22. How to Almost Die
I’m being treated like a fucking child.
Though, of course, that’s probably because I’m acting like a fucking child.
“I will not,” I said, crossing my arms stubbornly. If it came to it, I would probably dig my heels into the ground if he made any gesture that made me think he’d drag me along anyway.
Luca pinched the bridge of his nose, his usually calm façade cracking, showing hints of exasperation and annoyance under the surface. “Reese, please, just work with me here. You need to learn how to - ”
“I already know how to fight,” I interrupted, once again causing our argument to go full circle. We’ve been not-so-calmly discussing this for close to half an hour now, and each time one of us was forced to repeat ourselves, our sweet, diplomatic tones grew more and more weary and strained. “Or have you forgotten how many werewolves I’ve killed? How many vampires? This isn’t something I haven’t done before.”
“I have not forgotten,” he said. “However - ”
“Besides, I’m not going to train with a bunch of werewolves,” I snarled out the word like it was a curse. Which, in my eyes, being any kind of supernatural being would be a huge curse.
“Would you just listen to me,” he sighed. “I watched you fight, remember?”
Oh, yes. The day I was caught. He’d stood back and watched as he allowed Keith and Oliver to do the hard work, only becoming involved after I’d killed Oliver and was about to murder Keith. However, Luca had probably realized that coming at me head-on wasn’t a very effective idea and that he needed to be a lot more subtle in order to capture me.
“I probably have a dent in my skull,” I said, touching the spot where he’d hit me over the head that day. It had healed weeks ago. I was just being my usual dramatic self.
“I know that you’re good at what you do,” he continued, ignoring me - which seemed to be a common trait amongst these werewolves. “But how easily can you control yourself?”
I blinked. “What?”
“That night, you were completely filled with bloodlust. You killed without a second thought. How?” he’d switched back into his diplomatically useful tone. I had the feeling that I was being interrogated. The Alpha put him up to this, didn’t he? So be it, then. Time to talk without actually saying anything.
“You tell me,” I kind of wished I was in an interrogation room. This would have been a good time to lean back in a chair. But since I was standing outside of my glorified cell, there wasn’t anything to lean on except for a wall. “You’re the ones who triggered it.”
“There were a dozen other supernatural beings in that room with you,” Luca’s mouth twisted thoughtfully. “Vampires and magic-wielders. And yet you didn’t even attempt to attack them. Why?”
“Everything I do is carefully planned out.”
“Including killing Nicholas Randon?”
“He was a target, but I didn’t expect to kill him until later,” I hadn’t even thought I was ready to kill him. I almost wasn’t. If it hadn’t been for that weird burst of strength and speed... well, I’d still probably be in this mess, but there would be one more evil werewolf in this world.
“And you planned on killing Ryker Marcel?”
“He was my next target, but I ran into him purely on chance.”
“So he caught you by surprise?”
“So how did you manage to kill him?” he was definitely questioning me. He’d started pacing and everything. “And Nicholas? I’ve studied your kills, Reese. You seem to always have them planned out to the exact minute. You always have a way out, which means you know the location. You always change your personality and looks to match the preference of your targets, which means you do a lot of recon.”
“Am I meeting my number one fan?” I muttered. “I’d say I’m pleased to meet you, but I’m really not.”
“You say killing Nicholas and Ryker was unintentional,” he breezed past my comment. Pity. “Statistically, you shouldn’t have even been able to kill Nicholas.”
This was getting tiresome. “Why does it matter?” I shrugged. “It happened. I killed them. They’re dead. The past is in the past.”
He leaned forward. “It matters because the Alpha is trying to come up with a plan of action,” he said. “The vampires have become a problem, and he knows that the best way of dealing with it is by using you.”
“Wow,” I brushed a piece of lint off of my shoulder. “I feel so special. The Alpha must really trust that I’ll keep my word to not run away.”
“We’re not sending you in alone,” he said patiently. “We’re sending a strike team with you.”
I took a step back, mildly surprised. “A strike team? Like the suicide squad?”
“It’s not a suicide squad.”
“That’s too bad, since it would be a fitting name,” I grinned cheekily. “Since, you know, somebody on the team would rather - ”
“I get the idea,” he cut in. “But it’s not a suicide squad. Which is why I want you to train with some werewolves. And why you should tell me how you killed two high-ranking werewolves with no plan, no way out, and only armed with a single dagger.”
Should I reveal my secret weapon? My incredible wit? The way I move on instinct when I have no plan? The instinct that even I don’t fully understand?
Or just tell a half-truth. You’re great at those.
“I’m fantastic at improvisation,” I said.
He stared at me blankly. Clearly, he didn’t believe me. Too bad, since I was telling a truth. My brilliant plan to escape from prison? Improvised, and it worked brilliantly. From the way Luca was acting, it’s like he expected me to spend my days meditating on the best way to murder people, when in reality, I only did that during my lunch breaks.
I sighed. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll train with your stupid werewolves. But I can’t promise that I won’t accidentally kill anyone,” I tapped my forehead. “Like you said, this beast can become quite bloodthirsty under the right circumstances.”
Luca nodded, like he’d been expecting this answer from me the entire time. He was right, of course. The ability to fight and humiliate some werewolves? Count me in!
“That’s what I’m counting on,” he said.
For the first time in forty-eight days, I’m actually outside.
The air was refreshing, smelling like life and nature. The wind tugged against my air, gently caressing my skin. The sun was shining, not a cloud in sight, like the Earth itself was celebrating my return -
Actually, none of that was true.
The air was blowing from the city, carrying with it the smell of garbage and car exhaust. I wrinkled my nose. The wind bit against my skin, stabbing into me repeatedly like a thousand cold, tiny needles. My clothes were not fit for the cold, and I shivered. To top it all off, the weather was cloudy, grey, and it was pouring rain.
Apparently, the Earth wanted me to get the hell back inside.
Which is precisely why I stayed outside.
Luca brought me out to where the Front Campus of the university used to be, though now the grass had long since been stripped away, and all that remained was packed-in dirt. This was clearly where the werewolves trained.
Rebecca stood nearby, watching Simon. She looked up as we approached.
“Eli told me you’d be joining us,” she said, grinning. “I didn’t believe him at first.”
“I wouldn’t, either,” I admitted. “Wouldn’t want to let the dangerous Hunter near any of the precious werewolves, now would we?”
Her grin broadened. “Did Luca tell you why you’re - Simon, no shifting!” she broke off to shout at the young werewolf, then turned back to me, shrugging ruefully. “It’s only been three months since he Shifted for the first time. He hasn’t mastered control yet.”
My gaze drifted over to Simon curiously, watching as his nails slowly receded back into his fingers. Ouch. “I knew younger werewolves couldn’t transition as quickly, but I had no idea they have trouble controlling their changes.”
“When you shift for the first time, your wolf awakens,” said Luca.
“Right, because that makes perfect sense,” I was utterly confused.
“Think of it as a puppy,” Rebecca said patiently. “It’s excited, it’s impulsive, and it takes time to train.”
“So you all have... puppies... living inside your heads?” werewolves are weirder than I thought.
Rebecca laughed, throwing her head back as she did so. She, too, was absolutely drenched, but she didn’t look like she completely felt the cold, wet rain. “Only the new wolves,” she explained. “As they gain control, their minds start to become one. After about a year or so, it’s impossible to differentiate between the wolf and the human. They’re not separate beings anymore. They’re one,” she sighed. “I hope that makes sense. It’s hard to explain.”
“Is that what happened to you?” curiosity ate at my insides. Screw training. This stuff was interesting.
A shadow passed over Rebecca’s expression, but before she could respond, Simon padded up to us, grinning.
“Reese!” he exclaimed.
“And who said you could stop?” Rebecca affectionately ruffled the boy’s red curls.
Simon cast a dark look over his shoulder. “Keith saw Reese,” he said. “And declared our session over.”
“Aw, and you were so close to beating him, too,” Rebecca cast me a wink. I decided that I didn’t absolutely despise her, right then and there. If anything, maybe I kind of even liked her. Even though I murdered her brother, she’s still nice to me. Her reaction was completely opposite from her brother’s. While Rebecca grinned and joked around and seemed to enjoy my presence, Elijah threatened and tried to break my spirit at every turn.
In Rebecca’s case, I guess the apple fell very far from the tree.
Simon turned to me eagerly. “Are you really going to fight Keith?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Am I?” I gave Luca an accusatory look.
He had the grace to look sheepish. It was a refreshing change from his usual demeanor. “I thought I’d test your self-control against an opponent who wants you dead.”
“Test my self-control? I think living in the middle of a pack of werewolves that I desperately want to kill at every waking moment is enough of a test, thank you very much,” that was, of course, an exaggeration. I hadn’t felt the urge to kill anybody since I got here. Actually, that wasn’t true, either. I wanted to kill Luca when he brought me to the Alpha for the first time. That was the last time I wanted to kill a werewolf.
Were my Hunter instincts retreating? Could that even happen?
“I don’t think that’s completely true,” Luca said, echoing my thoughts. “I think your instincts rise when you’re under threat, like when you’re being hunted across the city.”
Simon blinked. “You don’t want to kill me, do you?”
“I don’t think I ever really perceived you as a threat, kid,” a look passed between us, a memory of our first meeting, when he came to warn me about the Alpha’s proximity and I threatened to turn him into a doormat. His eyes were questioning, and I slowly shook my head. No, not even then. You’re not exactly a threatening presence.
Keith, on the other hand, was quite verbal about his hatred towards me. I did, after all, stab his twin through the heart right in front of him. Though Keith seemed more like an eye for an eye type, I have no siblings left for him to kill. He was five years too late on that front.
Which, of course, in his eyes, meant that killing me was the next best thing.
The werewolf-in-question approached us then, remembering to take the time to send a lethal glare my way.
“I hear we’re fighting one another, Hunter,” he growled. “It’s a rematch I’ve been dying to have.”
I flipped a strand of soaked hair over my shoulder and batted my eyelashes. “What exactly happened the last time we fought? Remind me, please.”
His eyes darkened.
“Reese, no matter what, do not kill him,” Luca said.
“Like I could,” I muttered. “Give me my dagger and we’ll see what happens.”
The Beta’s brown eyes narrowed. “I think you’ll do fine on your own.”
What does that mean? What’s he insinuating?
“Keith, remember your orders,” Luca said. His jaw clenching, the angry werewolf nodded. He stared at me for a long moment - and then exploded into action.
I sidestepped quickly, my heart already racing. Woah. Was he not going to wait for the others to clear away? Then it hit me; Luca was asking how I managed to gain the upper hand, despite not having the element of surprise. The little sneak. Of course he’d pull something like this.
I dodged Keith again. His nails had grown into deadly daggers, and all of them were poised and ready to cut me into little pits. His eyes had blackened completely, and as I whirled around to face him, he snarled viciously.
And flew forward.
Werewolves move fast. I threw myself to the side, feeling a stinging pain rip through my cheek as his claws made contact with the skin. I hit the ground, rolling back to my feet instantly, as the warm trickle of blood mingled with the rain falling from the heavens. My clothes were splattered with mud. Yuck.
If I had my dagger, this would be an entirely different story. I’d end the fight before it even began. But, unfortunately, the Alpha had to have the foresight to take away the one weapon I owned that could actually kill a werewolf.
It’s not fair. Piece a werewolf in the heart with a silver dagger? Boom, they die instantly. Stab them through the same muscle with a brass dagger? Somehow they defy the laws of science and live to see another day. The same went for wounds, too. A wound caused by silver wouldn’t heal properly - it would leave a scar, some kind of physical reminder. Anything else would clear away like it was never even there.
But I wasn’t supposed to kill, Keith. Besides, my Hunter instincts were being conspicuously dormant, and I didn’t have much bloodlust for him at the moment anyway. I mean, I’m always out for blood, but that’s due to my hunt for revenge, not because it’s instinctual.
Anything supernatural is weird.
“You’re not so brave without your dagger, are you, Hunter?” Keith taunted. “Where’s the fierce warrior I was promised? Who keeps ducking and dodging my attacks?”
My left fist - my broken, bruised, battered hand - closed on something in my pocket. Pain flared, but I ignored it. I stared at him evenly, staying silent.
He attacked again. I stayed still.
He was closer. I didn’t move.
His claws glistened in the rain. My muscles were locked into place.
It was only when he was practically on top of me that I moved.
As his claws ripped into my right shoulder, I spun, brandishing a jagged shard of glass from my mirror that I had smuggled out of my room. Blood dripped from my hand where the glass dug into my skin, and I sent the shard sailing into his neck. Triumph flashed over me as he staggered away from me, choking.
It was short-lived.
With an infuriated roar, he yanked the shard out of his throat, throwing it to the side, and stood upright, glaring at me with new anger. He leaped at me, and because of my new collection of injuries, my reflexes weren’t there on time.
I landed on the ground, the air knocked out of me, my head cracking against the hard ground, pain burning up my neck from whiplash. I didn’t have time to regain my sense, for then Keith was there, his arm already in motion, his claws aiming for my neck.
The bastard was going to kill me.
It was then, at the exact moment, that I understood him. I killed his brother. He wanted revenge, just like I did. The look I wore whenever I slaughtered another werewolf was plastered onto his face now. The knowledge that with every kill, I was one step closer to killing the Alpha.
He was going to kill me, and I understood why. I’d want to kill me too.
However, I didn’t want to die just yet.
But, unfortunately, my box of tricks wasn’t fully stocked today, so it looks like I was going to die anyway.
Or so I thought.
Heat flared up around me, stifling, as the tip of Keith’s claw broke the skin just above my jugular. Cold fear rushed through me, and then the heat grew to a crescendo, and he was suddenly thrown away from me, crashing to the ground a dozen meters away.
He took a minute to get back up, but by then Luca had rushed onto the scene and was escorting him to the Alpha. After all, he did just try to kill the Alpha’s new favorite toy, or whatever it is he thinks I am.
I wanted to stand up too, but I think my bruised and bloodied everything needed a couple of minutes. Or days.
Rebecca was suddenly kneeling next to me, and though she was clearly anxious, she also looked... thoughtful?
“Reese, are you okay?” she asked.
I wanted to give her a thumbs up, but I could move my left hand anymore, and my right shoulder was burning. I wanted to nod, but my neck was being rather uncooperative. Also, a terrible headache was developing. Ow.
“Never better,” I rasped instead.
“Good,” she nodded. “So, can you tell me something?”
“What? What I did to incur the wrath of another vengeful werewolf? I killed his brother, too.”
She shook her head. “No, not that. I was wondering... which one of your parents was a magic-wielder?”