The sound came again. Louder.
He squeezed her hand. “You need to wake up.”
He sat and pulled her up with him. “Wake up, Ava.”
Fear clutched her throat. His name came to her. “Malachi?”
He shook her shoulders. “I’m not there. I’m not there, and there’s danger.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Wake up, Ava. Wake up now!”
She gasped, calling out his name as she sat bolt upright in bed. Renata’s flat was pitch-black, but Ava could hear someone struggling in the corner. Hissed voices and the rasping whispers that haunted her nightmares.
Grigori were in the room.
She heard a crack and a thud, then Mala stepped into a shaft of light, brandishing twin daggers that seemed to glow. She stalked toward Ava with death in her eyes.
The Irina opened her mouth, but no sound came. It was enough to make Ava open her senses and listen.
Ava scrambled away from the hissing whisper she felt at her back just in time to escape the grip of the soldier who snuck from behind. He muttered a curse before he rolled away, dodging the silver daggers Mala threw at him. Ava kicked out, catching his knee with her heel. He grunted, still trying to remain quiet. The Grigori rolled into the darkness and Mala followed.
Ava yelled out, “Mala, lights?”
Two clicks of Mala’s tongue told her yes. She felt for the switch on the wall and flipped it up.
The smell of sandalwood filled the air, and the window to the bedroom was open. A flicker of the curtain as freezing air blasted into the room. Then another flicker as a shadow darted in the corner of her eye. The Grigori attacked silently, grabbing her neck as he tackled Ava to the ground. He forced a hand around her throat and pressed, cutting off both her voice and her air. She could hear another soldier climb in the window and run toward Mala.
The helpless rage filled her. His body trapped her on the ground. For all her training and preparation, she was no match for the large male. Her heart raced as his palm pressed harder. Her breath was running out. She would pass out soon, and there would be nothing to stop them.
Black spots danced in front of her eyes. Then the blackness grew and spread as the whispers in her mind grew louder.
Do not fear the darkness.
A rush of wings and feathers from the corner of her vision. A rising shadow. Tall, as if a dark mountain had come to life, he loomed over her, cloaked in the void. A soughing breath stirred the black feathers that drooped over his hood. He was nothing. As if the stars had been snuffed in the night, he bore no face behind the droop of his black cloak. A nightmare. A monster. He leaned closer, forcing her to look. Forcing her to face the secret—
Her eyes flew open with the screaming.
No hand clutched at her throat. It had fallen away, and the Grigori soldier was screaming in her ear. She rolled over, shoving him off, but he kept up his hoarse cries, even as the building began to come alive. Someone pounded on the door. Ava heard shouts and running steps. All the while, the soldier rolled on the ground, clutching his hands to his temples, his eyes frozen on some invisible terror, his pupils dilated so his eyes appeared pure black.
In a blink, Mala rolled him over and speared her knife into his neck, ending the screams and releasing the creature’s dark soul. Then she turned to Ava with fear in her eyes.
There was a muffled conversation at the door, then the voices died away and Ava heard the deadbolt turn. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, enjoying the bite of the winter air that still poured into the room.
“What happened?” It was Renata. “The neighbors thought someone was being murdered!”
There was silence, so Ava knew Mala was signing the answer. She simply rolled over, making no attempt to rise. She watched the two women who stood at the door. Mala was almost naked. She was only wearing a T-shirt and underwear to sleep. Two empty knife sheaths were strapped to her thighs. Renata looked exhausted. Covered with a dusting of snow, her hair was almost grey. Mala’s explanation went on a long time, then Renata finally turned to Ava as Mala went to snap the window closed.
“Ava, are you all right?” Renata knelt down and shook her shoulders. “Why are you crying? Are you hurt?”
She hadn’t realized she was crying.
“What did you do to the Grigori?”
“What?” Ava sniffed. “Mala, how do you sleep with those on your legs?”