Chapter 2 - Crystal
Flung to the grass on the side of the road, Crystal’s body jerked around for another few seconds before slowly stopping. Pulling air into her lungs, she struggled to push herself up—her strength completely spent.
Arms shaking, she managed to lift her upper body a few inches from the ground and looked up to see blurred shadows moving in the darkness as her obscured hearing returned to normal. Snarls, grunts, and voices battled against each other before an arm snaked around her waist.
Shrieking, she was flung over a shoulder before she found herself staring down a man’s jean-clad ass to the ground as he climbed up a tree.
“P-Put me down!”
She wanted to believe her squeaking voice was stronger than it sounded, but she couldn’t lie to herself.
She sounded pathetic.
Laughter boomed in response and was echoed by the cackling of another.
“What did you find there, Walter?” a female voice asked before she appeared, upside-down, next to her.
“Can you not smell it? It’s a curious thing,” Walter said.
Thin lips curved up into a toothy grin that reflected the moonlight. “Oh! A new specimen! Master Mandala would be most interested to see this!”
“We have to get her to the cabin before she regains her strength. You know how fast these werewolves heal,” Walter said before he bent his knees and leaped to the next tree.
Crystal gasped as she slipped an inch and he wobbled for a second before regaining his balance.
“Careful!” the female hissed under her breath as Crystal was readjusted on the shoulder.
“You try carrying a werewolf on your shoulder and jump from tree to tree!” he snapped.
A howl rose over the treetops, making them both curse.
“Give her to me,” the female said. “My balance is better than yours and you already have her scent on you. Lead the mutts away and meet me back at the cabin.”
Filling her lungs full of air, Crystal called out for help as loud as she could.
“Shut up!” the female snapped before her fist slammed into Crystal’s face and everything went black.
Silver reflected off the splashing of the water below. The shallow creek was only a few inches deep and a dozen or so yards wide, but it would be enough to wash away their scent from anyone searching for her. A thin blanket of mist hovered over the water, broken by their swift movements through it.
Bile lurched up her throat and spewed out, catching the vampire off guard and stumbling on the rocks under her feet.
“Ugh! Disgusting runt! You better not have gotten any of that on my clothes!”
She shifted Crystal’s weight on her shoulder, making Crystal’s stomach churn again.
“Please, stop,” Crystal croaked. “I’m gonna—”
The woman flung Crystal backward and her butt hit the rocky creek with a splash. She heaved more stomach acid into the cold water before closing her eyes and leaning back onto her hands, the rough edges of rocks biting into her palms. Raising her face up to the moon, she basked in its light as she pulled cleansing breaths into her lungs.
A second later, the vampire wrapped her fingers around her neck and lifted her a few inches up off the ground. Shadows concealed half of her face, but her eyes shone bright red in the light of the moon, glaring with an intense hatred and disgust.
Crystal couldn’t breathe. She tried to pry the bloodsucker’s fingers off, but the vampire was stronger.
“Alright, mutt. We’re almost at the cabin and I’ll give you two options. One, you walk, or two, you put up with being carried. Either way, I know you’re in no shape to run away and if you even so much as try it, I’ll break every bone in your body.” A malicious grin flashed across her face. “And I know Master Mandala wouldn’t mind that, as long as you’re alive.”
She loosened her hold around Crystal’s neck so she could speak.
“I’ll walk,” she rasped out.
The vampire dropped her and she landed on her butt again, her palms cutting across a sharp-edged rock as her lungs begged for air.
“Good. I got tired of carrying your scrawny ass anyway, bitch.”
“Was that supposed to insult me?” Brooke’s favorite words tumbled from Crystal’s quirked lips before she dared to raise her eyes up to her kidnapper. “Bitch, please. I’m a werewolf.”
The vampire bared her teeth and kicked Crystal across the face. Her head jerked to the side and she lost balance and almost fell into the creek, but she righted herself and tasted blood in her mouth. She could feel the beginnings of a rueful smile.
For years, she’d heard her older sister use those words and the first time Brooke sat her down and told her to be proud was when she was ten.
“Be proud to be a bitch. We’re werewolves. It’s only degrading if you make it degrading. She-wolves are for the weak. Bitches are for the strong. Bitches be proud.”
Brooke always told her that vampires hated being called bitches. They weren’t female dogs. It was insulting to them. They were the enemy and no way would they ever consider themselves lower than dogs.
Crystal held onto the swell of pride at pissing off the vampire as she spat the blood from her mouth and forced herself up on weak legs.
She wobbled a little on the slippery rocks as she turned to continue walking in the direction they had been going, drawing strength from the moon as she silently prayed for a miracle.
Having never shifted into her wolf, she had no heightened senses that came after one’s first shift. She could still heal, albeit slower than other werewolves, but she couldn’t tell if they were being watched or if someone was approaching. She always wondered what it would be like to hear someone’s heartbeat from ten feet away. Wondered what tempo joy or fear sounded like. She’d heard that fear smelled sour. Vampires had a strong sense of smell too, only not as strong as a werewolf’s, and theirs picked up the smells of living things rather than vegetation or someone’s trail left in the dirt.
Could this vampire smell her fear too?
A cold hand grasped the back of Crystal’s neck and pushed her forward. “Faster, mutt.”
The vampire’s force caused Crystal to stumble over slippery rocks and fall forward, bashing her knee against a large slime-encrusted one. The vampire nearly toppled over her and hissed in anger as she flipped Crystal around and slammed her palm against Crystal’s ribs as rocks cut into her shoulder blades.
The wind knocked out of her, Crystal tried to keep her face above the water, but couldn’t move her body. Pain spread across her chest and she wondered if her ribs were cracked.
Gulping air into her lungs, she stared, wide-eyed at the seething leech over her.
Bloodlust stared back at her.
How much was the price on her head? Was it worth the effort, or would she simply kill Crystal now and be done with her?
“You’re really trying my patience, runt. I repeat, do you want this the easy way or the hard way?”
Kill me. This life isn’t worth living.
With the creek water streaming around her, the cold seeping into her bones, Crystal gritted her teeth to keep them from chattering. Brooke flashed again in her mind, giving her courage. “Bite me, bitch.”
The bloodsucker’s face contorted in rage as she grabbed Crystal by the throat again.
A howl sounded in the distance, followed by another one further away.
A grin twisted on her kidnapper’s face before she brought it closer to Crystal’s as she gasped for air and tried to pry the hands from her throat. “We’re in no-man’s land between territories and my brother and sisters have lured the dumbasses in the other direction. No one will find you now. Your scent is washed away and soon your body will be too.”
Her hold on Crystal loosened a touch as she stiffened, but still not enough to open up her airways. Eyes widening, she looked to her left as a growl rumbled faintly in the night.
Before she could even twitch a muscle, a large form blurred across her vision.
Crystal was thrown to the side. The pressure around her throat released and she lay face-down in the water before she pushed herself up and sputtered for air.
Snarls and hisses threatened each other before the vampire demanded, “Where’s your little pack of fleabags, huh? This isn’t lycan territory.”
Still gasping for air, Crystal looked up and beheld in the moonlight the hulking form of a beast. Crouched before her at her feet in an aggressive posture, she saw the outline of his head, his ears pointed forward, his lips curled up and teeth flashing, his fur bristling, making him look larger than normal.
Crystal had never seen a lycan before. She’d only come close to the Blauwald Pack in their human form the day before and they were pretty chill, but that was also at a wedding, not in the wilderness in fight mode. Seeing one in his beast form was terrifying.
His paws, like massive monster claws that were larger than her head, dug deep into the creek, kicking back rocks to get better leverage. On all fours, he looked more like a wolf, but she knew, once he rose onto his hind legs, he’d look more like a man with a wolf’s head.
The darkness concealed most of his form as he stared the vampire down, growling and snapping his massive jaws at her while she fanned her face with a hand.
“Damn, what have you been rolling in? You smell like death,” she taunted before a light bulb lit up in her head and a sneer crossed her face. “So the rumors are true. Wherever Tiberius the Rogue goes, death follows.”
Her heart jumped into her throat and she struggled to breathe.
She’d heard rumors about him. Even the werewolves whispered about the lycanthrope named Tiberius who left his pack in Arizona and went on a rampage a year ago. The Rosmi Maana Pack tried to keep the second son of Alpha Eramis and Luna Elena a secret, but word spread quickly of the rogue. He attacked anyone who tried to stop him, but none succeeded.
Tiberius was a force to reckon with, and he would stop for no one.
The beast lunged at the vampire and Crystal took her chance to run.
Scrambling to her feet, she stumbled over the uneven rocky ground, using her hands to reach out for leverage, to regain her balance and pull herself up when she reached the riverbed. She ignored the pain in her shoulders, knee, ribs, neck, and head and pushed herself to get as far away as she possibly could.
Darkness clung to the forest surrounding the creek for miles. Crystal didn’t know how far away she had to go before she’d find help, but she hoped she found help before a vampire or the beast came for her.
Leaves smacked her face and low branches clawed at her exposed arms, while the underbrush scratched her bare legs.
A fog settled on the forest floor, the moist summer air damp and cool against her brow.
She ran blindly as the screams behind her bounced off the trees before the howl of the beast rang up into the night, chilling her to the bone and making her damp skin crawl in gooseflesh.
The beast was behind her, but for how long? Would he come for her too?
Heart in her throat, she yelped when a snarl and a crash thundered behind her.
Finding a pine tree in the moonlight, she began to climb until she was fifteen feet up and felt a sharp pain in her head that ricocheted from the back to the front. Her muscles stiffened and her chest tightened, making it harder to breathe and move.
No! Not now!
Sitting on a branch, she clutched to the trunk as her muscles first seized up and then the pain fired down her head and throughout her body, rocking her back and forth, side to side.
Then, a weightlessness.
Despite the haze that darkened the edges of her vision, she saw the moon peeking out from the tips of the trees overhead. Even the stars sparkled for her.
Never had she felt so light, so free during the darkness that seized her since she became a teenager.
She knew she was falling and welcomed it. Maybe the impact would finally free her from the world in which she felt ostracized in?
What was a werewolf without a wolf, anyway?
She barely registered the crack as her back struck a branch and her line of vision rolled out beside her. Another branch slashed across her face before she hit something hard.
Whatever she hit must have crushed her because she couldn’t move as the last of her seizure-like spasms dissipated.
As her vision cleared and her body stilled, her arms and legs felt like jello. Exhaustion ransacked her and she closed her eyes as the usual pulse throbbed in her head.
The ground shifted. Or rather, soft fur encasing her body relaxed its tight hold on her. Her nose wrinkled at the wet dog smell around her and she forced her eyes open, but couldn’t make out anything in the darkness.
Despite the ache that consumed her mind and body, she felt warm and comfortable.
Maybe death wasn’t so bad?
She closed her eyes and allowed the darkness to claim her.