As I lay sprawled on the ground, waves of pain blasting through me from my arm, I wondered why exactly I'd thought this was a good idea. I couldn't walk, couldn't even stand, and yet I'd thought I could fight a werewolf. I'd at least been sane enough to realise I couldn't do it barehanded, and so I had thrown all my energy into finding a weapon. It didn't even cross my mind to wonder how I would use it given my dominant arm was broken; twice.
All I'd been able to think about was all the ways Leon had hurt me, and how I had to get him back for it, no matter what. I still thought that; I was still burning with the need, the need to end this by driving the sword that was laying the next to me on the ground right through Leon's cold, dark heart. But though my will was no less strong, still searing and aflame, it wasn't enough.
I had reached the point where even the most powerful need couldn't fuel me anymore; I was too broken.
Pain. Pain was everywhere. There was nothing but pain. Hitting me, again and again, each time just as agonising as the last. It wouldn't go away, but instead kept getting stronger, rolling over me in heart-stopping throbs. Every breath hurt, even the simple of effort of sucking in air enough to send new ripples of hurt flowing through my body.
And it just wouldn't stop. I wanted it to stop, wanted it so, so badly, but it just wouldn't. The blackness that had saved me time and time again yesterday was eluding me, my anger unwittingly holding it back. And though I wanted to let go of it, wanted to just let this all go and never think of it again, I couldn't. Not with every one of my cuts a line of fire on my body, an unsquashable memory and reminder of what he'd done. Not while I could feel Jake's boiling rage, the furious intensity making my own look pitiful in comparison.
No, I couldn't forget. And I couldn't forgive; not even to stop the pain.
Pain that suddenly doubled in strength as without warning, a hard body suddenly slammed into mine.
A breathless cry was torn from me as my air blew out of my lungs in a rush, my vision exploding with stars and blackness as my head slammed back hard into the ground. A tremendous roared filled my ears, too loud and making me flinch, but it was forgotten in my relief as the enormous weight was suddenly shoved off me. I gasped wildly as the crushing force disappeared, too desperate for air to bother wondering how I'd gotten my reprieve; that was until a furious growl suddenly rent the air.
The growl of a werewolf.
My eyes instinctively flew open at the sound, my heart stuttering painfully as the sudden recognition hit me. A mixture of fear and relief spread through me, though the combination was far outmatched by the pain that still burned through my body; that was until my eyes locked on to the two wolves that were frantically fighting beside me.
My gaze fell first on Jake; the imprint forced my eyes to his form, his wolf nothing but a russet blur. But as strong as the bond was, I couldn't stop my eyes from flicking to Leon; my fear was too strong for me not to glance at the grey-brown wolf.
The grey-brown wolf that was still alive.
He shouldn't be. It was against all the odds for him to not be dead, because Jake was clearly the stronger of the two. And yet, there he was. The shapeshifter that had caused me hours of pain, years of running, and constant, never-ceasing fear, was right there. He was just five small metres away.
Five metres too far, because I couldn't move.
No. No. I couldn't be this close, only to fail now. I refused.
I was going to kill him.
Steeling myself for the pain, I moved. I couldn't hold back a breathless scream, pressing my lips together so tightly they were white as agony tore through me. But even though I wanted to, so so desperately wanted to, I couldn't stop.
I had to do this. I would do this.
Tremors were wracking through my body as I rolled onto my stomach, my breaths frantic and heaving as my head spun from the onslaught of pain. I squeezed my eyes shut tight as the dizziness rolled through me, my left hand fumbling blindly through the dirt next to me for the sword. Time seemed frozen as I searched, groping for it; the growls and snarls of the fighting wolves had faded, the only sound my fast and thunderous heartbeat.
But eventually, after what felt like an eternity, my hand finally managed to wrap around the cold wooden hilt.
And then, with an earth-shattering howl, time restarted.
My eyes flew open at the sound, automatically glancing towards the two brawling wolves. Except they weren't wrestling anymore, they were heading straight towards me. Leon was in front by barely an inch, Jake hot on his tail. But even though I could see Jake lurching forwards, jaws ready to clamp down and drag Leon to a standstill, I could tell he wouldn't quite be fast enough. He would stop Leon, but by then, I would be within his reach. And Leon, whose eyes screamed murder, wouldn't hesitate to kill me. He would kill me. With one snap of his jaws, it would be done.
Unless I stopped him.
I had only a second. He almost on me now, one short step away from reaching me, his teeth bared as he prepared to lunge–
But then, with strength I didn't know I had, I swung the silver sword. It arced through the air, whipping towards Leon as he leaped. I saw, in his eyes, the recognition of the blade that was headed straight towards him. And, at the last possible moment, he bounded right past me; though not before the razor sharp edge sliced thinly through his skin.
He let out a yowl of pain as he skidded across the ground to a sudden halt, dirt flying up as he spun to stare at me; or rather, the sword that was resting on the ground in front of me, my fingers still locked tight around it. Even though he was a wolf, I could see in his gaze his disbelief; disbelief that was quickly replaced with a burning anger. Anger, because he knew, and I knew, what that one small cut was going to do to him. But even though his deadly glare was now trained on me, rage simmering within his gaze, I couldn't bring myself to care; my mind was filled with only one thought.
Leon was going to die. There was no escaping it now; the venom would kill him. It might take days, longer even, but no matter how long it took, he would die, because of me. I had finally, finally, beaten him.
Or so I thought.
In a flash, Leon's murderous gaze was darting upwards and locking on something behind me. A low rumbled spilled from his chest, his body shifting into a defensive position, just as Jake leapt protectively over me with a dangerous snarl.
For a short moment, they both froze. Jake's large body far outsized my own, allowing him to easily stand over me, his front legs spaced around my head as his claws dug into the earth.
And then, without warning, he was lunging.
Jake snapped forward so fast I could barely follow the movement, his jaws ready to tear as he unerringly pounced towards Leon. But, in the millisecond before Jake could slam into him, Leon moved. Jake flew right over the top of him, hitting the ground hard and tearing a surprised and worried gasp from my throat; how could he have missed? Leon was right–
Leon hadn't just moved, he had shrunk. At the last possible moment, he had phased from wolf to human; and now he was diving straight towards me.
I didn't have time to move; I could only watch, frozen with surprise and fear.
And then he was on me.
I braced myself for pain, but it didn't come; there were no hands locking around my throat, no fists or knives striking me. There were only his strong, rough hands tearing at my own, and I couldn't figure out why–
Too late I realised what he was after, what I was still holding with my limited strength. Because with an evil, triumphant grin, he was ripping the sword from my hands; and was pointing it threatening in my direction.
'You bitch!' He snarled. 'You're going to die for what you've done!' He said, his eyes flashing with anticipation. My heart stuttered with fear as he prepared to lunge; but before he could, Jake was shoving him sidewards.
Despite the fact that he was human, Leon's growl of irritation was anything but as he scrambled to his feet, narrowly dodging Jake's next furious swipe. Holding the sword down by his side, Leon's face wasn't the mask of anger I expected; instead he grinned, sending me a malicious look that sent shivers of terror down my spine. That evil gaze was the same one he'd given me time and time again; the one that said he was going to hurt me. But how could he? Jake was in between us–
In an instant, I understood. Already I could see Leon's grip on the sword tightening, his body as tense as a live wire as he prepared to strike. Jake tensed in response, no doubt readying to stop an attack on me; he had no idea what was really coming. No idea that Leon was aiming for him, not me, and that just one nick with the sword would kill him.
One cut, and Jake would be dead.
No. The thought was too horrible to process, too horrible to contemplate; Jake could not die. But even as I stared, my heart in my throat, Jake was throwing himself forward. And then, as time slowed, Leon was swinging the sword towards him in a deadly swipe–
In a rush, I was lurching off the ground, half-stepping half-falling as I threw everything I had into my leap. And then, just before the two shapeshifters collided, I slammed into Leon, forcing him to the ground.
We hit hard, landing in a mess of limbs as Leon roared in outrage. Then, suddenly, he was yanking me upwards, hauling me towards him. I had no strength to resist; with one pull we were to face to face, both of us on our knees. His expression was twisted with fury as he pressed the tip of the sword against my chest, snarling wordlessly.
'I should have done this a long time ago!' He growled.
And then, with a cruel smile, he was plunging the blade straight into my heart.
In an instant, it was exploding within me, the blast making my whole body jerk. My lungs seized up, my air whooshing out of me in a rush. I felt my heart stutter, thumping wildly as the blade just barely missed its mark.
And then the world stopped. My gaze turned blank, my eyes dropping downwards; and there it was.
The sword. The sword, buried hilt deep within me. The blade, lodged between my ribs, so long that I was speared all the way, the tip protruding from my already blood-soaked back.
But those other cuts, other slashes, were nothing compared to this.
Because apart from the glaring fact that this wound could and would kill me, this sword was different. This was the sword I had been tortured for. This was the sword Leon would die from, with only a simple scratch.
Because this sword was made of vampire venom. Vampire venom I could already feel burning into my system, starting to boil through my blood and sending yet another uncontrollable shudder racing through my body. It was molten fire, its searing bite a new kind of agony.
A new, unbearable agony.
If I hadn't already been on my knees, I would have collapsed. As it was, I could feel that any second I was going to keel over; my body was foreign to me, all control lost. It was with surprise that I watched my own hands moving, moving without my consent to touch the wooden hilt that had been driven into me; because even with the body wracking pain, I still couldn't quite believe it was there. And then my hands were shifting to my chest, pressing gingerly into the torn open skin; a touch I couldn't feel, wouldn't have known was there without seeing it. But I couldn't worry about that, couldn't even bring myself to care; because my hands were lifting away now, and the only thing I could focus on was the red, red blood staining my skin.
My blood. My life.
And it was leaving me.