“Are the children safe?” Nick asks with urgency.
“Yeah, they are doing everything they can to distract them from the whole ordeal. Although, I suspect we will find out if they are truly okay by tonight.” I answer. I see Shadow looking around the underground area since this is her first time in the hidden floor.
“It is really cold in here.” She mutters as she rubs her hands on her arms.
“Yeah, I had to magically freeze the room in order to prevent ugly things from happening if you know what I mean.” A disgusted look appears on the witch’s face.
“Okay, I hate to be the one to say this, but Xander we are running out of trusted warriors.” Brook tells me as she hugs herself.
“I know.” I sigh running my hand through my black hair.
“So, what is your plan?” Nick folds his hands against his chest.
“I actually think that the only options we have are to either guard the orphanage ourselves or place a boundary spell around it. The latter seems like the better option given every other problem we have to take care of.” I growl because I do not like the fact that we are having more problems appearing rather than having current problems solved.
I see Shadow clutch the children’s book even tighter. I sense her anxiety slowly emerging even though Accalia helped her calm her nerves back in the woods.
Something is wrong with mate; I can feel her anxiety. Amoux growls.
I think we should give her space, especially after what happened while we were in the other dimension.
Fine, but I do not like it. He blocks me.
“I agree; a spell seems the more fitting option.” Brook fixes the glasses on her nose.
“Okay, can we please move to the part where we discuss the good news?” Nick claps his hands dramatically as he smirks. We all look at each other awkwardly; no one has any good news. That makes my mood worsen in a matter of seconds; every day that passes seems to bring more stress and new problems. I just wish we know what is actually happening.
Stop being such a bloody drama queen! Surely the book our mate found will help us in some way.
I hope so. I have nothing more to say; I am starting to become mentally exhausted.
“Well, maybe I will have some good news after I go through this thing.” Shadow speaks up when the silence becomes a little too unnerving.
“Why not go over it right now?” The witch asks hopefully with a bat of his eyelashes.
“Nick, we called them here for a reason. Also, Shadow told you she plans to go over it later. Right now, we have other things to discuss.” Brook gives him a playful pointed look; which is rare since she normally only shows her serious side.
“Whatever.” Nick pouts and I chuckle at his childishness.
“So, what did you want to tell us?”
“Well as planned, I examined the warriors’ bodies as thoroughly as possible.”
“What did you learn?” Shadow takes a step towards her; a sign of her eagerness to what Brook has to share.
“Well, I was able to confirm my initial guess; the decaying started from one spot and spread to the entire body. Not only that, but after I performed an autopsy on more than half of the bodies, I established that the decaying sabotaged all the bodies’ organs; the heart, the kidneys, the spleen, the liver, the lungs, and every other vital organ in the body.” I almost shudder as I imagine how much they suffered before they died.
“Does that mean all the organs stopped working at once?” I try to conceal my emotions as best as I can.
“Well, our friend over here claims that the organs stopped working one at a time. So they were literally tortured to death.” Nick visibly shivers.
“Well, at least now we know how they died. Even though I think I will vomit my breakfast.” Shadow mutters as she mildly shudders from the cold.
“It is better than wondering and having no answer.” I reply.
“I agree; it is nice to have some answers rather than new questions.” Nick leans his back on the wall as he glares at one of the bodies that are on the countless tables.
“Do you have anything else?” I give Brook a pleading look. I know I am being a little greedy by asking for more information, but I am eager to understand everything that has been happening around me.
“Unfortunately, no and I do not think I will be able to get anything more from the bodies.”
“I want to keep the bodies, just in case. Owen wanted them destroyed so badly; there must be a reason.” All three people before me nod in agreement.
“I can examine the bodies one more time just in case I missed anything.” Brook offers.
“Yeah.” I whisper.
“I will go and do the boundary spell on the orphanage. I do not want to worry Josh with it since he has been in a bad place lately.” Nick winces at his words; he just slipped up.
“What do you mean?” I give him a perplexed look even though deep down I know what he means.
“It is nothing…”
“Tell me the truth.” Both of us say at the same time.
The witch looks at me with guilt in his eyes.
I notice Brook looking down on the ground and sighing. Even Shadow gives me a pained look. And suddenly I am aware that all of them have been hiding something from me.
“What am I missing here?” I look between them waiting for them to explain to me what is happening.
“Josh did not say anything, but I can tell that he is going through something…” Nick trails off.
“Yeah, he has not been his usual playful self.” Brook agrees. All three of us look at Shadow waiting for her to say something, but she stays silent.
“Shadow?” My voice is barely a whisper.
“I have nothing to say.” I can read the message between the lines: Josh has trusted her with a secret and she will not betray his trust and tell me what he told her in confidence. I respect that, therefore I only nod and give her a small fake smile.
I have a feeling that whatever secret Josh trusted my mate with, it is about me, and I immediately decide to talk to him about it. I do not want to force him to talk to me; I just want to make sure that he is okay. After all, he is my brother.
“Alright, that is awkward.” Nick fake whispers as I continue to stare at Shadow.
“Um, okay do you want me to go through the book with you?” I try to change the subject.
“Actually I was hoping to read it with Clay. He told me that in an hour it will be Nolan’s turn to stay with Owen. I was planning to meet him in the flower field; Owen rarely goes there so we will have privacy while reading it.” She opens her mouth wide as she gives me a weird smile.
We can go and talk to Josh while she is with Clay. Amoux points out.
Yeah, that is the perfect opportunity.
“Alright.” I nod.
“What about you? What will you do?” Brook raises her eyebrow.
“My mother mind-linked me and asked to talk to me, so I will go to the house and see what she wants.” The lie comes out of my mouth smoothly, but it is evident that no one believes me. Regardless, they say nothing.
“Is it just me or every time we see each other it always ends up with Xander giving everyone tasks.” Nick gives me a playful smirk and I chuckle at his attempt to lighten up the mood in the room.
I stand in front of Josh’s front door as I contemplate knocking. I doubt I will be able to handle what he has to say; that is if he agrees to talk to me about whatever has been going on with him.
Just knock on the bloody door! Amoux snaps at me.
Maybe I should just go… I allow trepidation to get into my mind.
You are a bloody coward! He insults me then blocks me for the second time today.
“I can sense you standing at the door Xander.” Josh screams from inside the house. Hence, I sigh and make my way inside.
“I just wanted to come and check on you.” I walk through the halls as I follow the witch’s scent which leads me to his living room.
“Hey…” My voice trails off as I take in my friend’s appearance. He sits on the floor before his coffee table with his back leaning on one of his couches. On the coffee table there are about seven or eight opened books. However, what really scares and shocks me is the fact that his eyes are red and swollen, and the bags under them cannot be missed. It is lucid that he has been crying.
“What is wrong?” I walk towards him and sit on the couch that is to his right. I make sure to keep some distance between us in case I am the reason behind his tears.
He stays quiet as he avoids my gaze; he looks at the floor, the walls, the roof, the bookshelf, and the coffee table with a blank expression.
“Josh?” I plead.
“What are you doing here Xander?” His voice is husky from the crying.
“Am I not allowed to come and visit my friend?” I raise my eyebrow.
“Yes, sorry; that came out the wrong way. I meant to say: did something happen, do you need help with anything?” Josh rubs his eyes before he faces me.
“No, everything is alright. Well, something did happen, but I want to talk to you about something else.” I feel my hands start to shake. I think I am afraid of what he might say.
“What do you want to talk about?” I can sense the distance between us; it is not the fact that he is not being playful and sarcastic, but rather the detachment in his words and his actions.
I did scar his bloody face; I think that is enough to make him act like that towards us. The sorrow in my wolf’s voice saddens me.
Hey, WE scarred his face; not you. I try to comfort him even though I know my words are a lie. I believe that he knows that because he only whimpers and hides in the depths of my mind.
“It is something Nick and Brook said. They mentioned that you have been going through a hard time lately, and they hinted that I am the reason behind it. Now, I am not oblivious or naïve to think that what I did to you is something that one can get over in a span of a few weeks. However, I do wish to know what I can do to help you. Please tell me what I can do.” This time, it is my turn to have tears run down my face.
“There is nothing you can do Xander. You know that I do not blame you, and I never will. But I just need some time to adjust and actually digest what happened. I ask you to understand and respect that for the time being things will not be the same as they were in the past between us. But I promise you that I am working on it and that our bond will never be shaken; it definitely was not shaken by what happened.” He puts his hand on my shoulder making me look at his face. Even though I try not to, I cannot help but stare at the scars I gave him; the ones that no magic will ever be able to conceal.
“I understand.” I whisper as I look down at my lap.
I hate that we caused our friend this bloody pain! Amoux growls in both anger and despair.
Me too, but the only thing we can do is give him the time he asked for.
I do not want to bloody abandon him in the time of his need; when he is at his weakest!
We are not abandoning him Amoux, we will be here for him if he needs us, but we will not impose; it will only make things worse for him and us. My wolf is unpleased, but refrains from arguing any further.
“I love you brother.” Josh gives me a faint smile.
“I love you too.” I try to smile back, but my friend’s face tells me that I fail miserably.
There are many things I want to tell him; thousands of forms of apologies that will not change anything. However, I know that it is best to remain quiet; especially since I do not know how to begin my apology and how to end it. I want nothing more than to take all the pain that I had caused; but I know that such a process will take time; perhaps years. I just have to believe that eventually Josh will heal and I, along with all of our friends, will help him with anything he might need.
“Listen, I do not want you to over think this, not with everything that is going on. I know you want to help, but I do not want you to distract yourself with me and my problems, I need you to focus on our pack and our home; they are the ones who need your full attention.”
“I think you know me better than to ask me that.” This time, my smile is genuine.
“True.” He chuckles.
“If you ever need me, I am here.”
“I know Xander.” And the way he says it somehow assures me that no matter what, we will be okay; our friendship and our bond is way to strong to be affected by anything that is happening.