Nash and I backtracked through the forest following the bloodshed. Death became our stepping stone to where the fight split off into two paths. Nash’s arm was draped across my shoulder for support. His minor scrapes were healed, but his eye was still sealed shut. I wondered how long it would take to mend the damage Seth caused. The reality of his death weighted my insides down to the pit of my stomach. I’m not sure why death made people reflect on the brighter part of the deceased’s lives, but his limited kindness was all I could think of as we walked away.
Nash hunched over clutching his ribs. With each step, he winced. All his pain seemed to melt away at the new distraction before us. A lanky man squatted over a werewolf partially shifted. From the man above, slurping and suckling could be clearly heard. The wolf below twitched sporadically. My eyes strained to see any detail other than pale bony limbs sticking out like a frog. Nash gently guided me behind him as he took a defensive stance. On tip toes, I peeked over his shoulder to see the man whip his head up to stare back at us. Vibrant red eyes consumed his irises. What was a vampire doing here? Blood soaked his shirt and stained his face and neck. A predatory smile stretched his lips thin to reveal two fangs.
Nash tightened his fists until the skin cracked under the pressure. Even though the vampire could hear him, he whispered over his shoulder. “I’ll hold him off, run at the first chance you get.” The vampire rose to his full height which dwarfed us both, and stepped over his victim. With each slow step forward, Nash and I took one hesitant step back. He was toying with us; each movement was deliberate and terrifying. “Who sired you?” Nash called out.
The vampire continued to stalk forward without an answer. Nash asked once more, only to be ignored. Angular features of the vampire highlighted how starved he was and only one thing appealed to him. The slender vampire crouched down ready to spring at us. Nash’s muscles bunched under my fingertips. I prepared myself to run, not exactly sure where to. Would it be better if I grabbed more rocks? In a sudden epiphany, I remembered the silver knife from before. My fingers flexed around the crude dagger and lifted it from Nash’s belt just as the vampire chose to strike.
“Well this is bothersome.” A familiar voice called out from behind us. All three of us paused our fight but weren’t stupid enough to take our eyes off our opponent.
“Michael, I hope you and your minions got your rabies shots. Some of these wolves were feral.” When Nash mentioned his friend’s name I turned to confirm.
Michael strolled toward us with regal purpose. His hands were busy wiping off blood from his face with a handkerchief. A sword with a gold handle was sheathed at his hip. Michael, in this moment, looked more like a predator than any time before. His eyes and brows were stretched narrow with a subtler change to his wider mouth. “Give me more credit than that. I would never turn such a pathetic human.” Within a blink, Michael had traveled the distance and slashed the vampire’s head clean from his body. The blade dripped in new and old blood as it was once again sheathed.
“Why are you here then if these aren’t from your lineage?” Nash kept his battle stance against his new adversary.
A dramatic and weary sigh blew out from Michael’s parted lips. “The High Alpha involved another species to your little werewolf war. This now makes it officially my business.”
Nash scented out his truth. “Why would your King send his newly made creations to interfere?”
“Ah now that is the problem. They do not carry the scent of any vampire I’ve met. This means we have a rogue working for the King of the Werewolves. The question I can’t seem to understand is why?” Michael pocketed his handkerchief. He made a motion for us to follow him. We followed the carnage, together shouldering Nash along.
“Why?” I questioned still not understanding.
“He means why would a vampire help out a werewolf? The truce between the supernatural is flimsy at best. If one leader decided to recede from the council, we would all be at war again.”
“Another thing has been bothering me. I’ve been picking these newborns off as I see them but I have yet to find one that is older than five years.” We all reflected on Michael’s observation. “Once I report this to my King, I have no doubt he will withdraw from the council.”
My thoughts centered on the High Alpha. Both he and my father had prepared for war. “How did the High Alpha find out Davis was alive and building an army?”
“Likely, he didn’t.” Nash cleared his throat before continuing. “He released starved newborns on a pack. He’s either looking to start a war or he just found a way to push your king off the council. Who would succeed him?”
Michael laughed with bitter irony. “That would be me. I have no desire to take his place and the High Alpha knows I am loyal only to my King.”
“And what if the Vampire King gets booted out and you leave or turn down the position. Who would be next in line?” Understanding raised Michael’s brows.
“I suppose the council would decide who filled the seat.” My lips thinned not liking Michael’s answer.
“Best case scenario, the High Alpha has a vampire making newborns for him. Worst case, he has everyone else already under his control and the Vampire King was the last or only to reject him.” Nash shook off our support with renewed vigor. His wounds weren’t healed, but I assumed his strength was from adrenaline raging at the idea.
I worried my lip between my teeth. “The girls and my mother are hiding back there. What if a vampire finds them?”
Nash’s fierce expression softened. “I know you’re worried, but I don’t want you running back there alone. Michael and I need to move forward to take care of the alphas and vampires. We’ll come back for the girls when we are done. I’m sure they’re still safe.”
I pushed his gentle caress away. “Davis is not the threat, the High Alpha is.”
Michael continued to walk forward, giving us some privacy. Nash stepped back to give me space. Smart man. “They both are dangerous Jessica. Don’t forget, Davis turned many men into wolves. I know him Jess, he gets so caught up in his visions I doubt any of those men asked for this fate.”
Michael from a distance surveyed the area and advised, “We should assist Davis in bring down the High Alpha. He is possibly the only one who can stand against him.”
“Not the only one.” I muttered under my breath. Both men snapped their attention to me, forcing an explanation. “Davis predicted that even if he lost this fight, I would be victorious in the end.” I put victorious in flippant air quotes. My father was a full-fledged werewolf, with visions of the future; I didn’t believe I would be any better at fighting the High Alpha.
Michael’s blade was drawn in the same instant three vampires appeared from the trees to our right. Nash gripped his silver knife in one hand. I bobbed to the ground to pick up anything to use as a weapon. The stick looked harmless even to me. Why didn’t I take the gun before I left?
The vampires looked just as malnourished as the last one we encountered. One appeared before each of us. I swung my stick aimlessly to the vampire’s delight. His hands gripped my arm to his open mouth. I struggled against the fire set to my skin as his fangs pierced my skin. My cry was answered with my captor’s beheading. The tip of the silver sword had feathered over my skin as it cut through the vampire’s neck.
I matched Michael’s gaze, bewildered I had almost become a snack. He leaned in to inspect the bite, his lips curled in distaste. “It’s not deep, but you should still put pressure on it.” The vampire pulled out his bloodied handkerchief and wrapped it around the wound. His hand guided mine over the rag and pressed it firmly down. I hissed in pain. Nash disposed of the last vampire with his knife. “Let’s continue on.” Michael led the charge with his sword drawn, Nash flanked me.
The body count rose in numbers as we neared a terrifying scene. Two beasts snapped and circled one another. One was tan in color with red staining his shoulder; he was significantly larger than any wolf I’d ever seen. The second wolf had two vampires latched on to each side; a third struggled between the wolf’s teeth. He was smaller in size and from his muzzle to tail was soaked in blood. The larger wolf took the opportunity and latched on to his enemy’s throat. The vampire was released and in his place a howl of pain reverberated from the trees. Where stone houses once stood the destruction was testimony to their brawl. The howl cut off with an abrupt whine. The pair of vampires unlatched themselves from the wolf. I blinked back the tears of what I feared was Davis’s last moments.
Two vampires reared on our trio, fur caught under their nails. They looked to the High Alpha’s wolf for cue. Nash and Michael scented the air and conversed under their breath. “Newborns.”
“I don’t smell anymore vampires.”
“Agreed. Where is their sire then? They would only take command from the one who created them.”
At the High Alpha’s decline, the two vampires held their position. Fur began to recede at an alarming rate. Skin stretched and formed under the fur pelt of his wolf. The High Alpha rose to his feet and towered above us all. One of his lackeys disappeared from our site, we stood huddled together and tense ready for his strike. A moment later he knelt on one knee and held out a bear pelt secured and a rope. The High Alpha wrapped it around his waist and tied a knot to secure it. His muscular build was nearly two of Nash’s lean frame. The Alpha’s golden specks regarded us from a distance. Neither of us made a move to get closer.
Nash swore under his breath. “I’ve never seen anyone change so fast.”
Michael called out in a louder tone. “Impressive High Alpha. My King will be interested to know how you control these vampires.”
We hadn’t expected the Alpha to answer right away, as the vocal chords were the last to transition. Our eyes widened in shock as his deep baritone rolled like thunder across the clearing. “You have one chance to surrender to me. Pledge your fealty or die.” His final word deepened into a throaty growl. The Alpha’s hand gestured to Davis’ corpse as a reminder of his power. Davis the Dreamer had fallen, what hope did any of us have? At our uncertain pause the Alpha pushed on. “Ambrosia the Witch Queen has been asking for you Michael. It seems she has a score to settle with you. You can’t hide in your house on the salt mines forever. Kneel at my feet and I will make you King. Obey me and I will protect you.”
So he was looking to take over the council, to be leader of all. How many had taken his offer? Obviously not the current Vampire King. Michael’s silence didn’t bode well. Why wasn’t he telling the Alpha to shove it?
“Who are you? You can’t be a descendant of the first Alpha. He drowned at sea!” Nash yelled out.
The Alpha’s low-pitched chuckle warned of sinister giving’s. “Is that the lie passed through generations to help you sleep at night? No Nash, the truth is much darker than that.”
“So Davis was right?! You disguise justice and law as your revenge?” Nash begged me to shut up under his breath.
The Alpha looked pleased I had finally spoken. An awful sense of playing into his trap had me shrinking behind the two men again. “Wise human, what is your name?”
“None of your business!” Nash spat with venom coating his words.
Irritation curled the Alpha’s lips down. A swift nod in our direction was all the vampires needed. “If you will not join me, you will die.” His voice was then directed to his servants. “Kill the werewolf but bring the other two to me.”
“Run Jessica.” Nash fixated on the approaching vampires. “Go back to your hiding place and warn the others to run north. Tuk knows the way.”
Michael began to list off strategies. “I can take the two vampires if you distract him long enough for Jessica to get a head start.”
I bit my trembling bottom lip; salt from my tears assaulted my tongue. “No. I won’t leave you two.”
“Go.” Nash bit out with harsh resolve. “Someone needs to warn the packs.” His hand holding the silver knife reached back, delivering the weapon to me. I took it with trepidation. Nash knelt to the ground and focused on his transition. His face pinched in concentration as his nose elongated and fur began to spread out.
Michael took his stance, ready for the fight. “We’ll be right behind you, Jessica.” His tone told otherwise.
A hiccup escaped between my sobs. I had to believe it or my feet wouldn’t move. At Michael’s command, I turned from the fight and tried not to look back. I would warn the girls and get the gun from my mom. I would make it back in time. Please dear God let me make it back in time.