Prologue - F I R E
Orontes pounded his fist into the van’s steering wheel. He would find Estelle, and he would kill the Sachael she loved.
He stared at the house in front of him, the skyline of Ravenscar reflecting in its windows, his own eyes alternating between glossy and glazed, narrow and focused. None of this should have happened.
He was missing something, some part of the bigger picture. Estelle was definitely a Sachael—of that, he was sure—but he still needed evidence in order to convince Lilith. It mattered that others believed him—he wasn’t crazy. He knew the truth.
Narrowing his eyes at the small croft house, her house, he gripped the steering wheel harder, his knuckles white with tension. Anger rolled beneath his skin and heat flushed through his body. He removed his hands from their tight grip of the steering wheel and cracked his knuckles one by one. The one day he had needed to leave The Sect, place her in the care of others, she’d managed to escape. To ruin everything.
But his son wasn’t the only person who would die today. The other members of The Sect, the cowards who had deserted Pactolus on the beach this morning, would be dead as soon as he returned to the organization’s headquarters. He rubbed the venom bullet bracelet around his wrist. Oh, how they’d suffer—just as his son did. If they had any sense, they would have left, gone into hiding, live in fear of the day he would find and kill them—and he would, eventually. He’d find each and every one of them. But there were other people to find first.
The shrill, melodic ring of his phone disturbed the silence, but he ignored the noise emanating from his pocket. He was in no mood to talk to anyone, not after the last call he’d received, alerting him to Estelle’s escape and Pactolus’s death.
Thankfully, the ringing stopped, but only for a few seconds. Feeling the vibrations of the phone against his thigh, he growled and hastily grabbed the small metal contraption. He checked the screen to see who was calling.
Screwing his eyes shut, he ignored the call, but his thoughts centered on the woman he’d saved all those years ago. He needed to see her. He wasn’t with her when she was told of Pactolus’s death. How was she coping with the news? He didn’t think she’d care about Estelle’s escape; she’d never wanted her caught in the first place. But their son was dead, torn apart by a group of Sachaels on the beach. Sachaels. His hate for them intensified. This had become personal. How dare they kill his own flesh and blood? Snarling, he gazed, unfocused, through the windscreen. He wouldn’t rest until he’d found the Sachaels responsible and dealt with them in his own special way.
His punched the steering wheel again and threw his head backward onto the headrest. Estelle. Did she have anything to do with Pactolus’s death? A sly smile crept across his lips. He wouldn’t be surprised if she was responsible—killed him even. He’d witnessed how much stronger she had become each time he visited her. She’d stood up to him, unlike others, who cowered whenever he was near. Many were fearful of his size, anger, and strength. He pictured her in his mind, as he always did, with loose curls framing her face, her jewel-blue eyes fixed with a determined expression as she questioned him. He’d loved their dance of words, the way she pushed his buttons. He’d enjoyed teasing her, predicting her reactions. As he pulled his hand across his face, his fingers lingered on his lips, remembering the time she had responded to his kiss. He would never forget that moment.
“Oh, Estelle,” he whispered. “You may have escaped this time, but it won’t happen again.” It was a promise to the smiling vision in his head.
There was nothing he could do to alter the events of the morning. All of his plans, his intentions to take Estelle away when he returned, had unraveled so easily. Could nothing run smoothly when he wasn’t there?
Focus, he needed to focus.
He would sort this, would plan every last detail. It only made him more determined.
The next time he went after the Sachaels, he would be better prepared—he wouldn’t need to be close to them to inject the venom, he would fire a bullet from the gun he’d invented. It had taken months of design, and many more of experimentation. But the gun meant many things—increased power, greater speed, accuracy, and the ability to kill many Sachaels quickly.
He’d spent enough time at the beach. He should have gone straight to The Sect’s headquarters, but he’d needed to see the place his son was murdered and close this chapter of missed opportunities. Stepping from the van, he took a deep breath. Ravenscar held many memories for him. It was where he first saw Lilith all those years ago. Where he’d spied on Estelle and her father—witnessed her grow into the woman he now wanted.
Unfortunately, the place now held an unpleasant reminder as well.
Orontes slammed the van door shut, the action so forceful that the vehicle shook. He strolled casually to the back of the van before unlocking the doors. Grabbing the full can of petrol and a handful of rags, he focused on the task at hand. The lighter was already in his pocket.
Walking to the house, he cautiously scanned the surrounding area, searching for any potential witnesses. The last thing he needed was interference from nosey passersby.
Taking a deep breath, he lingered in the doorway. He stepped back a few paces and charged, shoulder first. The door crashed inward, slamming into the wall. He strolled into her house and systematically worked through the interior, splashing the obnoxious-smelling liquid onto the floor and furniture. Entering her bedroom, he glanced at the rumpled sheets on her bed and smirked. He’d lost count of the numerous times he’d envisioned her soft, young body rolling around in a bed. And she was always with him, their limbs entwined as he showed her what a loving man he could be.
A growl developed in his throat as his gaze wandered across the bed and onto her nightstand. The shell. The shell the Sachael had left her—the Sachael who had ruined all his plans. Without hesitation, he picked it up and threw it against the wall. The fragments scattered on the floor, and he laughed. The sound was hollow, empty. There was nothing funny about this, nothing at all. He took another deep breath, drawing in her lingering scent. This was the first and last time he would sense her presence here. When he left, he’d not be able to return.
Like a thief with limited time, he pulled open her bedside table drawers. He found nothing of any use to him in his quest to prove what she was. Just some trinkets, some bits of fabric, and the pictures sitting on top of the table. He glanced at each framed photograph before selecting the one he would keep. The visions of Estelle in his head were crisp and fresh, but he knew that they would fade with time. This photograph would be a constant reminder of what he had lost, of what he would never give up searching for. He broke the glass in the metal frame and ripped the photo from its surrounding. He ran his finger along the face of the woman it depicted—Estelle. He tore the picture in half, severing her from her father, and placed the photo in his back pocket. Rummaging through her bedside table again, he pulled out a colorful patterned scarf and held it to his nose. Closing his eyes, he stood still for several seconds, breathing in her unmistakable scent. Once again, his mind wandered, his memories fresh, clear, and as beautiful as the sun rising in the morning. Her voice called in his head.
Turning sharply, he expected to see her at the door. She wasn’t, of course she wasn’t, but the action snapped him from his reverie nevertheless. He picked up the full can of petrol and splashed the liquid onto the floor and furniture. Walking backward, he moved outside.
He took another glance around, looking for movement in the distance. Satisfied that there was no one to witness his act, he reached for the lighter in his pocket and ignited the rags. A line of fire snaked its way to the house, not halting, not pausing, not caring. The smell of petrol permeated the breeze, overpowering and acrid. Orontes took several steps back, unable to tear his eyes from the open doorway of the house.
Within seconds, the house was alive with orange, dancing flames. As they spread through the interior, they engulfed everything, the fire spitting and roaring like a hungry wild animal. Orontes’s skin prickled with the scorching heat, but he watched, hypnotized by the ferocity of the inferno.
Even though he would have been content to stay and ensure the building burned to the ground, he couldn’t. Above the roar of the fire, he heard his phone ring again. Cursing the disturbance, he pulled it from his pocket, wishing he had thrown it from the window earlier. He viewed the screen—Lilith again. This time, the letters lit against a reflected backdrop of burning building. He canceled the call before jumping back into the van.
He needed to see her, ensure she wouldn’t do anything stupid. She wasn’t the frightened seventeen-year-old he’d first met anymore, and he knew her love for Pactolus was never as strong as the love she felt for her first child. She denied it, just as she denied her true feelings for the Sachael who stole him from her. But she was a vulnerable person, strong in many ways, but weak with her endless love for a man who had treated her appallingly.
“She’ll be fine. She always is,” he muttered to himself, more from hope than anything else. He turned the key to start the engine.
The van roared to life, and he steered it away from the cliff top. Without glancing back, he drove up the steep dirt track to the country lane. Peak Hall was on his left, a hotel now, no longer Lilith’s family home. In his head, he still heard her bombastic father’s voice. Orontes sneered when he remembered the same man, begging for his life several months later. Such a pity he threw himself from the top of the cliff on that bright, sunny afternoon, a desperate cry for help as Lilith turned eighteen.
Such a pity he didn’t cope with his daughter growing up.
Such good fortune that Lilith had inherited everything.
He would not be beaten—not by the Sachaels, not by Lilith’s father, not by anyone.
Eyes fixed forward, he drove fast.
When he arrived at the Sect’s headquarters, the imposing building appeared normal. He parked the van outside the main doors before rushing into the building.
“Where is she?” he shouted into an empty hallway. An unexpected chill ran through his body, and he shivered. There was no one to see, but he had still expected an answer. His bare feet thudded across the wooden floor as he made his way to the bottom of the stairs. “Lilith!”
It was strangely quiet, and, as he placed his foot on the first step, prepared to go upstairs to her room, he knew the cold feeling sweeping through his body, reaching every nerve ending, had nothing to do with his surroundings. It was because Estelle wasn’t there. He was used to feeling her presence, even when she’d been locked in her room and he was in his; he couldn’t shake her influence on him—the hold she had.
“Lilith!” he shouted again, ignoring the chill. Instead, he concentrated on Michael’s betrayal, and the slow way he would torture him for his part in Estelle’s escape, in the murder of his son. Another man to add to his list—a list that was growing longer by the minute.
There was still no answer to his call. He turned into the hallway before making his way to the office at the end of the corridor. He wanted Michael’s personnel file. He suspected the traitor would return home, even if it was only for a day or two. His downturned mouth turned into a snide sneer when he envisioned Michael’s surprise at his arrival. He’d make sure he got there first, was there to greet him.
Polished wooden floors, dim wall lights, and the smell of old leather assaulted his senses as he strode into the office. The smell made his stomach wrench. It overpowered the scent of his body, the reminder that he was a man from the sea. Living on land was no substitute for his true existence.
Lilith was sitting on the floor, leaning against the side of a filing cabinet. She was crying, but at least she was alive.
“What are you doing?” he asked, his voice soft as he stepped toward her, avoiding several crumpled pieces of paper strewn about her outstretched legs. Her eyes were fixed on the sheet of paper held in her shaking hand—one with a photograph of Michael clipped to it.
Orontes glanced at the other scrunched balls, picking a few up to read. They all referred to Michael. Lilith had found the records before him.
“They said he was with them,” Lilith whispered. “He helped her escape. He watched as they killed Pactolus.”
Orontes crouched in front of her, concerned at her blank, level emotions. “I’ll find him. I’ll make sure he suffers for what he did.”
Lilith continued staring blindly at the floor, not lifting her gaze. “I trusted him.”
“I’ve told you before. You shouldn’t trust anyone.”
She nodded, although the gesture was slight.
He took the piece of paper from her hand, strode toward the desk, and quickly read through the detailed information.
Name: Michael Irvine
Current age: 22
Home Address: Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney Islands
Father: Mitch (Deceased)
Driving License: Clean
Scanning the rest of the information, he huffed. He hoped there were only a few houses on the small island of Hoy. He wasn’t keen on traveling so far north—it wasn’t safe. Sachaels weren’t the only creatures in the water up there.
Placing the single sheet of paper on his desk, he turned to Lilith. The wetness of her tears still lingered around her eyes. While he wanted to offer her comfort, he didn’t know how affection would be received. He’d distanced himself from her since Estelle’s arrival and was certain she’d noticed.
Lilith slowly stood, wiping her face with the back of her hands. “I didn’t know if you’d come back.”
Not missing the cold edge to her words, he frowned at her. “Of course I would. Why wouldn’t I?”
“She’s gone. You had no reason to return.” Her voice was stronger, determined.
He snarled, not needing to be reminded that Estelle wasn’t here. The powerful warmth, the calmness, had disappeared.
“Did you hear me?” Lilith snapped. “I said she’s gone. You didn’t need to come back.”
“I heard you,” Orontes retorted. “But I didn’t come back for her, did I? I came for you. Just like I always do.”
“If you weren’t so obsessed with her, none of this would have happened!” she shouted, striding toward him. “Pactolus would still be alive. This is your fault. I told you there was no need to bring her here—that your theories were ridiculous. We could have caught the Sachael without this happening.”
“I still believe the girl is a Sachael.”
“They don’t exist. You know that. All the time she was here, you managed to prove what, exactly?” She sneered, turning her back on him and facing the window.
Orontes sighed, not wanting to argue with her, not now.
“Then you really shouldn’t have gone along with my plans, should you?” he reasoned.
“I was humoring you, as I always do.” She spun to face him, her arms folded across her chest.
He caught the sarcasm in her voice.
“Yes. No one else would put up with your numerous obsessions. The octopuses, the bullets. The other women.”
Her voice cracked as she spoke, but Orontes would never confirm her thoughts. Lilith was a separate part of his life. What he did away from here was none of her business.
“Other women?” he asked, raising his brow, feining surprise at her question.
“Yes. Don’t deny it. I know you go to see them when you disappear from here.”
Orontes smirked, not denying her accusation, but not confirming it either. “I hardly think that’s fair, Lilith, do you?”
“Fair?” She dropped her arms to her side and surveyed Orontes with a frown.
“You say I have other women, yet you have only ever loved one man. I never stood a chance against him—a memory.”
Lilith glared at Orontes. “I tried!” she shouted. “I tried to love you.”
“Tried?” His voice was loud, his anger matching that of Lilith’s. They’d been here so many times before. But all they did was hurt each other with their accusations.
Even though she was significantly smaller than Orontes, she stepped up to him. “I can’t cope with the competition any longer. I don’t want to compete for your attention. Not now. You’ll go again, leave me. Only this time, you’re chasing a girl who’s young enough to be your daughter.” Her words were spat at him before she turned away, her shoulders rising and falling quickly.
Orontes wanted to tell her she was wrong, but he couldn’t. He was already planning to leave. He wanted to find Michael, ask him a few questions before he killed him. Then he’d find Estelle.
“I need to find Michael,” he said firmly.
“Because you think he’ll lead you to her.” She was distant, detaching herself from the situation. It was something she always did. Protected her heart when she thought it about to break. Her vulnerability reminded him of the seventeen-year-old he’d fallen in love with all those years ago, and he rushed to her as she turned around.
He cupped her cheek in his hand. “Not because he’ll lead me to her. But because I hope he will lead me to the Sachael responsible for killing our son.”
Pulling her into his arms, he sighed heavily. He hated their arguments, hated the cruel words that sprang from both of them. This was not the time to fight. As she relaxed into his comforting hold, he held her tight.
“I’ll find him, Lilith. I promise, I’ll find him.”
Lilith sniffed. “I told you what they did to Pactolus. How they tore him limb from limb. Why?” she asked, turning the focus of the conversation away from Estelle, from his suspicions of what she was.
Orontes shrugged. He had witnessed the way Sachaels killed his kind. Their army was known for its brutality.
“Did the other members not help him?” he asked.
“No.” The word was muffled, spoken into the salty, cold, musky smell of his t-shirt as she grasped a handful of the cotton material, clinging to him.
“Petrol?” she questioned, not moving, keeping her body close to his.
“Hmmm . . . I had some loose ends to tie up.”
“Nothing for you to worry about,” he said, reluctant to discuss the subject any further. There was no way he would tell her what he had done. It didn’t concern her. “Have the cowards who were on the beach gone, or are they still here?”
“They’ve gone,” Lilith said with certainty.
“Good.” Orontes patted her shoulder. At least he wouldn’t need to waste time dealing with them before he left. They could wait, wondering when he’d turn up. They’d always be looking behind them, running in fear of their miserable lives. He’d catch up with them at some point.
“I didn’t tell you . . . the lab,” Lilith whispered, as if fearful of his reaction.
“The lab? Why? What’s happened?” He was already pushing her away, her tight hold faltering.
“The octopuses. They’re dead.”
He was sure he saw her smile as he turned away, but dismissed it. She called to him as he charged from the room, but he didn’t turn around.
Storming along the corridor, heading toward the back of the building, he fought the rage that was building, threatening to overpower him. As he swung open the heavy white doors, his anger exploded.
“What the hell happened to them?” he demanded. The ten large tanks, each one containing twelve Blue Ringed Octopuses, were not empty, but filled with the floating, lifeless forms of his pets. They drifted on the water’s surface, eerily bathed in the artificial glow from the fluorescent lights.
The two men in the laboratory didn’t answer him, too afraid to meet his eyes. One of them glanced at the log book he was writing in, the other continued taking stock in the room where the venom was stored.
“I asked what happened?” he repeated, glaring at the man writing.
“I . . . I don’t . . .”
Orontes snarled, striding to the nearest tank and gently tapping his fingers on the glass. Nothing happened. The octopuses’ usual reaction was to scurry and hide between the rocks and sand at the bottom of the tank. They didn’t move. Shaking his head in disbelief, he systematically walked to each tank, repeating his action. He waited for a few seconds each time for any sign of movement, hoping at least one of them was alive.
He lingered over the last tank, sniffing the air above it. Moving his face closer to the water, he drew in a deep breath.
“Bleach,” he murmured, and then, as if to confirm it to himself and the men in the room who were ignoring him, he repeated the word louder. “Bleach! They were killed with bleach.” Spinning on the spot, he glared at the man who had attempted to answer him earlier. “Did you see Michael wandering around with the container in his hand? Did you see him pour it into the tanks?”
“No,” he answered, his voice shaking.
“And why wasn’t he stopped? He wasn’t allowed in here.” Orontes paced the laboratory, convinced this was Michael’s doing. “Is the venom contaminated?” he asked the man in the store room.
“No, the vials I’ve checked are clean.”
Orontes glanced at the tanks again before marching from the room. Long, heavy steps took him upstairs and to the left of the building—the rooms where the men he trusted would be. This whole tragedy wouldn’t have happened if he’d stayed. Michael wouldn’t have dared to take Estelle to the beach without him. He didn’t understand why nobody had stopped him. No one had questioned him. Not even Pactolus.
“Stupid half-bred idiot,” he growled.
Eight familiar faces turned to him as he opened the door to the game room. The television immediately switched off, and the two men playing pool stopped their game. These men were the ones who had returned this morning after the phone call from Lilith. They were Oceanids.
“Ten minutes, and we’re leaving,” he informed them.
“Yes. We’ll be in the water.”
“But you’re not allowed in the water. Hebrus banned you.”
“And you think he will stop me?” Orontes snapped. “You can stay here if you want, but you’d better not be here when I return.”
What did it matter whether he was banned or not? Orontes didn’t care for Hebrus’s rule. He never followed it; although, this time, he would be in the water for considerably longer than the quick swims he occasionally went for. He smirked. Hebrus would never stop him. He’d never even know.
“Where are we going this time?” another man asked, already jumping to his feet, ready to leave.
Orontes fought a smile, confident with what would greet him when he arrived.
“The Orkneys,” he growled. “I need to visit Michael.”