They had kept her prisoner for thirteen years, and now they would pay.
Metis kept to the shadows, stalking her prey. She had learned patience during her long imprisonment. If she hadn’t acted with such impulsiveness during Erick’s battle all those years ago, she would never have been captured. It was learning that hard lesson that ultimately contributed to her escape.
Oh, she knew the value of patience now. Yes, she did.
“Daddy! Daddy! Look at me!”
Metis followed the sound of the bright, cheerful voice and peered through the thick foliage surrounding the Mercesti base on the mainland. Her thirst for vengeance had led her to this place. She wanted to destroy the elders—rip their flesh from their bones and their hearts from their chests—but she couldn’t get to Central, a heavily secured area reinforced with protective enchantments, and all of the elders lived there.
All but one.
“That’s good, Ryder,” a deep male voice replied to the first, drawing Metis’ attention.
Her nostrils flared when she spotted Zachariah, the Mercesti elder. The tall, muscular male with the wild-looking blond hair and intense red eyes hadn’t changed in thirteen years. He still wore a serious expression…an expression Metis imagined was even more dour than usual because word had surely spread about her escape.
He was speaking intently with an equally large male covered in colorful tattoos. Derian, she recalled, the Mercesti commander. Both males looked grim, speaking in hushed tones that didn’t quite reach her.
They’re afraid of me, she thought with dark amusement. They know I’m likely to come here. But they won’t expect me so soon.
“But, Daddy, you’re not watching!”
The whine drew her attention to the young male with dark hair and blue-green eyes who stood behind Zachariah wielding a wooden sword with a fierce frown on his face. Metis was unfamiliar with children and had no guess as to his age, but it was clear enough when Zachariah turned to address the small boy that they were father and son.
“I’m in the middle of a conversation, Ryder,” Zachariah said to the young male. “You’re supposed to be with Isaac and Liam. They’re training with Uncle Tiege. I’ll come and watch you when I’m done here.”
“Nuh-uh,” the boy pouted, glowering up at his father. “You’ll come’n see Isaac ‘n Liam ‘n I’ll just sit there.”
The Mercesti elder sighed and squatted so he was at eye-level with his son. “Ryder, we’ve talked about this. You’re not even five yet. Your brothers are older and more experienced than you.”
“But I can do it, Daddy!”
The boy swung his wooden sword, nearly cracking Zachariah in the side of the head. Zachariah managed to block the blow with his forearm, but the loud smack of the wood striking him could be heard even as far as Metis’ position. She edged closer, moving so she could spy on them from around a wide medeina tree.
“Ryder, that’s enough,” Zachariah said sharply, getting to his feet with the sword in his hand. “You’re going to hurt someone with this.”
Metis watched the boy’s wide, long-lashed eyes fill with tears. His cheeks flushed with color as he stomped his foot.
“Give it back!” he insisted.
“No,” Zachariah replied in a firm voice. When the boy began to wail, Zachariah reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Ryder, go to your brothers like you’ve been told. I’ll bring you your sword when I’m done speaking with commander Derian.”
“But—” the boy protested.
Whatever the boy saw on his father’s face had him closing his mouth on his next protest. He kicked a rock and turned as though he was about to leave.
For some reason, Metis felt compelled to follow the young male. Perhaps it was because in that moment, he shared her fury toward his father.
She could also admit to being curious about him. She had heard about children, but this was the closest she had ever actually been to one. After all of the years that her creator, Tethys, had spent attempting to form children, Metis couldn’t deny a fascination with them.
Before Metis had taken more than a step, a new young voice made her look back in Zachariah’s direction. This voice was younger…sweeter, somehow. It sounded absolutely ecstatic.
As she turned, Metis caught sight of a yellow blur as it charged the Mercesti elder. Zachariah dropped the wooden sword just in time to intercept the small figure. A high-pitched giggle filled the air as he lifted the bundle in yellow and tossed it, catching the laughing child on the way down.
“You, too, Eden?” Zachariah gave the child—a female, Metis realized—a stern look that didn’t seem to bother her in the least. “How did you escape your mother?”
“Again,” Derian added, reaching out to tug on one of the child’s burnished gold curls.
“I need Daddy kisses,” the girl declared.
Metis watched as the child reached out and lifted her little hands to her father’s cheeks, then drew him close enough that their noses touched. She wiggled her head so that their noses brushed against each other, laughing as she did. Her father issued another sigh, but Metis saw the tender expression on his face.
The little girl—Eden, Metis thought to herself—leaned closer to her father’s ear and whispered, “Where’s Nyx?” loud enough for Metis to hear.
“Probably hiding,” Zachariah responded, causing Eden’s expression to fall.
“We’ll hunt for her later, little one,” Derian told her, retrieving her bright smile.
“‘Kay!” she cheered, bouncing in her father’s arms.
Metis wondered if children were hard of hearing. They seemed to shout every word.
Zachariah pressed a kiss to his daughter’s forehead. “Now stay out of trouble while I talk with commander Derian,” he said in a gruff voice.
The child laughed and nodded, making her blonde curls bob. Hatred burned bright and hot in Metis’ chest as she watched the interaction. While she had been imprisoned, the Mercesti elder had been living a life of pleasure with his avowed…the Kynzesti female named Tate. They and their companions had robbed Metis of thirteen years of her existence.
They didn’t deserve the family they had made. They didn’t deserve happiness.
She was determined to take it from them.
Zachariah’s gaze suddenly shifted to the tree where she stood. Metis darted out of sight and stood absolutely still. She had to force herself not to flee and reveal herself. Fear had her heart thudding in her chest.
Her own reaction infuriated her. He would not hold that kind of sway over her, she silently vowed.
Soon enough, he would be the one who was terrified.
“Daddy, that’s not fair!”
Metis dared another glance and watched the boy, Ryder, rush back and tug on his father’s tank top. She was relieved when Zachariah’s attention turned from her position.
“Eden should be with Mommy,” the boy said, glaring at his sister. “She’s inta-ruptin’ you too!”
“Enough, Ryder.” Zachariah lowered Eden to the ground, brushing his hand absently over her hair in a way that confirmed to Metis that he held affection for her. “Take your sister with you. Uncle Tiege will keep an eye on you both until I finally finish this bloody conversation.”
Ryder’s eyes widened. “You’re not s’posed to say bloody, Daddy. I’m tellin’ Mommy.”
Metis didn’t hear Zachariah’s response. She was too focused on the smaller female, who had apparently lost interest in the conversation. The child bent down and picked up the wooden sword that was nearly the same size as she was, gave it a curious look, then tossed it back to the ground. As Derian wisely bent to pick up the sword to keep it out of reach, the girl skipped away.
Right to Metis.
In an instant, Metis’ plans changed. She realized that she didn’t have to kill the Mercesti elder to get her revenge. During her imprisonment, she had learned about the sentiment Estilorians harbored for each other. She had learned how to use that kind of useless emotion to manipulate her captors and escape.
She knew she could take something from Zachariah. Something that would hurt just as much as peeling his flesh or ripping out his heart.
Maybe even more.
Just as Derian started after the child, Metis stepped out from behind the tree. She was watching the little girl, but registered that the Mercesti commander hesitated. The child’s gaze lifted to Metis as she stopped in front of her. She started to smile as Metis reached for her, but then her expression froze. Realizing the child sensed danger, Metis acted quickly, grabbing her before she could run.
Zachariah’s desperate cry had all activity in the area ceasing. Metis met his gaze an instant before she teleported with the screaming child in her grasp, and she knew she had been right. It was the Mercesti elder who was now terrified.
He knew he would never see his little girl again.