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Since I’d found out about the whole no scent part of my identity, I noticed things I hadn’t before. Dogs tended not to notice me unless they could see me or I was making a ridiculous amount of noise. Cats liked to rub against me more than most people. Oh, and spells, potions, and amulets I did worked without the magic odor.

Violet, though I still wasn’t really talking to her, had called me in an amused confusion, asking if I had attempted amulets when she wasn’t around. Because I had, I admitted to it. When she asked me why I hadn’t labeled them, I told her because they didn’t work. She laughed for a good ten minutes before I hung up on her.

But most of all, I noticed that no matter what I did, because I didn’t have a scent to replace it, I always smelled like Scott and Michael.

Now, if none of this makes sense to you, I’m going to assume that you missed my blundering introduction into this screwball world of Collective and Gathering. So let me recap. I, Charlize Lavigne, semi-ordinary college graduate from a nuclear family with one brother, was no kind of normal.

In the past six months, I’d gone from revelation to revelation. My parents, Ambercrombie and Charlevi Lavigne had adopted me when I was three and never told me, so I wasn’t talking to them or my brother, Reggie. My biological parents, Rose and Arum Michaela were not human, and thus neither was I. My biological parents also happened to be dead, leaving me with no one to turn to but the godmother, Violet Sunshine, I’d met at a Wiccan festival who told me I was a witch. One of my best friends lived with a werewolf and we were officially unofficial members of his pack. Most of my friends were also witches.

How is all this possible, you’re probably asking. Don’t we live in a logical world of science where magic doesn’t exist? Well, uh, no. The world is actually divided into two sides. The human side, and the non-human side. I had been a firm part of camp normal until Violet had come into my life. Now I was smack dab in the center of the non-human side. Within non-humans, there were three groups: Gathering, Collective, and Others. Collective is the witch, warlock, wizard, mage, seer, fortune teller, psychic, etc crew. If they do magic, likely they’re Collective. Gathering is the werewolf,, vampire, succubus, shapeshifter, etc crew. If you’d find a book about them in supernatural, paranormal, or fantasy, they’re likely Gathering. And then there are the Others, which I know, super creative naming, right? The Others are the things from horror movies. They’re ghosts, poltergeists, demons, the thing that you’re afraid is under your bed, the reason you don’t look at the mirror in the dark, what you keep seeing in the corner of your eye.

Me? I was right between Gathering and Collective. See, my mother was a witch and my dad was an incubus. They fell in love, despite the race war going on around them, and had me. I was apparently rare, and not just because my parents were difference races. From a mixture of their parents, I was born with the ability to manipulate energy mostly in the form of taking and giving it. Violet and my mentor, Ariadne, called me a Fluctuator. The pack called me a Limitless, because I could hold an infinite amount of energy if I tried.

Oh, right, among important things to bring up, Violet and I were no longer on good terms. She erased my memory, repeatedly, to keep me in the dark about pretty much everything for my ‘own good.’ Despite the fact she saved my skin from a bunch of demons a few months ago, I still didn’t trust her. Thus explaining why I lived with Scott right now.

Scott and Michael are my boyfriends. Both of them. We are all three together, though it isn’t entirely by choice. We were casual sex partners until we’d all gotten all emotional and found out we’re soulmates. So now, I’m pretty much stuck with them, not that I mind all that much.

Actually, you know what? Just go back and read the beginning. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Recapping takes too much time and I am notoriously impatient.

 

Done? Ready to go on? Good. Now we can get on with the newest problem. This time I don’t even have to wonder where to start, because there’s only one choice. And that has to be the day I got a call that sent me packing.

 

Though, to be fair, this story isn’t entirely mine. To truly understand how things were going, I have to hand the mantle over to my best friend, Countess, at some point. She’s the reason we got into this mess, anyway. So I guess I lied, there is another place to start. That place would be a week before Countess received a call that had her packing.

Next: Chapter 1

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 The fourth time I recounted the events of the past 38 hours, it was to a handful of Gathering people. The first time had been to the pack, the second to Violet and Ariadne, and the third to the Ranger. By this time, I was just repeating the words, barely even reliving the horror. Countess and Penny had rushed off as soon as they’d spoke to Violet and Ariadne. The pack had gone somewhere with the Ranger. Vanessa had downed an entire bottle of Nyquil and promptly gone to sleep.

So now, now I was sitting on Scott’s bed, thinking about the reactions. The Ranger hadn’t been the least surprised that something like this had happened. In fact, I had to say that he was the least reactionary to the entire situation. His interest had been in the books and he had taken them off of me. The Gathering people had absolutely blown up. They wanted to know why I’d interfered in an obviously Collective problem. Nevermind that only Piney had been after Vanessa, while the others had had it out for me and all the rest of us.

No, while they had rankled me, especially the silent man who hadn’t been able to take his eyes off of me for more than a few seconds, they had acquiesced to my rights given my mixed status. What bothered me was what Violet had said.

“Of course you’d have accidentally made a solideum full of Unknowings.”

Solideum. That was a word that Zaza and Zozo had kept throwing around. I had used it when getting rid of all the Others. What was a solideum? I tried to ask, but everyone was so focused on getting answers from me, that no one bothered to answer mine. We all ended up disappointed with the lack.





Start Unknowingly Calling Demons

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 I woke up to hands around my neck and red eyes staring into my soul.

Gasping as I forced myself awake from the nightmare, I shot up, touching my neck to assure myself that nothing was touching me. On either side of me, my boyfriends shifted, turning their backs to me in a unison that was far too orchestrated to be coincidence. I touched the back of Michael’s head and tentatively pushed a little energy into him, only to receive no reaction. I turned to Scott and rubbed the back of his neck, knowing the sensitive spot always woke him up. He didn’t move.

Across the room, Lilo and Vanessa abruptly awoke with quick breaths and soft, panicked cries. I looked from them, to my best friend, who sat with her back to the wall and her eyes on the door. Following her gaze, a shiver went up my spine when the hallway light turned on. It’s just one of the guys, I tried to assure myself, though I knew better.

After we’d explained everything that had happened to the pack, it had been a simple decision to stay here and make sure everything was alright. Mostly, I was pretty sure they wanted to be sure Mrs. Ferril’s body didn’t turn back up. That would be problematic for the next people to come here, and for us if a murder investigation started up. So we had stayed in the upstairs room, while the rest of the pack had stayed in the rooms further down, not wanting to be this close to the attic. Wusses.

Though if I had thought for a second that we hadn’t managed to get rid of everything, I would have not only not stayed this close to the attic, but I would have not stayed in the house.

“It didn’t work, did it?” Vanessa asked, looking to me.

“It didn’t work,” I agreed, standing up. I glanced to my mates again, but their only movement was the rise and fall of their chests. Looking around the room, I saw that both Tyler and Lee were in as deep a sleep as my guys. They were all so still, so silent. It scared me. Stef and Penny were still in their sleeping bags, but I didn’t for a moment believe they were actually sleeping. Stef was curled inside of theirs, but shifting. Penny was lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling.

“What do we do now?” I asked, looking to Countess for answers. She and Penny were the only knowledgeable witches here, and of the two of them, I just expected her to know what to do.

“I don’t know,” she whispered.

“I don’t understand. What’s happening?” Lilo asked, standing up. “Did we all have nightmares or something?”

“We were all awakened by an Other,” Countess answered. “We banished all Others from here, but this one stayed. I don’t know how or why, but it did. And it’s strong. It has to want something, but I don’t know what.”

I nodded and looked out the door in time to see a shadow moving down the hall. “Then let’s ask him.” If this was my mirror-stalking, bathroom-invading, dream-choking red eyed shadow, I needed to confront him. I was tired of nightmares and being scared all the time. I wanted him gone, and if it took talking to him, I would do it. The unmistakable sound of the drop-down stairs hitting the hallway floor made my friends jump, but I had been expecting it.

“Sounds like that’s what it wants you to do,” Penny warned and I gave her an annoyed look.

“You think? Maybe if I talk to him, he’ll leave me alone.”

“Or maybe you’ll have another Piney situation,” she snapped.

I shook my head. “I’m doing it whether you want me to or not. Are you going to help me?”

Stef stuck their head out of their sleeping bag. “I’m for talking to them,” they offered, crawling out.

I paused for a moment, unsure whether I wanted to involve them. Sure, I had last night, but that had been with the whispers guiding me. Now I was overly aware that they were the only human here and had no way of defending themself against anything. Sure, while Vanessa was all but defenseless with her Sight, at least she could see everything that was going on. Stef was half blind and powerless.

Still, I wanted them with me.

I nodded. “Stef and I can do it if you’re all too scared,” I taunted.

“Oh, I’m horrified,” Penny said.

“Absolutely terrified,” Countess agreed.

“Never been more afraid than I am right now,” Lilo added.

“Definitely too scared,” Vanessa joined them before making a face. “But I’ll still do it with you.”

“Yeah, we’re definitely not letting you do it alone,” Countess agreed. The other two just nodded their agreement.

With that decided, we went to the attic.

The distance between the bedroom and the attic had never seemed longer than it did when the six of us made our way down the hall. Every shadow shifted along the walls and made me flinch. Though we, at least I certainly did, expected the lights to go off and leave us in darkness, they didn’t. The hall light stayed bright and fluorescent, guiding the way.

Vanessa’s hand was gripping my mother’s necklace as her eyes darted this way and that. I didn’t dare ask what she was seeing. Countess and Penny held hands, both muttering something under their breath. I had a feeling that it was a prayer and not for the first time, wished it was appropriate for me to pray just in case Allah really was listening. Lilo looked confused, but at the same time, determined. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I looked to Stef last and they just grinned at me before grabbing my hand and giving me a tight squeeze.

“Let’s do this,” Stef said when we were standing at the foot of the steps, looking up into the dimly lit space. I let them pull me up and felt comfort when I knew that Countess was right behind me. Her hand was at the small of my back, fingers tangling in with the fringe on my dress from last night’s party. I was the only one still wearing my costume, and for a moment I wished that I, too, had opted to change into pajamas.

Nothing said ‘summoning a demon’ like a costume basically from a Call of Cthulhu starter kit.

Stef jolted to a stop at the top, and I looked around them to see what the hold up was. Sitting at the oak table, moving the planchette on the board in a figure eight, was my red-eyed shadow. He was as tall as ever, making it to my height even though he was seated. He wore no clothes, had no features beyond his eyes. His fingers were long, with the middle finger being as long as my entire hand, and slender, like a skeleton’s.

When he looked at me, I felt him in every part of me. He was in my head, muddled in my energy, stroking through my memories, touching my skin, the aftertaste on my tongue, I even saw him when I blinked. Yet I knew that the others felt him just as fully because I could feel them. We all tensed against his invasion, but none of us was strong enough to fight him off. Instead, we moved like marionettes on strings attached to his fingers, separating from each other and moving further into the room to stand around him in an evenly spaced, open semi-circle. I stood directly in front of him, my eyes level with his.

His fingers stopped moving and all of us stilled. He looked away from me and for a moment, I felt free of him. My friends, however, all dropped simultaneously the moment he flattened his palm on the table. Even without a mouth, I felt as though he were smiling coldly at me when he turned his eyes back to me when I moved to check on them. I couldn’t move.

He tapped his fingertips on the table for a moment before standing and moving around me, though he kept me in place without, it seemed, much effort at all. All I could do was turn in place to keep my eyes on him, so I did. He crossed the room, to the bookshelf and picked up the only books there. I wasn’t sure why it surprised me that they were still there from last night. It was silly to have thought that they would just disappear with the others.

He forced them into my arms before crossing back to sit at the table again. He eyed me for a long time, before, out of nowhere, he closed his eyes tightly and swatted away at something I couldn’t see. I did see Lilo’s body jerk.

“What are you doing to her?” I demanded, surprising myself with my voice. I could speak? Had I always been able to, or had he lost some control? “What did you do to all of them?”

He gave me a long, unblinking stare, before moving the planchette to spell out an answer. T-H-E-Y-S-L-E-E-P-S-H-E-D-R-E-A-M-S-W-E-S-P-E-A-K

And that explained everything. Not.

“What do you want?” I demanded, hugging myself. No, I was sure of it. He had lost some of his control over me. I glanced to Lilo, who was sweating, before looking back to him. He swatted at the air again. She dreamed indeed. If I had to guess, I’d say that Lilo was having another one of her fighting dreams, only it wasn’t a dream. She was really fighting him. And she was doing enough to keep him occupied.

I side-stepped away from him, toward the closest body and his eyes snapped to attention on me. His fingers moved quickly and before I knew it, my friends—minus Lilo, who was still on the floor, looking strained—were standing at the window. It was open. Vanessa’s head was out.

B-E-C-A-R-E-F-U-L He warned me. I froze, staring at them. He was threatening me through my friends. He was threatening to have them jump out of a window for what? What did he want from me? I would gladly give him anything to keep them safe.

Y-O-U-H-A-V-E-S-O-M-A-N-Y-L-O-V-E-D-O-N-E-S-T-O-U-S-E

­“I get the point,” I spat out, thinking about Scott and Michael, the pack, my family. He was right. I had a lot of people he could hurt. Too many he could hurt easily, who were uninvolved in all of this, whatever this was with all these shadow people. “What do you want?”

O-N-E-D-A-Y-I-W-I-L-L-I-N-V-I-T-E-Y-O-U-T-O-M-E-A-N-D-Y-O-U-W-I-L-L-C-O-M-E

Was that all? He wanted me to visit him? Why? What was the point? I started to ask, but my pause apparently upset him and he had Vanessa put her foot on the window pane. It would have been funny if he hadn’t been trying to kill her. She never would’ve been able to do that on her own.

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “I will. I will visit you.”

And just like that, my friends were awake. Vanessa shrieked and Penny grabbed her waist to pull her back inside, both of them falling to the ground. Countess turned to me, or rather, to where the shadow man had been. Lilo jerked awake, cursing angrily. And Stef, my poor Stef, curled into a fetal position.

We heard footsteps rushing our way and all of us tensed, ready to do whatever was necessary. Instead of more horrible shadow people, the pack ran up the stairs, looking all around us. Michael and Scott focused on me, looking to the books in my arms, glancing to my friends, and then refocusing on my face, which had to be all kinds of terrified.

“What happened?” they demanded.

I had no good answer for them.




Next Chapter

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 For something I had thrown together as quickly as I had, the party was looking good. After the early morning call from Mrs. Ferril saying that the party had to be on Halloween or never (because the wimpy paranormal investigators had run off and after their consult she was having the house demolished on the first of November), after fighting with Michael (and subsequently doing some things I really shouldn’t have), I truly hadn’t been sure I’d be able to get it all together. Stef, Countess, and Penny had come down to help me and Lilo set up yesterday and I was endlessly in their debt. I would never have managed on my own, considering the guys had flaked on me in all ways not food. Michael was still sulking and Scott was giving me the type of side eye I normally gave him.

But everything had worked out. That was all that mattered.

The Zaza and Zozo problem had yet to become a problem thanks to the crystals Violet and Ariadne had managed to create. They fit nicely with the decorations and, as far as I could tell, kept the ghosts from leaving the attic, so I figured that at some point, I needed to thank Violet for the help. Violet, in some misguided attempt to get back on my good side, had also given me enough 1920’s clothes to fill the back of the van. I hadn’t asked where she got them, but I was curious, considering there was such a variety of sizes and styles.

Either way, the outfits made the 1920’s theme even better now that no one had an excuse not to wear a costume to be a part of the murder mystery. (That wasn’t to say that some people, like Lee, hadn’t tried to not wear them.) The men looked incredibly dapper. The women looked simply gorgeous. And Stef, well Stef looked like a chimney sweep and if that wasn’t the cutest thing I’d ever seen, I don’t know what was.

Everyone seemed to be having fun and enjoying the game—especially Vanessa—but there were, of course, some instances where there was a bit of a problem. There was a crazy amount of tension between Lee and Vanessa’s friend, Dallas. I wasn’t sure what was going on there, but if the golden eyes didn’t stop, I was spraying them both with a water bottle. Still, they were civil toward each other, which was more than could be said for me and Vanessa’s work friend, Shelby.

Shelby, a self-proclaimed ‘meninist’ complained about the ‘war on Christianity,’ reverse racism, having to be politically correct, ‘social justice warriors,’ and just slut shamed the night away. If it weren’t for Lee physically removing me from an argument wherein she was ‘explaining’ why we shouldn’t let refugees in because they “are all terrorists,” I probably would have destroyed her. Both physically and verbally. Instead, dealing with her had me on my fifth mixed drink of the night. I had found that the Mary Pickford, with its white rum wasn’t doing enough for me and had switched over to mint juleps.

When Shelby gestured my way with a sneer, I smiled sweetly, fixing my headband to be sure that my hair was still doing its faux-bob look. She made a gesture toward my flapper dress, laughing loudly enough for me to hear her. I let it bother me for all of a second before I began to shimmy with the music, letting the gold fringe fly all around. I wasn’t alone for more than a few seconds before Countess was dancing with me, her black fringe dress looking as fabulous as mine.

Clasping hands, we did a few kicks to the side of each other before I spun her. Although I had no doubt we looked ridiculous, it was fun. Especially when Lilo, Vanessa, and Stef joined in. Over Vanessa’s shoulder, I winked at Penny, who so happened to be behind Shelby. Right as I began to spin Vanessa, the energetic music stopped abruptly and a bloodcurdling scream came from upstairs. Vanessa immediately stopped and looked to me to be sure that it was all part of the game and when I nodded, she booked it up the stairs to investigate with Penny and Lee on her heels.

That would be death number two, Hannah. I had already decided that if no one figured out that Dallas was the murderer in an hour that the next victim would be Shelby. I could claim she’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time, that we’d thought she had seen something and to keep her from finishing the game before Vanessa figured it out, that we’d removed her. It would get her out of my hair, that was for sure. Victims didn’t get to be at the party. And while that wasn’t a big deal for Heather, who was down in the basement chilling and watching Netflix, or Hannah, who would join her girlfriend, I could bet that Shelby would hate it. That gave me a glimmer of vindictive joy.

I felt Michael behind me before he could touch me and spun to smile up at him. He had brushed his hair. I reached up to touch it, but he caught my hand and turned me in a spin before pulling me back to his chest.

“Not bad,” I complimented him, letting him lead the dance toward the stairs.

Once there, he stopped us so that he was boxing me in in a classic 60’s movie position with my back to the wall and his arm above my head. “So tell me, what’s a dame like you doing in a dive like this?”

I snorted at his attempt at the vocabulary. “You just watched Captain America for that, didn’t you?” I asked, glad that he seemed to be over his sulking.

“I wasn’t sulking,” he muttered, glancing away and then back at me. “And we still need to talk about what happened later. That can’t happen.”

“Sure,” I said, shrugging the situation off and going under his arm to get back to the party. Scott joined us before I could, grabbing my waist and guiding me back to our dark little corner. I grinned. “Good golly, you’d think we were necking back here. Who do you think I am?” I asked jokingly, fluttering my eyelashes as I added, “I’m a good girl, really.”

Right,” Scott drawled, rolling his eyes. “Quick question though. Are any of your friends really human?”

“Um,” I shrugged. “Stef and Lilo?”

“Stef maybe. Lilo, not so much,” Michael corrected and both of us looked to him, though I was questioning while Scott was accusatory. He shrugged when Scott tossed him the same side eye I’d been receiving all night. “She’s shown up on the dream screen a few too many times to be a managed Dreamer.”

“And you didn’t think to get her managed?”

Michael shrugged again. “Morgan’s on it. Besides, she’s good. She weaves in and out and works on Others until they get out.”

“What are you talking about?” I demanded.

They exchanged looks that told me they weren’t going to explain. “It’s a lot to explain. Later,” Michael promised, but given how often he ‘forgot’ to explain things to me, I doubted I’d hear anything later. Instead of making a scene, I shook my head and ditched them in the corner. They didn’t even try to keep me with them, instead having a mostly mental conversation that they were somehow keeping me out of.

I grabbed Lilo from her conversation with Penny and stuck my tongue out at my college friend as I pulled Lilo with me to the ‘psychic room,’ which was actually just a broom closet.

“Your elf-man is weird,” Lilo pointed out as we sat on either side of the crystal ball, on the cushions on the floor. “I was talking about my dreams with your Stef and he got all into my business. Then rushed off like I’d told him how to slay a dragon or something.”

I gave a half shrug. “I just ignore his quirks,” I stated, putting my fingertips on the crystal ball and rubbing over it. “Having fun?” I asked.

“Okay, what’s wrong? Why’d you bring me to the closet? Are we hiding from someone?” she joked.

The truth of the matter was, I wasn’t sure why I’d brought us in here. It just seemed like a good idea. “I just wanted some alone time with my pretty lady.”

She rolled her eyes. “Right.” When I didn’t say anything more, she tilted her head. “Needing to recharge?” she suggested softly, referring to my need for alone time after a few hours with a large group of people. I supposed that had to do with my inability to keep my energy to myself. But no, I felt good this time.

“Yeah,” I lied, fingering the rock. I wasn’t sure when I had taken it out of my bra, but I was rolling it between my fingers.

“What’s that?” Lilo asked, reaching forward to touch it. Instinctively, I jerked it back from her, accidentally knocking it against the crystal ball.

That was when all the lights went out.

The crystal ball let out a horrible screech and I banged my knee on the table, moving away. In the dark, it was easy to see the crystal ball, given that it was shining with golden light and a figure was moving inside, shifting around in there, a silhouette in the glittery light. There was a banging at the door and I heard a soft whisper.

Don’t let her out.

“Hold the door,” I told Lilo, who kept her eyes on the crystal ball as the light shifted from gold and sparkles to a more recognizable darkness, the silhouette becoming that spikey headed figure I recognized so well.

“I see that in my dreams,” Lilo whispered. “It’s so much stronger than the others I fight. Do you see it?”

Realizing that Lilo wasn’t moving, I went to the door, barring it with my body. “Oh yeah, I see her. That’s Piney.”

“Her?” Lilo looked to me as Piney’s head turned, as if she knew we were here but wasn’t sure how to get to us.

“Oh yeah. That’s a she. Maybe get farther back? If she gets out, I’m pretty sure she’s gonna come swinging.”

Take her to the attic.

Why was I listening to the voices in my head? First they tell me not to let anyone in. Then they tell me to go out and take the Piney-ball with me. Nuh uh. No way, no how.

She’s getting stronger.

“Charlize?” Stef’s voice asked through the door as the lights turned back on. I looked to the door and then to the crystal ball. It was back to normal, except for one thing. My stone was now inside of it, centered by shaky tendrils of black energy. That certainly couldn’t be good.

Shakily, I opened the door and not only Stef, but all of my friends entered the small room. It was crowded, but having them made me feel better.

“What’s happening? That wasn’t part of the game,” Penny stated the obvious. “Was it the ghosts?”

I exchanged glances with Lilo, and then looked at Stef. Penny and Countess got the gist, that it wasn’t something I could share in front of them, but apparently I didn’t need to.

Stef picked up the crystal ball. “I’m going to take a guess and say that what’s going on is witchy stuff to do with this.” They looked pointedly at the rock before looking expectantly to me.

Countess opened her mouth, undoubtedly to deny it, but I cut her off. Lies made everything more difficult. If Stef was going to guess at witch stuff, there was no point in lying to them. “Yes. It is and it does. This place needs a goddamned exorcism.”

Penny looked disapproving of my admitting of ‘witchy stuff’ to Stef, but at the mention of an exorcism, she nodded. “I agree. Starting with the attic.”

“I was thinking starting with this ball of hate, but yeah, that could work too.”

“Wait,” Lilo cut into, looking at us all in disbelief. “Are we all just going to act like this isn’t something to freak out about? Some freaky creature from my nightmares is showing up in real life. And y’all are talkin’ ‘bout exorcisms and witches! Is this a prank? Are there cameras somewhere?”

I sighed. “Okay, no. Um. Abridged version. You’re not human, are a witch. So am I, so are they, so is Vanessa. Stef’s our token human, apparently. There’s lots to explain after, but right now? We need to get Piney’s evil ass out of this crystal ball and into the Negaverse.”

Countess snorted. “Neverworld,” she corrected.

“Right, Neverland.”

“And do it without any of the people here being hurt,” Penny added.

“Piece of cake,” I joked, while I was actually sweating on the inside. More importantly than any of this, where were my mates? They should have been the first ones to me.

“So, to the attic,” Stef suggested, the first one to leave the closet, still holding the crystal ball. I didn’t want them out of my sight, not with that thing, but Penny grabbed my arm before I could follow.

“You can’t just tell humans about us,” Penny hissed the moment Stef was gone. Lilo followed after them and Countess followed her.

I followed Countess. “Stef is perceptive. They would have figured out sooner or later. I mean, they knew before and the Ranger-of-the-Running-Lands erased their memory.”

Penny shook her head, keeping close behind me. “Just don’t get in the habit of telling people, okay?”

“Since I don’t wanna end up in the looney bin, I can assure you I won’t.”

It wasn’t until we were on the stairs that it dawned on me that everyone was acting as though the five of us didn’t exist. I mean, they didn’t run into us or anything, but no one made eye contact. No one even looked at us. Instead, they seemed to look right through us. The party was still in full blast. Michael and Scott were talking to a concerned looking Lee while Dallas eavesdropped. Vanessa was nowhere to be seen.

As we passed by the men, Michael stopped mid-sentence and looked right at me. I stopped and when he frowned, I realized that he wasn’t looking at me, but past me. They couldn’t see us. If nothing else had told me that something was very wrong, that had. Penny nudged me to the stairs and, after one last, long look at my mates, I went with my friends up the stairs.

The walk upstairs was uneventful, if tense. None of us talked. The sounds of the party going on around us stayed constant, and even though I knew the others had to have noticed how no one seemed to see us, not a single one of them commented on it. As we made it to the top level, the drop-down ladder landed with a heavy thud before Stef was even close enough to touch it. They looked back at me for a moment and I was positive that I saw something akin to fear in their eyes.

I rushed forward to them, trying to take their hands, but instead the ball was pushed into my hands. The moment it was, I understood. There was energy flowing out of the stupid ball like smoke from a smoke bomb. I just took it in, not sure what I wanted to do with it, but knowing that I didn’t want it to get to any of my friends. If there was even a sliver of a repeat of the Zooey incident, I was going to minimize it as best as I could.

Finish it.

I frowned at the whisper. How stereotypical white girl in a horror movie was I being? Here I was, hearing voices in my head and doing what they said. I was leading my best friends to the attic of a well-known Murder House, where I knew the ghosts were. No one knew we were up here. We had no idea what we were doing or what would happen.

Finish it!

“Calm your shit or I’m calling Ghostbusters on your asses!” I yelled, considering closing the attic and forcing Michael to see me.

“Charlize?” Vanessa’s voice called from in the attic.

I frowned. “Vanessa?” I asked, going up the steps without a second thought. The others filed up after me, and when I took in the scene, I genuinely considered going back downstairs, ending the party, and leaving the ball here.

The attic, which had been locked, blocked, and barricaded to keep everyone out since all the needed decorations and furniture had been taken out, was looking creepy in a dramatic way. The dim, mood lighting came from candles set along the windowpane and on the shelves of the normally full bookcases. The only books I saw anywhere were seven books that I recognized too well. One was a handwritten log of sorts, complete with pictures, but it was written in a language I didn’t recognize. A language that I suddenly realized had the same symbols as the scrolls in Violet’s basement. The other six were journals, ones that I could only assume were personal to Zaza and Zozo since they had always been snatched from us and hidden whenever we’d tried to read them before.

On the floor were scattered pictures. Some, I recognized as those who were suspected to have died here. They all had red X’s clumsily painted over their faces. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of me, Stef, Countess, Penny, Lilo, and Vanessa from tonight that I realized all the others were pictures of everyone at this party. On the floor, beneath the pictures, something was written in the red. I pushed the pictures away until I could read it.

Want to play a real murder mystery? Look behind you.

Everything in me wanted nothing more than to just drop everything and leave. But I didn’t. Despite the other’s gasps and gagging. Despite Vanessa point blank telling me not to look, from her fetal position near the window. I turned around.

Mrs. Ferril was pinned to the wall, her hands covered in red paint. Her eyes were open and moving, but she was undeniably dead. The energy in her was purely magic, with no life force, and a large part of even that was the black energy from the Others. I closed my eyes, knowing that her death was my fault. They had used her to get to me. She had probably been dead or dying when she’d called me.

“Finish it,” she wheezed. “Destroy them.”

I turned away from her, wondering if she had been the whispers.

“Let’s do this,” I said, slamming the crystal ball onto the oak table and picking up the sharp, vicious looking knife. To fix the Solideum, a new one must be made. A drop of blood from each of six.

I pricked my finger and smeared the blood on the crystal ball and handed it over to Vanessa, who looked at me like I was crazy. “What are you doing?”

“Getting rid of all of them permanently,” I said. Hopefully, I chose not to add aloud.

“Who taught you this?” Countess demanded.

“Violet,” I lied, ignoring the guilt of it when all of them, with the exception of Stef, relaxed. Stef just gripped my hand after cutting their own and adding their blood to the ball. They were the last.

I could still feel Mrs. Ferril’s eyes on me, but didn’t look back to her. Vanessa took my other hand and, like a chain reaction, the rest of them took each other’s hands until we were a full circle. I felt a change in the energy the moment the last two hands connected, but I wasn’t sure what it meant.

I repeated the words I heard. “Once as one, six no more. Once again six, newly made four.” I looked to Countess, who frowned. And slightly shook her head, looking past me. I didn’t dare look. Instead, I kept repeating what I heard. “One solid to another, replacing the power, removing from Piney and retrieving to…” I frowned. “And giving to no other,” I corrected.

I felt a pressure on me, but didn’t let that change my mind. I refused to give Piney’s power to anyone. Never. It wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t want it, my friends couldn’t have it, and Zaza and Zozo definitely weren’t getting it.

“Fre-freedom,” I swallowed back the words when a pressure on my throat cut off the words.

Countess continued for me. “Freedom to the power, but an end to the owner. Alpina Ewart, once before, but now no more. Gone from here, gone from home. Gone to Elsewhere, back to the Wrong Realm.”

And then there was nothing. For a long moment, I thought we had messed up. We stayed standing there, holding hands and watching the crystal ball, but nothing happened. The rock was still in the center. There was still energy holding it in place. Nothing had changed.

I was the first to let go. When I did, I was shoved into Vanessa, who fell into Penny. All three of us went down while the other three scrambled away from the table. The black in the crystal all turned back to that golden, sparkling energy, and exploded. For a moment, I would swear that I’d seen four bodies coated in the energy, but it was all gone by the time I could see clear again.

I looked to the others, who were looking at me.

“Well, uh, that was fun, wasn’t it?” I tried with a forced smile.

“But did it work?” Lilo was the first to ask.

“Allahu A’lam,” I muttered before adding, “I hope so.”

“Next question. What do we do with the dead old lady over there?” Stef asked, gesturing to where Mrs. Ferril had been. Except, of course, she wasn’t here anymore.

“Does that mean we have a zombie walking around?” Lilo demanded.

“No,” Countess soothed. “She most likely just became one with nature. A lot of older witches do that when they don’t have a line to give them proper burial.”

I was so far from wanting to deal with any of this. “I’m going to sleep. Screw this.”




Next Chapter

amadhay: (Default)

The black energy was gone a few hours later and I collapsed. I found that black energy disappeared much faster than normal energy and though it was more powerful, it was fragile. I was fragile. I felt like I had had my innards scooped out like pumpkin goo and everything around me was a swirl.

As if I weren’t wearing glasses and simultaneously having a dizzy spell, everything was blurs of color, snatches of sounds and smells. I felt feverish, I felt sick, I felt empty. I knew I needed energy, but I couldn’t even manage to pull anything into me because when I tried, I felt worse.

“Oh shit,” Scott cursed, but his voice sounded distorted.

“Don’t touch her!” Morgan demanded.

“Excuse me?” Scott replied sharply.

I felt Michael’s hands righting me and leaning me against his body. I still felt nothing. “She’s leeching. She’d latch onto you,” he answered.

“And?” Scott demanded. I felt his energy coming closer and a part of me got excited.

“Don’t come any closer,” Michael gritted out through clenched teeth as though he were in pain. Morgan, and it had to be Morgan with the way his hand was cold but somewhat soothing in a hypnotic way, put his hand on the small of my back. “She will strip you bare until you’re a husk and still need more. Stay back. All of you.”

Michael’s lips brushed my forehead and the two men laid me down on the couch. “Everyone should go,” he suggested, setting his hand on my chest. I felt a blossoming of energy that I tried to suck on to make it come faster, but it kept coming at the same speed, in the same amount.

There was a murmur of argument from the rest of the pack, particularly Scott and Chris since it was their apartment. Morgan moved and I lost the drag of energy from him. I tried to pull it back, but there was nothing for me to grasp. I felt Michael right there, but I couldn’t get to his energy, not even through the bond. In fact, I couldn’t feel the bond. I couldn’t feel anything but emptiness.

Morgan’s voice was deeper, disturbing in a way when he snapped at them and I had a feeling I was hearing the vampire equivalent to alphing. “Unless you want her to be comatose or to accidentally murder one of you, you need to leave so that we can fix the damage.”

I was a little stuck on the word ‘murder,’ so if there was any argument after that, I missed it. What was wrong with me?

“Hey, baby, you still with us?” Michael asked. I couldn’t answer. I tried, honestly. My mouth wouldn’t move to make any words and it was exhausting to even think an answer his way.

“She’s still there,” Morgan muttered, sounding distracted. His hands went to my shirt and then away. “I can’t do anything unless I touch her,” he warned.

“Then touch her,” Michael said, sounding genuinely confused why Morgan wasn’t doing anything.

Morgan cursed under his breath. “What I’m saying here is that she needs to be in less clothes. And I will have to touch her skin. And you can’t freak out on me, man.”

Michael was silent for a moment. “I’m not a shifter, Morg,” he reminded the man, but he moved away from me and I felt my t-shirt and pants come off. He left my underwear on, for which I was thankful, because I was already going to have words for both of them when I could talk.

“Could’ve fooled me,” Morgan muttered and then his hands were on my stomach, moving from my navel and to my sides.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Michael demanded.

“Holy shit,” Morgan said instead of continuing the argument. “Do you feel that?” he asked.

“I don’t feel anything?” Michael responded, rubbing his hands on my shoulders.

“Exactly my point. She’s almost empty. How did that even happen?”

“I’m guessing the Other,” Michael remarked snidely, obviously still bothered by Morgan’s comment.

“You can either sulk because I think you act like a shifter, or you can explain to your mate what is happening before it starts to hurt.”

“Can she hear me?” Michael asked, and I felt a prickle of his energy soaking into me. His fingers were on the still-sensitive spot where he’d marked me and it burned when he rubbed it.

“Probably. I don’t know. Just cover our bases so she can’t whine about us not explaining anything when she wakes up.”

Michael snickered and there was relief when his hands moved. He mimicked Morgan’s actions, only his hands started at my chest, above my heart. “Well, Shaz, if you can hear me, which I doubt, because if you could, I’d have heard crap about you being in your underwear around Morgan.”

Morgan snickered. “Humans,” he said as if that explained everything. It was similar to how men said “Women,” to explain away all of their problems with the other sex.

Unknowing,” Michael replied back.

I was aware they were making fun of me, so as hard as I possibly could, I thought ‘Dickwads,’ at them.

“There’s your answer,” Morgan stated.

I could hear a relieved smile in Michael’s voice. “You can hear us. Good. Okay, so, remember when I was talking about energy? You don’t have to answer. You should save up everything you can.”

“Get to a point. It’s about to get painful.”

“You can’t survive with no energy. You are very, very close to no energy. And I don’t even think what’s there is yours, which I’ve never heard of happening before. But we’re going to try to force your body to make more and to take what we give you and convert it. I don’t know if it’ll work perfectly, but it should do well enough. I hope. I love you, be okay.”

He what?

A spasm of energy hit me in the chest and I stopped breathing. It hurt. It was trying to expand in my chest and I didn’t have room for it. Another hit me in my gut. Another in my groin. A fourth in my head. I was on fire. I was burning. I was drowning. I was suffocating. I was freezing. I was frozen.

I was dying.

But then, a soothing energy, one I recognized washed over me like a balm. It offset the pain and I breathed. I breathed in air that smelled like violets, warm apple cider and cigarette smoke.

 

There was nothing comfortable about this situation. Lying on (what I was sure had to be) Michael’s old bed in nothing but my underwear, surrounded by his family, Violet, and two other witches I vaguely recognized, was quite possibly the most awkward situation I’d been in in quite some time. Or ever.

I made eye contact with Michael, who stood in the doorway, where he’d been banished after he kept hovering around me. He gave me a bright smile that I assumed meant he thought this was going well. I wouldn’t say the same.

Violet had come in with the two women—one much older and the other around my age, possibly a bit younger—and tried to take control of the situation by trying to take me away. Michael’s grandmother had immediately threatened to call in either the Syndicate or their local Ranger if Violet thought “trying to intimidate” them “with the lacking Triumvirate” was going to work. Michael had pointed out that I was as much Gathering as Collective and that Violet had no actual right to me where he did. I was going to have to talk to him about that possessive language at some point. Violet had claimed her rights as my godmother overruled his claim as my soulmate, and the basic consensus was that she’d have to fight all six succubi to get me anywhere. Her fellow witches had claimed she was just being overly protective and meant no insult, even though some less than polite words had been thrown out, like “monsters,” “creatures,” and “evolutionary mistakes.”

But I guessed that them not physically attacking each other was good. The scent of violets, lemons and jasmine mingled with hot cocoa, different teas, and hot ciders and I wondered if the fact that their scents were stronger than normal had to do with the different races intermingling or the amount of magic running into me. I had never had so many different people’s energy in me, and honestly, I didn’t like it even if I felt a hundred times better.

“So…am I good now?” I asked, keeping eye contact with Michael, who gave me a goofy smile. It was comforting to have him when surrounded by people who either didn’t like me or I didn’t trust.

“Not quite,” Violet started, and when I glared at her, she faltered. “I mean, you still have to be able to give and take and I’ve yet to see either.”

I groaned. “Can I at least put clothes back on?” I demanded.

“Someone’s a little fussy,” the old woman pointed out, receiving agreeing noises from the others.

I glared at Michael to try to get him to intervene. He rolled his eyes. “They’re just clothes,” he pointed out.

“And my skin is just skin. I’d like to have it covered,” I snapped.

“Might as well hold your breath. Fighting a losing battle, there,” Michael’s aunt stated. “Succubi don’t get it.”

“Speaking of which,” Violet interrupted before I could ask what that meant, “You said your soulmate was a succubus, not a bacchae. That is a rather large difference.”

I stared at her blankly. “A what?”

“My Kaul,” Michael’s mother said disapprovingly. “You still haven’t—“

“There hasn’t really been time,” he defended himself and I smirked when he added “And what do you care, when you kicked us out, telling me not to be with her anymore?”

“There’s been plenty of time,” she corrected him. “It only takes a few breaths to explain that you are a bacchae if you trusted her.”

He didn’t think I would have understood either way. That was insulting.

“Well, you wouldn’t have,” he replied with a half shrug that he didn’t mean apologetically at all but thought it would keep me from getting angry.

“You can’t say I wouldn’t understand something without even trying to explain,” I argued, rather more irritated than if he had just blatantly been an ass.

He sighed in exasperation, feeling like I was boxing him in. It was so weird being able to feel his emotions. “Except you barely understand succubus. How was I supposed to explain bacchus to you?”

With words?

“Fine then. I’m a bacchus. I feed on all energy, and have to do it constantly or I’d die. Well, I wouldn’t die, but everyone else would wish I had. I have basically the same energy and magic abilities as you, only limited and dependant on what I eat. There. Did that make any sense to you?”

“Perfect,” I stated with a fake smile. I broke and really smiled at him after he gave me a flummoxed look. Really. I got it. It wasn’t that hard.

He rolled his eyes, but took a step into the room before we both remembered that there were others around us. He laughed and I immediately made awkward eye contact with everyone. The young witch and Michael’s aunt and younger uncle were all watching us with amused looks, while the elders of the room looked somewhere between shocked, disturbed and, in the case of the eldest witch, disgusted.

“Enjoying the mental part of your bond, I see,” the young witch stated, shaking her head with an amused smile.

“And it’s working well for you, huh?” the strawberry blond uncle teased.

I flushed. “Were we…?”

“Talking to each other primarily in your minds? Yes.” Michael’s grandmother sounded a bit put off, but not disgusted, so I counted it as progress in my ongoing war to make the boys’ families like me. “I thought we cut off the maturing of the bond?” she suggested.

Michael’s mother shrugged and leaned forward to touch my head. Her magic swirled around me for a moment before sizzling and going back into her. “It would seem that they didn’t need our permission,” she stated, sounding quite a bit more comfortable with my presence than she had the entire time I’d been here. More progress.

“Are you telling me she has gained a mental connection to that…bacchus?” the elder lady demanded.

The young witch rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mogra, the mix-breed has a fully evolved bond with her bacchus soulmate.”

Michael and I exchanged uncomfortable looks and the young witch raised her eyebrow curiously. “Or rather, just their shapeshifter. What’s happened to the bond between the two of you?”

“The bond isn’t complete?” far too many voices asked at once and I winced, trying to trump up sympathy with my nearly-died status. It worked. Trying my luck, I reached out piteously to Michael and he twisted his mouth to keep from laughing when the elders in the room gestured for him to come to me. Only his aunt (Natasha? Sasha? Lissy? Damn, what was her name?) and the witch (whose name, I was fairly certain, was Adriane) rolled their eyes at us.

“We don’t know why,” I admitted. “Somehow we’re both totally bonded to Scott, but everyone keeps saying we aren’t to each other. I think we are.”

“I know we are,” Michael corrected and I smiled at him, squeezing his hand. He nudged me over with his hip and when I didn’t scoot over for him, he hopped onto the bed on the other side of me and spooned me. While I was in my underwear. Surrounded by his family.

“Michael,” I hissed, trying to nudge him away.

“What?” he asked, wrapping his arms around my waist and pulling me closer. I got that he was happy I was feeling better, but we were in front of people. “So?” he asked. “It’s them,” he nodded at the others, the older witches looking as uncomfortable as I felt. “And it’s not like we’re having sex. Calm down.”

I hid my face by pressing it into his shoulder and burrowing into his halo of hair.

“Speaking of which,” Michael’s mother started, making me tense up. “Are you getting enough? I know having two partners is difficult, but are you maintaining your diet?”

Michael patted my arm lightly. “Yes, mom. I am feeding regularly and well.” He smiled and kissed the crown of my head. “And before you ask, yes, Scott is lasting longer. Yes, we’ve tried new places and positions. Yes, Charlize is less stingy with the energy. And yeah, we figured out an easy sleeping situation for after to maximize my nocturnal feeding. Shaz is a great charger when she sleeps, even if she’s a leech while awake.”

I puffed up before realizing that he was casually talking to his mother about our sex life. In front of other people. I punched him in the side. “Shut up!”

Everyone in the room laughed at me, though some of it was uncomfortable laughter, so I felt better knowing I wasn’t the only one not okay with this. Michael, on the other hand, whined. “What’d I do wrong?” he asked.

I gave him a disbelieving look. “You, you can’t,” I was at a loss for words with all these people staring at us and instead decided to hide my face again. “Just shut up.”

“That’s what you get when you date a succubus,” Violet pointed out gently. “They don’t always understand normal people’s sexual limits.”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” I muttered.

Michael snickered. “Oh, you’re squirming about that?” he teased. “Gods, you wouldn’t survive a day with us.”

That was a challenge. A very obvious one. I pulled my eyes back and squinted at him. Oh. His family was giving me another chance, so he wanted me to take it so I could show them how we bonded well together.

“Why should I?” I muttered belligerently, lazily pushing away the extra warmth of energies. There was too much trying to go in at once. It was starting to burn me up. “They were assholes last time. How do I know they won’t be again?”

“I’m going to guess that you’re talking about staying with us for the day and trying to redo that disaster of a dinner?” the blond uncle suggested, exchanging knowing looks with Michael’s mother. At Michael’s nod and my pointed silence, he continued. “We’ve meant to apologize for that. The Genesis brings out the worst of most of us, especially when we aren’t sure how we’re feeling.”

That did not make it better.

“I know, but they’re trying, aren’t they?” Michael pleaded. I wasn’t sure how they were trying. “They didn’t have to help heal you. If they really didn’t like you, they wouldn’t have.”

I huffed. “I mean I’m stuck here until I’m healed anyway,” I stated, crossing my arms over my chest and feeling far too exposed. I wasn’t into nudity, so this was simply uncomfortable for me.

Michael snickered. I got that he didn’t think nudity was about sex and that none of his family was uncomfortable, but that didn’t change that I was. In response to that, he took his shirt off and put it on me. It wasn’t like I had a shirt within reaching distance, and a hoodie, or anything. We both rolled eyes at each other, but I took it, enjoying the feel of his warmth now that the energy was no longer batting around me. His warmth was purely from his body having warmed the shirt and didn’t make me feel buzzed.

“I believe I’m no longer needed here,” the older woman stated abruptly, standing from her seat at the bedside. She avoided eye contact with the non-witches as Violet helped her to her feet.

“I don’t want to—”

The young witch cut off Violet before the woman could try to worm her way into staying. “I am perfectly capable of staying here and making sure these scary monsters don’t hurt your goddaughter, Violet. I’ll stay. I’m sure you and Mogra have all kinds of important business to talk about that doesn’t require me either way.” Her told-you-so smile at Michael’s aunt was missed by literally no one.

Oh,” Michael and his strawberry blond uncle exclaimed at the same time. The rest of the succubi snorted, but Violet paused and the old woman looked like she was going to have a heart attack.

“Not you, Ariadne!” she exclaimed, holding onto Violet tightly. I pushed a little energy back her way because she looked unstable. “And I need no help from you, abomination!”

For some reason, coming from an old white lady I’d never met before, the insult didn’t really sting as much. Everything about her had screamed out ‘racist’ since she’d called them ‘unevolved heathens’.

The young witch (Ariadne, not Adriane) huffed and in a graceful movement that I was sure had something to do with magic, given the way everyone shied away with the exception of the old witch, who stood her ground even when Violet moved away. “Crone, you have become exactly what the Collective doesn’t need: an outdated racist. Yes, that banshee right there is my partner, and yes, I am aware that you are uncomfortable with Collective and Gathering relationships. But you’re either going to need to get over your discomfort or resign, because my relationship, her relationship and basic existence,” she gestured to me, “Are not the first cases you will see, nor will they be the last. Please don’t let the changes destroy you.”

She took a deep breath and the mildly threatening glitter around her sank back into her skin. “Please leave. No one here deserves your hatred.”

I…had not expected that.

“What’s the difference between a banshee and a succubus?” I whispered to Michael, who outright laughed at me, thinking, quite loudly, Really? That’s what you’re stuck on? I love you.

 

“No,” Michael said firmly, giving me his best I’m-serious-stop-asking face. It was funny, because he looked like he was trying to imitate Scott’s alpha glare and that just made me want to bug him more.

“He’s right, you know,” New Dem stated, looking up from the movie we were watching. It was a documentary on vampires, a surprisingly accurate one considering—as far as I could tell—the people in it were human.

I was inclined to agree with him. That is, until I realized he was using some sort of weird energy to make me agree with him. “Stop that!” I exclaimed, making them all chuckle. How many of them had that stupid alphing power? And while Michael silently tried to explain the difference between alphing and whatever a muse did with inspiration and suggestion, I wasn’t seeing much of a difference. So I ignored him, instead breaking his concentration with a different type of suggestion.

“C’mon,” I whispered, entwining my fingers with Michael’s and pressing close until our lips were barely apart. “You know you want to…teach me.” I pursed my lips and blew my air into his open mouth, feeding him the desire rolling off of my tongue. He breathed it in, eyes closing to slits when I closed the distance between us.

I had found that kissing him with my eyes closed was missing something. When we kissed, his energy fed into mine and I willingly gave up what he wanted. There was a push and pull of energy, but gentle, almost unnoticeable until one of us pushed a little too hard and left the other gasping for air. His golden, apple cider chill coated us, but he kept me warm and kept my head above the water so that I could breathe. It was beautiful the way gold shone behind his green eyes, the way his pale skin gained a blush, how his eyebrows raised and a lazy smile came to the corner of his lips. Eye contact was essential between the two of us.

He won that time. “Are you part succubus?” Michael’s mother asked when I pulled back to breathe. I froze, far too late remembering that we had an audience. She laughed and whether it was about my horrified reaction or his dazed look, I wasn’t sure. “You have no defense against her, do you?”

“Not when she plays dirty,” Michael complained, his fingers digging into my sides. I glanced around, but only his mother seemed to be paying us any attention, and only vaguely. I hid my face in the crook of his shoulder so he wouldn’t see my smirk. “How about now?” I asked sweetly. He still refused to teach me anything. Not never, just not right now, part of me corrected, though I wasn’t sure if it was his thought or my own. It was getting a little crowded in my head.

“But MyKaul,” I floundered a bit at the use of his true name, but felt that I continued well enough that it wasn’t noticeable. Even if I did get side eye from his grandmother. Either way, I continued on my track to get what I wanted. Again, I opened myself to try to give him what he wanted. I reached out with my energy, but hit a block. I wasn’t sure if it was one I had mentally put up, if it was Michael, or if I was just doing it wrong, so I pushed harder. If it was Michael, he would stop me.

Frowning when it still didn’t work, I looked Michael in the eyes. He gave me a curious glance, looking me up and down. I could tell he still wanted the sexy energy, which meant the problem was me. I forced a smile, wanting to show him that I could do this, on my own, without any prodding from him. He acknowledged my wish by holding me, pulling me off of the arm of the recliner so that more than just my legs was on his lap, but not doing anything with his energy or mine. Moving the hand between us to the back of my neck, he stroked a line up and down with his fingertip. I felt excitement creep up and bit my lip, knowing that he’d focus on that. I took a deep breath, running my hands down his sides, and pushed past the block, into him. 

He immediately let go of me and even went so far as to push me off of his lap. I grabbed hold of the arm of the recliner so that I didn’t go falling to the floor, but that didn’t stop the attention from coming to us. I focused on Michael, wondering what had gone wrong. Had I hurt him? Had I pushed into the wrong place?

“No,” he answered aloud, slowly, almost reluctantly, taking my wrist and pulling me back to him. “You messed up a little bit.”

I immediately felt insulted, even though I had no right to. I was trying something new. I was going to mess up. That was why I needed him to help me learn how to correctly move energy around. I gave him a look that said ‘See, you should have just agreed.’

No,” he repeated, back to his firm voice. “You aren’t nearly ready for that. You just tried to feed me witch magic.”

Before I could respond to that, or ask why it was such a big deal, I got a pillow to the face. “We just spent the better part of the morning evening you out. Keep your magic to yourself,” Ariadne called from somewhere inside the blanket cocoon she and Lil Asha had wrapped themselves. “Besides, like I already said and he already said, this should probably be an eye-opener that you need to learn to differentiate between the magics. You have to know the different ones before you start pushing it anywhere on your own.”

That made me think of all the times I’d slap-snatched or snatch-slapped. I did that well enough. How could they say I couldn’t move energy if I could do that? I didn’t even finish the thought before Michael replied. No one is saying you can’t. We’re saying you shouldn’t. It’s dangerous.

As I was rolling my eyes at him, Ariadne’s head hesitantly moved above the covers. “I’m not getting something. What’s a snatch-slap?”

Michael’s first response was to start laughing in an incredibly derisive way. When I frowned, he actually hooted. “Yes, oh please tell everyone about your favorite pastime. Don’t leave out any of the fun times. Especially not the time you slap-snatched a Ranger.”

“Our Ranger?” My Dani asked, for the first time giving me his full attention. It was rather unpleasant, given the uncomfortably disapproving look he threw my way.

“Nah. She just punched our Ranger,” Michael added. “Go on,” he nudged me. “Tell them what a snatch-slap is.”

Everyone looked to me expectantly and, even though I didn’t know what the big deal was, I felt nervous and was pretty sure it had to do with Michael. I glared at him. “Since you’re so sure that they’re going to rip me a new one, I’d rather not.”

“This sounds sexual. Is it sexual? Is she slapping people with her snatch?” New Dem asked, apparently trying for humor, though it went right over our heads. It took the same amount of time for me and Michael to understand the use of ‘snatch’ in his sentence. Then I remembered that some people called a vagina a snatch. If anything had ever made me rethink the naming of my signature move, it was that.

Michael laughed again once he got it, but kept his crude comment about my vagina to himself. He was lucky, because I would have punched him if he had made a joke about my vagina slapping him, especially to his family. I didn’t care that they were all apparently very open about sex. Instead of that, he went back to the original question, and took it upon himself to describe snatch-slapping.

Ugh. Steal-slap? Take-slap? Sneak-slap?

“It’s a lot like a soul swirl.” Before I could ask, I understood based on the images I was seeing involving Michael’s mother and another succubus. It was apparently something they did when attempting to conceive. I just wished I knew why Michael imagined his mother doing it. It was sexual, wasn’t it?

“Only one-sided, random, and used as an attack. On good days, it’s just a snatch-slap and she takes whatever she can from someone, and then slaps it back into them, plus some, as quickly as possible. Other times, she does a slap-snatch. That’s when she takes whatever she can find around her or from herself, slams it into someone else, and then takes all the energy back into herself.”

He described it pretty well. The problem was that he sounded a lot like Scott had yesterday in the park. How long had the two of them been whining about it behind my back? What was even wrong with it?

“What?!” exploded in six different voices. I shrank into Michael, who was smug as hell.

“How is she still alive?”

Why?”

“You have to be making this up.”

“How many times has she done that?!”

“Has she hurt anyone?”

“She assaulted a Ranger!”

“Why do you let her keep doing it?”

“Why haven’t you taught her about that?”

“How are you still alive?” was the first question to be aimed at me and I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t get it.

“Why is it a big deal?” I asked and was met with dead silence, so I kept going. “I mean, snatch-slaps normally just knock people out. No one has been damaged long-term. It’s a good defense for if a vampire queen is trying to kill us. Or a shadow porcupine is coming at me with a machete. Or someone is, uh, feeding on me.”

“Or offense if you don’t like what someone is saying, you’re angry, you don’t like the way someone looks, you know. More good reasons,” Michael added before I could say any more.

“What happened to having each other’s backs?” I snapped, moving off of him. I didn’t move too far because irritated or not, he was my only ally. And because despite our shared irritation with each other, I still felt the protectiveness underlying it. He wasn’t trying to be mean.

“I dunno,” he said sarcastically. “Maybe you snatched that out of me and slapped it into someone else.”

Or maybe he was trying to be mean. I stood up from the chair. “You never had a problem with snatch-slaps before. You and Scott have told me to do it before!”

Scott told you to do it,” he corrected heatedly. He rose to meet me, slouching so that he didn’t look too much like he was trying to intimidate me, even though that was exactly what he was trying to do. “I have repeatedly told you not to do it. I’ve tried to explain why it wasn’t good. But you didn’t listen. You never listen! I even got Scott to say it, hoping him being alpha would get through your thick skull but it didn’t!”

“Oh, thick skull, huh? I have a thick skull? How’s about this for thick skulls? You never once explained anything! You keep trying to play a martyr here, but you’re not one. Stop treating me like I’m some fragile little glass doll, you idiot! You don’t tell me your real name because I ‘wouldn’t get it.’ You pretend to be a different race because I ‘barely get succubus.’ You don’t even give me a chance to understand. This is just like when you marked me the first time. ‘Oh whoops, best pretend it didn’t happen and hide it. It’s better for her. She wouldn’t get it.’ ” The dopey voice I used to mimic him was probably a little harsh.

He stood up straight, as if my words couldn’t reach him when he did. “You’re being really human right now.”

I didn’t like that being used as a slur. “And you’re being a bacchus jerk. We could have talked about this any time. Anywhere. You, me, Scott. You and me. Me and Scott. But you chose here, in front of your family. I don’t understand what the problem is, but clearly all of you do. So here I am, looking as stupid as they already thought I was. And that is on you. Maybe that’s the reason Scott and I are closer.”

He started to say something hurtful. I heard it even if he didn’t say it and maybe it was the reaction I had, the jerk back and gasp. Maybe it was looking in my eyes and seeing them misty, though I wasn’t crying yet. Maybe it had nothing to do with me and had to do with his mother touching his arm or his uncle shooting some inspiration his way. Maybe it was My Dani chewing up all the anger while New Dem drank up the frustration.

Maybe it had nothing to do with any of that and was purely him getting it.

He ducked his head. “Shit, you’re right,” he muttered, and it was an honest apology, not his normal I’ll-apologize-because-you-want-me-to-but-not-because-I-agree-I’m-wrong crap. My decision not to go any farther with that was definitely due to the emotion eaters in the audience, because I didn’t feel any negative emotions anymore.

I wondered how it could have been, growing up with all of them. It seemed counter-productive, honestly. Did he ever have emotional security or did he always wonder if one of them were making him feel a way he didn’t? Or did it just make it easy to have full blow outs if he knew there’d be no fall out because all of it would be gone at the end? It would explain why he didn’t hold grudges and always pushed for us to be honest about how we were feeling.

It was, honestly, the first time I’d really thought about what growing up as a succubus—well, a bacchus in a succubus household had been like for him. It was the first time I’d really thought about him as a not-human. It was…strange. What was stranger still were the feelings going through my body, the basic tingling turning into something more.

It was the absolute worst moment for his grandmother to ask me a question guaranteed to make me go into myself.

“Why did you start doing that?”

“Um,” I started, feeling the automatic distress that came up any time I thought about it. A full body chill hit me hard and I wasn’t sure if it was in reaction to the memory, or if Michael’s energy had taken over. I could feel him prodding, and even as comfortable as I was with him, this wasn’t something I wanted to share.

I could feel a panic attack coming. My vision started to shutter and I could hear my breathing echoing in my mind. Even still, I felt Michael right beside me, a calming balm to the agitation running through my veins. He didn’t deserve to feel this.

I tried to put up a wall between us, but it crumbled. I tried again and again but Michael only got closer to me. When he slid through the cracks of the last wall, there was no more chill to his energy. I felt him as purely as I felt myself. Like the day we’d had sex on Vanessa’s couch, before the pack had shown up and interrogated me, I felt as if I were drowning in him. But drowning wasn’t the right word. It didn’t hurt. I couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t need to because he was breathing for both of us.

Our heartbeats were in sync. And through that, I felt the panic move away. I blinked a few times, finding myself staring directly into his fully golden eyes.

“I had my reasons,” I said instead of going into it.

“Having a good reason for the original snatch-slap doesn’t give you an excuse to keep using it,” Ariadne said, watching and Michael with a knowing look. “What you were doing was dangerous, you realize that, correct? No one is upset with you for protecting yourself, but the manner in which you did it is unsafe for not only the recipient, but you as well.”

“How?” I blurted out, though it was obvious enough she was going to tell me without any prompting.

“What if what you give isn’t something they can take? Humans can’t take any magic. It destroys their minds. Most Gathering can’t take very much Collective magic and vice verse because it poisons their blood. And no one can take Other magic and survive.

Other? What other? Were we incapable of taking kitty power? I giggled at the thought. No puppy magic for us. Or maybe no plant energy. I giggled again until Michael’s look of amusement burst my bubble.

“No, Charlize, Other magic. Not other magic. Other.”

“What other magic, then?” I asked, recognizing that I’d been silly. Of course plant and animal energy was fine. Violet used them all the time.

“Oh. Wow.” Michael raised his eyebrows in surprise, a moment of understanding coming to him when he realized that there was some communication error happening. “Others are a group, Shaz. There’s Gathering, Collective, humans, and Others.” He pointedly thought about shadow people, Mirror Maidens, some really ugly creatures I’d call trolls, and a handful of things I didn’t even have words for.

“Wait. What?” I asked.

“Others. Others are another race or maybe species, or possibly even something else. They’re the most dangerous things around and Gathering and Collective have been fighting them for as long as we’ve existed. They’re the reason we made peace with each other so that we could band together to keep them in their own realm.”

I squinted at Ariadne to determine if she was serious. She was. “Their realm?”

“The Wrong Realm, the Neverworld, the Other Place.”

I closed my eyes and sank into the carpet, enjoying the fact that this was my life now. Apparently not only was I the star of a werewolf fanfiction, but it was apparently set in a crossover with Sailor Moon and Peter Pan. We were fighting the fucking Negaverse from Neverland.




Next Chapter

amadhay: (Default)

Despite the best laid plans to get me and Vanessa out of harms way—plans that involved an amusement park and had been derailed by a car following us—we still ended up at the park. By the time Vanessa and I got to the park, our tail had disappeared, which told me we had played right into the stupid vampire’s hands. Either way, I was fuming. When Vanessa grabbed my hand and told me that Lee had texted her for us not to leave the car, I had had enough.

I got out of the car and she, loyally, followed me. It wasn’t all that hard to follow the pull that came from Michael and Scott’s energy. They were thinking about me, so I just followed the worry and magnetism.

Frustration and irritation rang through the bond like the vibrations of a gong, but I knew it wasn’t with me because it felt strange, more like we were all feeling it for the same person, or rather people, the vampires. Only, their feeling was more intense, which had me worried that negotiations weren’t going the way they’d planned. I considered suggesting that we go back to the car, but when I looked back to Vanessa, I saw glinting golden eyes watching us. When I squeezed her hand, the tension in her arm told me that she’d already seen our audience.

I swallowed. “Oi, people?” I called out and the flash of surprise followed by annoyance was aimed at me. “We’re, uh, coming in?”

I side-stepped an oversized rock and a clearing opened up before me, showing the pack standing in a pyramid formation with Lee in the front. Michael stood beside him and there was a spot where I assumed Michael was supposed to be in the fourth row, on the outside right corner. Directly opposite to them stood the vampires. The woman who’d wanted to gut me two days ago stood a few paces ahead of the rest and unlike with the pack, there was no order to the way they stood.

The way she was smiling said that she was already imagining torturing me. “I see our guests of honor have arrived. Good. I was worried that they might not be able to make it.”

I wasn’t the only one who found that vaguely threatening. A few growls rippled from the pack and I could feel the iron control Scott was exhibiting in not attacking her. I instinctively moved to hide Vanessa from view and she stayed close behind me.

“We’ve told you, Marcella, that you will not receive either girl,” Michael said, sounding as though he were continuing with a line of thought he’d been interrupted from. “We are willing to make amends for the death of your spawn, but as he attacked my mate and a member of our pack, you don’t have the room to bargain for much.”

The woman raised an eyebrow. “No? My Leonid chose those two,” she gestured lazily to me and Vanessa, a hint of a threatening smile showing on her lips as the tip of one of her fangs showed. “As his, ten years ago. I doubt your claim on them supersedes his, and thus, mine.”

“He claimed two witches as prey. That goes directly against the agreement with the Collective,” Michael pointed out. “And you allowed it. You’re lucky my girl staked his ass or else you’d have had to deal with a whole lot worse than this.”

Lee gripped Michael’s shoulder and, after a moment, Michael gave him an apologetic look. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I’m too invested.” He shook his head and pointed at Heather, who left her spot in the center of the back row and he moved to his own in the far right corner.

Lee nodded and patted his shoulder. The vampire, however, sneered. “This is what I’m dealing with? A poorly formed pack whose mediator can’t keep his own?” she scoffed and gestured back to a pair of vampires, who moved to her side with a disarming sort of ease. “Maybe I should just take what I want.”

Heather and Scott both moved to Lee’s sides, but Morgan and Tre moved back from their positions in the back, so that they flanked me and Vanessa in an obvious statement of ‘you’ll have to get through us first.’

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Heather said loftily, though she looked incredibly uncomfortable with the entire situation. She glanced to Lee, who nodded. “As Roamers, you have no right to any claims on our land. You are very much on our land right now and declaring a claim on our pack members.”

“He claimed them as his mistresses,” the woman barked, but made no move to deploy her vampires on us. “That is the equivalent of your shifters mating.”

“Not if there is a soulmate bond,” Heather said tersely. “They have a soul bond with her, which your vampire did not, considering he didn’t have any soul to bond to. Furthermore—”

“You’re going to deny my claim to her based on an unfulfilled link?” she demanded. “Their bond is not fully fleshed. There is still a joint that has not been connected. Until it has, she is as free as any.”

Michael and I both looked to Scott, and, as if knowing, he glanced back to us with a perplexed frown.

She gave a mocking laugh. “And they don’t even know whose it is. Let me help.” Her eyes cut from Scott to me and then to Michael. “The tiny one isn’t the problem. He’s fully linked. Your families aren’t the problem, the form is solidified if shaky. The problem,” she smiled. “Is the two of you,” she pointed two fingers at me and Michael.

“Shut up,” Michael snapped, shaking. Lee sent him a warning look and Michael spit on the ground, moving completely out of the formation to stand in front of me so that the vampire couldn’t see me anymore. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” he muttered under his breath. I was inclined to agree with him, even if she had seemed uncannily sure and I was nearly positive that she’d read our minds. There was no way that I’d full bonded with Scott but not Michael. That didn’t even make sense.

“Irrelevant,” Heather pointed out. “What is relevant is that you’ve been in our land before and this is the first we’ve heard about it. That’s unacceptable.”

The vampire yawned. “I don’t ask children for permission to wander.”

“No, you request entrance to a pack’s land. You would do the same for a cloud or a shoal. We demand the same respect.”

Her eyes flashed and I watched as each one of the vampires behind her shifted forward. “I give no respect to those who would deny me my right as a master vampire to avenge my childe.”

“Your shade stalked two Unknowings and when they became aware, made them feel threatened. They never agreed to becoming shades themselves and so when he attacked them, it was an act of self defense. You’re lucky we don’t report you to the regional Ranger or the Syndicate. If you leave now and don’t return, we won’t do any of you any harm.”

“You’ve already harmed one of mine!” she exploded. “No. This is how this will work. You will give me the strange one,” she pointed at me, “And I will call it even.”

Scott scoffed. “Right, I’ll let you murder my mate because she killed a useless shade. That sounds equal.”

“I don’t plan to kill her.” She licked her lips, looking at me over Michael’s shoulder. “I want her.” She turned her eyes back to the alphas and sneered. “And if you don’t give me her, then I will take her and the little Seer. I’m sure I can find a use for both. And then we’ll leave you to explain to the witches how your big bad pack lost their little witchling.”

It dissolved into chaos there. A few of the wolves shifted. Vampires moved forward as if to defend the woman. Lee and Scott were yelling over Heather, who was trying (and failing) to keep the peace.

 “Why me though?” I whispered to Michael pulling at his shirt mostly to keep him from joining in what looked like it would soon become a fistfight. “What do they want with me? I’m not all that special am I?”

Michael snorted. “You’re incredibly rare,” he responded, without taking his eyes off of the vampire leader, who had yet to take her eyes off of me. “Not only are you a mix breed,” he ignored my indignant sound. “But you’ve got the entire spectrum of energy eating abilities. There aren’t many who are able to deal with all of the different parts of energy. On top of that, you take and give energy. Only a handful of Collective that I’m aware of have both abilities and, as far as I know, only the most powerful succubi or energy vampire can do it. Most of us just take. But most importantly, which makes you one of a kind, as far as I’m aware, and I could be wrong, but if I am, there are at most two more, you don’t have a limit.”

“A limit?” I asked skeptically. I was pretty sure that everyone kept inflating the situation when talking about me.

He gave me side eye before looking back to the vampire. “Everyone has a limit. We have our natural energy, the energy we get from food, and then energy from other living creatures. I’ve been trying to find yours, but I don’t think you have one. While I’ve known succubi or incubi smaller than Nessa who have larger limits than me, you shouldn’t.”

“I’m confused,” I admitted.

“Let’s talk more in a bit. I don’t really want them,” he nodded at the vampire who was now watching his lips, “To know this.” While we were far enough away that she couldn’t physically hear us, I had no doubts that lip reading from that distance was possible.

“But what if they get me?” I asked.

“You’ve been claimed as our soulmate and a part of Lee’s pack.” He snorted again and continued in a louder voice, “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. It’s more likely that the vampires are going to pack up and leave quietly tonight to avoid having their throats ripped out.”

I was pretty sure he wasn’t actually talking to me.

 

About an episode into some Spanish teen soap opera that Vanessa had started watching last week, Vanessa turned down the volume and gave me a long look. “So…”

We were comfortably packed into Vanessa and Lee’s apartment with the rest of the pack. AJ’s kids were in Vanessa’s room, sleeping, and he was guarding that window. Morgan and Tre were, the last I’d seen, smoking on the patio. Tyler, Lee, Scott and Michael were all in the living room, arguing in low voices. CJ and Chris were out, apparently doing the perimeter with Heather.

“So?” I asked back, snickering at the horrible acting.

“C’mon. Talk to me. I need to know how you’re feeling about knowing that you’re closer to Scott than Michael.”

I frowned and looked up at her. “What?”

“That’s what vamp lady said, and I’m guessing that’s what,” she gestured at me, “Means.”

“What does that mean?”

“You and those two are sharing some strange crap. Magic, I guess. It like, flows through the three of you like, blood, or something. I see it more lately than before and the only place it’s all clogged up is between you and Michael. So, how does that make you feel? I know you liked Michael more but—”

“That’s not, I mean.” I sighed. “I like them both the same. Maybe you’re reading the sight thing wrong?”

She gave me a long look. “No. And for the record, that whole weird reading each others minds things? Gotta stop.”

“What?” I asked, pausing the episode.

“Seriously? You three have conversations that are only partially spoken and respond like something was said no one else is hearing. It’s weird.”

I blinked slowly. What? I thought back, and realized that she was right. There had been things that I’d known I hadn’t said aloud but they knew. Or times when I’d just known what one of them was thinking and what to say. In fact, it started when…

I jumped off of the bed and hurdled onto the couch, cutting off the continued argument between my mates. “Can you read my mind?” I asked.

“What?”

“No?”

I made a face. “Well, I can sometimes read yours. Like right now, you’re thinking that the vampire bitch got to me,” I pointed at Michael. “And you’re thinking that I’m being ridiculous.”

“Good guess?”

“Is it?” I pressed. “‘cause we’ve all been doing this and not noticing it, haven’t we, Lee?”

“She’s right. It’s creepy. Stop it,” Lee said, trying to keep himself out of the conversation as much as possible.

“Wait, so when did this start?” Michael asked, looking excitedly from me to Scott and back.

“I have a good guess,” Scott and I said at the same time.

Michael looked bothered for a split second before gesturing for one of us to tell him what we thought.

“When your parents said ‘No way. Get her out,’ and we all basically gave them personalized ‘Fuck you’s.”

The two men exchanged looks and when they looked back, they both looked like absolute dopes. “So they didn’t affect the bond except to strengthen it,” Michael said excitedly.

“Yup. Now we just have to figure out how to make you two bond to finish it,” Scott added, making Michael and I both make faces.

“I really just think she read it wrong,” Michael said and I agreed. “I mean how likely is it that I’m the one who hasn’t solidified both bonds? You’re the one who’s always pissing her off.”

Scott’s eyes darkened and up I went. They were about to get into another argument, and honestly, soulmate or not, I wasn’t getting in the middle of this one.

 

About six episodes in, which equated to about six hours, after the fighting had died down and the guys were playing some video game (while still taking turns to check in on us and walk the perimeter), it dawned on me that I’d never gotten an answer to my initial question. Why me?

“Gimme ten. I gotta go talk to Michael.”

Vanessa rolled her eyes. “A bunch of vampires want your soul and you wanna go get laid?”

“I said talk, not fuck.”

“You always say talk and you always mean sex,” she said with a wave of her hand, starting the next episode. “I’ll catch you up when you get back.”

“Bitch,” I muttered, heading out of the room. I nearly collided with Scott when I did.

“Something up?” he asked, his eyes taking in the room, Vanessa, and the open window before going back to my face.

I shook my head. “I just need to talk to Michael.”

“About what?” he asked in a tone that sounded strangely like…he felt left out?

I shrugged, glancing back at Vanessa, who was giving us a bad case of side eye. I bet she didn’t even know her favorite character was on the screen. “Why the vamps want me. He tried explaining, but then we got caught on the whole energy shit and never really got back to it.”

He nodded once, then nodded out of the room, for me to follow him. “I’m taking her with me for a perimeter check,” he called over his shoulder as we reached the door. There was a quick moment when everyone got silent and looked between him and Lee, until Lee nodded. Scott nodded right back, like it was some strange ritualistic power battle between the two of them.

Actually, it probably was.

Scott tossed his arm over my shoulder and pulled me close against him as we walked down the stairs. “If something moves, tell me,” he ordered. The tone in his voice told me he had predator eyes going, so I nodded, choosing not to look at his face. “And if I tell you to run, run back to Michael’s van and hold down the horn until Lee comes down.” I nodded again, holding the keys tightly in my hand when he handed them over to me.

“Anyway,” he said as we made it to the first floor and walked out into the humid, disgustingly warm autumn night. I shrugged his arm off of me, but kept close and was, honestly, surprised that he didn’t put it back the moment I did. “You’re an Unlimited. Well, the Unlimited, since the last one died 22 years ago.”

I made sure my face was as blank as it could be so that I didn’t have to waste time asking what the hell that meant.

“I assume you two got past the obvious and were talking about how you don’t have an energy limit, since Michael decided to go into all the energy talk?”

I nodded. “I’m a Gathering-Collective ‘mixed-breed,’ which is unsurprisingly rare, a Fluctuator, which is rare according to Violet, and apparently my lack of discrimination of energies is strange.”

“And you have your own ambient magic, which is rare, even for a Fluctuator.”

I nodded as if a word of this was making any sense to me.

“None of that means a damn thing to you, does it?”

I shook my head. It was strange that he got that when Michael didn’t.

“Michael is kind of dumb when it comes to realizing other people don’t get what he does,” he said with a shrug.

“Can we come to an agreement about not reading each others minds?” I asked pointedly.

“It’s more like reading your emotions than your mind,” he countered, before almost immediately adding, “And I’m not trying to. I have to have all of my senses open to really keep track of what’s moving around here. If I dim it to you, it’ll cut off all of my energy based senses.”

I nodded like that made sense and when he laughed, I knew he recognized that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. “Michael’s going to have to teach you how to play with energy,” he said before sobering up. “But back to you. You get the not having a limit bit?”

“Not really. I mean. I have to, don’t I?”

“That’s the point,” he interrupted before I could ask anything else. “You should. Everyone does. Even Others have limits, but you don’t. You’re the Unlimited of our time. You can hold an incomparable amount of energy and push it through you. You can take and give an unlimited amount.”

“But can’t others?” I asked. “I mean the taking and giving. I still don’t agree with the unlimited bit. But with pushing and pulling. I mean if I’m just pulling from something else and pushing it through me into something else, it’s not really me holding it, so can’t that be unlimited with any Fluctuator?”

“No,” he said point blank. We were at the playground, so he gestured for me to sit on the swing. I did it, mostly because my nerves were shot. I felt like we were being watched.  I glanced at him, ready to say that, but he nodded at me, effectively telling me that he knew whatever I was going to say. Not reading my mind my ass.

“Fluctuators have their limits because even just pushing energy through you, some of it gets caught. Not to mention, funneling is incredibly dangerous. Different energies get tangled up in that and your body isn’t sure what you want it to send out unless you are incredibly careful, which I know you aren’t.” He started pushing me on the swing. “So you’re pushing out your own energy, your own magic, food energy, and outside energy all at the same time, while your body is also trying to replace it with what is coming through, which isn’t usually what it needs or wants. Michael and Morgan got really sick one time by funneling through each other.”

“It’s like this,” he pushed me higher on the swing until I was as high as it would go, then shoved me sideways so that the swing was going crazy twists and turns. I was holding on as tightly as I could to the chain, holding my legs tight to my body so that I didn’t hit the pole. He caught me against his chest after a few seconds. “Only the stop isn’t as gentle.”

I scoffed. “You clearly have never been slammed into your own body,” I countered. “Because that was anything but gentle. I’ll have bruises, thank you very much.” I hopped off of the swing on rubbery legs and he waited until I was stable to start walking again. Feeling eyes on me again, I quickly caught up with him, grabbing hold of his hand.

He paused for a moment, tensing as he looked back at me, but then he smiled. “Stop freaking out. It’s Tyler and Heather. They clearly don’t think I’ve got you covered.” He squeezed my hand gently and didn’t let go, so I counted it as a victory.

“So why don’t I go through that?”

“I just think you haven’t funneled enough for a long enough time,” he said with a pointed look. “But the not filling up is because you’re Unlimited.”

“But I am limited,” I argued. “I get food full. I definitely get my fill of people. And I get full of energy.”

“No one said you were completely unlimited. You still have a physical body that can only take so much. But I know for a fact that you don’t have a limit on energy. I can feel it when we’re screwing.”

I made a face. “Are you really trying to tell me that you know my body better than I do?”

“I’m telling you that I understand how something you didn’t even know existed works better than you. You have a mental limit, and I’m pretty sure it’s about how much you can take without killing something, not how much you can take.”

“And how do you figure that?” I countered, wanting to cross my arms over my chest while at the same time, not wanting to let go of his hand.

His eyes were gold when he looked at me. “Van. Now.”

“What is it?” I asked instead, looking around. Twin howls came from behind us and in the next second, I was finally able to see one of the pack in their wolf form. It was horrifying. Directly to my right, was an oversized black wolf with far too intelligent eyes, lips pulled back in a snarl to show intimidating and large white teeth. His—because I was fairly positive that this wolf was Tyler, not Heather—eyes were the gleaming predator gold and did I mention that he was far larger than any wolf had a right to be? He was larger than a grizzly bear and looked about as friendly.

Scott let go of my hand and shoved me back, to where the other wolf was. She was gorgeous in a way that Tyler wasn’t. With her pale brown, almost silver fur and fluorescent blue eyes, she pressed her nose against my arm and gently gripped my shirt in her muzzle, quite effectively tugging me back.

“Van,” Scott said again, only this time it was to the wolf, not me. She whined in the back of her throat and I apparently wasn’t the only one to be surprised when her whine turned into a growl. She let go of me and shoved me, with her enormous head, back into Scott, who scowled at her.

His golden eyes turned molten. “I outrank you, pup. Both of you, van, now.” A slender hand landed on his cheek, its black nails scratching his flawless skin where they touched.

Somehow, I had a feeling that he’d misunderstood Heather.

She launched herself at the creature touching my mate when it came into full view. Of course, it wasn’t a vampire. Those I had somewhat been ready for. No, it had to be those creatures that had been stalking me and Vanessa. It took feeling for it to realize that sometime during the past 12 hours, I’d lost the ring Violet had given me.

“Don’t let them scratch you!” I yelled.

“Them?” Scott demanded, gripping my waist as I shoved away from him to watch Heather take the creature to the ground. With unsurprising ease considering her jaw was the size of my torso, she ripped the thing’s head right off. Then she stomped on the body until it disappeared into glass, broken glass that got into her paws. She let out a painful whimper and I tried to rush to her, but Scott tugged me back as Tyler approached her.

“Them?” Scott demanded again.

Remembering that there were more important things—as completely selfish as that sounded— to worry about than Heather’s injury, I looked around. Where there was one, there were more.

 “How does your cheek feel? Is it burning yet?” I asked as I scanned. There were three coming, though it was slowly, as though they were unsure about attacking. They should be.

“Do you know what these things are?” a young female voice asked. I turned back abruptly, only managing not to have a more volatile reaction by Scott’s grip on me. Now on Tyler’s back, her feet bleeding was a silver-haired teenager who definitely wasn’t Heather and I assumed to be one of the wolves’ family. Tyler was careful moving with her, coming to Scott’s side.

“Kind of not really?” I responded. “But they’re super rude and super persistent. Oh no. Nestle.” I fumbled for my phone. If they were here, coming at me, I could only imagine what they were doing to her.

Apparently, that was some kind of signal for the bitches to bum rush us.

They came at us with their nails, using them as weapons. And considering I knew exactly how potent a weapon they were, I did my best to stay out of the fight. Scott shifted an arm so that it was veiny and absolutely ripped and while his other arm stayed around my waist, it shifted to a snake tail and kept me where I was, as out of the way as possible while still being at his hip.

Tyler moved as well as he could with not-Heather on his back and the girl did her part, clutching his fur to keep from falling off and kicking when she could. She had to have amazingly strong legs, because the creatures flew through the air when she kicked them. Luckily, there were only six, or maybe they ran after six were ripped apart. Either way, my phone managed to get snatched from my hand and broken. So maybe they were just a diversion.

That thought absolutely terrified me.

“Nestle!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, hoping that she could hear me, even though we were three parking lots away. I could see Lee’s bedroom window though and while I didn’t have her vision, a blind person could have seen the mass of shadows roiling around the window.

“Fuck no,” I whispered, trying to rush to the apartment. Scott didn’t let go of me, but neither did he hold me back, following me. He didn’t change his snake arm back and used it like a leash, which I chose not to comment on. Tyler and not-Heather went ahead of us, going around the apartment, undoubtedly to get to the patio. And here I’d been wondering how they kept ending up on the patio without coming through the front door. They were fucking jumping it. Vanessa and Lee lived on the third floor. They were that big.

“Is your cheek burning?” I demanded, turning back to Scott, to see him eyeing me with this strange detachment. “Let go of me,” I said, backing up to the van.

He didn’t. In fact, the arm-tail-thing tightened around me.

“How long did you think you could keep it a secret?” he asked. There was a whisper behind his voice. A voice that wasn’t his. Damnit. They were in.

“I didn’t keep anything a secret,” I argued, trying to remember what Violet had told me would help me if I had to deal with this. Oh wait, she hadn’t because she’d told me to keep the ring on. How had I lost it?

“Didn’t you?” he pulled me in close to him, close enough to kiss. I leaned as far back as I could, staring at the cuts on his face. There were eyes looking out through them. If hands came out of his skin to touch me, I was going to pass out. I knew it right then, right there. “I don’t remember you telling me that you had a run in with Other Messengers.” His voice was a purr, but it rubbed my skin the wrong way.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said as honestly as I could. Who were the first messengers if these were the others? I figured I probably didn’t want to know. And more importantly, who was trying to give me a message and why didn’t they try it in a nicer, more obvious way? They could have e-mailed or texted me. I would have replied by now.

“Don’t lie to me,” he roared, squeezing me tightly.

I squeaked. “Scott. Break out of it,” I pleaded. “You’re hurting me. A lot.”

There it was. He stopped squeezing me, but continued to look at me with that same expression. “I bet you told My Kaul.”

“I wouldn’t tell Michael and not you,” I swore, thinking that I was beginning to get the gist. When I had been poisoned and mad at Vanessa, I had been thinking primarily about things that actually bothered me. The way our friendship had ended, the way she only seemed to come back to me when her new friends all went away and life was getting strange. I had gotten out of it because Violet had taken my ass out and inoculated me. Well, I didn’t have an inoculation, but I did have a nice, strong bond and a pretty good ability to maybe tell him what he wanted to hear.

I hoped.

“You like him more. You tell him plenty of things you don’t tell me,” he hissed. I could see his teeth sharpening. I had no plans of finding out what he planned to do with those.

“I have never told him anything that I didn’t tell you. Nothing. I might not tell you at the same time, but you’ve heard all the same things.”

He gave a bitter laugh.

“In fact, here’s something I haven’t told him. And had no plans of telling either of you, but especially not him.” He frowned, loosening his grip on me. Focusing on the muted bond since I wasn’t really sure how to open it again, I felt his emotions waver. The strange, dark thing was losing control. I had to say something to shock him enough that he had a genuine, completely positive reaction. Something he would believe and have absolutely no negativity towards.

I couldn’t think of anything for a second and knew that time was running out, because the longer I took, the less he believed me. I took a deep breath and looked him directly in the eyes. “He has the absolute dumbest hairstyle I have ever seen in my life.”

His mouth twisted in the corner of his mouth and I could tell that Scott was winning over the creature when I felt a blossoming of humor through the bond. I could also tell that it wasn’t enough, so I kept going. “I mean seriously. He literally just wakes up in the morning with his hair all over the place, doesn’t comb it, thinks ‘cause it’s curly no one will know. Well, I know. I know and I judge. While we’re at it. I’m pretty sure that a lot of what he says is crap. Like that thing about polar bears going sledding with penguins in Alaska? Really? Who does he think he’s kidding? Polar bears live in the South Pole. In Antarctica. They are not chumming up with their dinner in Alaska.”

He snorted that time and I knew I had him, but I kept going.

“And I’m not gonna tell him, but you probably should, that his deodorant doesn’t work for two days in a row. He can suck up all the sex magic he wants, but a sweaty pit is still gonna smell like a sweaty pit. For fucks sake, use some Secret or Dove. What do you use? You smell beautiful. It better not just shifter pheromones or I’m gonna have to take your gallbladder or wherever pheromones come from and like, eat it or something. That’s how that works, right? I trust you to tell me this type of stuff more than him. He gives me weird theories that make about as much sense as an elephant ballerina.”

He was laughing so hard that he couldn’t look at me, doubled over, his hands on his knees. His hands. Both hands. He no longer had a snake arm holding me.

I breathed a sigh of relief, tentatively poking at the bond to find that the darkness was all gone.

“You,” he burst into laughter again. “You could’ve, should’ve stopped at the ‘I know and I judge.’ I,” he choked back a laugh. “I had control then. I was just trying to keep myself together.”

I snorted. “I had some things to get off my chest,” I claimed, glancing to the apartment. The shadows were gone from the window and I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. It either meant that the creatures were gone or that they were in the apartment. I was really hoping for the prior.

He swallowed back a few more laughs before looking to the apartment as well. “I don’t hear anything coming from there, but since I didn’t hear those things until they were on us the first time, it doesn’t mean much.”

I nodded. “We need to go in and check.”

You,” he said pointedly looking at the van, “Need to get in the van and stay there until I come back for you.”

I gave him a pointed look right back. “If those things come back, I can assure you that if they see me in the van, the windows will be broken and they will be inside with me, probably eating my heart or something.”

“We’re going to have a talk about you and the Other Messengers,” he promised before heading into the apartment. I stayed right behind him, following.

“I can’t feel Michael,” I whispered as we got closer. It was a strange feeling, not being able to sense our other mate and it bothered me that I hadn’t noticed it until now. How long had I not been feeling him?

“Which means that something is blocking us. Can you feel anything?”

“You,” I replied instantly, clutching the back of his shirt like a safety raft. Instead of rolling his eyes, like I expected, he nodded slightly before carefully opening the door.

I don’t know why we were surprised when one of the Mirror Maidens jumped at us.

Luckily, he was ready. He grabbed her head with one arm and her shoulders with the other, shifted to muscle arms, and ripped her head right off. He let go just in time to not be caught by the falling glass, but we didn’t have time to appreciate his speed. Before the glass had finished falling, another one was on us. While he took care of it, another appeared and without any other way to fight, I caught it between the front door and the wall and slammed the door as hard as I could repeatedly. It took a few tries, but it fell to glass.

“My Kaul?” Scott called out.

“Scout?” Michael’s voice replied from the bathroom.

“Is everyone alright?”

“As good as we can be locked in this bathroom with Zooey bleeding from her feet, Nessa freaking out about long nailed creatures, and Lee starting to act weird.”

“Was Lee scratched?” I called.

“Yeah, but I couldn’t find what did it.”

I exchanged glances with Scott. How could we see them but he couldn’t?

“You need to get Lee away from everyone else. He’s about to go super homicidal and the only person likely to stand up to his bossy ass is out here.”

“I doubt you can stand up to a full grown alpha,” Michael replied. I could hear the eye roll in his voice.

“Scott. I meant Scott. He is right here. He does the Alpha wrangling. I just stand and look pretty.”

“And kill demons with doors. You can’t forget that bit,” Scott added, ripping the head off of another one that had managed to appear.

“Just come out here. We’ve taken care of all of them, I think,” I said, looking around. I couldn’t see any more and the door to the bathroom seemed clear. “Unless you’re all scratched. Then you can stay in there ‘til I get Violet.”

“They only got Lee and Heather. Zooey’s got something new,” Vanessa’s voice called out, sounding closer than the bathroom. “Are you good? No effects from the last time?”

“I’m fine,” I said as the door swung open. Vanessa ran at me, hugging me. “They tried to fucking distract us. I was scared that they had you.” I hugged her back, eyeing Lee over her head as he eyed the two of us with that same detached glare I was learning to hate. I took a few steps back, pulling her with me as subtly as possible.

He had yet to say anything and Heather stood to his side, eyeing us with the same look before turning her attention from us, to the not-Heather who was apparently Zooey. Scott and Michael were doing a strange touching thing and being completely oblivious to the way Lee was fucking hunting us.

Scott,” I sang out and received no response. I glanced away from Lee to see the other wolves attention on Heather, who had launched herself at Zooey. They were restraining the woman from the teenager, but what was scary was the look of absolute glee on Zooey’s face.

I glanced back to Lee and he was only a foot away. Squeaking, I tugged Vanessa with me back to the front door. If I had to run backward down the stairs, I would. I would make that frenzied drive again and if I had to run over a giant wolf-man, I would do it.

“Nestle, I need you to—” I didn’t even get the words out before I felt something grip my ankle. When I glanced down, of course there was another Vanessa. She was hiding under the loveseat with my necklace clutched in her hand. Surprised, I felt at my neck, but it really was no longer hanging there. She had the most frightened look on her face that I didn’t even have to ask which one was real. I shoved the fake Vanessa away and it hissed when it hit the wall.

It was a vampire.

“No! Why can’t this be one at a time?!” I yelled, immediately gaining the attention of my mates just in time for them to see me go down under 200 lbs of wolf. Because of course he had shifted into a wolf to attack me. It wouldn’t have been a fair fight otherwise.

I was just happy he’d turned into the normal sized were instead of the giant wolf. I went down hard, feeling his paws on my shoulders and his hot breath on my face as he growled.

Now, I couldn’t speak wolf, but was pretty sure he was saying something along the lines of, “This is all your fault! Everything was fine until you showed up!” I mean, he wouldn’t have been wrong if it was what he was saying. I was starting to wonder about it as well.

I did the only things I knew how to do. I screamed incredibly shrilly. And I shoved absolutely every last dreg of energy from my body into his. It didn’t seem to do anything but to make him angrier. I pushed at him with my hands, but he didn’t budge. On the plus side, he also didn’t begin to eat my face or rip my throat open. So I couldn’t really complain.

“Submit to him,” Scott said, crouched near my head. He wasn’t touching Lee, which both pissed me off and confused me. I knew for a fact that he could shift any part of his body into being stronger than Lee’s, so why he wasn’t doing that made no sense to me.

Apparently, the bond between us was still going strong, because he answered my thoughts without me having to say a word. “Getting him off of you right now won’t help in the long term. Submit to him. He needs to know that he is still in charge here and that you’ll stop endangering his pack.”

I’ll stop endangering?” I demanded, shoving more energy into the stupid wolf. He twitched this time. “I haven’t done a thing. Ask those stupid Scratchers what they want! Make them submit to your dumb ass!”

I tried shoving him with both a slam of energy and my hands and this time he growled quite viciously at me.

“I swear to God, Charlize, if you make me have to physically stop him, I will beat your ass.”

“Maybe you should kick his ass!” I yelled. The wolf showed me all of his teeth. I looked away and instead was able to look at Vanessa again. She still looked terrified, but she wasn’t looking at me, Scott, or Lee. She was looking beyond us.

I tilted my head back to try to see where she was looking, but only managed to stretch my neck back until it couldn’t go any farther. When I did, I felt this gross snuffling on my throat and flinched. I tried to snap my head back upright, but the heavy snout and muzzle drooling on my neck kept my head back. I wasn’t submitting, damn it!

The hissing coming out of my vision made me flinch. I closed my eyes tightly, imagining that it was the hissing of a cat, or ten. Cats wouldn’t hurt me. Hell, I’d even take snakes at this point. The problem was how the hissing sounded. There was the hissing of animals, which tended to be softer, a warning, and then there was the hissing of vampires, which was threatening and mocking.

There was a long moment where everyone froze, but then a familiar golden glint in Lee’s eye came and he got off of me. He turned slowly, scarily from me, and to the vampires and the rest of the pack just fell in line. Heather, although she looked ready to attack the teenager at any moment, no longer needed to be restrained because she took a stand directly behind her cousin and all of them stood in front of me. A moment of confusion later, Vanessa crawled from under the couch and to me, still holding the gleaming red stone of the necklace.

“Where’s your ring?” she whispered, and I had no answer for her. Instead, I played with our friendship bracelet, watching as the two groups had a stare off. I’d always hated this part in movies. Why didn’t they just attack? What was solved by staring at each other? What were they waiting for?

“There are more Scratchers coming,” Vanessa whispered, and I supposed that was the answer.

“What are we going to do?” I wondered aloud.

“You aren’t going to do anything but stay out of the way,” Lee snarled, and I flinched back into the door. “We’re going to exterminate this problem.”

The vampires parted as soon as he said that and the vampire queen walked forward, smiling condescendingly. “I’ll give you one last chance to end this,” she stated. “Give me the girl and the rest of you will live.”

“We’ll live either way. Leave or we will tear you to pieces. We might anyway, just for the hell of it. At least one way, some of your cloud might live.”

Michael and Scott were both nervous about Lee’s declaration and them being nervous about their ability to take the approximately two dozen vampires in front of us made me uncomfortable. So, just for safety’s sake, I slap-snatched the woman quicker than the thought occurred to Michael. She was the only one I was really worried about. I’d seen her move and she was faster than my friends. She dropped before she could even smirk at Lee.

I hadn’t actually expected over half of the vampires to fall with her, though I supposed it made sense, since they were the ones whose energy was coming from her.

The ones whose energy had been going into her backed away. “We will leave tonight if you allow us to take Marcella with us,” one said.

This seemed rather anti-climatic, so I looked questioningly to the wolves, who looked as perplexed as I did. The vampires, on the other hand, shifted to take control of the situation.

“And you will keep her away from here,” Morgan stated more than bargained.

“We will ensure that she has no memory of what transpired here.”

“I’m not sure that’s good enough,” Tre added in, looking to Morgan for permission to say more. Morgan nodded. “I believe a lesson needs to be taught here. She was not the only one who decided to come here repeatedly without permission, to hunt on our lands, or to poach our pack. She’s not powerful enough for that.”

Morgan nodded, looking to Lee. “Marcella is just the figurehead. If we let them go, it’s possible they will just come back with a better plan.”

Lee nodded. “And if we don’t?”

Tre and Morgan exchanged glances. This was all so strangely political. The vampires weren’t saying anything to try to get the pack to change their minds or threatening or anything. It was all rather simple.

“The Syndicate will undoubtedly get involved, deem us within our rights because they attacked us first through the girls and then again, here, and they will deal with them.”

Lee looked to the group. “Who is the true master here?” he demanded.

Vanessa was nervous by my side. “The Scratchers aren’t coming. The call is gone,” she said, though I was focused too much on the vampires to pay attention to her.

They shifted for a bit, but then another woman stepped forward, this one the textbook definition of vampire. I mean it was her picture in the encyclopedia next to the word vampire. Not really, but figuratively. Her long black hair was curled and pulled up, her skin was icy pale, hooded eyes black, and her lips were painted a deep, blood red. She also had energy going from her to each and every one of the vampires. I wasn’t sure what the significance of that was, but it was unsettling.

“I am,” she said in a husky voice. Her eyes shifted from Lee to the fallen vampires and then back to me, an intrigued look in her eyes. “I am Lilith, and I deeply apologize for our…mishap. Marcella has been running around on her own lately, making new shades. We were truly here to attempt to gather them all up, but then the problem with your witch and…” she raised an eyebrow pointedly, waiting for someone to tell her what I was.

“Charlize,” I supplied instead of a race.

Her lips quirked in a small smile and I really wanted to kiss her. “And your Charlize made things difficult. Marcella made a deal with some Other who wants your witch.”

“What?” Lee demanded, and it broke me from my haze. I was halfway to the vampire and Michael’s hand was on my wrist, on the friendship bracelet.

“What do you mean?” she asked, batting her long, dramatic eyelashes. I took another step forward, but Michael pulled me back.

“Stop luring my mate to you,” he snapped, making everyone look to me. I flushed and looked away from the woman.

“What?” she asked innocently. “I haven’t done anything to her. If she’s attracted to me, it’s all on her.”

“Or, you know, the drawing trinket,” Morgan said lazily, running his hand up my arm. I immediately jerked away from him when Michael let go of my wrist. Morgan tugged the friendship bracelet right off of my wrist, making the tiny conch shells fall to the floor. The moment they did, I stopped feeling so attracted to the vampire. Not that she got any less attractive, no, I just no longer felt as though I had to go to her. That and my mother’s bracelet turned a fiery red and started smoking.

“What Other gave you that?” Morgan asked, eyeing the broken bracelet with disgust.

“Gave me?” she laughed gently. “You misunderstand, sweetling. I did no dealing with the Other Marcella found. I have no need to. If I wanted any of you, I wouldn’t need a bracelet to do that. No, I would bet that was supposed to be attuned to Marcella, but fell to my power instead.”

She was so cocky that I had no doubt she was telling the truth. “Now, if you want to know more about this Other, you’re going to make a deal of safe passage for me and my cloud, including Marcella.”

 

“This is my birthday,” Vanessa whined, eyeing the mausoleum. For the third time this week, we stood outside of it, staring at the door. It had a new lock and shiny chains, all loose. It looked like a trap waiting to be sprung.

On the plus side, we weren’t alone this time. The entire pack had followed us and were keeping a good (if they wanted us to be dead) distance to keep Piney from getting suspicious and doing anything drastic. Though how they genuinely thought Piney didn’t know they were here, I honestly didn’t know. It wasn’t like they were hiding very well, or the cemetery was crowded at 8 PM.

“They’ve got Scratchers following them,” Vanessa muttered, fingering the black pendant of my necklace. I had given it to her to wear for this, thinking it might help her feel a bit safer. So far, it seemed to do the trick. I was just worried that it was still black.

I texted Michael her warning, almost immediately receiving the response We know. CJ n Heather got them. Go in. Rite bhind u. Nervously, I stuck my hands into Scott’s hoodie’s pocket and called Michael’s phone. Once the call was connected, I took a deep breath, smiled reassuringly at Vanessa and walked into the mausoleum. The plan was for me to keep them on the line and the moment it sounded bad, they would be there.

Fiddling with the phone as I took another step and then another into the building, listening as Vanessa followed behind me, I tried to calm myself. It was a good, solid plan. We were just bait. Bait that was going in, unprotected, into the enemy’s lair. Because that always ended well. As I reluctantly headed for the crypt, I felt something in the pocket that wasn’t Scott’s phone. I hesitated for a moment, but since I would have looked at a gum wrapper to put off going into that dark hole, I pulled the hard object out.

For a moment, I had a terrifying moment of relationship fright, because it was a diamond. There was no doubt about it. It was a medium sized rock, too big to really fit comfortably on one finger, but small enough to lie comfortably in the palm of my hand. My initial, horrified thought was Oh shit, no, please don’t let him be getting ready to propose. But almost as soon as I thought that, I heard a whisper on the wind, reminding me that it was from Zaza. It was supposed to help me defeat Piney, though I didn’t know how.

Vanessa cleared her throat and I looked to her. “Shouldn’t we be, I dunno, heading down?” she suggested.

I started to answer her, clenching my hand into a fist around the diamond, but something stopped me before I even made it to her side. “Shari?” I heard a young voice calling from the crypt.

Vanessa and I exchanged worried looks.

“Shari, is dark,” the voice continued. “Scared.”

“That’s Dominick,” Vanessa whispered, stating the obvious.

Or maybe not so obvious. “Is it?” I countered, squinting into the darkness. I would have sworn that I saw eyes looking back at me. “I’m not so sure,” I told Vanessa, who gave me a disgusted look.

“And you’re not going to check to make sure?”

“What if it’s a trap?” I hissed.

“And what if it isn’t?” she hissed back, poking me in the chest.

I took a step back and she shook her head in disgust. “Dominick loves you. If there’s even a chance that that is him down there, how could you not go?”

Because there was a chance it wasn’t him down there.

I didn’t have to say it, my answer must have been on my face because when I opened my mouth to suggest we get our reinforcements in, she scoffed and went right down. Knowing better than to call her name in case someone was listening, I just went after her. I scurried down the steps, wishing that I could use the phone as a flashlight without chancing having it taken or broken.

By the time I made it down into the crypt, I could no longer hear her footsteps. I turned in a circle, stubbornly keeping my mouth shut, and listened for anything. After a moment, I heard breathing, scared and labored. I opened my eyes and saw a path lighting the way for me. I took only a second’s worth of hesitation before I followed the path.

And landed right into a trap.

Lee’s little sister had been giving me the creeps all night, and now I knew it was about more than her being a tiny version of her brother. I didn’t need Vanessa’s Sight to know that Zooey wasn’t herself when I stepped into the candlelit cavern to find her waiting. Her disgusted expression was worth a hundred words. Her spikey-headed shadow was worth a million.

“I should have killed you a long time ago,” were the first words out of her mouth, and coming from a girl who couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old, it was jarring.

We probably should have paid more attention to what had happened with her and the glass. Or at least taken Vanessa’s comments seriously about something being wrong with her. Either way, it was too late and now I knew who the messengers were from. Piney was a giant pain in the ass.

I took a step back to find that there was stone at my back and the entrance I had used had disappeared. Looking to her again showed the entrance behind her. She didn’t move toward it, like I had expected. Instead, she took several steps toward me, taking advantage of the fact I couldn’t move any farther with my back literally up against a wall.

She reached out to touch me and I pushed energy into a slap-snatch, but she back handed me before I could even begin to push. My head hit the wall with a hard thud, but since it wasn’t a sickening crack, I forced myself to look at her.

“Probably,” I tried to smirk, but doubted it came out as anything more than a grimace. “Now you’re living to regret it.”

“I’m not living yet,” she responded, brushing flyaway hairs to my bun. “But I will be soon,” she whispered into my ear, biting the tip before moving back.

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” I countered, pushing myself toward her and away from the wall. She pushed me back.

“You don’t.” She waved her hand and I hit the wall again, this time with enough force to make me lose my balance. I slumped to the ground.

She groaned and clutched at her body for a few moments, before letting out a shriek of pain that made my hair stand on end. She stood up straight again after a few seconds and eyed me with distaste. “I wanted my seer,” she snarled. “But between that dreamer and wolf, I was forced to lure her here. And then, then I had to make a deal with a vampire to get as close as I did.” She gave a growl that was wholly werewolf and flicked with her hand to slam me into the wall again. This time I was ready for it and absorbed the power, getting to my feet instead. She snarled at me.

“But you have been a thorn for far too long. I didn’t think you were a threat the first time, and I was right. What you are is an annoyance. I tried to use gremlins to get rid of you. I tried to use vampires to get rid of you. I even tried to lure you away from my little witch using that child, yet somehow, you messed even that up. So it’s time for some pest control.”

“Yeah, against you,” I snapped, holding up the diamond right as she slammed an impossible amount of energy my way. It didn’t do a thing. I slammed back against the wall, my head making the dreaded crack even as I opened myself to take in the energy. It wasn’t Piney’s. It wasn’t the dark, addictive energy that I associated with the shadow people, but the woodsy, fuzzy energy from werewolves. And not only just one wolf’s energy, but the entire packs energy. I felt all of the wolves flowing into me and wondered, for a moment, if their energy was connected in a similar way to how the vampires had been connected to the beautiful vampire.

It was just a moment, though, because she was forcing more energy into me before I could even begin to adjust to accommodate what I already had. There was a bad, broken taste to this energy, something I wanted to check out, but I didn’t have time, because she was still pushing energy into me.

When I tasted Scott’s energy I fought back. I greedily collected his energy in a separate place where I knew it would be safe and get back to him. I wasn’t sure how, but it was as if it were part of my bloodstream, part of that link that went through my body and back into theirs.

Push it out, a whisper suggested to me and that was a good idea. Right before I started, the whisper came back. Not into her. Out. Make her use her own.

Pushing into someone was a lot easier than just pushing energy out into the atmosphere. I wasn’t even completely sure I could until I did. It hurt. It was like being reprogrammed. It was as if every synapse had gone off and screamed of fire and pain, because I was letting out this energy that had somewhere it wanted to go, and instead drawing it away from its preferred host and shooing it. It didn’t want to go. It was like telling molten lava that it wasn’t allowed to roll down the volcano and forcing it into the air.

But I did it. I was on my knees, panting, covered in sweat by the time I had pushed off everything. Piney seemed to think she was winning this battle, because she smirked down at me. The evil look on Zooey’s innocent face made me sick.

“You hold more than I thought,” she crooned, moving to me and pulling me to my feet using my bun. Once I was staring her in the face, she smiled evilly. “But methinks you’re at the limit, no? I was only going to destroy you, but now I think I’ll take what I can of your essence. It reminds me of what mine used to be.” With that, she started pushing into me again, only this time it was that black energy that I liked. I couldn’t spend too much time enjoying it, however, because as she pushed, she pulled much harder and I felt myself growing faint.

Press the stone into her chest, the whisper told me. Without a second thought about it, I jammed the stone so hard into her chest that if there hadn’t been bones, it might have gone into her. As it was, she let out a horrible noise in time with a slurping sound that definitely came from the jewel. She let go of me and tried to grab at the jewel, but it didn’t budge, no matter how much she scratched at her chest. I, also, couldn’t move no matter how hard I tried. My hand was stuck holding the rock at her heart while she struggled, and it only got worse when she dropped Zooey’s body.

At that moment, I stood face to face with a shadow somewhat shorter than me if I didn’t count the spines on its head. The eyes were glittering, but obsidian and so filled with hatred that if looks could kill, I would have been dead a hundred times over. Unlike with Zooey, the diamond was actually inside of Piney, a pulsing object where her heart would have been. As we stood there, locked together, I thought I saw a flash of who she might have been in life. A handsome woman with strong features and wild hair, her dark eyes glittered with mirth and her energy was pure golden light and sparkling glitter. That energy flowed straight into me, stronger than the black energy and filling me up, feeling like my own but concentrated.

But it was just a flicker of difference before she was gone and the diamond stopped its pulsing, now a cloudy black where it had before been clear and shining. It felt prickly in my hand as the energy I’d been filled with turned sour, turning into the black energy. Hide it, the whispers told me and I hesitated before hearing voices.

“Charlize!” Vanessa was calling from one direction. “It wasn’t Dominick! We need to get out of here!” No dip, Sherlock. I could have told her that.

“Charlize? Nessa! Where are you?!” Michael’s voice was calling from another.

I struggled to stand up, placing the stone in my back pocket before I pulled out Scott’s phone to use it as a flashlight. Glancing at the lit up screen, I saw that the call had never connected, that there were missed calls, and that, of course, there was no signal down here.

 “Guys? I’m in here! I’ve got Zooey!”



Next Chapter

amadhay: (Default)

I wasn’t sure what did it, but I woke up with a sense of purpose at 3 am. It took a bit of effort to weasel my way out of Michael’s arms and crawl out of the bed without waking either of the men, but I managed it. I noted my suitcase had made its way from the living room to the bedroom and knelt, trying to quietly unzip the stupid thing.

Still neither of them so much as twitched. Grabbing up the first clothes I could get my hands on, I left the room, closing the door behind me. I didn’t turn on any of the lights as I searched around the couch for my phone, lucking up when I reached underneath it. I heard movement and stayed low, in front of the couch and out of sight.

It was only Chris. He stumbled from his room, to the bathroom and mostly closed the door. Less than a minute later, he left the bathroom and went back to his room, closing that door fully. I wasn’t sure why I was sneaking, but I didn’t want to be caught for some reason. It didn’t make sense, but I stuck with it, quickly changing into my black leggings and long button-up shirt. I pulled on my black boots, put my hair into a bun, and grabbed one of Scott’s black jackets.

I left my purse, though I tucked my keys and phone into my back pockets. When I walked out of the apartment and into the hallway, I knew I’d done something stupid. My phone rang and I answered as quickly as possible to get it to be quiet.

Okay, this is going to sound crazy, but I’m outside of Scott’s. Are you up? Come outside.”

I frowned. What was Vanessa doing outside? What was I doing up? What was happening? Why did I feel so inclined to go with her wherever she was going? “Okay,” I agreed and went out to her car. I slid in, and the way she looked at me told me that I’d missed something big.

“Your necklace is red and steaming,” she stated, her hands clenching on the steering wheel.

I looked down and sure enough, it was. I blinked and touched it, immediately feeling absolutely horrified. I jerked and looked to Vanessa. “Why are you here this early?” I asked, looking to my bracelet. It wasn’t red, and though I wasn’t positive, I thought that meant that whatever was happening, there wasn’t something near us that was dangerous.

It was just messing with our heads.

“I want to go back to the crypt,” she said simply, starting up the car. I grabbed her hand.

“Nestle, are you out of your mind?” I demanded. The look she gave me was bland and it dawned on me that whatever had been in my head was still in hers. Not sure if it would work or if I was making any sense at all, I leaned into her until I could press the pendant of the necklace against her forehead.

Just as I had, she jerked. “Something is trying to make us go back to the crypt,” she said, her eyes widening in fear. She jerked the keys out of the ignition. “I almost drove us there. I did. We almost ended back in there because—”

I cut her off. “Something almost got us there, but it didn’t. The important part is that it didn’t.”

“Really? I thought the important part was where I was mind controlled or some shit.”

“I think we should go to the crypt,” I said after a moment.

Vanessa glared at me. “Great, now the necklace isn’t working.”

“No, wait, hear me out,” I said, gesturing for her to stop getting out of the car. I held the pendant in my hand so that she could see I wasn’t being mind controlled. “Something in there wants us. I want to find out what. And more importantly, who was down there that helped us last night. And. Well, you said you thought that was Piney’s burial place? Something there has got to tell us why she was buried there and why no one has ever heard of her.”

She eyed me. “I. Say. No.”

“Well, I said no yesterday, so suck it up and come with me.”

She groaned and hit her head on the steering wheel. “Can’t we wait until it’s the middle of the day? And take the entire pack with us?”

“No,” I said. “We need to do this on our own or else they’re never going to take us seriously.”

She squinted at me. “Troubles in paradise?”

I shrugged. “They think I’m defenseless. That we’re defenseless. I want to prove them wrong.”

“But they’re right?” she suggested. “What am I gonna do? See them to death?”

“Well, at least one of the things down there is already dead, so no worries on that part,” I quipped, making her glare at me again. “But seriously. I have my energy stuff. We can get some heavy duty flashlights. And glow sticks or something.”

Vanessa sighed, but turned her car back on. “I have a bunch of flashlights in the trunk,” she said. “I bought them last night just in case.”

“Good,” I muttered, looking to my phone. It had a low battery. I had forgotten to charge it last night. “Where’s your charger?” I asked, looking around the radio and cigarette lighter. She normally had her phone charging since she used it as her GPS.

She glanced down. “Oh, right. I forgot. I let Lee borrow it and he didn’t give it back,” she said, glancing at her own phone. “And my phone is nearly dead. This is the universe telling us to try another time,” she attempted, slowing to a stop at a red light.

Or,” I argued, turning my phone off to save battery, “It’s a coincidence because we both forgot to charge our phones last night after all that happened. Look at it this way, it’ll make us more self-reliant.”

“I don’t want to be self-reliant. I want to know there’s a big werewolf waiting on the other side of the phone to save me if things get bad.”

I rolled my eyes. “Your dependence on Lee is actually really sad,” I told her. “He’s not always going to be around to save you.”

“Against the things that go bump in the night? You’d best believe he will.” She turned onto the long stretch of road that would take us to the cemetery.

I shook my head and turned on the radio just in time for us to hear the last bits of a song.

We’re probably gonna need stitches after this,” she muttered.

“You are seriously harshing my mellow right now.”

“And you’re going to get us killed, so even.”

“Look,” I said, touching her shoulder when her hands started to shake. “We managed yesterday, and we were totally blindsided then. Today, the sun is coming up, we have flashlights, and we’re ready. Or as ready as we can be. If any shadows show up, I’ll snatch-slap. If anything else, I’ll kick it and run. We can do this.”

She took a deep breath, parking on the side of the street where there was a ‘no parking’ sign. If we had to run out, I liked our chances of getting to the car faster. A glance at my bracelet told me that we were still in the clear. It was still dark, but there were only two hours now before the sun was shining. We could do this.

When Vanessa opened the trunk, I gave her side eye. The trunk was full of the type of stuff I would expect to need on an expedition. “What? Are we going tomb raiding?” I teased her, pulling out one of the enormous flashlights. After a moment, I picked up one of the cargo belts and strapped it to my waist, putting a few extra batteries in one of the pockets. I also took a lighter, a pocket knife, and a few granola bars.

Vanessa, on the other hand, filled up a small backpack. Two water bottles, a box of granola bars, two pocket knives, some rope, two extra flashlights, a compact mirror, extra batteries, lighters, and even a thin blanket were stuffed in there.

“Don’t you think that’ll be a little heavy if we have to run?” I asked, shutting the trunk as she put the bag on her back.

“If we have to run, I’m dropping it,” she said, turning to look at the cemetery, flashlight clutched tightly between her hands.

“Okay, so the plan is to run in, look around the burial chamber for any clues on Piney. After that, we should check a tunnel.”

“What? No. You didn’t say anything about going in the tunnels!”

“You wanted to yesterday,” I reminded, brushing off her worry. “I figure because these things hate light they’re probably nocturnal and we’ll be able to go in without too much trouble.”

“You better hope you’re right,” she muttered, taking the first steps off of the sidewalk and onto the grass, hopping right over the waist-high fence. I followed suit and it was just my luck to step on something that made me pause.

“Hey, Nestle, wait up,” I called and she paused right beside an angel statue, eyeing it closely. On the ground was something I’d recognize anywhere. It was the friendship bracelet Vanessa and I had worn in middle school. We had traded it back and forth until one night, here, we lost it. We’d searched high and low for it for a few days, but it had never shown up again.

Yet here it was, dropped right where we always came in, right where it was likely one of us would notice it. I picked it up, running my fingers over the tiny conch shells. I closed my fist around it, but there was absolutely nothing coming from it. No energy whatsoever.

I started to say something to Vanessa about it, but instead I watched in horrified fascination as the angel statue Vanessa was standing next to turned its head and looked at me before bending at the knee and reaching for my friend.

“Get down!” I yelled, slipping the bracelet onto my wrist. Luckily, Vanessa didn’t even question me, which was a real testament to how bad her nerves had to be, and dropped onto the ground, missing being grabbed by the width of one of her dreads. She looked up at the angel and rolled further away from it, already losing her backpack.

“No! No! This is not happening!” she exclaimed.

I started after her, but something grabbed me from behind and I was unpleasantly aware that there was no energy for me to use. Instead, I tried to kick and landed a good blow on someone’s leg. A masculine grunt came out, and I was let go. I glanced at my bracelet to see that it still wasn’t reacting. What was wrong with it?

“Hey! Wait,” that same familiar voice from the crypt called out. This time, I turned to look at the guy.

It was Leo.

I didn’t have time to say anything more to him, because at that point, I heard Vanessa’s shrieks increase. “Charlize! I’m surrounded!” she was yelling.

I ran in her direction, but my way was barred by an outstretched angel wing. I glanced up to the angel, but it was focused on Leo, with its other wing blocking him from me. I moved to the side, glad that either these things just weren’t very fast or the approach of the sun was making them slow. In the time it took me to duck out of its reach, it had turned its back on Leo and spread its wings to keep him on the other side.

They were separating us.

I rushed to Vanessa’s voice, where she was, indeed surrounded by angels. I was made uncomfortably aware of how many angel statues were actually in this cemetery because almost all of them had formed a circle around my friend, with their arms and wings spread out, tips of their wings touching.

I took in a shaky breath. “Nestle! You okay in there?” I called, quickly walking around the circle. The angel heads turned to follow my steps, but none of them moved.

“They’re not doing anything,” Vanessa exclaimed. “They’re just standing there! Are they eating me or something?”

Aside from the spike in it from her terror, her energy was fine. The statues weren’t stealing anything from her and they weren’t gathering energy to do anything. They were just standing around her. I found a gap big enough to squeeze through where Vanessa was pressed against the wall of a mausoleum that wasn’t our normal one. With them tip to tip, the angels were forced a few steps back from the wall.

After I ducked in, they moved closer, now blocking both of us in.

“I don’t know what’s happening. I want to call Lee, but my phone is in the bag and now we’re stuck here.” Vanessa was understandably freaking out. I wasn’t.

“Calm down. They’re slow. We can outrun them,” I said, looking for another place to run. Maybe under their wings and arms. It would put us in grabbing distance, but if we moved fast enough, it would be alright.

“Car or mausoleum?” I asked, looking at the angels. If we went to the mausoleum to check on the Piney stuff, we would have to go the opposite direction of the car.

She looked at me as if I were crazy. “You see we’re surrounded, right?”

“Yup,” I answered. I saw Leo hanging back behind a tombstone. All of the angels turned their heads to look at him. Those closest, turned to face him. He bared his teeth and the fangs looked unreal.

“Let’s go,” I said, grabbing her arm. Were they separating us all, or just keeping us from him? Why were they keeping us from him? He was closer to the car, so I had a feeling the mausoleum was the better choice of the two.

While the statues focused on Leo and he focused on them, I pulled Vanessa with me. We dashed past the angels and toward the mausoleum.

“Hey! Wait!” Leo cried after us and I ran even faster. The padlock on the door was gone.

I gave a quick pause at that, but Vanessa kept running right in. After looking to see if the lock or chains were anywhere visible, I followed her and closed the door behind me.

“What now?” she asked, turning to me. I shrugged, wishing that I hadn’t dropped the flashlight in favor of the bracelet.

“How much power does your phone have?” I asked.

“I dropped it with the backpack.”

“Oh. Right.” I turned my phone on, but just as it was loading, the door flew open and Leo ran in. He pushed the door closed and moved quickly toward the crypt opening. “Those things can come in here now,” he told us. “Follow me.”

It was so similar to the time when we were kids that we did.

Though it occurred to me that we should, neither of us so much as mentioned stopping in the burial site to check if Alpina was really Piney. Leo was moving too fast, taking us through the dark tunnels and for less than a whole second, I wondered about him being out this close to morning. But then I remembered that Tre and Morgan both enjoyed the sun—as much as pasty Goth kids ever do. The idea of them only being able to be out at night was apparently a myth.

That was one myth I had really been hoping was a truth. The idea of vampires, just running around was a lot more horrifying when I didn’t look at it through the lens of just the men I knew.

“We’re almost there,” Leo whispered. I wasn’t sure why we were whispering.

“Almost where?” Vanessa replied.

“Somewhere safe,” he promised.

The dusty bricks had given way to tightly packed dirt as we had gone further through the tunnels. I was trying not to wonder how much of the city had these tunnels under them or worse, how many people used them and what for. I was vaguely certain that we weren’t going to his house like we used to because the path there changed from brick to wood.

I was certain when Vanessa moved closer to me. “This isn’t familiar, is it?” she whispered. I shook my head.

“The house burned down a few years ago,” Leo said, as if hearing us. He probably had. Why did I know so little about vampires? Why did I know so little about non-human in general?

Oh right. Because Violet had been erasing my memory. Thinking about her, I felt for my ring. It was still there, just like both bracelets and the necklace. And none of them were heating up or changing color, so I felt reasonably safe.

“So where are we going?” I spoke up.

“I’ve been staying at this place at Iroquois Park. This leads most of the way.”

There again. Everything kept ending up there. I squeezed Vanessa’s hand and she squeezed back.

“So, uh, how long have you been in town?” Vanessa asked, trying for conversational. She just sounded nervous, which I understood. We were in a dark tunnel with a vampire we hadn’t seen in years, letting him lead us who knew where after being attacked by angel statues.

He sounded amused. “A month or two. My sire wanted to check up on some fledgelings.”

Fledgelings? Like baby vampires? We had baby vampires wandering around?

“Oh,” was all Vanessa could manage, so I tried to pick the conversation up for her.

“Nice seeing you, Leo. We thought you were our imaginary friend until about a week ago.” I gave a very strained laugh.

“I know,” he said before stopping. “That’s why I stayed away.” He pushed on the ground above us and the compact dirt just moved to the side, like a cover. Light streamed in and I wondered how long we’d been underground. It had only felt like a few minutes, but by the way the light was shining brightly, I’d say it had to be around 10. That was a pretty big time difference.

He jumped out of the hole. Just jumped like a frog. Right out of the hole. No help or anything. I stood under the opening and looked up. I couldn’t even reach the top, and I was ten inches taller than Vanessa, so she had no chance.

“We can’t jump like you!” I called up.

He chuckled. “Really? Aren’t you witches? Can’t you fly?” he teased before tossing down a rope ladder.

I just felt sick. How did he know what we’d only found out? I squeezed Vanessa’s hand again. “Want me to go first?” I whispered.

She shook her head. “Me first. I can’t stay down here much longer. I keep seeing things.”

Considering I had yet to see anything other than her and Leo in the darkness, I was going to put that to her Sight. “Go ahead,” I said, stepping back so that she could hurry to the rope ladder.

I glanced to my phone, but it was officially dead. I had so many bad feelings about this. Either way, I followed after Vanessa, once she was at the top of the hole. Once we were both safely out, Leo closed the opening and gestured for us to follow him. Because we were in the middle of the woods with no idea which way was to civilization, we followed him.

“So quick question,” I said after a few minutes of silence. “How long’ve you known we weren’t human?”

“Always,” he said easily, and as I watched him, I noticed that he really hadn’t changed a bit since we’d last seen him. He was still pale, with black eyes and black hair. He was probably the reason I automatically didn’t trust Morgan, because they dressed similarly. It was a strange throwback to Victorian Age Gothic while still being dramatically current. A waistcoat over a silk black button up and shiny, silver skinny jeans with tall black boots made him look both an anachronism and a bohemian.

Something about him was giving me the creeps and I couldn’t put a finger on it. It wasn’t really a surprise that someone who knew us when we were raging with hormones and our powers were out of control had known we weren’t human. He had never unsettled me when I was a kid. In fact, I’d been comfortable with him back then because he was always willing to listen to us complain about our lives. He had always been someone we could hang out with and feel superior to everyone else. It was more than making us feel special; he always seemed to see more in us and was just waiting for us to see it as well.

I stopped. That was it. That was what was wrong. We knew what the ‘more’ in ourselves was. Now that he knew, I was getting the worst kind of signals from him. He was moving too quickly, as if trying his hardest to get us somewhere in particular. He didn’t really talk, but seemed endlessly amused by us. When we had been younger, he’d always talked a lot, telling us what we should do, where to go, how to deal with bullies. Things that we’d always done exactly as he described without a second thought.

I grabbed Vanessa and made her stop. That made him look to me curiously, but I saw a gleam of irritation in the back of his eye despite his amused lip tilt.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Just remembered that we told the pack, you know, our werewolf pack, that we were going to be back soon. Don’t want them worrying. So we’ll just—”

“Oh come off it,” he laughed. “You and I both know that no one knows where you are. Or where you were going. I doubt they’ve even noticed you are gone now. I mean it took them long enough to recognize your true race.”

Vanessa shifted slightly and he turned his eyes to her immediately.

“And you, sweet, poor Nessa. How on Earth did they not recognize you for what you are? You’ve been under their noses for the past three years and they still don’t know.”

“I thought you’d only been here for a few months,” I said, trying to put Vanessa behind me. I wasn’t sure why, considering he had no energy for me to use. I was bigger than him now. I could hold him off long enough for her to run, I was certain of it. As long as he didn’t order me not to. I wasn’t sure the necklace would hold him off. It hadn’t before, not until I’d held it.

“You thought I wouldn’t keep tabs on my investments?” he asked, moving around. He was trying to circle us and I refused to let that happen, so I turned with him, holding the pendant in my hand. “I put a lot of time and effort into the two of you. It took longer than I planned, but you’re finally ready.”

“Ready for what?” I asked, pushing Vanessa in a silent gesture for her to get as far away as she could. She stumbled a few feet back, but didn’t run off.

He glanced to her, but his eyes moved back to me and he kept turning until I was farther from Vanessa. I wasn’t sure if that meant he thought I was the bigger danger or her, and I was too busy trying to figure out how to get out of this alive to really care.

“To join me.” He gave a toothy grin that showed his fangs. They were larger than before, I noted, and his eyes were purely golden, with no iris or sclera, just pure, gleaming gold.

I tripped back onto my butt and stared up at Leo when he lunged at me. Behind him, I saw Vanessa try to rush forward, and became uncomfortably aware that if she came any closer, he could grab her. So when I kicked out at him and he hit the tree, I shoved to my knees.

“Get out of here!” I yelled to her, but she ignored me, grabbing a big stick.

That was actually a good idea. He grabbed my ankle and tugged me toward him. “Guys don’t like it when girls don’t play nice,” he hissed when I scrambled to grip the ground.

“And I don’t like it when guys try to drink my blood!” I shrieked, kicking at him with my free leg. He grabbed that one and pulled me closer.

Nestle grunted and then he hissed, letting go of me. I kicked back until I was sitting up a few feet away, watching as she darted away from him. He held the tree branch she had been holding and I could tell that his attention was firmly on her by the way he tracked her as she ran. I knew he got a lock on her, because it was the same smirk Lee and Scott got when they had their sight set on me.

“No!” I yelled, but it didn’t stop him from moving far too smoothly, dropping the branch and heading after her. She tripped. I grabbed up a smaller, broken branch and ran at them. Vanessa was too busy having a basic horror movie moment when he converged on her and he was too busy being a basic horror movie monster to notice me approaching.

Still, when I slammed the branch into his back, no one was more surprised than me when it went right through his chest. It was luck. Extreme, horrible, wonderful, incredibly scary luck. His hands tried to grasp something several times and then I felt energy leave him before he fell flat on the ground.

“You stabbed him!” Vanessa exclaimed, scrambling to her feet and backing away, her wild eyes on me.

“I staked him! He was a vampire!” I argued, backing away from the body.

I looked to her and then back to the impaled body just in time to see it explode in a flash of lights. Both of us screamed and jumped even farther away. I tripped over a tree root and landed on my butt while Vanessa hid behind a tree. When the lights faded, the body was gone.

“What the fuck?” I whispered, staring at the spot where the body had been. At first, I thought that the body had simply disappeared in a flash of lights, which was definitely strange enough in itself. But no, when I focused on that spot, I saw that a bed of dandelions had appeared in his place. He had turned into flowers.

He had turned into dandelions.

Vanessa must have seen it as well, because she was laughing hysterically.

“Are you fucking serious?” I demanded, the hysteria hitting me in a different way. “Fucking Pocahontas got it right? Of course. I want to punch someone right now. What even is this?” I demanded, kicking a tree, and then regretting it. “Sorry,” I muttered to the tree before stomping over to Vanessa, who had yet to stop laughing. I was worried she was going to laugh herself to death.

“He turned into dandelions,” Vanessa choked out, pointing at the flowers. “Dandelions. He was there and then he turned into flowers.”

Ooh. She was at the point where she narrated what had happened. I had to stop her or she was going to completely shut down on me. I reached her just as hissing started. I turned quickly to the bed of flowers to see a woman kneeling in the bed of flowers, behind her an entire band of hissing, fang showing, glowing eyed vampires. She ran her fingertips over the golden tops of the flowers, a light brushing of pollen sticking to them. When she looked up at us, I jerked back.

The woman was glaring at us with red running down her face like tears. Actually, they were tears. She had cried bloody tears and her golden eyes were trained on the two of us with the same ferocity I had seen on a mother bear’s face in a wildlife documentary. I backed up, into Vanessa, who I knew was virtually useless at this point. The woman stood with a scary fluidity, smoother than I had ever seen anyone move and before I could blink, she was standing in front of me, looking up into my eyes.

“Who did this to my childe?” she demanded, her palm flat against my neck.

I swallowed and felt her pressure get harder. Her thumb and index finger gripped my jaw and squeezed when I didn’t speak. I wanted to turn to look at Vanessa, but instinctively knew that if I did, this woman would slit my throat and feel nothing about it. I let my eyes move away from her to the vampires around her. They were closer than before, and I could feel the waves of strange energy flowing from the woman before me into each one of them.

“I did it,” I said, forcing myself to stand at my full height, frowning down at her. She had energy. All of them did. I could work with that.

She smiled darkly at me and her hand gripped my throat.

“Let go of the girl,” a baritone ordered from behind me. The woman looked from me, then back with consternation. She squeezed my throat once and I felt her nails in my skin before she let go.

“She killed my childe. I demand her life be forfeit,” she hissed.

I didn’t dare look away to see who she was talking to.

“This is not your land and she is not yours to touch,” the man replied. I felt Vanessa press against my back.

“This isn’t your business, Ranger!”

“This is free land and I am the Guardian of the Unruined Lands. That makes anything that happens here my business. Leave or your lives will be forfeit.”

The woman hissed before turning away and in a swirl of long coats and skirts, the vampires all left. I had almost died. She had almost ripped my throat out or crushed my windpipes. I had just killed someone and now I was a murderer whose continued life was up in the air. I breathed a few times before Vanessa’s tugging at my shirt brought me back to the present.

“Who are you?” Vanessa asked. I turned to see who had saved us.

“I’m the Ranger,” a ranger said. No, not a ranger, he was the same ranger that had pulled us over when Michael and I had been caught in the park, the same one who had checked out the fire pit when we had burned the doll, the same person who had come to Violet’s house.

You,” I exploded, moving toward him. “What the fuck?”

He eyed me for a moment before looking back to Vanessa. “Call your alpha,” he said. Neither of us moved. He narrowed his eyes. “Did I stutter?” he looked to me. “Call your alpha. Now.”

“No,” I snapped, grabbing Vanessa’s hand. “We’re leaving.”

“You’re not going anywhere until two alphas are in front of me, explaining how this was allowed to happen.”

“We’re leaving,” I said, pulling Vanessa after me, “And there is literally nothing you can do that would stop me.”

His face hardened even farther and he opened his mouth to snap at me, but paused, his head cocked to the side as though he heard something I had not. He pointed at me. “Don’t move,” he ordered before stepping back and disappearing into the trees.

Of course I started running the other direction. Vanessa lagged behind for all of a second until I tugged on her arm, and then she ran ahead of me.

“We have got to get the hell out of here. I’m going to go hide out in my room for the next three years,” she called back to me.

“Yeah, well I’m going to hide out in Scott’s place until vampires are exterminated!” I called to her, barely missing tripping over a stump.

I just stopped the moment I heard a growl. There was no point in trying to outrun anything on four legs, much less one that growled like that. Besides, or rather more importantly, I was pretty sure I recognized that growl.

“Lee!” Vanessa exclaimed and I could just see her, a few feet ahead of me, partially hidden by trees, throwing herself forward.

I breathed a sigh of relief and walked forward, into a clearing. Of course there was a clearing where we were running. No matter that I was vaguely certain that this was the direction we’d run from before and that it hadn’t been there then. The moment I set foot on the clearing, I was pulled into Michael’s arms.

“Thank god you’re alright,” he whispered into my hair, turning with me still in his arms. I felt Scott at my back and for the first time since finding Leo, I relaxed.

“You have no idea how happy I am to see you two,” I whispered, turning so that I could wrap an arm around Scott.

You have no idea how worried we were,” Scott muttered quickly. “The bond heated up to say you were in danger but we didn’t know where you were. Michael only remembered that yesterday you mentioned tunnels under the Other crypt.”

“And Lee tracked Vanessa. Can you try to always stay with someone who has a scent?” Michael suggested.

“Nah, I think my next near-death experience’ll be all on my own,” I snarked. Scott growled in my ear.

“Alphas. Here. Now,” the Ranger ordered. Immediately, Scott peeled himself away from me and stood before the man. Lee took a slightly longer time, shifting from his wolf form into his human right in Vanessa’s arms. He patted her head once he was himself again, ignoring when she squealed at his nakedness. After that, he too stood before the ranger.

“Where did he even come from?” Vanessa demanded, but no one paid her any attention.

“These two have been running through my woods, fleeing a nomadic vampire cloud. They managed to terminate a vampire’s spawn. Now said vampire is demanding her life,” he pointed to me, “In restitution. Though I have no doubt she’ll want the other one as well.”

“Okay, no. Someone’s gotta talk to me. Explain that,” I said pointing at the ranger. Michael pinched my side to make me be quiet.

“Someone needs to explain to me how the members of your pack,” he looked to Lee, continuing as though I hadn’t spoken. He paused and looked at Scott, “And how your mate,” he paused again and looked to us before looking back at the alphas. “Managed to make this mess while the two of you were nowhere to be seen.”

“Seriously? Is no one going to explain Mr. Guardian of the Running Lands to me?” I pinched Michael. “He’s the one who—”

“Silence your Chihuahua,” the ranger said.

Chihuahua?” I demanded, headed for him. Michael intercepted me before I got too close, grabbing my hand and pulling me back.

“That’s my mate,” Scott snapped.

The ranger gave me a long look. “She is a yapping nuisance that needs to be kept on a leash. This is the third time I’ve had to intervene with her.”

 “We weren’t aware that they were picking around with the nomads,” Lee bit out, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You should have been,” the ranger stated, looking to Vanessa and then back to Lee. “It is your sworn duty to protect your marked pack.”

“And I take my duty seriously,” Lee responded with a hard tone in his voice. After a few seconds of the men eyeing each other, the ranger turned his attention to Scott.

“And it is your duty to keep your mates under control. If it is too difficult for you to maintain your dominance, perhaps you aren’t.” He paused, looking to Michael and then focusing on me. “And if simply losing the girl is your goal, there are better ways than to send her through my land or feeding her to vampires.”

That was met with a blaring silence. All of us stared at the Ranger in disbelief.

“That was uncalled for,” Scott said through gritted teeth, his hands curled into fists as well. Beside him, Lee’s body language was relaxed, but the energy pumping off of him was dark and tense. Both of them stood straight and tall yet at an angle in front of the ranger that made it seem as though they were boxing him in.

“Was it? I think it was perfectly called for. The next time I see her, I will neuter her.” He turned his attention to Lee as I seethed in anger. “This is your last chance to keep control. If the situation with the nomads isn’t dealt with by this time tomorrow, the girls will be relinquished to them to be dealt with as they see fit. And you,” he pointed to both Scott and Lee, “Will be denounced as alphas.”

“Seriously?” Vanessa asked. “You think you can just give us to someone? We’re not toys.”

The ranger looked to us. “You are correct,” he gave a fake smile. “You, I can’t do anything to, little witch.” He looked to me. “But the Chihuahua is in my jurisdiction.”

I don’t think any of us saw me moving until I punched the ranger right in the face. “Dick,” I spat before turning to Michael. “Take me home,” I ordered.

He glanced past me to Scott, so I grasped his face between my hands to make him focus on me. “Now. Take me home now.”

“Of course,” he responded nervously, putting his arm around me. As I gestured for Vanessa to follow us, I heard several growls as we left and knew I’d left Scott in a problematic situation. But I didn’t care. I was going to go curl up in his bed and not leave until I was forty. Or at least until the image of stabbing Leo went away.

 

 

Of course, the rest of the day didn’t go quite as planned. Michael went with Vanessa to go pick her car up, and while they were gone, Scott and Lee came in, eyes blaring golden.

“I have two days to determine how to keep the two of you out of vampires hands. Tell me everything that happened,” Lee demanded.

I dropped my phone and groaned. “Come on,” I whined. “You can’t seriously need to figure it out. A vampire attacked us. I staked him. He turned into dandelions. Some other vampire was pissed and tried to kill me. Dick showed up and stopped them. You showed up.”

Lee snarled very loudly at me and I flinched, looking to Scott for some backup, but Scott looked frustrated. “Explain,” Lee bit out, “In detail. How you got into that position with a shade.”

“A shade?” I asked.

“EXPLAIN!” Lee roared, and I backed up on the bed before regaining my backbone.

I stood on the other side of the bed, not wanting to get too close to him in case he lost his temper. “You’re being a dick!” I yelled. “Back off!”

Lee looked ready to bite my head off, but this time Scott intervened. He stood between us and stared Lee down until the larger man scoffed in disgust, but backed away. Then Scott turned to me and tried the same look. I tried not to look away, but I did, looking to my feet. I hated that nothing more than a look made me feel like I’d done something wrong when I hadn’t.

“Explain,” Scott ordered, using that alpha voice. “Starting with yesterday.”

Feeling gross, because the way Scott got me to do what he wanted was far too reminiscent of the way Leo had controlled us, I went through the last two days events, starting with Vanessa’s old house. By the time I got to Leo using mind control to force us out to the cemetery, Lee looked absolutely livid.

Scott tried to soothingly rub my arm, but I pulled away from him, upset about the entire day. Leo, the ranger, Lee, and now Scott had all made me uncomfortable. I had done things I hadn’t wanted to. I had been forced to kill someone. I was being forced to rehash the most terrifying two days of my life. I had been humiliated and intimidated.

I didn’t want anything to do with either of them.

As if realizing, and really I hoped he had, that controlling me was a really big problem for me, Scott pulled back on his alphing as I finished recounting. “But at any time did you even suggest jokingly that you wanted to be a vampire?”

“No,” I said shortly, looking to my feet. I just didn’t want to look at either of them.

“So they have no claim,” Scott said with a nod. He started to sit on the bed, but when I moved further from it, he changed his mind.

“Tell me again what he said before attacking,” Lee said, frowning. “About watching you.”

I shrugged. “Apparently he’s been keeping tabs on us since we met him before.”

“And he said his sire was checking on fledgelings?”

“Yes.”

He cursed and looked at Scott. “They’re not nomads,” he stated before leaving the room. I wasn’t sure why that mattered.

Scott shrugged, but didn’t go after Lee. We both heard the front door open and slam close before either of us said anything.

“Where’s your phone?” he asked.

“Charging,” I answered, sitting on the bed again. “I’m not dumb enough to leave it dying two days in a row.”

He was silent for a long moment as I moved to lay down on the far corner of his bed. He just watched me, his eyes back to normal and his hands moving as though he didn’t know what to do with them.

“Look, I’m sorry,” he said, not looking at me now that he was talking to me. “I’m weak and I know it. I should have defended you against the Ranger. I should have cut Lee of before he started yelling at you. I shouldn’t have forced you to tell us everything. I didn’t think it through and—”

“I’m back!” Michael called. I heard him drop his keys and rush into the room. He gave Scott a side glance before launching himself onto the bed and pulling me into his arms. I went easily, feeling safe with him. Scott sat down on the edge of the bed, but didn’t try to get in on the cuddling.

“Next time you wanna go play hunter, take me with you, huh?” Michael suggested, “That way at least someone who knows what to do will be there.”

There it was. That assumption that I was weak and defenseless. I wasn’t.

 “Or at least charge your phone. I was going crazy not knowing where you were after yesterday,” he muttered into my hair.

 “Kay,” I muttered, resting my eyes for just a moment.


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November 2016

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