Raider sensed the hunters all around him. The scent of magic was a trickle in his memory, but the beasts coming for him were here, now, and fresh on the air.
Raider’s t-shirt clung to his every muscle, and sweat dripped shiny trails down his dark, honey-toned flesh as he ran. He wasn’t familiar with the area his mad dash landed him, but he knew freedom was close. He could smell the desert. The concrete jarred his legs, and his thin sneakers did little to soften his pounding strides. Raider refused to slow even as his thighs burned and chest heaved. Deadly eyes watched him from afar, and he pushed faster to escape.
The city was still, and the afternoon air oppressively hot. Buildings lined the street, a mix of colorful, cracked paint on clay walls, and modern but worn down offices with glass fronts and glittering steel. Raider couldn’t see them among the structures, but he knew the hunters were there. He could feel it. It was a death song in the air, a current of electricity that vibrated every breath he took and warned of impending fangs.
Raider’s blood pounded in his ears, but no matter how fast he ran, he couldn’t escape the scent of sorcery and death. They were coming for him. They were going to trap him, corner him, and kill him. Now that he was cursed…
He lurched forward as fear shocked through him all over again. Pieces. If a sorcerer got ahold of him he’d be nothing but pieces of flesh and bones.
Raider’s gaze darted over his shoulder before he took off from the sidewalk and bolted across the poorly paved street. He kept as low to the ground as he could without jeopardizing speed, and ducked down to run parallel to the cars parked sporadic on the side of the dusty road. He was dressed in torn jeans and a plain t-shirt, but with the black tattoos of roses and vines curled around his neck and muscular arms, he was too recognizable to feel safe.
Everyone in town knew who he was. He was the screw up held back in school when his thief of a dad ended up in jail. He was the idiot, the outcast who couldn’t make friends, the spaz no one wanted around. Weak. No one was going to save a fuck up like him, and he knew it.
The ground was uneven with cracks, and patches of crumbling pavement turned the surface treacherous. Raider did his best to keep from tripping as his hopes soared. The broken street was a sign he was finally reaching the edge of the city.
The toe of his sneaker caught on a upturned crack of pavement, and Raider grunted as he tumbled forward. His hands stung, but he was numb to the pain as he pushed off the pavement and kept moving. His knees were starting to grow wobbly, and his heart felt like a jackhammer as it pounded blood through his veins. Raider gasped burning breaths of air as he forced his body back to the intense pace needed to escape.
Fuck, he hated this. Maybe if his heart were beating frantically on the ground instead of in his chest, he’d finally be free of this insanity. There was no outrunning a curse.
As if he summoned it, Raider’s mind flashed to the enchanted item that ruined his life in an instant. A glittering whirl of cold blues, yellows, and pale pinks flickered and sparkled in a deadly kaleidescope behind his eyes. Raider’s strides shortened as his inner animal chittered.
Impossible. He could see the jewel like it was right in front of him. Bright and glowing, each angle refracted, sparked, and Raider’s brain felt like it was shorting out just from the memory.
“No. Fuck, no,” Raider whispered desperately when his body stumbled to an abrupt stop. He pressed the heel of his palms to his eyelids until they flashed dark red and throbbed, but the image wouldn’t fade. Raider screamed inside his mind but his body refused to move. The vividly flashing gem blocked out the sweltering landscape and reality began to slip away.
Raider could see every unique glint. The jewel was pearlescent and blinding, as if a star had been crushed and cast into one beautiful, perfect gem. He wanted it. He needed it. He needed to go back…
Deep, masculine laughter reached his ears, and something inside him jolted. Raider snapped his head up and turned back to stare in horror.
A group of teenage boys not much younger than him strolled casually down the sidewalk. They were caramel skinned with dark hair and lean muscle, and were dressed in an array of colorful t-shirts and jeans. With a fanged smirk, one teen snickered and jokingly shoved another, and the rest jumped back to keep from being knocked over.
Their howls of laughter sent Raider’s heart stuttering as he recognized the coyote shifters. They found him. After all his running, they fucking found him.
Aaron glanced up and froze mid laugh when he caught sight of Raider up ahead. The tattooed twenty year old was heaving for breath, dripping in sweat, and his eyes were wild and full of terror as he stared at them. “Guys,” Aaron whispered. The tone of his voice had all his cousins falling silent, and they turned his way.
Five sets of eyes locked on him, and Raider took a stumbling step back. He anxiously gauged the distance between him and the pack of coyote shifters. It was seven car lengths, tops. Raider knew he was fast, but he had his limits. He’d been running for what felt like hours, and the coyotes were fresh, calm, and made for endurance.
No. He wasn’t going to die. He wasn’t going to give up and let himself die. He just needed to find a place to hide and he’d be safe.
Aaron’s nostrils flared when he picked up Raider’s fear scent on the air. “What is he…?”
Raider’s inner animal reared up, and he turned and scrambled. His sneakers slammed on the pavement as he took of sprinting in the direction of undeveloped land and dry desert.
“What? Raider, what the fuck, man? We’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Aaron shouted uselessly at Raider’s retreating back. “Holy shit.” With a growl, he pulled his cell phone from the back pocket of his jeans and thumbed it on.
“What’s his deal?” Jaxon’s eyes narrowed as he watched Raider leap over a curb like his life depended on it. “He’s acting like we’re going to beat the shit out of him.”
Aaron shook his head in frustration. “I don’t know, but his uncle has been looking everywhere for him since he took off from the museum. Something about the anti-shifter badges and cops.” He dialed a number one handed while shielding his eyes and looking for a street sign. “We better follow him before he gets himself killed. I think the spaz has finally lost his shit.”