I wish I could listen. I wish I could turn around and run, never looking back. I wish I could leave Nathan behind and book it out of here as fast as I could. I wish I could listen to my brother’s council and just leave.
But I can’t.
The smoke had started to thin as Johnathan’s silhouette disappeared. “Wait, no!” I cried. My aching feet propelled me forward and I stumbled through the dead grass. My feet still burned from the left-over heat forcing its way into my cuts. The smoke thinned more and more as I kept hobbling into the empty night. “Wait! Come back!” I called to his destitute presence.
He’s not coming back, the all-too-reasonable voice in my head bluntly declared. My feet snagged on something on the ground. Dismissing it, I struggled to right myself and push forward. The black grass sizzled as the final flames were distinguished; camouflaged into the black grass was a pile of bodies.
The fog caused me to trip on something on the ground again. Finally stopping, I looked at what had caught my balance. Wait, something isn’t right.
I stepped closer to the first body I saw. The putrid stench of burned flesh that layered the air was now suffocating my senses as I came closer. There were deep, red patches the only places there wasn’t black. Big, yellow blisters covered the body from head to toe, including the face, which was indistinguishable by now. Burnt yellow fabric was melted into the blistered and burned skin.
The stomach lurched, finally having enough. I turned my back to the body as my stomach emptied its contents.
I slowly straightened, surveying the massacre. About twenty scorched bodies laid motionless amongst the burnt remnants. Every now and then, you could see a flicker of yellow, white, and black fabric.
I bent back over and disposed of anything left in my stomach. Averting my eyes from my vomit, I quickly scanned the area again, trying not to pay too much attention to the detail. “What the . . .”
Scorched grass crunched from behind me, making me jump. Dimitri emerged in the field of bodies, studying me with a scrutinizing gaze. He looked worse than the vampires we had just fought. The wound on his shoulder and calf were still there from when I first watched him fight with the others. His arm was almost completely ripped off, just barely hanging on by a thread as he cradled it to his chest. Blood oozed from a white shirt he had on, darkening the fabric to an almost black color. His face was still distorted as long canines hung from his sneering mouth.
“What did you do to them?”
Dimitri cocked his head to the side. “What do you mean?”
My temper flared. I was absolutely done with all the games everybody has been playing lately. “What did you do with the rest of the pack?” I demanded.
“They’re still back there.”
I straightened my spine. I don’t know why he wasn’t dead, but I was sick of having him and Gavin destroy my life. “Nathan didn’t harm Gavin.” I said confidently. I don’t know where I got that reassurance or confidence, but it sounded solid.
“I know, don’t worry.”
Don’t worry? What happened to the angry Dimitri we just fought? “Then why are you still here?”
“Because I’m part of this, too. As much as you may want to deny that. And you’re never getting rid of me.”
I clenched my teeth so hard I thought they would chip. “Not anymore.” I lunged at him, aiming for his arm. He moved skillfully aside, but I still managed to grab his loose limb. He howled in pain and brought his good hand to my right shoulder and shoved me back.
“El, what are you doing? This is not the time to be messing around,” Dimitri winced as he picked up his arm and moved it back to in front of him.
I glared at the monster in front of me. Only a total of five people ever called me by that name, and I wanted to keep it that way. “Don’t call me that, you monster. You have no right to be in my life! Just because you and Gavin have orders to bring me in, doesn’t mean you will ever succeed,” I spit at him with disgust.
Dimitri looked confused and took a step back. “Elana, listen to me. I’m not who you think I am, okay? I know that’s hard to believe, but you have to trust me. Just, calm down and use your head.”
“What on earth does that even mean? You know what? I’m sick of you and your twisted games. This ends now.”
I launched again, successfully reaching his arm again. I yanked it back and it nearly came off. Dimitri howled as he pulled it out of my grip. My hands were stained with a deep red as I charged at him again, this time aiming my fist at his face. My knuckles collided with a crunch and his head jerked back. I landed my other fist in his throat, watching in delight as he stumbled back, eyes wide, and gasped for breath.
He turned his back to me and started to take off. Before I could tell my body to do it, I was chasing after him, my numb feet susceptible to the pain in the deep cuts again. My limp was obvious, but Dimitri never looked back long enough to notice.
Even with my injured feet, I managed to keep up pretty well. Which was strange, because I thought Nathan said Vampires have their abilities when it was nighttime. I didn’t question it again as I sprinted forward, trying to reach Dimitri again.
My adrenaline spiked and, with one final push, I leaped onto Dimitri, plowing him into the ground. My mind wasn’t even in control anymore. I just raised my fist and punched him in the face. Hard. He turned his head as blood started to slowly pour from his nose. I struck him again, this time splitting his lip.
“Elana!” Nathan shouted from behind me. “Elana, what are you doing? Stop!”
Reality crashed down on me. What are you doing? My inner voice screamed. This wouldn’t solve anything, and there was no way I wanted to win like this.
My body ignored me as I tried to stop. But I couldn’t. I could not restrain myself from swinging another raised fist at my enemy.
Nathan’s sturdy arms wrapped around my waist from behind and pulled me up from the vampire. I struggled in his grasp for a second before my mind came back and I was able to think clearly. What was I thinking? I’m never violent like this, not even when I’m angry. My anger seemed so deep, so evil. That wasn’t me. There was no way I just did that.
Shock was the only emotion that filled me. A prickle in the back of my eyes emerged as guilt took over and I realized what I’d just done.
Nathan placed me down on my feet hastily and rubbed under my eyes, still being careful with my fractured cheekbone. “No, Elana, please don’t cry. I’m sure it was just an accident.”
I nodded numbly, not sure what to say or even if I could say anything without melting down. “Is he . . .” I croaked out the beginning of the sentence, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.
“No, he’s not. He’s barely alive. But we have to get him help if we want to save him.”
I nodded slowly, curious about Nathan’s obvious worry. The full moon gave some light, but I still had to squint against the darkness to see the body before us. His right arm was stretched out under the body and bent at such an unnatural angle that I had no doubt in my mind it was broken at least three times. The shoulder wasn’t much better and I couldn’t tell much from the shining darkness of blood pouring from the wound. I looked at his calf, but didn’t see the injury from earlier. Confused, I tried to focus in on his face, but couldn’t make anything out in the darkness.
Nathan scooped the tattered body from the ground, careful of his delicate arm. I was terrified, but I wanted to know what kind of damage I did. Nathan came out of the tree line, back into the clearing with all the dead bodies. The moon filled the sky with enough light that I could make out every detail on his face.
But it wasn’t the face of a monster I just fought.
It was the face of my loving brother.
No. Freaking. Way.
I brought some shaky fingers to my mouth and gasped as realization dawned on me. Liam has the same injuries Dimitri has. In the exact same spots.
And in my world, I’m learning to believe there are no coincidences.
“Liam? Oh my gosh, Liam!” I screamed, my voice breaking a couple of times. I nearly knocked over Nathan as I ran into the side of Liam’s limp, defeated body. Blood still poured from the spot on his shoulder and his face was so swollen and beaten it was a miracle I was able to decipher his appearance from a Professional Boxer who just finished a match.
I felt nauseous. I froze in horror at the realization that I just almost killed my brother. No, I just tried to kill my brother. The one person in the world who would do anything for me and I just almost killed him.
I felt numb as I looked at Liam again. It felt as if time stood still and I couldn’t move. I was trapped inside of this monster.
And that’s what makes it worse. There was no escape.
I replayed the fight again, still trying to focus on the face. I was so sure it was Dimitri. I could almost smell it. He had an identical shoulder injury to the one Liam has now, but the creature I fought also had an injury on his calf and his face was snarled.
Nathan’s voice sounded muffled when I heard it, like there was glass between us. “Elana? Elana, it’s going to be okay. He’s going to get help, I promise.”
A heavy ball of lead sunk in my heart at the realness of the whole situation. He was going to die. My brother was going to die because of me.
“There! She’s the one,” a muffled voice came from the treeline. “She got them all killed.”
I lifted my head to the accusation. In an instant, the film over my mind fell away and reality dawned on me. All? A small group of men emerged from the shadows, all in dark suits. I almost mistook one of the men for Junto, but then corrected myself immediately. This man looked a lot more angry than I believed Junto could ever be. There was a shorter man next to him, his skin so white it glowed in the moonlight. His aged face looked wrinkled and his head was starting to bald from age. Behind them, there was a small group of about five people, but I still felt outnumbered.
I felt my body tremble and hugged myself; I feeling more unsure of myself than ever. I averted my eyes, feeling guilty. They already know, I told myself. I stared at the ground, trying to make some of that guilt go away, but instead a singed hand came into my view. More guilt came over me at the thought of all the dead bodies and how bad they looked. I looked closer, trying to make myself feel better by identifying the awful bodies of vampires we fought earlier.
The white and black fabric looked like it belonged to a tux or suit. Looking closer, I studied the apparel. Vestiges of a yellow tie was hung around the body’s neck like a noose. Shining, melted dress shoes were sinking into the skeleton’s feet, morphed by the heat of the fire earlier.
Only, I don’t remember the Vampires being dressed up like this. The Souths pack was the only group that was, but they were at the party.
“Well did you?!” An angry voice bellowed. The black man’s face was blown with anger as he barely kept himself under control.
I started to shake even more. “Did I what?”
“Did you kill the other pack?”
I looked back down at the body. Then I looked all around me at the others. There must be at least twenty bodies lying here. Flashes of Claire and the fire ran through my mind and I remembered the cries I heard. Did they sound like Shape Shifters’ screams? All of the sudden, the smell around me became too much to bare and I started to feel dizzy.
I wrapped my arms tighter around myself. “I don’t know.”
“Of course she didn’t,” Nathan defended as he came next to me. My brother was no longer in his arms, and as much as I wish I just imagined it, I knew he must have put him down somewhere. I just hoped he wouldn’t bleed to death. “Elana hasn’t harmed any wolves. And all of this is pack business, so the hierarchy can stand down, Sampson.”
The black man, who I assume is Sampson, scowls. “This became our business when you involved another pack, Nathan. Especially when they all got killed. Is this really what you do with your time off? We have given you two months off so you can come home and get revenge?”
Nathan hardened his jaw so a muscle twitched in his cheek. “This has nothing to do with that and you know it. These people were not there before, it was only a fleet of Vampires. All of these actions have been in self-defense, so no laws have been broken here.”
“All of these people are from the Souths pack. They left the Gathering to come help when they heard the Night pack was having problems with Vampires. All of these people here? They’re not Vamps, they’re Shape Shifters.”
I almost started to claw at my brain. What is going on? First my brother, then Dimitri, and now this? “No, they’re not,” I burst out before I could think about it.
Sampson looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to elaborate. I looked at Nathan instead, who had on the same exact facial expression. “No, they were Vampires! They attacked us, and we tried to defend ourselves!” I turned my attention to Sampson, then Nathan again, bouncing my attention between the two. “I swear. Dimitri was Liam and Vampires were here.”
I helplessly looked between the two, who just looked confused. Nathan was probably wondering why I thought Liam looked like Dimitri. “It’s true, you have to believe me,” I begged. I’m sure if I were myself, I would hate how desperate I sounded. But right now, I just needed to be reassured I wasn’t crazy.
Nathan laid a heavy hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay, just let me handle this, okay?” He turned his attention back to Sampson. “How about I come back to work in two days and figure it out then?”
His question was more a statement than question, but Sampson didn’t seem to get the message. He folded his arms and shook his head carefully. “I have orders not to let her go. She’s considered dangerous and unstable. Even before this little incident happened. You and I both know how crazy Foreseers can get, and this one is just as dangerous.”
“You know I can’t do that,” Nathan stated plainly. “I’m calling in those favors you owe me. Two days, and we will come and get all this straightened out. You have my word.”
Sampson looked torn as he stared at us. After a few minutes, he sighed and unfolded his arms over his virile chest. “Get her,” he commanded.
Three men from behind Sampson didn’t hesitate to step forward. They stepped around Nathan, who didn’t budge, and grabbed my arms roughly. My limbs were aching and my feet felt horrible, so I didn’t resist them like I knew I normally would have.
Nathan visibly cringed at the sight. “Sampson, please don’t do this. We both know there is another way.”
Sampson actually looked sorry. “Nate, I have direct orders. Maybe if—”
The other two guys left behind Samson were jolted into the dark forest. Samson spun around, pulling a gun that must have been tucked in the back of his jeans. The shadows shifted, but never stepped into the moonlight.
The men who grabbed me started to pull me backwards, away from the trees. “Who did you call?” Sampson accused Nathan.
Nathan reached down and grabbed a lone branch from the ground, having lost his weapons much earlier. His still naked chest made it obvious he didn’t have any hidden. “I didn’t call anyone.”
The shadows shifted again and fear lodged itself in my throat again. I felt my body start to tremble again and the men tightened their grip even more, numbing my arms.
Everything seemed to happen at once. An army exploded from behind the tree-line as Sampson started to pop bullets and Nathan shifted. The men holding my arms jerked me back, flinging my body in the air momentarily before I felt the ground touch my battered feet.
A man dressed in all black, whom I assumed was the leader, stepped out last to supervise the action. He scanned the commotion, as if searching for something. Pacing back and forth, he continued to search the ruckus.
One of the men cutting off circulation to my arms started to pull me, but the other resisted, keeping me firmly in place. “Man, I think we should go. Sampson can take care of himself and we’ve got the girl in our custody.”
The man anchoring me to the ground shook his head. “Do you know who they are?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Who knows who they could have called. I don’t wanna give them the chance to hurt him. She’s not worth Sampson’s life.”
What makes Sampson so special? The other guy seemed to reconsider, but their debate seemed to cost us. Two of the shadows fighting Sampson and Nathan raced at us, guns raised. Time seemed to slow down as they both pulled the triggers and bullets came flying out of the barrel. They sliced through the air and lodged themselves into both my guards. They tried to dodge the bullets, but weren’t nearly fast enough.
The two men released me instantly and tried to tend to their own wounds. This time, I didn’t hesitate before acting.
The ground under my feet was hard and sharp, digging into my sores as I pumped my feet. I pumped my arms harder, hoping that would somehow make up for the lack of speed on my end.
I heard cries behind me before a commotion. They’re going to get me. I realized all too soon. I still wasn’t moving fast enough and my feet started to slow from the hurt. Desperately, I looked around me, but only saw trees. Mercifully, my sight landed on a large boulder hidden in the shadows of the large, gnarly trees. I glanced behind me quickly, trying to decide if I had enough time. Don’t think about it, just go!
I pushed all rational thought out of my mind and raced for the rock, knowing it was going to be my salvation. But only if I got to it in time.
The noises got louder and I knew they were getting closer. With one last push, I launched myself to the ground, aiming for behind the rock. My aim was off by only a little, and I landed with a thud on the soft pine needles. My ankle whacked against the hard granite and intensified the pain in my foot, nearly making me cry out. I blinked back the prickling tears and bit my tongue to keep from yelping.
The commotion came closer and got louder. Pushing aside the pain from my ankle, I huddled closer to the rock. Closer to my savior.
I held my breath and listened. I think I even ceased thinking, afraid it was going to make too much noise. Loud footsteps passed me and started to fade as the herd of warriors shot by.
The noise faded as the army continued to go past me. However, I refused to give up my hiding spot, at least not for a few minutes. I’ve seen the horror movies, I know there is always that one guy that hangs behind.
Now that I was stationary, I realized how cold I was. My fingers were stiff and immobile from the cold and I was afraid my toes were beyond saving. I couldn’t even feel them anymore. Along with my nose and ears. My hair was slipping out from the bun it was in earlier today into a strange half-up half-down style. The ends were frozen, as if I walked into a snowstorm after a shower. My legs were shaking, trying to warm themselves under the thin fabric of the dress. The long-sleeve shirt wasn’t much to warm my body, and I was starting to feel it.
After a while, I felt someone coming. Their presence amplified as it grew closer. I tried to move my numb body closer to the rock, which was ice under my touch. Squeezing my eyes shut, I focused on the footsteps I was sure I would start to hear from this presence. A distant pair of feet started to crunch down on the pine needles as it drew closer. I held my breath again, thinking it was too loud for my situation.
The footsteps grew near and halted. My fear spiked again as I realized he must have heard or seen me. Feeling trapped, I started to ease away from the safety of the rock. Back on my hurting feet, I slowly backed away further into the shadows. A figurine stood in the distance, studying the surroundings and squinting to see more in the moonlight. I felt his presence as he started to inch out of the landing and into the tree-line again.
Scooting back slowly, I started to panic. I’m finally going to die. My rational side said as my determined side tried to find a way out of this situation. You have gone through so much today, this last thing should be a walk in the park.
I stumbled onto a rock and it slid into another, making a small ′clink’. The sounded like a bullet in my ears and I worryingly looked at the shadow again. It looked right at me.
I spun around, stumbling over more rocks in the process. More fear soared through me and I raced back through the woods, trying to find my footing in the process.
I felt the silhouette race after me in the night and pushed my trembling legs harder. It took everything in me not to scream or burst into tears. Looking behind me, I noticed the figure catching up with me. That thought barely went through my mind before I lost my balance and sailed into the air. Then everything went black.