I gave Noxx a glance, and she gave me a frown. I wondered if I’d upset her by saying she was mine. I couldn’t help how I felt though. Seeing those guys eye her like they did had made me angry. Maybe she was right; maybe I was jealous. Still, I’d never admit it. The ride up to our floor was a long and silent one. When we finally got to the floor we were staying on, Lennox pushed past me to walk to her room.
“Are you angry with me?” I asked as she fished in her bag for her room key.
“I am no one’s property, not even yours. I understand that you were just trying to look out for me, but I can handle myself. I wasn’t even paying attention to them because my eyes were on you and you only. Maybe you should try that sometime; try spending less time worrying about others and spend more time focusing on what really matters to you. Thanks for training with me, even if we didn’t get much done.” I felt crestfallen at her words. “I’m gonna get a little shut-eye before the big day tomorrow. Have a good night,” Lennox said, opening the door and slipping through before closing it in my face. I stood there for a moment, my heart aching, but there was nothing more I could do. I felt like I was the one getting whiplash now.
I frowned and headed to my room, a few doors down from hers. The exhaustion from the past few days hit me hard, and I was ready to sleep forever. I took a quick shower and got into bed, but my mind had different plans than my body. As much as I wished for a restful night, I didn’t get it. My mind kept replaying the recent weeks, from meeting Lennox, to finding out that there was a way out of Valentina’s grasp, to completing all the tasks. My relationship with Lennox had been rocky at times, and I knew that I’d driven her insane with some of the things I’d said and done, but at the end of the day, she was the reason I was about to have a second chance, and I’d never be able to thank her enough for it. I only hoped that by the time this was all over, she’d still want to be with me, because I knew she was it for me.
I managed to catch a few hours of sleep, but not nearly enough as I should have. I awoke hungry, not having fed for a while. I didn’t bother to wake the others, as I figured they’d want their blood fresh, and I knew I still couldn’t control myself around humans. I made my way to the nearest hospital, using my compulsion to have a nurse bring me a few blood bags from their storage. I hated to take something that could one day save a human life, but every time I had to feed, I would glamour people on the street so they would donate blood. It seemed like a fair system, and it was certainly better than taking human lives.
I ate in an alley, making sure no one was around to see me. After I’d finished, I disposed of the empty bags in a dumpster and made my way back to the hotel. I arrived to find Lennox and Ramsey waiting for me outside my room.
“Where were you? We’ve been here for half an hour, waiting for you. We tried calling and everything,” Ramsey said, crossing her arms over her chest.
“I had to eat,” I replied. “I left my phone here. What’s the issue?”
“Camrina is waiting for us… and she isn’t a very patient witch. We’ve got to hurry to her place or we’ll be jeopardizing this whole operation.” I gulped hard and gathered my things quickly, ready to be free of Valentina. Niall had joined the girls by the time I left my room, and we headed down to the lobby. Niall went to pull the car around while Ramsey gave us a rundown of the plan.
“Okay. When we get there, she will let us in. We’re going to talk first, as she wants to get to know us before doing us this huge favor. Please, be polite and on your best behavior. Because the fifth task didn’t have an item associated with it, we’ll give her the four tokens we do have, and she’ll perform the spell. From what I understand, we won’t have long to get the heart inside of you, Elias, so Niall is bringing surgical equipment so that we can do a transplant. Easier that way than just ripping the old heart out of your chest. None of us have been through medical school, so it’ll be kind of a crapshoot, but I think we can manage. There won’t be any anesthesia… so I’ve got the remnants of the Russian vodka with me. I’ve got tranquilizers just in case, though.” I nodded, and Niall pulled up outside, giving the car horn a honk.
We piled into the car, Ramsey next to Niall up front, and Lennox in back with me. She laced her fingers with mine, holding my hand tightly. The trip felt like a lifetime for me, with the uncertainty of the future hanging over my head. I felt a little better though with Lennox by my side.
We pulled up outside of an old house in the rural outskirts of town, where few homes graced the land. I could feel the energy from Camrina before I even stepped out of the car, which made me nervous. In the past, witches hadn’t had such a good rep with the vampire community. And given the fact that Camrina was Valentina’s sister, albeit estranged, that only hindered our chances further. Still, she’d agreed to help us, and that was what mattered.
We approached the front door, unsure of what to expect. Ramsey reached out to knock, and we heard a voice tell us to come in. Rams shrugged before opening the door and walking in. The interior of the house was about as I had imagined it would be; full of plants and flowers and earthy tones. Ramsey led us to the living room, where Camrina sat waiting for us.
She sat facing us, and her looks struck me. She was beautiful in an ethereal kind of way, and she exuded power just sitting, staring at us. Her long black hair came down to her waist, and her green eyes surveyed us with a calculating gaze. Her high cheekbones and full lips hinted at royal ancestry, and I could see the resemblance between her and Valentina.
“Sit,” Camrina commanded, and we shuffled in to sit opposite her. “Which of you is Ramsey?”
“That’s me,” Ramsey said, her voice hinting at her nervousness.
“How did you find me?” Camrina asked, her eyes boring holes into Ramsey.
“My ring,” Rams confessed, sliding it off her finger to hand to Camrina. The witch surveyed the ring with interest. “It’s been passed down for generations in my family. I was told that a witch made it a very long time ago, and that it was given to one of my great great great grandmothers as a gift, to help her with divining.”
“I haven’t seen this in quite some time,” Camrina said, handing the ring back to Ramsey, who looked shocked.
“You’ve seen it before?”
“I helped create it, my dear,” the witch replied with a coy smile. “In exchange for the eye, I was granted immortality, by a vampire. Having a foot in both worlds really helps when dealing with… extraordinary circumstances, such as yours,” she finished, turning to me. “You’ve come to me because you want to be free to love whomever you wish… because you want a new heart.”
“Yes,” I answered, leaning forward. “We’ve gathered everything the first four tasks asked for, and we completed the fifth. I have them all right here,” I said, moving to take out the items, but Camrina held a hand up, as a way to tell me to stop.
“There’s no need for that,” she said, her mouth a hard line.
“You have more questions?” I asked, confused.
“That’s not it. I’ve decided against performing the ritual.” The silence in the room was practically tangible. I could feel my face getting hot with anger.
“You said you would help us!" I growled, and Camrina gave me an angry look.
"No, I said I would meet with you. I never agreed to perform the ritual. You vampires all think you’re entitled to whatever you want just because you have more power than most. I’m not going to help you because of Valentina."
“Why not?” Lennox asked, and Camrina’s furious gaze shot over to her.
“She is my sister, that much is true. As I am sure you all know, she and I are no longer speaking. While we may not on the same terms, I’ve decided to leave everything that has to do with her alone, whether it be harmful or helpful to her. She is dead to me, as are all things that she has a part in.”
“Please reconsider,” Ramsey begged. “I can’t find the other two witches who would be strong enough to perform this spell… you are our only hope.”
“That is not my problem. I’ve given you my answer. You may leave now.”
“But-” Niall started, and Camrina held up a hand, silencing him.
“You have my answer. Leave, now.” I could feel the air around us starting to gather energy, and I stood, motioning for the others to follow me. We got in the car, all silent. It was hard to swallow that after everything we had gone through to get to this point, it was over. A part of me knew that it would end this way. I watched Lennox carefully as all the hopes she had drained. I would never be free now, which meant that she and I would never get to a point where we could both be happy together, just us. I should have known that the universe wouldn’t let me find peace, not after all I’d done. But it wasn’t fair to her.
The ride back to the hotel was quiet, everyone absorbed in their thoughts. I watched her as we entered the hotel worried that she would make a break for it. One thing was for sure about this whole ordeal: if I lost her, I would be a wreck. Maybe it was too soon to say that I depended on her to keep me going, but she made me feel whole. As we made our way up to our rooms, I was expecting her to go to hers. Instead, she walked straight to mine and waited until I opened the door.
“I refuse to believe that it’s over,” she said confidently, walking in and sitting at the small table in the room. “Maybe we just need to find another angle to look at this from.” She sighed, wanting to truly mean what she was saying.
“Camrina was all we had Noxx. Without her, we don’t have a shot,” I whispered, feeling defeated. “You are free to go if you want. I mean, I can’t ask you to stay when there is nothing worth staying for.” I knew that giving her this power meant that she could destroy me right, here right now.
“Are you serious?” She fumed. “After everything we have been through, you think that I am just going to walk out and abandon you? What kind of person do you think I am, Elias?” She was furious. Her eyes blazed with all different emotions, ones I couldn’t begin to understand.
“We can’t be anything, Lennox. I can’t give you anything you need or want. I am useless to you.” I buried my face in my hands. It took everything in me not to break down in front of her. Lennox didn’t say a word. Instead, she turned and exited the room, leaving me alone.
I left Elias to his thoughts, heading for my room. I couldn’t believe that after everything we had been through, Camrina had refused to help us. Her response festered in my stomach, a furious feeling I couldn’t shake. I opened my door and entered my room, slamming the door shut behind me. I paced the floor for what seemed like a lifetime, trying to think of ways I could change her mind. Elias may have resigned himself to being stuck with Valentina forever, but I would not do the same. I couldn’t and wouldn’t accept that we’d gone through so much for it to end like this. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I headed to Niall’s room, and he let me in with a surprised look.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, and I looked around for what I’d come for, spying the keys to the car on the end table by the bed.
“Ramsey. She asked for you. Said it was important.” Niall nodded and turned to leave. I seized the opportunity and quickly grabbed the keys before he noticed. Niall headed for Ramsey’s, and I headed downstairs for the car. When I finally got to it, I breathed a sigh of relief, seeing the medical bag and Elias’s bag sitting in the back. I revved up the car and sped off toward Camrina’s house, determined to get her to help us.
The drive was a quiet one, surprisingly. I’d expected Ramsey or Niall to call me about the lie I’d told, but neither of them did. Elias didn’t call either, and I assumed he was still moping about the answer Camrina had given us. When I arrived, I placed a call to him, a plan in mind. He answered on the second ring.
“Elias!” I shouted, trying to fake a panic in my voice. It worked, brilliantly.
“Lennox? What’s wrong?” He asked, the worry seeping into his voice.
“I took the car. I went to Camrina for help… but she went crazy and attacked me. I can’t… Elias!” I screamed, before hanging up on him. I quickly shut my phone off so that he wouldn’t be able to reach me, and I stormed out of the car and up to the front door, banging on it as if my life depended on it. Camrina answered, an angry look on her face.
“I know you told us no, but I beg you, please reconsider. Even if this is Valentina’s fault, Elias doesn’t deserve to suffer, and neither do we. With him in her grasp, none of us will ever be free. I love him, Camrina. Please…” I asked, not breaking the gaze. Camrina assessed me for a moment before opening the door further to let me in. I walked to the living room and sat down, and she took a seat opposite me.
“You don’t have to help us, you already know that. We can’t make you do anything. But it would mean the world to me, to Elias, to all of us. Please, Camrina. I will do anything.” She kept watching me silently, and after a minute or two, she spoke.
“What if I do this, and Elias does not love you?” She asked, her green eyes watching me carefully.
“It will hurt, but I’ll accept it. Even if he doesn’t love me, at least he will be able to choose who he does love. He will be free, and that is what matters.”
“I can see you are telling the truth, and that your intentions are pure. I will perform the ritual, under one condition.”
“Anything,” I agreed. I knew it was probably a foolish move to promise a vampire witch a limitless favor, but I had nothing left to lose.
“Take Valentina down.” Camrina’s words confused me. The whole reason she had denied us help the first time was because she didn’t want to be involved in anything concerning her sister, and yet here she was, asking me to defeat her. “I know what you are thinking, and while it’s true that I’d rather stay away from my sister’s affairs, this will bring me into them. At least if you get rid of her, I won’t be accused of having a hand in it. I can tell you already long for her to be removed, and so I haven’t even planted the seed. I just want her gone. Promise me this.”
“I swear,” I replied, and Camrina smiled.
“I assume you have the items?” She questioned, and I nodded, handing her Elias’s bag. “Where is he? Once the heart is made, you won’t have much time to put it inside his chest,” Camrina warned.
“Elias is on his way, I made sure of it.” I grabbed a needle full of tranquilizers and stuffed it in my pocket, knowing I’d need it eventually.
Camrina led me to a room in the back of her house, one I assumed was the room where she performed most of her spells. Two walls were lined with bookshelves full of dusty volumes, and the other two were lined with shelves, on top of which sat countless jars with what I assumed to be herbs and ingredients for spells. In the center of the room, a stone table sat with a small knife on the edge. She took the items out of the bag carefully, grabbing a bowl from a cabinet to place them in. She motioned for me to come forward, and I did so, reluctantly.
She began to chant in a foreign language, and I could feel the energy in the room shift and charge, like static electricity. She reached out, grabbing my hand faster than I could process, and she dragged the knife along my palm, turning the open wound over the bowl so that I bled into it. I looked at her with confusion, and she gave me a serious look.
“Rituals always require blood.” That was her only explanation as she resumed her chanting, and the contents of the bowl began to glow and crackle. She continued chanting for a solid ten minutes, and the bowl kept glowing brighter and brighter until it nearly blinded me. A banging at the front door of the house let me know Elias was here. Camrina finished her spell and a blinding light filled the room at the same time that Elias broke down the front door. He sped to the room we were in and I grabbed the closest heavy thing I could find, which happened to be a chair. I flung it at his head when he entered the room, knocking him down.
I raced over to him and straddled him, sitting on his lap so he couldn’t move. He was dazed from the hit he’d just taken, which gave me enough time to pull out the syringe of tranqs from my pocket and jab him with it. He roared as I plunged the drugs into his system, but he didn’t have long to fight me before the medicine overtook him. I was thankful they’d worked; I’d put enough in the needle to knock out a herd of elephants. Still, I knew I wouldn’t have much time before they worked their way out of his system.
I ran to grab the medkit and struggled to lift and carry Elias to Camrina’s table. She glared at me when she saw her front door laying on the floor, and I apologized profusely. I had no idea what I was doing, and I asked Camrina for help, but she refused. I sighed and ripped his shirt open to reveal his smooth chest. I got the scalpel out, cutting into his chest without hesitating. Blood poured from the opening and I winced, digging deeper. It hurt me to hurt him, but I knew this was the only way. I cut down through layers of tissue and muscle until I got to ribs. I put my hand inside the fissure I’d made and reached under and up behind the ribs, gasping when I made contact with his heart.
I looked to Camrina for reassurance, but she just watched. His heart felt small in my hand, and it made sense, seeing as it was only half a heart. I took a deep breath and wrapped my hand around it, apologizing to Elias quietly before I ripped it out with all the force I could muster. I expected him to wake up, but he laid on her dining room table, lifeless. Tears started to pour down my cheeks as I ran to grab the heart from the bowl in the ritual room. I carried it gingerly to him, barely able to see through the tears. I put it back in the way I’d ripped the old half out, and set it down inside him, praying that his body would recognize where everything was supposed to go and that he would heal properly.
I withdrew my hand and gave in to the sobs that shook my entire body. I stroked Elias’s long locks with my bloody hand, begging the universe to bring him back to me. He looked so extraordinarily pale, and his chest wasn’t moving, indicating he wasn’t breathing.
“He’s at the gate now,” Camrina said softly from behind me. “If he is strong enough, he will be able to hear you calling and he will return to you.” Her words were meant to comfort me, but they only made me cry harder. I remembered the conversation that I’d had with Riecher about his wife dying, about how she’d had to suffer hell to try to come back, and it killed me to think that he might be facing the same thing.
I stepped away, trying to think about anything other than that, about anything other than the fact that Elias might be gone for good. I went to her kitchen sink and began to scrub his blood from my hands and arms, watching the water run red and spiral down into nothingness. I was almost done cleaning myself when I heard a ragged gasp for air behind me. I spun around to see Elias sitting up, his eyes wide. I ran to him and threw my arms around him, burying my face against his lukewarm skin. He felt stiff in my arms, and I looked up to his face, afraid of what I’d find.
He looked down to me after a moment, his green eyes so light they were almost white. His eyes held no emotion, and if he wasn’t breathing, I’d have mistaken him for a statue. He held my gaze for so long, not even blinking. I started to tear up, fearing I’d brought something back other than Elias, but his eyes began to change color slowly, deepening into the same forest like green I’d come to love. His skin got warmer, bit by bit, until it was back to his healthy tan. He took in a deep breath and let it out, and his eyes began to tear up. He pulled me into his arms and against his chest, and I knew that he was back.
We stayed like that, him sitting on the table holding me for a while, just breathing each other in. It took an impatient sigh from Camrina to bring us back to reality.
“You owe me for that door,” she growled, and Elias winced.
“I’m sorry. Lennox said you’d attacked her, and I couldn’t get in… it was the only way. I’ll pay for a new one and for installation,” he replied, and she nodded. It killed me to leave his arms, but I did so to gather the medical equipment and to tidy up as best I could. Elias and I thanked Camrina before we headed out, and she reminded me that we’d made an agreement. I assured her that I had no intention of breaking it, and she let us go.
When we arrived at the hotel, the sky had already begun to darken. I figured that Elias would want to shower the blood off his chest and get into a shirt that wasn’t destroyed, and so we headed up to his room, thankfully avoiding the hotel staff or any other customers. When I pulled the door to his room closed behind us, he was surrounding me, pulling me into him. He lifted my chin and kissed me deeply, and I could feel his relief in the way he moved his mouth against mine. Just like every other time before, his touch started a riot within me, consuming me until I could barely breathe. I pulled away to try and get some air, and Elias’s eyes regarded me with an emotion I’d never seen before: boundless love.
“You saved me…” he panted, his chest rising and falling quickly. “How did you convince her to help?”
“I told her the truth,” I replied, reaching up to place my hand on his cheek. His skin felt so incredibly warm under my palm, and it made my heart fly. “How do you feel?” I asked, preparing myself for the worst.
“I love you, Lennox.” His words took me to cloud nine, knowing that this time, he could say it and mean it, and that we were finally free. “I feel incredible. I can’t feel her anymore, Noxx. It’s all me now, all you. It worked… I’m unbound.” He leaned toward me again, his lips claiming mine. He kissed me with such passion that it nearly caught me off guard. I pulled away again with a laugh that came from the depths of my soul.
“We need to get you showered and changed. Sorry I ruined your shirt,” I apologized, and he took it off, throwing it in the nearby trash can.
“A shirt for freedom? That’s a price I will pay anytime,” Elias joked, and he hopped in the shower, leaving me to my happiness. I went to my room to shower and change, sneaking back to his room before he had finished. I waited for him on the bed, and he came out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a loose pair of sweats that hung dangerously low on his hips. It took everything in me not to drool, and he noticed, giving me a smirk. He laid down next to me, pulling me to his warm body. I felt so whole and complete for the first time in ages, and I wished that we’d never have to move from that spot, but I knew that within days, we’d be back home and we’d have to deal with the mess we’d left.
Elias began to kiss me again, his warm hands roaming my skin, and we were getting into the mood when someone started banging on the door the way Elias had banged on Camrina’s earlier. Elias got up and answered the door, and much to my surprise, Ramsey and Niall barged right in.
“Are you guys okay?” Ramsey asked, practically in tears. “Niall stopped by saying that you said I needed him and we were all confused, and then when I went to divine, I saw Elias lying bloody on a table and your hands were covered in his blood… I was so worried,” she finished, and I got up to hug her tight to me.
“We’re okay. I went back to Camrina and she changed her mind about the ritual.”
“Wait… Does that mean…?” Niall asked, turning to look at Elias, who had the biggest smile I’d ever seen on his face.
“I’m unbound,” he stated, and Niall rushed to give his brother a hug. Ramsey hugged me in celebration, and everything felt right. Niall pulled back and noticed his brother’s attire, and looked to me, seeing me in a loose tank top and short shorts, and he pieced together that we were previously occupied before he and Rams had busted in.
“Hey, Rams, I gotta talk to you, about that thing… Let’s get back to our room.”
“What thing?” Ramsey questioned, not following his train of thought.
“Let’s go,” he repeated, and she frowned, leaving with him nonetheless. It made me laugh inside. If she weren’t a redhead, she would definitely have been a blonde. But it was one of the many things I loved about her. Elias joined me on the bed, pulling me to him once more. I fell asleep almost instantly, being up against his soft, warm skin.
I awoke to the sun in my eyes, and Elias’s soft kisses on my skin. I groaned and rolled to face him, and he gave me a smile so bright that it melted my heart.