“Axel, slow down!” I shout as I fight desperately to get a grip on the dashboard, trying to avoid slamming into the window again.
Axel practically dragged me through the halls of the hospital, into the elevator and, as soon as he pulled out of the parking lot, hit the gas pedal and hauled ass through town like a kid desperate to make it home before curfew.
The old Jeep bounces down the gravel driveway of the Browning house and my head hit the roof, a stream of curses leaving my lips.
He turns the wheel sharply, his knuckles white from how hard he has been gripping it.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I am full of sickening energy from leeching off the hospital patients I might be worried about having a knot on my head but, since I started exhibiting early Reaper symptoms, minor injuries haven’t lasted long on me.
Lillian rushes out the front door of their house, struggling against the harsh winds that began to blow as we closed in on their property. There had been a strong gust when we left Gordian General but nothing like what they are getting here.
Her face is coated in a thick layer of worry as she stops in front of the Jeep, brow furrowed as she stares at us.
Axel jumps out the car, gravel crunching loudly under his boots. “Is this all her doing?”
“Who else would it be?” Lillian shouts back. “This is her first time dealing with something like this and she isn’t taking it as well as I would have hoped. It’s worse inside and, if she doesn’t stop soon, she is going to tear the entire house down. We need to contain this before she does some real damage to this town. The weather has been far too unstable lately and I don’t think the houses here can handle one of her wind storms right now.”
I climb out of the car as Axel kneels and places his palm flat against the ground, closing his eyes. Within seconds a small bud begins to sprout next to his hand, its purple-white petals blossoming before suddenly withering. Axel plucks the dried up plant from the earth, handing it over to his mother. “Here, give this to Alyssa. I don’t care if you have to shove it down her throat but she has to take it all. It will knock her out in five minutes or less.”
Lillian rushes back into the house as another gust of wind pummels into us, gravel pelting into my legs with far too much force.
“We need to get inside!” Axel shouts over the roar around us, raising his hands up to shield his face. “This might get worse before it gets better.”
I stand, watching in amazement as the trees behind their house sway and bend. A few branches snap out of place, launching themselves into the air before slamming into the ground beside the house.
This reminds me of the storm that raged the night my father tried to kill me. Was a Nexxus behind it too?
Axel grabs my wrist, pulling me across the yard and into the house.
Lillian was right, it is much worse in here.
Strong gusts race through the house, knocking anything and everything off the walls. Torn our pages from books tornado around us, falling to the ground once they hit the wall.
I duck down as a book flies past my head. “What is this? Why is she doing this?”
Axel wipes the dirt from his face, catching a couch cushion as it careens towards him. “Alyssa isn’t in full control of her powers yet. This happens sometimes if she gets too upset. This more upset she is, the worse it is.”
“What has her so upset? And why did you drive like a crazy person once we left the hospital?”
The chaos in the house comes to an abrupt halt and everything that has been swirling around us stops, dropping to the ground loudly.
“Thank god,” he mumbles. “I was hoping that Valerian root would knock her out quickly or else I’d of had to resort to actual medicine. Someone else might have tried to dope her up sooner, but that’s just because people these days have forgotten how useful certain plants can be. That flower has been around for years, long before the invention of sedatives. Did you know that the Greeks and the Romans used Valerian root for medical purposes? They don’t take to the soil around here like I wish they would and they’re a bitch to grow, by Alyssa really needed it. My mot-”
“You’re stalling. Stop. Why was Alyssa so upset that she damn near blew the house away? You’ve been acting weird since we left the hospital, broke every traffic just to get us here this quickly, and don’t think I didn’t see you texting your mother in the elevator. Quick rambling me with your impressive but useless knowledge of plants and tell me what is going on. Why did Alyssa have to be knocked out and why does your mom look like she saw a ghost? Please, just be real with me.”
“Reaper.” Just hearing him say the word knocks the air from my lungs and sends him rushing to the front door to make sure he remembered to lock it. “There is a Reaper in town, one other than you.”
I watch him scurry about the living room, wondering if there is something I should be doing to help because I know standing here like a deer in headlights isn’t doing anyone any good. “Are you sure? How do you know? Is that what Alyssa was freaking out about? Did it, did it come here?”
“God, no. Reapers are ballsy, but not ballsy enough to walk into a house where more than one Nexxus lives without knowing that they can do.” He finishes checking the last window in the living room before moving into the kitchen. “Alyssa freaked out because I didn’t think before sending a text and I should have. I figured she would be in her room like she always in, not ten inches away from my mom’s phone and the one to pick it up. I should have just called but I didn’t want to risk setting you off in front of the hospital staff. I just, I just wanted to make sure we were safe before letting you know.”
I think back to the strange feeling that washed over me as we entered the ICU. “Why wouldn’t you tell me there was a Reaper at the hospital? I would have been able to protect you if it tried to pull something.”
“It wasn’t at the hospital, or at least I don’t think it was. Then again, unless it wanted to make itself known, I wouldn’t have been able to spot it. It was at your house, or at least it was at one point. What happened to your mother wasn’t the result of some random break-in, a Reaper attacked her.”
“No.” I back away from him. “No, you’re wrong. The police hinted that someone might have attacked her because of something she wrote. Someone either broke in because they wanted to or because they were mad at her and she fought them off.”
Axel places his hand on my shoulder and I turn, shoving him away with enough force to send him stumbling back across the room. Guilt rips into me as his shoulder slams into the refrigerator.
“Exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition that came out of nowhere?” he questions, bringing up the strange symptoms Dr. Driggers had listed off. “If your mother had been sick then there wouldn’t have been an issue but she wasn’t sick. Those symptoms showing up the same day she is attacked can only be a result of one thing, being drained by a Reaper. Leeching off humans is harmless but sometimes, if a Reaper is trying to get information from someone, they drain too much of their energy on purpose as a torture technique. Usually, they leave their victim to suffer after they’ve gotten what they wanted but your mother must not have been willing to tell the Reaper what they wanted to hear or else they wouldn’t have resorted to violence.”
Axel takes a cautious step towards me and I hold my hand up, warning him that I am still too unstable for him to be close to me. I can literally feel the blood pumping through the veins, my vision tunneling and letting me know that my eyes have gone dark.
My Reaper senses have kicked in and, even from across the room I can sense Axel’s energy flowing through him, calling to me.
Lillian marches into the kitchen and takes a protective stance beside her son. “Is everything alright in here?”
“Yes,” Axel assures her. “Everything is fine, isn’t it Eveline?”
“Everything is fine,” I repeat robotically. “Actually, you know what? Everything is not fine. Everything is far from fine! I was just informed that a Reaper broke into my house, tortured my mom, drained most of the life from her body, and then beat her senseless. Things are so far from fine that I might be on a new continent right now. What was a Reaper doing in my house? What could it have possibly wanted from my mother? Was it, was it looking for me?”
Lillian removes a pitcher from her fridge, pouring the familiar looking contents into a cup before handing it over to me. “More than likely it was not looking for you. Reapers don’t typically seek out other Reapers unless they are part of their coven and, since your father is in California living out his days in solitude, there is no reason would come looking for you. More than likely it was passing through and decided to scour the area for Nexxus.”
I take a sip of the tea and try to focus on something other than murdering people, people like Axel.
With the way Lillian came rushing in here and practically threw the tea at me, I must have looked an inch away from snapping.
“I’m sorry,” Axel whispers from beside his mother.
I take another sip. “Sorry for what? I get why you didn’t tell me about the Reaper sooner considering I just did what you were worried I would do and freak out.”
“No, not about that. If a Reaper was looking for a quick meal and was searching for Nexxus energy, it would have been drawn to your house by all the food I grew for you. It wouldn’t have been much energy but it would have been enough to make one assume there were Nexxus living in or near that house.”
From the way that he seems to be staring daggers into the floor, I can tell that he is blaming himself. If that Reaper was drawn to my house by Axel’s produce, something he only brought over to keep me from trying to eat him or his sister, but there were no Nexxus around then that means my mother was tortured for something she didn’t even know about.
I place the now empty glass onto the counter and give Lillian an appreciative nod. “It’s not your fault, Axel. You brought the food over for me and there is no way you could have known what was going to happen. If you had thought that it would draw some Reaper there and that Reaper would attack my mom, you would have given me some kind of warning.”
This must not be the kind of reaction they expect because Lillian and Axel exchange the strangest of looks.
“How is Alyssa?” I change the subject in a desperate attempt to take my mind off the craziness going on inside of it.
“Asleep, thanks to Axel.” Lillian begins to straighten up the mess her daughter’s element made. “Eveline, are you sure you don’t want to talk about your mother? Axel told me about the condition the Reaper left her in and it couldn’t have been easy to see her like that. I could send him to his room and just the two of us could speak.”
“I’d rather not. Maybe tomorrow. It has been a long day and I just want to sleep.”
“I understand. I know it goes without saying, but you are free to stay here as long as you’d like if you believe it won’t cause you any issues. I know your mother will have a lengthy recovery time ahead of her and I hate the idea of you being alone in that house.”
I let out a long yawn, rubbing at my drooping lids. “Thank you, I appreciate it. If it is alright with you, I’d like Axel to take me by my house tomorrow to grab a few things.”
“That’s fine, dear. Go ahead and get some sleep.”
I am halfway up their stairs when I stop, feeling Axel’s eyes on me. I pivot, staring down at him.
“Whatever you’re planning on doing, don’t,” he warns.
“No idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m serious, Eveline. I believe you when you said you don’t blame me for what happened to your mother but I don’t believe for one second you are going to let what that Reaper did to her slide. I saw the look in your eyes in the kitchen and I know plotting when I see it. You’re not strong enough to take one on your own. You could get yourself killed. So, whatever insane plan you are formulating in that brain of yours, put a stop to it.”
I turn my back on him and continue to climb the stairs. “Like I said, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I close the door to the guest room, my back pressed against it as I slide to the floor and rest my head in my hands.
This rage, the one I have been feeling since the moment Axel said it was a Reaper that hurt my mother, is completely different from anything I have felt before. This rage isn’t whispering anything. Instead, this rage is attaching itself to every part of me and is threatening to make me its slave.
I know how to do it, drain them. It came to me in the kitchen after he told me what happened. Something snapped and I just knew.
Place a hand on them and call their energy to you, it will come. It’s simple to kill them.
This shouldn’t be happening this fast. Lillian said I would have months left before my Reaper side began to take over but it has already begun to make demands.
Right now it is demanding I leave this room, go down the hall, and drain Alyssa. It is demanding that I strengthen myself by taking Axel’s energy from him. It is demanding I suck them both dry so that I will be strong enough to take on the thing that hurt my mother.
Something is very wrong.