When Gabriel was eight years old his father had taken him on his first hunting trip. Dressed in camouflage and loaded up with packs and his father’s Winchester XPR rifle, Gabriel had thought he was all grown up, until it was time to kill something.
His father had tracked a herd of elk into a ravine in the Peaks and it was Gabriel’s turn to take aim. But despite having the elk clearly in his sights and his father crouched down beside him whispering words of encouragement, he struggled to find enough courage to pull the trigger.
“I can’t Dad,” he sobbed. “I don’t want to.”
His father was furious and not wanting to disappoint, Gabriel eventually killed the deer with a perfect shot. When he saw the look of pride on his father’s face, Gabriel was determined to keep trying and eventually became an expert tracker, leading his father on many successful hunts. But no matter how many times they went out, or how many times his father ruffled his hair with pride, every time he heard the ominous click of a bullet leaving the chamber, Gabriel felt sick.
“We’re going to see the Council, find the demons and kill them Gabriel. I don’t care who tries to get in our way,” Aurora was saying. “They have to die.”
When the vision subsided Aurora was more determined than ever and Gabriel couldn’t decide if he was in awe of her passion or unnerved by her desire to kill.
“We can’t kill you sisters and we can’t let Jasmyne kill us,” he reminded her. “So what do you suggest?”
“There’s no way to avoid the confrontation,” she began. “If the vision shows me it’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen. Just like when you…”
She trailed off not wanting to bring up the past again. “The best thing we can do is to be prepared, be ready with a plan.”
He completely agreed, a plan would be great. The only problem was he had no idea what to do.
“They’ll put up a decent fight,” she continued. “That’s for certain and it’s four against two. You’re stronger than all of them of course, but you’ll hesitate and they’ll take advantage.”
Gabriel stopped walking and turned to her. “How do you know I’ll hesitate?”
“Because Gabriel…” She stared at him with knowing eyes. “I know you, but this is the first time I’ve ever been given a chance to influence the course of things and there must be a reason for that. It’s good in a way, but we need to figure out what to do.”
“You don’t know me that well,” he mumbled under his breath, annoyed that she would say such a thing. More annoyed still that she was probably right. “So we have a chance to alter the outcome. How do you suggest we do that?”
“Well, I was actually hoping you might tell me?”
She assumed because he had served his country that he would know what to do in the face of an ambush, but he had never encountered a situation quite like this. There was a part of him that wanted to say no, to tell her this was her quest and her problem, but every time he contemplated saying the words, he saw the pride in his father’s eyes the day he shot the deer. That day was the first time he ever felt like a man and not a little boy. If he could just get them safely past her sisters, he would feel like someone she could count on. He would feel more like the man he used to be, like the man he wanted to be again. He crouched on the ground ready to draw a plan in the snow. “Okay, so what do we know? Is there a back road? Any kind of alternate entrance we could use to slip by them?”
But Aurora shook her head. “No, it’s sheer cliff face at the back and on both sides. The Council purposely chose the location so they would always see their enemy coming. It’s not by chance they’ve survived for hundreds of years Gabriel. They’re the smartest and oldest vampires on Earth for a reason.”
The news disappointed him, but he was determined to think of another way in. This was his one chance to prove he was capable, not just to Aurora, but to himself.
“Okay, so we have to go via the main entry. That counts out any option of getting by unnoticed.” He thought for a moment and then nodded. “Okay I’ve got it. I know exactly what to do.”
“We can’t fight my sisters,” she warned.
“We don’t need to. In fact, they’re going to help us get in.”
Gabriel was confident his plan would work but a lot would depend on Aurora. If she was able to do her part, he had no doubt they would safely reach the Council and find out everything they needed to know.
“Alright then,” she nodded. “I trust you. Are you ready?”
He stood up and brushed the snow from his jacket. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
Juniper Pines, birch and sky-scraping redwoods formed a canopy overhead and on the ground, twisted roots rose and fell like the fingers of an old warlock. It would take another 30 minutes to reach the clearing where Aurora had seen her sisters intervene. It was more than enough time for Gabriel’s thoughts to get the better of him and sensing the change in his mood, Aurora stopped and stared up at him. “Gabriel, I can tell something’s on your mind. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, it’s fine. Let’s just keep going.”
“No, not until you tell me what’s on your mind. You can’t be distracted going into this. I need you to be focused.”
Knowing she would not let it go, he stopped where he was and looked away. “This whole thing, it’s my fault.”
“Well first of all that’s not true,” she began. “And second, we don’t have time for this now. You need to focus Gabriel. It’s critical that we get to Lucius and the Council. This is not the time to forget who you are.”
“And who am I Aurora?” He threw up his hands in frustration. “I’m no closer to knowing who I am now than I was a week ago. I mean, I know who I want to be. I do. You’ve shown me that, but…”
“You’re just nervous Gabriel. Close your eyes.”
“Aurora, if the Council doesn’t help us I don’t know if I can keep - ”
“Just listen to me Gabriel, close your eyes.”
She reached out and took his hands. He needed to understand who and what he was. Until he believed in himself, he would never be able to defeat what she knew they would inevitably come up against. He needed to understand. He needed to believe.
“Gabriel, what you are about to feel is nothing to be afraid of okay? Just let it happen.”
She interlaced her fingers with his and within a few seconds every cell in his body began to hum as though an electric current was pulsing through him. He could feel the life force of every plant, of every leaf and vine as though it were an extension of his own body.
“Aurora, I can hear them,” he uttered in amazement. “I can actually hear the plants growing.”
“You are a part of this world Gabriel. We all are, but you are special. The strigoi are often thought of as creatures with none of the qualities that make humans seem alive, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just like my father, you are tuned into this world in a way humans can never be. You are a part of every living thing and it is a part of you, from the smallest plant to the largest bear.”
As he listened, tears threatened to spill down his cheeks. He did not want her to see him cry but he was suddenly overwhelmed by an incredible sadness. “Aurora, something’s wrong. What’s happening to me?”
“We are privileged to be able to connect with the energy of the Earth Gabriel, but that connection also allows us to share its pain. Do you feel it? Does it feel as though your heart is breaking?”
Pain tore through his chest, so intense that he feared his heart would break in two. “Aurora, I can’t bare it.”
“The Earth is dying Gabriel. People have taken everything from it. They have hunted its children, felled its trees and excavated its resources. What you feel is the pain of barren earth where majestic rain forests once stood, of parched ground where rivers once flowed.”
“It’s horrible I know,” he whispered. “But what does all this have to do with who I am?”
“Humans have ravaged the Earth, that is what you feel, but there is also something else. Fear has settled deep inside the ground. Something very bad is coming Gabriel. I know you feel it too.”
“But what if it is just the impact of human life? What can we do?”
She dropped his hands and stepped back. Instantly the connection was broken and he was left to feel only his own emotions, his own fears. He quickly realised how small he really was and how insignificant all of his plans had been.
“Humans are destroying the Earth Gabriel because they don’t know any better. But what I feel is something else, something evil.”
He shook his head and closed his eyes. “I feel pretty foolish right about now.”
“Don’t. We all have our fears Gabriel, even the Earth itself.”
“Then can’t you just ask it?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Earth,” he shrugged. “Use your connection to ask it what’s coming.”
She stared at him for a moment and then started to pace, her pony tail swinging like the pendulum of a clock.
“Aurora, I wasn’t being serious.” He stepped toward her, but she moved away toward an old cypress tree covered in vine and snow. “Aurora what are you doing?”
“I’m going to try something.”
“Now? But your sisters…”
“This is more important.”
She closed her eyes and began to whisper. At first the words were too quiet for him to understand but she was mesmerising. For all the beauty of the forest there was nothing that even came close to Aurora. The breeze moved softly through her hair and he could almost see the spirit of the old tree wrapping its arms around her. She reached out and like a serpent the vine began twisting and uncoiling until it touched her fingertips. Never opening her eyes, she continued to whisper until the vine wrapped itself around the entire length of both her arms. Giving herself over to bondage, Aurora let her spirit connect with the forest. It was the most beautiful thing Gabriel had ever seen, until her eyes snapped open and her face contorted with pain.
“Aurora!” He shouted out, but it was too late. There was nothing he could do.
Her screams cut through the air and Gabriel fell to his knees. He threw his hands over his ears as all around him the forest began to wail. The sound was filled with pain and sorrow like a thousand hearts all breaking at once. Gabriel felt like his ribs were being pried apart and all he could do was curl himself up into a ball and cry.
The voice was all around him. It caressed and assaulted him. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t see. He was drowning in it.
“Stop!” he cried out. “Aurora, please…”
“Time is running out Gabriel…”
When he managed to open his eyes Aurora’s arms were still bound by the vine, but she was staring right at him. Her eyes were black and her skin was translucent. Light shimmered from her chest as though all the stars had fallen from the sky and formed a constellation in her heart.
“Time is running out…”
“Aurora…” He reached out, but suddenly the light exploded and he was thrown backward. When he opened his eyes, the vine had unravelled and Aurora was lying motionless on the ground. He ran over and threw himself down beside her.
“Aurora wake up!”
Her eyes flickered and she stirred slightly. “Gabriel?”
“Gabriel, I saw them.”
“It’s worse than I imagined,” she whispered.
“What’s worse? Aurora talk to me. What did you see?”
“The Reapers,” she whispered. “They’re coming.”