Will’s eyes turned strict and he then commanded.
“..so stay here.”
I felt the weight of his words, felt the desire to obey, and at the same time hated that someone who proclaimed to love me would use a power like that in the same breath. I had experienced this twice before, both times when we were making love. He probably did it unconsciously, but because I was hungry for whatever he was dishing out, I had done as he asked.
What he didn’t realize was that I had never been bound to follow that deep Alpha tone. I was only half Were, and I guessed that I was a little different than what he was used to, but I could feel myself starting to change. The sleeping wolf I hadn’t met yet was starting to wake up, I felt her whenever my blood spiked. She was an angry animal and fed off mine, after years of sleeping, she wanted out. She wanted to follow what he commanded, but I sure as shit didn’t have to yet.
He leaned down and whispered something while I was focusing on my hands and controlling the anger towards him. Staying silent in case I accidentally betrayed the fact that I had no intention of being a good dog and ‘staying’, I heard him run out of the house and speed across the Ring in his truck. The fucking hypocrisy, ‘we go together’, only when it’s important to him. But not when I might be able to help the only loved one I really had left. I guess I understood why he wanted me here, assuredly safe, but it still felt like bullshit.
Diana. Whatever had happened to Smith, Diana was no longer there to help. I finished tying up my laces and paced around my room, how could I help?
Suddenly, my chest seized and I felt nauseous like I was about to vomit. Will, this was coming from him. Holy hell, what was he seeing? Panic and fear were freely emanating from him. Is it Diana? Would I never speak to her again? Speak to her...
I dove for my phone across the bed and swallowed the feelings running through Will. I selected her number and let it ring. After a few rings, it picked up and I almost sighed in relief but instead froze when a deep, foreign voice answered.
“You know what? I was hoping you would call before I tossed the phone.” Arawn. I swallowed hard.
“Is she still alive?”
He laughed at me and from somewhere close, I heard Diana cry out in pain.
“Of course she is! How else am I going to get you to come and talk to me?” His voice was almost happy like we were two friends arguing semantics. This guy was fucking insane. I took a few breaths, trying to think this out.
“Okay, what exactly do you want?”
“You, alone. Find a place that will be worth your time.”
A place worth my time? The office in Spokane that I had goaded him over. His next words froze my blood and he spoke slowly to make it clear.
“And Kelly… if there is anyone following you… I’ll make sure she hears the baby scream before I kill it.”
I felt like I had cotton in my mouth, and from what sounded like the car he was in, I heard Diana’s muffled wail in fear as she also heard the threat.
All I could muster was a whisper,
“I’ll be alone.”
“There’s a good lass! See you soon,” he replied, almost chipper before the line disconnected. This man might literally be insane.
Diana, please not Diana. From my chest, I felt anxiety, like I was running out of time. It wasn’t coming from me though, it was Will. What had happened to the others? Coming out onto the porch, I stared at the horizon and across the Ring. At the entrance to the forest, Will’s blue pickup came racing down into the center. My eyes followed it until it was then lost behind the few large buildings. As my eyes wandered down the field and back up to my house, I spotted my father’s bike in the yard. I had to go.
Fuck fuck fuck. What to do? I raced back into my room and looked around, flustered. Grabbing my leather riding jacket from the back of my closet and the helmet on its floor, under years worth of old shoes, I scanned the room one more time and stopped at my desk.
This was probably not going to end well. I would give my life in an instant for Diana, and twice as fast for her baby. Which meant that I was probably not coming back to this house, or the people. Back to Will. Taking a deep breath to remain calm, and not let anything slip through our connection, I went to the desk and held a pen to a sticky note.
What to say to the man I had only known for two months? Hell, we had only been dating for a week, but if I admitted the truth, he had permeated my brain since the night I had met him. What would I want to say to someone who had such an impact in the short time I had been with him? Yes, he pulled an asshole move today, but it didn’t change anything between us. Especially after he made his brief declaration of love.
Smiling to myself, I wrote my note and left it on the bed, hoping he would understand and find some way to be happy once I was gone. I still really had no idea what being a ‘mate’ entailed, besides being intimate entwined, but maybe people could still find love after? Leaving the house for the last time, I ran to my bike and walked it to the forest behind my house, not wanting to draw attention with the distinct purr of her engine. There, not ten meters in, I found what I was looking for, still there after all these years. The forest trail that wound around the Ring’s field and out to the main entrance, was wide enough for an ATV, and was a perfect fit for a slim motorcycle that needed to hurry.
I tore through the forest and out through the main gate, which was now open as two Weres were pushing an old Range Rover in through the entrance. I blanched as I saw the windscreen and decided not to stop to question, just get to Spokane.
Luckily, coming down the rarely used road, and past the lunch hour traffic, I flew. Feeling Dad’s bike beneath me and taking the road I knew intimately, it was like no time had passed. Like I was running late for school in town and needed to make homeroom. Like Diana and I were taking a long lunch and trying to avoid Gran’s chores. Like we were on our way to a double date and Diana was hiding behind my back trying to protect her perfect hair. Riding on that road, I swore that I would do anything to make sure that not one more Wardwell died. Diana was going to come back to the commune and make those goddamn ridiculous shampoos and bask in the ever loving glow of her screaming toddlers.
Before I knew it, Spokane started to roll past. From memory, Vine street was down near Riverside park area, and I weaved in and out of traffic for downtown. The street was a side one, off of the main thoroughfare. Rolling past 1200, I looked at it closely. An old factory, it almost looked decrepit or abandoned had it not been for the highly modern door and security system that surrounded the entrance. I revved the bike forward, and came back to the main road. There was a police station further up, and I parked my father’s bike in front of it, eyeing the several uniformed cops coming in and out. I might die before the day was over, but there was no way in cold hell that I was letting these psychopaths grab my dad’s Harley.
Leaving my old helmet on the seat of it, knowing full well it would probably be stolen before the day was finished, I walked back the block. My hands were clammy and I wiped them on my jeans before approaching the entrance with baited breath.
The double doors seemed innocent enough and I pushed them in to discover what looked to be a recently abandoned office. A reception desk, now vacant, held the giant gold logo of the company. Papers were strewn on the ground as well as other random bits of stationary. It was colder inside the building than out, and I guessed someone had turned off the heat. My footsteps echoed over the tiles as I moved past reception and into the large open working space, seeing much of the same. Empty desks, folders and other such fly away pieces of work on the ground. These people got out of here fast. Was it only yesterday morning that I made my empty threat to Arawn?
Seeing no one , I huffed my fringe out of my face. This was not what I had expected. Walking into a lion’s den to find out the lion was on break and had taken the rest of the day off. Turning around in a circle, I closed my eyes to think and stand still. Typing, I could hear typing. My ears pricked up at the faint sound, it was far away. Was this part of being a Were, heightened senses even when you were a human? Didn’t Will say something about that on our first date?
I followed the sound of the typing through the bullpen of desks and back through a closed door at the end of the space, walking through a break room, then a well used gym. Another door past the gym led to what looked like a makeshift lab.
There, standing with his back to the door was a tall blond, dressed casually in jeans and a long sleeve tee. Hearing the door open, he turned and gave me that flirtatious smile I knew like my own.
“Ah, you’re here early. Wasn’t expecting you for some time yet.” He turned back to the computer he was typing on and I swiveled around, looking at the room confused. He gave the keys a few final taps before grabbing his wallet and keys beside the keyboard and walked towards me.
“Ready?” I looked behind me, incredulous at his casualness.
“Where is she, what the hell is going on?”
He frowned, obviously displeased I was angry.
“We are going to the new location.” Looking me up and down, inspecting my jeans, white tee, and leather jacket, he held out his hand.
“Phone and the bracelet, please.”
I stared hard at him, trying to give my new 'fuck off' stare I had occasionally used with Jess. It did no good though, Chuck had known me for too long and the Hunters were playing dirty by sending him. He knew I was the soft one in our group. Or at least I was. In any case, he knew that he was stronger. I held his gaze, hoping he would break.
“We can’t go to your cousin until I get them.”
Fuck, he knew. He knew that a bunch of crazies took my pregnant cousin and were holding her hostage. I looked down at the bracelet, there goes any hope of rescue.
I shucked it off my wrist and reached for the phone in my back pocket, handing both over to ‘Charles’. He took them from me, and held my hand in both of his, pulling me in closer to his chest.
“I didn’t want you to find out that way, the other morning.”
Snatching my hand away, I stepped back a few feet.
“How would you imagine me finding out that you joined the group of people who want me and my family dead? A Christmas card?”
He tipped his head back in stereotypical Chuck dramatic fashion.
“Jesus, do you not listen to anything anymore? Is that what this big ‘revelation’ did to you? You haven’t been listening to anything I’ve said to you for months now.” He shook his head and walked past me to the door, expecting me to follow. Walking through the empty factory turned office, he led me to the side parking lot, where a grey sedan stood waiting. Chuck held the door open for me and I looked warily at him. He didn’t respond but rather leaned up against the door, challenging me to walk away.
Raising my chin in defiance, I got in and he slammed the door shut.
Driving through the city, I looked over to my best friend. What had happened to him to make him do this? He had lost a little weight and most of it seeming from his face, his jawline now more pronounced and sharper. If I hadn’t been disgusted by his behavior I would say he was more handsome. Driving in silence, we headed East out of the city and back in the direction of the commune. Chuck had assumed a thoughtful expression and was seemingly happy to drive in silence. I couldn’t stand it.
“So, what? You just give up ten years of schooling to become some kind of cult-following psychopath who wields machetes and kills people?” I had enough venom in my tone that this whole scenario was repulsive.
He looked at me askew, like he used to when I would get in a fit about Dr. Brown, knowing I was wrong, but still wanting to bitch about it.
“No, actually, I’m still working in the field. The company is legit. I’ve already done some soil analysis and other studies since I started working for them a month ago. They pay well, the health package is great, and the holidays are pretty good.” Goddammit, he was trying to be funny about it.
“Ahhh, I see, a scientist with a smidge of psycho, nice.” Perking his eyebrow up, he ignored me. It then hit me. Chuck had no idea what these people would do, he had probably been sitting in a lab since he started working.
“Chuck, this isn’t you. You haven’t seen these people in action. They kill people. They decapitated my aunt, like she was nothing. Like her life meant nothing. This isn’t you.”
He took a breath, and focused his eyes on the road while he spoke.
“You know, you think you know someone, someone who knows yourself just as well. But then one day, you see video footage of the person you have been friends with for a long time, and she is burning people. Burning herself, screaming herself into oblivion, vomiting with pain and anguish, and then it hits you, what do you really know, you know?”
He stopped at a traffic light, and looked my way, his face now serious with the revelation that we didn’t ever really know each other. I had been hiding things from him and it turned out he was pissed. They showed him the video, hell, that’s probably what lured him in, promised footage of me as someone else, someone who needed saving. I mightn’t have needed saving, but the other twenty witches that night did.
“Then you also saw the five minutes before, where that man sliced through Franny’s neck. Did he hesitate about it? He must have, since the blade didn’t go all the way through. Or maybe she surprised him and he didn’t get to make a big enough swing? Or maybe she was crying when she saw what was going to happen and he had a moment of regret? Which is it, Charles. What does the murder look like on grainy footage?”
His eyes glazed over for a moment and he returned them back to the road, going through the light.
“It looked like a Witch trying to make some kind of fireball to throw before the man did what had to be done.”
Fuck, Franny had tried to fight back. I just shook my head with another round of bitter mourning, more tears for Franny.
“You’re right, you think you know someone, then they turn out to be a Ted Bundy wannabe.”
I sniffled and wiped my nose, angry that he had put those tears in my eyes.
“Well, you won’t have to wait too long I bet. I wonder if I’ll be your first victim and add to that tattoo? Do you think that will be your initiation into the club? Kill your first Witch. Do I get a running head start? Or will you just tie me up to make a nice clean cut?”
Chuck shook his head, exasperated.
“God dammit. Kel, no one is going to hurt you. It’s like the main reason why I agreed to work for these guys.” He took a deep breath, “Kel, I have...”
“Stop right there, Chuck.” I cut him off. Whatever he was going to say would just make me angrier. I could feel it and I didn’t want any part of whatever childishness he was about to dish out. This wasn’t love, this was some kind of fucking savior complex he had going on in his own psyche and I was not going to play therapist.
I laid my head back on the seat and felt his eyes on me for a minute before returning back to the road. We drove in silence for twenty minutes, before I started to look around. We had just driven past the main entrance to the Wenatchi reservation. What the hell were they thinking? So close to the Res, they would be found out for sure. They couldn’t get past the wards. The Hunter Valley Coven might have had a lapse of judgment and lax security on the treaty weekend, but they were infallible when they put up a ward meant to hold.
He kept driving, eventually turning North, skirting the East side of the reservation. A single dirt road was concealed by a large boulder, and Chuck rounded it, heading up the road. We were close to the Reservation, I could feel the tingle of the ward barrier. He noticed my confusion but continued to drive in silence. After a few more minutes, an outcropping of rock rose up on the right, and some parked cars came into view.
Chuck parked the sedan and I followed suit to exit. We had to be close to the ward boundary line, I could hear it like it was tinnitus in my ears. Trailing him around the large boulder, a cave appeared in a little hillside, two men in matching grey jumpsuits on either side of its mouth. They both had a casual stance, but the shotgun and machete that hung from their belts suggested that they were anything but casual. That fucking machete again.
They nodded to Chuck and eyed me as we walked between them. The cave had a large mouth that quickly narrowed down for two people to walk side by side, the ceiling holding a string of lights that continued down the long, cold passage. Abruptly, the tingling of the Res’ protection ward was right overhead, Chuck continuing to walk under it, unharmed.
Mother fuckers. You couldn’t dig under a ward, but it seems if there was an existing tunnel, you could use that to pass under it, unscathed. How the hell had they known that? The commune didn’t have any such cave systems under it, but the Res was nearly twenty times larger in size and they might be unaware of the caves since it technically began outside their land.
We continued walking for a few more minutes until a bright light heralded the end of the narrow passageway, it suddenly opened up to a large cavern, filled with fluorescent lights.
I gasped in shock.
In the enormous space was, at a quick glance, about fifty men and women doing various tasks. My eyes scanned the room, men in a corner, loading guns, and cleaning other weapons. Another corner looked like it held digging equipment, with some blueprints on a table. Bright glaring computers and some work desks took up another portion of the cavern, and in the center of it all was a raised circular dais, almost like a command center with a steel grated walking platform.
There were CCTV monitors staring out to the room, and men were sitting down, looking like they were preparing them. I had killed eight of the men who were intent on killing ‘unnaturals’, but it seemed that was just a small portion of their force and they were getting ready to finish the job I had cut short.
From my side, a hand grabbed mine and pulled me to the right side of the cavern and my attention was torn away. I looked down to see Chuck’s hand in mine, clasping it tightly, leading us down a separate hallway within the cave, his thumb rubbing the top of my hand in a misplaced affectionate motion. After passing two doors built into the wall of the cave, he turned to the third and opened it, leading me inside.
There, sitting on one of two cots in an otherwise empty dirt cell, was Diana with Arawn next to her. Her eyes were red, bloodshot and her whole body screamed exhaustion. The man leaped to his feet, a smile on his face.
“There you are! We were just talking about you.”
I ignored him and looked to my cousin, who stared back at me, almost lifeless.
She lowered her head down into her resting hands. What had she seen? What did he say to her? I turned my gaze to him.
“I’m here, now please return her back to the commune.”
Clicking his tongue in thought, he looked down, hovering over Diana like he would suddenly snatch her up.
“Mmmmm, not just yet, your threats yesterday were just so...convincing. I don’t want you cocking that little gun of yours now. She stays until the end. Just to make sure you don’t get...trigger happy. Remember, keep that gun holstered and everyone stays alive, understand?”
I moved over and sat down by Diana, I grasped her hands, feeling them shake. Knowing that I couldn't pull out my own little electricity trick or Diana would die added a little bit of a shake to my own hands.
“Okay, why am I here then? I don’t know if you caught on, but I’m like the newest Witch you could have possibly chosen. You could have done a lot better.”
Arawn smirked down at me, while Chuck had kept his stone gaze, leaning up against the door frame.
“We are just waiting on the boss to fly in before we start that conversation. In the meantime however…”
He reached into his shirt pocket and held out a piece of paper to me. Taking it with my free hand, there was a Latin word written three time on it. I tried to quickly translate it, but he cut my thoughts short.
“We gotta get rid of that mark first, sweetheart.”
I blanched with wide eyes.
“What that mutt did to you. I’m assuming he didn’t ask before he did, just did it, right?” He gave a grim grin, and I pursed my lips together, not wanting to admit that he was right. But still, I wanted it, still want it. How the hell did he think he was going to get a bite off of me?
I shook my head and ripped the paper in two, letting myself feel angry.
“Look, as much as I appreciate the weird parental feelings everyone seems to have about my current boyfriend, thanks, but no thanks, and fuck off.”
“Kelly, it wasn’t his place to do that. You don’t belong to him.”
I threw up my hands in frustration, “Again with this belonging shit. Hate to tell you dude, but the medieval ages were a while ago and women belong to themselves.”
Arawn gave a knowing but resigned smile, his eyes roaming over my body.
“Not any female Were offspring of Ewan Jones, I’m afraid.”
I stilled. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Arawn stood and left the room, Chuck moving aside to let him. What the hell did that mean? Was he just trying to put me on edge? It worked. The door was still fractionally opened as he spoke to someone outside and with my new sensitive hearing, I focused on it over the sounds of Diana's whimpering.
Arawn spoke. “She requested for you to do it.”
“Why me?” A deep voice asked.
“The fuck if I know, but no more than necessary, okay? She’s important, just scare her enough for her to do it.”
Instead of answering, the door opened again, Arawn making way for two large bearded men, both looking at me like I was a piece of meat for the grill. They were dressed in tactical gear and looked like something out of a Call of Duty game. I looked to Chuck, who had something close to a look of pity on his face. He suddenly held out his hand to Diana.
“Diana, can you come with me?”
I clutched her hand in my lap and sat slightly in front of her, shielding her from view.
“She stays where I can see her.” There was no way I was letting her out of my sight.
Chuck replied with sincerity and without hesitation,
“It’s best for her if she leaves for this, it would upset her and the baby.” Diana now gripped my hands and spoke to me for the first time, her voice was shaking as she eyed the two new men.
“Kelly, please, just read the words and do as they ask. It’s not a big deal.”
I stared again at the two men inside the doorway, they looked mean. Not just big and intimidating, but mean. If I had them, I would say they rose my hackles and I wanted to defy them just to show them I wasn’t who they thought I was, they were here to break me. I turned to my cousin again.
“It is for me. I don’t know what they want me to do, but…” I looked at the man in the forefront,
“..they can go fuck themselves.”
He smiled at me, like he appreciated the words and I had given him a prize. He spoke to me with a lazy southern drawl,
“You know darling, I’m so glad you feel that way.”
Chuck suddenly moved to Diana, and grabbed her hands, dragging her up off the bed without protest. I went to grab her back, but the Southerner got to me first, wrapping his arms around my waist and pinning my arms to my body.
“DEE!” I screamed and struggled against the man. Diana left the room with Chuck and the second man left behind them, only to come back in carrying a small iron stove that had a long black steel poker coming out of the mouth of it. A brand, they were getting a brand hot. Hot enough to burn skin. I struggled harder against the man and screamed, but he pulled me backwards to sit himself on the cot with me down in between his legs. He wrapped his legs around my waist, replacing his arms so he could have his hands free to hold my neck.
“GET OFF OF ME!” I screamed and twisted. He was too strong, I was no match for those thighs and he knew it. The man with the fire poker stood there, watching us struggle. almost with amusement. I couldn't kill them for fear of Diana's safety, but I could sure as shit get them off me. Taking a deep breath, I focused on the legs around me and heard the snap of electric shock. Behind me, he gasped but didn’t let go, laughing instead.
“Is that all you got, Witch? A few bug bites?” Struggling harder, he tightened his thighs and calves around me, his hands were on my shoulders and clamped down so I was essentially boxed in.
“Now, you’re gonna play along and say the word ‘Intermissum’ three times. Got it?”
I struggled again and turned my head so he could see my profile.
“I think I already told you to go fuck yourself, right?”
Laughing again, he grabbed my chin with one hand while his other started to snake around to my chest.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve seen a Witch like you. They are usually all dressed like fucking dirty hippies who think they are at Woodstock. But you, so much sass and…”
His hand started to knead my right breast and I uselessly tried to wrench my body to the side to escape his grasp.
“...you I would fuck.”
My head was forced to the side and I felt rough, dry lips on my neck, biting, licking, but not kissing. His other hand came to my left breast and grabbed it just as roughly. Behind, I felt his erection on my lower back and I fruitlessly tried to toss and writhe out of his grip, panicking at the thought of being raped. I screamed a wordless cry louder. The man with the poker standing in front of me started to rub his own groin, his eyes never leaving my breasts.
There was another laugh behind me and he whispered in my ear .
“I bet you buck like a bronco, right darling?” He took a pause before darkly whispering. “But no, it would be more like fucking a dog, right? Sorry sweets, I’m just not into bestiality.” The hands didn’t leave my breasts however and I felt his beard scratch against my ear,
“Now, be a good girl and say the words ‘Intermissum’.” I couldn’t reply, my breath had left with my screams and along with any logical thought. I didn’t know what the incantation would do, but I was sure I would be in worse trouble if I actually did it. I stayed silent, continuing to struggle against his limbs. I focused and gave him another electrical shock, trying for the biggest I could muster. I couldn’t kill them, but I could try to shock him out of his grasp.
He gasped and his legs loosened slightly, only to immediately return to their strong grip.
“Fine,” he uttered without emotion.
Suddenly, his hands left my chest and came to my face, one pinching my nose, the other clamped over my mouth. I stilled for a moment, how did he want me to say it if he was covering my mouth? He held the position for a moment longer, before I understood.
He was going to suffocate me.
Terror started to race through my veins now and adrenaline flowed freely. The second man took a step back to avoid any of my flailing limbs, but he still held a look of amusement on his face.
I gave every ounce of energy I had to struggle out of the vice-like grip, but he held firm. He was stronger than me and in a better position. I could try to shock him again, but my brain was going haywire and I couldn’t focus. Planting my feet on the floor and pushing up, both of us crashed back onto the cot, me on top of him. His head hit the dirt wall behind and he ‘umphed’ but never let go of my face or arms.
They were clamped around me, smothering slowly. I twisted and squirmed while the unforgiving limbs leeched my last moments of air. Tears wet my cheeks and his hands as I started to get tired, my brain foggy. My writhing slowed and my brain went to Will. Standing there in the firelight, introducing himself like he actually needed words. His strong jawline looking like it wanted me to kiss it. It would be okay to die like this if this was my last thought. Everything started to dim.
Air suddenly flew back into my lungs and I coughed with the sudden rush.
My attacker had let go of my face and let me revive myself, my brain rebooting. I blinked up at the cave ceiling and he forced me to sit up, still tightly holding my body with his thighs. The man standing was now leaned against the opposite wall, looking intently at us on the bed, like he had all the time in the world. He still had his erection, it seemingly had grown bigger during my asphyxiation. He wanted me to keep it up, keep defying them.
Shit, they were going to torture me until I said the incantation. They would probably just keep doing this, over and over, terrifying me and letting me hover on the brink of death. Maybe they would rape me in between until finally they would take it too far and I wouldn’t come back.
I sucked in air like it was water and my lungs were burning in a desert. His deep southern voice whispered near my ear.
“You going to cry Uncle?”
Another tear rolled down my cheek and I thought of Will. Would he feel this? Would he understand? Could we do this again if I did this now? Instead of answering the voice, I stared at the attacker now standing above me and clearly spoke the Latin word,
“Intermissum, Intermissum, Intermissum.”
He smiled and brought the poker out of the little furnace. A hand behind me tilted my neck to the left, baring Will’s mark clearly. Taking deep breaths I whooshed them in and out, preparing for the burn. I would not scream again for these men. Sexual assault, torture, and branding, fine. But they would not get another scream out of me.
The hot poker came closer, and the hands and legs around me hardened, waiting for me to struggle. Meeting his eyes one last time, he hesitated and gave one last smile.
“Do it already, creep.” I spat.
The hot poker came down on my neck and it felt like nothing I had ever experienced. It was so hot at first it might have been cool. Then the reality hit and my body seized, my teeth clenched with so much force my jaw creaked with pressure. Liquid fire was on my neck and it was going to burn me through. I felt the hands around me release and blackness start to come in at the edge of my vision as I started to pass out, the last thought I had was of the man I just gave up.