Crasuel, stop running.
I can make it in time. She just needs to hold on a little longer.
It’s too late. I can’t. . . I can’t hear her heart. I press my nose into her throat to try and feel a pulse one last time but I receive nothing. She’s dead.
The moment the words are said, something snaps within me. I have been used to things in my body breaking for over a century. Bone after bone, muscles, limbs, even my skull. But whatever is breaking right now, it is entirely new.
Crasuel doesn’t respond after that. I don’t hear back from him at all. A long time passes.
I’m no longer aware of anything around me. Suddenly, the sunlight appears and I am human again. I think I've been human for a while but I didn't realize.
I pick Devon up by her shoulders and I cradle her into my chest. I press my lips into her thick hair, absentmindedly playing with the strands. This is my fault. I never should have let her anywhere near this mountain. As strong as she is. . . was. . . she just wasn't ready.
She’s still warm. In my head I have convinced myself that she is merely sleeping. That she will wake up at any moment. That can’t be the last time that I’ll ever hear her voice. Ever see those curious hazel eyes. This can’t be the last time that I’ll ever hold her.
Crasuel returns fully clothed and throws some rags at my side. “We should take her back.”
I lay her body back down on the leaves while I change into some heavy trousers and a black sweater. I carve some markings into the tree bark using my nails before picking her up.
I’ve carried Devon too many times to count. She always folded into my arms like they were made for her. I loved having her close to me. But this is the first time that she’s felt far away. Each step is difficult. Am I walking slow or fast? I don’t know.
Strangely, all I can think about is berries. The shapes, the colours, the way they grow in huddles and take over bushes. I stare at every berry bush as we pass it. They were her favourite thing to eat out here. I never got it but she’d describe to me in detail about how each one tasted differently.
I don’t know if minutes have passed or hours. It could be days. I could have been transitioning from wolf to human over and over again without noticing a thing. My eyes are cooperating but the rest of me is just. . . lost.
We’re back at the camp that we rescued Crasuel from. Everyone is here, their eyes turning to watch us. They’ve already started on a giant firepit to burn their dead. I watch those flames grow and devour. The last thing I will ever do is place her on there. She doesn’t deserve fire, she deserves flowers. She deserves the Earth.
“Finally!” Sky runs right at me. “Is she okay? Did you heal her in time?” Sky jumps on the tips of her toes to glimpse Devon’s head. “Why isn’t she moving? Why can’t I hear her heart?”
“Sky,” Crasuel says.
“Why isn’t her heart beating? No!” Sky pushes her hands down on my arms until I’m forced to release the body to the ground.
I stand still, tears running down my cheeks as Sky moves her hands desperately over Devon’s chest. Her efforts are in vain and she has to be dragged away by her father, who holds her on the floor as Sky screams against him.
Devon’s mother drops to her knees too and covers her mouth. She slowly crawls over to them and wraps her arms around her grieving daughter.
“Thorn,” Kira whispers. Whatever words she tries to say after that become muffled.
I look at so many people. My sister. Balan. Pal. Nadia. Max. I recognize the faces of my pack, my family, but it means nothing. I have never truly felt the value of nothing until right now. I'm falling apart for all of them to see, I'm crying in front of the strongest werewolves in the world, and there's not a damn thing I can do to stop it.
I bend down and I pick Devon back up. My legs move me towards one of the cabins and the cries fade behind me.