By now, Nathan is inches from the vampire, looking at something behind me as if his life depended on it. I turned to see Liam dragging me towards the rest of the pack, all of them changed into wolves just as Nathan is. The deadly intent was only coming from Nathan, but the others had a protective stance.
Dimitri looked angry as he glanced between the pack, Nathan, and me. Although Liam wasn’t a supernatural like the others, he still held his ground and shoved me behind him. “Well, it looks like my job got a bit harder.”
Dimitri lunged at us, but Claire intercepted him, snapping at his leg. He moved in a flash, grabbing Claire’s exposed neck and threw her across the forest, colliding hard with a solid pine tree. The long roots were revealed as the pine couldn’t hold the power and collapsed to the ground.
Hyene launched herself at him while his back was turned, sinking her long teeth into his shoulder. Dimitri roared in anger and grabbed at her head in a desperate attempt to shake her off. Hyene only sunk her bite deeper, yanking her head back with a large chunk of flesh. Dimitri let out another pain-filled screech as he placed some distance between Hyene and himself.
Without noticing it, Dimitri backed himself right into another Shifter. An unfamiliar wolf I assumed was Blake snapped at his feet, making him jump back in surprise.
Dimitri quickly recovered and grabbed at Blake. The youngest shifter avoided his swift hands and twisted around, trying at his calves. This time, Dimitri was too fast for him and he managed to get hold of some thick fur on his back and toss him in a similar manner as Claire.
Liam spun around to face me. “Are you alright?” He demanded, searching over my body for any damage. I grabbed my bare arms, rubbing at the cold I could feel now that my body wasn’t trying to turn itself inside-out. I could only imagine what the bottom of my feet looked like now that I was running bare-footed on sharp rocks and pine needles.
“She better be,” Nathan boomed from behind me before I would answer. Nathan wore his normal gray sweats I had seen many times before, but I couldn’t tear my eyes from his bare chest. His perfectly sculpted muscles made my heart flutter in anticipation, despite our current circumstances. I looked closer when my eyes rested on a dark patch on the left of his stomach. As he came closer, I noticed two small puncture wounds at the top of the steady blood flow coming from his left abdomen.
He sauntered to me in two long strides, his eyes looking over my body in inspection. He reached me and grabbed my arms roughly, looking me over as if he was searching for something. “My gosh, you’re so cold.” Nathan handed me a long-sleeved shirt I assumed was for himself. “Did he touch you?”
How else did I get here? Flying? I caught that Nathan wasn’t in the mood for my sarcasm, so I shut my mouth and just shook my head in response. His grip on my arms lessened and for the first time, I saw raw emotions in his eyes. Need, regret, protectiveness, determination. “I’m so sorry.”
His exposed voice caught my off-guard. Every time I spoke with him, he was careful to hide his emotions and speak with some sort of void of authority. Seeing him this exposed made me feel like I was seeing the real Nathan for the first time.
I reached out to touch his wound, but he snagged my wrist before I could make contact. “Don’t. I’m fine.”
I felt a frown stretch on my face. “No, you’re not. Please let me look.”
Something crashed behind me and I turned to see the fight still going on. Dimitri was still struggling against the Shifters. Someone had finally succeeded biting into his right calf, taking most of the muscle with it. Blood flowed steadily from his shoulder where Hyene bit him earlier. I started to get dizzy from the overabundance of blood.
Nathan spun me around, bringing me back to his eyes. He had placed his regular void over them again. “You need to get out of here.”
I pulled the shirt on as fast as I could. I barely had my arm in the last hole when Nathan latched onto my hand and started dragging me away from the fight. I looked back, watching all my new friends fight for someone who won’t even stick around for longer than the month. Instant guilt paraded my mind and I felt my shoulders slump a little against Nathan’s pulling.
The constant tug subsided, noticing my trouble. “Don’t feel so guilty. They chose to come. It’s their own choice to be fighting, not an obligation. Besides, if we don’t fix this now, it will come back and bite us in the butt later.”
Junto abandoned his friends and bolted to us. “Don’t look back!” He yelled while shoving us deeper into the woods.
An army of other vampires surfaced from the trees behind the fight with Dimitri. All of them had the same controlled look that Dimitri had, only a little less intense.
I didn’t question. I ran.
My legs pumped under me as fast as they could, propelling me into trees. Sharp pain invaded the bottom of my feet, but I tried to push through it. Nathan refused to let go of my hand and pulled me farther and faster into the forest. Or maybe out of? I couldn’t tell. Junto ran behind us, but you could tell he was slowing down so he can watch out for us.
I heard a few branches break from behind me, heightening my anxiety even more. Fear invaded my veins as my legs continued to propel my trembling body away from the fight. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as adrenaline pumped through my veins.
Nathan halted our escape as there was a thrashing sound in the trees and I finally turned around. Junto staggered, his hand clamped to the wound on his side. I could see blood oozing between his fingers. Concerned, I took a step forward, but was pushed back by Nathan.
My eyes returned to the trees. I could feel that there was something else coming, thundering in my ears, the sickening clench in my gut endless. The campsite suddenly filled with a repugnant smell, like rotting flesh.
Nathan leaped forward just as the creatures burst from the shadows. They were tall and bulky, twice the height of Nathan, with dangling arms, wide hands, thin bony fingers, vicious claws, and protruded fangs shining with poison. It was like seeing a vampire experience death over and over again, unwilling to die.
I stared in horror, a blood lust and anger evident in their faces. I lost my balance, collapsing in panic.
Everything became a bur. Junto was flung aside by one of the beast’s pale hands. Then it dove after the Shape Shifter with jaws the size of a bear trap.
Nathan tried to deter the beast, but he, too, was easily swept aside by the giant hands. He narrowly dodged a blow, jumping and rolling, hitting the ground, and then immediately recovering its stance.
My eyes widened as I looked at the collection of vampires around us. At this point, there had to be dozens. A few had wedged themselves between Nathan and I, making it obvious we were widely outnumbered.
Usually, I had a hard time inflicting pain on people. But these things were not human, so I put my ethics aside.
The closest one, hair matted with blood and tattered clothes barely hanging onto his body, lunged at me. I sidestepped it and smashed my elbow into his face. He grabbed at his nose and it took the opportunity to slam my elbow into his back, between the shoulder blades. There was a loud crunch as he fell to the ground.
Another advanced on me just as I finished with the first one, grabbing at my neck. The beast stumbled to me, a nightmare of blazing yellow eyes, its wide-open mouth dripping with thick, acrid saliva. I ducked under his greedy hands, bringing my head up between his arms. I whacked my head into his nose, watching him tumble over in pain. I grabbed his shoulders and kneed him in the groin as if my life depended on it. Well, I guess it kinda did.
The vampire was on the ground in seconds, rolling in pain. I kicked his stomach once when another two beasts advanced on me. The first grabbed me from behind while the second came in front of me. I stomped on the foot behind me, expecting him to let go, but his grasp only got tighter. I struggled against his hold, trying everything I knew, but he easily subsided them and brushed my attempts off like I was just an annoying fly.
The second guy came to the front of me, and I wasted no time kicking him in the chest. I hit him squarely between the pectorals, right where his heart should be. I expected him to need a breath to recover, but he just recoiled and landed a punch to my face, smashing my cheekbone.
My neck snapped as the force whipped my head to the side. I felt my cheek bones grind together as they broke and I let out an agonizing scream from the pain. I struggled against my restrainer, itching to strike this vampire back. He laughed at my attempts and bashed his fist into me again, splitting my lip open. He exploded from pain and anger simultaneously.
Suddenly, Nathan was by my side. He grabbed the vampire’s head and brought it down on his knee. The sound of his nose breaking ricocheted off the forest, alerting anyone nearby of our presence.
A sea of red and orange spread instantly behind Nathan and the undead vampires. The fire spread closer and closer, stopping at my feet, going around me, and continuing into the army of vampires. I took the distraction and landed a hard punch to my restrainer, socking him in the eye. He stumbled back, right into the never-ending field of fire.
Confusion settled over me as I watched the fire continue around us and consume more vampires. The stench of the flesh burning was overwhelming combined with the agonizing screams and I brought my hands to my ears quickly, trying to turn off the sound of their pain.
The heat from around me started to eat away at the frostbite I undoubtedly was getting on my toes and fingers. My head started to ache and my feet hurt more than I thought would be possible. Now that I was counting injuries, I also noticed the dull pain that came from my cheek, even though I was squeezing the sides of my head.
I averted my attention from my pain and focused on the origin of the fire. Claire stood not too far away with a concentrated look on her face, hands outstretched. Vibrant blue flames shot out of her hands as the look of furry took over. Junto stood next to her, yelling something in her ear. The sound of cracking flames and a few leftover screams silenced his words from my vulnerable ears. Claire lowered her hands, the angry blue flames dissipating from in front of her. The palms of her hands were scorched with black and a small trickle of blood escaped her nose.
Junto extended his own hands, shooting ice blocks at the roaring flames. The smoke thickened as the fire tried to resist the frozen water, leaving a thick sheet of gray that quickly blocked Junto from my view. I squeezed my eyes tight, trying to keep the ash out. The smoke rose up scratching at my lungs. I coughed, trying to rid the heavy oil from my body, but only inhaled more to replace it. I brought my elbow up to my face, placing it over my mouth and nose in an ineffective way to filter out the smoke. The fabric seemed to be helping the most, though.
Reluctantly, I cracked my eyelids open. I spun around, desperate to find anyone in the field of gray. The gray smoke invaded my eyes, making it nearly impossible to see straight. I rubbed at my eyes and tried again. There was a small circle of grass at my feet that was still a vibrant green. Around my small bubble was dark, ugly dead grass. Tiny red flames still sprung from a small patch on the ground. I thought about stomping it out, but then remembered I had no shoes on and it would really hurt my already dying feet.
My head snapped up when I saw something in my peripheral vision. The gray smoke hadn’t let up any, but there was one part that was darker than the rest. It narrowed slightly, and I squinted my burning eyes to see what it was. It was the silhouette of a person.
The shadow halted, just enough in the shadows that I couldn’t see their face. “Elana Suthard.” My whole body froze at the sound of his voice. Why is it so familiar? “You need to leave. To save yourself, you need to go.”
I shook my head, trying to clear the smoke out of it. No, this doesn’t make sense. “Why?” I yelled at the smoke.
“Run, Elana. Don’t let them catch you. Stay away from the Nights.”
My stinging eyes widened in surprise as I remembered where I had heard this voice before. “Johnathan?” I asked my eldest brother.
Then he was gone.