Aurora’s eyes were wild as she frantically pulled her long red hair back into a ponytail.
“I have to be honest,” Gabriel began. “You’re starting to scare me a little. What’s going on?”
Aurora stood up and pushed her seat back under the table with so much force that the worn-out legs rattled.
“Can you calm down,” he tried again. “What’s happening? What have you figured out?”
“Get up Gabriel, we don’t need the internet.”
“We don’t?” He climbed out of his seat and pushed it in gently. “I’m almost afraid to ask, but why not?”
“Because we’re going to Newfoundland.”
Gabriel stopped where he was and held up both hands. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You heard me. We’re going to Newfoundland. It’s time to see the Council.”
“It makes perfect sense,” she explained as they walked out into the frigid night air. “You show up and Lucius reaches out to you. It’s time Gabriel. If I go back to the Council now they will help me, I just know it.”
She watched Gabriel’s expression carefully for any indication that he might agree and they could go ahead without an argument. When he stopped walking she braced herself.
“I just have one question.”
“Okay. What is it?”
“How the hell do we even get to Newfoundland?”
She stared at him in disbelief. “So you’ll do it? Just like that you’ll go with me?”
Gabriel sighed and gave a helpless shrug. “I don’t think I could say no even if I wanted to.”
To his surprise, she threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you Gabriel! We are finally on the right path I can feel it.”
Aurora and Gabriel agreed they would travel across country by car to the ferry terminal at North Sydney on the northern tip of Novascotia and from there take a ferry trip across a section of the Atlantic. They would disembark at Port aux Basques in Newfoundland and from there drive three and a half hours to the edge of Gros Morne National Park, an enormous stretch of wilderness that covered almost 2,000 square kilometres. Once they arrived they would hike to the border of Southwest Pond, where tucked away out of sight stood a fortified bunker that was home to the Council.
It had sounded simple enough, but after being on the road for days cooped up in a car, travel fatigue started to seep through the cracks.
“Aurora, it’s winter,” he tried again. “Look outside. Some of those mountains have to be pushing 600 metres. How in hell are we supposed to hike across terrain like that?”
But once again, she shook her head and defiantly folded her arms across her chest. “I am the descendant of a warrior clan who lived off the land Gabriel. Do you have any idea how cold it gets on the Romanian Plain? I’ll tell you, 25F. That’s -3 in Celsius.”
Gabriel nodded and glanced down at the outdoor temperature gauge on the dash of the car. 32F. She was right. Despite the snow and freezing wind it was still warmer outside than where she had grown up. For a moment he considered making a joke like baby its cold outside but the stern look on her face warned him she was in no mood.
“Aurora, we’ll be there soon. We should really try to stop arguing and just enjoy the comfort of the car. It’s going to get much worse once we’re out there.”
But she huffed loudly and shook her head. “Out there is exactly where we need to be Gabriel not locked inside this car like sardines.”
Her beautiful face was tucked up inside the hood of a white parka and she looked like some kind of ice queen. Unfortunately she was also acting like one.
“That’s where we’ll find the Council’s bunker, so that’s where I will be most comfortable,” she continued. “Don’t you know me at all?”
Didn’t he know her at all? Since the moment they met all he had been doing was trying to get to know her. And all she had been doing was shutting him out. She was infuriating.
“Aurora - ” He was determined to set her straight, but as usual she cut him off.
“There! Stop the car Gabriel. That’s where we get out.”
The rough surface was bumpy under the wheels as he slowed the car to a stop and looked out of the windshield. All he could see were soaring mountains, a dense pine forest and endless snow.
“You’re kidding me? Aurora, you can’t be serious?”
But she was busy zipping up her parka as high as it would go, the neck closing in around her throat like a whiplash collar.
“Seriously? This is where you want to get out?”
“Now who’s worried they won’t make it?” She opened the car door and a gust of freezing air rushed in and stung at his face. The temperature felt well below zero.
“Don’t these people have phones?”
“Nope and they’re not people Gabriel. They’re vampires.”
“Right,” he sighed. “Of course. Vampires. Why would they need a phone?”
“Exactly,” she smiled. “And besides, they’ll already know we’re coming.”
She disappeared around the back of the car and Gabriel steeled himself. “Even I can feel this cold,” he managed through clenched teeth. “How do they know we’re coming?”
“They just know things,” she shrugged. “They’re prophets. They know everything.”
Gabriel nodded and let the information sink in. “Because they’re vampires.”
“And they couldn’t send a sled or something?”
She fixed him with a glare. “Do you really think this is the time to be messing around and making jokes?”
“Who’s joking? Anyway, if they know everything because they’re vampires, then why don’t I know everything as well?”
To his surprise, she finally laughed and smiled. “Because Gabriel, they’re hundreds of years old. They’ve had time to refine their skills. You’re still a baby, and you’re not a vampire. You’re a strigoi.”
Her comment was like a punch in the face. A baby. And what did that make her, his babysitter? The thought got the better of him and found its way to his lips. “I don’t need a babysitter Aurora if that’s what you’re trying to say.”
She lifted her bag out of the trunk and dropped it onto the ground. “Gabriel…”
“I may not know all there is to know about vampires and all of this demon stuff, but I’m not a baby.”
“Gabriel, we have a seriously long hike ahead of us. Please don’t start this now.”
Tiny snowflakes had scattered across the bridge of her nose like sugar sprinkled on sweetbread.
“I’m just saying I’m not a baby is all.”
“Okay, you’re not a baby. Now can we get going? Like I said, it’s a long hike.”
He reached into the back of the car and pulled out his own backpack. When he closed the trunk he noticed that snow had already started to gather around the wheels. By the time they got back to the car it would be buried under metres of snow. At least it wouldn’t be stolen he thought as he pulled the pack onto his back.
They travelled for 20 miles in silence before Aurora stopped and turned to him. “I didn’t mean anything by what I said back there,” she began. “I don’t think of you, like that.”
He hitched his backpack up higher. “You don’t think of me like what?”
“Like a baby. It wasn’t anything personal.”
But instead of smiling and telling her it was okay, he stopped and stared straight ahead. “Aurora be quiet.”
“No Gabriel, it’s important.”
“Do not take another step,” he warned.
But determined to have her way, Aurora started back toward him. “We have to talk about this and I don’t need you telling me what to do.”
But this time he was having none of it. “God damn it Aurora, just for once will you listen to me? Stop where you are and do not move.”
And then she saw the cougar.
“Gabriel I didn’t feel it,” she whispered. “I can’t communicate with it.”
“Just keep still,” he warned. “Do not move.”
But the cougar moved first and Gabriel instantly leapt into action. One minute he was standing in front of her and the next he was down on the ground. She caught flashes of his navy jumper as he and the cat rolled over and over. She fell to her knees, slamming her palms against the snow, desperate to communicate with the animal, but when she closed her eyes and focused her mind the space around her remained empty. There was no way for her to help him.
The cat tore at Gabriel’s jumper. It bit into his arm lacerating the skin and he screamed in pain but fought back, manoeuvring himself until he was holding the cat around its neck. As she watched, Aurora was surprised at his ferocity. When the cat sunk its teeth into his bicep he quickly let go, giving it the chance to slip out from under him and take flight into the dense forest. When it disappeared behind the pine trees he got to his feet and stared after it. She knew he was fast enough to give chase, but quickly realised that he was also the kind of man who would not kill unless he had to, much like her father had been.
She started toward him, but he held up his hand to stop her coming any closer.
“Gabriel, are you alright?”
“I’m fine Aurora.” He reached for the pack he had tossed to one side and started rifling through it.
“But your chest and your arm,” she whispered. “You’re hurt.”
She reached out and gently touched the scratches on his bare skin. “You didn’t turn,” she managed. “I thought you’d…”
“You thought I’d what? Turn into a monster?”
Aurora could see the sickening twist of hate that clouded his eyes. “No, I didn’t mean…”
Gabriel sighed and looked at her. “I can control it, most of the time. Now just let it be, I’ll heal quickly enough.”
He was clearly upset but he had fought the cougar to keep her safe. Even in the heat of battle he had controlled himself enough not to turn. It had saved the cat’s life. The least she owed him was an apology.
“I really am sorry Gabriel,” she began. “I…
But with a wave of his hand he brushed it aside and pulled a clean sweater from his bag. “Just forget it.”
“I care about you, okay?”
He zipped up his pack and turned to face her. “You what?”
“I, care about you.” It was supposed to be a simple apology but somehow her words had come out all tangled up.
“Aurora you don’t have to say that. It’s fine, seriously. No hard feelings, alright?”
“But I do care and I’m sorry. I should have given more thought to my words.”
And then it happened. A vision. It was the first she had experienced since the warning of Stefan’s death and it was so intense that she feared the pressure building in her temples would cause her to black out.
“Aurora what is it? What’s happening?” Gabriel was instantly by her side, his brow tangled with worry.
Locked in the intense grip of the premonition, Aurora could not answer as her body rocked back and forth and her eyes slid backward.
“Jesus Christ!” Gabriel swore. “What do I do?”
Unable to respond, Aurora tried her best to move toward him and he understood what she needed. He quickly pulled her down, cradling her in his lap. His hand rested softly across her forehead. “Try to relax,” he whispered. “I won’t leave you.”
She could not answer, but Aurora heard every word. He was there for her. He would not leave her. As the vision intensified, she gave in and allowed it to take over her mind and body. She was safe in Gabriel’s arms.
Soon she saw the long, wooded road leading up to the Council’s bunker and storm clouds rolling in overhead. On her left, what had once been the most magnificent tree in the forest was dead, its branches brittle and broken. Up ahead, Gabriel was motioning for her to hurry but she knew she wouldn’t make it in time. Dark figures moved in from each side. They were not monsters, not strigoi, but something else. Slowly the vision melted away and she opened her eyes.
“Jesus, you scared the hell out of me,” Gabriel breathed. “Are you alright? Was that a vision? Is that what happens to you?”
She nodded. “That’s why I couldn’t sense the cougar, it was already starting. But none of that matters Gabriel.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“We’re going to be ambushed before we make it to the Council.”
“Ambushed? What are you talking about?”
She grabbed his arm and tried to pull herself up. “We have to get off this track Gabriel, it’s not safe.”
“Okay, but just take a minute. Get your breath back.”
“No, we have to go.” Her voice was frantic. “It’s not safe.”
“Not safe from who? The Council? I thought they were going to help us?”
“It’s not the Council we have to worry about Gabriel. It’s my sisters.”
He threw up his arms and let his head fall back. “Oh, for Pete’s sake. Your sisters? I thought you were going to say monsters or demons, or who the hell knows what?”
“Gabriel they might be women, but they are not ordinary women, and there’s four of them.”
“Aurora - ”
“Come on.” She dragged at his arm. “We have to go.”
But Gabriel shook his head and stood fast. He wanted to help but refused to let her drag him along like some kind of terrier. “Just wait, alright? How would they even know we’re out here and please don’t tell me they just know things. Seriously, I can’t take any more of that.”
“Gabriel we don’t have time for this right now. We have to move.”
“But what about the treaty? You said yourself that killing was not allowed, so what are they going to do? They can’t hurt us.”
She let go of his arm and stepped back. “Jasmyne doesn’t care about the treaty Gabriel. She must have been home the night you went to collect my things and then followed us to the café and overheard our plans. I don’t know how they’re here, but they are and she’s determined to show my sisters that I betrayed them. They think I’m going to shame our family by asking the Council to pardon the man who killed my own brother. They think I’m going to shame them by talking about monsters and other things they don’t believe exist.”
She took a breath and her head dropped forward reminding Gabriel of a wilting wild flower.
“Aurora, your sisters are not going to kill us I promise you.”
“You don’t understand, I cannot bring shame upon myself. My parents were royalty and for all these years my sisters have followed my lead. If I bring shame upon myself, I bring shame upon them. They will not let that happen. Please try to understand.”
“Alright,” he sighed. “Okay, how long do we have?”
She glanced out into the forest and then back at Gabriel. “Not long, but we can’t hurt them and we can’t let them stop us. Gabriel, we need a plan.”
“And you’re sure they’re out there?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
He peered into the forest, willing himself to see them. If he could get them in his sights it would be a hell of a lot easier to figure out how to get past them, but as he looked out through the trees all he could see were snow-covered branches hanging in the air like ghosts.