Chapter Eleven

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Cassandra

I'm frozen.

Literally frozen.

As I climb out of the cruiser, hopping down onto the pavement, my bones nearly fail me altogether. I have to fight from dropping like a stone onto the hard cement, finding the numbness very familiar and also—entirely inconvenient. Driving in below freezing temperatures for hours on end with no protection other than a few jackets is the reason my flesh feels like sandpaper.

To ensure I remain upright, I grip the side of the bumper, wiggling my toes and fingers to produce some kind of warmth in them.

Damien touches my back with concern, and it's as if ice has been strapped to my shoulders. I jump, chuckling in the mist of my own breath.

"Cassandra?"

"I'm good," I reassure him. "I'm good."

Twenty feet away, rocking on the river is a sizable fishing boat, meant to transport us through the Lishui River and right into our area of destination. Another mode of transportation I have no interest in, and yet, there's no stalling or stopping. The days are passing quickly, too quickly. Quickly enough to terrify the hell out of me. Another sun has risen, although the clouds prevent the rays from visibility. A dark haze lingers over our heads, stealing the heat away in the thick of winter.

Elijah's worry has been a constant since we've landed and I've done as much as I can to keep him from insisting we break any further for my sake, which is why it's so important I force my own damn legs to walk onto this raft. I manage to cross the sand, hopping up on the boardwalk to reach Jiayi, who is waiting patiently for us. He smiles apologetically.

"I'm sorry for the uncomfortable travel. You look positively frozen, péng yǒu."

"I'm no stranger to sub-zero temperatures. This is a walk in the park," I joke lightly, taking Elijah's hand to jump up onto the edge of the boat. My partner smirks at the comparison. It's true. This is nowhere as life-threatening as Siberia.

"Well, luckily, this boat has a storage room below. It reeks of fish though."

"I'll take it."

I descend into the lower deck, taking each narrow step carefully, instantly wondering whether I should brave the cold to avoid the pungent smells currently fringing my nostrils. I glance around, checking for fish carcasses, stunned the walls alone could retain such a residue. I strip off my coats, relieved when they suddenly feel heavy due to the compact space.

I chuckle, at a loss. "I'm going to smell like fish for days."

"Some lemon and vinegar will do the job properly," Elijah says, wrinkled nose and all. His heightened senses must be going haywire. There's a small cot, probably for fishermen on overnight trips and although the probability of it massing mold is great, I'm tired enough not to care. It's been over twenty-four hours since my brain has turned off.

"How far out are the check points?"

"A few hours."

I sit on the edge of the cot, rubbing at my tired eyes. "I feel something here. I don't know what it is."

"I thought so too."

"Like you're being drained?"

He nods. "I couldn't tell whether it was you or me it was targeting, but considering you are the divine one..."

The divine one. If only he knew.

"I wonder if it has anything to do with the activity Jiayi was telling us about."

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