Ravage (Scarred Souls #3) - Tillie Cole
Republic of North Ossetia–Alania
House of Abandoned Children
Fifteen years ago …
Three hard raps on the door downstairs startled me from my sleep. I squinted my eyes to look at the clock on the wall. The other boys in the room didn’t move, but that didn’t mean they weren’t awake. We all knew what those hard raps meant—they were coming for pickings.
The Night Wraiths.
My body filled with ice when the long high-pitched creak of the main door’s opening sliced through the expectant silence of the house. Then came the boots. Heavy boots pounding on the old wooden floor.
The rooms were pitch-black, as they always were at three o’clock in the morning. They always came at this time. I knew it was so the residents of the small town didn’t hear or see them coming for us orphans.
Whispering, deep hushed voices seemed to fill every inch of the room; this was the signal that I needed my feet to move. As I pushed the thin blanket back from my bed, my bare feet hit the freezing-cold wood. I froze, not wanting to make a sound. Balling my hands into fists, I took small silent steps toward the back staircase. As I passed the neat rows of small cots, I could hear cries and sniffles from the other boys. They lay paralyzed with fear in the centers of their beds. The stink of urine filled my nostrils, some kids so afraid that they’d instantly wet themselves.
But I kept going. I needed to get to her.
My heart raced even though my movements were slow, until I reached the locked door that separated us boys from the girls. Removing the small pin I’d stored in the secret pocket of my pants, I silently inserted it into the lock. I focused on feeling for the lock to snap, while all the time desperately trying to listen for any sound, any sign that the Noch’ Prizrak—the men known only as Night Wraiths—were heading to this floor.
A bead of sweat formed on my forehead, but I bit my lip to focus on the task. My hand moved slow and steady. With a quick exhale, the lock snapped and the doorknob turned slowly under my hand.
I glanced behind into the darkness, making sure that no one was following me. Sometimes a few of the other boys panicked and tried to follow. But they couldn’t. I could only save two. The rest would have to fight for themselves, in this fucked-up house of hell. The house of pickings for the Wraiths that came at night.
Sensing that no one was behind, I slipped through the open door and quickly locked it. Returning the pin to my secret pocket, I slunk across the landing to the narrow staircase. Creeping carefully down each step, I came to another small landing. Seeing the door that led to her room, I picked the lock and slipped through. The second I entered the girls’ dorm, a wave of loud crying hit me, burning my blood and rolling my stomach. These were the young girls. One of them was my sister: my best friend and my only reason for living.
I carefully stepped out fourteen paces, having memorized this short journey over the years of our imprisonment. I remembered everything. My bran never forgot a single thing. As I reached the fourteenth step, I pushed out my hand and immediately felt the small fingers of Inessa, my baby sister.
I smiled a small smile, fighting back tears as her little fingers shook, while gripping mine so impossibly tight. Wordlessly, I pulled her from the bed and lifted her into my arms. Inessa’s head tucked into the crook between my neck and shoulder, her thin arms wrapping around my neck like a vise. I allowed myself a moment to squeeze her in return. The sound of a door being opened echoed through the hallways, forcing me into action.
I ran as fast as my feet could carry us.
As I ran, screams from the dorms down the hall pierced the stillness of the night. Inessa’s breathing grew faster. As I approached the door to the hallway, her cold hands tightened around my neck and she whispered, “Noch’ Prizrak.” The fear lacing her hushed voice almost caused my legs to buckle, but I pushed on through the doorway and into the empty stairwell. This time shouts and screams could be heard from the direction of our secret safe place.
Dread enveloped my body. I rocked on my feet, pure fear taking hold. I tried to