Page 1

Chapter 1

I ducked low and spun away as the snapping tentacle zipped by my head. The hollow slapping sound it made against the concrete wall resonated within the quiet alley. The creature, frustrated at missing me, made a noise that wasn't quite a roar but more like a growling hiss that made my blood run cold. Whatever it was, it wasn't a sound that had ever been heard on our planet before their arrival.

Taking up the shooter's stance that Darnell had taught me. I didn't have much time, but even so I fired off five quick rounds into the smallest creature. A screeching noise erupted from it as it curled into itself but I didn't intend to stick around and make sure it was dead.

Keep moving, I told myself fiercely. Don't stay still, just go.

Leaping forward, I darted in and out as I attempted to stay ahead of the hideous thing pursuing me. I'd been hit once before by one of those tentacles and there was no way I was ever going to have that agonizing experience replayed. Grabbing hold of long forgotten trashcans and bicycles, I threw them behind me as I dashed into an empty office building and bolted through the shadowy and cobwebbed lobby.

I could barely hear over my own breath as my lungs labored for air. I grabbed hold of a dead potted plant and spun to heave it behind me as I tried to get enough distance between me and the monster to fight it off. The creature made that strange hissing sound again as the pot connected with its opalescent and mottled red exterior. It wasn't as large as some of the others I'd encountered, but it was faster and able to get through the building better than the bigger ones would have been able to.

My legs were burning as I jumped onto a sofa in the lobby and cleared the back of it in one single bound. There had been a time when I would have tripped over my own feet and ended up in an ungraceful heap on the floor, but things were different now. I wasn't the ungraceful, uncoordinated girl I'd been before The Freezing had occurred.

Cade had made sure of that, though his blood had resulted in consequences he hadn't expected and some he didn't even know about, as I still couldn't bring myself to talk to him about what was going on inside me.

I heard the creature coming seconds before I lurched to the side in order to dodge the tentacle's deadly trajectory. The snake-like appendage struck the wall with a sickening slap that caused my stomach to twist. I didn't know where everyone else was, we'd been separated when these things had emerged from the alleyway, but I knew if I could just stay free long enough, I'd be able to get the upper hand on this thing.

The entrance to the stairwell loomed ahead of me. The door had been half ripped off and hung askew on its broken hinges as I dove under it. I cleared the bottom half of the door and rolled into the gloomy stairway. I launched back to my feet and took the stairs two at a time as I ascended rapidly. My breathing sounded like a horse that had just won the race by the time I made it to the second floor, but I didn't slow down as I shoved through the stairwell door. The creature was only twenty feet behind me when I crashed through the first door on my right into an abandoned office.

My footsteps echoed through the cavernous space as I ran by the receptionist's desk, through another open doorway, and into a room filled with desks and copy machines. The smell of something dead and gone for too long now was coming from somewhere within the room. I prayed I didn't stumble across it as I ran in a zigzagging pattern I was hoping would help me lose the creature. I tried to ignore the blood streaked over the floor and smeared on the back wall but my eyes were drawn toward it repeatedly. The life of human beings gone, and sadly most likely forgotten, coated these walls.

I thrust open another door and plunged back into the hallway I'd just left. The screech of bending metal resonated through the hall as the monster scrambled through the office behind me. I had to get out of this building and somehow lose that thing. Now.

The door at the end of the hall was missing as I dashed into a different stairwell. It felt as if my feet barely hit the ground as I used the railing to propel myself down the stairs. My heart was in my throat as I leapt over the last four steps and fell into the closed door. My hands scrambled over the doorknob but it didn't budge as I twisted and tugged at it. A strangled scream escaped me; I slammed my shoulder against the metal, but it did little good as the door remained a solid barrier between me and my quest for freedom.

My lungs strained for air as I slapped my hand repeatedly against the metal and jerked on the knob. The thing's many legs sounded like nails on a chalkboard as it rounded the landing. Its chelicerae like mouth clicked eagerly when it spotted me against the door.

Not like this, not like this, I prayed fervently. I'm not ready to go now. Cade would be heartbroken and devastated; he would be lethal if something happened to me now. This time my scream of frustration wasn't muffled, it was a loud and clear shout of pure fury and terror as I kicked and tore feverishly at the barricade in my way.

Faster than I could blink the door was ripped away from me. I gasped as light blazed against my irises and instinctively took a startled step back. Hands seized hold of me and pulled me out of the stairwell. I caught a brief glimpse of Cade before he pushed me behind him. The normal onyx of his eyes had seeped out to encompass his entire eyeball; the veins in his face seemed to have filled with liquid coal as he turned to confront the creature stalking me.

The thing was brought up short by the fact that one of its creators was standing in the doorway staring at it with murderous intent. Before I could react, and before the creature could sense the threat, Cade pulled out his knife and launched himself forward with a vicious snarl that caused the hair on my neck to stand up. The creature hadn't been expecting to be attacked by Cade, but its shock wore off the minute it realized that its life was in danger.

I stumbled back a few feet as squeals of pain and the sounds of fists pummeling the creature's almost mushy exterior surrounded me. My hands fell to my waist and the gun resting there. Pulling it free, I ran toward the doorway. There was no way I was going to stand back and take the chance of something happening to Cade. Before I could make it to the stairwell a low keening sound emanated from the creature but Cade remained eerily silent as the hollow thud of thumps and blows continued from within. My heart was a drumbeat in my chest; I could barely breathe through the constriction in my throat.

Was I already too late?

I was brought up short in the doorway as Cade reappeared. Blood streaked his midnight hair, full mouth and cheeks. "Are you ok?" he demanded as his eyes pierced me.

I opened my mouth to answer but I didn't get a chance to as he whirled away from me and disappeared into the stairwell. I caught a brief glimpse of blood splattered walls, and limp tentacles before he carefully closed the door behind him. I didn't know what had happened to make him retreat until I caught the sound of running feet. Spinning around, I took a step forward to block Aiden, Bret, and Lloyd as they charged across the lobby of the office building.

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