Home > Living Nightmare (Sentinel Wars #4)

Living Nightmare (Sentinel Wars #4)
Author: Shannon K. Butcher

Chapter 1

Omaha, Nebraska, March 3

Nika wasn’t crazy, and the only way to prove it was to dig up the bones lying inside her sister’s frozen grave.

The shovel bit into her palms, rubbing them raw. A cold gust of wind threatened to rip down the hood of her heavy coat and suck the precious heat from her skin. She turned her back to the wind and kept digging. There wasn’t time to crawl into the car she’d stolen and warm up. She had to finish this before the Sentinels found her and took her back to Dabyr.

Nika was now much stronger than she had been a few months ago when she’d barely been clinging to life, but with each pitiful half shovelful of dirt, she realized she wasn’t yet strong enough to be doing this. Not alone, and certainly not in the dead of night—the only time no one would be around to see her desecrating a grave.

It was dangerous to be here in the dark. She knew that, but she had no choice. No one would listen to the crazy girl without proof, and the bones lying six feet down were the only tangible evidence she could find that Tori was still alive.

Tori was out there. Nika could feel her baby sister’s presence inside her splintered mind, amidst all the other sinister, alien beings who shared the space. Tori wasn’t like she used to be—she wasn’t the sweet, innocent child the Synestryn had taken—but she was still Nika’s sister. She was still loved. She deserved the chance for freedom, no matter the cost to Nika.

Besides, if Nika could bring her home and stop the torture Tori endured, both their lives would be better. They were connected—though not as strongly as they’d once been—and Nika wondered sometimes how her sister had survived this long.

The night the Synestryn stole Tori, Nika had promised her she’d never leave her alone. Now, almost nine years later, she’d kept that promise despite the fact that it had nearly killed her more than once.

Tori was slipping away, and Nika had the feeling that her sister was doing it by choice, that she was pushing them apart for a reason Nika couldn’t understand.

Nika refused to give up on her. With or without help, she was going to find Tori and free her from her captors. Or die trying. That was definitely another alternative—perhaps the more likely one, given the way her muscles were already burning with fatigue.

If she couldn’t finish the simple job of digging a hole, how could she possibly execute a rescue mission?

After an hour of digging, she’d barely made a dent in the frozen soil. At this rate, she’d still be here come daybreak, when the authorities could see her and drag her to the closest hospital’s mental ward. She couldn’t go back there. Eight years of being restrained and questioned and tortured by doctors with fake smiles and dead eyes was more than she could stand. If she had to go back to that life, she really would be crazy.

And even if that was not where she ended up—if she went back to Dabyr—the chances of escaping the watchful eyes of the Sentinels again were slim. She was going to have only one shot at this—one shot to prove that Tori was still alive and needed to be rescued.

Time to dig faster.

The shovel slipped in her weak grip, scraping off a layer of skin. She should have brought gloves, but hadn’t thought that far ahead. Remembering a shovel had been foremost in her mind, consuming the small space she had left for rational thought.

She’d also forgotten money and food. She had no idea how she’d get back home—the gas tank was nearly empty. She had left her cell phone at home so they couldn’t use it to track her and find her before she was done. Anything that happened after she’d collected the stranger’s bones seemed distant and unimportant.

A tugging pressure pulled at her mind. Nika froze instantly, fighting it. The shovel fell from her frozen fingers. She clutched her head, knowing it would do no good.

She didn’t want to go there tonight. She didn’t want to be pulled into the mind of a monster to hunt and kill and feed. She had too much work to do.

An eerie howl vibrated the base of her skull, and it was all she could do not to lift her chin and howl along with the creature. Her own vision winked out and was replaced by another’s.

Tall, frozen grass parted along her muzzle as she hunted for her prey. The warmth of food glowed bright in the darkness ahead. Hunger roared inside Nika’s mind. The remembered taste of blood made her mouth water.

She struggled to pull from the sgath’s mind before witnessing its kill, but this one was strong. It liked having her with it. It liked knowing she didn’t want to be here, that she suffered.

Nika gritted her teeth and stopped trying to fight its pull. Instead, she focused on the feel of its limbs, the cold earth against the pads of its paws. Wind ruffled its fur, but it was warm, even in the cold.

Not for long.

She took the chill of her own body, the weakness of her own limbs, and forced those feelings into the sgath. The beast stopped moving and a low growl reverberated through it as it fought her. It didn’t like what she was doing to it. It didn’t like the cold.

A throbbing filled her skull as she fought the sgath. She whispered to it that it was too tired to hunt. Too cold. It needed to sleep.

The sgath roared into the darkness and thrust Nika from its mind, shutting her out.

She landed on her butt, hitting the pitiful mound of frozen dirt she’d managed to scratch from Tori’s false grave. Fatigue kept her glued to the spot as she tried to catch her breath. Her chest burned as the cold air filled her lungs over and over again, coming out in silvery plumes. Her body trembled with cold and weariness.

How could she keep going? How was she going to dig all the way down and open the casket lying below? Why had she thought she could do this alone?

Why had Madoc abandoned her? She hadn’t seen him in seven months.

Her older sister, Andra, said the distance was for the best—that he was too angry and dangerous for her to be around him. Everyone seemed to be blind to the truth: He was in pain and he needed her to make it stop. It was glaringly obvious to her, but no one else seemed to see it.

And that, in a nutshell, was the story of her life. She saw things no one else did, and no one believed her when she told them about these things.

All that was going to change as soon as she had the bones. The Sanguinar would be able to tell they weren’t Tori’s, and if they couldn’t, DNA tests would. One way or another, she was going to make the people around her listen.

If she lived through the night.

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