There it was. Right fucking there. I was so close.
The infamous Echelon 67.
Sitting outside on the perimeter, listening to the trees and brush sway and the birds chirping around me, it didn’t seem too foreboding. It looked like just a normal nature preserve, safe from urban development, people, and pollution. It seemed harmless, a serene escape, but I’d been told it was anything but. I chewed my lip, thinking over what I knew about it already.
Echelon 67 was a top-secret government facility or at least, that’s what the conspiracy theorists have been saying for years. It was rumored that countries from all over the world had operatives stationed here. A lot of the information circulating out there was conjecture and straight-up gossip, but it was my job to find out the truth.
One thing was for certain. This place was deadly.
There had been a handful of deaths, both men and women. The newspapers called them animal maulings, but I’d seen all the pictures. I knew even a bear couldn’t do damage like that. The people in the small towns surrounding the area blamed it on aliens, whispers of escapees bound to destroy the world. Some even believed a UFO crash landed a few hundred years ago or so and that the government had covered it up, using Echelon 67 to investigate the phenomenon. I hadn’t believed a word of it. I figured it was just some sort of military cover-up for some sort of human testing of some kind. I didn’t exactly know what, but I was going to find out.
A twig cracked in the distance and I jumped. I remained still for a long time, watching and waiting for anything more to happen, but it never did. Out there in the wilderness, I was strangely alone. Not a camera, soldier, or even a single drone reacting to my presence as I’d expected. It was oddly suspicious. Maybe this place wasn’t special at all.
I palmed the laser gun at my waist, a new Smith and Wesson model that had an automatic sight and built-in mini silencer, with almost zero kickback. Most journalists didn’t carry guns with them, but I did. I wasn’t taking any chances. The wind rustled the brush once again.
I took a deep shaky breath, gazing out into the wilderness. I couldn’t make any more guesses based on what I knew already. I had to know more. I had to get down to the bottom of the story and figure out exactly what was happening in Echelon 67. Alien cover-up or not. The world deserved to know the real story. We deserved to know if we were in danger and I was going to be the one to find out, the one to break the story.
The breeze picked up around me and I rose to my feet, my eyes searching along the thick metal wire fencing. It had taken some time to reach where I was and now the sun was beginning to drop in the sky. Fortunately, I’d found a hole in the electric fencing around the compound, probably cut by someone trying to break in years ago. I heard an automated hovercraft high overhead and ducked down, hoping my specially made body temperature-blocking clothing would hide me from any heat-sensing tech on board.
It passed by without pause and I sighed with relief. It must have worked.
Quickly, I ducked inside the thick brush, using the tree cover to shield me from view. I pulled my hat lower on my head, feeling the chill of the breeze around me. I shivered, not entirely sure if I was cold or just a little anxious. My heart pounded in my chest and my blood rushed through my veins, my nerves keeping me on edge. A branch cracked nearby, and I almost jumped out of my skin, but it just turned out to be a squirrel scurrying along the ground.
I sighed and shook my head.
Fuck. Get your head together, Cosima. Jesus.
I squinted into the distance, trying to find some semblance of a path that I could walk down, but found none. Pushing one branch after another aside, I wandered carefully into the woods. I felt like I walked for hours, but when I checked my comm, it had only been a half hour and I’d trekked about half a mile. I wasn’t anywhere near the center of the compound and the sun was already beginning to set in the mountains. I may have severely underestimated the journey into the area. I chewed my lip, looking nervously from side to side, ready to run at a moment’s notice, expecting an entire busload of soldiers to rush out at me at any second.
Just me, the squirrels, and the bugs in the woods.
And the potential human-murdering bears.
I rolled my eyes at my jumpiness and trudged onward, leaves and branches scratching against my camouflage khakis and tearing holes in my beige top. The temperature was beginning to drop, so I unpacked my dark jacket from my backpack and shrugged it on. I looked above and saw stars beginning to wink into the night sky, the moon hidden by the treetops. I knew night would come very soon, so I also dug out my night vision glasses. I pushed them up my nose and clicked on the power and was suddenly awash with light. The woods around me looked just like it was the middle of the day, it was so bright.
Hours more passed as I descended into the forest beneath the mountains, deeper in Echelon 67 than I’d ever thought I’d go. I reached the edge of a small clearing and peered inside, seeing a small domed building that kind of looked like a greenhouse or a conservatory, except from what I could see, there were no plants inside. The door looked to be slightly off its track, so I wandered closer, narrowing my eyes slightly trying to see anything that might put me on high alert.
Nothing moved. It was dead quiet. Not even the chirping of bugs bit through the air now. It was the type of quiet that screamed danger.
That should have been my first clue, but still, I trekked on.
I moved closer, tiptoeing toward the structure and still, nothing jumped out at me. I ventured one foot closer and then the next, before I reached the sliding door. I guessed that it was once activated by a retina scan, but it looked to be long broken. I gripped the door, pushed it a little to the side, and slipped into the small building.
My eyes drifted around me, clean white tile beneath my feet and tables that reminded me of many of the labs I used to work in. There was also what appeared to be an entrance to a stairway, as well as something that looked like a portal straight out of a science fiction movie.
Black and purple light glimmered in a round sphere and I ventured closer. I grabbed a piece of cardboard on the floor and walked as near as I dared, taking the sheet and pushing it partway into the portal. It pulled the cardboard in and at once, it disappeared.
Shit. That was cool.
I hadn’t known any technology like this had existed. I wondered where the portal would go, or if it was even safe, or if it would alert someone to the fact that I was here in this little building hidden deep in the woods. I chewed my lip, trying to decide what to do. My eyes slid to the stairs, and I elected to take them instead, figuring it was a safer and surer option. I took one stairwell down and then another until I reached a single door about three stories beneath the ground. It was slid partway open, the power cut off, so I edged inside. This part of the building seemed to be composed of high-powered, expensive scientific equipment. Sequencers and proteomics mass spectrometers lined the walls, as well as machines that I had no idea what their functions were. This was the dream laboratory of any scientist, that much I could tell.
Researchers around the world would kill for the use of some of this equipment.
There was an office off to the side of the room that I walked into next. Inside, I found an old-fashioned desk made out of recycled metal, smooth and definitely created in the style of desks one hundred years ago. I opened the drawers, noticing that the locks were electrical and long dead.
Whoever ran this laboratory before liked to read scientific literature on paper. Weird. I hadn’t seen anything like it in my lifetime. The world today was almost entirely electronic, dependent on holographic screens projected from wristbands and massive computerized touch screens. Everyone was connected at every minute of the day. There was no need for ancient technology like printers and paper.
I was surprised to see bundles of it in one of the drawers and one very thick folder on top. Manila. Extra weird.
‘Alienus Bestia’ was the label on the very front.
What the fuck did that mean?
When I flipped it open, I gasped at the contents. There were pictures printed out. What looked like a meteor impact location in the middle of the woods. Images of fire and destruction, but most important, the unmistakable shape of a deep crater and at the center, some sort of spacecraft. Not human. Like no technology I’ve ever seen on Earth before.
The printouts were dated. September 1, 2025.
My mouth dropped open. Holy shit. This couldn’t be real.
I flipped through more of the pictures, finding more figures and images of dead bodies that looked humanlike, only some of them were a coppery red color. It didn’t look like any human skin tone I’d seen before.
I found the abstract toward the top of the pile and began to read.
Over a hundred years ago, an alien ship crash-landed on Earth’s surface, in the northwestern corner of Washington State, bringing with them evidence of technology that human civilization has never seen the likes of before. Efforts are being made to study and harness this alien technology. No alien lifeforms survived the crash as it was later discovered that they could not harness Earth’s atmosphere for survival, but their genetic material endured.
I paused for a moment. Nothing like this had ever been recorded in any history book, in any news story. This was a monumental discovery. I swallowed my astonishment and continued reading.
Sperm, eggs, and stem cells were harvested and modified with human DNA. As a result, scientists were able to recreate a sustainable alien lifeform that can survive on Earth. A new species was created here on Earth for the very first time.
Holy fuck. I’d known something funky was going on here, but this was way more than I had anticipated.
It was discovered that Alienus Bestia exhibits superior strength and heightened sensory capabilities as compared to human controls. They also synthesize amplified levels of epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline, and can sustain high concentrations of the hormone for extended periods of time.
The paper continued on for pages. With a quick scan, I learned that efforts to harness the strength and power of the aliens had varying levels of success, with goals to use them for war efforts, for the creation of a special branch of the military. The grants funded by the military, governments from around the world and private industries. I had proof of everything right here.
Autopsies. Medical reports. Genetic sequencing. Everything.
I had the story of a lifetime in my hands.
The government was creating their very own line of super soldiers and humanity would have no defense against them. None.
My heart pounded with excitement. Then I heard the squeak of a boot scraping against tile. I froze.
The lights turned on and I gasped with fear. Suddenly, I heard yelling. Lots and lots of yelling coming from far down the hall, from where I’d come from.
I turned to hide, but by the time I scrambled under the desk, it was already too late. Someone grabbed me by the hair, hands curling around my ponytail and forcing me backwards. I yelped at the sudden pain and felt a gun pressed to the side of my head.
“Who the fuck are you?” a male voice sounded angrily. His tone was gruff, used to being obeyed, and I felt my stomach drop to my toes.
“I’m no one,” I answered shakily as my arms were wrenched behind my back. Something that felt like rope tied around my wrist, modern-day handcuffs that didn’t have a key or a way to escape. I knew how they worked, and I tried to breathe calmly. A single continuous strand, no ends. No way to get free unless my captor wanted to free me. I began to feel more terrified than ever.
I’d gotten into plenty of hairy situations before as a reporter, but never quite like this. The barrel of a gun had never been pressed to the side of my head. I’d never broken into a secret government compound before either, so there was that. I tried to think positively. I’d get out of this. I had to.
I stared into the face of a bearded man, outfitted in black combat gear. I realized then that I was surrounded. Another ten men stood with their guns pointed in my direction. Fuck.
They needed this kind of military power for a simple break-in? Insanity. I couldn’t even load my laser gun with enough power cartridges to kill them all, never mind the thick body armor they were wearing. It seemed they were overly prepared for the likes of me and I wondered if this was normal. Someone grabbed the gun from my holster though, shoving it aside so that I couldn’t even get to it. I heard the metal click and skid away and I felt my hope go with it.
Would they kill me? Ship me off to some top-secret prison, never to be seen again?
“You’re going to regret ever coming here, sugar,” the man said with a shake of his head. “Better off dead, I tell ya. You couldn’t have picked a worse possible time to go alien hunting than right now.”
What the hell did he mean?
Radios squawked around us.
“Second perimeter clear. No sign of Subject #574 or Subject #725. Consider armed and dangerous.”
“Subjects #696, #694, and #074 found dead.”
I tried to make sense of it, but I couldn’t. What did the numbers mean?
All around me a flurry of activity was taking place. I’d definitely walked in during the middle of something big, that much I could tell. Every single man’s expression consisted of collected calm, yet I saw fear behind their eyes. Everything about it screamed of some sort of danger. What was going on?
How was I going to get out of this? Would I even make it out alive?
The bearded soldier ripped the folder out of my hands and shook his head in annoyance.
“Wait! Give me that back,” I begged, but he ignored me with a shake of his head.
“Fucking Dr. Kapoeta, the old coot, always needing to print out his work. Only doctor we’ve ever had that insisted on owning one of those old-school printers. Should have burned everything after he died three weeks ago. Deputy Gordon. Plant an incinerator bomb in the office and take care of this mess. Make sure there’s nothing left,” the man in charge barked. One of the military operatives nodded and stayed behind as one of them pushed me forward toward the door.
My mind was whirling with questions as the soldiers led me out of the lab, up the stairs, and back out into the woods. They didn’t speak to me and I was too nervous to ask any more questions. They moved fast and silently, keeping formation the entire time. They loaded me up onto a flying hovercraft that quickly rose up high above the treetops and shot forward. In minutes, we arrived at the center of Echelon 67, where a much larger dome was waiting for us all. Behind us, a ball of flame exploded and rose up into the sky, the heat radiating out toward us. I shivered, feeling the warmth, and then I turned to look at the small dome I had explored. There wasn’t much to see in the night air other than fire, but I had a little time to focus on the loss of my evidence. All of my proof gone up in flames. Dammit. Now what would I do if I ever made it out of here?
When we landed outside the larger dome, I was roughly forced off the hovercraft and toward the building. I fought every step of the way, but I quickly realized I was fighting a losing battle.
As they led me inside, I saw something flash in the bushes. A pair of red eyes, like a blazing inferno, stared at me and I shivered with anxiety. For a long moment, I forgot to even breathe.
What was really going on here in Echelon 67?
I had very little time to think as they shoved me inside. White hallways opened up to large central rooms, including additional portals that shimmered with black and purple light. I chewed my lip and tried to shift my shoulders, already sore from being tied up with the rope. Every time I moved, the ropes grew tighter, like a Chinese finger trap. When I stopped struggling, the ropes relaxed, and I sighed in frustration.
I didn’t see any way out of this. I was screwed.
Crudely, the soldiers pushed me forward into a nearby doorway and I nearly fell into a chair at the center of the room. More soldiers shuffled in. More guns pointed in my direction and I started to feel more nervous by the second. I would be lucky to make it out of here alive. I sat there, trying to do my best to curl up into the smallest ball possible.
I’d figure my way out of this, sooner or later. Right?
“Unknown heat signature heading toward Dome Three,” one of the radios squawked. I looked around, noticing that everyone grew more tense with that pronouncement. Something cracked outside, and all the guns moved from me to the entryway of the room.
I sat in my chair, completely surrounded and more frightened than ever.
“Secure the dome. Units One and Two deploy to all entrances,” the bearded man commanded.
What the fuck was happening right now?
Something roared outside. Angry. Violent.
My stomach dropped to my toes. Everything inside me told me to run, instinct demanding that I escape. My anxiety at being shipped off to a jail of some kind vanished and suddenly I was infinitely more afraid of losing my life.
Some of the soldiers ventured out of the room in a triangular formation, leaving a small group in the room with me, surrounding me, but still I didn’t feel safe. I shivered, and the men shuffled tensely around me. They were scared too.
A gun popped outside. A man shouted a word of warning, only to be quickly cut off by a sickening gurgle sound. I hesitated to think about what that meant.
That’s when the gunfire really started. And the screaming. I’d never heard anything like it before and I could feel myself beginning to panic quietly inside. Men shrieked, the sound earsplitting and terrifying. Wet tearing sounds echoed in the dome and the soldiers still standing with me began to look more worried by the second.
Crunch. Rip. More screams.
I closed my eyes for a second before opening them again. Bile rose in the back of my throat. Images of the mutilated human bodies I’d seen before I came here passed through my mind and I struggled to keep my nausea in check. Oh, my god. Keep it together, Cosima. Think of how you’re going to get out of here.
“Subject #574 infiltrated Dome Three. Whereabouts of Subject #725 still unknown,” a terrified voice yelled over the radio before the sound clipped off with a shout.
Scratching. Shredding. Screaming. Agony.
The sounds of a man dying a horrific death echoed around us and I wanted to throw up.
This was turning into way more than I bargained for.
My terror rose in my chest, my heart pounding out of control. I found it hard to breathe as whatever creature was out there came closer, the sound of bare feet slapping against the tile, and I froze. A massive figure appeared the doorway. In the shadow, his skin appeared blood red. Bulging muscles twitched, larger than any I’d ever seen. He had to be at least eight feet tall. Red, glowing eyes stared into the room, like the ones I’d seen outside, and one of the soldiers took a step back in fear. It definitely wasn’t a fucking bear.
It was a beast.
No one said a thing. The radios were mute. In that silence, I felt only terror.
Like a cornered animal that knew it was about to die. I needed to run. I needed to hide.
The figure’s chest rose and fell, its breathing loud and terrifying.
The lights flickered, and his eyes found mine. And I finally got a good look at him.
The creature looked human, with a few traits that suggested some sort of unknown genetic engineering. Larger eyes, a more pronounced nose, ears that were angled slightly differently than mine were just some of the things I noticed. Maybe they were experimenting with the senses or enhancing them to some degree for military reasons.
There was little doubt in my mind that this was the Alienus Bestia that the scientific paper had alluded to. I trembled with fear. This was the creature created by science. A genetically engineered super soldier. I couldn’t help but notice he was completely naked too.
Standing before me, about eight feet tall and maybe three hundred fifty pounds of pure, unadulterated muscle, he was death personified.
My mouth opened in a silent scream. My hope fled at that exact same moment.
Guns popped off all around me. I watched with horror as not a single bullet punctured the creature’s skin, simply bouncing off onto the floor around him. The weapons the soldiers had were useless against him. One of his hands snaked back and covered the back of his neck. I would have thought it strange had I not been so focused on my own terrible fate.
I had a feeling I was about to die.
He sniffed the air, ignoring the pops of the guns and the still screaming soldiers in the room, only focusing on me. The lights flickered again, and he growled, smelling the aromas on the air once again.
He was detecting my scent. I had no doubt.
His face flicked toward me once more, focusing on me, and I whined with horror. Then he roared and burst forward, straight in my direction, only to run into one of the men guarding me.
He attacked the bearded man first, tearing his head off in a single, brutal motion. I watched in horror, unable to process what I had just seen. The man didn’t even have time to scream, but I did. My ears burned from the shrillness of my voice and my lungs burned.
Nothing overpowered the force of my fear in that moment.
Blood flowed in rivulets, stark against the white of the floor tile. One by one, the beast murdered the men around me, until it was only me a short time later. And only him. I couldn’t stop screaming and his terrifying, eager grin made my blood run ice cold. It had taken him far too little time to destroy the twenty men who had been on guard. He’d destroyed an entire unit of men and his breathing hadn’t even quickened.
The lights flickered on once more. He stared at me, his expression raw, visceral, and ravenous. A predator about to strike, and I was his prey. Adrenaline pumped through me and I shook from the danger. There was nowhere to run. I couldn’t even hope to escape.
His cock jutted straight toward me, a hard, huge club straining to get closer to me, to spear me in two. I struggled against my rope bonds, but I couldn’t escape as he bounded toward me, his movements more like a large cat than a man. I didn’t know if he wanted to kill me or rape me, but I didn’t want to stay and find out. I needed to run. Escape. Anything to avoid his attentions.
I prayed to every god I had ever heard of then.
He roared with what I could vaguely understand as excitement. Shit. I had to run, and I had to run right the fuck now.
I shot up out of the chair and tried to get away, but the beast caught me by the shoulders and slammed me back down to the floor. I yelled as pain tore through me, my wrists still tied behind my back by the rope. Then, my shoulders wrenched painfully as he flipped me on my stomach and slashed at my clothes. I cried out with horror and with agony as I heard the telltale ripping sound of my jacket tearing in two.
“No, don’t! Help! Someone. Please. Anyone!” I screamed, desperate for rescue by anyone, anything. I begged and pleaded, but there was no one there to hear me.
He growled in frustration at my bound wrists and grasped the rope, tearing it in a demonstration of strength and power that left me in a panic. He shouldn’t have been able to do that. My shoulders screamed in pain and within moments, he focused on my thin t-shirt and my pants, tearing my clothing apart with ease.
I tried to push up and fight back, but my hands slipped on the slick floor and I fell, knocking my chin on the floor. I choked on the metallic taste of blood in my mouth. I must have bitten my tongue. Struggling beneath him, I fought as he ripped my clothing off, piece by piece until I was left entirely naked beneath him.
He grunted with anger, clearly annoyed at my attempts to resist.
I kicked. I struggled. I slipped on the wet, blood-coated floor and I screamed for help, but I knew no one was coming. He gripped my hips, forcing me upward and spreading my legs, and I shrieked in horror. His fingers gripped into my flesh, hard, unyielding and I cried out in pain, his claws digging into my skin.
Horrified, I knew I didn’t have the strength to escape. He was too strong, too powerful, and too focused on rutting me like an animal.
The hot, slick head of his massive cock nudged against my entrance.
I squeezed my eyes shut in terror. This wasn’t happening.
Someone growled behind us, a terrifying rumbling that made my breath catch in my throat. My terror increased a hundred-fold.
There was another one. Another fucking alien creature come to destroy me.
The other one roared behind us and the creature holding me down froze. Then he laughed. He fucking laughed, before releasing me and rising to his feet.
I screeched in fear, almost forgetting to breathe.
I crawled away on my hands and knees, slipping along the pools of blood, until I was able to get to my feet. It was then I realized I still had my boots on. I backed away, watching as two of the beasts squared off.
Not one, but two of them.
Fear sliced through me like a knife.
Two of them. Skin colored like blood. Eight-foot-tall monsters ready to fight to the death over the right to abuse me. Spread my legs, hold me down, and fuck me like an animal. I shivered, trying to stay calm. Think, Cosima. Think. What now?
I pressed the back of my hand to my mouth, feeling lightheaded and more nauseous than ever. Strips of fabric hung off me, my clothing decimated. My naked ass pressed against the tiled wall, but I made no effort to cover myself.
What did it matter if I was only going to end up dead?
The two creatures circled around each other, legs tense with power. The one that had attacked me growled dangerously, and the other, who was slightly bigger, snarled back in turn. I swallowed nervously, looking for any way I could escape this, but finding none. The two of them blocked the only entrance to the room. I was trapped. I didn’t know what to do. What could I do?
My eyes searched my surroundings, looking for something, anything and that’s when I saw my trusty gun. I dove for it.
I took back my gun from off the floor near one of the dead soldiers, trying not to gag as I stared at bulging rib bones, cracked in half from the same animal that had tried to hold me down and rape me just moments before. I knew the gun was useless, but it made me feel better. I had to have something to protect myself. I lifted the gun, the sensor on it finding the nearest heat source and aiming automatically for me. My arms shook with fear and revulsion, trying to focus on anything but the massacre surrounding me.
I curled my finger around the trigger and froze.
The two alien beasts burst forward, tearing at each other in a fit of snarls. The sounds of their roars echoed, shaking me to the very core. Limbs slashed at each other. One would strike and the other would twist out of the way. A kick would land here and there and the power of it would set the creatures several steps back. Their fingers curled with fury and that’s when I noticed their claws, lengthening several inches as they fought each other. Wild and completely feral, yet still controlled as they sparred over the right to take me as their own.
My mouth fell open, almost in a sense of awe. They fought and tore at each other, but in a way that reminded me of a well-trained fighter and not a mindless animal. I shifted back and forth on my feet, trying to take in one breath and then another, my lungs filling painfully slowly as my heart pounded loudly in my ears.
The noise of the fight made it difficult to focus on anything else.
The frightening brawl continued and as the beasts jumped and tackled each other, the tile cracked beneath them. They threw each other into walls and the thick metal groaned inward. Their sounds of anger rumbled, and I swore the ground shook beneath them. My eyes slid from side to side and I began to move, needing to do something, anything to break free.
Instinct told me to run, but I tried to stay calm and think intelligently, to move silently toward the door while all attention was directed away from me. I carefully stepped over one mutilated body and then another, trying to ignore the rolling nausea in my belly, but still I continued onward. I focused on the possibility of escape rather than my fear.
I almost made it to the door before the one that had attacked me first noticed my movements. He lunged at me and the other grabbed his arm, flinging the beast back into the wall. The metal groaned and the sound of the beast’s head hitting the wall was sickening as it echoed around me. For a moment, the creature looked stunned.
The one who had appeared in the midst of my attack simply stared at me, roared, and met my eyes.
“Run!” he thundered. I hadn’t even known the alien beasts could speak.
I wanted to listen and get away, but my feet remained rooted to the spot beneath me.
“Run, human! Saleos will kill you. You’ll die if he ruts you. He’ll fucking tear you apart,” he roared, his fiery red eyes burning brighter than ever.
His eyes were glowing and shimmering with what looked like tendrils of flame. His forehead was slick with sweat, his upper lips curling up in a snarl that reminded me of a feral animal. His chest rose and fell, sculpted muscles tensing before me. Behind him, the one he’d referred to as Saleos rose up, almost as if he was in a daze. He blinked once, then twice, before surging back toward my unexpected rescuer.
The unnamed beast growled at me once more before turning back toward Saleos, grabbing him by the arm and slamming him back into the wall with a sickening crack. The tile behind his head shattered, revealing thick concrete beneath. Saleos slumped to the floor, oversized black pupils rolling back in his head, the red glow in his eyes dimming as they slid closed.
He lay on the floor then, peaceful and still. His skin, once blood red began to fade to a more normal tanned tone. I watched in wonder, the scientist within me wanting to know more.
The remaining alien stood up straight and that’s when I noticed that he was bleeding. Deep scratches across his chest oozed dark, almost black-colored blood. His breath was heavy, but still exceptionally strong.
He strode over to me and I wilted, rounding my back toward the wall. Fuck.
I should have listened and run, just like he said. What were the chances he was just going to repeat Saleos’ attack and rape me himself?
His breath tore in and out of his lips, the struggle to hold back clear on his features.
Saleos didn’t move.
“Do you have a name?” I whispered, unable to help myself.
For a long moment, he didn’t move, simply staring at me with fiery eyes. Judging me. Analyzing me. Standing naked before him in nothing but my boots, I was defenseless.
“Axel,” he answered, his voice strained and tight. He took a deep breath. “I have to get you out of here,” he stressed, looking back at the still body of his rival. He lunged for me and I had little time to react before he grabbed me around the waist and flung me over his shoulder, my nakedness pressing against his incredibly warm skin. I didn’t even think to fight as he sprinted out of the room, running at inhuman speeds through the hallways and back out into the wilderness. Maybe I was in shock after everything I’d seen.
The wind whipped my red hair around my face and I clung to him, not wanting to fall or even worse, have him toss me off a cliff or something even more horrible. His skin was blazing hot, almost feverish and I wondered if he was alright. His body moved like a gazelle, like it was made for running and in no time at all, the dome had faded away in the distance. I didn’t need my comm to realize that he had run miles away, deep into Echelon 67 territory and that I’d have a hard time finding my way out. The stars still flickered overhead, and the moon shone with just enough light to illuminate the trees around us. I noticed a free-flowing river beside us and whimpered as he ran through it, continuing up against the flow toward the mountains I knew rose up in the distance. He ran, jumping impossibly high with me on his shoulder in order to avoid one boulder and then another. He held me firmly to him so that I didn’t bounce, and oddly enough, I felt just a tiny bit safe with him.
I could have kicked myself for even thinking that. I must be in shock because thoughts like those definitely meant I was insane.
Finally, he began to slow down, and I noticed the ground beneath us was a bit dryer here, rockier that before. Carefully, he chose his steps wisely, edging closer to a rock outcrop within a small clearing. Then the two of us descended into the entrance of a dark cave. He wound through one passage and then the next, before depositing me down on a thick mattress in a large cavern a short time later.
I blinked, my eyes struggling to get accustomed to the darkness and it took a solid few minutes for me to make out his form several feet away. I watched as he calmly stoked and lit a small fire, the smoke drifting up above into the night air and disappearing, likely collecting at the ceiling of the cave or slipping between the rocks up into the sky.
The smell of burning wood was calming in a way.
For several long minutes, I just sat on the mattress, curling my legs into my chest as I waited for him to do something to me. Only he didn’t. He didn’t even move toward me.
I slipped closer, anxious to get warm and to see him better.
The muscles of his back rippled and in the darkness, and it was then I realized that he looked almost human too. He tensed, almost as if he could sense my movements and I chewed at my lip. I paused, watching, only now noticing the fabric pants around his waist. Saleos had been naked, untamed, raw, and wild. Something about Axel was different and I wondered what it was. I had half expected to be on my back with my legs spread wide, his cock spearing into my depths, but he hadn’t done anything like that. Yet.
He’d rescued me and brought me here instead. I didn’t know what to think.
This dumbfounded me.
“Axel?” I whispered, almost afraid to hear the sound of my own voice.
“Stay away,” he said gruffly. Again, I heard the strain in his voice and wondered what it meant. His muscles seemed to tense even further as I moved closer and his breath echoed a bit more loudly. I stilled for a moment, before I continued moving closer to him.
“Don’t. I won’t be able to stop myself,” he warned. “Stay over by the mattress.”
“What do you mean?” I whispered.
“Your scent, human. It’s potent and exceedingly clear that you’re ready for me to mount you. It makes me want to throw you on the ground and fuck you so hard that you would feel it for days. Even if you don’t want it, I’ll take you anyway. So. Stay. Where. You. Fucking. Are,” he growled, and I stopped moving, the power of his words weighing heavy on my shoulders. I leaned against a large boulder beside me, sitting down on the hard surface for a moment.
“You saved me from him,” I breathed.
“Saleos is unstable. He would have ripped you open within minutes of mounting you. He’s done it before and will do it again if given the chance,” he answered.
My body pounded with heat. None of it by my own choosing.
“You won’t kill me, right?” I asked carefully, my arms curling around my chest. For the first time in my life, I felt entirely uncertain of what to do. If I should run, stay where I was, or move closer to him. No matter what I chose, I felt like I was doomed.
It had been a good long while since I’d been with a man and for some strange reason, my body was warming to him. It definitely wasn’t by choice. My mind was sending every single to me to run. Flight, definitely not fight. My body, on the other hand, had a very different idea and was extremely curious about what he threatened.
What if he did kill me? What if he was as much of a monster as Saleos was? What if he was someone I should be even more afraid of?
“No. I won’t kill you,” he sighed, his voice still full of as much strain as before.
My breath caught in my throat and I swallowed, my mouth quickly becoming dry. I licked my lips, parted my thighs, and he froze. His nose twitched in my direction.
Did I dare trust him?
I was naked. I had no doubt that with his heightened senses he could smell the sweat on my skin and the arousal between my legs. There was nothing stopping my scent from the cool cave mountain air. Nothing except a few feet separating me and him.
I pressed my legs back together nervously, feeling a trickle of moisture seep down my thighs. The glow of the fire cast shadows all around us, setting an almost vaguely romantic scene despite the danger I was in. I took a deep breath, tensing from the heat coming from my body. What the actual fuck?
I flushed with embarrassment as my core throbbed with unwanted desire. I should be ashamed of myself. I’d never reacted to a male as strongly before. He hadn’t even touched me, hadn’t even kissed me or given me any indication he was even remotely interested and here I was shaking like a goddamn cat in heat.
Axel’s shoulders rose and fell with constraint. He shook with it.
I dropped my hands, brushing them over my breasts, and noticed the hardness of my nipples. My pussy tightened with need.
It was like my body was calling to him, despite everything I’d seen tonight. The blood, the slaughter, the horror of it all and my own death close at hand. I should be more shaken, but I wasn’t. Instead, it was like my blood was humming for him. Wanting him to mount me and take me hard, just like the animal he was.
I closed my eyes and took another unsteady breath.
What was I going to do? How was I going to get out of this?
He turned toward me then, his red fiery eyes finding mine. Dark, possessive, and entirely seductive. I found it hard to breathe as we stared at each other.
Finally, when we broke eye contact, I noticed the wounds on his chest once more.
“You’re hurt,” I murmured. The injuries looked worse than before, more black blood smeared across his chest.
“Stay away. I’ll heal on my own,” he answered tensely. His muscles rippled from the struggle to hold back. His entire body trembled with it.
I took a step forward, wanting to help him. To cleanse his wounds and bandage him up in thanks for his rescuing me.
I didn’t really think about the consequences. I should have heeded his warning.
His controlled expression wavered. His nose sniffed at the air. His fists clenched at his sides. His skin slowly deepened in color, red like the setting sun. At once, he looked more beast than man. Every fiber of his body screamed danger to me.
“Run, human. Run before it’s too late,” he snarled, his eyes wild.