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Shades of Midnight (Chapter Twenty-nine)

Alex screamed.

Terror clenched her as the Ancient's glyph-covered legs contracted into a low crouch, amber eyes bathing Kade in awful light.

"Alex, get out of here."

She swallowed on a throat gone bone dry. "W-what?"

"Go!" Kade ordered her, his eyes rooted on the threat in front of him. "Get back in the plane, take off. Get as far away from this rock as you can. Go now!"

Fear poured through her veins, but her legs refused to move. She couldn't abandon Kade like this, no matter what he said. No matter what he faced. They would face it together. "I'm not leaving. I won't–"

"Damn it, Alex, go!" he snarled, reaching for one of the big semiautomatic pistols holstered under his parka.

He moved with a speed she could hardly follow. One second his hand was slipping into his unzipped coat, the next he was holding the gun in front of him, squeezing off a hail of several rounds. But the Ancient was faster, even than Kade.

He dodged the gunfire, and then his powerful legs pushed off the ground in a lunge that would have sent him crashing into Kade–should have, if not for the sudden blur of movement that was Hunter. The immense Gen One warrior careened into the Ancient from the ledge above, tumbling them both to the snowy ground in a confusion of tossing, rolling chaos.

They struggled together, nearly an even match in terms of strength and power, both of them fighting as though prepared to battle to the death.

Kade moved into the fray just as Hunter took a severe swipe to the base of his neck and shoulder. Blood spurted from his wound, which only seemed to make the Ancient grow more frenzied, its eyes wilder now, fangs elongating further. It reared its great head back and opened its jaws on a furious howl. Kade fired a shot, and instead of the Ancient striking again at Hunter, he had to spend precious effort dodging Kade's bullet.

Alex blinked, which was all the time it took for the Ancient to have his fingers wrapped around Kade's pistol. Metal crushed in his fist, then, using a power she could hardly fathom, the otherworlder flung Kade bodily through the air. He landed at the sheer edge of the cliff, his head split open on the rock, bleeding above the temple.

"Kade!" Alex cried, heart freezing to ice.

He tried to get up, but it was a clumsy, disoriented attempt. He slumped back down with a groan. One misstep and he would be lost.

"Kade! Oh, God–don't move!"

Snow swirled all around, the storm having worsened to near blizzard conditions since they'd landed. She could just make out Hunter's large shape as he came up off the ground to lunge at the Ancient again. On a vicious hiss, the creature wheeled around and thrust the big Gen One away from him. Then the Ancient began to prowl toward Kade at the edge of the cliff's steep drop. Alex's heart wanted to explode out of her breast as she inched her way nearer and nearer to her plane. She wasn't about to run, not even now. She was scared as hell, more than she'd ever been in her life, but she had to do something–for Kade, and for his brethren–no matter how insignificant her actions might prove to be against this threat.

be against this threat.

She grabbed the loaded rifle she kept in the back of the plane.

Raised it as the Ancient stalked closer to where Kade was now trying to drag himself up once more. She couldn't let the creature reach him.

Alex pulled the trigger.

The gunshot cracked like thunder in the snow-tossed darkness.

The Ancient hadn't seen it coming. His large hand was pressed to his chest, but blood seeped through his fingers.

The otherworlder curled his lip back and snarled. Then he started prowling forward again … no longer toward Kade, but toward her and Luna near the plane.

Alex heard the howl of wolves from somewhere close. So many voices. At least half a dozen or more. She heard them, and could almost hear the beat of their paws rising up through the bitter cold of the storm and the chilling terror of the situation playing out on the ledge.

Alex knew the wolves were near, but she hadn't been at all prepared for the sight of them, suddenly rushing up from the craggy slopes below. The pack charged en masse, leaping in tandem at the same target: the alien creature who roared with outrage as the eight predators attacked.

And as the wolves bit and tore and jumped at the Ancient, another adversary came over the ridge from below.

Seth.

Alex's breath caught as the Breed male who looked so much like Kade emerged out of the shadows and the swirling chaos of the storm. He didn't seem so much identical to Kade now as he did a mirror image–reversed somehow, as though he were the wilder, more dangerous half of the Breed male she loved. Seth's huge fangs gleamed as white as bone. His eyes threw off a feral amber light that seared like lasers. Alex swallowed as he gave her a brief, sidelong glance. She thought she saw an apology written in the stark expression on his face. Perhaps some measure of remorse.

But then, with a battle cry that made her blood run cold, he surged into a powerful leap and threw himself onto the Ancient.

They were too close to the edge of the cliff.

The forward momentum was too great to be stopped.

Alex's eyes flew wide when she realized what was about to happen. She squeezed them shut an instant later, as Seth and the Ancient careened over the ledge together.

—–"Seth!"

Kade shouted his brother's name, the cotton in his head from the blow he took having cleared instantly when he saw Seth locked in battle with the Ancient. Horror choked him not a second later, as they sailed past him at the cliff's edge and plummeted into the darkness.

There was a great rumbling that seemed to come from all around him, like the roll of thunder, only he felt it in the ground beneath him. Above him, too.

Then, the violent crack of ice and hard-packed snow giving way from the rocky crag overhead. The avalanche roared off the cliff, tons of crushing snow and ice, sweeping like a tidal wave past Kade's head and down, into the mountain's steep cleft below. A blinding, choking cloud of fine, powdery crystals rose up in its wake, chilling Kade's face and forcing him to look away from the snow-filled crevasse where the Ancient and his brother had fallen. Nothing could survive the suffocating weight of that much snow.

Kade felt soft hands coming around his shoulders, the warmth of Alex's body catching him in her embrace, holding him close. And behind them on the ledge, he heard the low sounds of voices. Hunter, Tegan, and Chase, a hush of murmured disbelief for everything that had just occurred.

"Kade," Alex whispered, her tone quiet and comforting. "Oh, God … Kade." All he wanted was to wrap his arms around her and accept the love she offered him now, but his heart cried out for his twin. The thought of losing his brother raked him; Seth's sacrifice was too difficult to process. Too terrible to be real.

Kade extracted himself from Alex's sheltering arms and scrabbled to the sheer edge of the cliff.

"Seth!" he yelled into the rocky void, straining to find even the slimmest thread of hope that his brother might not be dead.

And then … a dark, broken form, lying on a jagged outcrop about a hundred feet down. Moving only slightly, but alive.

slightly, but alive.

Hope soared in Kade's chest.

"Jesus Christ. It's him." He got to his feet. "Seth, hang on!" Alex gasped. "Kade, what are you doing? Kade, don't–" He stepped off the edge.

Alex's scream followed him as he dropped at a calculated leap, down into the cleft of rock. His booted feet came to a rest beside his brother. Kade crouched and swept the ice and snow away from Seth's battered face and body.

"Goddamn you, Seth." His voice cracked with a mix of relief and pain as he took in the extensive injuries that his brother had sustained in both the fight with the Ancient and the fall. Seth bled from multiple contusions on his head and limbs, but it was the vicious gash in his torso that concerned Kade the most. Regenerating from that kind of damage would be a challenge for the fittest Breed male, but for one in Seth's gaunt, emaciated condition? Shit. It didn't look good for him at all. Seth's eyes were closed, his body limp and broken. He was barely breathing, except for the thin rasp of air that wheezed out of his lungs when he parted his lips and tried to speak to Kade.

"G-go," he huffed out after a moment. "You can't … can't save me, brother." Kade exhaled a sharp curse. "Like hell I can't. I'm going to get you out of here."

"No. Leave me … I am dying. Already dead. You and I both know it."

"Not like this, brother," Kade ground out. "You will heal. I'll take you home to Father's Darkhaven, and you will recover from all of this."

"No," Seth murmured quietly. His eyes peeled open slowly on his pained hiss. "No, Kade. I won't." The sight of his twin's gaze almost made him glance away. The pupils were needle-thin, vertical slits bathed in bright amber. Seth's gaze was hot with anguish, a feral gaze. His fangs were still extended. The glyphs that were visible through large rips in his clothing were dark and pulsing with color, as though he starved for blood.

All the signs were there, but it killed Kade to recognize them.

From the time he'd last seen him, his brother had succumbed to Bloodlust. Seth was Rogue.

"There's no going back for me now," Seth murmured. "You tried to warn me …"

"Ah, fuck," Kade whispered. "Ah, damn it, Seth. No. No, this can't be." Seth sucked in a short gasp and a violent cough racked him. His body shuddered. His skin seemed to grow paler before Kade's eyes. "Let me go, brother. Please."

Kade shook his head. "I can't. You know that. I wouldn't have given up on you, not before … not now. You saved my life up there, Seth. Now, goddamn it, I'm gonna save yours." He turned his head and shouted up the cliff to Tegan and the others above. "I need some ropes. My brother's wounded. He can't make it up on his own. I'm going to need a harness to lift him back to the top." The warriors peered down at them, then vanished to carry out Kade's request. Then Alex's face appeared in their place, just the sight of her a haven to him, giving him a feeling of pure, honest love-something he'd needed more than anything in that moment. Seth's cracked, bloodied lips parted in a weak smile. "You're in love," he said, something wistful in his wheezing voice.

"Yeah," Kade replied. "Her name is Alexandra. I'm going to make her my mate, if she'll have me." Seth closed his eyes, gave a weak nod. "I would have liked to have met her."

"You will." Kade stared down at him, seeing a stillness washing over his broken body. "You have to hang on, Seth. Come on … open your eyes. Keep breathing, damn you!"

But Seth's eyes remained closed.

He breathed, but only one final time. His chest compressed with his last exhalation, and then he was gone.

Seth's pain was over.

Kade gathered his twin's ravaged body into his arms. He sat with him on the frozen ledge and gently rocked him, praying that Seth had finally found peace.

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