You should return to your home. I sense a bond of yours has shaken.
Mary’s heart was racing within her chest. Lei’s words haunted her. What did he mean by a bond was shaken? Had something happened at the pizza parlor? She would not know what to do with herself if Wes or Mitch had been hurt. She had dragged them into this war without even realizing it, and she felt horrible.
Soaring above her, once again in her raven form, Lu’s wings flapped silently. Lei had asked her to look after the Sun Dweller for the time being. They could not afford to lose their greatest ally against Countess Eve. The vampire had warned that the changeling was no guardian, but she held a strength that could be of help if necessary. Mary could only hope that would not be needed when they arrived.
As they flew, Mary barely noticed how different it felt to travel home from the west. For one thing, she was losing time, which made her nervous. It was a good thing they had left when they had. If they made good timing, they would have an hour before sunrise. That meant Gabriel would be there. She was thankful he was living with them. However, she pushed herself to fly as fast as she could without losing course.
Lu kept up well with ease. She was not tired either. Just what was a changeling? They seemed unhindered in the forms they took. The strength Lei had mentioned must be what gave her that boost. Maybe it caused personality flaws too…
“How much farther?”
“What?” Mary called back. She could barely hear the raven over the wind, whipping past them.
“How much farther? We passed land ages ago! How much farther is it?” Lu’s high voice whined down at the young woman. “I’m soaked!”
“Not much more! I think those are the Appalachian Mountains! It’s on the coastline!”
“The coast!” Mary almost laughed at the bird’s squawk. “Why didn’t you tell me that sooner? I think my wings are gonna fall off!”
The two flew on for a few more moments, passing by the Virginian landscape. Before long, they had reached the Beach. Mary dropped feet first to the balcony, gasping for air as her body recovered. She was so worried that she forgot her hunger.
“This is where you live?” Lu asked as she shifted to human form to land. Glass cracked beneath her tiny feet once she took a step forward. The changeling glanced at the humble abode before her. “Humans really are messy creatures. Is it always this way?” She looked down at Mary as she pointed ever so rudely into the main room.
Mary finally lifted her head to look. Her red eyes gaped in horror. Glass covered the ground. The sliding door was in shambles. A few bodies were lying within, one even draped over the couch.
“Oh no… Gabriel...!” Mary gasped, stunned.
“Who?” Lu asked, looking back into the apartment.
“Gabriel!” Mary rush to the side of the fallen vampire. “Gabriel! No, Gabriel, it can’t be!” The familiar sheath in his chest told her the cries were in vain. The carpet that had once resembled a beaten, forest path was now soaked with red blood that must have been flowing for some time. “I’m sorry... If only I’d gotten here sooner... Oh, Gabriel…”
“Is he a friend of yours?” Lu asked as her slippers tip-toed around glass shards. “I thought you didn’t like fang folk.”
“Well,” Mary wiped her tears away on her coat sleeve. “We’d only just met, but I felt... I felt safe with him. He was the first vampire that I trusted, and now...!” She hung her head as she wept silently, trembling terribly. She jolted suddenly, shrieking. Lu had just pulled the wooden sheath out without even a grunt.
“You really are new to the whole vampire thing.” The changeling dropped the sheath beside the vampire. “He’ll be fine. Vampires get weak when wood pierces them. Depending on where, they can go comatose. He got a heart-shot, straight through the chest by the look of it. That’s why he’s still bleeding. He just needs more, and he’ll close right up.” She smiled, trying to cheer up the Sun-Dweller. “But that blood on the floor won’t come up easy. It’s probably already stained.” Her tone was less than hopeful.
Just as her nerves started to calm, soft crying was heard. It was ever so subtle, and anyone could have missed it. Mary heard it though. It was coming from Wes’ room. Panic stabbed her in the stomach. Was he hurt?
“Wes!” Scrambling to her feet, Mary ran for the bedroom door. She would never forgive herself if Wes had come to harm. He suffered enough every day of his life, but he was stronger because of it. If vampires had done what they’d done to her parents, she didn’t know if she could make it through the grief again. “Wes!”
“Mary...?” Wes called, quietly. She looked around the room, seeing a chair in front of the closet. “Mary, I’m in the closet…”
“I’m coming! I’m getting you out!” Mary grabbed the chair, ripping it away from the doorknob and taking the knob with it. “Are you hurt?”
“No…” As the door opened, he looked behind him at her panicked face. She pulled his chair out quickly, kneeling beside him as if she doubted his answer. Instinctively, he wrapped his arms around her, crying from the terror in his core. She hugged him back, weeping along with him.
“You’re sure you aren’t hurt?” Mary clung tighter to his trunk. “Please don’t lie. I won’t feel any better.”
“I promise…” Wes replied in a tremulous voice. He was so glad to see her. That must mean those things were gone, but if that was the case... He leaned back to look into her crimson eyes. “Where’s Mitch, Mary?”
“Mitch was… here…?”
Mary’s heart stopped in her chest. Why had Mitch been here? She now realized Wes had been shoved into the closet, unharmed. Had Mitch done that? The window was open, flapping the curtain in the breeze. What had he been thinking?
“He’s not out there…? He was going to keep those… things back…” Wes gripped Mary’s shoulders. Mitch had to be alright. He just had to be.
“Who are we looking for?” Lu asked as she popped her head in the door. Wes was too stunned to comment on Mary bringing home another stray.
“Mitch went to help Gabriel…” The paraplegic gaped down at the young woman. He didn’t want to acknowledge the obvious answer, not after hearing those monsters. “Mary…? He’s out there… right…?”
“Nope!” Lu answered for him. She had no idea who this Mitch person was, but all she’d seen told her there was no such person on the premises.
Wes stopped breathing. Tears fell over the drying rivers from earlier. No, not Mitch. His best friend that had been through everything with him couldn’t leave him, not now. He couldn’t do anything without his stupid grin, encouraging him. It always had. What was he supposed to do without him?
“Wes… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry I didn’t get here in time…” Mary wiped the young man’s tears with her thumb. She’d done this. She’d brought this on them. She’d ripped Mitch into this struggle, and perhaps, she’d caused his death. Lei had said a bond had shaken. Could that lead to a break?
“This is all their fault…” Mary paused at Wes’ tone. He sounded angry. His fists gripped her shoulders tightly, making her gasp. “This is all the vampires’ fault! If they hadn’t come, I’d still have Mitch here, laughing and bitching about his cigarettes! Damn the monsters! Give him back! Give me back my best friend!”
Mary trembled at his voice, screaming down at her. His face was frightening as his crazed eyes overflowed with hot tears. What could she say though? This was her fault. She was a vampire. He must hate her from the pit of his very being right now. She felt one tear stream down her cheek, just one this time. She felt like a herald of disaster.
“Ruzha…” Gabriel’s voice drifted from the other room, weakly. “Ruzha… mine own... rose…”
Mary hung her head. This was more than she could take. First, those creatures had taken her sister away from her and turned her into a monster. Then, they’d killed her parents, destroyed everything they had, and burned their home to the ground. Now, they’d hurt the only friends she’d ever had. It was too much. She clenched her fists as Gabriel continued to moan in agony. No more, she couldn’t do this anymore.
Lu glanced at the young woman. If she hated being a vampire before, the changeling knew she must loathe it now. However, what would she do about it now?
After calming himself, Wes noticed how wounded his roommate was. Retracting his hands, he gaped. He wanted to apologize, but she stood once she was released, walking away. He knew better than anyone how much Mary hated her linage. How many times had he tried to comfort her? How many times had he heard her crying softly over the hiss of the shower? In his grief, he’d turned all of his efforts on their heads. Grasping his damp hair, he wished Mitch were there to help him sort through his words. Why did they have to take him?
Mary walked right by the changeling. Her eyes drained of emotion. Her self-loathing had turned inward, steeping in her spirit. She entered the kitchen, kicking over a comatose vampire in her way. Opening the refrigerator, she found a bottle of serum. Having forgotten her hunger, the young woman made her way into the living room. Kneeling beside her nocturnal friend, she spoke flatly to Lu.
“He just needs blood, right?”
“That’s right,” Lu replied, leaning against the bedroom door. “You gonna give him that stuff you drank earlier? What is it anyway?”
“It’s a serum my father made, so my sister and I wouldn’t become bloodsuckers.” Mary didn’t care if she was insulting Lei. She didn’t care if she was sounding juvenile and judgmental. Lifting Gabriel’s head to her lap, she slowly fed the liquid to his hungry lips. The irony of doing this twice escaped her at the moment.
Lu and Wes, who had wheeled up to the door at that point, watched her in silence. The shapeshifter blinked at the resemblance to a vampire from long ago, one that had shouldered the blame of lost lives alone. Lu wondered if Mary would share their fate or rise above it. Either way, it was clear that Mary Black was more than she believed.
“So…” Lu spoke up to break the silence that was beginning to irk her, “I guess the countess found out where you live. There’ll be no hiding from her, staying here that is. She’ll track you down whenever you go. You know from experience with your parents. What are you going to do now, Sun Dweller?”
“What do you think I am going to do?”
“Well, I dunno! That’s why I asked,” she replied with a grin, folding her hands behind her head.
“I’m going to fight.” Wes gasped at the tone of her voice. It was heavy with conviction. He’d never seen her this way. “I’m going to fight Eve. I’m going to become a true Sun Dweller and return to Romania. When I get there, I’m going to find Mara and Mitch, and I’m going to bring them home, alive. I’ll take down anyone that gets in my way. I will right the wrong that has been done up until now, and I will stop the shadow of Darkness in its tracks.”