Someone stepped on my toes with heavy shoes, and a sharp elbow collided against the side of my face, the impact making my head jerk back and a whimper of pain fall from my lips. My grimaces and pain went unnoticed in the back of this crowded vehicle, and I crouched down to my knees, making myself small, keeping my head low and my gaze on my fingers.
They trembled, betraying my fear, and I felt my body jolt as the van shook, moving roughly against the road it was driving upon.
Someone was weeping nearby, blabbering that they were going to die, that we all were going to die. Those around me echoed his words, and I lifted my fingers to rub at my cheeks which had once been wet with my tears. They had long dried, but my eyes burned now, threatening to become filled once more.
Tiredness clung to my body, making me so fatigued and dazed, and I slumped from my crouched position so that I sat fully on the floor. My head tilted back against the wall of the van, and I closed my eyes slowly, trying to let myself rest for the first time in many hours, and fighting back the fear and hunger that weighed heavy in my stomach and chest.
However, I did not get the rest I so desperately craved, and instead, just as I began to finally, somehow, settle into a comfortable position amongst this chaos, I felt the van slow to a stop. My eyes opened immediately and I blinked several times, the voices from the people around me blended and confusing, rising in pitches, fright coating all of their tones.
I slowly moved up, returning back to standing on my feet, grim acceptance settling in the pit of my stomach as I waited for the van's doors to be opened. A woman who I knew to be Barbara nudged me hard again, accidentally, as she sought to move somehow deeper into the back of the vehicle.
More people followed the action of this woman, and eventually, I was exposed fully to those who would eventually open the doors. My heart pounded in my chest and I felt my already dry mouth become moreso, and despite my best efforts to shuffle back and melt into the crowd, I was still left in the open.
Silence fell over the inside of this vehicle, which was broken occasionally by the sounds of someone shakily inhaling air.
I barely resisted flinching when the doors finally opened, but the gusts of cold night air that fled into the van made me press backwards, tiny pebbled bumps appearing on my exposed skin. The expressions of the male lycans who had captured us remained the same way it had been when they'd forced us into this van; stoic and cold.
And because of the position I was in, it was not unsurprising when one of them jabbed a black gloved finger my way first.
"You. Out." Two clipped words, a command that I followed despite the shaking of my legs. The male lycan gripped my wrist in a tight, punishing hold, and I was pulled out of the van. My bare feet hit the ground painfully, and I could feel tiny rocks scraping against the soles of my feet as I was forced to walk, the grip of the male's hand never easing despite my obvious discomfort.
I looked around me throughout the time I was roughly handled. I could see several houses in the distance, with some lycans gathered outside of them, watching us with bold curiosity and disdain, and the lights from their houses lit up the entire surrounding areas. I was yanked harshly, and my attention was jerked forward as I was directed towards a dark door of a nearby building. But then, I heard a gruff voice.
"She was amongst them?"
The man who held my wrist turned, moving me with him, and I saw the way he dipped his head towards the towering, big male before us. This new male lycan was dressed in dark clothes, including a thick coat that looked like it was providing him so much warmth. His heavy brows were furrowed over his dark brown eyes, which were on me.
"Yes, Alpha." The male who was still gripping my hand and was slowly raising his head from its barely bowed position responded quickly, and I felt the tightening of his fingers against my skin.
The Alpha before us continued speaking, still watching me. "What is your name, girl?"
My tongue felt heavy in my mouth, and I could feel the pressure being applied on the skin of my wrist, the pain making me wince. I responded with difficulty, "Cora Floris."
His eyebrows became even more furrowed, and he watched me for a moment longer before he turned his gaze to the man. "Take her to my office. I will meet her there with my mate." And then, he stepped back and turned, moving around the building, disappearing behind the corner of it.
I glanced up at the man who gripped me, whose jaw was now visibly clenched. Irritation spun in his eyes as he exhaled, and then, with a grunt, he tugged on my wrist, and I was forced to follow behind him, struggling to keep up with his pace.
We crossed a road and walked closer to the houses with the lycans who were still standing and watching us, but then, I was pulled towards another building, one that was larger than the previous one.
The male used his free hand to pull the door handle, and the door clicked open. Immediately warmth surrounded me as I stepped into the building, but it didn't ease the intensity of the way my heart was beating in my chest, my fear making my entire body tremble. There were so many bright lights inside of this building, and the ones nearest to me hurt my eyes.
We passed by several glass walls, and most of the rooms behind these walls were empty, except for one. There was a large oval table inside of this room, and seated around this table were several lycans and humans, both concentrated on a male who was talking.
Abruptly, my pace slowed despite the painful yanks on my wrist and felt my eyes widen. I recognized one of the people seated inside of the room.
The large black office chair she sat on made her look small, and she looked...content. The big, male lycan beside her was slightly facing her, and I saw the way his gaze moved to her before he returned his attention back to the individual speaking.
The woman was Olivia.
Her name echoed in my mind. I could remember my mother speaking of her, about the woman who was apparently the mate of an Alpha and had decided to join the Corozal community. But then, Olivia had left, and so much had changed after that.
"Keep walking!" The male snarled so loudly at me that it made me jolt, and the sound also gained the attention of those in the room. I watched as heads and eyes turned our way, confusion melting into their faces before I was whisked away and shoved into an elevator.
The male released me then, and I immediately scuttled away from him, pressing myself into the corner of the elevator, ignoring his scoff. My fingers rubbed at my bruised skin, and I swallowed with effort at the pain that sprung from my wrist when my fingertips grazed against it.
The air inside of this elevator was warm, thankfully, but also thick, and I shifted uncomfortably with each slight movement the male near me did.
I was not in the elevator for long, and eventually, a single chime echoed inside of it before the doors slid open. I winced as the male took my wrist again, pulling me outside of the elevator with him, and my feet smacked loudly against the floor as I was hauled forward and moved down a corridor.
Everything seemed to be a blur as I focused on not stumbling and falling, but it seemed to take a few seconds before we came to a halt, in front of a brown door. The male flicked a quick look towards me before he opened it, and once again, I was pulled, but this time inside of a room.
My head moved with my eyes as I surveyed my surroundings.
I was in an office, one that looked magnificently large and held several bookshelves. There was a painting or two on the walls, and a firm, solid office desk rested in the middle of the room. I could see stacks of papers neatly situated on it, as well as a desktop. There were also what looked to be family photos resting upon the desk, and three thick dark folders.
But these things didn't get the entirety of my attention. It was the person who sat behind the office desk that did.
The boy, who looked to be fifteen years old, straightened at my arrival, pushing away a plate, and I saw the narrowing of his eyes as I entered the room.
Almost black eyes remained fixed on my face as I studied him; his skin was slightly darker than my own, and guessing by the mostly relaxed posture he had in the office chair he sat upon, it appeared as if he was familiar, or accustomed to sitting in that office chair, or being in this office. There was a plate of food before him, one that was steaming hot, and the smell of it made my stomach tighten with my hunger.
"Who is this?" The teenaged boy's eyes raised from my face after a long moment of regarding me, and went to the warriors behind me, who had yet to release my wrist.
"She said her name is Cora Floris."
The boy's eyes fell right back on me, and I saw the slight way he tilted his head, resuming watching me. I shifted my gaze away from the intensity of his stare, and looked at the carpeted floor in the room. It was thick, and felt so soft under my feet.
"Why is she here?"
"We found her wandering around the border of the pack. Your father asked that I bring her here."
There was silence for a long moment, and it was only when I glanced up briefly that the teenaged boy spoke again. "You can leave. I will watch her until my father returns."
I sensed the hesitancy of the man behind me before he moved, releasing my wrist, and I barely resisted keeping my sigh of relief quiet. When the door closed shut, the air in the room suddenly felt heavy with silence, and I bit the inside of my cheek, hard, keeping my eyes averted from the boy in the room, who I knew was still watching me.
Seconds passed by, and eventually, with a deep breath, I finally titled my head up and watched as the boy leaned back in the chair, his eyes thoughtful, expression guarded. "You look tired."
I was. I was so very, very tired. There was an aching weariness resting in my body and mind.
"Are you hungry?" He asked, and when my gaze jerked back to him, I saw the slight grin that lifted his lips before he pushed his plate forward. "You can get this. I already ate earlier anyway."
My eyes lowered to the plate of food he had pushed near to the edge of the office desk. Creamy potatoes with gravy, and some sort of meat rested on it. I hesitated, fear battling with my hunger, and for several seconds, I didn't move. But the smell was so strong, and I was so very hungry. I took a step forward before glancing back at the teenager.
He simply watched me, his expression not giving much of his thoughts away, and warily, I took several steps forward again, reaching for the fork on the plate. My fingers had curled around it and I had begun to lift some of the potatoes when he spoke.
"My name is Easton." He told me, and I paused from eating to look at him. His dark eyes remained narrowed on me, scrutinizing me. "When was the last time you ate, Cora?"
I swallowed down the warm food, and began to pick at the meat with my fork. It steamed when I managed to pierce it. The delicious smell made my mouth water.
"Three days ago." I told him, and I watched the way his eyes narrowed even further, before he shifted in the chair, leaning to his side.
Automatically, my body became rigid, stiffening, but then, he lifted and placed a bottle of water down on the table, close to my own plate. I saw the frown that grew on his lips as he seemed to notice my tense state, and then, he became silent as I stood before him, eating his food.
"How old are you?" He finally broke the silence by asking me this question, and I looked up from the food to him.
One of his eyebrows arched, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he continued to watch me eat. Every now and then as I stuffed food into my mouth, my gaze would trail to that bottled water, and the dryness in my throat would seem to become worse as I did.
"Drink some of the water." It sounded like an order, and it was one I eagerly followed. I uncapped the bottle and began drinking, closing my eyes as the cool liquid went down my throat, only to choke when I heard the sounds of the door behind me clicking open, and then, footsteps.
"What is she doing?" There was a note of something akin to disgust and shock in a woman's voice. I turned and faced the person, seeing her surprise on her face, and what also looked to be anger. She was tall and beautiful, and she was in a light purple dress, one that looked pretty and clean.
"You gave her your dinner?" There was a screech in her voice, as if she was in disbelief. Easton simply shrugged his shoulders.
"She is hungry. I ate something already."
The woman scowled, and I felt myself grimace internally as she scoured me with a hard look, taking in my clothes, my dirty shirt, and the holes in my pants.
"She's from that Corozal community, you know." There was a trace of a huff in her voice, and I could feel my stomach twisting at her words. A few people had confessed this to the male lyans when we were captured.
I knew what my community had done, and the many lycans they had killed. I knew the exact number, which was five hundred and thirty, because it was something that the council members had always boasted throughout the times I'd been forced to attend the community meetings.
I didn't get to see Easton's reaction to this woman's words, because at that moment, the Alpha entered the office, and he closed the door behind him. His sharp, stern eyes went to the woman, the teenager and then finally landed on me.
The air felt tight with tension, and I took a few steps backwards, creating distance between the lycans and myself.
I glanced at Easton as I did, who was leveling a hard look at his mother. She didn't appear to be paying attention to it as she continued speaking. "They probably were training her to fight against us lycans. Olivia mentioned to me that they had children as young as ten in training."
A heavy knot emerged in the bottom of my throat, and I took more steps backwards, feeling the heat of the woman's disgusted gaze on me. One of the commanders certainly had tried to train me. But I, as well as a few other children my age, had resisted it.
Not everyone in that community agreed with the council's strict rulings or beliefs about all lycans, but the few who did disagree rarely spoke out against it, as the punishment was often prison time, or, if the council saw fit, death. And my older sister, who I had been so close with, had been killed when she had decided to disagree frequently, boldly and in public, with the council.
I chewed on the inside of my cheek, my gaze flitting to Easton who by now had stood from the office chair. He began to walk from behind the desk, moving my direction, but paused when he looked at my face.
He scowled, and I saw him shift, looking at the people who I now believed to be his parents. The Alpha spoke to me and the tone he used was so much different than his mate's. His voice was almost low, as if attempting to calm me.
"What is your last name, Cora?"
My fingers squeezed the bottle I still held in my hand. "Floris."
The Alpha nodded. "And your parents?"
And I was supposed to be as well. They had given me several pills to take before they'd swallowed their own, killing themselves rapidly. But I hadn't. The pills they had given me were a heavy weight in the pocket of my pants.
I saw something akin to pity flash across the Alpha's eyes before they became stern once again. "One of the women who were with you said that you all have been travelling for several weeks. Is that true?"
I nodded, and I could sense Easton shifting near me, his gaze on the side of my face. After the community had been disrupted, we had left Corozal and managed to stay at an abandoned home for a while before we were forced to leave when someone said that they had spotted several lycans on their way to the area.
And from there, we'd been wandering for weeks, sometimes pausing to hunt or sleep.
"She is harmless." This came from Easton, and I saw the way his mother jerked at his words.
"She was a part of that community, Easton. You know what they think of lycans."
Easton's voice was cool as he spoke, "And yet she has not looked at me with anger or disgust. All I see from her is her fear, mother."
"Oh, she's fearful all right." There was a hint of a snarl in the woman's voice, and then she turned, facing her mate. "We have a meeting to get back to. I'll call the warriors and have them take her to one of the prisons until you are ready to question her further."
"She is not being taken to a prison." Those words were bitten out by the teenager beside me, the spitting anger in his voice surprising me, and the two adults in the room as well. I could see the tightness of Easton's jaw and the flare of outrage in his gaze as he stared harshly at his mother.
Silence fell over the room and the uneasiness that came with this silence made me swallow thickly. There was something growing on both of the adult lycans' faces as they regarded their son, and it took me a few seconds to see that it was a sort of realization, one that I did not understand.
"Ah." The Alpha grunted. The woman said nothing, but I watched as her shoulders moved with her breaths, her eyes widening slightly before they narrowed and focused on me.
"Perhaps not the prison, then," She said this through gritted teeth, and then, I saw the evidently forced smile that grew on her lips. "I'll have the warriors take her to one of the rooms in the Hearth Building."
She gave her mate beside her a quick look, and she opened her mouth as if to speak, but he clipped out, "Not now, Samantha."
She sucked in a loud breath before she turned and left the room. The Alpha looked at his son and then me, once more, and I noticed that the sternness had lifted from his eyes.
"I must return to my meeting. I shall speak to you soon, Cora." And then, he too left the room, leaving silence behind him. My fingers continued repeatedly squeezing the bottle of water, and I flinched when I felt a hand touch my hand.
"How did you get that?" Easton was closer than he was previously, and his head was down, eyes fixed on the red bruise on my wrist. I pulled my hand from his own, and I watched as his gaze lifted to my face.
I stared at him, and began to speak, but then the door of the office was opened once more, and the woman, Samantha, returned, this time with two unfamiliar warriors. The smile on her lips was still strained. "They will take you to the Heath Building, Cora. You'll have a room to rest in and a bathroom that I'm sure you will make use of."
I did not move for several seconds, and just regarded all of the lycans in the room, unsure of if I should trust them. The hair on the back of my neck was tingling, and my stomach churned with my nervousness.
"You'll be alright, Cora." Easton's voice was quiet, and when I looked at him, I saw a gentle warmth in his eyes before I glanced away, back to the warriors who were standing in the doorway, waiting for me to come to them.
Some of my fingers pulled at the hem of my shirt as I began taking several steps forward, and I noticed almost immediately the difference in the way they guided me.
I was not forced to move at a pace that would further tire my legs, and neither of the warriors took my hands to guide me. I was, however, made to walk between the two warriors, and I noticed that Samantha and Easton followed me. They were a few feet away from me, but I could hear their hushed voices, Easton's fast and angry whilst his mother's words were snappish and curt.
When I eventually reached below, I was directed towards the exit. The hair on the back of my neck remained tingling, and I could sense that something was not quite right. I glanced up at the faces of the warriors beside me, but their attention was trained on what was ahead of them.
The cold night air hit me as soon as I stepped out of the building, and I heard sudden quick footsteps. A look over my shoulder revealed that Samantha had quickened her pace, and I could see Easton behind her, watching her with clear suspicion, continuing to follow us.
I watched as she leaned close to one of the warrior's ears, and caught the last of her words. "...her to the prison."
And almost immediately, memories flooded my mind, all of them to do with what I had been told before. My father, before he had committed suicide, had mentioned to me of what could happen if it was discovered that we had been apart of the Corozal community.
Being imprisoned had been one of these things he had mentioned, as well as the vicious, horrifying treatment we would receive once we were there. It was one of the many reasons why he had preferred to end his life, as he told me that he would rather do this than live with the high possibility that he would be captured by lycans.
I could feel heat hitting the back of my eyes, and a tightness flooded my chest, my pace slowing. The warriors consequently slowed as well, and I could sense them watching me. One of them turned to face me fully, looking me over, as if waiting for me to speak.
But all I did was look at Samantha, who had no longer bothered about plastering on that forced smile. She had stopped walking as well, and her arms were behind her back, her eyes like brown ice as she watched me. And Easton, he had slowed at first, but something on my face made him walk faster, his lips tight, his eyebrows drawn as he moved towards me.
My gaze went back to the warriors, and it was then that I saw the flash of impatience on one of their faces; this finally broke the once calm and blank expression that had been on his face.
The warrior reached down, grabbing my hand, closing his fingers tight around my bruise, but I yanked my hand away, stumbling backwards, feeling my heart pound rapidly, and the cold feeling that began to creep up my skin and spine before I broke off into a run.
"Cora!" I heard Easton's yell behind me, but I didn't dare slow. My legs pumped and arms flew by my sides as I ran wildly, the only thing on my mind, leaving this pack.
I could hear people following me, running, coming close, but I quickly changed directions, abruptly racing through the space between two houses, surging past a few confused lycans.
I felt some pain in my legs, but I kept on running, for a moment moving through a shadowed area before I burst out from the space. I could feel the wind hitting my face, and a throbbing in my ankles and the soles of my feet as I raced down a road before once more turning a corner and purposely moving towards several shadowed areas.
When I saw any moveable objects in sight, some of them being large trash cans, I pushed them behind me, letting them fall and hopefully stall those who were following.
"Cora, stop! Please!" Easton's yell pierced the air once more, but he seemed some distance away. Eventually, the grunts and muttered curses from those who were pursuing me were no longer as loud.
The lights from houses faded, and I soon became shrouded in darkness.
But even then, I never stopped running.
Hi again! If you would like to get a bit more info on the Corozal Community, there's some scenes of them in my book, Lycans Of The Woods.