1 PROLOGUE

Raindrops splashed against Rowan's sleek armor and ran down his visor, obscuring his vision of the road ahead as he drove through the night. He wiped it off with the back of his gloved hand and turned up the music blaring from inside his helmet. Deeper through the forest he drove, into the rain, while he sang along with Van Halen.

"Callaghan."

Rowan continued his singing, not at all paying attention to the stern voice over the comm system.

"CALLAGHAN."

"What?" Rowan called out over the rainfall as he pressed buttons on the side of his helmet to adjust the volume of his music.

"Why did it take you so long to answer?"

"I couldn't hear you," Rowan lied. In the same time, he made a sharp turn with his bike to avoid a branch, executing the maneuver without a single issue.

There was an aggravated grunt from the other side of the conversation.

"Fine. Have you been able to reach Via?"

"No, I haven't heard from her at all on my end," Rowan answered as he rotated his wrist away from the throttle, slowing the motorcycle slightly. "Why?"

"Because no one has been able to reach her, idiot. Where are you?"

Rowan came to a stop in the middle of a thicket and reached up to the side of his helmet again. A small, blue screen appeared in his visor, displaying his current location.

"Two and a half miles northeast of the edge of their territory." Rowan paused as a smirk crossed his face. "You sure she isn't hiding from you?"

"CALLAGHAN. This isn't the time for games. I'm seriously concerned about—"

"Hold on."

Within seconds, Rowan's smirk disappeared as he looked out into the stretch of forest beyond him, silencing the voice of his Commander with a push of a button. He wiped his visor off again and squinted.

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There— between the trees, Rowan could make out a flash of reflective blue light coming his way and moving at a fast pace. On instinct, he reached for the rifle slung across his back and switched the safety off, taking aim and preparing to fire in a split second. Through the rain, foosteps over wet leaves could be heard, but the sound was faint.

Just when Rowan was about to call in through the comms for help, an armed figure made its way into the thicket. Despite the slanted downpour and dim lighting coming from Rowan's headlights, he could easily recognize the individual as Olivia Bailey...also known as Via.

"Vi!" Rowan hollered, letting his gun hang loose and waving his hands, "Hey, Via— oh my God."

Rowan's heart stopped at the sight of the blood pouring down Via's face from a nasty gash, and just then he realized that she was limping, not running. However, she seemed to be trying to get away from something as quickly as she could; that he could tell from the fear in the whites of her eyes. She kept tripping over herself, only to get back up and scramble and repeat the process, struggling to get her breathing under control all the while. Rowan had seen her before in the midst of a battle, wounded and bloody but never with absolute terror on her face, never like this.

"Rowan!"

Like she was being pulled apart, piece by piece by some imaginary force, Via screamed into the night, sending a wave of shock through Rowan's body.

"Rowan!" she cried again, "Call the base! Please, oh God, call the base. Now!"

His heart now pounding in his chest, Rowan nodded numbly and started to reach up for his helmet again, only to freeze up again when Via collapsed just mere inches away from his feet. Now that she was closer, he could see that she was clutching her side to cover a fatal wound, liquid crimson spilling each time her heart pumped the blood out.

"Vi..."

Just as Rowan dismounted his bike and came to his knees to help her, a collection of shrill screeches broke through the sky. Instinctively, he looked up to find the source and immediately wished he hadn't.

Black, winged silhouettes moved across the sky in clusters, only visible from the pale moonlight streaming through the clouds. There were dozens upon dozens, all swarming the night in search of the innocent. Their cries echoed and shook the forest.  Rowan knew what they were and had fought them before, but this many made his heart drop to his stomach.

With trembling fingers, Rowan pressed the comm button.

"This is Callaghan with Bailey. Bailey is severely injured and—"

Another voice, the one Rowan had been speaking with earlier, cut him off sharply, yet the shakiness was crystal clear in his words.

"All units return to base immediately. Callaghan, return to base!"

Rowan glanced down to see Via double over and choke on the blood rising from her throat. He could see her lips moving, begging him to comply to their commander's orders, but not a word could escape even in her desperation.

"Commander Rennix—"

"Callaghan, we are going to war."

His chest heaving, Rowan sank to the ground just for Via's limp form to fall against him. He clutched the stock of his rifle, tilted his head up into the sky, and screamed into the night.

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