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“I’m strong enough to fade because of you, Grace. Now, go.” And just like that, Mekhi’s gone, fading into the forest.

“Let’s go,” Flint says grimly, and then he’s shifting back into his dragon form. I shift back to human at the same time, and now, Jaxon doesn’t wait for me to climb on under my own power. Instead, he all but throws me on top of Flint and climbs on right behind me.

Next to us, Xavier and Macy are climbing onto Eden.

And then we’re off—bruised, bloodied, battered, but not broken (yet)—in search of a monster that absolutely no one has ever been able to kill.

Piece. Of. Cake.


Fly by Night

“We have a problem,” I tell Jaxon about ten minutes into our flight.

“I know,” he agrees but then doesn’t say anything else. Nothing at all, even though I wait several more minutes.

“Are we going to talk about the problem?” I finally ask, not because I’m trying to be obnoxious but because I really think we need time to plan. And yes, we’ve got a couple-hours flight ahead of us, but who knows how long it’s going to take to figure out what we’re going to do now that our plan is down a person. And not just anyone—one of the most important people, considering Mekhi’s power is hypnotism.

“You could still turn back, you know,” Hudson says quietly in the corner of my mind.

You know he won’t listen. So if you aren’t willing to help, just go back to sulking and let me figure out what to do.

“I wasn’t sulking earlier,” he tells me, then seems to think better of it. “Okay, yes, I was sulking, but I’m over it.”

Glad to hear it. But seriously, any suggestions on how we can do this now that we’re down to six people?

“Besides turning around?”

I purse my lips at him in annoyance. Yes. Besides that.

“Well then, I go back to my idea from the other day, which is to tell you not to try to kill the beast.”

I already told you we’re not going home.

“I’m not saying you need to go home. I’m talking about going in there and attempting to have a conversation with the Unkillable Beast before you try to kill it…and lose.”

You don’t know that we’ll lose, I tell him.

“Oh, you’re all going to die a most horrible death. You really think six high school students, no matter how powerful they are, are going to just waltz into a cave and defeat a beast that lore claims people have been trying to kill for two thousand years?” He laughs in my head, but there’s very little humor in the sound.

Well, what are we supposed to do? We need this heartstone it’s apparently protecting. How else are we going to get it if we don’t kill it?

“Honestly? I don’t know.” He shakes his head. “But I do know that going in, powers blazing, is only going to piss it off. And I don’t want to see that happen—to any of you.”

And going in with our hands up isn’t going to get us killed, too? I shake my head.

“I don’t know. But I do know not every monster is what they seem.”

His words hit home, probably because I know he’s not just talking about the Unkillable Beast.

I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to believe. I sure as hell don’t know if he’s right. We aren’t even sure if this monster can communicate. And what if the time it takes to try to reason with it is all it needs to kill my friends?

My cell phone goes off in the middle of my mental debate, and it’s Macy texting me, because obviously she and Xavier are having the same conversation that Hudson and I are having—and that Jaxon is currently avoiding.

Macy: Any ideas?

Me: None

Macy: Yeah. Us either

“You know I have a dozen other ideas, too, right? Virtually any idea I come up with will be better than my brother’s plan to just go in, guns blazing, and kill a monster with ‘unkillable’ literally in its name.”

He accompanies his last statement with a massive eye roll and I can’t help taunting him a little. Careful, you keep rolling your eyes like that and they’re going to get stuck that way.

He snorts. “I should be so lucky. At least then everyone will know how I really feel.”

I laugh despite myself. You’re what my mother would have called a “piece of work,” you know that?

“Yeah? Because you’re what my mom calls ‘dangerous.’”

I think back to my meeting with the vampire queen and answer, I’m pretty sure your mother doesn’t think there’s anything dangerous about me.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” he tells me. “Both my parents are terrified of you. If they weren’t, they’d be back in jolly old London right now.”

Before I can ask what he means by that, Macy texts me again.

Macy: X says we need a new plan

Me: No shit

Macy: How do we get into the cave?

Macy: If Mekhi isn’t around to hypnotize it, how do we distract it?

Me: Get a banjo and dance the hula?

Macy: You aren’t Timon or Pumbaa and this isn’t the Lion King.

She follows it with an eye-roll emoji.

Me: I know that. I meant YOU

Macy: I’m not Timon either. And I’m sure as shit not Pumbaa

Now it’s a string of eye-roll emojis, which makes me laugh. If Macy and Hudson are rolling their eyes at me like that, then I must really be on a roll tonight.

I start to say as much to Hudson, but Jaxon finally stirs behind me.

“We need to set a trap,” he says.

“What do you mean, a trap? Like a bear trap?”

“Something a little less gruesome, hopefully,” he answers. “But don’t you think that’s our best bet? Home-turf advantage is a real thing. You never attack on your opponent’s home turf if you can avoid it, because it’s the territory they’re most familiar with and therefore most able to defend.”

“And also because it’s the territory they’re most likely willing to die to defend,” I add, thinking back on everything I’ve learned in history class through the years.

“Exactly. Now, we don’t have the time or the resources to lure the monster off its island—so that’s out. But we can lure it out of its comfort zone, away from its cave or wherever it’s living.” He pauses, and I can practically hear the wheels turning in his brain as he continues to plot.

Suddenly, I feel bad about turning to Hudson earlier when I thought Jaxon just wasn’t going to engage with the situation. I should have known better—no matter what he says or does, Jaxon has always made my safety and everyone else’s a priority from day one. And that includes making sure we have the best shot he can give us against an unkillable monster.

“When we had Mekhi,” he continues, “it was okay to take it at its home because we could manipulate the odds with Mekhi’s ability to hypnotize, but with him gone…it’s just too risky.”

He shakes his head, then focuses on me instead of the horizon. “What do you think?

“I think it looks like baby brother is finally starting to use his brain for once,” Hudson comments. “I’m impressed.”

I ignore the sarcasm of that last comment and focus instead on the realization that I have the two most powerful vampires of my generation currently focused on solving the same problem at the same time. Surely that’s enough to get something important done.

“I think it sounds like the beginning of a plan,” I say as I text Macy what’s going on so she and Xavier can get in on the planning session. “So what do you think we should do first?”

“Hopefully not die,” Hudson replies, and I have to admit, he’s summed it up nicely.


With Baited Breath

We finally arrive at the island and realize it’s not an island as much as a volcano, partially sticking up out of the ocean. There is a huge crater at the top, but its craggy sides jut straight into the water. Which means, the monster must be inside the crater…and there’s nowhere to land except inside the enclosed space the beast calls home. I can’t help but shake the feeling this is about as ridiculous as fighting a tiger at a zoo—in his cage.

Flint and Eden circle the opening several times, but all we can see from this height, with the bottom of the crater hundreds of feet below the opening, is surprisingly dense forest areas and huge piles of boulders. But no Unkillable Beast.

A thought suddenly occurs to me. “Did any of the books or databases say how big this beast is supposed to be? Should we even be able to see it from the sky?”

Jaxon leans forward so I can hear him over the wind rushing past us. “The stories vary, but most of them say it is massive. Several stories high.”

“Then why can’t we see it?” An uneasiness creeps into my bones as we both stare down into the crater again and still see nothing but trees and rocks. Everything in me says it’s a very bad idea to land inside this crater. We need to turn around. Now.

“Let’s go ahead and land!” Jaxon shouts to Flint, and my stomach pitches as Flint swiftly moves in for a quick descent.

I start to beg Jaxon for us all to turn around and go home, but he squeezes my waist and says, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

I’ve never wanted to believe anyone more in my life.

By the time we touch down inside a clearing in the crater, it’s at least three o’clock in the morning, when everything is completely still and quiet. Normally, I like being the only one awake in the middle of the night—there’s something about the silence that usually speaks to my soul.

But here, on the Unkillable Beast’s island off the north coast of Siberia, the stillness just feels eerie, in the most disturbing way. I know it’s probably just me projecting my own fears on an innocent, nearly uninhabited island, but the truth is, from the moment Flint lands on the soft, moss-covered strip of land, I know something is very, very wrong. It’s like the island is speaking to me.