The Great Oak wasn’t there anymore. A different sort of tree laid in its place. At least ten feet wide and twenty-five feet high, the bark of the tree had blood seeping down the edges of it. Hands and feet and heads were popping out of all angles - oddly bent and shaped.
Oh, my gosh. I couldn’t believe this.
Pups. It was… pups.
Some of the pups had green poison dripping from their mouths and their eyes, dripping out of their noses, dripping from their hands. Others had their eyes open just enough to let me know that they had been suffering for far too long.
I couldn’t even speak. My lips were parted, but I stood there in absolute shock. Almost everyone who just arrived at the scene was stopped and was just staring at the tree.
The tree was moaning, like it was in pure agony. White was standing near it, whimpering because she didn’t even know where to begin with helping people.
I closed my eyes, linking Samuel, Aaisha, and a few of the neighboring alphas to get as many people here as possible. The more hands to help remove the children from this tree, the quicker we could try to save them.
I didn’t know how many - if any were still alive. I was sure the majority of them were drained. I had felt my powers weakening, even if it was just slightly. So, I knew she drained a lot. I just didn’t know how many. The people on the outside seemed to only be affected by her powers, not by drainings.
One by one, the Protectors tried to untangle the pups from the tree. White, the doctors, and I created make-shift beds in the forest and placed each pup on one. The pups who were still alive and in the most critical state were run directly to the hospital where they were taken into surgery. The others with less threatening injuries like broken bones were treated by White and I here.
Moments later, thunderous pounding echoed through the forests as packs began arriving. And after the initial shock of the tree, everyone got right to work. We had formed a system of untangling, bringing them to the hospital, treating them on the forest beds.
Pups were screaming, wolves were crying, I was trying to keep everyone alive. The pup in front of me was on the brink of death, his eyes were closed, his lips parted. I took a breath and placed my hand on his tiny chest. This must’ve been the 200th pup I was trying to save today.
With everything I had within me, I put my power back into him. A white film clouded my vision. He coughed a bit and was taken by a Protector into the packhouse where he along with the others were being fed, dressed, and cleaned up.
Another pup was placed in front of me. With my hand on his chest, I closed my eyes trying to give him my power. Everything continued to stay white - a bright white. I nodded to myself when I heard him cough.
Good. Good. He was alive. Next one.
I didn’t even see the next one being put on the bed. I just knew he was there. I could tell by his wounds that he was worse off than the last two. So, I placed both of my hands on his chest and took a deep breath. A piercing pain split through my chest, and I screamed.
The boy coughed and sat up. I grasped onto the bed, trying not to fall over. But instead I stumbled into it and doubled over.
This was too much. I could barely breathe. Everything was white and I felt like I was spinning around.
Someone wrapped their arms around me and pulled me up. Valerio. I knew his grip too well. He picked me up and placed me on the bed myself. He ordered White to continue to heal and I felt so utterly useless that White was still able to heal others while I couldn’t. Here I was lying on the bed myself, so dizzy that I couldn’t stand straight.
I didn’t want to be useless anymore. I sat up.
“Stop it, Mae.” Valerio propped me onto my butt and wrapped his arms around my torso, trying to steady me. “You’ve helped so many already.”
When my vision returned, I sat up, pressing a hand to my head. I placed my hands on the side of the bed, curling them into the make-shift mattress. I gazed over at the tree which was only half-way taken down.
Many of the pups with bark and poison had been removed and were taken to the hospital or were currently recovering. Most of the others, near the tree’s core, were drained. Blood was still seeping out of their wounds. It was like their small bodies and blood were keeping the tree alive and growing, like a form of life support.
I had been weakened a great deal by the drainings and by saving the pups lives, but I wanted to help more. I needed to say goodbye to the pups and help them move on. From what I could see, there were no souls that had risen. They probably had all risen to the overworld already.
So, despite Valerio’s wishes, I hopped down from the bed and walked over to the tree. Samuel was helping take down the pups, one by one. I sat next to him and said goodbye to each of the pups.
We sat together all day. Over and over again I would brush pieces of hair out of their faces, giving them a moonflower. And by the end of the day, most of the Moon Flowers from the path I had created from here to the packhouse were gone.
741 pups. Gone. Just like that.
Valerio watched me the whole time and gathered more Moon Flowers for me each time I ran out. I didn’t know where we were going to keep all of the bodies, but he told me we were keeping them here until their families wanted them back, if they did at all.
By the end of the day, the tree had been dismantled, the doctors were working overtime, and the pups that were saved were filling the pack house. The Protectors volunteered to take a few back to their homes so they could be properly fed, bathed, and clothed. I tended to the rest of them.
When they had all been placed to bed, to be watched over by Valerio and I all night, I sat with Valerio on the back porch. I didn’t even ask to sit so close to him, I just did. Curling into his side, I rested my head on his chest and let a tear fall from my eye.
“I wish I could’ve helped more,” I said.
Valerio wrapped his arm around me and pulled me closer. “You saved as many as you could’ve.”
“Why is she so cruel? Is she too scared to fight me herself? She has to use innocent pups to weaken me? Why is she like this Valerio? Isn’t she supposed to be motherly?” Tears began streaming from my eyes. I couldn’t hold them in any longer.
Pulling me closer, Valerio let me curl into his neck. He didn’t say anything, but I swore I heard him sniffle, which only made me cry harder. “This job is hard,” Valerio said after fifteen minutes of silence. “And it only gets harder.”
I pressed my lips together. At 3am, I was too tired to keep my eyes open. “Something about this whole thing doesn’t make sense.” I scrunch my brows together. “If Luca is able to kill people using this green magic, we’ll call it, why didn’t Alexandra?”
Valerio furrowed his brows too. “Maybe she had a different way of poisoning people? Poisoning their minds.” Valerio sighed. “Damon loved you Mae, but before he met you Alexandra had him tied around her fingers. He was willing to reject his mate - even if she was a werewolf - so he could be with her. Literally there was absolutely nothing remotely good about her, but Damon was obsessed.”
Again, I fell back into his arms, thinking about this all. Damon. Alexandra. Luca. They all clouded my mind, but one thought was beyond clear. I was going to kill Mother Nature.