind us, the chopper still comes. Bitter fear coats my mouth as two more join it, killing any hope that it was a random helicopter out for aerial photos. It’s a squadron, and they are definitely hunting us.

Is this how it happened with Dad? Were his last moments like this? Tossing my head, I shove the thought away. I’m not going to die today — my body broken and sold off into bits and pieces.

I nod to the nearing treetops. “There!”

Draki never fly low to the ground, but we don’t have a choice.

Azure follows me, weaving in my wake. She pulls close to my side, narrowly missing the flashing trees in her wild fear. I stop and drift in place, chest heaving with savage breath. The choppers whir overhead, their pounding beat deafening, stirring the trees into a frothing green foam.

“We should demanifest,” Az says, panting.

As if we could. We’re too frightened. Draki can never hold human form in a state of fear. It’s a survival mechanism. At our core we’re draki; that’s where we derive our strength.

I peer up through the latticework of shaking branches shielding us, the scent of pine and forest ripe in my nostrils.

“I can get myself under control,” Az insists in our guttural tongue.

I shake my head. “Even if that’s true, it’s too risky. We have to wait them out. If they see two girls out here…after they just spotted two female draki, they might get suspicious.” A cold fist squeezes around my heart. I can’t let that happen. Not just for me, but for everyone. For draki everywhere. The secret of our ability to appear as humans is our greatest defense.

“If we’re not home in the next hour, we’re busted!”

I bite my lip to stop from telling her we have more to worry about than the pride discovering we snuck out. I don’t want to scare her even more than she already is.

“We have to hide for a little—”

Another sound penetrates the beating blades of a chopper. A low drone on the air. The tiny hairs at my nape tingle. Something else is out there. Below. On the ground. Growing closer.

I look skyward, my long talonlike fingers flexing open and shut, wings vibrating in barely controlled movement. Instinct urges flight, but I know they’re up there. Waiting. Circling buzzards. I spy their dark shapes through the treetops. My chest tightens. They aren’t going away.

I motion Az to follow me into the thick branches of a towering pine. Folding our wings close to our bodies, we shove amid the itchy needles, fighting the scraping twigs. Holding our breath, we wait.

Then the land comes alive, swarming with an entourage of vehicles: trucks, SUVs, dirt bikes.

“No,” I rasp, eyeing the vehicles, the men, armed to the teeth. In a truck bed, two men crouch at the ready, a great net launcher before them. Seasoned hunters. They know what they’re doing. They know what they’re hunting.

Az trembles so badly the thick branch we’re crouched on starts to shake, leaves rustling. I clutch her hand. The dirt bikes lead the way, moving at a dizzying speed. A driver of one SUV motions out the window. “Look to the trees,” he shouts, his voice deep, terrifying.

Az fidgets. I clutch her hand harder. A bike is directly below us now. The driver wears a black T-shirt that hugs his young muscled body. My skin tightens almost painfully.

“I can’t stay here,” Az chokes out beside me. “I’ve got to go!”

“Az,” I growl, my low rumbling tones fervent, desperate. “That’s what they want. They’re trying to flush us out. Don’t panic.”

Her words spit past gritted teeth. “I. Can’t.”

And I know with a sick tightening of my gut that she’s not going to last.

Scanning the activity below and the choppers cutting across the sky above, I make up my mind right then.

“All right.” I swallow. “Here’s the plan. We separate—”


“I’ll break cover first. Then, once they’ve gone after me, you head for water. Go under and stay there. However long it takes.”

Her dark eyes gleam wetly, the vertical lines of her pupils throbbing.

“Got it?” I demand.

She nods jerkily, the ridges on her nose contracting with a deep breath. “W-what are you going to do?”

I force a smile, the curve of my lips painful on my face. “Fly, of course.”


When I was twelve, I raced Cassian and won.

It was during group flight. At night, of course. Our only authorized time to fly. Cassian had been arrogant, showing off, and I couldn’t help it. We used to be friends, when we were kids. Before either one of us manifested. I couldn’t stand seeing what he’d turned into, watching him act like he was God’s gift to our pride.

Before I knew it, we were racing across the night sky, Dad’s shouts of encouragement ringing in my ears. Cassian was fourteen, an onyx draki. All sleek black muscle and cutting sinew. My father had been an onyx, too. Not only are they the strongest and biggest among the draki, but they are usually the fastest.

Except that night. That night I beat Cassian, the prince of our pride, our future alpha — trained since birth to be the best.

I shouldn’t have won, but I did. In the moon’s shadow, I revealed myself to be even more than the pride’s precious fire-breather. More than the little girl Cassian gave rides to in his go-cart. Cassian changed after that. Suddenly, he wasn’t focused on being best, but winning the best. I became the prize.

For years I regretted winning that race, resented the additional attention it brought me, wished I couldn’t fly so fast. Only now, as my bare feet scrape over rough bark, preparing to take flight, I’m grateful I can. Grateful I fly as fast as wind.

Az shakes behind me, her teeth clacking. A whimper escapes her lips. I know what I have to do.

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